Wednesday, 22 December 2010

It's time.

It's time... time to realise that the year 2010 is almost over - there's just a few more days in it for us, and most of these will hopefully be taken up by meeting family, catching up, eating, drinking and making merry. And that makes it time to take a little look back on the year gone by...

2010 has been a busy year for me, with lots of things happening - the book got out, I traveled a bit more than the year before, our Textile Forum went to Italy for a wonderful week at the Archeoparc, and I got married to the most patient of all men (a November wedding with outside photography makes you really grateful for a warm room afterwards), and we had a wonderful wedding, celebrating with friends and family. The TGV, my new little market stall tent, sprung into existence in only eight days of crazed frantic sewing, right before the season started with Freienfels, and has since housed (tented?) me well on the markets and fairs of the season. And this little blog successfully got through its second year (with only a very slight decline in post count compared to last year). Conferences and markets brought me into contact with a lot of new people and brought forth both lots of laughter and fun and good, serious discussions.

Looking back on it, it was a really full year, and a really good year as well. It did bring its bad moments, but we made it safely through, and I had plenty of good and glorious times to counter the bad bits. So now that the year is almost over, I'm looking back happily - and I'm looking forward to find out what 2011 will bring and be.

It's time to settle into the festive mood for the last few days of the year, and that means it's also time for me to wish you all wonderful holidays and a good start into 2011 (the first year in this millenium not to wear at least two zeros in its number!) Have a good time, as little stress as possible, and enjoy the quiet and dark bit of the year!

(I am determined to do so too, and take a nice long relaxing break - proper regular just-the-same-as-2010-blogging will resume on January 7th. See you on the flip side!)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Workshop Date!

After a long silence on the topic of workshops, I finally have a date again to offer you. On 25-27 of February 2011, there is a medieval weekend on the Schönburg in Oberwesel am Rhein where I am part of the workshop programme.

I will give a workshop "Making an Undertunic" which will introduce the participants to seams and stitch types that were in use during the Middle Ages as well as the basic principles in planning, cutting and sewing an undertunic/undershirt for the medieval wardrobe. But that's not all: After this one-day stint, you will get a very special tablet weaving course on the following day, short but juicy - an introduction to the too-little-known technique of brocaded tablet weaving. This is really, really easy to learn so even total beginners can get started in this workshop.

And if you would like to bring someone else (maybe even somebody not so interested in textile stuff - I hear that people like that do exist), there's also fighting or woodworking in the offer. You can learn more and book via the organising group's homepage, Mittelalter-Treff - and I'd be delighted to meet you at the Schönburg in February!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Flash Yulekorts

Last year, I do not remember how or through what, I stumbled across a flash "yulekort" (Xmas-Card) from a Norwegian company called Arkikon. Their job is to take archaeological facts and make them understandable for the public by supplying films or photographs. So it's no wonder that they had a little flash yulekort - and I did enjoy that one so much that I actually bookmarked it, and it's still bookmarked.

And this year, true to expectations, they have a new one. Go check it out - it's quite tongue-in-cheek, I think (and nice even if neither the archaeological excavation nor the reconstruction are portrayed correctly). And if you don't know it yet, go see last year's card as well (it's still my personal favourite).

Friday, 17 December 2010

Medical history meets fashion.

When doing my daily bit of aimless link-clicking yesterday, I stumbled across a very, very interesting article via, titled "The codpiece: Social fashion or medical need?" The short version of the article: The development of the prominent codpiece might be closely connected to a strain of Syphilis running rampant at that time, with symptoms including swelling of the genitals and treatment involving local bandages that, in addition to the swollen private parts, have to go somewhere.

This, to me, is another proof that clothes and what we call today the "development of fashion" are connected closely to a lot of other areas of daily life, even to things like illnesses. Availability (or scarcity) of certain materials and colours, climate changes, influences by marriages in the upper crust, availability or scarcity of food, work or travel requirements and social signaling, age and wealth as well as fads in the smaller social groups one is involved in and, of course, personal taste all blended (and still blend) together to a complex influence on the wardrobe of each person in history.

This blend is so complex that we will never be able to pinpoint all its ingredients for a person that lived in history - it would probably not even be possible to correctly analyse the blend for a person currently living, I suppose, since a lot of the elements are probably not things said person reflects upon. However, that makes this article about a connection between illness and fashion even more delightful to me: There is another factor that can actually be traced by an interdisciplinary approach, adding more knowledge about the mix. And at the same time, this proves that a) looking beyond one's own discipline is a really, really good thing and b) that we can never be too open-minded when we are looking at the history of garment development.

By the way, if you don't know yet, make sure to take a look around - it's a very interesting page!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

We're working on it.

