Project list 8/30/2016

I’ve been quiet around here because I’ve been busy in real life land. Skarp and I are moving at the end of next month which means we should be packing and cleaning. I melt down in overly stressful situations (like my whole home being packed up to move) and I need distraction projects. To that end, here is a list and descriptions of my current sanity projects:

  1. Wrist cuffs. 

I have a theory that I’m trying out.

I found a set of clasps at Pennsic for closing the cuff of a sleeve. This is clever as most of the extant tunics/under dresses that I’ve seen references to don’t have tapered sleeves. At least for the time period I’m looking at (9-11th century Northern European). I was told these clasps were based on a Saxon grave find that I’m still trying to document on my own. But! It was explained to me that these would be sewn on to the sleeve to hold the pleating in place.

That seems… wrong. Why would you sew metal to what amounts to your underwear? Why would you invest in a set of clasps for every under dress or tunic you own? How would you keep the metal from getting bent/broken/staining your garments during washing? All these questions become moot if you sew the clasps too a removable cuff and basically make little wrist belts. It also solves the problem of wearing out expensive and precious trim by sewing it on and then picking the stitches out to sew it on to something else.

To test out whether this would be useful or annoying to wear I’m making a set. By “making a set” I mean I’m spinning some lovely deep blue indigo dyed wool into a bit lighter than modern lace weight, which will put me on the thicker end of period weaving yarns. I’m then weaving it into as close to a diamond twill pattern as I can manage using cards rather than a heddled loom (because I have the former and lack the latter), and couching my badge on them in honest to gods silver and gold thread. Even if they’re annoying as heck to wear, they’ll be pretty drat it.

2. Over Dress

I was gifted some lovely green and gold linen a couple months back. My colors are green, gold, and white. I am going to make myself a gold saxon style dress, with green edging at the cuffs, collar, and hem, and applique my hedgehog on it in green. I’m also going to attach said hedgehog and green edging with white blanket stitch and probably run white herringbone stitch along the seams, as I am wont to do. But! I am doing all of this with handspun linen thread and using only period tools. Because I want to prove it’s possible to use bone needles on tightly woven modern fabrics WITHOUT breaking your needle or going insane.

3. Under dress

This is structurally sewn. I just need to hem it and finish the seams. I’m going to use bone needles from here on out since I’ve decided that unless I’m in a rush those are the tools I’m going to use on all my garb going forward.

A quick note:

When I say ‘spinning’ I am not referring to a wheel (although I have one) or modern spindles. I bought a soap stone bottom whirl spindle at Pennsic that’s an appropriate weight and size for my persona. For the sake of accuracy I’m spinning my weaving yarn for the wrist cuffs and my sewing thread for my over dress on this. So far I’ve learned that this thing really wants to be supported not suspended, otherwise it’s not heavy enough to maintain it’s rotation without a decent sized cop of yarn on it already.

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Sewing With Period Tools

The following are just my observations, your mileage may vary.

When I first expressed an interest in trying to sew with period tools (specifically brass pins, and needles made of bone, brass, or hawthorn) most of the reactions I got were negative. Not negative in the “oh dear gods woman don’t do it” but skeptical as to how effective the tools would be vs modern steel needles and pins.

The general consensus is that, while such tools are period, they aren’t worth the hassle and frankly they’re too brittle or soft or thick to be very effective anyway. The holes they’d rip in the fabric would look huge compared to modern needles, and they’d keep breaking in the middle of a project, and they’re only good for loosely woven fabrics. To that I say: you’re probably thinking of and using them wrong. Don’t think of them like modern needles, think of them more like tiny awls.

When you use a modern needle it’s sharp enough that it’ll cut threads in it’s way when you push it though the fabric, and it’s strong enough that you can make several stitches at the same time when doing a basic running stitch. This makes hand sewing quick, but also puts a lot of stress on your needle, your thread, and frankly limits how tiny your stitches can be based on how thick your fabric is.

Trying to sew the same way with bone needles will cause them to break. Ask me how I know. Aethelflied: making mistakes so you don’t have to!

