Archive for September, 2010

I have started brining the hangikjot (Icelandic hung meat, in this case it is a brined and smoked lamb shoulder). This has been interesting, as the recipe calls for 20 litres of water, but gives no indication of how much meat will be brined. Since I have a tiny 2 lb lamb shoulder, and only 700 g of coarse salt, I have opted to cut down the brine recipe and put everything into a small enough container that the lamb will be completely covered. My other challenge has been the lack of saltpeter; I chose to use instacure #1, which is recommended in my charcuterie books as a safe alternative to saltpeter. I think I have put in enough.  The brine is incredibly salty! Once it has cooled a bit more, I’ll soak the lamb until the weekend, then smoke in my barrel smoker.

The garters should be done by Friday. I cut them apart and finished the edges this morning, but want to redo one pair. I tried a hem on the first pair, but found they were somewhat lumpy. I’m afraid they will irritate my legs. I used a blanket stitch on the second pair, and was much happier with it. I have also tried making a cloth button. It worked beautifully until I muddled everything in my sewing pile and lost the button into the depths. I’ll sew four new buttons tomorrow or Friday, then post pictures.

I have continued to make decent progress on the coat. I have part of one lining panel to sew into the body, plus the sleeve linings. The last step will be adding some trim to finish edges and keep the itchy bits away from my neck.

Last night I spent several hours at a hockey arena, and managed to get quite a bit done on my next pair of mittens. I also started a new pair of socks.


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My friend Marina and I went to Lindsay Ontario this weekend for the Coronation of our new King and Queen. Marina spent the drive down embroidering a collar for the old Queen, using hand-spun and hand-dyed wool in stitches found on the Bayeux Tapestry. I had just gotten another book on the Bayeux Tapestry (Embroidering History), and was fascinated to discover that Marina had first learned this stitch from my friend Etaoin, with whom I had visited Bayeux to see the tapestry back in about 1992.  Marina has promised to teach a class on the stitch at Practicum, our local Arts and Sciences event in February, so I will finally get a chance to make something using the stitch. This is another of my challenges that results from having missed Etaoin’s course years ago – she had given me the class notes and wools and said “do it Bayeux self” but it never happened.

On the way, we discovered a new wool shop, so I bought a bunch of blue-faced leicester rovings that I can dye, plus some lovely pre-dyed merino rovings and some spun wools with beads and sequins worked in. They will make beautiful hair nets. Perhaps I could teach a class on making nets at Practicum next year?

Aside from visiting with friends, I worked on lining the viking coat and had a lovely chat with a woman who is interested in bone carving and making needle cases. I talked myself into putting in a bid for next year’s Arts and Sciences Pentathlon, and also committed to entering a bunch of things at this year’s Pentathlon.

My last stop of the weekend was the local farmer’s market, where I picked up a lamb shoulder to make hangikjot, or Icelandic lamb ham.

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Viking Coat

One of the things I really wanted to clean out of my basement as part of this challenge was an ugly cloak thingy my ex made for events back when he attended, about 25 years ago. The outer fabric is a heavy grey twill and the inside is a burgundy fleece-like fabric. It’s not ideal (itchy wool kept away from skin by comfy but synthetic fabric). For trim, I have a bit of white, blue and burgundy plaid linen. The viking coat from Birka looks quite similar to some of the Merovingian and Anglo-Saxon coats, though they are pinned differently.

I don’t have enough fabric for gores, and the sleeves may end up a bit fuller and shorter than normal. I also compromised by not cutting down the fabric to fit my shoulders, which means I have a bit of a drop sleeve. Theoretically, I could have taken some of the top to put into gores, but it would have been a lot of effort for skinny gores. Besides, this is likely to end up as a coat I wear for camping when it’s cold. It wouldn’t pass muster for my serious Viking recreation group.

Thanks to a spate of televison watching, I have the outside part assembled and am about to start lining it. If I work hard tomorrow, I might have enough done that I can wear it to Coronation on the weekend. The event is indoors, but I am taking my dog so will need to spend a lot of time outside keeping him company.

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I have finished the weaving portion, and now just need to make buttons, buttonholes or loops, trim off loose threads, and finish the ends. These garters are patterned after a pair found in the Museum of London dress accessories book. I learned how to make them from Kjarvalla, one of our local weavers, at a Practicum class.

