A Pet Peeve

Alright, this is basically a rant with a how to buried in it.

Hats. Cover your head. If you’re doing Medieval, Pre-Medieval, all the way up to Victorian, recreation and your persona is in what they would consider to be public? Wear a hat. We don’t wear them modernly (except in special situations), and they’re entirely optional. So we tend to just…not, even when in persona. Please don’t fall into this trap.

No this is not a religious thing. I mean, yeah it can be. I do Saxon and it’s totally a religious thing by that point. Modesty before the Divine and all that. Frankly it’s just practical before it becomes a symbol of modesty. So all this “but my persona isn’t Christian so I can leave my hair uncovered!” misses the point.

Why you should cover your head, regardless of gender or religious choices:

  1. Sanitation.

Ok look, hair gets dirty. If you work outside in any capacity it gets muddy, and full of just random stuff. A head covering keeps all that off your hair, keeping it neater between washing.

2. Climate control/Burn prevention

I’m putting these together because they fall into the same basic category of comfort. Sun or wind burn on your scalp suuuuucks. The easiest way to prevent this? A thin layer of cloth over your head. Also, shockingly enough, a linen veil or cap is cooler than a bare head in extreme heat. That’s without factoring in that you could wet it with cool water and it becomes basically air conditioning. In the cold? An uncovered head is a heat dump. We know this, this is why we wear knit caps and hoods in modern winter. If you portray Northern Europe in the little ice age? A hat means you don’t get frost bitten ears.

3. Personal grooming

Pop quiz: if you have long hair and don’t use product in it to keep it in place, how often do you shove it out of your face every day? How many times do you tuck fly-aways behind your ears? Even if you tightly braid it. If you’re anything like me it’s frequent and unthinking. Know when that problem goes away? When there’s a cap or veil keeping it covered and in place. No more wind blowing long hair into your eyes, no lighting your head on fire trying to make dinner, no eating the tips of your hair while talking.

So what would you wear on your head?

I’m a Saxon, so I’m going to use my nifty new dummy head and purple wig to show you the layers I do and why.

Layer 1: Hair style

I do this braid/bun style because it uses one tie, gets all my hair, was found on a bog body, and fits neatly under all the other layers. Why is it purple here? Because I own three wigs, and the green and rainbow ones are curly so I’m not braiding them.


Layer 2: Cap

This is optional-ish. Think of it like a hair bra. This gives me something to pin the final veil to and keeps my hair firmly contained. This is a fairly new addition to my garb and I have no idea why it took so long for me to start wearing it. It’s comfortable enough that I don’t notice it once it’s on.

Layer 3: Fillet

Totally optional. This is for form rather than function. Saxon tends to not be very flashy (see my comment in the beginning about modesty and all that). But this does give a chance for a nice pop of color and pattern, and the ability to show off your fancy tablet weaving. I’ve also noticed it helps keep my cap from sliding back if I tie it around my head (above) rather than under my chin.

Layer 4: Veil

Final layer! This is the most visible part. It covers my neck and shoulders, and keeps me from getting sun burn, no matter how long I spend outside. I actually wore only a veil for years and just pinned it to the front of my dress, looped it over the top of my head, and then pinned it to itself. That certainly works and is an entirely viable way of wearing a veil if you can’t wear the foundation cap for whatever reason (or if you forgot it). But wearing a veil this way is what gives veils like this their pain the butt reputation. They tend to slip back, or shift, and hair escapes, and your forever fiddling with it and adjusting it. And it can sometimes, annoyingly, just slip right off the back and then you’re getting stabbed in the throat with your own pins trying to fix it. As me how I know.

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.


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.

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.


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.

Sewing with a Bone Needle (Yes Again)

About a year or so ago, maybe a year and a half I read an article (which I have been trying to find again but can’t recall the name or author) detailing a particularly well preserved Dublin Hood. Preserved well enough to measure the space between needle holes as roughly 3mm. So fairly fine even with a modern needle. The common assumption I’ve run across is that you’ll never get stitches that fine using a bone needle, therefore metal needles had to have fully replaced bone and hawthorn as soon as they were reliably available.



