Perfection is Not Period.

Welcome to an Aethelflied has views post. Allow me to start with the following:

You are your own worst critic.

We as artisans want everything we do to be perfect. We want the lines in our illumination to be perfectly smooth with no wobbles, we want our metal work to have no dents or sharp bits (that ought not be sharp), we want every shot we throw to go flawlessly, we want our thread perfectly even and our weaving to be without a single error. Otherwise it’s not good enough. Fuck that shit.

No really. Forget about that. It is never going to happen and you’ll suck all the joy out of your own hobbies if you only accept perfection in your own work. And honestly? If you’re doing any kind of historic recreation? Perfection means you’re doing it wrong.

The things we are recreating were first and foremost functional. Does your object work for its intended purpose? Then you did it right and it is wonderful. Are there ways to improve? Yeah sure, and you should aim for that next time. But that should be the goal, better than or as good as last time. Not perfect.

And here’s the other important thing: You have permission to fail. No, really. You can fail. Yes you. And you. Fail big. Fail in new and exciting ways. Fail in ways that result in ‘no shit there I was’ stories. Because failure means you at least tried it before deciding you couldn’t do it. So long as you have all your body parts and no one is for real dead? Failure is good.

Going back to what I said about the objects we’re recreating being first and foremost functional. Super well made objects, or objects made deliberately pretty and impressive, were more likely to survive. That skews our sample bias towards stupidly fine work. Things that were used until they wore out don’t survive. Cloth rarely survives enough for us to see warping or treadling errors. In a fight the lucky shot won, not always the fighter with perfect form. We are comparing ourselves and our efforts to master works. Or at the very least to the work produced when someone has been doing it multiple hours a day, every day, since childhood. Unless you’ve had the same level of practice (spoiler: if you work full time or can buy your linens you have not) then your work is more than likely not going to be as perfect as extant examples.

On top of that, we live in an era of machines. Machines that can replicate things flawlessly because that’s All They Do. Comparing your output to that of a machine is silly and leads to madness.

In short: fail, fail big, and be proud of your mistakes.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to take my own advice and NOT count the treadling or threading errors in my most recent silk. Or over analyze my wonky hem line.

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Iridescent Silk Apron Panel

Alright, so remember how last time I said lampas wasn’t happening and it was just going to be three way iridescent silk? I lied. We’re at plain iridescent silk.

Why?

Well you see, tension is a pain in the butt to get correct with silk. For some reason the three way iridescent silk was plagued with tension issues. The right most 3 inches (7ish cm for my metric folks) got progressively looser as I unwound more warp. This meant I was frustrated and taking super long to weave. I finally gave up, cut the three way iridescent off, and retied the warp to adjust the tension. This meant that I no longer had time to fiddle with two wefts.

Yes I have ordered the silk to do a more dramatic three way iridescent piece as my next project when I don’t have a tight deadline.

Let’s back up a bit and start with why I’m weaving iridescent fabric in the first place.

  1. It’s pretty.
  2. It is actually period, just not for me as near as I can tell.

How do we know it’s period? We have paintings implying iridescence in fabric, like this image from the Visconti Hours:

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See the woman on the right in pink and yellow? The way it was painted implies a color shift in the fabric itself, and yellow and pink will provide iridescence if woven together. I’ve yet to find a source for how to weave it in period, however something like this would more than likely have been a guild secret so I don’t have high hopes for finding documentation like that. I’m just going to continue to muddle through figuring it out.

So how do you weave something iridescent?

Iridescence is just playing with color theory and string. You need at least two colors, be smarter than me and plan on only two for your first project. You’re welcome. Your colors should be similar color saturation and from different points on the color wheel. If your colors are too different in saturation the lighter color will get lost and if they’re too close on the color wheel then they’ll just look muddy. All iridescent fabric involves two or more contrasting colors, not all fabric with two or more colors will create iridescence.

You want to use a looser sett so that the threads have room to move. If they’re stiff then you won’t get the pockets and folds that highlight one color over the other. So no taffeta or tightly packed twills here folks. Iridescence is all about drape.

