Sunday, August 16, 2015

Steppes Artisan Competition 2015

Photo courtesy of Jamie Snow

Today's Steppes Artisan event was epic! It was wonderful to see all the amazing things that our populace is learning and creating. It's scary to put your craft out there, not knowing if it will be praised, or criticized, or both. This was my second year entering in this competition, and each time it has been an incredible, rich experience. A fantastic opportunity to tap in to the deep well of knowledge and wisdom that our members represent.

For those who were unable to make it, here's a quick tour of my display, with links to the relevant projects included for those of you who would like more information.

So here's my table up close! From the left you have a complete outfit (again on Mom's duct-tape double) which includes pieces from the following posts:

You can also see the leather and wood journal I created to hold my documentation, as well as a selection of tablet woven pieces that demonstrates my growth in this medium over time. There are simple chevrons and diamonds in silk and linen - even some woven with linen and silk sewing thread. Once I became comfortable with the chevrons, I moved on to patterns which have survived in the archeological record. In this image, you can see a narrow linen band woven in a pattern from the Oseberg Ship Burial (around 834 A.D.) and a companion piece that used the same pattern but with a tiny color rotation on a single card.

While the goal of the competition was to show "a diversity of endeavor" in a body of work competition, I wanted to make sure that the pieces I chose to display followed a certain theme. In this case, it was to come as close as possible to a complete Viking kit. Not just the outfit, but the accessories which transform it from a costume to an actual representation. The "diversity of endeavor" then came naturally. To make these pieces I had to learn to hand sew, to dye fabric, to weave via rigid heddle and tablet weaving, to do some leather work, and even some wood carving.

In the middle of the table, we move on to the piece I am the most excited about: My Hedeby Harbor wooden-handled bag. I wanted to reach a whole new level with this piece, and I really hope you'll check out the blog post for this project, because I am so proud of it. In this image you can see some beeswax candles, which represent some baby steps into a new craft.

On the loom is another tablet-weaving project, and probably the most difficult one to date. I've started another band style from a period piece: the Snartemo II, from about 500 A.D. in the southern part of Norway. The original is wool, but my allergies force me to do my tablet-weaving in linen or silk, so I started my band in black and white silk. The version of the reconstructed pattern that I found used only two holes of my four-holed weaving cards, which means that with every turn I have to fight my cards to keep them in formation. I did hear a rather fascinating alternative format today, from one of our fabulous artisans, and I will be doing more experimenting with this style in the future.

Also on the table are a couple very small thread reels I carved out of walnut, and a Viking cap. I started doing the research for that project back in 2003 when I was spending a semester in London. I took a weekend train to York and saw the original silk cap on display. I'm fighting with the actual silk version of the cap right now, but I was able to include a linen version which was much more fun to make. More information - including an email I received from a gentleman at the Museum of York - is in the cap's blog post, which you can access with the link below.

And, finally, the right side of my display is is devoted to my recent experiments with period dye, specifically madder root. I kept wool samples as I went, although I did throw in some scrap linen to see what it would do.

I had two sources for my madder, which allowed me to do some compare and contrast. In the green ceramic cup you can see the last of the 4oz of fresher, fairly uniformly chopped roots I ordered from AcrossGenerations on Etsy. The round glass jar contains part of the 4-year-old 1lb package from Aurora Silk that my friend Emma gave me. It contained a greater variety of root sizes, from the almost hair-thin to chunks that were bigger than my thumb.

It was fascinating to see the difference in color that they yielded. The younger, more uniform pieces gave me my brighter oranges, while the older batch with the wider variety gave me some lovely, rich browner colors. I can't wait to get my hands on a madder plant and try using shaved roots of the really fresh stuff for vivid reds. You can see more information about the project - and more pictures! - by visiting the blog post:

But the absolute best part was to be called into court, surrounded by some of the best artists and craftspeople I know, and be chosen as Artisan. Thank you all, so very much, for this incredible honor!

Photo courtesy of Martha Schreffler

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hedeby Harbor Wooden Handled Bag

Think about those wonderful “magical moments” we have in the SCA, where for just a minute you lose of track of where and when you really are and feel transported. It’s hard to do that when you’re toting around your modern purse! Accessories can mean the difference between a costume and clothing, so period purses jumped their way up my priority list.

I decided to make a Viking-era wool bag, sewn by hand in period stitch types with wool thread, out of fabric colored with madder, a period dye. The wooden handles are hand-carved from ash at the same scale as the original piece from Hedeby Harbor. The band and strap are tablet-woven from silk using a pattern from the Oseberg Ship Burial.

Before I started on the final project, I decided to test the waters with a trial run in linen, using a thin pair of walnut handles purchased from the same lady who made my loom. 

The construction was all linen, with a woven trim both for an accent and the strap. I used fabric tags to attach the handles because, on the pieces I saw on Pinterest, I liked the look better than the yarn versions.

