What do I put my stuff in?

I’ve been obsessed with totes and bags for ages. I have an entire pinterest board ( my pinterest ) ( my pinterest page dedicated to totes) dedicated to nothing but tote-bags! In the SCA, at least in Gleann Abhann, I don’t see much of a practical bag in use, other than the “man-bag” that many a dude will carry court time refreshments in.

Bags are so useful! The bags I’m talking about are the kind with long thick straps that you can throw over your shoulder and carry a ton of stuff = modern day bo-ho bag. But are they period?

It’s a side adventure, but I want to start looking at useful period bags made of cloth. If you have any pics, post them in the comments. Between all of our combined skills and knowledge, we can bring the bag back to the Middle Ages!!


I’ll start. Found this guy in the “Triumph of Death” by the 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It makes sense. If you are running for your life from a bunch of bloodthirsty skeletons, you really need something practical to stick your stuff in.

To me, I see a nice cloth satchel, almost a “messenger bag,” ​with both and adjustable strap and a buckle flap. How awesome is this?!?!

Off to make some art.

Happy sewing!

Skjoldehamn Find Project: Where is Skjoldehamn

Almost a year ago, King James and Queen Joan of Gleann Abhann announced that Baron Gellir Gunnarson, one of my best friends, would be elevated to the Order of the Pelican, one of the highest honors in the SCA. Being me, I wanted to dress him.

That started my Skjoldehamn project, which is thankfully coming near an end. The end will be at Kingdom A&S in September. At which point, poor Gellir will get to take the dang thing home with him.


Not that I did not love playing dress-up, but this simple tunic has taken so many hours that I now hate this shade of blue, which was once my favorite!

Granted, I am a slow seamstress, but the main issue was making this tunic entirely authentic to the Skjoldehamn find, including the itty bitty stitches they used in the seams. Not realizing how tall my friend is (in my head all people are either shorter than me, taller than me or way taller than me), I had not realized how many linear yards of internal seams there would be.

Since I don’t even research half-assedly, I also translated enough research on the Skjoldehamn find to use as a masters degree dissertation! Be prepared to be overwhelmed with as many aspects of the Skjoldehamn find as you can imagine.

Why my fascination with the outfit from the Skjoldehamn find?

Much of the background information on the find itself and the clothing is not in English, but in Norwegian. Most of what I now know and now find fascinating, I didn’t know when I first started researching it. The Skjoldehamn outfit initially appealed to me because it is one of the most complete Viking-age outfits that we have ever found.

The clothing items include:

  • Overtunic
  • Undertunic
  • Pants
  • Hood
  • Leg wraps
  • Woven belt

And that’s just the cloth items!

The items individually are well enough preserved that there is a wealth of information to gain from them. Even with all of this, the clothing, until recently, the Skjoldehamn clothing was not well researched or documented. Why?

I do not know for certain why this find has been ignored, but by the end of this journey I will share my thoughts on the subject.

Let’s start with some background.

Background on the Skjoldehamn Find


The body was discovered the same month as the first Viking-age clothing was found in Sweden – June 1936. This is 2 years before Agnes Geijer writes her definitive work on Viking-age textiles focusing on the Birka find, Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern. Clothing and textiles, at this time in archaeology, were not considered important. Everyone focused on the weapons and artifacts.

Skjoldehamn is located on the northern tip of Norway on the coast of the Norwegian Sea. Thanks to Google Maps, we can get an idea of how far north this place is.


I’ve circle Skjoldehamn in red. Skjoldehamn is located on the island of Andøya in the cluster circled.

It is not a very pleasant place. Saying it is cold is an insult to cold places.

For example, today here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the high was 84°F, felt like it was 93, and it rained almost all day. Hot and rainy is typical southern Louisiana weather in June. 84°F for June is actually fairly cool, but I suspect that most places in the US are closer to the mid 70’s.

The high in Skjoldehamn today was a whopping 45°F and felt like 39°F. It also rained there, but, while our low tonight will be 70°F, their low is 27°F and feeling like 5°F. 5°F!! In June!!

That area of Norway is bleak, even for Norway, and under snow a good portion of the year, yet it does have a long history. Traces of a medieval road connect Skjoldehamn it to southern areas in Norway. Even back in the Viking-age, people traveled to this remote location. In the 1930’s, Skjoldehamn was a fairly sparsely populated farming village. It was old, but not as old as many other villages.

