Archive for September, 2009

I keep a bin of fabric and sewing projects by my bed as I like to do handsewing early in the morning while listening to the news on the radio. This morning I thought I would dig out the next planned project in order to start laying it out and making sure I had all the necessary measurements. Eventually, it will be a Merovingian coat for ShuLing. As I dug through, I found a piece of blue-black wool that should be just enough for a Norse apron dress for me. This solves the problem of what to do to another two pieces of wool – I had considered making one into an apron dress even though there would be a bit of fabric left over, but now I can make both into warm tunics. I’m not sure I have any of these items on my list, although I can count one of the tunics towards my new set of Norse clothing.

These projects are numbers 43, 45, 69 and 70. I have now reached 70 proposed projects?!


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As part of my Dark Ages Recreation Company Group, I recently got into a discussion about food preservation in Iceland during the Viking period. It started out as a debate about what we could eat during our trip to Newfoundland next year, morphed into what we should eat when demonstrating life in Iceland at an upcoming event, and then became a more specific discussion about how the Icelanders got enough salt, and ended with the question “how much salt is enough”.

I did a little digging through some of my food preservation books, and here is what I found:

It depends on what you want to do with it. For preserving meats or fish, there are four basic ways to cure. You can have a dry cure, a brine cure, smoking or drying. Dry curing is best for someone who doesn’t have a refrigerated curing room. This may not have been an issue in late fall in Iceland, when domestic animals were likely to have been slaughtered because they couldn’t be overwintered (it’s probably also when a lot of hunting took place because the animals would be fattening up for winter). For 11 lb of ham or pork shoulder, you would need 8 pounds of pickling salt (1 ounce per pound of ham, 3/4 to 1 ounce per pound of bacon). It takes 7 days for the salt to penetrate 1 inch of meat. If you have a 5 inch slab, it should be cured for 35 days. You can then smoke the meat if you wish.

Brine curing has some flexibility in the amount of salt. A standard formula is 8 pounds salt per 100 lb meat, in 4-6 gallons of water. There should be enough salt in the brine to float an egg. With a salimiter, apparently the range is 60-95 degrees. I have never used a salimeter, so I’m not quite sure what that measurement refers to. The meat would need to be cured for around 11 days per inch of meat thickness (more or less depending on the actual salinity). Again, you can smoke the meat afterwards.

You can simply smoke meat by hanging it near a low fire so that it dries, but doesn’t get cooked. If the meat hasn’t been salt cured and then it is hot smoked (130F or more) it needs to be eaten right away because it is cooked and has a smokey flavour but isn’t preserved. Cooler smoking for a longer period will produce preserved meats that last a long time, even if they have not been salt cured first. I have never bothered to salt my fish or meats before smoking, and I suspect I sometimes get them too hot, but since I dry them until they are harder than shoe leather, they have never gone off (some have been kept around the house for months). They mostly get reconstituted into a soup or stew.

Lean fin fish, and possibly some meats, can be dried. The fish is first washed in a mild brine solution, then pickling salt is rubbed into eah piece of fish (1 lb salt for each 4 lb fish). The fish is then stacked in boxes that have holes in the bottom for rainage, with more salt sprinkled between the layers. Dry the fish indoors for 2-7 days. Then wash off all the salt and stack the fish on clean wooden racks in a shaded drying area out of the reach of animals. Bring the fish in out of dew at night. It will take 2 to 6 days to dry. I have read about Newfoundland cod fishermen putting their fish out to dry in winter. Basically the fish would freeze dry. This is an experiment I plan to try in my back yard one winter.

All this to say, some brine pickling might have been done before smoking, but I suspect that most meat and fish preservation was done using smoke alone. Just hang the meats up reasonably near the cook fire, wait a few days or weeks, and you will have preserved food for the winter. Given the large quantities of salt required for dry curing, this was more likely to have been done later or in places where salt was more readily available. There were ocean salt pans in Brittany 1000 years ago, an industry that survived to the 19th C and may be making a recovery now that regional coloured salts are trendy again (although I can’t imagine why anyone would want the grey salt from there). Salt works further south in Camargue and in Spain date back to the Roman period. Salt mining in Saltzburg goes back to 600 BC. There was also salt mining in the English towns ending in “wich” that we can safely presume dates back to the Viking period. Salt from all of these places would have been expensive in Iceland, and a quick search shows that not much salt was imported even into places like Norway until the 14th C.

Since people shouldn’t eat more than the equivalent of 1 tsp of salt per day from all sources, that amount could probably be gotten relatively easily through other sources already discussed – beach grasses, seaweeds, fish, and even meats and cheeses.

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Naalbinding news

Yesterday I took delivery of my very own copy of Odd Nordlund’s 1961 book Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting. I wish the artefacts were described better in terms of dates, but this is still the best book available on stitches and how to mark out patterns, for my money.

I came very close to finishing the second heel on my socks this morning. With a little luck, I may be able to finish them this weekend. It looks like I will have enough wool without spinning more. I do plan to spin more for my next pair of socks and mittens, as I want to experiment with some different stitches.

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I finished it this morning before work, using a narrow piece of bias-cut cloth as a neck facing. It worked suprisingly well. I’ll post a picture as soon as I can get the girl to model it for me. Hopefully she won’t then decide it needs buttons, or something. This is project number 7 from my list.