For bone and hawthorn (I’ll get to brass in a minute) the best method I’ve found is the single stab. Push your needle through the fabric once, pull your thread through, push your needle back up through the fabric, repeat until your seam is done. This is a little slower until you get used to doing it, but honestly I’m much happier with how my seams look.

Why does this method work when multi-stitch running stitch doesn’t? Well for starters because of how bone and hawthorn needles interact with the fabric. Unlike a modern needle which will cut threads in it’s path, these types of needles push the threads aside to pass through. This creates a large initial hole (compared to a modern needle), that closes up around your sewing thread with time and washing. It heals for lack of a better word. This puts less long term stress on your fabric and (in my experience) makes your seams less likely to rip out since you’re not damaging the weave. It also gives us a reason why the needle holes we see on extant garments are so tiny compared to the needles we know they had at hand.

Sewing this way also puts less stress on your needle itself since it’s only going in one direction and does not have ripples of fabric trying to bend or snap it. It also puts less stress on your sewing thread since it’s only passing through the fabric once in a single pull. This makes this method wonderfully suited for handspun thread since you can afford to be a bit more finicky/careful pulling your thread through your fabric you’re less likely to snag and snap your thread.

This also allows us to create the tiny stitches we see in period that (I was told) could not be accomplished with bone and hawthorn needles because they were too thick/brittle. Because you’re not limited by how much of your needle is already caught up in the thickness of the fabric when you go to create another stitch you’re free to space your stitches as close together as you’d like. I’ve seen documention (in an article on irish bog finds, specifically mentioning hats, that I did not bookmark but have been trying to track down for the last two years) of stitches being as close together as 3mm. Stab-stitch method makes that possible with period needles.

What about brass needles? Well to be perfectly honest I only have one and it’s my least favorite to work with of the period needles I own. Brass is soft, so I can only use it when it’s either cold or I’m in air conditioning. Even then I need to take frequent breaks so the heat of my hands doesn’t bend the needle more than it already is. That being said brass is so much better for delicate fabrics like very light weight silk because it is so much finer than bone or hawthorn. It doesn’t *quite* function like a modern steel needle, and using it like one will bend and distort it (ask me how I know), so you still want to use the stab-stitch method, but it’s almost as fine as a modern needle so it is less likely to create pulls and snags in your delicate fabrics.

A note on working with brass in general: I use brass sewing pins when I’m hand sewing at events because modern pins are glaringly anachronistic to me if I’m the one using them, not a snobbery thing, not going to judge anyone else for their modern pins, but I judge me. BUT! Keep your fabric dry as best you can if you’re working with brass. It will patina. That means lots of little green dots which, depending on your fabric, may be difficult to remove. Pin a small section at a time, especially if it’s humid, and don’t leave your pins in your garment if you’re not actively working on it and it can be avoided.

Why bother with this at all when modern hand sewing tools work faster, are easier to acquire, and no one can tell what you used when you’re wearing the finished garment? For me the joy of making garb is accuracy. I feel like I’m a horrible cheater head when I use a sewing machine, and frankly I’m starting to feel that way about steel pins and needles. Again, this is just for my garb. I’ll sewing my husband garb on a machine, serge the seams, and be perfectly happy with it. I see garb people have machine stitched and am in awe that they made their own clothes and proud of them for either sewing it or making period style garb with their very own money. But for me? For me I want to make it as correct as I can. Right down to the bits no one knows but me.

 

Pennsic 45

AKA the War of Satan’s Jockstrap.

It was hot, it was muggy. Assume for the rest of this post that there is an underlying layer of sweat that will not go away because the air is too saturated for sweat to dry and too hot to stop sweating.

Saturday:

I got on site at 2:30 am middle Saturday. My beloved husband and others had made sure my tent was set up. I’d had every intention of unpacking my car, crashing in my tent, and parking after I’d slept.

What happened was:

I got to camp. I opened my trunk. I started crying the sobs of the over tired. Husband closed my trunk then hiked me up to his camp and bed. I passed out up there. Later that morning I hiked back to my camp, unpacked, got dressed, parked my car ect.

