Posaments!

For the uninitiated, posaments are these fantastic metal bits of ornament that were applied to clothing in Birka, Sweden during the Viking Age. There are braids and continuous knotwork strands that are made in the hand and carefully tightened to form beautiful knots. If I am interpreting the archaeological finds correctly, they’re rare enough in graves that not everyone had them (status symbol, no doubt). There are enough posaments that reenactors have a number of designs and applications to choose from, should they wish to incorporate them. The fantastic Silberknoten site has beautiful examples she’s recreating from various graves. Eithni is also recreating them grave by grave. Her project at Gulf A&S was truly fantastic, and her tutorials have been very helpful. You can look at the originals and work out how to do the knots yourself, but I need a tutorial.

If you want to slap some fancy metal on some fabric, Birka is not the only contemporary settlement that has really cool metal ornaments on clothing – there are others in Sweden, Finland has some great stuff, there’s wire weaving, and there are woven bands of varying complexity from various Viking world locations that have metal brocaded through them (a project on my list!). Many of these other projects require less expensive materials or have the ability to substitute something much less expensive, like very fine brass jewelry wire for gold.

The originals were made primarily with straight gold wire, and some with very fine tin/silver alloy wire that’s coiled around a silk core. This is called tenntråd, and you can order it on Etsy or from Sweden. It’s not cheap (~$3/m), particularly since you are using 2-4 strands at a time to make the patterns. There’s a little piece below (about 8″/20cm) that I’ve put on a smokkr panel, and it’s about $10 worth of material. Making little rows of it to go down the bands of silk across a man’s chest on his tunic could easily cost $50 for small and uncomplicated posaments. Because of that, I looked for viable alternatives and tried them out.

Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck.
Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck. I could potentially run a very fine wire down the center and try it again since the lack of structure a wire would give made it hard for the knots to keep a distinct shape or look crisp.

 

Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.
Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.

And then there was Gulf. Violet was asking random vendors about whether or not they carried tenntråd. I thought it was for her. Then we met some fantastic OOK Viking Laurels from An Tir, and one of them casually mentioned that she had enough for a handful of people if anyone wanted to learn to make them. I barely refrained from shouting, “TAKE MY MONEY!” And that’s how I got a tiny purple bag of magical tenntråd. Because it’s coiled, it’s forgiving of being made to curve this way and that. Because of the silk core, it doesn’t behave like wire. It’s seriously worth the money if you want to try to make posaments because it gives perfect results (once you figure out how to make the knots). There are a few things I’ve found where I struggle and struggle, then try the historical material or tool, and the heavens open for the angels to sing. A well-cut quill. Rectangular construction. Tenntråd.

My first knot with the tenntråd! It's the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures.
My first knot with the tenntråd! It’s the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures. Only in soft focus, so that you know my practice knot is artisinally-made with craftsmanship for Instagram.

 

My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards...they're not supposed to be.
My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards…they’re not supposed to be. Notice their size in comparison to the weave on my jeans. Posaments are surprisingly small, for the most part.

 

This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they're spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery.
This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they’re spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery. I used tiny blue silk thread to attach the posament, because I couldn’t figure out how else to get it on.

I’m making a stronger effort to be more authentic in my portrayal, which means being more focused on a time and place instead of being a magpie and popping together shiny things from a more generous swath of time and geography. I’m doing more research, paying closer attention to the most likely interpretation of a find instead of trying to stretch the possibilities to fit what I want. The upside is that research is fun for me, and learning the details impresses me with the cleverness and workmanship of the people whose graves we’ve dug through. The downside is that by the time I have completed a project, I’ve invariably done more research and am now displeased with some aspect of what I made and want to redo it. All of that is to say that while I’m think this smokkr panel I made is beautiful, and people have been fawning over it, the silk strips are too wide, and I shouldn’t have the embroidery on there like that, I don’t think. Or if I do leave it on (which I will, because I did some itty bitty stitches on that silk), I should fill it in with stitching in silk, like the examples they found in Oseberg, which likely came from the British Isles.

