Samite

What, how, and dear gods why?!

Lets start out with what samite is. Samite is a compound twill, using two warp structures, to create a patterned fabric. At it’s heart that’s all it is. It is also one of the most luxurious, sought after, and valuable fabrics in history. Why? Because it’s a pain in the ass to weave and is generally done with silk and precious metal threads. It was also strictly controlled as a trade good. You couldn’t just go buy samite from anywhere, limited places were producing it (Assyria, Byzantium, and places owned by them were biggest producers) and that drove up costs.

samite
Figured samite showing common motifs

Traditionally samite involves a twill binding warp, and a core pattern warp (which ends up being completely covered by the motif being woven, much like a tapestry warp). The binding warp shows on the pattern as little dots, making it look over all like twill. Each color added to the over all design involves yet a more complicated pick up and treadling pattern. This would involve a loom that has multiple, almost an insane amount, of harnesses. I do not have that. I have an open 4 harness table loom. Which means being a wee bit nontraditional. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

All of the magic of samite happens inside the binding warp shed. Once that’s open you’re basically making tapestry on the pattern warp *inside* the shed of the twill. It’s super cool.

How this works (in an ideal world when you have enough shafts to not have to pick out your pattern):
-Open your twill shed.
-Open your first pattern shed, IE raise every thread that is NOT the color you are currently using as a weft.
-Throw weft 1 through the open pattern shed NOT between your pattern warp and twill warp.
-Close your first pattern pick NOT YOUR TWILL SHED.
-Open second pattern shed (if you’re using only 2 colors in your design this will be the inverse of your first pattern pick).
-Throw weft color 2 through the shed in your pattern warp.
-Close your second pattern shed.
-Repeat pattern sheds as needed (if you’re using more than 2 colors) until all colors in your design have been thrown.
-Close your twill shed.
-Beat into place, then repeat from the top.

If this sounds time consuming? Congrats! You’re right! It is! I’m averaging about 8-12 rows an hour. Not inches, rows. At this rate it takes me roughly an hour and a half to hour and forty-five minutes to weave one inch. And this is only doing one pattern repeat. BUT DON’T LET THAT SCARE YOU OFF! Seriously. If you’ve ever done any sort of pick up pattern before, you can do Samite.

As this is my first attempt I opted for only doing a 1 – 1.5in wide band of the stuff. Rather than actual yardage. Just in case I hate it. I warped a 2/1 twill using the first three harnesses, and warped all of my pattern warp through harness 4. This meant I could raise the entire pattern harness, pick out the pattern with a weaving sword, throw the pattern weft, then drop the pattern warp, pick out the ground with the weaving sword, and throw the ground weft, all without disturbing the 2/1 twill shed. I alternated threading a pattern warp and a twill warp for a ratio of 1:1 binding warp to pattern warp. I should have done a 2:1 pattern to binding warp threading since my binding warp came out too dense and ended up obscuring the pattern. You could probably take it down to 3:1 and it’d look just fine.

So what does that look like in plain numbers? For what I did here is my threading, 1,2, and 3 being white binding warp, 4 being green pattern warp:

1, 4, 2, 4, 3, 4

For what I should have done:

1, 2, 4, 3, 1, 4, 2, 3, 4

Yet a third option with less binding warp pattern disruption:

1, 4, 4, 2, 4, 4, 3, 4, 4

Because I did a 1:1 ratio my twill line is Very Very visible. Observe:

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Those diagonal lines of white dots are where you see my twill binding warp. If I’d made it a bit less dense it’d be a bit less pronounced. If I’d made it the same color as my ground it’d be less pronounced, but I’d go utterly bonkers trying to pick the pattern out. So I’m left with this.

Because I’m doing this on a normal table loom, and doing it as a pick up pattern rather than loom driven, I am using a pattern designed for tablet weaving. You can do this with a cartoon (like tapestry) or a transparency if you’ve got one. I just work better from charts, so that’s what I’m using. It means I can count threads just like I would for knitting or cross stitch, and means I could, if I wanted to in the future, use any color work chart intended for knitting or cross stitch, in order to make samite.

Here is how I make samite happen, with pictures because otherwise this is useless.