You want smooth thread, the smoother the better. Silk is perfect, crochet cotton is lovely, wool is possible but tricky. Smooth and shiny thread helps create the shine we associate with iridescence, and helps keep the sharp lines between colors needed in order for the magic to work. Fuzzy yarn doesn’t allow that to happen.

You want fine thread. The finest you can stand to work with. The more threads you can pack into an inch or cm the smoother the transition between colors will be and the more impressive the effect. You can make something iridescent with heavy yarns, technically. If  you follow all the other rules you can weave something with a color shift, but it’ll be clumsy and read more like stripes than magic. Still technically iridescent! And a wonderful way to learn without the time investment (so.much.time) of itty bitty fiddly silk.

For this sample I used 60/2 silk in Red and Diva Blue from Webs. I could warp it as dense as 55epi (27.5epcm), but to get the drape I needed I kept it at a some what gauzy 40epi average. Final piece ended up being 14×33, which is perfect for me to have the shiniest most obnoxious viking apron panel ever. Which almost makes up for not having the veil I wanted.

Almost.

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Silk veil project

Ok so Lampas is not happening. I got ahead of myself and overly ambitious for the time I have (shock). Instead we just have a three-way iridescent silk fabric in a point twill diamond pattern.

I love this fabric, I hate working on it. This is about 12 inches (30cm) wide and 45 or so ends per inch. There’s two shuttles to throw every pick, and 40 picks per inch.

This means it’s fiddly and slow and entirely the wrong project for me mentally this month so it may or may not get finished.

But, onto what you’re really here for. Pictures.

Top to bottom: full length with hints of the iridescence it has in person, close up to show both texture and one of my warping mistakes, and finally a quarter for scale.

Still going to plod along on this, we’ll see if wanting to wear it is enough motivation to actually finish it in time.

Rule 2

Or how to not chase people away from your hobby.

Rule 1: No unexpected hospital trips or emergency medical care. This is not the rule we’re talking about, but I knew if I didn’t say what it was I’d bet a bunch of folks asking.

Rule 2 (the one we care about in this post): Don’t be an asshole.

Now there are as many examples of assholery as there are people in any hobby. There are people who will shame anyone who knits with acrylic yarn, regardless of reason for the choice, there are folks who will chase other people out of any kind of gaming for reasons I do not comprehend, people for whom no outfit will be authentic enough. I could go on forever. But I won’t because we can all name examples.

Folks? All this behavior does is chase people away from something you love, which ultimately causes it to die. It doesn’t make you look impressive (though you do leave an Impression when you do it), it doesn’t help the person you’re doing it to, and it sure as hell doesn’t make your hobby better.

I will admit, there is one particular bit of rule 2 failure that angers me more than others. Garb and/or kit shaming. I can’t help it, I’m a textile nerd. I’m a textile process nerd. The how is just as important as the what when it comes to clothing for me. You all know that, you’ve read this blog before, you’ve seen what I make and how I make it. I’ll talk at you for hours about string and cloth.

That being said? Telling someone where their clothing isn’t Good Enough by your standards, when they had not asked for your input, is rude as fucking hell. Taking it upon yourself to critique someone else’s efforts is not educating, it is not helping them get better, it is rude. For all you know the item you’re stink eyeing is the first thing that person has ever made or bought, or is a technique they’ve never tried before. They may be proud as hell of it, and your “oh, is that cotton blend?” may be enough to discourage them from ever trying again. Don’t be that person.

They also may just be wearing something you are unfamiliar with. If you haven’t looked at Saxon, for example, it looks like generic SCA #3. So trying to give me pointers on how to up my game, or assuming I don’t know how to do something based on my shapeless over dress, is going to get you a take down of everything you have on right down to your thread count and the weave of your undergarments. Let alone how it was stitched or what it was stitched with. Certain colors that can be produced with natural dyes that we know were used in period? Read as almost offensively modern. Hot pink, bright orange, neon green, all acceptable in Viking textiles. Sometimes even together.

