Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mom's Age of Exploration Unit: Apron Dress Retrofit

What happens to your old garb? 

Think about the early sewing projects that make you wince when you look at them now. How about the pieces that just don't fit right... they could be a little too short, or bind too much around a slightly rounder belly than you'd like to draw attention to.

Their lives don't have to be over. 

I've made a summer project of updating, retro-fitting, and/or completely re-making my garb using what I've had on hand. There's been a lot of seam ripping, dyeing, some creating piecing, and other quick fixes which have breathed new life into my family's SCAdian wardrobes. 

I had no idea how wasteful I'd been before this. I had two totes of garb that just didn't work for us anymore, and I guess I just forgot the lessons I learned at Theatre UAF, ripping seams, removing and reapplying dye. I'm glad I finally wised up. 

It started with my husband's fighting tunic. His favorite tunic contains a color combination I'm really not fond of, which means he can feel free to do whatever he wants to it without me really caring about damage.

He attended several fighter's practices without me, so it wasn't until later that I realized the tunic's short sleeves were leaving big parts of his arms exposed, his neckline was too wide, and that the overall length was just too short to cover much of anything once he had a kidney belt binding it up. 

I swiped it from him, tossed it in the wash, and ripped out the hems. I had a few scraps of the rust colored main fabric left, so I used them to lengthen the arms. There was not enough of it to lengthen the overall tunic, so I pulled out some of the leftover contrasting teal linen and added a wide strip of it to the bottom. 

While those changes only took me a couple hours, they dramatically improved the usefulness of the tunic. It was a major "ah-ha!" moment for me, and after that I looked at my old projects in new light.

When Mom asked me for my help costuming three ladies in male and female Viking garb for her Age of Exploration unit, I knew I'd be diving again into those old projects. Some of the pieces were in good enough shape to go her way immediately, but my teal wool apron dress had some strap issues that needed to be addressed. 

As you can see, the straps on these apron dresses pre-date my more detailed research. Now that's not a major issue, but as much as I'm in love with the wool of this dress, the straps have always been too long for a good fit, and they also roll up in ugly ways. 

Seam ripper to the rescue! I removed the straps and ripped out all their stitching. I used every scrap of this fabric making this dress, so I had to cut the strap fabric in half longways in order to make long enough shoulder loops.

After the straps were fixed, I decided to add a little more pizazz to the dress by tablet weaving some gorgeous silk. I'd had the black silk on hand for years, and it was only recently that I was able to find a lighter contrast of the same silk: Gudebrod Bros, Size F. The Etsy seller was even nice enough to tuck in an extra spool for me to play with!

Here's the design I used, based on the chevron pattern in Schweitzer's “Beginning Tablet Weaving” handout. It took 14 cards, with a simple four forward, four backward motion.
One of the things I like about tablet weaving is that it makes it easier to try out quick tricks like this: Looping the thread over the bar on one side so I don't have to tie a knot there. My pattern only uses even numbers of each color, so it works perfectly! 

Also, to avoid the knot getting in the way on the other side, I divide my threads into quarters. The left top and bottom sections are tied together over the bar and pushed to the left, while I mirror the same on the right. Then, as I weave, I just wind the finished band in between the two knots. No more fighting to keep it from messing up my tension!

After that, all that was left was to attach the trim to the top of the apron dress. I am completely and totally in love with this! The pale green color looks more like a cream in contrast, and once it was sewn down on both sides it just made the garment come alive.

And, finally, we have the result. When you compare this to what it looked like initially, it is so much better! With the weaving, this update took about ten to twelve hours of work, but it also rescued a project that had been relegated to the old garb hoard and made it fresh and fabulous!

There are other projects in the hoard that need attention, so I will be continuing to go back through it and rescue/update what I can. Stay tuned!


Baker, Jennifer. "Stitches and Seam Techniques Seen on Dark Age/Medieval Garments in Various Museum Collections." 2009. <> 11 June 2014.

Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, Inc. 2006.

Glæsel, Nille. Viking Dress Garment Clothing. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2010.

Hägg, Inga. "Viking Women's Dress at Birka: A Reconstruction by Archeological Methods." Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E.M. Carus-Wilson. Ed. N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting. Pasold Studies in Textile History. 1983.

Schweitzer, Robert. “Beginning Tablet Weaving.” Forward into the Past. 2 April 2011. <>
Geijer, Agnes. "The Textile Finds from Birka." Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E.M. Carus-Wilson. Ed. N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting. Pasold Studies in Textile History. 1983.

Thunem, Hilde. "Viking Women: Apron Dress." 25 February 2015. <>

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Steppes Artisan Competition 2014

Today I attended my first Steppes Artisan competition, and I was completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness. From metalwork and stonework, embroidery and calligraphy to weaving and more edible arts, it was a fascinating and inspiring collection of arts and crafts from ages past. I was delighted to be a part of it.

For those of you who couldn't make it, here's a quick view of my table, as well as links to the relevant blog posts and documentation.

The right side of the table dealt mostly with my rigid heddle weaving. I've posted pictures of a couple bands at a time, but there's something special about seeing so many of them together.... especially since I only started weaving last January! I did pull out the family inkle loom, but only so I could demonstrate both a rigid heddle project and a tablet-weaving project at the same time.
The left of the table was my duct-tape model of Mom wearing my last two sewing projects: Her tunic and my new apron dress. Both were sewn entirely by hand using period stitching techniques. Here are links to more in-depth articles about each: Apron Dress: Part I, Apron Dress: Part II, and Mom's Under Tunic.
The middle of the table focused on my tablet weaving. I've mentioned before that my first two projects were completed within 24 hours of getting my cards! There are two relevant blog posts for these projects: Weaving with Period Fibres/Beginning Tablet Weaving and Tablet Weaving with Silk.

