10 October 2013

More from Lengberg

Just when you thought the finds from Lengberg couldn't get more revolutionary... well, they've done it again. Beatrix Nutz has recently posted an article on academia.edu describing several wrapped-thread buttons which have been dated to the 15th Century. This pushes back the dating for this sort of buttons from the 17th Century to the 15th Century, although there is one other previously described 15th Century wrapped-thread button.

Many thanks to Cathy Raymond at Loose Threads for bringing my attention to this article.

31 August 2013

A little embroidery

Not strictly medieval, but this is one of the things I've been working on over the last couple of weeks.

30 August 2013

Thoughts on Living History

Katrin Kania recently wrote an interesting blog post about The Rules of Experimental Archaeology. I thought I might write something similar about Living History, though they are not rules per se ... more like advice with a dose of opinion. ;)

Of course, perhaps I should first explain what living history is... Wiki gives a fairly good explanation
Living history is an activity that incorporates historical tools, activities and dress into an interactive presentation that seeks to give observers and participants a sense of stepping back in time. Although it does not necessarily seek to reenact a specific event in history, living history is similar to, and sometimes incorporates, historical reenactment. Living history is an educational medium used by living history museumshistoric sitesheritage interpreters, schools and historical reenactment groups to educate the public in particular areas of history, such as clothing styles, pastimes and handicrafts, or to simply convey a sense of the everyday life of a certain period in history.
Another way to put it is: living history is an obsessive, time-consuming hobby that quickly turns into a way of life. Symptoms include always having a small sewing project in your purse and being able to spot a 100% wool melton at 50 paces...

18 August 2013

Interesting references and a bit about cleanliness

Yes, I am still alive. ^_^ It's just been too hot for textile stuff of any sort (my hands sweat... ick). So, in lieu of a proper post, here's a few interesting links I've come across over the last few weeks:

A pdf containing the entire doctoral dissertation of Margareta Nockert, entitled "The Hogom Find and Other Migration Period Textiles and Costumes in Scandinavia".

An interesting website on recreating Viking clothing, including links to various archaeological reports.

A fascinating blog written by several research scholars regarding the history of recipes. It includes such interesting topics as: Dyeing wool in Seventeenth Century Germany, by Karin Leonhard and David Brafman; Medieval fertility and pregnancy tests, by Catherine Rider; Healing charms in Fifteenth Century English recipe collections and Other more light-hearted charms, by Laura Mitchell; Dipping your toes in the water: Reconsidering Renaissance England's attitudes toward bathing and A sweet bath and sweating: Renaissance ladies and bathing,by Colleen Kennedy.

The latter two blog posts are particularly interesting as they completely refute the whole "they never washed" argument. As a medieval enthusiast, I spend quite some time correcting the notion that medieval people never washed, but had always explained it as "no, that was the Tudors". These articles correct the notion again: yes, medieval people washed (public bathhouses were still very much a thing), but the notion that people of the Renaissance did not is also incorrect.

This notion comes from poor reading of documents, and perpetuation of this poor scholarship for decades after by historians who are too lazy to read real historical documents and instead just parrot the "knowledge" of their elders. Yes, there are many documents of the era that state how people of the Renaissance rarely bathed, compared to either their medieval forbearers or the Ancients of Greece and Rome. However, this totally ignores the fact that a bath is not the sum total of methods to clean one's body, and Renaissance people made full use of the other methods: saunas; rinsing, sponging or flannel-washing particular body parts; bathing in springs, ponds and rivers; even an early form of shower where water or liquor was poured down onto the body from "a snowted vessel". 

With all these methods in common use, the Renaissance person was hardly the grimy, stinking individual so often described. Rather, as in any era, the only truly filthy people you would generally encounter are those whose jobs cannot help but result in dirtiness, those who are physically or mentally unable to care for themselves (and lack anyone to help them) and those who are too poor to access the means to make themselves clean.

7 August 2013

Review: Pallia spindle sticks and clay whorl

I've been greatly inspired by Cathelina di Alessandri's medieval spinning hypothesis. It's given me some ideas and impetus to finally think properly about spinning for medieval reenactment and how to go about it. However, first I needed the kit - whorl and spindle. Cathelina recommended Katrin Kania's shop for these and I've been looking for an excuse to buy something from her for a while. So, I begged a whorl and spindle sticks for a birthday present. Here's what I think of them:

6 July 2013

Pink lower class dress: finding a pattern

I wrote before about my new project, a pink wool dress for scumming about camp in when it's cold and/or wet (as it so often is when reenacting in Wales...). Having found my inspiration, the next thing to do was to find a cutting pattern.

27 June 2013

Unusual 'embroidery'

I saw this and couldn't resist telling you about it.

Researchers in Uppsala University have just finished restoring a 14th Century manuscript - so far, so normal. However, unlike most medieval books whose holes, rips and tears have simply been left, this one has been repaired at some point in history with beautiful buttonhole stitch darns in bright silk threads. How beautiful!