There are ways to encourage people to up their game, without breaking rule 2. Here are a few options:

  1. Make yourself approachable with questions.

If someone asks you how you did something, or for information, answer with excitement. Don’t respond with annoyance that the person didn’t know to begin with. Once upon a time you didn’t either.

      2. Make your knowledge available.

Teach classes, have a blog that people have the option of accessing if they want to. Join in conversations on social media sites. Offer to show people how to do the thing you’re passionate about.

3.  Make materials available.

Have extra fabric? Donate it to someone who is starting out. Bring your spare gear to practice so new people can try it out even if they’re poor. Offer to bring materials to events if someone expresses and interest. I can only weave and do what I do now because friends lent or bought me the materials to make it happen.

4. Be patient

Understand that not everyone is going to care as much as you do. They’re just not. And that’s ok. And, even if they do, they may not be able to either give as much time, money, or effort, to make it happen as you can.

Is that everything you can do? No. Do you need to do all of it? No. Teaching, for example, isn’t something everyone is up to doing. But before you make a comment on what someone is wearing ask yourself:

-Are they safe?

-Do they look comfortable?

-Did they try?

If the answer to all three is yes? Keep your thoughts to yourself unless they ask for your views. And remember “try” can be as small as a t-tunic and pajama pants, or a loose blouse and peasant skirt. Gods know sometimes high budget TV shows don’t even give us that much (I’m looking at you Vikings.), lets not ask for more accuracy from someone with an unknown yet presumably low budget, ok?

Don’t break rule 2.

A Peacock Project

Also an accountability post.

First off, what do I mean by ‘peacock project’? A peacock project is a project with no right to exist other than showing off. Much like a male peacock’s tail. There’s no reason for it to be that pretty or complex. It just is. And so here we are.

I’ve decided to weave myself (mundanely) a scarf and (SCA purposes) a veil.  I am weaving it entirely out of silk in three colors (red, blue, and silver). When I am done it is going to be iridescent in three directions depending on how you look at it. I am weaving it out of a complex looking point twill. On top of that I’m going to do lampas work.

I’m doing it in 2 months. I need to weave 1 yard per month of it to get it done. This is…not a small order. I’m starting the warp today.

The plan is to warp it in red. Then where the center patterning is add my silver warp for the lampas hedgehogs (my badge in the SCA and the animal most people associate with me). As I only have a 4 harness table loom I have to do the lampas as pick up work.

How this will need to get warped:

540 strands of red silk warp. 40 of the twill edging + floating tabby edge, followed by 460 strands in the regular diamond twill pattern, then another 40 of the twill edging plus floating tabby edge. In the middle of that nonsense there are 21 groups of 14 strands of silver for the lampas hedgehogs. Originally I’d wanted to do them in sterling, then looked at my reserves of sterling silver and realized I’d need to order more. That’s a no go, I’m not spending additional money for this. So silver silk it is.

How this is going to weave up (note the multiple steps per pick here):

  1. Lift heddles per twill pattern.
  2. Throw silver threads until running into the hedgehogs.
  3. Lower heddle.
  4. Pick out hedgehog pattern and that twill row center pattern using pick up sticks.
  5. Throw silver weft through shed created.
  6. Remove pick up stick
  7. Raise heddle for twill pattern
  8. Throw silver weft through remaining length of warp.
  9. Beat into place
  10. Throw blue weft through shed, careful not to cross the silver weft AND go over all the silver warp threads.
  11. Beat into place.

Yes. 11 individual motions per pick with the requirement that I do two different pick up patterns across 460 threads without fucking it up. For 2 yards. Admittedly there is about an inch in the beginning that is just “Lift shed, throw two wefts, beat” and an inch at the end of the same. And 4 picks per repeat of that. And the ground cloth under the hedgehogs will only be red/blue iridescent rather than red/blue/silver but this was the only way I could figure out to do it that wouldn’t require a 4th color of silk (which I do not have, again not buying things) or muddy the hedgehog by having the silver under it.

I have no reason to own a cloth like this. None. But fuck it I want something pretty. Super pretty. Stupidly complex and pretty. So I’m going to do it damnit.

too.