Here's to let you know about one (more) thing we are working on: Next year's Textile Forum. There's no update on the website yet, but for all of you who have been wondering about whether or not there will be a Textile Forum III: yes, there will be one. And next time, to keep things interesting after going to Eindhoven in the Netherlands and then Schnals in South Tyrol, Italy, we'll go to... England.

There's been a lot of high-quality Living History in Britain for a good long time, and I think the UK was the absolute pioneer of using Living History in museum presentations to make the past more accessible to the visitors. Plus a few of the really widely known books about textile finds come from England, like "Textiles and Clothing", for example. So... we are very happy to be "away from the Continent" for our next Forum!

We'll let you know more through the usual channels once we have figured out the details - through this blog, the Textile Forum website and the Forum newsletter (subscription instructions on the Forum website under "Newsletter"). And can you believe I'm already looking forward to September and the Forum?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

'Tis the season.

It is the season to drink Earl Grey tea again, since the sky has a tendency to be gray and cloudy, and eat Lebkuchen. And bake "Weihnachtsplätzchen" (christmas cookies). And meet with friends and chat or watch a film together, and stay up way too late because it's so nice. And find something yummy in the advent calendar each day.

When I was a child, the yearly advent calendar with chocolate in it was an absolute must, and all my school colleagues had one as well (plus, in the first few years of school, there was one for the class, and someone different got to open a door every day). And when I got older, that somehow stayed a well-loved tradition for me, as it did for many others of my generation - most of our friends also have a calendar at home.

And because I am a curious person, I checked Wikipedia which in the English version says that advent calendars are mainly produced for children. Well, not so in Germany, where you can find all sorts of advent calendars for grown-ups and very clearly for those only - like those where you get a "Schnapspraline" (chocolate filled with liquid hard liquor) every day. And now I'm wondering... is that really a German thing?
If it is... I think you are missing out. 

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Another video (but not from me)

Working with a laptop is very nice - it has internal batteries so you can work even if there's no electricity (at least for a while), you can easily take it with you, it takes up little space on the desk even when set up, and there's probably a dozen more reasons. However, laptops also have their little drawbacks - like, for example, that it is not always possible to do an upgrade, or repair something. And probably everybody who has been using a laptop for a while has stumbled across one or more laptop-related problems already.

So... I stumbled over this instruction on how to clean a laptop fan yesterday, and it made me laugh really hard - so I'm passing it on.

Here you go. Clean the fan (or don't).

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cloth buttons - revisited.

I have gotten a few comments on Friday's description about the button-making, and every one of them was asking for photos.

Well... there is a reason why I did not post photos straight with the description (apart from my usual laziness, of course). Those cloth squares are small, and to catch the process properly, quite a lot of photos would be needed. And you'd still not be able to see some of the things.

So instead I now made a small, rather dark, rather bad quality video where you can see the process almost right to the end - our little camera only takes videos up to a certain time in one go. Together with the description from Friday, you should be able to understand what I'm doing there. The bit that is missing at the end is just some more stitching across the underside and neatening up of the button, with stitches that are different from button to button depending on cloth, placement of previous stitches and whatever else makes some buttons come out almost perfectly round and others quite square.

So... I hope the video is what you needed and thus helps you. Have fun!

Friday, 10 December 2010

The things you pick up.

YearsZM3 and years ago, at a small conference in Bamberg that a colleague of mine organised, I met with a few very interesting and very nice ladies. And with one of them, I somehow got to talking about buttons.

That was not so long after I had made a little hood with buttons after Textiles and Clothing, and I had made my buttons just like Crowfoot suggests: Cut a circle, pull it together by sewing along the edge, maybe stuff it with cloth and strengthen it by sewing through it in circles. That did work, but was somehow awkward, and it took quite a long time to do, and left the cut edges of the button quite exposed on the underside.

And Véronique Montembault then told me about a different method, one that she had reconstructed and now used for her cloth buttons: Cut a square of cloth, fold the corners in and fasten them with a few stitches; then fold the corners in again and fasten them; then fold the corners in again. The last fold-and-pull action tightens the button into a roundish shape; if there are still slight corners left, I stitch into them, pull the thread across the underside of the button and stitch into the next protruding bit. With soft fabric, it sometimes helps to make the button nice and firm to stuff a bit extra material into it before folding corners in the second time, but with firm fabric, just the square is enough. The cloth bits for this method are easy to cut out, do not waste fabric, make lovely little buttons in very little time, and all the cut edges of the fabric bits are hidden inside the button where they can't fray at all.