The island of Andøya, where Skjoldehamn is located, does not have much lumber for burning. Most people burn bricks of peat for warmth. Peat is compacted partly decayed organic matter found in bogs or peatlands. Bogs are pretty common in northern Europe and burning peat is common too. Scotland is well known for its peat bricks, and it is the spring water filtering through the peat that gives Scotch its earthy flavor.

That’s where I’m going to leave you today. Next I’ll tell you a nice bedtime story of why the find got so f’d up.

Esperanza de Navarra

A Confusing Phrase

I love wordpress! It has a stats page that lets you know things like how many hits, from what countries and what search terms and phrases they used to get there. Normally it’s things like “coif pattern,” “fillet and barbette,” “16th century Flemish dress,” and so on. This morning I found meißen adelheid in my search phrases box.

What does it mean?!? I love bing translator, and normally it loves me. Not today. I dropped my phrase in the box, set it on auto-detect language and got back that it’s Germand and means “Meißen nobility heid.” Huh?

Okay. I’ll try google translate. It gave me melancholy adelheid, which if said aloud sounds like a depressed flibberty-gibbit. Hmmm. That does describe me at times, but I still don’t think that’s right.

I tried some others. Nothing intelligible came back. So, I tried translation sites from Germany. Sure, I can’t read them, but all you have to do is drop the phrase into the box, choose Deutschen – Englische and click whatever button is nearby. They certainly must be able to do a better job translating their own language.

Turns out meißen is Meissen, a city in Germany. Adelheid  is a name – a person’s name.  She, Meißen Adelheid, was Ottokar I of Bohemia’s first wife and Queen way back in the late 12th century. One of the monuments I use to show 12th century headgear comes from Meissen. I’m not sure if it’s Adelheid, but at least the search term now makes sense.

But now, because of this post, I may see it a-lot more often, although the poor person searching for her is not going to find much here.

Beginning to Smock

I take back all the bad things I said about cartridge pleating and blackwork counted stitch embroidery. Smocking! That’s the real pain in the tush!

It’s for the decorative apron I’m making for my Christmas Revel A&S entry. It’s a project for which I have the documentation. It’s not so big that it’ll take months and months to complete, but it has a degree of complexity.

Yesterday, I looked over the documentation. The pleating part looks like cartridge pleats but on a larger scale. I figured that since I know how to do cartridge pleats, this should be no problem. Wrong! My problem is that it is so much larger and getting the pleating marks even is not easy.

At first I berated myself and told myself that I must be daft if I can not figure out how to do this. That was after I spent 5 hours doing this:

Ignore the squiggly on the side; it’s part of an abandoned project. As you can see, the dots are no where near even. At first I was trying to use the edge to make the dots line up. I gave up on that and drew a base-line to use. Still, even with my fancy ruler they would not line up. Plus I was making the dots 1/2″ apart, and after thinking about it (and 5 hours of cursing) I wanted them closer together.

It really didn’t help that I was doing this on my lap, using a large cookbook as a table. I was kind of in the middle of a Psych marathon with my 14 year old and didn’t want to get up.

So, I gave up on this end. I turned the linen piece around and made a straight edge by pulling threads out and cutting along the missing thread line:

The dots may be hard to see from the faintness, but they are much straighter. I used my favorite ruler that let me see through to match up the now straight fabric edge to the measuring lines. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. It still took over 4 hours to do (and I’m not quite done yet).

All of this work left me a little anxious to get into the actual smocking, but I realized that I was still unclear about some of the details.

Sometimes before you can learn something new, you need to figure out what not only what things are called, but what questions you need to ask. So I needed to hit the books again and do a bit more research.

My first question was how do you get the pleats (and/or) dots even without going insane.  Turns out that it’s not that easy. My having problems with it wasn’t unusual. In fact they make specific tools just  for getting the dots even when smocking, such as iron-on smocking dots and dot templates. They also make machines that do nothing but make the pleats for smocking. Wow! So I’m not such a nutter-head for having a difficult time doing this.

I got some tips and thought of a couple of creative ways on my own to make the dots even and less time consuming. More on that later.

Then I started asking other questions:

When making the pleats, does it matter if I work from left to right and from top to bottom?

With the dots, do I go up one hole and down the next? Or do I go down slightly to one side of the hole and up slightly to the other side (or vice/versa)?

What about needle angle? Should it always be perpendicular to the fabric? Or can I use a running stitch?

And the type of needle. After it’s pleated what kind of needle do I use to smock? Long or short? Sharp or ball-point?

I found out some of the answers, and the rest I figure I will learn by trail and error.

So I put my nice linen down, cut a piece of cotton muslin and decided that it’s mock-up time. What will I use my mock-ups for? Casual wear. My girls could wear them. Or I just may give one out as a door prize when I teach a class on this stuff.

