Herjolfsnes Challenge

Sometimes an idea seems to spread; you can’t be sure if you thought it up yourself or if you are just catching it from your community.  This has just happened to me with the Herjolfsnes Challenge!

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Some of the wool earmarked for my Herjolfsnes garments, from left to right: yellow for hose, blue for a hat and grey twill for the surcote.

Herjolfsnes is a site in Greenland where the dead were buried wrapped in clothes. Those clothes were preserved by the cold and now represent a wonderful collection of ordinary garments which are believed to have been made between 1100 and 1400.  As Greenland was a colony of Iceland and Iceland had close links with Scandinavia these clothes seem to follow European fashions.  As the clothing of ordinary people is so rarely preserved it is difficult to tell how much these garments differ from those worn towards the core of Europe as we have so little to compare them to. Nevertheless this is a fantastic resource for all re-enactors seeking to get closer to an authentic impression of the Middle Ages.

A little while ago I borrowed from Membership Officer Miriam her copies of “Woven into the Earth” and “Medieval Garments Reconstructed” (http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/woven-into-the-earth.html and http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/medieval-garments-reconstructed.html) intending to use them as a source for my new surcote. It looks like I am not the only one with these plans:

Merviand her lovely madder dress: http://hibernaatio.blogspot.se/2015/08/oranssi-mekko-toinen-otos-orange-dress.html

Elina who got us all together on Facebook: http://www.neulakko.net/?p=9988

Andrea who like me and a few others is warming up to the challenge with a hood: http://andrea-hakansson.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/en-till-herjolfsneshatta-another.html

As my plans involved plenty of things I hadn’t done before I decided to start with something fairly small to learn some of the new techniques: a hood for Displays Officer Sam.  As I have no experience with patterns I chose the one that best matched Sam’s measurements without modification which was D10597 (Norland number 66 from the original excavation reports).

The patterns in “Medieval Garments Reconstructed” are at 1:5 scale so a couple of hours’ work with a pencil and ruler on squared paper got me my pattern.

Herjolfsnes D10597 pattern

Main pattern piece for D10597 (Norland 66), I cleverly forgot to include the pieces for the centre front gore and liripipe in this picture, one is a triangle, the other is a rectangle.

My cloth was a little small for the pattern so I had to move it around until it fit. This means I have had to ignore the twill pattern, though the original makers of these garments were very careful to keep the twill pattern continuous around the whole garment.

Fitting my pattern onto the dark grey wool twill, a charity shop bargain for this first experiment.

Fitting my pattern onto the dark grey wool twill: a charity shop bargain for this first experiment.

Cutting was easy as this cloth is so well fullered that fraying just doesn’t happen, this also means pinning was virtually impossible so I used heavy stuff to hold the pattern in place instead. The nearest heavy thing? “Woven into the Earth”!

The point of no return!

The point of no return!

As the pattern is so straightforward I didn’t bother with muslins or tacking. I started off pinning my seams but that was even worse than when I tried pinning the pattern down!

According to the book the seams used a running stitch from the outside with the allowances whipped down on the inside. I started doing this but quickly found the thickness of my wool made running stitch impossible, I tried a hem stitch but found a stab stitch worked very close to the edge was more effective for a smooth finish. I also found working the whip stitch first on the back made it far easier to manage the seam.

Sewing the seams.

Sewing the seams.

I started sewing with my bronze needle; it is my favourite sewing tool and I have never found one quite like it but have since switched to a modern one as I didn’t want this heavy sewing to damage my precious.

My bronze sewing needle and thread.

My bronze sewing needle and thread.

The Herjolfsnes garments were sewn with an unplied wool thread, probably specially spun to be suitable for the job. Having tried sewing with a commercially produced crewel wool before I thought I would try spinning my own. The bought wool was too thick and rough to sew easily with on wool cloth and if I split it into singles it was too weak. I had some white Cotswold fibre on my spindle so I have been unwinding a couple of feet of thread at a time from the spindle, overspinning it and using that to sew with.

Hood 1/3 done with my spindle.

Hood 1/3 done with my spindle. The whorl is lead and the initial spinning was done on a distaff.

The liripipe pieces were whipped on as I couldn’t find how the originals were done and I wanted to keep the bulk down to avoid any odd kinks when it is worn. As you may be able to see, I have yet to sew the top and front seams or add the centre front gore.

So there should be another post soon as I get this finished, then another when the long planned  D10581 gets started!

If you are working on your own Herjolfsnes reconstruction I would love to see it, so please comment!

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