Silk Embroidery Testing: Progress

The embroidery is going pretty well in that I’m enjoying doing it. It’s progressing quickly, which is also really nice after doing super fine projects that take hundreds of hours. The colors are gorgeous, and I like the subtle variegation.

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But.

I think I need a hands-on lesson on the Bayeaux stitch, or laid and couched work in general. It’s such a straightforward concept to lay all those long stitches in one direction and tack them down with rows of stitches in the opposite direction. Keeping things straight on curved seams is hard, though. I have a lot to learn.

There’s a mix of satin stitch and a sort of but not really Bayeaux stitch. With the way the shapes spiral, I couldn’t figure out how to do a truly consistent Bayeaux. I went with keeping a consistent direction across the widest parts of each third of the design and winging it as things narrowed and spiraled. This makes me think it’s not the right stitch for the job.

I don’t know a lot about how Bayeaux works in applications outside of the Bayeaux Embroidery itself – this may be exactly how to handle the shapes. I don’t know how to fix the weird intersections or angles you can see toward the top, where the arms come together to make a triangle. I could definitely use some instruction on how to refine what I’m doing. It’s a fun, quick fill stitch that I’d like to use more.

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I have learned that there’s not really a difference between outline and split stitch in how the final long, laid stitches look. However, since this thread has a twist, it doesn’t lend itself to split stitch. It’s splendid for outline stitch. I got this great book on the Bayeaux embroidery for Christmas, and it was explaining how the twist works for and against the different stitches used. And when the twist is going in the same direction as the curve, it makes for an incredibly smooth line in outline stitch.

This is the first chance I’ve had to play with that, and it was interesting to see the difference. My stitching isn’t perfect (and this is way blown up with a macro lens), but you can see how the different sides of the curve are smoother and more jagged. Something to keep in mind with winding knotwork…

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Silk Embroidery Testing

My friend, Baroness Jac from Gleann Abhann, is an incredible dyer who works with natural dye materials. She’s spectacularly knowledgeable and talented. We got to hang out at ArtSci Crown, and the lady has a giant bag overflowing with hanks of every color and hue you can imagine – all from the dye workshop in her backyard! We got to dump them out in the grass and play a little. I wish I had a picture – you’d swoon. She sent me home with some samples of silk dyed with indigo and madder to see how they work for embroidery. Most of her customers use the fibers for knitting, crochet, and weaving, but I had to go and ask about embroidery…

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The silk she gave me is similar to perle cotton or Vineyard silk twists for needlepoint. Which is to say, it’s not stranded. I’m using it in a few different ways. Right now, I’m working on deep peacock blue silk dupioni. It’s shot with olive-gold that gives a nice teal finish when it moves. I don’t generally embroider on dupioni – particularly with thread this heavy. I changed to a crewel needle so that there’s a nice, sharp point to help make it through the tight weave.

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I’m doing a circular motif on a band of this silk. This band will be applique’d onto a panel that hangs from the turtle brooches over a Norse apron dress. The panel can be worn with any dress, so it’s an ideal place to put more elaborate, complex, or luxurious embellishments. This is one of my favorites. It’s also an ideal place for little treasures. Since the panel is maybe a foot across, it’s perfect for prized bits of weaving, wire weaving motifs, silk scraps, and the like.

I’ve drawn my motif onto Solvy in white gel pen (super historically accurate). There isn’t a lot of wiggle room to keep the design centered on the band, so there are some anchoring stitches above and below to add stability until the design is partially sewn. They just get pulled out later. To begin, I go over the outline of the shape first in split or outline stitch or some combination. This way, when I lay my long stitches over it, I wind up with a clean, raised shape.

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Norse Applique Tutorial

This past weekend, we went to Castle Wars outside of Atlanta, and had our first big Meridian camping event. We had a wonderful time, met great people, and I got to teach a class about Norse applique. I’m so grateful to the people who came to take it – and I had a great time teaching! Download the tutorial on Norse Applique by Penelope de Bourbon.

