Skjodehamn Over-Tunic: part one

I’ve been working on translating Gjessing’s and Lølvid’s work on the Skoldehamn tunics for a project for a friend. Both are written in Norwegian, and I am still trying to get the hang of the way direct and indirect objects are treated in Norsk. Thus my work has been slow going.

I am finally finished with translating the over-tunic (kofta) sections!!! And I am tickled pink that I can finally cut the fabric and get my hands dirty!!

Why not just use the simple pattern easily found online? The one drafted by Marc Carlson?

Although a perfectly good pattern, the measurements are based on Gjessing’s original 1938 paper on the clothing. To me, Lølvid has done a good job showing that many of Gjessing’s figures were off. Plus, I think I’ve gotten to the point in my research on Viking-age clothing where I need to dig deeper. I could base my friend’s tunic off of the simple pattern, or I could figure out what Lølvid is saying and see if there is anything a bit more to it.

I am glad I did! Although essentially rectangles, squares and triangles, there are definite ratios at play in the Skjoldehamn tunic. I’ve drafted up some sketches showing some ideas that came to me. As soon as I can get my scanner working, I’ll get to post them and share. Until then, I’m off to the cutting board!


Translating Articles not in Your Native Reading Language

I used to despair when I would find a non-English article about an object I was researching. I am a typical American in that I only speak and read English. Not that I haven’t tried to learn other languages, but I did not retain the paltry attempts that were made in my secondary school to teach me Spanish. When I was in college, I was also raising my family, and I had neither the time nor, more importantly, the inclination to learn another tongue.

For a while, I have been researching Viking-age clothing and textiles. Fascinating stuff!! (Not meant sarcastically at all! Okay . . . maybe a little.) Since so much of it is unknown, the debates and conjectures are far and varied. No one really agrees what the Viking Scandinavian costume really looked like, but the experts are all willing to explain their favorite theory. That stuff I do find fascinating!

However (now that’s just a fancy BUT!), most of the writing on Viking-age archaeology, especially on the textile finds, is NOT in English. So how do I, as a researcher, garner information from these foreign written texts? I’ve been asked that quite a few times recently in the same tone of voice that a neophyte asks a mystic how they do what they do.

Let me share my tips and secrets, but first let me say that there is no easy answer. There is NO program out there that is plug and play for converting one language into another. Add to that content specific words like gore, gusset, grave-find, weft, etc. I do not simply "Google Translate" the texts I find.

It is not, however impossible, mystical or magical. It IS however tedious, time-consuming, laborious, and sometimes frustrating, but the knowledge I gain from it makes it worth it for me.

1. Learn to read the language.

No $&!+!!! Yeah, that was a gimme! Seriously, I have started learning to read German and Swedish specifically to translate texts written in German and Swedish. No, I am not proficient at them yet, but I have learned enough little bits about their language structure to help when translation programs fail. And it has given me that inclination I lacked in college to learn more languages.

It doesn’t have the be the several hundred dollar Rosetta Stone program that you use. There are free sites and apps that will get you started and let you know if it is something you want to pursue. Knowing even a little bit of the language will help you decipher between "Accounting for a normal range in weft size, there is nothing to say that they sleeves, gores and body were not cut from the same piece of fabric." and "Taking into account the variation in weft size, there is no way the sleeves, gores and body were cut from the same piece of fabric."

2. Learn the subject specific terms relevant to what you are studying.

I have a 24 page Word document, in size 10 font, titled Foreign Words for Garb. It’s not something I cut and pasted from a website, a book or from anywhere. It started out as a small NotePad document with a few words I found that were relevant to whatever I was looking up. Then it grew. I had to switch to Word when I need a Table of Contents and when I realized that WordPad doesn’t do Russian.

These words I found one at a time while going through articles and books written in other languages. They were painstakingly deciphered in context. I would come across a German pattern for the Skjoldehamn tunic, say, "Oh! That’s the word for a front-centered gore in German," and then write it down.

It has taken me 6 years to accumulate 24 pages of terms, but I started with one word at a time. If you are researching, for example, an apron-dress, and you know of a book or website that is written in two languages that has information about apron-dresses, start there.

3. Use online, instant translate sites.

I said that you can not simply use Google Translate. I did not say that I did not use Google Translate (GT). GT alone will not get a job done. I generally use it in conjunction with Bing Translate and Babylon.