I should have made the weaving shorter, as I discovered that doing the needle weaving on the dags doesn’t work quite the same as the rest of the weaving – you can’t just slide it along the inkle loom!  I had to cut off the fully woven section and tie it in place, and eventually needed to turn the entire project upside-down to finish.

Nevertheless, the project has turned out reasonably well and I have enough to make two pairs of garters.

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Now that the big trip to Newfoundland is over, it is time to turn my attention to making a pair of radiate-headed bow brooches. These were worn by Merovingian women, as well as Kentish Anglo-Saxon women. They may have been used to close a coat, hold a chatelaine in place or simply be decoration. I suspect they held the coat closed. Earlier Merovingian brooches appear to have all had a purpose (holding a peplos dress together, then holding tunics closed, or pinning a cloak in place). I can’t imagine why these brooches, which are quite large, would have been any different.

My challenge is to carve the wax for a pair of the brooches, then – with the assistance of a jeweller friend who lives some distance away – cast them and decorate appropriately (probably with enamel). This is a challenge for me because:
a) I don’t think well in 3D, so making wax models that are the right shape will take some eye squinting and holding my tongue between my teeth;
b) the wax is quite brittle and breaks easily, especially when the piece gets thin; and
c) I have never done successful lost wax casting on this scale before, nor done any enamelling.

My deadline is to have them done before early November. I had started to carve a pair a couple of years ago, but broke the wax just as the first one was near completion. I got so frustrated, I put away the project for about a year. Last November, I publicly commited to making the brooches within one year.

This is the last major item I need for a good Merovingian women’s costume from about AD 650-700. Finishing the brooches will give me a big incentive to make the coat to wear them on. I have had the fabric for the coat for at least 5 years.

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This August, I spent 10 days doing historical interpretation at l’Anse aux Meadows, the only confirmed Viking site in North America. It was an amazing experience, I made a pair of naalbinding socks, learned a couple of new naalbinding stitches, made various braids that got used for trim, made ropes using both twisting and slyng (and repaired several buckets with the results), made some cord with one of my new bone lucets, learned three knots for netting, made three net bags, worked on my fishing net, made a netting shuttle and various cards (gauges), and puttered at several other activities – mostly spinning. Twice, I had the pleasure of spending an evening in the long house, listening to Bjorn the chieftain tell stories from the Greenland and Iceland sagas, and other favourite tales.

I got to ask Birgitta Wallace, one of the archaeologists who did a lot of the excavation what she thought about the likelihood of the Norse having brought animals with them. She said that she has changed her mind from a few years ago, and is now convinced that they probably did bring goats, probably sheep, and maybe even a few cows. She bases her belief on the research done in Greenland and Iceland that shows the Norse were heavily dependent on dairy and meat until some time between 1100 and 1200. Though they ate fish, it wasn’t a central part of their diet until the later period. Cattle were much smaller than today (a full sized cow was the size of a modern calf) so carrying them in a knarr would not be impossible. In her view, the Norse probably used the harbour at the village of l’Anse aux Meadows for their ships (keep in mind that the land has bounced up about a to 1.5 metres since AD 1000), as that is a more logical spot than the beach where the houses were found. The animals were likely kept on one of the islands off the village, something that was done until about 30 years ago and is still done on other islands just a few kilometers away. The island is too disturbed to justify a dig, so it is impossible to know for sure.

One of the resident Vikings who showed me his favourite knots for fishing nets told me that he had previously asked Birgitta about netting shuttles. It is a very traditional design (often used by weavers too), but there is absolutely no archaeological evidence to support it. In Birgitta’s view, the shuttle we all use is as good a guess as any.

Here are a few photos:

Rig and Emundr use my bone line winder to sail their boat


Comb I made for Jhone - project 70 completed

This is me, deboning fish for lunch

one of my net bags is used to clean wool in the stream

I’m hoping to get more pictures of my activities from our official photographer, as we couldn’t use our cameras on site. More pictures to follow! In the meantime, here are a couple that have nothing to do with my projects, but which make me happy:

l'Anse aux Meadows reconstruction as seen from part-way across the bay.

Firing the charcoal pit for the smelt, not burning the village

Our tents at sunset

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