Also, interestingly, this is an example of the apocrypal statement that "black fabric rots because of the dye". All of the silk threads are fine, except the black ones which now disintegrates upon touch. Colour analysis has revealed that the black threads were dyed with iron sulphate and tannin. (And they are, even now, a remarkably pure, strong black colour.) However, the authors state that:
"The whole dyeing process is very acidic and if the wrong proportions of tannin and iron salt are used, sulphuric acid forms considerably accelerating the natural decomposition of the thread or material."
This implies that the disintegration of thread only occurs if the dying was done incorrectly. Also, note that it has taken 600 years for the thread to rot into this state. It is unclear what, if any, effect even an improperly created iron/tannin dye would have on thread or fabric within an individuals lifetime.

26 June 2013

Reenacting ... prompts a to-do list

I've spent the weekend away reenacting (yay!) - my first show since last July, and a three-day one at that. Wonderful. However, there's nothing quite like a show to remind you of all the things you need to fix/change. This time, I'm going to put them here, in a hope that I will actually remember about them and maybe even (shock! horror!) actually get around to making the mends and additions.

18 June 2013

Pink lower class dress: finding inspiration

I've been meaning to make another 1370s lower class dress for some time now. My mainstay reenacting dress is a pale green one in coarse linen, which was my first ever sewing project (ignoring the shift that goes under it). While it has held up remarkably well to both 6 years of reenacting wear-and-tear and my increasing knowledge of actual medieval dress construction, I'm often cold when wearing it (stupid Welsh weather...).

So, it is time for an overdress. A nicely made one, despite it being lower class, incorporating all the knowledge I've gained, plus using WOOL so that I will be nice and toasty. 

5 June 2013

Blue wedding dress: finally! photos!

Last weekend I finally managed to find the time and got out my wedding dress. I was quite concerned that it would no longer fit as I've lost just over 2 stone since last year. Also, I needed to check its state. It was always intended to be a re-enactment dress after it was a wedding dress, but there is some minor damage that needs fixing (namely lost buttons). Also, as it was very much rush-finished (I sewed the eyelets and hem the day before the wedding!), there are bits that need re-doing or that were skipped which need doing now.

But, seeing as I had it all on, I thought I'd get Himself to take some photos so you could finally see it properly.

4 June 2013

Medieval London records

Just a quick little link here, found via medievalists.net: medievallondon.co.uk. This site was started last year by Robert Ellis and explores the extant textual records from medieval London, in particular the late 14th C record Letter-Book H which contains copies of various documents such as petitions, wills, mayorial proclamations, etc.

There is a nice option which takes you to a random entry. This took me to Entry 7, a mayorial proclamation from November 1375 which is rather preoccupied with poultery sellers (poulterers), but contains some interesting points:

  1. Many of the crimes listed result in imprisonment in jail as well as a fine, even comparatively minor ones. My previous reading had led me to assume that imprisonment was a very rare form of punishment in medieval England and mostly used as a way of holding suspects of major crimes (e.g. treason, murder) until the annual crown court in the area. Maybe the greater use of imprisonment is a London/large city-specific thing?
  2. There is a nice example of one of the many rulings that disprove the old myth about medieval people eating rotten meat. Namely: "and that no-one, of whatever condition that he should be should carry nor put {for sale} any manner of poultry that was rotten or stinking or not acceptable to the body of man, on the loss of the same poultry and upon the judgement of the pillory." (Interestingly, this is the only part of this entry that proscribes the pillory as punishment.)

28 May 2013

Women, history and the default narrative

Sometimes, something wonderful comes to your attention which makes you challenge your thought processes and reassess your views. This morning, such a thing occured, via Katrin Kania of 'A Stitch in Time', who linked to the following blog post, which in turn links to the latter.

Both of these essays, though written primarily for a writer/author audience are wonderful resources for the individual who is interested in history. Personally, it was as if a little lightbulb had gone off in my head ... Oh! Oh, how stupid of me.

See, the more I read about my favourite little corner of history (namely late 14th Century England), the more I had begun to think "Wow! Women actually did so much then!". There is the (initially surprising) incidence of women in trades, including those typically thought of as incredibly masculine such as blacksmithing or butchery. Then, the Hajnal Line was brought to my attention (thanks Juli!) and its implications for marriage, and thus life, for lower and "middle" class 14th Century women.

But all this time I'd been taking in these revelations and thinking of them as something unusual, something unique. What was it about the late 14th Century that had allowed these comparative freedoms for women, this comparatively modern life? I'd theorised maybe it was the Black Death, which caused so many other sweeping social changes and put some of the first big cracks in the feudal system.