This project taught me that I chose too flimsy of a linen for the construction, that the tabs were annoying to sew and felt less secure, and that the linen trim I chose to use for my strap had a tendency to roll and show its ugly side.

When I decided to start the final project, the format that finally caught my eye is based on the “objects of unknown function” in the Haithabu Museum. In Die Holzfunde von Haithabu by F. Whestphal, the author speculates that they are purse handles, or Taschenbügel. 

Photo by Tom Nordulf from the Haithabu Museum

As evidenced by the picture below, there are several examples which have survived. Of all those extant pieces, only one pair has been found. Now, Whestphal used the example of that pair to extrapolate that the others may have started as pairs as well. Almost all the replicas I’ve seen has followed that format, so I decided to follow suit in my version to see how well it would function.

In Die Holzfunde von Haithabu by F. Whestphal, pg. 81
In the museum image above, the handles were made from (from top), ash, maple, and ash. Of all the images I could find, only one even hinted at how the bag may be attached to the handle: Figure 66 in Die Holzfunde von Haithabu, which is also shown in the museum image.

The length of this particular piece was 181mm, with a height of 48mm, and a thickness of 9mm. To get as close as possible to that, I scaled the image on my computer and traced it onto graph paper. I then used Grandpa’s Old Timer pocket knife and a jig-saw to do almost all the work. I did use a drill briefly to gain access to inner sections and speed up the process after a slip of the knife led to a trip to the ER, 4 stitches in the palm of my hand, and a month of recovery time. 

Finally, after cutting out the profiles, I rounded the edges and added the incised design lines, which make the arches pop. A little sanding and polishing later, and it’s on to the next stage: Mordanting the fabric and dyeing the wool. This project was a great excuse to explore period dyes, and I decided to start with madder.
In Viking Clothing, Ewing notes, “…This picture of red clothes as a mark of rank or luxury is confirmed by archeology, where madder-dyed clothes are found only in graves of the highest status,” (168). In Viking: Dress, Garment, Clothing, Glæsel also says, “Madder was a prized dye. The Oseberg Queen’s dress was dyed with madder,” (26).  I ordered chopped madder roots and alum from AcrossGenerations, and then got to work.
I had two pieces of wool I was considering for the project: a light cream and a gray. I took samples along the way and even tossed in some of the wool thread (Brown Sheep’s “Indian Warp”) I picked up from White Rock Spinning and Weaving to sew with. Here you can see the fabrics in the alum mordant bath, which allows the dye to bond better with the fabric.

I soaked the 4oz of dried madder roots overnight. The next day, after applying the alum to the wool, I strained out the roots and poured the dye into the pot.

I took samples along the way, and recorded the different colors I obtained. Unfortunately, I was not very impressed with the color the gray wool became.

Luckily, one of my friends had some madder she wasn't using. The two batches were quite different – the original 4oz was dried but still fairly fresh, and it was mostly the thicker roots. Emma’s was about 4 years old and a mix of wide and thin pieces. The original batch yielded brighter colors, where Emma’s batch yielded some lovely browner tones.

Once the fabric was dyed and washed, it was time to move on to the sewing. I decided on a simple three-piece construction with one long rectangle in a “U” shape and two sidepieces with their bottoms rounded. While I prefer to sew with linen, in Viking Clothing Thor Ewing says, “Thread used for sewing is usually a plied yarn matching the fibre of the cloth; thus woollen yarn sews wool and linen sews linen.”

The colored sewing thread I originally planned to use lost its definition and felted somewhat in the dye bath, so I used the un-dyed original yarn for the hidden stitches. For strength, I used backstitch and then flat-felled the seams with the fluffier, colored yarn. 

I decided to add a contrasting band of un-dyed gray wool at the top of the bag, which allowed me to hide away all the knots and make it look a lot cleaner. Wool was used to attach the handles to the bag, in the same kind of way that the original appeared to be. I chose wool for this as well, because as evidenced by the archeological record, protein-based wool is much more likely to survive the centuries than plant-based fibers like linen, so for those scraps of thread to survive on the extant bag handle, it would be incredibly unlikely to be linen. Hem stitch was used to hold the gray wool’s edge down until the silk tablet weaving could be attached, to make it even prettier. 

Now for the tablet weaving! The band’s design and fiber content (silk) is based on a thin band from the Oseberg Ship Burial. The pale green silk is Gutebrod Bros, size F. I didn’t have a silk thread that contrasted enough for the design, so I dyed some of their light gray size FFF with a blue RIT dye which is supposed to look like blue dyes of the period.
Margareta Nockert's Osebergfunnet, Tekstilene

According to Vedeler, “The Oseberg grave chamber is dated by dendrochronology to the year c. 834, giving the silks this year as a terminus ante quem. (This means that the silk must have been made before this date.) It is possible, and not unlikely, that these silks changed hands through one or more generations, prior to the burial,” (3).