  1. Lift appropriate twill harness AND harness 4 (pattern harness). Note how 1/3 of the white binding warp is now lifted and all of the pattern warp is up.
  2. Slide my weaving sword under any pattern warp meant to be ground color, and over any of the pattern warp meant to be the main design. Note that all of the twill binding warp remains in it’s original position of 1/3 over the weaving sword and 2/3 under it. You should never manually alter the twill shed, just create the pattern shed. kimg0525-1290272809.jpg
  3. Throw my design weft, in this case black, through the shed created by my weaving sword. This takes the weft under any threads that will be the background and over any threads that will be design. kimg0526-1683878052.jpg
  4. Remove my weaving sword and lower the pattern warp ONLY. I am leaving the twill shed open.
  5. Beat the design weft into place.
  6. Taking my weaving sword I am *lifting* any pattern threads (not twill threads) that are *under* my design weft from my last pick. Any pattern threads that go over the design weft will lay under my weaving sword. You’ll notice this is just the inverse of the pick we just did with the design weft. kimg0529247869476.jpg
  7. Throw my background weft through the new pattern shed created by the weaving sword. The pattern warp should now be completely covered by either a pattern weft or a background weft. kimg053075205318.jpg
  8. Remove my weaving sword, close the twill shed, and beat into place. kimg05331941769426.jpg

Then you start back at step 1.

A few things to keep in mind to make this easier on yourself:

  1. Pick different color pattern and binding warps. DO NOT attempt to use the same color for both. Your pattern warp color does not matter as your pattern warp is entirely covered by your design. Do yourself a favor and pick one with a high contrast to your binding warp.
  2. The higher your thread count the smoother your lines and more clear your design will be. The band I’m doing is 60/2 silk, and there’s roughly 50 pattern warp threads in that 1in-ish wide band. This falls in line with “coarse” and “low quality” samite found in Danish viking era graves. If you’re going to use coarser thread, like 20/2, go for a much wider band and get the thread count as dense as you can for your pattern warp so your weft has space to make clean lines. Otherwise you’ll end up with 8 bit samite. Which is cool if that’s what you’re going for! Not so much if it’s not.
  3. Samite makes thick and heavy fabric. Think about it. You’re using two warps, and at least two wefts. You’re going to end up with a fabric twice as thick as you would get normally. Make sure you select your yarn, and plan your project, with this in mind. If you want delicate trim for a neckline then you don’t want to use no. 10 crochet cotton, it’ll be too thick. Aim for quilting thread at most. If you want a samite belt because you’re just that fancy? Then 20/2 weaving yarn or no. 10 crochet thread is perfect.
  4. As with any color work choose colors with high contrast. Otherwise, as you see in my sample with the gold weft on the green and silver background, your design won’t show up as well. You’re weaving samite, leave subtle for somewhere else.

 

Weaving With Handspun

Dos, Don’ts, and dear gods why?

So lets say you’re a weaver. Looms are hungry beasts and this is an expensive hobby to have. Yeah it’s awesome, but looms aren’t cheap and neither is the yarn yardage required to make cloth happen. Especially if you’re trying to weave at a pre-modern thread count. Think about it, each inch wide piece of cloth for a one yard length at 50epi takes roughly 75 yards of thread for the warp alone. Add in the weft and that’s two spools of sewing thread for an inch of cloth. If you’re using something nicer than polyester quilting thread that adds up Super Fast.

Fleece, however, is dirt cheap compared to finished yarn. So you may start thinking of weaving with handspun yarn. You get a product that’s even MORE handmade, you can control the historical accuracy (or not) of your thread, and it just sounds super impressive. So lets take a look at getting started.

Do: Start with handspun weft and commercial warp.

Why? Weft is the more forgiving of the two. You don’t have to have as hard spun a yarn, or as perfectly spun, for it to produce a beautiful finished product. Weft isn’t under tension and isn’t being constantly abused by the reed, beater, and heddles.

Don’t: Start with handspun warp.

Why? Warp is constantly abused. It is extremely difficult to handspin a yarn that’ll stand up to that treatment without snapping. You can do it, most of human history did it, but it takes a skill set most modern spinners don’t quite have. Work up to this. Remember, even just a handspun weft increases your accuracy and the amount of the project you made yourself.

Do: Spin more than you think you need.

Unlike store bought yarn when you’re out of your handspun, you’re out. Yes you can spin more, but it’s difficult to get it to match exactly the longer you go between batches. Worst case if you spin too much? You have scrap yarn for making a scrap scarf, or naalbinding, or knitting with. You have options. Heck even just displaying handspun in a nice vase or bowl makes a lovely conversation piece.

Don’t: Forget to Process Your Yarn First.

There is nothing more frustrating than having a piece of cloth either be over energized (wrinkle and twist when you don’t want it to) or shrink way more than expected. You can cut down on this by prewashing your yarn and finishing it rather than just weaving with it right off the spindle.  I know it’s exciting and you want to get right to it, I’m guilty of this too. But it will make you happier in the end.

Do: Make Peace With Wonky Edges.

Your handspun is not going to be as perfectly even as machine spun yarn. You can get close! And the more you practice with spinning the closer you’ll get! But weaving shows every uneven point in your yarn. Accept it’ll happen, and either make peace with hemming, or embrace the wobble.