On Difficulty

I’m a huge offender of this, I’m not going to pretend I’m not.

You ever have someone look at your work and tell you how beautiful it is or how comment on how complicated it must be or how they could never do something like that? And what is our default response? Certainly not ‘thank you’.

Oh it’s not hard!

Of course you could!

Oh I’ve just got more time for it!

It’s just x! (X being string, paint, swords, metal, ink, wood, whatever your art form is.)

I know when I do it I’m trying to be encouraging. Or I just don’t see it as hard because that’s how my brain works. For example, I show my husband weaving drafts where I can clearly see what the cloth will look like. It’s a graph after all, with the pattern of the cloth in the center. He looks at me like I’ve got six heads, even though he can look at the blue print and see a completed house where I see a bunch of lines and measurements. He can show me a plumbing diagram, and while I kinda get it I couldn’t follow it. Same for me showing him clothing patterns. Neither of us are dumb, we’re both visual people, it’s a matter of what we’re used to seeing.

That being said, dismissing what we do as a matter of ‘just learning’ does a disservice to people for whom it just doesn’t click. I can not paint. Full stop. I can draft a complicated clothing pattern on the fabric itself, without paper, cut it out, and have it fit. But my painting skills are blobs. I just can not use a brush. Painting is magic. When people offer to teach me (again) or tell me how I could do it if I’d just had the time, it’s frustrating. Trying makes me want to cry. I understand color theory, I know the mechanics of how it should work, there is no logical reason why I can’t. But there you have it.

There will always be people to whom what you do without apparently effort is the epitome of Magic that they will never master. No matter how much they may want to or how many times they’ve tried to pick it up. And brushing off their praise as ‘it’s just x’ isn’t helpful to anyone.

One of the hardest things for me to learn is that it is not conceited to say “thank you, this was a lot of time and effort.”

Acknowledging your skill is not bad, wrong, or rude. Even if it is something that comes naturally to you, acknowledging that it may be difficult for other people isn’t being a discouraging bad person. With that in mind may I present some alternatives?

“Wow, I could never do something like that!”

Instead of “Of course you could!” try “Have you tried before? What discouraged you that time?”

“That must have taken forever to do!”

Instead of “No, it’s super fast.” try “I can see where it looks like it, if you’re interested I can show you how it works.”

“That looks so hard.”

Instead of “It’s easy, it’s just x.” try “Thank you, it took a while for it to click.”

Here’s the super hard part. If someone says they tried to do something, and they just can’t do it? Even if its something that is easy as breathing for you? Take their word for it and gracefully accept their praise in the manner in which it is intended. If they want to try again, great! Teach them! If not? Don’t rub in that something they find impossible is something you can do without thinking.

The Black Magic of Boob Math

This is the first of a series.

Alright folks this essay is going to be as genderfree as possible. Women make and wear men’s clothing, men of a certain size also have to navigate this issue, and third gender or gender eschewing folks need clothing too. To that end I’m avoiding terms like ‘the girls’ ‘the ladies’ ect. I’m also making the conscience choice to refer to the body parts we’re navigating around as ‘boobs’. Yes ‘breast’ is the more scientifically accurate term, but that (to me at least) reads as decidedly politely-feminine in a way boobs just doesn’t. I also just like saying boob. I am a cis woman, so I’m not going to even pretend that I know best, just explaining my choices here. Feel free to substitute your favorite word of choice, gods know the internet is full of ’em.

ON WARDS!

What is ‘boob math’?

Boob math is the complex calculations needed in order to make clothing fit correctly and as intended over boobs. Whether that intent is to downplay their existence, draw attention in a flattering manner, or  just support them so you fricken back isn’t killing you after a couple hours, determines what kind of structural physics you need to do here. You’ll note that high fashion uses models with fairly straight lines, even they acknowledge boob math is hard. It’s not just as easy as throwing more fabric in the boob-zone, it’d be awesome if it was.

