HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Making nice looking seams without ironing

If you have browsed my earlier tutorials (and videos on my Patreon) you might have discovered that I really looove pressing my seams all the time. But how did they achieve good looking seams “back then” without the use of a modern iron?

A smoothing stone: a flat stone or piece of glass (in Swedish “glättsten”) were used with a flat polished wooden board to smooth out fabrics and seam. I have seen several finds from the Viking age but there are examples dated iron-age to medieval period.

Putting the fabric/folds/seam on the board, and then pressing down with a smooth piece of glass/stone will work pretty well, and give you strong arm muscles too…

Here you can see more examples

A smoothing bone or pointed bone creaser (falsben): A polished piece of bone that you can use for flattening out seams, both in textiles and leather. I wanted to show you some historical examples, but couldn’t find any photos to borrow, which makes me a bit unsure about the history of the tool. I was taught it was a really old tool, basically used since forever (in Sweden, that means at least during the 19th century…) That is not medieval, but since I have seen similar items from earlier periods, I use it. You could use the backside of a knife handle or a bone awl or stylus as well.

This works really well, and makes the seams beautifully flat, smooth and glossy. I actually use mine to finish of handsewn seams in linen, the hemming on fine veils etc. It is a bit of extra work, but quite fast and easy. The pointy tip gives an advantage over small smoothing stones in my opinion.

Heated irons are heated up by fire, and used in the same way as a modern iron with a damp pressing cloth. Historical items are both solid, and with a compartment for putting in pre-heated pieces in. This method is demonstrated in the series “A stitch in time”.

In Sweden, it seems that the iron came in use during the 16th century, placing it at the end of the medieval period. In Europe I believe it to be a bit earlier, and it is found in China during the 4th century.

Apart from having to make a fire and wait for the heating this is basically the same thing as using a modern iron, when you get used to the tool and how to estimate the heat.

My two favourite things for flattening the seams when I don’t have an iron around:

Smoothing bone: for linen, leather and thin wool items. Makes a really glossy and nice finish on linen shirts and veils. If you want one; buy one in bone, not plastic.

Gripping the seam with your hand to flatten it out while sewing down the seam allowance: good for thicker or fulled wool fabrics. You simply hold the seam allowance in place while sewing it, and the fingers on the underside of the fabric stretches it out and create the flat appearance on the outer side.

Both of these methods are nice, but I rarely use them in my everyday work, to save my fingers and joints from strain. Choosing ergonomic methods is also important, but every once in a while it is nice to make an item with no modern tools at all!


Welcome!

Welcome to Handcrafted History, a small business located in the middle of Sweden. I am Linda, and have been handcrafting and travelling on historical adventures for 20 years! I offer made-to-measure historical clothing, lectures and workshops from Viking age to Late medieval period.

On my page, you can find information on How to order clothes, Book me for workshops or browse the free Tutorials on Sewing or Swedish Larping. Below, you find the blog that I’ve been writing for about 10 years. I share research projects as well as fun guides and inspiration for your handcrafting.

Please contact me by email at linda.handcraftedhistory @ gmail.com for invites to markets, ordering clothing, booking workshops or for collaborations regarding the blog.


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Living at Birka

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At the beginning of August, I took my camp equipment and moved to Björkön for a long Viking-weekend. I had such a wonderful time and wanted to show you some great photos and inspire you to maybe travel there yourself when the world allows.

As many of you fellow viking-nerds know, Björkö was the place where the viking city Birka was situated, and it is very beautifully situated outside Stockholm, in Mälaren (so it is in the inner archipelago, not towards the sea) which makes for a great climate. Wild apples and cherry trees grow over the island, and sheep grass the ancient hills, grave mounds and ancient monuments still visible from the viking era.

There are still lots of grave mounds left as they were, but also a museum, a newly built experimental viking village with boats tied to its pier, and good paths to stroll to different sites on the island. As you can imagine, I got quite excited when asked to join some friends there!

When the sun set, we took a stroll around the pasture lands, enjoying the view over the water and the surrounding islands, with a small picnic basket with us. The path took us over viking age grave mounds, past the Black Earth (where the city Birka was situated) and toward the Homelands. When darkness came, we returned to the village to lit a fire, and enjoy the company of each other.