Don’t: Skimp on sizing.

Even if you don’t usually size your warp? Do it here. Handspun tends to be stickier and fuzzier than machine processed yarns, which means you’ll need help getting a clear shed. This is double true if you’ve decided to use a handspun warp. I use flax snot. Boil some flax seeds in water until it thickens up into disgusting feeling goop, strain the seeds out, and either soak your yarn or paint it on. It’ll give you a little bit of added protection to help your shed open cleanly AND help keep your warp from tangling and breaking so often.

Weaving with handspun is super rewarding if you ever get the bug to try it. If not? No worries! Keep on doing what you’re doing, hand weaving itself is beautiful! Spinning for its own sake and not to weave? Also awesome! I just hope this helped you out if you decide to combine the two.

Cheating For Costumes

You all know me. You know I have a Thing for being accurate. I feel like I’m cheating using metal needles at this point, let alone a sewing machine or inappropriate fabrics. This is not a post about that. This is about straight up theater costumes.

What do I mean by theater costumes? Not, surprisingly, costumes intended for theater, but rather outfits you make Just Because. You don’t have to justify them. Maybe you just want one outfit from a specific time period you don’t normally play in, maybe you’re making something for a friend who has a specific look in mind, maybe you’re doing something like the Birka fashion show and decide speed is more important that perfection. This is perfectly 100% acceptable. Do it up.

Lets talk about How. Yes my darlings there is an art to faking it and having it look right.

1. Patterning.

Look at your inspiration piece or pieces. What is most important to evoke the correct look? Is it the neckline? The skirt? The pants? The pattern of fabric? What needs to be there to have it have any hope of the final product passing for what you want? From there find modern patterns with similar lines to form your base. This’ll save you from drafting everything and gives you a solid place to start from.

You will need to edit your pattern. For example you can take a modern fantasy pattern and use it to make the structured bodice for Italian ren, so long as you trim off the bits that don’t look right compared to your inspiration piece.

2. Know what corners you can cut.

Are you planning on wearing this once? Indoors? Screw it, get cheap synthetic fabrics that look right. You don’t need it to breathe if you’re not worried about over heating. If you are worried about over heating? Spring for cotton. Does it need to be supportive? No? Awesome, use plastic boning and just make sure you can wear modern underwear under it. Can you get the right shape without multiple layers? Cool, sew what look like under garment sleeves right onto the outerwear. Will you see the fastenings? No? Now is the time for machine button holes and/or metal grommets (don’t use them anywhere they’ll be seen please. Nothing screams ‘deadline’ or ‘lack of fucks’ like metal grommets). Only going to see about 6in of what should be a full additional dress? Only make those 6in and pin them into place.

3 Machines are your friend.

Seriously. Machine stitch every bit you can. Don’t have a serger? No problem, finish those seams by running a wide zig zag stitch over the raw edge of your seam allowance. If this is for a one shot, or a just for fun situation then no one is flipping your seams. And if they are then they have other things they could be focusing on rather than how your seams were finished.

4. Safety Pins Hide Sins.

Making a German gown but can’t get that front stomach portion to stay up or closed? Pin it to your bra. Don’t have time to sew in ties for 14th century fancy sleeves? Pin those suckers in. Missed sewing in a button? You guessed right, pin it.

5. Know where you need to do it Right.

Yes you can cheat on damn near everything. But there are places you Have to do something correctly or by hand. Either it’s a fairly blatant spot (like eyelets down the front of the gown) or something your machine just isn’t designed for (like stitching down pearls). When you get to these spots it is just So Much Faster to just do it by hand than it is to try and make up a solution, get frustrated, then do it the way you should have in the first place.

Are there more tips? Yup! Sure there are! Ask anyone how they cheat on quick and dirty garb (my favorite is bias tape as hem treatments) and they’ll have a trick or two. But remember, these won’t win you any accuracy awards. So don’t do them all the time, yeah?

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.

Birka Gown, The Making of and Documentation

Here it is! The moment you’ve all been waiting for! And by that I mean I’m actually writing down the last week and providing you my paperwork.

So 8 days prior to Birka I decided to do the fashion show. Why not? I had a woven silk table runner (it was supposed to be something else and epic failed) that I could wear as a front panel, and the simple plan I told you about before. So without further ado, my write up:

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Brief:

A hand stitched blue wool dress sewn with handspun wool and using a bone sewing needle. Dress is embellished at the seams with purple, gold, and blue silk and strapped purple and gold linen and blue hand spun trim adapted from an arguably 10th century Saxon belt find.

