Monday, 1 September 2014

Research trip write-up the first - pins and a cap

Somehow it is already September and the season of secret gift projects has started. Hazards of being a craftsperson - gifts take months of forward planning. Ah well. I have been saving some research photos for just this purpose!

Back in July I was fortunate to be able to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum's research centre to work with some collection items that aren't on display. Mostly I was there to look at a shirt and a handkerchief, and those will appear in future posts. A few days before I went, though, I came across a series of pins in the online catalogue that were mysteriously labelled "ruff pins". There were no photos and only the vaguest of descriptions, so I requested them as well.

They came mounted on board as a set.

I'd wondered whether they were decorative stickpins or functional attaching pins. As you can see, they turned out to be the latter.

It's not clear whether the heads of the pins are separate rings of metal that have been slipped over the shaft, or if each pin is a single piece of wire that has been knotted at one end to form the head.

The pins are made of copper or an alloy, judging from the colour of the corrosion. Each is about an inch long, tapering to a point.

The curator also brought up an 18th-century cutwork cap by mistake. It was very pretty, though, so I took a photograph:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

That thing where you're too busy crafting to post about your crafting...

The shirt is done. I got a fair number of photos during the process, so I'll run through the whole lot.

The first part of the process was designing the embroidery. I decided to base my design on the original embroidery of the shirt, albeit not as densely stitched because my fabric was coarser. I ended up with bees and roses for the cuffs:

and bees and acorns for the collar:

The bees are from his heraldic device, and the acorns are the emblem of a service award he holds. The vines and leaves are also based on the original embroidery.

I drew the pattern up actual size and then transferred it to my fabric by the very professional method of holding it up to the window and drawing it. It worked reasonably well, but I really want to get a lightbox for future projects.

I tacked the full cuff outline onto the fabric before I started embroidering the first cuff, just to ensure I didn't forget my seam allowances. (I did all of the embroidery on a single piece of fabric in a q-snap frame, and then cut it out afterwards.

Things were going great, right up until I ran out of black embroidery floss:

Seriously, who runs out of black embroidery floss? Me, that's who. Still, I went to the shop the next day, and finished all the embroidery that evening.

I don't have any photos of the next phase, but I hemmed the bottom edges of the body fabric so they wouldn't fray horribly. The sleeves went onto the shoulders next; I just used running stitch. After that I put the underarm gussets in and sewed up the arm and side seams. That process was slightly more complicated than I'd anticipated, because Patterns of Fashion doesn't seem to mention anywhere how far open the sleeves were below the cuff, or even if they were at all. Going by the cuff measurements I concluded that they had to be, otherwise you'd never get your hand through. And after some digging on the internet, I found the Flickr album of a person who had been to the Museum of Fashion and taken lots of lovely photos of the shirt, including one where you could see the slit below the cuff. No measurements, but knowing the length of the sleeve allowed me to guesstimate. This is what I ended up with:

I hemmed the open edges of the slits before putting the cuffs on. Incidentally, gathering a sleeve into a cuff is a pain and requires approximately one million pins. I'm going to need a lot more practice, but I think this went well for a first attempt.

In the above photo you can see a classic example of why it's important to double-check your measurements before you do your embroidery layout. The blackwork ought to go all the way out to the edge, but I screwed it up. Ah well. It is at least symmetrically wrong, and the collar isn't nearly so bad.

At this point, I decided to get as many of the inside seams finished as I could before starting to work on the collar. The original shirt had run and fell seams, so that's what I did too. Here's the finished underarm gusset, made possible by a Pinterest tutorial on felling underarm gussets that Lady C sent me.

I've never done felled seams before, but I'm very happy with how they turned out. Next up was cutting the collar opening. Again, no photos, but I had tacked across the shoulder "seam" so that everything would be in the right place. Cut across the shoulders and then down the front to form a slit. I hemmed the sides of those next, before gathering the opening into the collar. This was unexpectedly tricky, because you're left with no fabric at the bottom of the curve to turn into the hem. Again, I am really pleased with how this turned out.

