Haversack for Magnus

Come on guys, you didn’t think I just did words did you?

Haversacks or pilgram’s bags aren’t really documentable for either Magnus or me, but they’re damn useful and SCA appropriate regardless of persona. This is the project that made me realize my idea of ‘effort’ has gotten really skewed. I don’t feel like I put a lot of effort into this because I used modern needles and polyester thread for structural seams.

Never mind that it’s black linen, lined in raw silk, hand stitched with fully finished seams on both the lining and the shell, with a hand woven strap based on some trim located in a find contemporary to his period. Or that the embroidered panel on the front was designed by his (sneaky, clever, and wonderful) lady and embroidered with silk, linen, 14ct gold and sterling silver. Nope, clearly no effort since I didn’t spin or use period tools. Yes I can feel your eyeroll and recognize I’ve earned it.

Anyway. Pictures!



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.

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.


Make it Pretty – A quick guide to simple seam detailing

It was requested that I follow up my last post on seam finishing with a post about seam embellishment, the kind that looks like embroidery. Ladies, gentlemen, and those who eschew either term? The reason it looks like embroidery is because you’re running embroidery stitches along the seam. It looks like embroidery because it is embroidery. Don’t let that scare you away! Trust me, if you can handle a simple running stitch you can handle any of the three stitches I’m going to show you.

First, the ever present question of why? Why on earth would you decorate seams? Adding seam detailing is an easy way to make your garment stand out. It also helps machine stitched garb give the appearance of being hand stitched, and frankly I do it because it’s one of the few ways I have of feeling fancy in early period garb.

Stitch one: Split Stitch.

Split stitch is one of the easiest to explain. When it’s finished it looks like the yellow lines on this:

split stitch

Split stitch strongly resembles chain stitch, but in my mind it’s easier to do/teach. So here goes.

Step one: make a single stitch.


Step two: poke your needle up from the back of your project through the center of the stitch you just made.


Step three: make poke your needle back through the front of your fabric in order to make a stitch that is in line with and half over laps the previous stitch.


Repeat steps two and three until you reach the end of the line of work.

Stitch Two: Herring Bone Stitch

This one is one of my favorites. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it looks awesome. See?


That is a double herring bone, I went over the seam once with green, then went back over it with gold, staggering the Xs. That’s all. This is a bit more complicated to explain but here goes:

Step one: Sew one long diagonal stitch.


Step two: poke your needle up next to and a little behind the end you just made.


Step three: Sew one long diagonal stitch in the opposite direction of the last one, forming an elongated X


Repeat steps two and three.


Stitch Three: Blanket Stitch.

This is an awesome stitch for edging a piece, or at least that’s what I use it for.

Step one: Make a horizontal stitch sewing along your edge but do not pull the thread all the way though.


Step two: Poke your needle up, aligned with the end point of that stitch, but perpendicular to it.


Step three: Pull your needle through the loop created in step 1.


Step 4: pull the thread all the way though, tightening the perpendicular stitch AND the loop created in step one.


Repeat steps 1 -4.

There you go! Three stitches that I know you can do if you can manage a running stitch. These are the only three stitches I use to decorate garments I make. That’s it. Go forth and sew my dears.

Fighting Tunic for Ciar

Trying to get better about documenting my work so here’s what I’m working on right now. This is Ciar’s fighting tunic. She commissioned a fancy tournament tunic for, well, fighting in tournaments. So here is a quick and dirty Norse-ish tunic tutorial! (In the following pictures kindly ignore Baldr, supervisor pup extraordinaire, also my bare feet. I’m too lazy for photo editing)


I use the following:

Around the widest part of the chest/torso.

Around the hips.

Across the back of the shoulders.

Around the neck.

Top of shoulder to wrist.

Around the wrist.

Around the armpit.

From collarbone to as long as you want it to be.

Drafting the pattern and cutting the fabric:

The basic shapes for a tunic are two long rectangles(front and back), four tapered rectangles (sleeves) and two triangles (side gores). I am not doing any shaping or fitting here. This is slightly more complicated than a tee tunic, but not by much. Trust me. If you can handle a tee tunic you can handle this.