Long form documentation:

The dress itself is commercially available wool. The thread count matches the 10th century scraps found under the brooches of “The Lady In Blue” (Ketilsstathir Iceland, uncovered in 1938) of an almost balanced weave of 11 warp threads and 10 weft threads per CM. Chemical analysis of the dress found in the burial indicates a blue dye with a lighter tablet woven band around the top. To mimic such a starting band I have chosen to leave the contrasting color selvadge along the top edge of the gown. The wool selected also follows the Icelandic convention of weaving with unplyed yarn.

The creation of a checkered pattern by alternating different colored yarns in either the warp, weft, or both, is found in early textiles wherever we have existing examples. The commercial wool forming the basis of this project follows the same pattern by having an entirely white warp and alternating pale blue and antique gold weft.

It is unconfirmed whether the textiles in the find were from a blue dyed apron with linen under dress, full gown with linen under dress, or gown with a linen lining. There is also debate as to how the gown, if it was an over gown rather than apron, was constructed.  The three common interpretations of such a gown are:

  1. A pair of rectangles, stitched together at the sides, with side panels inserted for movement, suspended from straps at the shoulders
  2. A pair of rectangles, not stitched together, suspended from straps at the shoulders.
  3. A long tube suspended from straps at the shoulders

I have chosen to create the first option as I find it the most practical for everyday wear. A pair of rectangles, unattached, would flop open. This creates a fire hazard as well as exposing more of the linen under layer to cold air, rather than keeping the torso and body core protected by the warmer wool. A long tube without any gores would need to be baggy along the top edge in order to allow freedom of movement of the legs. This creates the same draft problem as well as making it more likely to bunch and become uncomfortable under the arms. A dress tight enough to avoid armpit bunching and drafts would bind up the legs, making walking and daily work difficult.

The over dress is hand stitched using a bone needle and handspun wool thread. The thread itself has been processed from a raw Icelandic top coat, using combs rather than hand cards in order to produce a hard woolen spun thread. This matches the extant 10th century finds of Icelandinc textiles for spin style (S-spun and used as a single rather than being plyed) as well as type of wool used. The spindle used is a bottom whorl soapstone spindle, with a weight roughly matching the weight of an extant 10th century stone spindle whorl I have in my possession. I have used a stitch length found in Dublin caps of 3-5 mm.

Over dress stitches and needle

Seam Treatments:

There is little evidence for seam embellishment on extant textiles, due in part to how rarely they are found. However I have chosen to add silk herringbone stitches to the seams of the over dress due to references in period texts of rich adornment. Herringbone, being a very simple embroidery stitch, is an excellent candidate for use in seam embellishment as it is unobtrusive to the modern eye. The small stitches on the underside of the fabric also allow it to double as a seam finishing technique as it can be done as part of the period finishing practice of flat felling. This is what I have chosen to do on this gown. The use of a bone needle, rather than a modern metal needle, is carried throughout the seam treatments, back stitched hem, and strap attachment.

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Seam treatment detail.

Tablet Weaving:

The straps of the dress was woven using the Cambridge Diamonds pattern. My recreation is a 17 card pattern using the Saxon technique of only turning every other card, every other pick. In other words every odd card was given a quarter turn forwards, the weft was packed, then every even card was turned in the same direction. This elongates the center diamond and creates a sturdy band that has the same pattern on the front and back, making it perfect for structural bands such as straps or belts. In order to ensure the edge was bound correctly to the piece the two edge cards were turned every pick, rather than every other.

The fragment itself was unearthed in 1931 as a double sided linen strip attached to the end of a belt fixture. There is some debate as to the age of the extent example, it is unknown whether it is 10th century Anglo-Saxon or a later medieval piece, but as diamond patterns in textiles are common to nearly every time period and region I am interpreting this pattern as reasonable to the 10th century.

The scrap unearthed shows what appears to be a diamond pattern done in three colors, a dark background color, a second diamond color, and a light color as a highlight and outline around the center diamond. The original find was woven in linen or another bast plant fiber, potentially nettle, and measured roughly 1cm wide.

My textile was created using purple and yellow linen, per the original find, with the addition of hand spun blue wool to create the diamonds. The blue wool was S-spun on the same soapstone spindle used to spin the internal sewing thread. My recreation is wider than the original at 1.5cm wide on average. I elected to use part of the band showing my attempts to reverse engineer the pattern as the back half of a strap in order to show my process in recreating the original.

Original fragment unearthed from St. John Crick’s Field, Cambridge (left) my recreation (right)

Front Panel:

This was woven using a starting band. Starting bands are strips of tablet weaving, from which an extra long “fringe” is suspended, creating the warp for the final textile. This allows the warp to be evenly spaced without the use of a reed, which is required for modern horizontal looms, and is the hallmark of warp weighted loom woven textiles. This piece was woven on a modern horizontal table loom, but with a vertical loom starting band, to mimic the look of 10th century Northern European textiles. The starting band features a common greek key pattern.

