Coats for Saxon Women

Are pure conjecture. As are coats for Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, and other Viking cultures. There I said it. We’ve got evidence for coats! We do. We have carvings on the helmet at Sutton Hoo showing warriors wearing what look like (to my entirely professional and serious eyes) fighting bathrobes. Observe:

Bathrobe of death

Note how they are crossed in the front and belted as opposed to clasped closed. We also don’t see this kind of garment on civilians or figures that are clearly female. I say clearly female because women fought too damnit, so they *might* have worn something like this, but not in a peaceful context. If you’re fighting and feel like making a killin’ robe you go right ahead, and feel free to stab anyone who complains that you’re in men’s wear. I mean, you’re already dressed for stabbin’ it’d be a shame for that to go to waste.

And so ends our solid documentation for jackets at all in this era. Everything else is conjecture. Not entirely baseless conjecture! We have things like brooches at throats, or mid chest. The issue is those could also hold closed shawls, wraps, or cloaks. The point is we’ve got nothing to support the very popular style of coat that’s cut close to the body, comes to about mid-calf, and is pinned closed mid chest but otherwise hangs open. For an image use your search engine of choice and look up ‘Anglo Saxon Women’s coat’ and you’ll get examples. Because we lack period images everything that comes up are private photos, and I’m not cool with putting some random person on my blog for the sake of saying their clothes are unsupported. That’s just rude as hell.

All that being said? Early period textiles are conjecture. From weaves, to colors, cuts, styles, materials, we’re making educated guesses. Our body of extant items is small enough that we *have* to guess. I can’t really support apron panels as a separate garment for Viking apron dresses, but they make sense and are pretty and plausible. We’ve got no clue how long under dresses were for Saxon women, or what color. We’ve got a couple images of the Virgin Mary looking like she’s wearing two different dresses, one shorter than the other. So we run with it. Necklines for women? Who knows! Veils, shawls, and the like cover them in every image we’ve got.

Coats for women make more sense to me than shawls and cloaks. Women worked and worked hard. It makes very little sense to navigate fire, looms, spindles, and the other day to day bits of womens’ lives while trying to keep a shawl or cloak wrapped around you to stay warm. I’ve done it. Trying to spin in a bulky cloak becomes a balancing act with sudden, jarring, bursts of cold air. Weaving on a warp weighted loom knocks the shawl off when you beat the weft up. Tending a fire with that much loose fabric, while entirely possible, is a pain. Those who came before us were not stupid. Coats with sleeves were, and are, an elegant solution to these issues.

Now, what about style? What arguments can we make here? Honestly the close fitting coat doesn’t really hold up. The style of it does! Just not the body skimming nature. You want a baggier coat for trapping more air between the layers to stay warm, and to easily cover whatever you’re wearing under it. Otherwise, what’s the point of a coat at all? A clasped in front cloak does make more sense for a woman than the crossed over warrior coat when you factor in baring children. A coat with a single clasp over the chest wouldn’t change how it fits or hangs over a pregnant belly like the crossed warrior coat above. If it’s baggy as opposed to body skimming (as I am arguing it should be) it could still cover the belly without needing to be remade or worn with additional bits and pieces. Breast feeding would be easier in the crossed over coat, it’s true. But it would still be easier in a baggy clasped coat over redrapping a shawl or cloak. A baggy coat just needs one clasp undone, baby tucked in, and the edges pulled back over mom and child.

In order to test my theory on ease of wear for a baggy clasped coat, I made one yesterday. It is quick and dirty (and ugly as sin to modern taste) but this sucker is *warm*, even being made out of a very light weight wool. It’s warmer than my modern winter coat. Which makes me mad because, again, this thing is ugly. But! It is a period herringbone twill, in all natural wool colors (plus blue and white twill edging, but the blue is a color we can produce with available dyes in period) and a plaid-ish pattern. With a thread count we’ve found in extant scraps. So it may be ugly as sin, but it’s documentably ugly.

I’m going to wear this thing next weekend to Falling Leaves and get joy out of the looks of horror.

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Leg Wraps

A couple of years ago, in the beginning of this blog, I talked about making leg wraps for my husband. I mentioned that I didn’t care for the ace bandage style, mostly because I hate hemming and making those would involve approximately 86,000 years of hemming.

Now I have a floor loom. And the ability to weave complex braided twills. So now I weave leg wraps in a more traditional style. Well “traditional” anyway.

I have found no documentation for this particular pattern of twill, or even braided twills in general. Diamond, broken diamond, 3×2, 2×2 (less common)? Yes. Those patterns we have evidence for. This? Not so much.

The colors are also not period at all. But the person for whom they are intended picked the colors out himself and I’m not about to tell a guy who likes colors no.

I had to learn how to weave wool for this. I’ve only really worked in silk, and wool behaves Very Different. Initially I was getting almost a tapestry weave where the weft completely covered the warp because I was beating too hard and had it under too high of tension.

So here is my current project. 4 harness braided twill, roughly 10 epi warped, will wash out to about 12-14 epi. 9 yards finished length, or 4.5 yards per leg. About 13 picks per inch.

Day 7: Lamb and honey mustard sauce with barley pilaf

I am never making a rice pilaf again. Barley is where it’s at. Holy mother of tacos.

