14th Century Thread pt II

I realized I never shared this with you guys, so here is the documentation for my 14th C sewing thread!  So here you go, this is the actual coherent version of the rambling on this post.

thread documentation

The ‘blurb’ for this competition recommended 1-3 pages of documentation, so I tried to keep it at 3ish.  I probably could have kept going on all the theories about historical spinning techniques for….much longer.  I also did not use footnotes/endnotes, and I probably should have done that.

I did NOT win the competition– the winner made a bunch of headache remedies from period recipes, which is pretty cool– and I have actually yet to read my feedback/rubric…..because anxiety….. but I will likely be doing that shortly.

I did realize looking at the other entries that, while I enjoy spinning and I really liked the project, it was probably not the best choice for a competition.  Based on all the academic research that I could get my hands on there is still scholarly debate about pre-17th Century spinning techniques.  We have spindle whorls, and wool combs, and pictures of people spinning, but it’s unclear how much of that is artistic interpretation.  We don’t have a 14th C manual for “this is how to spin,” as we do with, say, most 19th C clothing.  So it was inevitable that I had to make some decisions that were very difficult to support and document, since we just don’t know.  I personally find that more interesting in terms of an experimental archeology, making-a-reproduction-and-seeing-if-it-works curiosity, but it’s probably not ideal for a situation where you will be, essentially, “graded” on documentability.

(which is not a word.  But you get the point.)


So….yeah.  That was my first experience with SCA A&S competitions.  I definitely don’t feel like I had the “hang” of it this time, a little bit like turning in an essay with a teacher you’ve never had before, and you don’t quite know what they’re looking for.  I will refrain from going on a rant about the time I wrote an essay in college about gender influences in Swan Lake and my professor knew nothing about ballet and therefore did not understand my point very well.  I couldn’t exactly put videos of the Bolshoi pas de quatre in my paper.


New Sewer’s Garb

There’s been a lot of discussion recently on the West Kingdom facebook group about garb for newcomers and how to get them the information they need.

I feel like I really can’t help very much with buying garb– other than my new hood, I’ve never bought any garb in my life

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(If you want very accurate handsewn headgear, The Medieval Needle sells great stuff, but it might be a litttttttle steep/intimidating for brand new people.  But seriously this hood is gorgeous, I am very pleased)

BUT.  If you want to learn how to sew, that I can help with!

So here is my Completely Unqualified Guide to Learn How To Sew Garb:

  1. You’ll need to learn how to sew.  Handsewing at minimum, especially if you don’t want to invest in a machine– you can do things by hand that machines really can’t do.  Fundamentally it’s pretty simple– thread goes in needle, needle goes in fabric– but there can definitely be an intimidation factor.  I recommend YouTube and Pinterest for lots of videos and guides.
  2. Cool!  You know how to sew!  Awesome! Next steps– what to sew.  Mistress Sylvie has a great guide to making a basic tunic which is a good all-purpose unisex beginner garment.  The great thing about her guide is that it covers the whole process, with flat-felled seams, so that you don’t have to worry about other seam finishes.  Highly recommend!
    (Psssssst: there’s also a reasonable chance that someone will be willing to make you one of these, help you make it, lend you a sewing machine, give you fabric, help you shop for fabric, etc…… we like helping!  Ask us!)
  3. If you decide that this is a thing that you enjoy, or that for whatever reason it is more practical for you to sew garments than buy them (You are an unusual size, you are interested in a particular time period instead of “generic medieval,” you live somewhere where shipping is a pain) I suggest two things
    1. Get a sewing machine.  I highly recommend what I have, which is a 1985 Husqvarna Viking 150.  You can find them on ebay pretty cheap, and they are indestructible.  They don’t have any bells and whistles but they WILL speed up doing all those long, dull, skirt seams.
    2. My absolute recommendation for a First Garb Book with everything from basic tunics to intricate men’s pleated gowns to headwear to WHERE DOES MY STUFF GO is the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant.
      Most of the earlier garments are just rectangles and triangles, which makes them really simple to cut and assemble.  PLUS this has the best guide I have encountered on draping and drafting a body block as well as drafting sleeves.  Seriously.  The sleeves in here make sense.  It’s kind of incredible.  LOVE this book.