The front panel itself was woven as a balanced tabby weave of 30 ends per inch. Tabby was chosen, rather than the more appropriate diamond twill, in order to create stripes with mild iridescence. This is also the reason silk, rather than linen or wool, was chosen as the fiber. Due to contact, through sites such as Birka and trade routes through the Byzantine Empire, with China silk was known to 10th century Northern Europeans. The samples we have are small in size and point towards the thread being used to create trims that could be easily removed and added to new garments. It is unlikely, though not out of the realm of possibility, that a garment the size of this front panel would have been made of silk.

Front panel thread count and starting band

Citations:

  1. _Viking Age Headcoverings from Dublin_. Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2003

Smith, Michèle Hayeur Excerpt of Bundled up in Blue, the re-investigation of a Viking grave, Publications of the National Museum of Iceland; pp.25-43. 2015. Located under: The Lady in Blue-Bláklædda Konan: the textiles. National Museum of Iceland. https://northernwomen.org/project-2/

Crowfoot, G.M. (1952). “Anglo-Saxon Tablet Weaving”. The Antiquaries Journal. 32 (3-4): 189–191.

Starting band pattern located at http://mimbles.com/tablet-weaving/pattern-library/

Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2004. Print.

Christensen, Arne Emil; Nockert, Margareta. Osebergfundet IV, Tekstilene. Universitetet i Oslo 2006.

Geijer, Agnes. Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern. Birka: Untersuchungen und Studien III. Uppsala: Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akadamien, 1938.

Lehtosalo-Hilander, Pirkko-Liisa. Ancient Finnish Costumes. Vammala, 1984.

Barber, E. J. W. Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. New York: Norton, 1994.
Barber, E J. W. Prehistoric Textiles: The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special Reference to the Aegean. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1991. Print.

Floppy Topper

Beloved internet, I am not late period. Aethelflied lived and died before the year 1000. Yet I am led to believe that some of you insist on living after I died, centuries after even. And a few of you even have the nerve, nay the sheer bold faced audacity! To be people I like and want to give textiles to.  So for the purposes of this post, and the one following on how I made my apprentice sister’s French Hood, assume Aethelflied found a time machine for the sole purpose of going forward in time to make awesome folks hats. So without further ado I present:

Donovan’s Floppy Topper

What in the name of Alfred is a floppy topper?! A floppy topper is the super technical proper term (that I made up) for an Elizabethan men’s hat. You know the one. It looks like a half risen loaf of bread got in a fight with a non-rigid plate and the plate lost.  You can see them in several portraits. For example, this one by Ludger Tom Ring the Younger (Self Portrait – 1547)

Self_portrait,_by_Ludger_Tom_Ring_the_Younger

So how do you make one of these stunning bits of fashion? To be honest I have no idea if any of what follows is technically correct, or how anyone else does it. I reverse engineered off of portraits because I was too impatient to wait to borrow my apprentice sister’s copy of Tudor Tailor; and I was making this in a time crunch so didn’t want to take too much time letting perfect be the enemy of good or good be the enemy of finished.  That being said, this seemed to work. So it’s at least plausible.

Because I wanted this to be entirely machine washable I skipped any kind of stiffeners. Normally I’d use glue, but I wasn’t sure how that’d hold up, and being able to wash it (as it’s intended to live in a gear bag, and those can get…fragrant) was more important than strict accuracy. That is also why this version is made out of cotton I had on hand.

First we are going to do math to figure out how much fabric you need. Yes, math is scary, but I’ll walk you through it I promise. I am not a math person (in spite of what previous posts would lead you to believe), which is why I tend toward early period; straight lines make for less math. But we will get through this ordeal together.

Step 1: Measure around the intended wearer’s head where they want the hat to sit. In my case that was 23.25 inches.

Step 2: look up how to figure out the diameter of a circle from the circumference because you forgot middle school math. Because I love you I did this step for you. Divide the number you got above by Pi (Use 3.14, don’t go further, you’ll drive yourself bonkers trying to get that accurate. This is fabric, not a life support system). For me this looks like 23.25/3.14 = 7.40.

Step three A: Take that measurement, add 4 inches (11.40 for me) and multiply by 4 (45.2). For the internal of the brim I will need a piece of fabric 11.40in x 45.2 in.

Step three B: Take that measurement, add 6 inches (13.40 for me) and multiply by 2 (26.8). For the shell of the brim I will need one piece of fabric 13.4in x 26.8in.

