I’ve been re-enacting since 2002, and have made cotes, shifts, veils, hoods and surcotes. I have had a go at making almost every piece of standard feminine soft kit except hose! I had always been a little intimidated by footed hose. Every time I had looked into making some I saw tutorials which required so many measurements – 26 in one version – or required a complex pattern which I wasn’t happy scaling up to my big feet.
Thankfully Miriam Griffiths has a method that needs a few measurements and some careful fitting. This method is based on finds from excavations in London dated to the 14th century. I think this is one of my favourite ever projects; they sew up quickly and look fantastic. We took lots of pictures of how we made them and I have put them together in the following videos:
I believe I made a mistake and the front under foot seam should be lapped not plain but I am really pleased with the finished articles.
They are made from a lightly fulled wool twill and hand sewn with linen thread.
Last year I was introduced to Jana Romanova, an artist who wanted to participate in the activities of Welsh communities as part of a piece exploring the nature of belonging and of Welshness. She wanted to join the Garrison for an event or two to immerse herself in our community and explore historic Welshness.
Jana was able to be with us for a picnic in Cardiff Castle where we enjoyed some medieval snacks and the sunshine, then later we were lucky to have her with us at Chepstow Castle for a weekend event featuring a full medieval living history camp.
The exhibition launched on Friday evening; when I attended I was able to meet Jana again and see the results of this project. It was fascinating to see the other groups involved, including churches, dog walkers and families. The images are haunting, showing moments of belonging and of loneliness. The exhibition also featured silent videos of people describing what it means to be Welsh, combined to show an almost hypnotising rhythm as many used the same gestures to express their identity.
For the second day of Melee at Cardiff Castle I wanted to cook something quick and simple. I was inspired by “To the King’s Taste” (Lorna J. Sass 1975). Fresh summer vegetables are a frequent item in 14th century menus but there aren’t often recipes involving them as these dishes were too simple to be worth recording.
I used fresh carrots (found in the market by another member). These beautiful colours would have been usual to medieval people; orange carrots only became popular in the last couple of hundred years.
I chopped the carrots and put them to boil in a big pot over a fire of split logs with a little flame and a lot of embers to boil gently. I added salt to the water as with the group working outside all day a little extra salt is necessary.
While the carrots were cooking I started the meat. The sources suggest trimmings from preparing larger joints and offal be chopped very finely . As I was short of time I cheated (this may be a recurring theme) and used 1.6kg of beef mince. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, herbs and about two level tsp of Poudre Douce, a mild spice mix. Every good chef would have their own version of this popular seasoning but it often contained cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise, nutmeg, sugar and galangal.
The meat was kneaded and shaped into sausages to put on the skewers. I soaked mine overnight so they didn’t catch fire. To cook the meat I put the bakestone over a fire of hot embers to heat up and used a little butter to grease it and check the temperature. When it was sizzling I put the first batch of skewers on to cook.
I added 1kg of frozen peas to the carrots and simmered them while I prepared the second batch of skewers. Once the first batch were browned all over I swapped the second batch on to cook, drained the veg and added spinach, rocket, butter and pepper to it. I put a lid over the veg and knocked the fire down to let it steam in the heat from the pan until the meat was done.
I served it up as fairly as possible to the twelve we had in camp on Sunday and everyone said they enjoyed it very much.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our Annual General Meeting 2015 was held in Cardiff on 26th April, as a result we have some new committee members and some new ideas for the group.
We will be arranging extra support for those who work on set up and take down for events. Without the hard work of those who give their time to the group to set and strike camp our events wouldn’t happen so we will be trying to offer them a token of our appreciation.
Membership rates have been altered for the first time in a decade:
Price increases were discussed at the last AGM and agreed, so these price increases are to be paid for this year’s membership (2015-16).
£12 general adult membership
£7 child membership (under 16)
£30 family membership (up to 2 adults and 2 children)
The option to indicate gender has also been removed from our forms.
Our new committee is as follows:
Chairman: Alice Evans voted in.
Secretary: Cat Camacho voted in.
Treasurer – Sally Byrne voted in.
Health and Safety – Kelsey Dronfield voted in.
Combat Captain – Gor (Colin Edwards-Jones) voted in.
Living History – Jayne Lutwyche voted in.
Archery Captain – Sam Steele voted in.
Membership Officer – Miriam voted in.
Full minutes are available to members on request (please email email@example.com). I would like to thank everyone who was able to take part.
We have been sharing basic kit guides and authenticity guidelines recently so I thought you might like to see an example of a working re-enactment kit. There are lots of possible additions and variations but this is the kit I wear at shows to cook to spin and anything else that needs doing!
From the skin out we have socks (these are cheap woolly sheep-coloured ones from a high street shop) I always bring more socks than I need. If my boots rub I can layer them if i get wet I can change them and I always forget which pair falls down/is full of holes. Footed hose are on my to do list to complete my outfit, the evidence suggests they were more common than knitted socks.
Shift (s!). one of my favourite luxuries is a clean fresh shift every day. If the show is hot or wet the last thing I want to do is put yesterday’s worn shift on so I take one for each day of the event. The white shift I made in (far too sheer) linen in 2004 the grey one is a construction that gives me some bust support in a herringbone woven linen made in 2011(it was going to be a lining for something else hence the anachronistic shaping) and the cream linen one is the simplest and therefore the least full of holes made in 2005. The moral is: repair re-use and recycle. You can never have too much underwear.
Veils and wimples two sets for when I get baked beans/chocolate/ raspberry juice down the first set a cap after the Saint Birgitta’s style and my fillet so I can choose from different hairstyles. Brass hair pins based on a find from London to pin my hair up fashionably and a horn comb to dress my hair with. Three silver veil pins to fasten my veils in place. The hood goes over the top of everything if the weather is bad.
My blue woollen dress. It made its debut in 2005 and took about a week to make with machine sewn seams and hand sewn hems like all my re-enactment clothes. I hand dyed this after I’d sewn it as I couldn’t decide on a colour when I bought the wool I was very lucky this didn’t shrink it but it does mean the dye has faded in a very authentic way that is unusual with modern chemical dyes. This dress is a very simple style with no fastenings suitable for women of most classes and particularly appropriate for the faded and patched common woman’s dress it is now.
I wear this dress with a long leather belt and if I am doing anything remotely messy a coarse linen apron. Washing plant dyed wool using medieval methods was difficult and as I only have one dress it pays to take care of it. The belt was one of my first purchases back in 2002 and the apron was a gift from a friend.
Boots in a sturdy unisex style. The brilliant thing about re enacting is the wonderful friends you make who will lend you their boots when the ones you bought 12 years ago finally fall apart after rain turns a show into a mudbath!
So this is the basic kit of a re-enactor who has been doing it for a while. It didn’t happen overnight and it is still a work in progress but it has worked well for me. I hope this gives you a few ideas about what you would like your kit to be like and what you need to make or buy.