One things I did discover is that there are very little tutorials on-line on smocking from the beginning to the end of a project.  So I plan on making one. A smocking for dummies tutorial. That will come much later after I’ve learned it myself.

It may seem like I flit about from one project to another, not finishing any – or at least that’s what my husband thinks. But I’m not.

Side-laced cotte update:

  • Washed the fabric yesterday
  • Have one or two more dying test batches to try out before deciding on a color
  • Should be dying the fabric tomorrow

Blackwork Coif:

  • Still working on my needle-case in order to learn counted stitch blackwork embroidery.
  • Have the flowers and patterns picked out for the coif
  • The scroll-work design has been transferred to the linen I’ll be using.
  • I still have to decide on  exact placement and sketch it out, but I’ll do that after my needle-case is done.

Off to sew!

A Cotehardie by Any Other Name Would Look Just as Lovely – Some Thoughts on Research

Terms . . . they make things more confusing than they should be, but that’s life. One of my first big “ah-ha” moments in research is that the word I may use for a specific thing is probably not the word that everyone else in the world uses. Be flexible when looking for something.

For example,  the majority of the world may call it a partlet, but if the best information on the net calls it a gollar, you’re never gonna find it by searching for partlet.

There is a myth (probably perpetuated by those who don’t research) that since the computer age, finding information is as simple as typing a couple of words into google. This anecdote will definitely age me, but back in college before the internet, I remember standing in front of the massive cabinets of the card catalog at my university’s library, pulling out drawers three feet long, and trying to find books on some particular topic. Actually some of my fondest memories are digging through the card catalog for hours and hours. I still remember the way they smelled. But I digress.

It would take hours and hours of sorting through topics and authors to find the books that might contain the bits of information I needed. Researching on the internet isn’t all that different. Sure, if you want some over-generalized, cursory information on a subject, it may take a few minutes. But if you want specifics and primary sources, it will take days. For some projects, I have spent more time researching than actually making the item.  Now, that may be reflected in some of my scores, but I was pretty certain my research was solid.

How does this relate to researching medieval and Renaissance clothing? Here’s a bit of advice.

When labeling a piece of garb, it’s best to be specific, but not term specific.  When writing the documentation for this dress I’m currently researching if/when I enter it into an SCA A&S I would call it a “15th Century Northern European Fitted Gown.” That is a pretty specific title, right?  However, I would not call it a cotehardie or cotte or cote or kirtle. Yes, those are specific terms, but those terms are very loaded and mean different things to different people, in different languages and in different contexts.

Yet, try researching or googling “15th Century Northern European Fitted Gown” and see how much you find. You may only find my blog and not much else that’s relevant. Thus I not only have to use the term cotehardie, which makes me cringe a little each time, but I also have to seed my blog with the terms cotte, cote, kirtle, gown and dress. I write to share the information I find and the conclusions I reach. I write both to help educate others and to get feedback on what I think.  If I don’t seed my blogs with those terms, no one would find these posts on that fitted dress.

Cotehardie is a pretty contentious word for medieval garb. First of  all, that word wasn’t used in period. Not only was it not used to describe what today we call a cotehardie, but it wasn’t used at all. It’s French in origin, meaning something like sturdy dress. I don’t know when it first popped up – I’m not that interested in the term. There is a chapter written on it in “Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4.” You can preview it in Google books here.

To add to the confusion, here are a few more names or variants on the spelling which I use when searching for information on that fitted dress found in the 13th to 15th centuries:

  • Cotehardy
  • Cote-hardie
  • Cotte
  • Cote
  • Kirtle

And that’s just English. Let’s try looking for the “cotte simple” or “Gothic fitted dress” in a few other languages:

  • German
    • Kittle
    • Cotta
  • Italian
    • Guarnacca
    • Cottardita
    • Gonnella
    • Cipriana
  • Polish
    • Suknia  spodnia
    • Suknia rozpinana
    • Jopula
  • Norwegian
    • Kjole
    • kyrtill
  • Swedish
    • klänning
    • överkjortel
    • surcot

Some of these mean “that” specific dress, and others simply mean dress or gown. In my research I’ve learned to say “women’s clothing” and “15th century” in about a dozen languages. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Research isn’t always easy. Don’t look at it straight-on. Try looking at it in as many creative ways as you can. It might surprise you what you may find.

Sometimes I think I should stick with the easy stuff. I have A-LOT of books and articles on period garb. I could just glance through them, pick a project and my documentation would be simple. But then I think, “What fun would that be?”