Step three C: to determine how big you need the flopsy loaf part to be take your brim shell diameter (13.4 for me), subtract 3 inches (so 10.4 for mine) and multiply it by 2 (20.8) that is the diameter of your flopsy loaf. So you need a piece of fabric 20.8in x 20.8 inches.

Total fabric needs: 11.40 + 13.40 + 20.80 = 45.6in x 45.2in if you’re doing it all out of the same fabric.

Interior fabric needs: 11.40in x 45.2 or a little less than ½ a yard of 60in wide fabric.

Shell fabric needs: 13.40 + 20.80 = 34.2in x 20.80in or a yard of 60in wide fabric to be safe because that math looks weird to me and I don’t fully trust it even though I did it 3 times. Better safe than not.

YOU WILL ALSO NEED: a 2-3in wide strip of fabric about 2 inches longer than your circumference/Pi measurement for an internal brow band thing.

Ok so we have our fabric. Now what? Cutting. I’m not going to lie, I hate cutting out circles. Circles are hard. Therefore my circles are not perfect because I do not own a compass (I know, I know, eventually I will get one, or make one out of a stick, string, and tailor’s chalk. But I’m lazy guys, you know that.)

To make/cut the pattern:

Interior brim:

Step 1: draw a circle 7.4in in diameter (or whatever your circumference/Pi measurement came out to)

Step 2: Draw a concentric circle 2in outside that one, or 11.4in in diameter with the first circle centered inside it.

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Step 3: Cut 4 of these. Cut the center circle out of them too. You’ll end up with 4 floppy, hollow, Frisbee looking things.

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Step 4: sew those together. I did a line around the outer edge, one around the inner edge, and a big zig zag to stabilize it. (If you want a stiffer brim and if machine washable isn’t a concern for you; feel free to stiffen this by soaking it in a solution of 1 part white school glue to 4 parts water and let it dry flat on wax paper. I did not do this, but I won’t judge you.)

Set that aside for now.

Make the brim shell:

Step 1: draw a circle 7.4in in diameter (or whatever your circumference/Pi measurement came out to)

Step 2: Draw a concentric circle 3in outside that one, or 13.4in in diameter with the first circle centered inside it.

Step 3: Cut 2 of these. Cut the center circle out of them too. You’ll end up with 2 floppy, hollow, Frisbee looking things

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Step 4: With the right side of the fabric (if it matters) out run a line of running stitch along the outer edge, as close as you feel comfortable to getting, but aim for 1/8 an inch or less.

Step 5: Flip that inside out and run another line of running stitch ¼ of an inch from the edge. This will enclose the raw edges in a little tube of fabric. The astute among you will notice I just had you do a French seam. I did this because trying to flat fell in a circle, when you’re trying to avoid visible finishing stitches on the outside of the shell, is an exercise in self-hatred and I love you too much to put you though that.

Step 6: Flip that back right side out. Take your internal brim and stuff it in the little pita pocket made in the brim shell. Line up the centers as best you can, understanding that circles are fickle things and it will probably not be perfect and that’s ok. Don’t be afraid to trim the center disk if you need to in order to make it fit.

Set that whole 6 layer hollow Frisbee aside without sewing around the center.

Making your flopsy loaf:

Step 1: Cut out your circle (20.8in for me)

Step 2: Run a line of basting stitch about ¼ in from the outer edge. Do NOT tie it off at the end.

Step 3: Gather the fabric along that basting thread (if it doesn’t move freely your stitches are too small, pull your thread out and try again.) until the diameter of the gathered edge matches the interior circle of your hollow Frisbee.

Step 4:  Pin the gathered edge of your flopsy loaf around the interior circle of your hollow Frisbee.

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Step 5: Take your 2-3 inch strip of fabric. Fold it into quarters long ways (hot dog bun, not hamburger roll). Iron it if need be. I didn’t.

Step 6: Pin your quartered strip along the interior edge of your hat (it looks like a hat now right?) sandwiching the raw edges inside the fold of the strip. Tuck the very end under when you get all the way around so you have no raw edges showing.

Step 7: Break your sewing machine needle trying to stitch the band/interior of hat sandwich. Skip this step if you’re smarter than me and realize your machine won’t go through 14 layers of fabric.

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Step 8: Hand stitch the band into place around all the raw edges. Please use a thimble otherwise your fingers will be sad. Also use the stab stitch method, like you do with a bone needle, otherwise you’ll get super long/loose/ugly suture like stitches, sore hands, and a broken needle.

Step 9: Wear your floppy topper with pride you fancy late period person you. Or give it away and get back into your time machine and return to where textiles make sense.