I did not use that knowledge about how to make buttons differently for years - but now I've made a heap of cloth buttons for the Hartenstein garments, and with every button, I felt really glad that I had been to that conference and met with somebody who gave me that little gem of knowledge (she demonstrated with a dark red paper napkin, by the way) that made my life so much easier now and button-making so enjoyable. And now I'm passing it on.

Cut a square out of your button-making fabric; try 3 cm side length for a smaller button, 4 cm for a large one. Thread a needle with thread, make a knot on the end of the thread and stitch through all four corners of the square, front to back, close to the edges and once more through the first corner; pull gently on the thread to bring them together. Now you can push them down onto the middle of the square. I now stitch a small circle around the middle of the now smaller square, to hold the corners down and strengthen the button top. Now stitch through the four new corners again (all four and the first one a second time) and pull together; this gives you a little pyramid shape, or something resembling a flower with four petals. I fix the middle by stitching just once through the button top and back.
Now the final fold. Like before, stitch through the four corners and the first on a second time. Try to squash the button into a rounded button-form with one hand and pull on the sewing thread with the other hand, making the button nice and tight. Stitch into all bits that stick out on the round and pull them together by criss-cross-stitching on the base of the button. When I'm content, I just stitch through the button to the button-top and back again once and then snip the thread.

And that's all there is to a folded button from a square bit of fabric. Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 December 2010


Well, actually, the blogiversary was yesterday. Which I had written in my calendar to make sure that this year I would not again forget when the blogiversary was, and write a post on the actual day.

And then I remembered after posting the blog entry.

So... as of yesterday, this little blog of mine is two years old, and has grown very dear to me in that time. Blogging in the morning has become a daily little ritual (not so little on the days that I find inspiration, though, and write a longer bit), and I actually look forward to blogging again when I've been off-blog for a while.

But a blog is never only about writing - it's only a proper blog if it does get read and enjoyed as well. And blogiversary is, of course, a wonderful opportunity to ask you readers: If you could wish for something on this blog, what would it be? A topic that should be covered more often? Something that has come up too frequently for your taste? Anything else? (Of course I give no guarantees that I will actually fulfil these wishes, but hey, worth a try, isn't it?)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Yeah, well.

A while ago, I stumbled over a video linked on Wormspit's blog, and I'll finally share it with you today. It's kind of fun, though it is also kind of... not really realistic.

There are quite a lot of bits in that film that I would like to see for much longer, and in much more detail, and some things are really not convincing me - like the berry-crushing (for that red? berries? Ah, come on.) or the thickness of the cloth he handles when washing and the fall and drape of the finished curtains. Still, I find this amusing - I don't even know who that Conan is, to be honest, but I can totally get fingering good-quality plant-dyed silk in a luscious red. And a film that shows passion about textile crafts... can it be all bad?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Middle High German on the Internet

Just like all youngsters in my generation, I had to learn a tiny bit of Middle High German when I went to school. But unlike most of my classmates, that old German language somehow fascinated me immensely, and I really enjoyed learning the old-style words of that little poem we had to know by heart (and then recite).

I don't really remember when I immersed myself deeper into that old language, but I picked up enough of it during my time at the Uni to be able to read most texts fluently (with occasional help of a dictionary) and translate the texts into modern German. And that is an immense help, of course, when hunting for garment descriptions and clothes in context, a part of research that I also like very much. Those texts, with their garment descriptions and focus on beauty and fashion in some of them are really invaluable to get an idea of how clothes were supposed to look and what was important for them to fit correctly and give the right picture to the contemporaries; and when I'm looking for text passages about special items, I always turn to the MHDBDB. In case that doesn't ring a bell for you (yet): That's the Middle High German Conceptual Database where you can search for a term and get it with a bit of context from a large number of texts.

And sometimes I want to read a bit more of that text, to see if I have the context correctly or to know a bit more about the scene including my term-in-context, and for that, there's an internet solution as well: Middle High German texts on the Net. So in case you feel a need to read some of them, here's my link list:

Digitales Mittelhochdeutsches Textarchiv
Anthology of Medieval German Literature
Biblioteca Augustana
Erlanger Liste (scroll way down)

Enjoy! (There's a bit of English info in the Anthology, plus translations into modern German, if that is of help for you.)

Monday, 6 December 2010

New week, new energy.

I have successfully started into this week with the new routine, and writing and researching on stuff again does feel wonderful. I now realise that I really missed this kind of work that I somehow didn't get around to do during all of summer - much too long, I think now.