No. Nothing so complex. It is, instead, rather simple. We are simply not taught about the contribution of women (or non-white individuals, or non-cis-gendered individuals). Our society has spent so long erasing the history of these people that it is only when you start doing more serious research that you see the traces ... the bits shoved under the carpet ... the pale, ghostly grey smear, near invisible, that was left once the eraser had done its work.

There is nothing special about the late 14th Century. 

There are interesting, strong, powerful, intelligent, diligent, benevolent women throughout history. And there are stupid, narrow-minded, purposefully ignorant, brutish, cruel and despicable ones too. The same goes for every other classification of the human race. It's just that most of that has been systematically ignored.

I hope this is a small wake-up call for some others too. Let us all try to remember that history is only what information was recorded about the past, not a true representation of the past. And let us remember the biases of those original record makers and all the subsequent copiers and interpreters of those records. And let us try to give our ancestors some credit when we interpret them, particularly for those of us who re-enact and thus have an educational as well as entertaining role.

2 May 2013

Teasels: a quick note

I wrote before about my theory that teasels being used to card unspun wool was a myth (at least in medieval England). I've come across a few more pieces of evidence which I thought I would share with you:

17 April 2013

Teasels for carding - a myth?

As you may soon realise, if you haven't already, I'm terribly flighty when it comes to crafts and projects. I've put down my needle and thread for the time being and dusted off my spindle and spinning wheel for the first time in ages. With that, I got to thinking about fibre preparation in the medieval period, and so to that oft-repeated 'fact' that "teasels were used for carding wool".

9 April 2013

The 14th Century bust: an aside

Sometimes it's nice to discover that you are not the only one thinking about things in a certain way. From Kass McGann's "Women's Kirtle or Cotehardie or Medieval Dress" pattern description (my emphasis):

"At right is a reproduction of three characters from a 1350s copy of the Roman de la Rose -- two women flanking a man ... The women’s garments are similarly tight although they retain a high neckline. This is interesting to note because it is not the depth of the neckline that is villified in the accounts but the width.
Another illustration from the Roman de la Rose, reproduced at left, shows an interesting feature of this garment. This character is turned to the side, so we can see the silhouette of her body. Her garment is painted to look tight-fitting -- there are even some stress wrinkles on her back where it bends, showing us how tight the garment really is. And yet there is absolutely no indication of her bust. There is no roundness in her upper torso. There are simply no breasts depicted
There is a trend currently in the historical costuming community to create 14th century kirtles that lift the bust into an unnaturally high position, like that seen in marginalia of the Wenceslaus Bible, the famed “Bohemian Bathhouse Babes”. The argument made is that this lift is indicative of medieval bust support. However, the fact that the figures are not anatomically correct in any other way is ignored ... Why should we accept this bust position as fact when so much else in the paintings of this era is disregarded? We must be careful not to create a medievaloid answer to a modern fitting problem. This might answer the question of what should modern women do for bust support under their kirtles, but it cannot answer the question of what medieval women did without concrete evidence."

1 April 2013


Yesterday was Easter, which meant one thing for me - finally! no more Lent! Huzzah!

I officially made it all the way through, though. Himself was not quite so good, succumbing to a milky tea a few weeks ago. ;)

9 March 2013

The 14th Century bust: part 4

So, last time I finished up covering the female silhouettes we see in manuscript illustrations and effigies in the 14th Century. Now, drawing heavily from various websites and blog posts regarding the Lengberg bra finds, I'm going to discuss the few textual sources I'm aware of.

(Please note: being an amateur enthusiast, primary texual sources are one of my weakest points and I am currently reliant almost totally on other bloggers as I do not own or have access to the relevant books. In many cases, I don't even know what the relevant books would be! I am also a monoglot English speaker. Despite  because of this, if you have any further sources that could add to this topic, I would love to hear about them.)

~ Part 4: The 14th Century bust in text ~

25 February 2013


I have been doing a little bit of sewing, but my camera is officially dead now so I can't show you any photos. Instead, I thought I'd mention my other current medieval project: lent.

10 February 2013

Historical Sew Fortnightly: #3 Under It All

Like many others, I have been caught up in The Dreamstress' Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge.

So, today is the deadline for challenge #3: Under it All. Having failed miserably at challenge #2 (Unfinished Objects), I decided that since my UFOs were shifts that I could promote them to challenge #3 and try to get them finished anyway...

Unfortunately, my camera finally died today so I can't give you any photos of the finished garments. However, I do have some 'before' photos that I hope will suffice for now.

20 January 2013

The 14th Century bust: part 3

I spoke in Part 2 about the fashionable female silhouette of the first 3/4 of the 14th Century and how it is very different from the 15th Century fashions, particularly in the bustline which is de-emphasised through flattening of the bust and the lack of visible cleavage, even on reasonably low/wide necklines. Here I'm going to do a quick jaunt through female fashion of 1375-1400, again with emphasis on the bustline.

Part 3: The Fashionable Female Silhouette 1370-1400 ~