Today we’re going to start going over how to alter existing patterns designed for those folks without boobs to fit properly with boobs. This is the most simple kind of boob math and why we’re starting here. This will also work for adjusting patterns meant for the boob’d that don’t fit around *your* boobs. I’m assuming you are starting with a commercial pattern. I do not use them (I draft everything every time like someone who refuses to let love into their life) so my photos and such for this are all hand drawn with the shapes you’r’e looking for. Excuse the laughably terrible art.

You will need:

-Your pattern

-Paper to draft on (no special kind, you can use printer or notebook paper and tape it onto your commercial pattern if need be)

-Measuring tape

-A pencil

-Scrap paper for writing measurements on

-Comfort beverage or food of choice

Ok, so the goal here is to be as non-disruptive to the original pattern as possible for ease of sewing it. That being said there’s a bit of pattern drafting involved here. Don’t run away! It’s ok, I’m going to walk  you through how to make 2D shapes fit a 3D body. First we’re going to take measurements. I’m going to have you take measurements on both sides of your body, the beauty of pattern drafting means custom fitting and boobs are never the same size. The difficult bastards.

If you intend to wear a bra with this garment, put it on now. For each side of your body you are going to measure:

(A) -From the top center of your shoulder to nipple

(B) -From outer side center (or wherever the seam of your pattern lies) of the rib cage to nipple

(C) -STRAIGHT UP from directly under the boob to nipple (do not follow the curve, trust me)

(D) -From center top of shoulder straight down the side body to directly under the boob (do not follow the curve of the boob, you want a straight line)

(E) – Straight across the front of the boobs from nipple to nipple.

Now look at the bodice pieces for your pattern. There should be a front piece, and a piece with the arm hole cut in. Modern patterns generally give you one of each and say ‘cut 2’. You may need to make a copy and label one Left and one Right. Measurement D is how far down the pattern pieces we’re altering. Clearly mark that on each piece by measuring from the top edge (shoulder) of the pattern down.

Starting side (left) and front (right) pattern piece examples.

Grab the side pattern piece (the one with the arm hole cut out). We’re making adjustments to the front of it. Now, using measurements A, B and C you’re going basically make a triangle on the side piece of your pattern. Starting from the bottom of measurement D (so as far down the pattern as we’re adjusting), measure up C. Make a dot or a line or some mark you can see. Measure down and out from the top of the shoulder on the pattern for the length of A, adjusting the angle until the point of it lines up with measurement B straight out from the point we made by measuring C up from the bottom point of D. Make a dot or a mark at this point.

Now what you’re going to do is draw a line from the top of the shoulder to the mark made where measurements A and B meet. Then draw a curve down from that to meet the bottom of measurement D. Smooth out where the curve meets the line from the shoulder into a curving transition to avoid awkward nipple points.

Repeat this process for the other side. Grab your measuring tape again and measure how long the total curve your just made is, from shoulder, around the nipple point, down to where it meets the pattern again.

Now take your front pieces. These should be more or less rectangles since most of the fiddly bits on patterns are the side pieces. There may be a concave curve on the edge that meets your side piece, that’s fine and is useful. We’ll get to that. The measurement you just took off your side piece curve is how long the new measurement of your front piece from shoulder to point D is. The concave curve is added to avoid having odd darts and ruffles along where the front and side pieces attach on that curve. You’ll need to rough in a concave curve that matches the convex curve you made on your side piece.

Where all your measurements go. Side (left) and front (right)

Repeat this process for the other side.

Measure from the center point of one of your concave curves to the center point of the other. This needs to be AT LEAST as long as measurement E. If not you will have that dreaded button gaping boob pull situation happening. If there are no buttons or front closure then you’ll still have uncomfortable boob flattening/tugging going on.

Altered side (left) altered front (right)

WHEN YOU GO TO CUT THIS ALL OUT DO NOT FORGET TO ADD THE SEAM ALLOWANCE SPECIFIED IN YOUR ORIGINAL PATTERN TO YOUR FINAL LINES. This is the pitfall I make most often and how I end up with poorly fitting tops even though I know how to draft for boobs.

What we just walked through is basically drafting a princess seam.