THOSE ARE 3MM STITCHES. CONSISTENT 3MM STITCHES. And the needle I used to make them. Thereby proving it’s possible to make stitches that small without the use of a metal needle. Which means we can not accurately date when metal needles almost fully replaced bone, horn, and wooden needles based on stitch length and needle hole size.

That also means that this dress will be as period as I can possibly make it shy of spinning the thread and weaving the fabric myself. That’s next. After I have the space and money for a warp weighted loom. Then, oh then, I will make myself something from start to finish. Oh yes. *Ahem* right. Moving on.

Doing this I figured out a trick for getting the stitches so little. In normal hand sewing I tend to judge the distance between needle holes and aim for a consistent length in order to get even stitches. Here that resulted in big, ugly, suture like stitches of uneven length and a seam so gross looking I pulled the thread out and started over. Then I figured out why. In normal hand sewing with a modern metal needle the needle passes through the fabric, cutting threads, but leaving the weave generally smooth and undisturbed looking. Sewing with the thicker bone needle shoved the threads out of the way and left a large hole in the weave, while leaving the individual threads intact. So when I was eyeballing distance I wasn’t taking into account the added threads that would normally be in the space that is now the needle hole. So when the threads started to fill the hole back in suddenly there was more fabric between the stitch holes, and you end up with uneven ugly wonky stitches.

So how do you fix it? Count threads. Seriously. Eyeball the number of threads between the needle holes you want to make, not the distance they’re covering. 4 threads are 4 threads whether they’re spread out over 3mm or squashed into 1mm. Added bonus to doing this? You end up pushing the threads back into their original place with the new needle hole, healing the previous one, without having to rewash the garment.

Note: This only really works to heal the previous needle hole if you’re using the stab stitch method I talked about last time I discussed how to sew with a bone needle. Otherwise it won’t shove the threads back into their appropriate place in the weave of the fabric when you pull the needle through AND counting threads becomes a massive pain in the butt with a lot of fabric flipping to see both sides of the seam.

Using this method I got the stitches you see above, small, consistent, neat, with a stitch length roughly consistent with what I get out of my normal hand sewing with a modern needle. It does take a little longer, but not so much so that I’m willing to rule out “new skill slowness” as the cause.

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.

Seam Finishing

In my post yesterday ( https://aethelfliedbrewbane.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/fighting-tunic-for-ciar/ ) I made a passing comment about how to finish the seams was dealer’s choice, but didn’t explain the differences in seam finishing techniques. Then did a quick scan of my archive and realized I’ve always assumed my readers know how to finish seams. Well guys, you know what they say about assuming. And so here is a brief description of a couple seam finishing techniques. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’ll get you started.

First off: Why finish seams in the first place? The thing is sewn together, that’s enough right?

Technically speaking yes. I’ve got some garments that I never bothered to finish the seams on. Because they’re wool, I’m lazy, and the worst that happens is I pop a seam. That’ll be embarrassing when it happens, but I won’t die.

That being said! Finishing your seams adds reinforcement to the seam itself, and stops the raw edges from fraying, shedding bits of thread all over you/your under clothes, helps make the garment last longer, and just generally makes the whole piece look better and more professional.

Seam finishing technique 1: Serging

How to do it: after you’ve sewn your garment together, right sides pressed together with the wrong sides out, you run those same seams through another machine called a serger. This is what you generally see on commercial garments when you see the 8,000 threads running along the seams.

Pros: Fast, neat, minimal effort.

Cons: Requires access to a serger (which are not cheap), not period in even the slightest way, can be tricky with small/tight seams.

Seam finishing technique 2: French Seams

How to do it: Sew your garment together RIGHT SIDE OUT. That’s the biggest difference. Either sew as close to the edge of your pieces as you feel comfortable, or trim down to close to your stitches once you’ve got it sewn together. Now, flip your garment inside out and sew the seams again. This basically encases the raw edge in a tube of fabric.

Pros: Can be done with a modern machine, fast, arguably documentable.

Cons: creates a ridge on the inside of your garment, uses more seam allowance, really bad along curves for some reason.