Saturday night was invitational bardic. I managed to get there on time, sit in mostly stunned silence while everyone else was performing and then do my piece. Guys? As awesome as flinging arm rings off of a tower is? Save it for daylight. There were several awesome people that helped me find the three bracelets I’d tossed into the darkness. I was also gifted a lovely armring for my performance. I trundled myself back to camp and passed out.

New items: Beautiful saxon style drinking bowl, armring, silver rosette spiral ring made by my laurel, mug carved with Pan’s face.

Sunday:

I went shopping in the afternoon and failed more than one saving throw vs stuff.

Sunday evening was the Bardic Showcase. We had a lovely turnout and I am thrilled with how smoothly it all went. All the feedback I’ve gotten from it was positive, people seemed to really enjoy the laid back less formal style that we decided to go with this year. So yay! Success! I however ran out of People and could not get to the college of performers meet and greet that I’d planned on.

New items: pottery hedgehog shield, new troubadour cup, naalbinding needle, bone weaving shuttle, bone threadwinder, silk embroidery floss, silver foil wrapped thread, gift for impending friend-spawnling, gifted wooden hedgehog beads, wooden box with a hinged mirror in the lid to hold all my SCA bling, and beautiful linen that’ll get to me after war.

Monday:

I helped march in the Eastern fencing army to the sound of war drums (organized by my counterpart). I also fought in the first dencing warpoint. This was the only time I fought (see initial comment regarding Satan’s jockstrap). I honestly don’t know if we won or not, all I know is I killed 5, died 3, and quit when the math was in my favor and before I went down from the heat. My handler was amazing. I came off the field and she handed me electrolyte water, got me to shade, got my fencing gear off me, and got cold onto my pulse points. No heat exhaustion for me! Not today anyway.

Monday night was state dinner. I dropped off the three bottles of cyser that were meant to be for the royals. I managed to get one empty bottle back, the thought is the other two were gifted. I did my piece (I once again used Beastie to give a prophesy. This time for peace since we were halfway through Pennsic.

I left state dinner after I did my piece in order to go to a wedding reception, where I saw people I haven’t seen in far too long and got drunk enough that I needed my laurel to make sure I got home and poured into my tent.

New items: inspection sticker on my fencing mask, adorable tiny raccoon figurine.

Tuesday:

Tuesday I did fuckall. I hung around camp as a lump, I napped, and I did some naalbinding. I attempted to do the ladies’ roaming kegger, I made it about 20 minutes before I ran out of People and needed to go back to camp. I went to bed Pennsic early (so around 1-2am). It was glorious.

New item: a lovely handbound leather notebook gifted by a camp mate, wrist clasps.

Wednesday: 

I was supposed to do lunch with my in laws. When it got pushed back to dinner I couldn’t go. Instead I hiked up, saw my husband briefly, paid people I owed money to, attempted to buy a pen, came home with a spindle instead. I tried to resist it’s siren song, but alas I could not. My dear friend also bought me  so absolutely beautiful blue wool roving which will be spun up and woven into bands for my lovely new wrist cuffs. Wednesday evening was court. Shortly before court I was gifted a lovely twisted wire ringer ring. This war’s theme was apparently “Aethelflied acquires stuff”.

Wednesday night was also court. To be honest I ducked out early. My plan was to hit the fighting households of the East and perform my minute and a half section of battle of maldon. Unfortunately I didn’t beat the rain showers and so I ended up spending the night in my tent. Working on not feeling guilty for doing either of my jobs.

New items: indigo dyed wool roving, soapstone spindle, twisted wire finger ring.

Thursday:

Had plans, did fuckall. All I did was go to Enchanted Grounds, throw down my three perfectly documentable for me pieces, then go see my husband for the evening.

Friday:

Helped with tear down until I threw my back out. Then I napped and then went up to Trothheim to witness their spectacularly awesome toasting ceremony.

Saturday:

Left site and drove home.