      If you continue to enjoy this there are much more specific books and websites to look at, but if you are getting started at this sewing thing and just want to have something that’s simple to make that makes you look really good…. this is where to start.

    3. There are a significant number of pattern brands that make patterns for our time periods!  Sadly none of them are sold at Joann’s, but in the Internet Age that doesn’t mean much.  A full pattern brand review will have to wait for another day, but suffice it to say that
      1. You Do Not Need patterns for anything pre-14th C, you just need a ruler and some basic math
      2. If you know how to sew but are intimidated by drafting your own, more complicated patterns, Period Patterns is not a bad source.  You do need to understand how garments go together because the instructions are…. vague.
      3. Reconstructing History patterns cover a HUGE range of styles and time periods, and the research is good…. but I have had issues with their sizing.  Definitely do a mock-up
      4. If you want to go hard-core late period, go for the Tudor Tailor.  These also require some understanding of how clothes work, since the instructions can be minimal.

…..I will likely come back to this and add more, because I was SUPPOSED to go grocery shopping and got side tracked writing this, but hopefully this is a good place to start!….

Adventures in Catalán

Hello yes hi I vanished again!  I keep doing that!  I think the main problem is that I am just chugging along on a lot of things right now (no, actually, a LOT of things) and I never feel like I have anything in particular to write about.  Some of that will probably be detailed at the end of this post.


In the meantime, I finally discovered that there is an SCA Iberia group on Facebook for those of us with Spanish and Portuguese personas!  So I joined, and started poking, and Mestressa Beatriz Aluares de la Oya (also known as The Spanish Seamstress) had posted a list of all of the documents she knows of with regards to Spanish clothing in our period.  And I got excited, because I only know of a few of them, and I wanted to find more.

So I’m scrolling through the list and something catches my eye because

a) It’s on Cataluña (the northern part of Spain by Barcelona, which is SPECIFICALLY where my persona is supposed to be from) and

b) It’s on 14th Century Cataluña, and as you have probably noticed, I’m on a bit of a 14th C kick at the moment.  I’ve mostly been doing generic 14th C, which leans more French than anything else, and I’d like to specifically learn more about Spain.

Unlike a lot of the books on slightly esoteric historical topics this one was not $75 or $150 or $200, but $30, so I figured what the heck.  I’ll get the book. I’ll learn something!

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Despite the fact that it clearly says on the Book Depository listing that the book is in Catalán, that somehow escaped my notice.  So now I have a very good, interesting book, on a topic that I have had trouble finding information about, not in a language I read (although it’s RUSTY as HECK) but in a language I can’t read at all.

I am slowly working my way through it (no, literally, I am trying to do the entire book) typing it into Google Translate and then using my knowledge of Spanish and you know, grammar and sanity, to proofread and edit it.

(Before anyone gets into me– yes, I know there are more efficient ways to do this.  My parents have already been on me about that.  BUT actually typing it word for word makes me read all of it, and I’m already picking up some words in Catalán, which is pretty cool)

I’m not entirely sure how much of it I’ll be able to share, given copyright, fair use, etc.  While I would LOVE to either get this formally published or be able to share the whole thing so that people actually have access to this information in a more global language than the one spoken in the North East of Spain, that seems unlikely.  In the meantime I do have the information for my personal use, and I highly recommend this book.  If you speak or read Spanish you’ll be able to get the gist of it, although Catalan still has too many freaking ‘x’s.

Here’s a short excerpt on a grave find I’d never heard of:

However, in July 1997, the opening of a tomb in the church of Santa Maria d’Agramunt brought to light a few pieces of clothing from the fourteenth century. Nothing rich in gold, velvet or silk fabrics: linen and cotton. The simple clothes correspond to a boy and a girl buried in the same tomb but at different times. The best preserved clothing corresponds to that of the woman with a cut tunica, a head wrap similar to a turban and the calces (CJ: hose?) or upper half of the left leg with its corresponding lligacama. A part of the cofia (cap) worn by the man is the only garment that remains undamaged by the action of the lime with which the body was covered.