The village is built as an experimental viking settlement which allows a group to actually live in the houses, tend the gardens and the buildings, as well as sleep, cook and go around their daily life there- as well as greeting modern visitors during the day time. Not everything is 100% accurate with what we know today about the daily viking life, but things get mended, rebuilt and used in a historical way, with old tools and knowledge (and modern safety measures…)

It was so cosy going around the settlement, with the sound of cooking and woodworking, the smell of fire and tar, and vikings going around their day tending to their business. I brought my market stall and tent, setting it up with a nice view over the water, where I spent some time drinking coffee and chatting about all things viking age. I also held a lecture about clothing and dress in the Viking society, inside the interesting museum on site.

My friends Joel and Josefin took me on a guided tour since they had been here before, and we went to see the excavations going on near the shore a short walk away. This was so interesting and I learned a lot about archaeology (which seems to be such a hard job, working on your knees for hours, patiently digging through the ground.) It was also very clear how much the field has developed since the early reports, that we base much of our understanding on when recreating viking age. I look forward to the reports from this excavation!

Outfit of the day; linen shift, apron dress in woollen diamond twill inspired by the Köstrup find, woollen shawl and tortoise brooches to fasten the outfit with.

In the photo below, I just have the blue dress and loose hair, feeling a bit undressed, but also happy to finally be cool enough…

I spent the days in the market stall selling some viking things, or strolling around with new friends in the museum, out in the landscape or by the fire. This was just what I needed after a summer of staying-at-home, and even though we weren’t many it felt really good to be outside again, doing things I love.

If you want to know more about how to visit Birka, here’s a link with useful info, there are some lovely boat trips during the summer which will let you stay to see the interesting bits and take a swim before going back.


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My 10 best dresses

Hi! So nice of you to drop by to read! This time, I wanted to take you with me on a small tour of my virtual wardrobe, showing you some of my favourite dresses I have made so far. Be prepared to see some really old stuff now, because it wouldn’t be very fun if I just posted photos of the 10 most recent, high-quality dresses I made right?

(Yeah, you wouldn’t think it was as nice sneaking a peek into my actual wardrobe, it’s quite full and maybe not in the best order. Have you seen my sewing box? Then you’ll have a feeling for what my wardrobe looks like…)

Let’s start at the beginning; my first buttoned cotehardie. This one is an old dress (the photo is from an event in 2010) long gone to someone else. It was my first try doing a 14th century dress with a closer fit. I can’t say I really knew how to make medieval fitted garments but somehow I managed this one and I was sooo happy with it. I remember looking up to others at the event, pondering how to make such awesome garbs like they wore, and how to manage a really good sleeve.

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This early in my erhm, blogging career (can you call it a career if you are not making any money..?) I didn’t get many photos of my own outfits but rather took photos of everything I saw, trying to capture those magical moments and the cool things others wore. Like these outfits- I still remember thinking I would totally want to be that skilled when I grew up!

Oh, I had completely forgotten about this one; the green herringbone twill wool was a really expensive (in 2011) fabric of awesome quality, and I made some kind of Herjolfnes dress with lots of gores in the side and skirt. It was so comfy, fitted me well and I used it quite a lot before selling it. Actually still missing it. Here I am wearing it as a middle dress under my viking apron dress. Couldn’t find any good photo of just the dress.

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Oh, my green Moybog gown! Somewhere around 2010-2011, my real interest in medieval pattern construction techniques began and I wanted to try the Moybog sleeves. I remember that I first made a short-sleeved one, wore that for a while and then remade it with long sleeves and better fitted gores in the skirt. Another dress I was really satisfied with at the time I finished it and wore a lot over several years. Then I wanted to make new experiments and sold it to be able to afford new fabrics.

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The 16th century trossfrau dress is one of my oldest that I still use (I tend to get tired of old projects and sell them off…) But I still like it. I put a lot of effort into research and actually making it historically accurate and fun at the same time and finished it in early 2015. It is hand-sewn, the pattern and construction methods still hold up to my standard, and the colour is just sooo… fugly. The purple hue is actually based on a natural dye, so the thing that is least accurate with the whole outfit is the slashing on the hat; I was too fast and made it pretty rather than historical believable.