Seam finishing technique 3: Flat felling. 

How to do it: Sew your seams, right sides pressed together and wrong side facing out. Trim one side of your seam allowance down close to the stitches, fold the other side over as if to hem. Run a whip/invisible hemming stitch along the fold.

Pros: Better in tight spaces/ along curves, arguably documentable, no ridge along the inside of your garment.

Cons: Best done with hand sewing. I mean, you could use a machine if you don’t mind a line of thread on the right side of your garment, but this really is better done by hand.

Seam finishing technique 4: Bias tape (option 1). 

How to do it: Sew your seams, right sides pressed together and wrong sides facing out. Sandwich the raw edges in bias tape/ribbon and run another seam.

Pros: Can be done on a modern machine, doesn’t require extra seam allowance,.follows curves.

Cons: Need bias tape/ribbon, can be tricky in tight spaces, can be finicky to get the bias tape seam to line up with the original seam to avoid puckering on the front, creates a ridge on the inside of your garment.

Seam finishing technique 5: Bias tape (option 2).

How to do it: Sew your seams, right sides pressed together and wrong sides facing out. Press your seams open and trim so they are no wider than your bias tape. Lay bias tape over the seam and sew along either edge of the tape.

Pros: Can be done with a modern machine, doesn’t require extra seam allowance, creates a smooth, flat, seam.

Cons: Need bias tape/ribbon, can be tricky in tight spaces, if you use a machine you will have two lines of thread showing on the right side (which you can use contrasting thread for and make a Feature), takes a little longer since you’re basically sewing each seam three times.

Norse Hood

My life will now be spent making these as beloved husband wants one, as does a friend of mine who is willing to trade for period style sewing pins. So I will sew, but first I document. I am basing my hood on the 11th century Skjoldenhamn find. Namely this:


(image found here: http://www.florilegium.org/files/ACCESS/2-Norse-Hoods-art_files/image003.png)

Note if you will the one long rectangle in the center to go up and over the head, note the gore on the back and the non-intact gore on the front that presumably would have looked the same.

Also note the tie that appears randomly near the center back of the head. The intent (near as I can figure) was to make the hood slightly tailored by letting the wearer adjust the tie. Thus keeping the hood from closing around the wearer’s face while not making each hood custom for a single person. I, however, think this looks dumb and thus am electing to ignore it. I’ll add a tie for the sake of accuracy if either recipient wants one, but they’re not being added by default.

This is the simplest pattern ever. It is literally a rectangle with two squares. That’s it. This is easier than a coif or a hat.Trust me on this, you can do this. Here is my step by step.

Step 1: Measurements.

Measure from the top of your head to as far down as you want your hood to sit on your shoulders. Measure from the back of your head to as far forward as you want your hood to sit. Double the top of head to shoulder measurement.

Cut out your rectangle (trust me, I won’t lead you astray I promise).

Drape your rectangle over the top of your head so an end is resting on either shoulder. Pinch in the front about as far down as you want the opening to be. I pinch right under my chin, but for the purposes of the fighting hood I left it open a bit more so it could easily be pulled back and a helmet put on.

Now, measure the length of rectangle you have between where you’re pinching and the bottom edge. That gives you the length of each side of your gores.

Cut out your two square gores.

Step 2: Assembling. 

Front: Fold your rectangle in half like so:


Take one of your goes and set it diagonally so that it forms a diamond between the rectangle. Like this:


Back: Same as front, except you will also pin the rest of the rectangle together like so:


When sewing the hood together start from the point of each gore and sew down, this will help keep your edges smooth and even. When sewing the back start at the top and sew down one side of the gore, then the other.

Step 3: Finishing.

Here’s where you have a lot of freedom and options. You can do just a simple flat fell along the seams and no other embellishment, like I did on this hood: (which is mine)


Or you can do things like lining, trim, and seam treatments like I did on this one: (which is a gift for a friend of mine to fight in)

Or you can get super crazy and do seam treatments, trim, embroidery, lining, ect. Depends on how fancy you want to try to make your rectangle and pair of squares.

There you have it, that’s all there is to making these things. Go forth and sew!