On Shelagh Lewins’ website she lists both an extrapolated pattern for the extant band and a slight variation which alters the rotation of a single card.

I chose to make both, although I did eliminate one non-essential card for the sake of symmetry. Mina, our new rescue kitty, decided to "help."
Such an innocent expression! Once both bands were completed, all that remained was to sew the decorative band down and attach the other band to the handles as a strap.


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

Crockett, Candace. Card Weaving. Interweave: Canada, 1991.

Dean, Jenny. Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes. Watson-Guptill Publications: New York, 2010. 

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

Glæsel, Nille. “Natural Coloring.” Viking Dress Garment Clothing. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2010.

Lewins, Shelagh. “Tablet Weaving for Dark Age Re-enactors: The Narrow Oseberg Band.” Shelagh’s Website. 2015. <

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn.“Colors, Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction.” Þóra Sharptooth’s Viking Resources for the Re-Enactor. <>

Vedeler, Marianne. “Silk from the Ship Burial at Oseberg, Norway.” Silk for the Vikings. Oxbow Books: Havertown, PA 2014.

Westphal, Florian. Die Holzfunde von Haithabu. Wachholtz Verlag Neumünster: 2006.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Handsewn Linen Serk (Viking-Era Underdress)

When I first started doing Viking-era costuming, I focused on the apron dress, and regretfully used my Medieval underdresses pretty much interchangeably. Looking back at them now, I have to flinch a little when I see a large neckline, more suitable for a wide-necked cotehardie, paired with a poorly fitted overdress. I've been doing better, and it's all a learning process, but I thought it was time for me to buckle down and create the most authentic underdress I could with proper color and construction, hand sewn in the correct thread.
Illustration: Pirkko-Liisa Lehtosalo-Hilander:
Ancient Finnish Costumes, p 50

I wanted to try some different patterns and designs for my next underdress, but the more research I did, the less appealing they became. I was most interested in the Eura dress style, which Pirkko-Liisa Lehtosalo-Hilander based on grave 56 at Luistiari.

In "Viking Women: Underdress" Hilde Thunem explores this format, and she states, "All that was left of the underdress in grave 56 at Luistiari was fragments of the sleeves," and that when combined with other factors it "is therefore a somewhat suspect source for a Viking serk."

The other examples I was interested in seemed to also suffer from the same problem: Their designs had a lot more to do with extrapolation than solid extant examples.

Illustration: Kyrtles/Cotes Type 1
by I. Marc Carlson
So for the design of my new underdress, I decided to go with what Marc Carlson describes as Nockert, Type 1. This includes the Bocksten Bog Man's Kyrtle (Middle 14th century), the Kragelund Man's Kyrtle (1045-1155 CE), and Skjoldehamn Kyrtle (1100-1210 CE). They're all essentially the same pattern but with some different piecing, although I decided to run with the front slit in the Kragelund version (also featured in Østergård's Woven into the Earth) because it looks cool and I hate having things too close to my throat.

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 leave them out, mostly because I ran out of fabric.

Once I decided which pattern to use, I needed to choose my fabric and color... or lack thereof. According to Thor Ewig in Viking Clothing, "Dyes have not been confirmed on linen cloth from the Viking Age. Linen is usually only preserved through the action of metal salts, which can give it a blue cast, but on analysis none of these blue linens have yet shown evidence of dyeing. Cheap linen will have been left in its natural greyish or brownish hue, whilst high quality would usually be bleached rather than dyed," (157).

However, he goes on to continue, "Nontheless, although linen does not accept dyes as readily as wool, dyed linens may have been available, even if relatively rare. Pliny knew of blue, red, and purple-dyed linens in Roman times... Some of the Birka linens, which have not yet been tested in the lab, were very possibly dyed. The Medieval Icelandic poem Sigurðarkviða inn skamma refers to 'foreign linen well colored' (valaript vel fáð, st.66) and the blue serkr worn by the noblewomen," (158).

So with my choices most likely natural, bleached, or blue, I went with a bleached fabric. 

When it came to the choice of my sewing thread, Ewing also covered that base, saying, "Thread used for sewing is usually a plied yarn matching the fibre of the cloth; thus woollen yarn sews wool and linen sews linen,” (158).

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 love the additional strength this gives my seams, and you can't beat how neat and clean it looks when it's all laying nice and flat.

Even the gores are behaving themselves. I'm so glad I read the section on sewing in Østergård's Woven into the Earth, because it led me to a big "ah-ha!" moment in terms of sewing gores flat. She covers this technique on pg. 99, and includes additional versions with gussets on pg. 199.

I also used my favorite hem-stitch on this dress, although some of my hems were so small that they actually became rolled hems.

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 much more authentic.


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.

Thunem, Hilde. "Viking Women: Underdress." 10 March 2014. <>