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I spent much of last evening at the Children’s Hospital with my son, who had taken a hockey puck to the arm, just above his glove. Thankfully it wasn’t broken, but I’m not sure how getting hit with a puck resulted in a bad sprain. Anticipating long waits, I brought along my naalbinding socks project. We were in and out in just over 2 hours, which was just enough to finish a heel. The socks are getting close to done! I may need to do more spinning though, as I am down to my last skein of homespun.

In between readying ballet gear for the new dance classes, I also found time to finish the sleeves and armscyes on ShuLing’s cotehardie. I have never finished a neck with bias ribbon before (as in the examples from the Museum of London clothing book), so I may give it a try this time. I saved a piece of dress fabric so may just cut it into bias strips rather than trying to track down bias linen or silk ribbon. With luck, I may be able to complete two projects this weekend. Yippee!

I found two more projects I “need” to add to my list. As part of my fishing net kit, I want to make a replica of a gorgeous 10 cm long whalebone line winder. I also want to make a new lucet. Although I have two perfectly functional lucets, I don’t have one made out of a deer leg bone, and I recently came across a picture of a perfect Viking lucet made that way. Unlike some of the other bone lucets I have seen, this one has very nice points and should be quite functional. My friend Darryl from DARC says he has a piece of leg he can share. Although the bone isn’t in my basement yet, the lucet is something I need to have for my participation at l’Anse aux Meadows next year. I am also close to acquiring yet another fleece. This one is icelandic wool, and will be combed and spun. Making the wool combs just moved higher on my to-do list.

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I finished the last side seam today. The hem is done and part of one armscye. If she doesn’t change her mind about having no buttons, then I should be done by early next week.

I also packed away my carded wool today. It overfilled one garbage bag. There are also a few smaller bags already packed up. I seem to have endless amounts yet to card. I should probably work on this a bit tonight, but I think I’ll go to bed early and read my novel – it is both rivetting and due back at the library by Tuesday.

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I made to my favourite camping event, in Bonfield Ontario, for an evening, overnight and morning. This event is always a great motivator for me because I get a chance to visit with friends from DARC (http://darkcompany.ca/). It’s an opportunity to learn new skills or just sit around and debate research or putter at ongoing projects.

This year I participated in several discussions in preparation for a planned visit to L’Anse aux Meadows for its 50th anniversary. The main discussions of interest to me revolved around what we know about women’s apron dress straps (conclusion seems to be that very thin linen strips – not woven narrow wares – were the most common), evidence for flat vs rounded lids for sea chests (both show up), whether settlers would have carried a warp weighted loom on their ships or built one when they arrived, what naalbinding stitches were actually used in the whole universe of possible stitches (a few – I’ll need to dig through my notes and be sure I can do them), the evidence for stripes vs twills and other patterns, how much linen an icelandic farmer would have worn (if any), Viking coats – are they like the Anglo-Saxon coats? does the big V neck make sense in cold weather? how were they fastened? – or cloaks (how big was the typical square cloak?), or just layer lots of tunic?, and what we know about icelandic and greenlander farming practices and crops. I think we will end up having more of a discussion about what we know about clothing, and sources, via email or the DARC blog, which should be fun.

I managed to take in most of a lesson on tablet-weaving set-up and theory, which is enough for me to be over my fear of tablet weaving. I didn’t get a chance to ask about sources of spun linen or suitable wool (either spun or combed so I can spin it myself). I’ll need to follow that up while I’m still feeling brave. I also challenged in to the White Wolf Fian (http://www.magma.ca/~judy/fian/), promising to make my merovingian radiate-headed fibulae within a year.

I did make some fingerloop braid ties for my new norse hats and worked on my socks. I am working on the first heel now. I also put holes into both my comb and comb case so I could tie them together with a bit of string and stop losing the comb. I also looked at some of the A frame tents and made decisions about how to set up mine. I think I’ll go with five poles made from stripped saplings. I find that construction more plausible than the lumber planks. It’s also much more portable. I’ll need to get out the tent and measure for the pole lengths, then make a trip up to the cottage to see what I can find.

In upcoming work, I made a deal to exchange a comb for a sea chest. Although I have a new linen apron dress (with no straps yet), it is suitable only for a town girl. Besides, it will probably be too light to wear at l’Anse aux Meadows. Therefore, I will need at least one more apron dress, and possibly two. I have two wool undertunics but they are both green and with rather long sleeves for working. I’ll need to acquire some fine wool in a sheep colour. I also need to put a handle onto my nice Viking profile knife and make a pair of shoes. My bog shoes work well, but they are a bit thin and I would like a thicker, more fitted pair if/when it gets cold. I will be making those items from my project list first.
Those will be projects 1, 5, 14, 57, 61. Projects 2, 9, 22, 45, 65 and 28 are optional, if there is time. Project 60 is possible, but someone is willing to make at least some gear for those who need new bowls, so I may just make a deal with him for the moment and not kill myself this year. I already have lots on my plate. I hope to spend my time at the site doing things like the horsehair strainer (project 67) and more naalbinding, so I really need to practice different stitches and working with different materials as well as getting prepared to do lots of wool combing and spinning (likely my other main job while I’m there).

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