TL:DR:  Book!  Good book!  Get book!

In other news:

The lace for the MOD gloves is in progress (slow progress)

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This is an old picture, there’s a fair bit more now.  This precious metal thread from Tied to History is gorgeous.

I’ve been recruited to do some sewing for the incoming King and Queen, which is amazing and also terrifying.  Trying to reign in my perfectionism on those.

My mom is coming to a couple events!  Yay!  I’m putting her in 10th C Norse because I can make it quickly and I think it’ll look good on her.  There will be a complete post on that at some point– I’m not going for a ton of research on grave finds because I Do Not Need More Things, so we’re just going for SCA standard “vikings.”

Beltane is this weekend and I’m bringing my 14th C kit and probably the avoiding heatstroke dress, since it’s in Cloverdale and supposed to be warm. Then two weeks for sewing and it’s Mists Investiture, which is the first thing I’m taking my mom too.  It looks like I might be going to the Known World Costume and Fiber Arts Symposium, which I am very excited about!  We’re still working on logistics with that one, and if I can’t make it work I’ll do West-An Tir war, but I’m not going to both.

Clothing Rav

Many of you will remember my friend Darrin, of the stupidly-complicated-device and lack-of-garb.

(His SCA name is Rav, which leads to the convenient mnemonic of us as Rav4 and Ex-hera. Ie the Toyota Rav 4 and the Nissan Extera. Blame Laurie, but it helps)

This is the garb I made him approximately a year ago. Thirteenth century Swedish, ish, it’s not exactly the most well documented period.

Darrin is totally capable of sewing–in fact he is arguably better equipped than I am with a modern sewing machine and serger. However he is yet to cut out the cloak we bought fabric for last May, so I’m taking over his garb.

I’m also dragging him into the 14th century because

A) The clothes are more interesting and

B) I can actually, reasonably use the Herjolfsnes finds.

On that note I made him a hood using scraps of fabric from my speed surcoat lined with leftover fabric from William’s pelicaning shirt.

Spot the random hair of mine lovingly lit on his liripipe.

I struck a deal with him that I’d make him garb if he bought the fabric (since I no longer have a source of income) and we decided on a BEAUTIFUL, GLORIOUS slightly heathered grey wool Ermenegildo Zegna twill on clearance.

It’s amazing.

I’m making D10581, aka the short-sleeved surcote with the double pointed gore at the front.

Although Darrin is almost exactly the size of the men’s small in Medieval Clothing Reconstructed the patterns are gridded on a 1 cm grid while my pattern paper is a 1″ grid. Therefore I couldn’t just enlarge it straight from the book.

Because the last surcote I made him fit pretty well I basically drafted the new one to be the same size. As you can see in the photo the surcote gore ends a little too high (it’s meant to start at the belt) so I had a choice to either move it down 2-3″ or move it up so it’s more intentionally at sternum height. Based on the proportions of the original I decided to move it up.

Then I just had to figure out how long and wide to make everything. For the measurements at the top of the gore panels and the side panels I roughly estimated 1 cm=1/2 in, figuring that was pretty close. The side panels are 9cm wide, so 3.5″ each, and the desired garment width at chest 47″, which made the front and back panels 16.5″ wide.

Feel free to check my math.

Yesterday I cut out and assembled the whole thing other than the sleeves, which I will need to draft from scratch. I probably chose the wrong way to insert the gores, because I couldn’t get the nice tongue-and-double-point. Looks like most people making replicas of this finish the tongue first and then essentially patch the gore in from behind, instead of inserting it.

I finished the neckline and worked a threadbar at the bottom of the slit to strengthen it. I’m using a very dark green silk and I like the subtle contrast it gives.

Oh, and it turnes out I can totally sew this fabric with my replica handspun sewing thread.

14th Century Sewing Thread

And I’m off down another rabbit hole!

At Mists Investiture in May they’re having an A&S competition the theme of which is, essentially “Things Made At Home.”  They specifically mention spun thread as an example, to which I went.


That is a thing I can do!