So barley pilaf is amazing. It’s the perfect mix of savory and sweet thanks to beef broth, salt, and cinnamon. A generous helping of butter makes this rich and creamy and stick to your ribs filling. This my darlings. This will be my winter comfort food.

Originally the book called for sauteed radishes in here as well. I… didn’t have anymore because I got excited and used them all earlier in the week. But I can picture the crunch and bite they’d give this and it is divine.

Lamb? Lamb was pan seared in butter, kosher salt, and garlic and friend of mine grew. I then topped it off with a honey mustard sauce (honey, yellow mustard, white wine vinegar, cinnamon. I used horseradish prepared yellow mustard because I wanted bite). Om nom nom.

Most sauced lamb I’ve eaten has had a very classic mint sauce, or a sweeter BBQ sauce. That tends to mask the musky taste lamb can get. This? This drags it out, plays with it, makes it a counterpoint to the mustard bite and really is a perfect pairing for the rich and creamy barley.

I am so glad I chose to end my week of eating like a Saxon with this meal. This? This was an utterly perfect way to go out with a bang.

Day 6: Aethelflied attempts chicken

Ok, here we go. This is my first attempt a saxon style meal without using my cookbooks. We’re going to make pan fried chicken thighs with spinach and cabbage.

I’m using:
Chicken
Spinach
Garlic
Salt
Sage
Rosemary
Honey
Apple cider vinegar
Mint
Chicken Broth

I’m doing this all in one pan. Brown the chicken first, then drizzle in honey, add a couple teaspoons of vinegar, cover with the chicken broth, add the herbs (no spinach yet), reduce heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken and let it rest. Toss your spinach into the same pan with all the tasty stuff and wilt it. Remove the spinach and add a touch of flour to thicken the sauce if you want. Drizzle the sauce on the chicken.

This…kinda worked? The mint is weird and I’m not sure it works in the spinach. Combined with the vinegar it leaves an after taste like faint mold smells. It’s just faint enough to leave that impression. If it were stronger it wouldn’t play nice with the other herbs though. So I’m not sure I’d put that in again.

The chicken is super tender. And the mint plays nice with the other herbs on the meat. I don’t like turning the sauce into a full on gravy. You can add flour and do it like I did if you want to, or you can leave the sauce thin like I should have.

I don’t hate it, it has a decently complex flavor, not sure I’m making it again.

Day 5: Sausage casserole

Not going to lie, this is the one I was most hesitant about. It’s basically bread pudding, with sausage, onion, and white wine vinegar. I love bread pudding. I love bread pudding so much I refuse to make it lest I mess it up and be faced with disappointing sorrow. So a savory bread pudding got some hella side eye.

Honestly? It kinda deserves it. There is so much going on here and I’m not positive it all works.

The spices (cardamom, cinnamon, salt) get over powered by the white wine vinegar. I can’t really make the sweetness out around the sour. The bread soaks up both milk and vinegar in a way that, while it’s not bad, I wouldn’t describe as good either.

The apples stay crisp through the baking, and play nice with the onions and sausage. But that’s a winning flavor combination in modern times as well, so I’m not so shocked about that.

I think if I were to do this again I’d halve the vinegar and use apple cider instead of white wine. This is a dish with potential, and may work really well in the late fall when it’s not 1,000,000 degrees outside. And it is a complete dish on it’s own, no sides needed. As is right and proper from something calling itself a casserole.

Day 4: Lettuce Salad and Herb dressing

Tonight was the first time I really ignored the book as far as what it says to put in the salad itself (cress, lettuce, parsley, spinach) and did my own thing based on other green referenced.

My Saxon salad:

Loose leaf lettuce (ripped up)

Spinach

Dandelion greens

Mint

Radishes

Cucumber

It’s really just your run of the mill salad. Nothing complicated.

The herb dressing isn’t bad. White wine vinegar, oil, dill, rosemary, chopped cress or cress substitute. It’s a simple and healthy dressing that I am going to make again.

Day 3: Roasted chicken, cucumber salad, and honey butter

Roasted chicken is a bit different than I’m used to. The glaze is cinnamon, clove, honey, and apple cider vinegar. That’s it. No salt, no other seasonings I associate with “chicken”. It’s not bad, just…sweet? But not cloyingly sweet or sticky candy sweet. More like sweet bread without icing sweet. Still worth a try if you’re willing to play around with your expectations, but if roasted chicken needs to be entirely savory? You won’t like this. I don’t notice the lack of salt honestly. I’m too confused about whether or not I like the cinnamon to notice.

Cucumber salad. This is basically a quick pickle salad. I added radishes because I have them, I like them, and I thought it’d be a good idea. It was and I regret nothing. Cucumber, onion, white wine vinegar, salt, and honey. Put them together and forget about them in the fridge for at least an hour. The longer you leave them the stronger the flavor.

Honey butter is honey butter. If you’ve gone to an SCA feast you’ve been offered honey butter. This called for some cinnamon too, and honestly I really like it here. It keeps the butter from being too sticky sweet.

I’m finding I like the over all flavor profiles I’m playing with this week. A little sour, a little sweet, not much salt or spice. Food tastes mostly like a formal version of itself rather than a vehicle to carry herbs. I admit I generally cook, especially chicken, by dumping so many different flavors on it that the food itself vanishes. This is a nice change and I think I’ll try to remember this going forward.