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(Yes I am wearing it, no it is not actually mine)

Sizing

So today I found myself in the novel situation of needing to size my warp. I’m working in silk. This shouldn’t be a thing I need, but the silk I have is loosly spun and fuzzy so it’s matting together. Sizing helps prevent this.

Right! Before I go further, sizing is some sort of coating on the warp threads to make them slip past each other easier without felting. Normally done on fibers like wool or alpaca, a good sizing should wash out fully once you finish the fabric.

Because a good sizing will fully wash out it makes it super hard to document. Things that could have been used include: wax, tallow, wheat goop, flax goop, oil? But it’s hard to tell if the residue on cloth is sizing or if someone spilled food on themselves.

I’d rubbed beeswax on my warp before when I was making the white belt and I was worried the cards were going to abrade my yarn. That is as close to sizing as I’ve gotten.

Before today.

Super fuzzy silk of irritating stickiness calls for sizing. So I decided to try my hand at making flax goop. Why? Flax seed is cheap where I live and the process​ seemed super simple. And it is! It’s also super gross and I am never making this again if I can help it. I will trade for my flax goop.

Method:

-boil 2 cups of water

-add 1/2 cup of whole flaxseed​s

-stir until a white foam appears (disturbingly quickly, just so ya know)

-reduce heat and simmer until the seeds appear suspended in a gel the consistency of egg whites

-cool so you don’t burn yourself

-strain through cheese cloth to separate the useful goop from useless seeds.

Guys? I am a tactile person. Handling gel that looks like seed speckled egg whites, and smells like half sour oatmeal, made me gag. More than once. Straining it got this stuff all over my hands, making them feel like I’d accidentally spilled hair gel all over. This was unpleasant. I got enough to fill a tiny jar, and maybe coat this warp.

You may not hate it so much. You may find it’s worth the hassle. I do not. Next time I’ll try wheat. Or, bribing someone else.

Twill: Attempt the first

Is this thing still on? Hi guys, I know I know, it’s been a while since I posted. But, life happened. Today we’re going to talk about twill. Namely the twill I am making for a specific project.

The project itself is to prove a point: namely that seams sewn with period style bone needles are nearly indistinguishable from seams sewn with a modern steel needle in terms of stitch length. To do this I am weaving fabric and sewing myself a hood where half the seams are sewn with a bone needle and half are sewn with a modern steel needle. I’ll be using different colored thread for the steel vs bone seams, but only I will know which is which. The goal is to have people try to guess which is which and also to check things like long term seam durability and relative stress on the fabric as it ages. Now I could use a commercial fabric and make the WAY faster and easier on myself, but this is me and why on earth would I do that?

Lets begin with some specs: I’m making a 2×2 twill (to explain for non weavers that means each weft thread goes over two warp threads then under the next two in ultimately a diagonal pattern. Don’t worry, I’ll post pictures further down. You’ve seen 2×2 twill, you just may not have known the name.) This produces a nice strong fabric with a bit of bias stretch. Also it’s pretty and super popular in period from what we can tell.

I want 2 yards (64 inches) of 12 inch wide fabric. So here’s the math to get there:

Warp: 

I first I need to figure out what my wpi (wraps per inch) of my warp thread is, then convert that into epi (ends per inch) for weaving. The good news is the math for that is super simple. Divide the wpi in half to get a rough idea of the epi. My yarn was 14 wpi, which means it’s going to be roughly 7 epi. NOTE: This is a super coarse gauge. This is outer wear fabric. I should be aiming for 10 or so ends per cm or 25 epi. However I am using stash wool for this and refuse to feel ashamed.

So we need to multiply our epi (7) with how wide we want the fabric (12in) to get 84. BUT that doesn’t account for draw in (when your weft pulls your warp slightly in ward) so you should do a test swatch to see what percentage of draw in you have to enough additional warp threads to get you to what you want. I did not do this and simply doubled the thread count because I am both lazy and paranoid. So yes, I warped 168 threads.

But how long should they be? Inventive Weaving On A Little Loom (Syne Mitchell, 2015, Story Publishing) suggests adding 20% to the length to account for loom waste and take up. That means 2.2 yards or 76.8 inches. I like round numbers so went to 77 inches.

Because I’m doing a two colored warp, half grey handspun I had lying around and half white commercial yarn of unknown providence I needed 84 grey strands of 77 inches long and 84 white strands of 77 inches.

Formulas for your edification:

(wpi/2)x(width + draw in %) = number of warp threads.

length + 20% = length of warp threads

Weft:

Weft math is simple. This is a balanced fabric which means my weft is the same epi as my warp. So 7, multiplied by 12 means 84 inches of weft to do one inch of fabric, times 64 = 5376 inches divided by 32 = 168 yards of weft. Notice how I didn’t need to add in the loom waste or take up or draw in to this math. Why? There’s no warp there.