What you’re going to do is take the chest measurement and divide it in half. Make sure that number is longer than the across the back of the shoulders measurement. Because we want this baggier for freedom of movement I added about 5 inches to this measurement. That’s the short side of your two front and back rectangles. Take your measurement from the collarbone to as long as you want it to be, add 7-8 inches to account for seam allowance, hem, and meeting at the top of the shoulder. That’s the long side of your two front/back rectangles. Cut two of these.

Next up are sleeves. Take your shoulder to wrist measurement and add 2, that’s your length, mark this in a straight line. Take your around the armpit measurement, cut it in half and add 5. That’s the widest edge of your sleeve, mark this in a straight line out from one edge of your length line. Take your around the wrist measurement, divide it in half and add 2, that’s the short edge of your sleeve, mark this in a straight line out from the other side of your length line. You should now have three lines, one long one with two lines coming off the edge.

Now, from the point of the wrist line that’s NOT connected to the length line measure 2 inches in toward the shoulder. Mark that point and draw a straight line back to the wrist line. From the point of the shoulder line that’s NOT connected to the length line measure in 5 inches toward the wrist. Mark that point and draw a straight line back to the shoulder line. These two dots mark the beginning and end of the sleeve taper. Draw a diagonal line connecting them. Cut four of these.

This picture is upside down. The long straight side is the top of your sleeve.


Note: Sleeves can be tricksy little jerks because armpits are hard to fit, this is why the gods gave us gores. If you follow my directions and your armpit is too small to allow for freedom of movement do the following: cut two squares of fabric, unpick the armpit seam, fit the square so that one point is aligned with your under arm seam, one point is aligned with each seam holding your sleeve to your tunic, and the forth point is aligned with the side seam of your tunic, (it’ll form a diamond) and sew that sucker in. Hopefully you won’t need to, but knowing how to add armpit ease WITHOUT CUTTING WHOLE NEW SLEEVES is a life/sanity saver. 

Side gores! Super easy peasy. My basic rule of thumb is to take the long side of the front/back rectangle, subtract the shoulder/armpit measurement, and use 2/3 of the remaining measurement for side gore length on a tunic. Measure a 2-3 inch line (I like having the flat line at the top of my triangle rather than having it come to a point, I find it makes it easier to sew in later) From there measure out your length on a diagonal. Do the same from the other side of the line, try and get the angles the same. Alternately you can fold your fabric in half long ways and just measure out one diagonal line. Make sure the space between your diagonal lines is AT LEAST as wide as the difference between your chest/hip measurements (if any) Cut two of these.


Sewing together: 

Figuring out your neckline. I do keyhole necklines. I just think they look better than a round hole and they’re more forgiving size wise. Basically you can fit the neckline closer to your actual neck and still get your head through the head hole. So what you’re going to do is find the middle of the short edge of your front/back rectangle. Take your around the neck measurement and cut it in half. Add about two inches of give here. Measure it out so the middle of this measurement lines up with the middle of your front/back rectangle. Pin either edge so you know where to stop sewing the shoulders together. Determine which rectangle is the front one. Along that middle line cut a 3in slit. At the base of the slit snip two small notches angled away from the slit toward the bottom corners of the tunic. Very small, I’m talking quarter of an inch tops. What these do is allow you to hem a keyhole neckline. Yes you need them.

Sew the sleeves along the straight top edge, and along the tapered bottom edge. Set aside for a minute.

Sew the top of the tunic from your neckline pins out to the edge.

Take your sleeves, line the top seam up with the seam you just made on the top of your tunic. Shoulder to main body please. I know you’re all smart enough to not sew your wrist where your shoulder goes, but I’ve done weirder things so I’m specifying. Sew the front and back of the main body rectangles to the sleeve. Repeat for the other side.

Line your side goes up so the bottom of your side gore lines up with the bottom of your main body tunic. Pin into place. Sew from the armpit, down the main body, and down either side of the gore. Repeat for the other side.

Finish your seams (serge them, flat fell them, french seams, dealers choice here), and hem that sucker. Congrats on your new made-by-you tunic.

Fancy stuff:

Everything beyond this point is the embellishment I’m doing to make it a tournament tunic instead of just a basic Norse-ish shirt. This is all optional.