The rectangle at the bottom of the slit is a reinforcing patch. The original shirt had them at the tops of the hip slits. I've also put them in here at the neck and on both wrists. The original shirt tore and was mended at the neck, and Himself has historically ripped out the wrists of his shirts, so I decided to put in a little extra work for caution's sake. The patches also have the bonus of covering the slightly unattractive point where hem turns into seam.

Once all the seams were done and reinforced, I had to suck it up and do the gathers for the collar. Instead of running a single thread across the full length, I started in the centre back and ran threads out to both sides. This made it a lot easier to get the gathers evenly distributed, and also meant that I was able to centre the collar properly. I think the next time I'll do three lines of gathering stitches instead of two, as some of the gathers got a little lumpy.

I managed to find a lady (at WorldCon of all places) selling 8mm linen tape. The original tapes were 6mm, but seriously, who's going to quibble over 2mm? I bought 5 yards of the stuff, so should be well stocked for the next few shirts. As in the original, I sewed them to the inside of the collar and cuffs:

though I think next time I'll enclose the ends inside the cuff. It looks better and I think is more secure.

The finished shirt is very long.

It's designed to be that way, though. When worn properly it gets tucked into the gentleman's trousers:

It should also have a doublet over the top of it. Without, though, it gives one a marvelous chance to pretend to be on the cover of a bodice-ripper:

Monday, 14 July 2014

A shirt for a spouse

My spouse, in fact. Ordinarily I have a policy of not making clothing for him (because he's perfectly capable of sewing his own), but since I'm planning fancy gentleman's clothing for me I figured I might as well practice on him.

The exemplar I'm using is a linen shirt dated between 1590 and 1620 that's apparently in the Bath Fashion Museum. (I say apparently because I can't find it on their website, though it appears on a number of Pinterest boards attributed to that museum.) It is also one of the patterned examples in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 4. 

The body of the shirt is a single continuous length of cloth with no seams at the shoulders. The 38-inch-wide fabric is the full width of the cloth, with the selvedges left attached. The sleeves are rectangles, gathered into the cuffs and with a square gusset in the underarm. The neck opening is a T-shaped slit with a rolled hem along the front and with small triangular gussets inserted at the tops of the shoulders before being gathered into the collar. The back of the shirt is several inches longer than the front.

The sleeves and gussets are attached using run and fell seams. Below the underarm gusset the selvedge edges are butted together until just below the hip, at which point it falls open to the bottom hem. The bottom hem is a very narrow rolled hem. There are reinforcing strips sewn in at the tops of the side openings.

The original shirt is heavily embroidered in black silk. There are alternating columns of scrolling flowers and leaves and isolated motifs of leaves and acorns on the front and back chest and both sleeves, as well as bands of similar scrolling flowers on the cuffs and collar. The columns running alongside the front neck opening merge into a single column below the opening.

Narrow linen tapes are sewn to the wrists just above where the cuff joins the sleeve, though it is not clear whether these are the original tapes.

My fabric is wider than the original, so I'm not going to be able to use the selvedges in the same way. I'll work run and fell seams all the way down the side openings and then continue the hems up to meet them. I'm also not planning to do nearly as much embroidery - just the collar and cuffs and possibly around the neck opening, in black embroidery cotton.

First up - cutting out the body and sleeves, and setting up the fabric that's going to become cuffs and collar on my embroidery frame. 

Friday, 20 June 2014


Despite all of the planning and thinking and cooking that's been going on recently, I have actually been making things. First up, a pair of socks for a certain Viscountess.

When asked how she had liked the socks I made her earlier, she hinted that she really wanted another pair. "Hinted" might be the wrong word. I think her exact words were, "I'd like another pair just like these, only purple." So, purple socks she got.

Then with the leftovers I made a pair of booties for an imminent SCA baby.

You'd never guess they were from the same yarn. But they are, and there was much cooing when I presented them.