Formula for your edification:

((wpi/2) x width x length)/32 = weft yardage.

Now lets actually warp the loom! One day I’ll figure out how to love warping. That day is not today. Warping alone is an exercise in both patience and self hatred. I know there are easier ways to warp, I know there are better ways to warp. I, however, live with animals who are jerks about mama’s string based hobbies and therefore Measures Must Be Taken. Which means I warp funny. Trust me guys, if you want to weave please look online and in any of the lovely print books that illustrate better ways. Don’t do what I do.

To prove how annoying this is, I present: How Aethelfied Warps, a photo tutorial.

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This is the empty back beam. Yes, it is in fact a size 15 knitting needle. I realized the loom I’m borrowing had no beams at 10pm and I couldn’t find any dowels. There’s a tiny rubberband keeping everything from slipping off the tip.

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The warp tied on to the back beam in packs of 4, with all the length chained up to keep it from getting tangled.

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Next we unchain one bundle at a time, put each thread through it’s heddle and dent in the reed then immediately rechain to keep everything in order.

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Tie everything to the front beam

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Tension the back beam. Now we’re warped. This whole process took 14 hours over 2 days. Yes I took breaks, but still. Warping takes a long time. But! Now we’re ready to weave!

As you may notice from the picture above this is a 4 harness table loom. This makes weaving twill super simple. The pattern repeat is such:

1+2 up 3+4 down.

2+3 up 1+4 down

3+4 up 1+2 down

1+4 up 2+3 down.

That produces fabric that looks like this:

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Look familiar?

This piece is exactly 12 inches wide (I win!) so lets take a look at my thread count

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This should be 7. It’s 17. WTF?

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This should also be 7. It’s 15. I don’t even.

Let this just go to show that math and I are not friends, but my intuition is generally correct. Glad I doubled my warp. At least this is now on the coarse end of period fabric?

Cord Making

So last post I mentioned that there would be a post forth coming regarding the physical process of making cord in the two methods that I know.

Method One (by virtue of me learning it first): Lucet

A lucet is a fork looking tool with two tines, it generally looks like a wooden tuning fork. But they can be made out of wood, bone, horn, plastic, ect. Basically anything rigid. They also don’t have to be fork shaped. This is mine:

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This is going to be picture heavy because trying to explain how this works is… well… words are hard yo.

Step one: Make a slip knot and loop it over one of your tines (or dragon legs as the case may be) BUT DO NOT PULL IT TIGHT. That’s important.

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Step 2: Flip your lucet counterclockwise a full turn. Why counterclockwise? Because that’s how I do it and you always need to flip in the same direction or else you won’t be able to tighten the knot you’re making down enough to make cord. You should now have your slip knot, a loop of yarn around the other leg, and a loop around the leg the slip knot is on. Like this:

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Step 3: Carefully pull your slip knot up over the loop of yarn above it and off the leg entirely.

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Step 4: Now you can pull the tail of your slip knot and tighten it down. That’ll form your first chain/cord/link thing.

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Step 5: Turn your lucet counter clockwise half a turn so that you have a new loop of yarn on the opposite leg.

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Step 6: Pull the bottom loop over the top loop and off the leg.

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Step 7: Wiggle the existing cord back and forth to tighten down the loop  you just de-legged.

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Repeat steps 5-7 as many times as you need to get the length of cord you want OR until you run out of yarn. This is the simpliest cord pattern you can do for a lucet. If you use google you’ll find all kinds of other patterns and ways of doing it. I like this one because it’s easy and gives a nice, sturdy, square cord.

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Method Two: Weird double loopy thing I never learned the proper name for AKA Why-Aethelflied-can’t-name-things

This method uses two strands (I’m using contrasting colors for you to see clearly because I’m nice like that) but no other tools.

Step 1: Make a slip knot in each of your two threads. Slide one over the pointer finger of your left hand. Why left? Because that’s how I start.

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Step 2: Take the index finger of your other hand and slide it through the loop in the same direction as the finger on hand one.

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Step 3: Loop the second thread over finger 2

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Step 4: Pull finger 2 and thread two through loop 1

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Step 5: Tighten loop 1 around thread 2.

Finger and thread 2 now become finger and thread 1. Repeat steps 2-5 until cord is as long as you want or you run out of yarn. This method (very quickly) produces a nice round cord.

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Pros and Cons:

Method 1 is easier to pick up and put down for long periods of time. And (since it only uses one strand) you don’t have to measure out your materials exactly. It also gives you multiple patterns, as opposed to method 2 where you’re limited to creating pattern by switching up your yarns. That being said I prefer method 2. I find it faster and easier and gentler on my hands.