4. Use online, instant translate sites from other countries and in other languages.

I addition to those three sites, I also use translation sites that are native to the language I am translating. For example, if I’m working on a German article on apron-dresses, I find what sites the Germans use to translate German into English. Make sure that the sites simply do not plug into GT, Bing or Babylon (many do). Finding a site that is a stand-alone site is sometimes difficult, but well worth it.

Why? Because idioms don’t translate! But if it’s a technical book, there shouldn’t be any idioms, right? Wrong!

Expressions are built into all languages, and they are not always universal. Here’s an example.

In English, we use "seeing" to mean something we view with our eyes.

We also use it to me understanding. "I see what you mean." "Do you see what I’m talking about?"

We also use it to mean having experienced something, "I’ve seen him do that with my own eyes." or "Had to see it for myself to believe it." In this example, sometimes we are talking about something we do actually observe with our eyes, but not always.

What if I stuck any of those phrases into one of my three biggie instant translators? Is "I see what you mean" the same as "I have viewed your hypothesis"? Maybe on some level, but they don’t convey the same meaning.

Using the translator that a native person uses keeps intact more of the meaning behind the phrases rather than the literal translations. It’s not perfect, but in conjunction with the 3 biggie English ones, they help.

In general, I have two or three of these foreign translation sites pulled up for any given project.

5. Use online thesaurus sites.

Both English ones and ones for other languages. Again, use the sites that a native speaker would use and not just the generic thesaurus site with multi-language features.

These help decipher things when specific words just don’t make sense. Like if carve pops up instead of cut. I cut the fabric. I carve the turkey. Yet in Norwegian, there may not be that big of a distinction. In English, one makes sense and the other does not.

6. Be patient and ask for help if needed.

This is a slow process, but the more you do it, the quicker you get.

If you get really stuck, remember that there are other people in this world who are also interested in the same information that you are seeking. With the internet, finding them is a Google search and click away. It’s okay to ask a native speaker for help. Find a website written in that language on that subject, and email the person. I certainly wouldn’t ask them to translate a whole book, but if I were having problems with a specific section, they may be willing to help.

Good luck! And happy researching!!
Esperanza de Navarra

“Some Kind of Metal Closure”

After hours of frustration, I was thinking of writing a book on clasps used with Viking clothing and titling it "Some Kind of Metal Closure," because even in the well written and well documented books on Viking-age clothing, when it comes to detailing out what closes the neckline of a tunic, they nearly all say "it was closed with some kind of metal closure"!

A couple of the interesting things I learned today:

  • The German word for what we Americans call a toggle is knebelknöpfe
  • The flat snake brooches were used as garment closures, but only by women. If a man was wearing it, he was "pushing gender issues." (this little tidbit made me want to get all of my guy friends with Viking personas flat snake brooches to close their tunics and then giggle every time I saw them)

I do think I am closer to figuring out what Viking dudes used to keep the flaps of their tunics from coming open. I’ll let you know when I do.

Voiceless, but not Wordless

I lost my voice! None. Gone. Not even a little squeak. Allergens in southern Louisiana this year are worse than average. Maybe it was the alternating warm and really cold fronts moving through that have made all the blooming things bloom with a vengeance, but from what I hear, I am not the only one who has lost their voice from allergies.

I’m on day 4, and from the test this morning, I have a little bit back, but it may be a few more days or week or two until I can talk. Having Android’s version of Siri be my voice really creeps my husband out!

The good news is that I’ve been doing research. I’ve turned my focus from 14th century to "Viking" period clothing. Why? Because nearly the entire Kingdom of Gleann Abhann (my SCA kingdom) is some kind of Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Norman or other early period persona, and I became fascinated by what is real Viking garb and what is the SCA equivalent to horned helmets.

Interesting Research on a Friend’s Brooch

Interesting to me, at the very least.

My baby boy turned 8 this weekend, and his choice of celebration was to have his friends over for a pool party. Despite the cold weather of the last few weeks, about 15 kids braved the cold water and swam the afternoon away. All of this meant that I got to visit with my friends.

One had recently bought a brooch set at Gulf Wars from Raymond’s Quiet Press the previous week.

It’s a beautiful brooch set, but I didn’t recognize the style. The thought of it stayed at the back of my mind irritating me that I could not say where it was found. I figured it would be an easy look-up in one of my books on Birka, Hedeby or Osberg. It makes sense that much of the recreated jewelry would be from the big finds.