Cuffs. Ciar likes wide bands of contrasting color. So while I was cutting out the main tunic I cut out rectangles that I’m going to fit around the cuffs, collar, and hem, that I over dyed black. They came out more deep, deep red rather than a true black. But such is the nature of over dying. These will be folded around the hem, cuffs, and collar to finish them. I’m going to run a line of gold blanket stitch around them to make it extra pretty/ provide reinforcement on the edges.

They don’t look like much now, but trust me this’ll be pretty.


Side gores. Ciar uses a fox on her heraldry. So I embroidered the line work for a celtic style fox design on each side gore. I put them here rather than in the front or back because she is going to be fighting in this and it seems like the embroider may stand up better if it’s not directly in the front or back. Don’t know why, don’t know for sure if it’ll make a difference, but this is the choice I have made.

I use the sew through paper and trace your lines method of embroidery. Basically you lay a sheet of paper with your design over your fabric. Like so:

design layout

Then sew through it, tearing the paper out as you finish a section, like this:


Until you get this:

finished fox

Looks awesome and complicated and I didn’t have to free hand anything. It’s just tracing with string.

Seam embellishment. I’m debating running a line of herringbone stitch along each of the seams. We’ll see how time shakes out.

Pictures of the finished product (hopefully on her) once I actually, ya know, finish it.


Finished Project: Dress

This is it, it’s done!

I based my dress on this illumination:


So here are the challenges here: I can’t see her neckline. I went with a notched keyhole neckline because that’s what I’ve seen done most frequently. I’ve got nothing to work with as far as colors. But it looks like she’s got an underdress with long fitted sleeves, her over dress has wider and shorter sleeves than the underdress and there looks to be some kind of trim on the edge of the sleeves.

I used the Mammen tunic:


to make the argument for harringbone embroidery along the seams for added seam finishing and embellishment.

I wove the trim for the neckline and hem using the two pack Saxon technique I’ve cited before. The trim on the sleeves is wider and thinner using the same warp but turning all the cards together instead of turning them in the two pack method.

The fabric itself (along with the trim) is wool. The dress is slightly fulled so it’s a thick and warm garment. So now pictures!


In order we have: Front, back, sleeve trim detail, neckline trim detail, embroidery, and embroidery detail . Also featured: my apprentice belt which I did not make, my laurel did. I just got excited and wanted to see what my dress looked like with some of my performance favors and the fancy smancy belt.

So here it is guys, I finished it. I’m really proud of it and can’t wait to wear it and perform in it.

Tunic for Scarp

It’s been a bit quiet ’round the blog for the last few days. That’s because I’ve been working not writing. To that end here is what I’ve accomplished since my last post:

I have sewn a tunic for Husband. The basic style is based on the Thorsbjerg find:



. The basic pattern for that is as follows:

Take a long rectangle. Cut a hole in the middle for your head. Sew two other rectangles on at the shoulders. Leave slits at the bottom of the sides for freedom of movement.

The arms (from my understanding) weren’t cut tapered but rather hemmed down to the wrist. This does make a great deal of sense in terms of resizing to hand off to someone else and reusing the shirt. However this wasn’t feasible with the fabric I had. My reproduction had one major alteration because of this: arm gussets. Non-reproducible because I’d cut them from scrap and fitted them in until the sleeves fit my husband, arm gussets. I also used a keyhole/notch neckline rather than a simple round one because I like the look better and they seem to fit my husband better without making him either feel like he’s choking OR having to be so big they’re practically a low cut scoop neck.


Yes it’s on a female dress form. It is what I have people. Again, poor quality pictures are due to the old semi-clever phone being the only camera I have access to.

The other notable thing about this tunic is it contains my first attempt at the herringbone stitch (shown here in green and gold):


From what I’ve seen and been led to believe (I haven’t documented it yet myself though I really should) this particularly simple embroidery stitch was/is a popular style of embellishment for early period garb. If it isn’t period-period it’s at least SCA period.

This isn’t the final tunic. I have plans and the yarn to weave trim for the bottom of it that I may or may not get around to in the next two weeks. But it’s wearable, the seams are finished, it’s hemmed, and the neckline and sleeves have something on them to keep it from being a plain oatmeal colored shirt.