My wedding dress from 2017. This has a special place in my heart, I don’t know if it is the dress itself (it is rather plain) or the event it got used at… It’s a 15th century silk dress with open sleeves below the elbow, lined with really thin wool muslin, and decorated with silk cords and small freshwater pearls. I would like to redo it a bit as it doesn’t fit right now, and therefore I don’t use it. But I do feel a bit unsettled every time I take it out from the wardrobe and think about cutting it apart to redo it. Maybe I am lazy, or a bit nostalgic. Yeah, I will probably remake it any minute (year)…

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I loved this one! It is a 15th century houppelande (overdress) in black velvet with moss green edges. The sleeves got lined with my last pieces of green silk that I owned, and they made for a very good contrast to the rest of the dress I thought. The dress was only worn once during this photoshoot in 2017, and then I sold it to a happy customer abroad. I loved it, but I didn’t need it. I mostly made it to practice sewing in velvet and to try out the pattern, as it was my first try to make a full circular houppelande.

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My red 14th century wool cotehardie, completely handsewn, and with 20 pewter buttons in each sleeve. What is not to love? It is red, fancy, a really serious try on reenactment clothing and I feel Amazing every time I get dressed in it. Sometime around here I also started to feel like hand-sewing a whole garment wasn’t such a big deal. Nowadays I hand sew most of my wardrobe, with exceptions for some of my undergarments, and projects that have a short time frame.

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Ok, I know, it’s a whole outfit rather than just a dress (I can cheat right?) but I couldn’t leave this one out. The amber dress project was just that; a very serious and creative project which was so much fun to make. The process actually took several years, but somehow this outfit came to be a milestone where I felt that I had learned new things and evolved as a handcrafter.

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Yes, I have a thing for green. But you knew this one would show up here right? It is green, comfy, dramatic and 15th century. What is not to love? This was actually my latest houppelande after making several tryouts to explore drape, patterns, construction methods and different fabrics (you can see them below) and it is handsewn in a high-quality woollen cloth, lined with silk fabric. In this photo, I wear it full “Weyden style” to portrait a well of woman from the middle 15th century, dressed in rich fabrics to the height of fashion of the time.

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Mmm, this is not a clear participant in this post just by the look of it. It is a really simple dress with panels and gores, handsewn in undyed ecological wool (in 2018 like so many of my other dresses). But it is one of those dresses that makes you feel awesome, comfortable and just warm enough whenever you wear it. It’s magical. If I was going to wear medieval/viking clothing every day I would probably wear this one 9 out of 10 days.

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So, there you have it! Some of my projects over the years. It was a bit challenging to pick out favourites, and I know I left my new 15th century wardrobe out (but hey, you’ve seen that one a lot lately) as well as my viking apron dresses I’ve made that I really liked. Sometimes I’ll have to put together another Viking-wardrobe post maybe.

What do you think? You have any favourites that you would like to make a version of, or do you already have “the best dress ever” in your wardrobe? I would love to see it!


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Viking glass beads

Today I just wanted to show you some of my new viking age glass beads that I bought this summer, and tell you a little about viking age beads!

There is plenty of finds from the viking age of glass beads of various colours and types. The most common way of wearing them seems to have been on a string between the tortoise brooches on a woman’s outfit, but the have also been found in necklaces, in small metal circles and loose in grave (also in men’s graves but I have no notion as to how many).

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The world of viking era glass beads is big and interesting, but I am not an expert in any way. There are those who are though, and there is research going on about the subject. Glass beads were both imported by the hundreds and made in viking workshops, with different styles and quality from different geographical areas and time periods. This makes it possible to trace them back to their original area, and tell an estimated time they were created.

You can also find lots of free information on Historiska Museets database (The Swedish historical museum) and here is a search ready-made for you on viking age glass beads, with pictures on the finds; http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/resultat_foremal.asp

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I like glass beads because they are one of few materials that withstand the turning of time and looks something like what they used to be, even after 1000 years in the earth. They are of course also pretty, and the handcrafting behind each bead are often outstanding.

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I have tried to make some glass beads myself with the same technique used during the viking age, but with modern tools (such as gas, safety glasses and an oven for slower cooling) and find it difficult but very interesting. This summer I also, kind of accidentally, bought some beads from other makers, and now I have put everything together in new strings and necklaces for my outfit. These are not identical with specific finds, but more inspired by several different finds and graves. I will probably not keep everything, but they are so lovely I just had to experiment with them.

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All the beads you’ll see in this post is handmade, by me and others. The blue-themed set will be used for festive occations I think, along with my new blue apron dress.

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And for fun, this is one of the earliest strings of beads I made for my viking outfit. The photo is crap, half of the beads are modern, I used a thread that broke and didn’t know much about historical beads at all. Everything from this picture is sold or given away by now, but the brooches I still have and use since they are based on a find from the area of Sweden were I live.

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