Finally, some spinning. Not a lot, only a wee sample.

This is from a mystery fleece that I acquired last autumn. I'm aiming for a bulky 3-ply to make a cabled cardigan/coat thingie at some point. Still need to bulk this up a little bit. It is very difficult to consistently spin fat yarn.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The next big thing - The 1545 Project

There's always a big project, isn't there? This one, at least, involves needlework. Lots of it.

Last summer when I went to that event in Wales for 10 days, in addition to doing a ton of spinning and setting the foundation of my apprenticeship, I also got to try archery for the first time. Archery has turned into a love and an obsession over the last 10 months, and thanks to a ton of practice I'm becoming reasonably competent. I even went as far as buying a longbow back in March.

What this means, though, is that my spiffy new Viking clothing is All Wrong. One simply doesn't shoot an English longbow while dressed as a Viking. For a start, the tortoise brooches get in the way of the string. And one can never have too many spiffy outfits.

I'd been kicking around ideas for some English garb to go with my bow for a while, and over the last fortnight an Idea has coalesced. (Incidentally, making garb to match one's bow is a pretty sure indicator of an archery obsession.)

First I went to an event in Ireland and somehow ended up trying on the clothing of one of the gentlemen in attendance. (It was a strange and entertaining evening. Let's just leave it at that.) They fit beautifully, although the doublet was a little long in the waist, and were terribly comfortable. When asked, he remarked that they were mid-16th-century English. I'd been meaning to make some male clothing for inclement weather, so we agreed to swap skills so he'd learn knitting and spinning while I got patterns.

Then I went looking for evidence of what the string of my bow would have been made of so that I could make some. (Further evidence of obsession.) I found myself reading Toxophilus, which is the first English-language archery manual, published in 1545. Coincidentally, 1545 is the same year the Mary Rose went down. In addition to just being extremely interesting, archaeologically-speaking, the Mary Rose finds include the largest single body of pre-1600 archery equipment ever found.

I have the plans for clothing and I have the primary sources for how archery was done at the same point in history. So basically, I've decided that I'm going to kit myself out as a gentleman archer of 1545. Clothing from the skin out, all the archery accoutrements, new arrows, and a new bow. Because it turns out that my bow isn't actually appropriate for the clothing I'm now planning to make!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Luncheon for... forty-one!*

The most important thing I have learned about being an apprentice: never express interest in a Cool Project unless you want Boss Laurel** to respond, "That does indeed sound cool. I look forward to reading your project report".

Completely unrelatedly, I spent Friday and Saturday morning cooking a documented 10th-century Arabic lunch at an SCA event.

A while back, the lady coordinating the food for the weekend put out a call for new and inexperienced event cooks to undertake a single meal at this event. I've spent a fair amount of time as a kitchen minion and am a reasonably competent cook, but had never before planned and/or implemented an entire meal on this scale. However, we'd*** just received a copy of the Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens for Christmas, and Boss Laurel wanted me to start working my way up to cooking a feast. So in a fit of madness, I volunteered for Saturday lunch with the intention of doing the whole meal from that cookbook.

The book itself is marvelous. It's a complete annotated translation of a 10th-century manuscript, along with extensive notes on Islamic cuisine, dining, and medical practices, and a glossary of terms that occupies nearly half the book. I've been working my way through it since January and might eventually know my way around it properly in a year or two. What makes it even more unusual is that it's full of measurements - and the author has included the original measurements as well as an approximate modern equivalent, weights to weights, volumes to volumes. There's even a discussion on the properties of the wheat used in the region at that point in history, allowing one to use appropriate flour for bread-making.

So. I knew going in to the planning that I wanted something that could be prepped as much in advance as possible (so I didn't run the risk of lunch being late). I wanted something that wouldn't be ruined if lunchtime ended up either earlier or later than planned (so that everything would still taste good). I wanted something that sounded tasty to me personally (because there was no way I was going to cook a meal that I wouldn't eat). I wanted something that wasn't too out there, flavour-wise (because there was no way I was going to cook a meal that no-one else would eat). And finally, I wanted something that involved vegetables and/or fruit (because bread and cheese and cold meat is not so good for the digestion).