It wasn’t in any of them.

By chance, I happened across a catalog from an archaeology convention that took place in Riga, Latvia in 1896. Of course the catalog is in German! Perusing through the pages, I found it! There were not together in the catalog, but it was undeniable that these were the same.

You could download the catalog if you want. It has the nice pictures at the back. Link to the google book.

The brooch, item #491.5 in the catalog. It’s from what is modern day Salaspil, Latvia, and in 1896 they thought it was from 1200. The attachment, which is item #407, is from Kremon, Latvia, and they do not give a date. I’m sure if they dated it now, the original estimation could have been off by a couple of 100 years.

Looking through Raymond’s shop, (here’s where you can find the brooch) he has information on so many of his items. I wondered if he thought that if it was labeled at a Latvian piece, if less people would buy it. Just my curiosity.

Learning from Translating

I’ve spent a good part of the last week translating the chapter on the Birka girl’s new clothes from the book Birka Nu. At first, I was translating it simply because I want the information. I wanted to know what the writers were saying about the pretty pictures.

As I spent more and more time on this project, I began to see how much more I was learning by translating the original Swedish than I would have if I had found a translation already. First, there are many words specific to Viking garb that do not translate at all. Thus began the process if researching Swedish words and having to decipher what the word meant in relation to the Viking clothing or clothing in general. For example, what we call a gusset is not called a gusset in Swedish.

Then I would stumble upon compound words that were not common in the swedish language. In English, if we made a dress with linen, we would call it a linen dress. In Swedish, linen and dress would be one compound word, bringing a connection between the fabric and the garment even closer.

The hardest part has been figuring out what whole phrases mean. Although slang and colloquialisms aren’t often used in academic papers, there is a bit of both inherent in any language. An example is how often terms for the act of weaving fabric is used as a metaphor in many cultures. How people are woven into our lives. References to the Fates or Norns. Try looking for specific weaving phrases and see how many do not apply to making cloth.

A New Start

I believe in new starts! Always have.  And I love starting them myself.

It has been a crazy year.

My oldest daughter got married in an SCA / time-traveler wedding, and I sewed most of our side of the wedding party’s outfits. Found out that one of my best friends had been conning myself and a few other of my best friends for years (pretending to be dying of cancer among other, even worse, cons).  Wound up in the hospital in a delusional, painful state with a severe fever and kidney infection.   Discovered that I am not leadership material when I made a mess as president of my homeschool group, and then swallowed my ego and stepped down.  Drove across 1,600 across the country to work at a children’s camp to discover that some bad things were going on that involved the children. Drove back to have one of my main local social groups implode in a nasty ugly way.

So . . . it has bee a crazy, ugly year, but it has been a cluster of crazy years. That may simply be life.

I’m back to my projects and art and things I enjoy. Being back means having to decide whether or not to blog about my projects.

Over a year ago the wind left my blogging sails when a fellow blogger confronted me about using one of her pictures without asking permission or properly documenting where I had found it. I didn’t get defensive or angry. She was right.

In my enthusiasm and joy of sharing what I learn, I didn’t cite my references. It’s a newbie mistake, and one I should have known better than to make. At one point in my life, I was meticulous at referencing my sources. A decade and a half later, I have forgotten the lessons of always giving credit where credit is due.

I do not want to do that again. Honestly, I do not have the time to be such a meticulous note-taker on every picture and piece of information that gives me an idea or inspiration. On what I use in the documentation for my projects, in the hand-outs for my classes and in research papers, I note everything. For fun projects, however, if I take the time, between homeschooling 4 children, being an active part of our local homeschool group (though not as president!), wanting to be active in the SCA again, helping organize and run a Hogwarts’ themed children’s summer camp, and having an active social life and friends outside of all of that, I would have no time left for the projects.

I still will not again fail to give credit where it is deserved. After a great deal of thought, I came to two realistic options. I could stop blogging altogether and stop sharing my projects to anyone other than my close friends. Or I could share only what is mine to share: my own pictures of my work, my own sketches, my own thoughts and ideas. I can refer back to the original works, such as “this tunic was inspired by the guy on the right in folio 37r in the Manesse Codex,” but I won’t include photos that I did not take.

It is what it is. Maybe I will be less of a useful resource, but I’m hoping that by sharing my work, my mistakes and what I learn that someone out there will benefit and go on to make their own works.

Here’s to a new start!