All I expected going into this event was some constructive criticism and maybe an "atta girl" or two. Instead, I had the honor of being recognized by Mistress Rhiannon, who gave me an awesome basket of goodies to play with. Other members of the populace were incredibly generous too, and I have a lot more beads and period toys to play with!

But what incredibly floored me was  receiving my first award in over a decade: The Sable Thistle in Weaving. While I received other honors during my time in the Kingdom of the West, this is my very first scroll! It's totally getting framed and hung in a place of honor!

One last note: If you enjoyed the mini chicken pies we brought for the potluck, the recipe was Capon Pie from and is supposed to date to the 16th century Netherlands.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mom's Age of Exploration Unit: Viking Under Tunic

Sometimes learning history can be a bit of a drag, but in my mother's classroom it is a fantastic journey of discovery. For her upcoming unit on the Age of Exploration, she has asked me to help her costume herself and two of her peers in Viking garb. I already made her clothing for a Viking lady, but she wants her kiddos to see the male version as well, so a little gender-bending is in order!

I decided to start with the under tunic, mostly because it's been a tight summer and I had the fabric on hand. Well, most of it. I had to do a tiny bit of piecing at the back, but it worked perfectly!

For the design, I decided to go with what Marc Carlson describes as Nockert, Type 1. This style is very well represented, and I saw either identical or very close versions on Þóra Sharptooth's site, as well as in Nille Glæsel's book and on the Hurstwic site. Some versions include the front gores, while others leave them out. I decided to include them, for ease of motion and wear. I've seen (and made) a lot of tunics with only side gores, and they have a tendency to pull a little too tightly over the tummy.

When I moved on to the construction, I decided to pull out all the stops. I referred back to Jennifer Baker's wonderful stitching type handout and decided to use a (possibly overkill) backstitch to join the pieces, with a flat fell finish. I also used my favorite hem-stitch, although some of my hems were so small that they actually became rolled hems. As an additional step towards authenticity, I decided to actually do all the stitching with a linen thread. I usually go straight for Guterman's Heavy Duty threads, because both my husband and I are very hard on garments, but since this is for classroom use I did finally pull out the spool of linen thread I've been hoarding for the better part of a decade!

Finally, I decided to add tablet-woven trim to the neckline. In men's garments, this seems like it would be more of an outerwear feature, but I justified it with the thought that Mom will also be using this tunic for her female garb as well, where the length of the under tunic will be hidden.

Here's an image of backstitch in action. I love how much stronger it is than a simple running stitch. I've received comments before on how I'm doing modern over-kill here, but it is a documented stitching type, and if I was a real Viking lady, I'd rather do it right the first time than have to keep re-sewing the same seam when it breaks.
My secret for good necklines is to sew them flat. I always make sure to finish them before I sew up the sides, and they are so much easier that way! This actually became more of a rolled hem than a straightforward hem stitch, but the extreme narrowness is actually more period. Don't want to waste precious fabric!
In this view, you can see the garment laid out, with only the front and back gores missing. I will usually do those last, because otherwise it can get a little overwhelming to work with the entire thing open at once.
More backstitch, with a hint of my workspace/ironing board. In an apartment as small as ours, it meets my crafting needs perfectly!
This image was taken while I was finishing the side seam. You can see some of my tools of the trade. I had no idea when I started how important the beeswax would be while I was working with the linen thread. It has a tendency to felt and knot, but an occasional swipe with the beeswax makes a huge difference!
Here's a view of the underarm gore. Once I started sewing the gores open, there was no going back! The overlap both strengthens the seam and allows me to neatly finish the other seams as well. I still don't like them, but now at least it's not outright hatred!
And now we get to the tablet-woven trim. I can't believe I've only been rigid heddle weaving since January, and tablet weaving for the last couple weeks! For the trim on this tunic, I wanted a very fine, narrow band. After my experiment with silk thread, I decided to actually weave with my linen thread. It took three colors, but I am in love with the results!
And, finally, the completed garment on my duct-tape mini-Mom! Really, for all the costuming I've been doing for her, the duct-tape form has been a huge help.
All in all, I'm pretty proud of this project. It brings together a lot of the skills I've been learning and refining this summer, and without that additional study I wouldn't have been able to create something so authentic. 

Finally, I'm going to leave you with an image of this tunic with the hand sewn apron dress I completed just before this project. They may be different sizes, but together they demonstrate a pretty productive summer in terms of my costuming skills.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, so please don't hesitate to comment. Thank you!


Baker, Jennifer. "Stitches and Seam Techniques Seen on Dark Age/Medieval Garments in Various Museum Collections." 2009. <> 11 June 2014.

Carlson, I. Marc. Some Clothes of the Middle Ages: Kyrtles/Cotes/Tunics/Gowns. 2003. <> 14 August 2014.

Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, Inc. 2006.

Glæsel, Nille. Viking Dress Garment Clothing. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2010.

Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds from North Greenland. Denmark: Aarhus University Press. 2004.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. "Viking Tunic Construction." Þóra Sharptooth's Resources for the Re-enactor. 1997. <> 5 January 2014.

Short, William R. "Clothing in the Viking Age." Hustwic. 2014. <> 14 August 2014.