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This is one of those things that’s stunning and everyone loves, but they think it’s much harder to do than it actually is. I’ve taught a few people to do it before the class, and I wanted to cover common challenges people have, like translating designs or finding good materials to work with. Because of that, I wound up with a 12 page tutorial that people can download. It covers the basic history, how to do it, design sourcing and translation into the applique medium, sourcing materials, easy dyeing methods, working with challenging fabrics like silk and linen, stitch choices, and more! This is a great thing to do because it makes a huge visual impact and can be done pretty mindlessly in front of the TV once your pieces are cut out.

I hope you all enjoy it. If there’s something you want to see added into it or have any questions, please let me know.

Appliqué coats for two – a tutorial, now revised! and expanded!

ED NOTE: We just went to the event, and this got passed around the internet some beforehand. I had people stop me all weekend about it. There are some questions answered down below and additional notes and photos based on what I kept getting asked about and what I learned from more experienced people.

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We needed new coats, and the big, cold November event was coming fast. I’ve never made one for Kevin, my cloak is kind of falling apart, and an actual coat seems more practical than a big cloak that’s always open in the front. There was a grand sale on wool at JoAnn’s. I might have bought by the bolt. So basically? It’s like the Universe is telling me that it wants me to make us really great Norse coats.

A friend does SPECTACULAR Norse. Enviable Norse. When she was impressed with my purple Greenland gown I was over the moon. I’m always jealous of her fabulous appliqued animals but thought they would be way too hard, till I asked, and she looked at me like I was crazy. Turns out this is really easy, and while not a half hour project, it’s something I could knock out in a day. That’s much quicker than embroidering something of the same size. It’s dramatic, colorful, and adds texture and depth.

This is my coat (almost done!) on the left. Those stags are about 8″ high if not more. I think it’s taken me a couple hours of tv watching to affix each and about an afternoon to put all the green on the white. Luckily, I have fine wool yarn galore in lots of colors from that crewelwork deer project I was doing. Some quick running stitch around all the seams, slap on some deer, and I’m going to be one fancy lady at BAM!

Here I am being a fancy lady at BAM (or War of the Rams II or whatever it is now) reporting in court with their Excellencies Bordermarch. I ran a charter design competition for scribal glory, fame, and goodie baskets. I ran out of time before I got to do white stitching along the gores, but it will be even better when that happens. The coat is comfy cozy and was pretty easy!

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The Tutorial Part!

Want to be a fancy Norse person, too? It’s easy! All you need is a printer, some heavy thread or embroidery floss, a big needle, and some wool blend felt (by the yard at a fabric store or online where they sell supplies for needle felting). If you have an especially large or complex design, you’re going to want a little fabric-safe glue, like Elmer’s or Tacky Glue or quilting spray to stick those pieces together while you stitch them down.

1. Blow up the thing you want to applique to the right size and figure out what parts of the design will be the base color and what will be the accent. A lot of Norse, Celtic, Pictish, and Rus designs make this easy. There are a bunch that could work or inspire you in my Pinterest board on garb embellishments and embroidery. If you have to draw your own lines onto a silhouette, just make them a little swirly and call it a day. Make sure your pieces are wide enough to tack down. I print an extra and color it to make sure I like the way it looks.

2. Attach your accent colored pieces to your base piece. For this bird, I cut out the accent color and attached it to the base, then stitched it down since that defined the shape of the entire piece. For the deer, I cut out a whole deer, then traced it plus an allowance of about 1/4-1/3 of an inch onto the base fabric. Stitch on the accent all around. Add on details you want, like the eye.

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3. Next, cut out the whole thing and trim any jagged or pointy bits or anywhere that your tracing pen shows. Repeat with the design reversed if you want animals that face each other on either side of the coat.

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4. Add any embroidered details you want BEFORE you put it on the coat so that you’re not trying to sew through lots of layers unnecessarily. I added wing and feather details to the raven. This is a good solution for details that are too small to do as pieces of felt but add a lot to the design by being there.

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5. Pin your applique in place on the garment. TRY IT ON. Make sure you like the placement and that it doesn’t do something weird like trail into your armpit or give a man the illusion of having boobs. Once you’re happy, pin or glue it in place, then stitch all around it in a contrasting color. Make sure to pick a thread with enough weight and tenacity to stand up to the garment you’re putting it onto. My coat is all wool, and the wool thread was a breeze. Kevin’s coat is linen canvas lined in polar fleece because he’s SO hard on his clothes. It would have destroyed the wool, so I used cotton pearl thread and took lots of breaks to rest my hands, and I have vowed to never hand-sew on polar fleece again.