Documentation is required, which means I’ve been in the slightly weird area of doing serious, academic-level research on something I have informally studied since the age of nine.  I’m really glad I chose to do this, though, because while there are other spinners in the Kingdom, they go about it in a very different way from how I do.

I’m not going to say that I’m a true production spindle-spinner, as women in the 14th Century would have been (and women in many indigenous populations in the Andes still are), but it’s something I’ve been doing for a while, and I’m pretty good at churning out fine, strong thread.  My spinning recently has been focused on making acceptable weaving yarns for fine fabric, embroidery threads, sewing threads, and very fine wool for Shetland-style wedding ring shawls.  And I think it’s easy for us to forget that medieval craftspeople were actually better at making fabric than modern machines.  There are species of linen that died out during the industrial revolution because the threads they made were too fragile for mechanized looms.  They weren’t spinning lumpy 1970s-style art yarns….. They produced fabric from scratch, by hand, and they were good at it.

I wanted to document, produce, and enter thread that proves that yes, a human being can make a strong, smooth wool sewing thread on a spindle.

For wool I’m using a lamb’s fleece I got from Pickwick Cotswolds a few years back.  Something like a double-coated Shetland or one of the really primitive Icelandic breeds would probably be more accurate (that’s essentially what the Herjolfsnes finds were made of, using the hair coat for the warp and the undercoat for the weft) but I had this already.  The Cotswold breed definitely underwent some breeding in the 18th Century, but it has no Merino blood (unlike every other fleece I own, thanks SPD) and it’s long and relatively hairy as described in:

Brandenburgh, C.R. (2010) Early medieval textile remains from settlements in the Netherlands. An evaluation of textile production. Journal of Archeology in the Low Countries.

I’m using my modern Valkyrie extra fine wool combs because wool combs have really not changed very much over the past 700 years.  Check out this guy

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(Illustration from 1442)

And mine are these:

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(oh, and I washed the wool with Dawn dishsoap since I’m not futzing around with stale urine and medieval soap)

Then comes a topic of much debate– the spinning.

If you start researching medieval spinning techniques you’ll find a lot of speculation.  By the 14th Century they had great wheels (conveniently shown in this illustration from the Luttrell Psalter)

great wheel luttrell psalter

However I do not have a great wheel and they would not have been used to make a strong thread for warp or sewing (since they are pretty much only set up for long draw) so I’m using a spindle.  But how?  Drop or supported?  True worsted or woolen or something in between?

Women in medieval illustrations are almost always in this strange, stylized posture with one hand near the spindle and one raised in the air

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Now to me…. that looks a lot like a long draw technique.  But you can’t use that for warp or sewing, because it’s not strong enough.  No one seems to be quite sure exactly how spindles were used– if they were spun like this, or this was just an easy way to paint people, and how consistent the techniques were over space and time.

My personal opinion, going back to the production spinning point, is they used the spindles however they could best use them at that moment.  As far as we can tell there is no distinction between a medieval drop spindle and a medieval supported spindle– a low whorl spindle works just as well resting on the ground as it does hanging in the air with a half hitch. So if you’re watching the sheep for the day– ok, cool, drop spindling it is. You’re helping your husband sell wares at a market–perhaps supported spindling if you are sitting down for long lengths of time.  Your spindle is getting full and heavy and you switch to supported spindling only because the mass is changing how it spins.

You know, if you have ever tried to do any production spinning at all, that it takes time.  Lots of time.  It’s something that takes up your entire day.  I’ll never forget an article in Spin-Off about the diary of a lighthouse keeper’s teenage daughter in the 19th Century and there would be entries saying “Yeah, nothing happening today, I was spinning.”

With that in mind I’m using a couple of my favorite supported spindles (the extra light tahklis from Malcolm Fielding) for the main reason that I spend most of my free time sitting, and it’s much easier to use a supported spindle (at least for me) while sitting down.  I wish I still had a Bolivian spindle I got at La Lana wools in Taos (back when it still existed) that was near identical to the medieval spindles found in archeological digs.  A relatively straight stick, pointed at the bottom and rounded on the top, with a whorl that you can slide on and off.  The whorl was wood, not fired clay, but that was the functional difference.  But sometime in the last 17 years it vanished, so I’m using my tahklis instead.