My initial thought was to do some sort of stew or casserole, but as I started looking through the recipes I found several chapters of cold dishes. The advantage of cold dishes is that they can be completely plated up in advance and served directly from the fridge. And as far as the recipes went, chilled was better because ice was an expensive luxury good - if one served a guest chilled food, it was an indication of esteem. Plus it was the very end of May, so there was a reasonable chance that the weather would be warmish. Hot stew would have been overly-filling.

As I read through the recipes for cold dishes, I noticed that they were all variations on a theme of "cook and chop or shred a thing, make a sauce, dress the thing, garnish with cucumbers and fruit". One shredded meat and one chopped vegetable seemed like the right amount for a lunch, so I settled on chicken and aubergine, along with four sauces in total. Rather than dressing them as separate dishes, though, I decided to serve both plain with the sauces alongside. That way people could have as much or as little of any of the sauces as they chose, and any children or fussy eaters could have plain food. Not quite how they'd have been served, but the food was unusual enough that I didn't want to scare anyone.

The chapters on cold dishes all indicate that they are to be served before the meal, i.e. as appetizers. I decided to treat the whole lunch as a precursor to the feast that would follow in the evening. I wanted to have lots of little nibbly things and lots of flavours. Enough that people would go away feeling satiated but not stuffed.

The final menu was this:

  • Roasted chickens (shredded) and cooked aubergines, served with four sauces
  • Flatbreads  
  • Olives 
  • Apricots and figs
  • Peeled sliced cucumbers
Because I was flying in from another country my lady Boss Cook kindly agreed to do all of my shopping for me. The shopping list I priced up was under budget, so I assume the actual groceries were likewise. She also ended up cooking and shredding the chicken for me for reasons of space in transport.

Olives in brine are listed as a good thing to eat before the meal in chapter 24 (humoral properties of condiments).

Apricots and figs are both included in chapter 26 (seasonal fruits and fruits served before the meal), though they really should have been fresh rather than dried. Fresh fruit is a lot more expensive, unfortunately.

The first two sauces are from chapter 31 (cold poultry dishes served before the hot food). The first was made of:
  • Ground almonds
  • White sugar
  • Cucumber pulp
  • Wine vinegar (white, in this case)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Mint
  • Basil
Strictly speaking it should also have had thyme (but the shop failed to supply it) and almond oil (which is expensive). The fresh herbs were to be minced and sprinkled over everything, but since I was serving the sauce separately I decided to stir them in.

The second:
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Ground caraway
  • Cassia (I substituted cinnamon)
  • Galangal
  • Olive oil
  • Mint
  • Parsley
This one should also have had rue, but it's impossible to find and potentially dangerous. I'd eat it myself under controlled circumstances, but there was no way I was going to feed it to a large group miles from the nearest hospital.

 The next sauce was from chapter 39 (making yogurt, drained yogurt, and cheese). The sauce is called jajaq, and is really honestly not tzatziki. Honestly.
  • Yogurt
  • Salt
  • Mint
  • Cucumber pulp
This one was an interesting sauce to make. The recipe proper called for garlic (which I had intended to add but didn't), chopped onions, parsley, tarragon, rue, lettuce stems, artichokes, and green almonds. However, the recipe is followed immediately by a translation of a poem that describes five separate bowls of yogurt, each with a single green herb flavouring it. That, plus knowledge of modern variations on this sauce, led me to infer that the recipe itself was listing all the options exhaustively, rather than instructing the cook to use all of them together.

The final sauce was from chapter 45 (making cold dishes of vegetables and the best of roots).
  • Vinegar
  • White sugar
  • Ground almonds
  • Caraway seeds
  • Cassia (again, I used cinnamon)
This should have had saffron in it, but it's expensive and one of the attendees was allergic to it. Having tried it both with and without at home, though, it didn't really change anything other than the colour of the sauce.