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6. Wear it and graciously accept your compliments. Expect to be petted.

Brilliant Tips for Success –

1. Wool and wool-blend felt is an easy choice because it won’t unravel or fray. It would be a little heavy to put on most linen but perfect for wool clothing and other heavy materials, like canvas weight linen. Even though it won’t unravel, make sure your stitches go in far enough to anchor it well and won’t pull out.

2. If I were doing mid-weight linen applique, I would use a finer thread, make much smaller stitches, and be careful to research which stitches would be best to help bind the edges. Most people do a narrow, rolled hem through a serger before doing normal woven fabrics for applique. I hate sergers, so I’ll do it the hard way…

2-a. I got to meet up with Miriel from the comments. She showed me a stunning applique’d linen tunic she was entering in the A&S contest and told me that you use fray check on the edges of all the pieces, then still use small stitches to make sure the edges are well bound so that it stands the test of time and repeated washing.

3. If you’re going to do very much of this, it’s worth looking into buying wool felt online for projects. The color range is spectacular and the prices are better than the really thick sheets for needle felting.

4. 100% wool that’s not superwash can be felted in your washing machine at home, in case you find the perfect color or REALLY want to give yourself extra work. Toss it in a zippered pillow cover. HOT HOT HOT water, a tiny bit of detergent and a couple of towels. Let it agitate for at least half an hour.

5. You want to use a crewel needle since it has a large eye and sharp point. They’re in the embroidery aisle with the other needles.

6. For a dimensional effect, combine wool blend felt that’s sold by the yard with needle felting wool, which is sold by the 12″x12″ sheet. Needle felting wool is 2-3x thicker and not so tightly felted, and it makes for a cool 3D look since it’s puffy. Your color choices on it are limited, but if you get the white/natural kind, you can easily dye it at home in the microwave or pan with Kool-Aid, RIT, or any number of other choices.

7. For BIG designs – you or your graphic designer friend can make a big design in Photoshop or Illustrator, and you can have it printed out on a large format printer or plotter at Kinko’s. You can also get your printer to do it in sections that you tape together like tiles, then cut out. Or you can use a projector. Or you can be the bravest crafter of them all and free-hand that bad boy.

I’ve got miles and miles of silk trim

The more I learn about construction methods, materials, and embellishment of Norse clothing, the more I fall in love with it. I think it’s the first style of clothing where I really enjoy the patterning and sewing process. I got a big stack of books from UT’s fine arts library and have been learning a lot.

Like that they used silk to trim garments rather than for whole cloth construction. They’d even unravel fabric for the fibers to weave trim! I have a fair bit of silk in rich, earthy colors left over from making fancy pillows for my mom. Not enough to make anything with, but too much to toss out. Turns out it’s perfect for cutting into endless strips to trim out the array of Norse clothes I’m churning out for our cold weather eventing season. Look at how gorgeous this coat is! Simple construction, simple running top stitch over the seams, but that silk makes it really special. I am all about garments with fast, simple construction that you can make look really stellar with an easy improvement.

 

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This seemed like a really good idea before I thought through how much measuring, cutting, and sewing it’s going to be for the husband’s new coat (he’s 6’8″). Or for the full skirts I favor. Blergh. It’s easier than weaving, though! And a heck of a lot cheaper than buying trim. We’ll see how the bias cut bits do after my little bias tape maker nozzle things come from Amazon.

Last night, I stitched some of the straight cut strips together to start binding the raw seams on Kevin’s coat. UGH you guys. This polar fleece lining is going to be the death of me. It was way too much for the silk to deal with and the strips were too narrow, and it took me over an hour to seam rip out one side of the coat front to get the silk off. The fleece is hell to sew through and puffy, so where the silk was too tightly stretched, it ripped like paper. Plain hems it is for that mess.