One part of the new project I'm researching for will have to factor in hair and hairstyles in the Middle Ages, a topic I've been pondering for ages now, it seems. And I'm really happy and excited that I will finally have a chance (and the need) to gather all my theories together and test them against the more-or-less hard facts given by pictures and written sources. Hairstyles and haircare are a hairy topic regardless of the time period, since there are so many different ways to work with hair, and no two persons have the same head of hair and the same procedures. And that, of course, means that there's a lot of guesswork to be done, and a lot of things will never be really clear. And in turn, for a try at reproducing old hairstyles, it means that everybody will have to try and see and possibly adapt procedures and details to match the individual hair.

And sometimes I do wonder if that is not the case with all historical reproduction stuff, much more than we today tend to think. There is no "typical medieval person", no more than there is a "typical modern person", but only individuals with their very individual and unique history, and their unique take on things and their own style and set of preferences. Yes, we are all a product of our cultural and social background, but still - there's a lot of personality and individuality in our daily choices, and I'd be very surprised if that was not the case throughout all of history.

Which brings us again to one of the core problems of recreating historical stuff or going for  Living History: the tightrope walk between sticking to the known historical facts only for all things (which is safe, but sometimes not possible, and would let all people that try to re-create a given time in a given area look quite similar) and interpreting stuff freely on basis of things known and things available in the time (which can yield wonderful results, but is not safe because our modern knowledge and modern concepts cannot be erased from our modern heads while doing these interpretations). Ah, the Eternal Dilemma of the Living History Activist.

By the way, my approach to that dilemma is try and get an overview of the archaeological stuff for the item that I want; then take a look at pictures showing said item, to hopefully get an idea of how varied that thing can look; and then decide on how close I can and want to stick to the original.
And then, of course, I try to stay very aware of where I did alter things according to my own interpretations or needs (or even whims) or because of practical reasons, like "but it has to fit into the car" or "I have to be able to carry it" or "I really cannot afford the original material". And when I talk to folks about the item, I usually mention where the sources are from, and how far it has been altered in comparison to the original. A working solution to the Dilemma, for me. And I think Living History would be a much more boring thing if not for that Eternal Dilemma!

Friday, 3 December 2010


Though somehow this week went by fast, I'm still happy that it is Friday already and thus a weekend coming up. I feel the winter now, the cold and the long dark hours, and that somehow saps me of a good amount of energy at the moment so that I have a tendency to feeling tired and listless. The daylight spectrum lamps do help, as do generous amounts of tea and chocolate, but it's still a bit of a drag, and requires more self-ass-kicking than usual.

It's curious somehow that the body does this. And it is, to me, even curiouser somehow that I know it's due to different chemistry levels in the brain, and I can even actually pinpoint the effects this winter weather and winter darkness has on me - a negative thought popping up where usually I'd be optimistic, for example, or falling asleep after dinner - and for all that knowledge that it's just the winter darkness, it will still be an influence. No "I disbelieve this illusion" possible here, unfortunately!

And why on earth is winter still having that effect on people? I mean humans have been living in this area of Europe for how long now? Millenia? And still we haven't adapted properly to the shorter daylight hours and longer nights in wintertime? Oh come on, evolution!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

New routine and Winter Cleaning

I've tried a new routine today to better get myself settled into winter works - an hour (at least) with a nice cup of coffee and no Internet, and working on the new book project I have. It means re-visiting a load of books I read years ago, and I'm really looking forward to writing more again. And hence the new routine to help me slip back into the writing habit. (Which means that should blog posts be a little later than usual this winter, I am probably caught in a writing flash and forgot to blog timely.)

In weather news, we are still getting snow here, though prognosis says it should calm down now and stop snowing today or at least tomorrow. It's pretty cold outside, too, making the snow all fluffy and powdery - not good if you planned on making a snowman, snowwoman, or other snow figure, but perfect for cleaning sheepskins. And that is just what I did this morning, like I do every winter once it's cold and snowy enough. It's quite easy (though a guarantee for cold hands for me): Put the sheepskin fleece-down on top of the deep, cold, fluffy snow, then walk around on the sheepskin until it's nicely rubbed and trampled into the snow. You can leave it out for a bit after that to let it freeze all through or flip it around and let some more snow fall on it - or heap snow on it (wearing gloves, of course) and rub it in. Once your hands are cold and your sheepskin is snowy enough, just shake all the snow out again. If it is properly cold and you shook well enough, there shouldn't be much snow left - and with the snow, dust and dirt go out of the sheepskin, leaving it clean and fresh smelling. Hooray for snow-cleaning!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


Our Internet is still acting up and not really moving very fast (with great lags when up- or downloading stuff) which means that all the I'net work that I have to do is tedious at best, nerve-wrackingly impossible at worst.

Which again shows how reliant I have become on the 'net, and how important it is to daily business. Sigh. I hope I can at least get a few mails done now before I move over into the next room to enjoy some work that is totally 'net-independent - hooray for historical textile techniques!