The final component of the meal was the flatbread. I took the recipe from chapter 13 (humoral properties of grains and bread made from wheat and rice). I used spelt flour (both to deal with a wheat intolerance and because it's closer to 10th-century wheat, chemically-speaking), water, salt, and yeast to make a stiff, heavy dough, let it rise for half an hour, rolled it into small discs with a very small amount of olive oil on the outside, and then dry-fried them in a cast-iron pan. Only set off the smoke detector once!

Rather than using active dry yeast I should really have been using a yeast dough starter, which would have changed the flavour. However, since I was travelling to the event that wasn't really an option.

Cooking the bread was the most time-consuming part. 10 minutes to mix 2kg of flour into dough, then the rise, then cooking the breads two at a time for 2 minutes each. I made around 50 of them, I think. The sauces all got made up the night before. The chicken was already done when I got there, but since I'd originally planned to use pre-cooked hot chickens from the shop, the only extra time would have been from picking the carcasses. And then cooking the aubergines took 15 minutes, plus the 45 minutes it took for the water to come to a boil. Fortunately I woke up earlier than I'd planned.

As I was cooking the bread with the help of Boss Cook's bearded assistant, my trusty kitchen minions plated up all the dried fruit and the olives. At that point, the only things left to do were last-minute, so we all had a good break of about an hour.

We ended up with two attendees who didn't eat chicken, so for them I made baked stuffed aubergines. The stuffing was spiced rice left over from supper the night before with ground almonds mixed in, and I baked the aubergines with olive oil, salt, cinnamon, and caraway before stuffing them.

I think it went well. There were almost no leftovers, just enough that it didn't appear anyone went away from the table hungry. Everything was on the table at the right time at the right temperature, and I managed to make it so that everyone was able to eat all of the food or all but one item.

And yes, I'm already plotting my next meal.

*My mother has immediately gone to a scene from the film Easter Parade. That scene doesn't appear to be on YouTube, but this one which she will also have gone to is.

**The same is also true of Boss Herald.

***Technically it was the Spouse's Christmas present, but he's mostly playing with Roman food at the moment and I was feeling inspired.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A study in orange

I discovered when I was about seventeen that I'm able to wear orange well. It's a strange colour, orange - people either love it or hate it. I happen to love it, so being able to wear it makes me very happy.

Consequently, my stash features a lot of this delightful hue. I'm working on a delicious orange shawl at the moment (in cobweb-weight Posh), but I've mostly been playing with orange handspun recently.

I decided to do some experimenting with a braid of bamboo/merino that I bought at the first Knit Nation. I had never tried spinning bamboo before, nor did I particularly have any desire to. However, it was literally the only orange fiber I was able to find in the entire marketplace. It's been sitting in my stash ever since while I decided what to do with it. I was taken with the urge to master singles yarn, so out came the orange. It was horrifically compacted. Not felted, which was good, but it took me most of an hour to fluff it out enough to spin. And once I'd unbraided it, I discovered that the bamboo wasn't blended in very well. In fact, it was almost possible to just pluck it out entirely. I didn't, of course, but I ended up with rather barber-poled yarn.

Merino/bamboo singles

I'm happy with it overall. It's pretty, and I managed to have it not be wiry. I like very tightly spun and plied yarns for the most part, so it was difficult to keep the twist to a minimum. 250-odd yards, 105g. Once it came off the wheel I fulled it slightly with alternating hot and cold baths, and then beat it on the side of the bath.

After that, I dug some older orange handspun out of the stash. This was from some batts I won on Ravelry. It's very soft and fluffy, but I had no idea what to do with it until Heraldic Friend pointed out that I'd never made anything for her daughter, who happens to be my niece in the SCA. This was an appalling state of affairs, so I resolved to make something for my lady Makeblise immediately.

The result of this was a pixie hat. It'll be a bit big for her right now (it's nearly big enough for me), but I was determined that she'd not outgrow it in less time than it took to make.