My thread is also going to be essentially backward from the sewing thread in the Herjolfsnes finds, because I taught myself how to spin in the fourth grade and at the time I found it easier to flick the spindle with my non-dominant (left) hand, and hold the wool with my right.  Pretty much everyone else does it the other way around, but I can’t unlearn it at this point so my spindle spinning is just backwards.  Going back and learning the other way is worse than trying to fence left handed.

I’ll post the actual full documentation for this when it’s done, but in the mean time I’ve enjoyed climbing down a rabbit hole into archeological textiles, even if I’m annoyed that I can no longer VPN into UCSF’s library system and download any academic texts I want.

Me Birthday!

Is coming up.  I shall be 26, which is slightly scary as 25 is definitely mid-twenties and 26 is headed towards late-twenties.

I know this sounds silly if you, like my mother, are 68, but I really thought I would be well onto a career by now and instead I am working retail and headed back to school for something completely different, in another country, quite far away.

Anyway, I have started to get the birthday present question.  If you would like to get me a thing, here is a list.  Getting me things is in no way required!  I also don’t really need anything!  But gifts are nice.

My etsy favorites

Any silk gimp from here in black, red, or dark green (just think blackwork colors)

This book

The small needles and thimbles from here

Two of these

And if you really want to drop some money on me:

I fell in love with this at GWW but couldn’t justify buying it, and I really wish I had.  So if you want to ask them to make another that would be appreciated!


I vanished again

So the first 3 weeks of this month were crazy stressful, and then I went to Crown, and then sewing was less stressful but work was more stressful….and I didn’t have pictures. But I’m alive, I swear!

My goals for Crown originally were:

1. Get Spanish 1520s done

2. Get William’s shirt done

3. Get lace samples done

4. Get coif to the place where it is displayable

This quickly turned into

1. Don’t lose sanity

2. Make a garment so you don’t freeze on Sunday

3. Get William’s shirt so it looks like a shirt for the Wreath of Athena competition.

And those things did get done!

I checked the weather the week beforehand and freaked out that it was predicted to be a high of 64 and a low of 44. I went to discount fabrics, bought 3.5 yards of this weird wool/cashmere/bamboo/silk blend on clearance, and made a sideless surcote.

This involved some weird piecing– I cut the side seams super low, which looks great on taller reenactors! But on me the proportions are weird, so I pieced in a wonky triangle thing and then put a dart in so it fit to my hips. This raised the cut a couple inches and looked much better.

My custom 14th C belt from Lorifactor showed up, and I am really pleased!

Apologies for squinting, etc, but I FINALLY have a picture of this dress! I’ve only worn it to 3 events and a war….

My shirt did not even make it into the top 3 for Wreath of Athena, but my friend Eva’s shield did! The winner made a fabulous piece of tablet weaving, and I’m in the process of naturally dyeing some of the pound of 30/2 silk I have from Tanaka Nao in Kyoto for him to play with.

This weekend I also finally set out to dye the 6 yards of white wool Saionji-Sensei gave me ages ago.

Osage Orange dyepot– it came out VERY lemon yellow, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. The contrasting trim is also not very contrasty, so something is probably getting dyed again.

I was also finally able to go to another small, chill, local event!

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember my very first SCA event–12th Night 2018. At that event Trystan, and Liz de Belcaire, and Saionji all said “You need to meet Sarah”

Sarah being Sarah Lorraine, local 16th C costumer, 1/3rd of the original Frock Flicks cast, and overall awesome human being.

The next time William ran into her he told her she needed to meet me, and we proceeded to completely miss each other for a year.

We finally met!

It’s possible we might secretly be related. Unclear.

Newcomers was great. I got to play with some period calligraphy stuff, demonstrate spinning, hang out with awesome women, and wear a pretty dress. That’s about 85% of what I like about the SCA.

I finally feel like

a) I need to stop buying fabric because it is everywhere and

b) I actually have an event wardrobe that works for a variety of events and weather situations, so I can stop frantically making myself clothes and start working on other stuff. My coif is slowly creeping along, I have to sew for other people, and I really want to finally make largesse.