I’m going to try using them on the wool coat I made for myself. It’s much less bulky and evil. I definitely know that they’ll work well on linen and lighter wool. The main thing I learned is that I really need to not make a whole bunch of tiny stitches close together like a sewing machine makes since that essentially makes a perforated line for easy tearing. The tension shouldn’t be too tight either. It’s definitely something where I will try a scrap of silk and a scrap of ground fabric and adjust the settings on my machine before beginning on the garment.

 

Dublin Hood for Sable Swap

20131008-170709.jpgThe gift is out and on its way to its recipient, so now I can put pictures of it out in the world. I made a Dublin hood, which is a simple peaked hat in linen or wool. It’s a rectangle with one of its long sides stitched up to make an enclosed back. For the Sable Swap, I cobbled together a peacock out of two different birds in the Book of Kells, extending the tail around the whole of the hood so there’s a big embroidered part on each side of the front. (Photos are below.)

The whole thing is done on linen, almost entirely with silk threads. Silk is lovely for embroidery – soft, vivid, and it catches the light in the most beautiful ways. Something like this is a great place to play with it since you get a lot of bang for your buck by putting it somewhere so prominent that won’t get a lot of abuse. I’d carefully hand wash it without agitation and dry it flat, lest the silk lose its luster.

You could hand-sew a simple one in an hour, and it’s a grand use for scrap fabric. They can have a folded back cuff in the front or not. They can have ties hanging from the front edges. They can be plain, trimmed with silk or woven bands, they can be embroidered with motifs or done up with drawn thread embroidery around the seams. They can have this little peaked back or a rounded one. It’s nice to have an accessory that looks adorable and comes together quickly and easily.

This may be my new favorite take along handwork project! It’s compact, uses simple stitches, and I worked the whole of it in the hand rather than on a hoop (although a frame would have been a nice thing to work it on, if you really feel like you need the tension). I think that less elaborate versions would make a fabulous item to give as largesse, too! Here’s what the hat looks like on my mom. I made her model it on my way to the post office!

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Greenland Gown – Sleeves

Soooooo I got bored of yards of double herringbone and decided to do one of the sleeves for an excuse to do something different while still being productive. I needed to have a sleeve sewn up to attach into the main body and one panel of side gores to even try the thing on. It would have been smart to do that before embellishing. I was feeling brave, having done a great deal of measuring to pattern the thing, and somehow the sleeves wound up about 4 inches too long.

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20131008-163436.jpgThere’s nothing to do but chop off this beautiful sleeve, learn my lesson, and do it over. That’s ok by me. The wavy lines were totally freehand and got more inconsistent than I felt good about. Maybe the new ones will be big enough to do a little cluster of three glass beads inside each!

The good news is that the 2/3 of the dress I have stitched together and can try on seems to fit and hang very, very well. This is something of a miracle because I have an awfully hard time sewing for myself and having it come out right. I always doubt the measurements, make it bigger, and then wind up looking like I’m swimming in ill-fitting clothes that once belonged to a larger version of myself.

This dress seems like it will be pretty, comfortable, and free me up to wear fewer layers when it’s warmer here.

Greenland Gown Project

I was challenged by Mistress Magge at Laurel’s Prize to make something wonderful, practical, and beautifully worked for myself, as most of the stuff I do is for others. It’s extra sad when it comes time to show off a body of work because none of your best efforts are in your hands. Also, I tend to forget to take care of myself, and it’s good to remember that I’m important in my life and deserve the same love and generosity I show others. Enter the great Greenland Gown Project!

20131007-163901.jpgMistress Magge was kind enough to walk me through constructing an 8-gore dress from one of the Greenland finds. I desperately need to make new clothes for myself, so it was a timely challenge. I had the right amount of deep purple linen at home, so I set to work. It was simple to pattern and efficient on yardage, so I imagine I’ll make more of these.

I’ve decided to hand sew the whole thing because it’s not as fussy as my late period stuff is. And because I wanted to feel smug about it. I don’t think I’ll do all hand sewing next time, though. It’s been a very satisfying thing that’s going faster than I thought it would.

Considering that there are a lot of these seams to double herringbone, I feel like my progress is about to slow considerably…