Archive for July, 2017

80 – Taught archaeology students to sew and embroider, taught Thora to do finger-loop braid (must send her more patterns). Watched Kadlin dye with madder so I could try it at home (she did a skein of my wool). IMG_0620.JPG

Earlier in the week one of the archaeology students and I tried ironing with a stone. It turns out that the stone doesn’t need to be hot, but it definitely worked better when the linen was slightly damp.

81 – Spent most of the day in the kitchen, welcoming visitors to the site and explaining about what we know about Norse society. Many of today’s questions revolved about pee. I had a madder dye pot going for the afternoon, so that led to questions about other dyes, and therefore urine baths. Which led, of course, to discussions of ammonia for cleaning stains, and then to other useful products, including horse manure for cob (and the bead oven in the next room). There was an often unrelated line of questions about where the Norse in Newfoundland went to the bathroom. There is no evidence for privies, so best guess is a bucket in really bad weather or during the night, and open defecation during the day – with a crew of 25 or so men in each boat, and only a few women, this seems like a very reasonable guess.

On the less medieval side, we had dinner on the beach with the permanent staff tonight. We made fresh pizza in a bread oven, grilled some steaks, and listened to an impromptu jam session with five people who showed up with musical instruments. It was quite magical.

I also learned stories about the L’Anse aux Meadows moose. Apparently the young moose love to frolic on the newly prepared ground of the septic system. The staff kept noticing the ground was disturbed so they set up a hunter’s camera and caught them dancing and digging on the bouncy fresh peat. They are also very curious; late in the summer, when people come out of the main hall after a presentation of the saga that tells about coming to this place, they are startled to discover that the moose have moved in as close as possible to the doorway, drawn by the sounds of the storyteller.


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Today I got to teach a Newfoundlander how to make a fishing net. The irony has had me giggling since yesterday, when I was told I would have this job. Newfoundland, of course, has more than 500 years of fishing tradition, and it was the main employer on the island until the cod fishery collapsed about 25 years ago. thankfully the cod are now starting to return and we had a fine feast of it for lunch today.

We started off with learning the basic knot. Then we started a new net so that he could keep working on it at the site. I suddenly discovered that I had no idea how to start a net properly, so we fetched Egil, who I remembered knew how to make nets; he had given me pointers when I was here seven years ago. Apparently, you can start the net with a series of loops and two half hitches onto a line. To make sure the knot doesn’t move, you can do a rolling hitch, a knot that has two half hitches, then a third hitch that loops on the line to the left of the first two (when working left to right). Egil also told me that you measure a net by the number of rows of mesh – for example a 50 mesh net is deeper than 30 mesh net. You wouldn’t call it a 10 foot deep net.

Then I made a dip net. I lashed four sticks together after running each stick through the net. Then I tied the whole thing to a pole using rope I had made using whipcording. Egil says it would work for schooling fish like herring or mackerel; the mesh is far too large for capelin, thought it needs a longer pole (I have one on site so can make th switch tomorrow). It might even work for the salmon that do come up the stream on site. I need to find a nice rock to fasten into the bottom to give the net a bit of weight. While I would still like to try and bend a pole and knot my net on that, I’m reasonably happy with this experiment. Next time I make a square net, I’ll lash the poles together first and net around the frame, rather than trying to work around the net to lash after the fact.


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Does traveling to an event count, if you spend the whole drive talking about history and working on projects?

Day 72 – left Ottawa for Edmunston, the first stage of our trip to L’Anse aux Meadows. Spent much of the drive finishing the seams on a linen tunic.

Day 73 – Edmunston to North Sydney. I finished the seams and all the hems of the tunic. The other is in the trailer we are towing, so I started making a pair of traditional Newfoundland gunner’s mittens (using yarn I had purchased on my last trip to Newfoundland). I am relatively new to colour work, so this has been interesting. I can see now why my last pair of these mitts lasted so long and were so warm. They use double the wool because of carrying the yarn behind the stitches, so you can bring in the next colour later on.

Day 74 – Knit the mitten most of the day. We arrived at our destination this evening, so spent dinner with the rest of the team talking about cooking preparation (I’ll be helping with that every day), and how we will explain our integration into the group of permanent interpreters at the site. We try to work in first person, so we also discussed the approaches used at a couple of other historical sites visited along the way. It is 19th C, but the interpretive work at King’s Landing, New Brunswick is quite impressive.

day 75 – Spent much of the day on site, reacquainting ourselves with the archaeology and meeting the permanent staff. Some are old friends, but some are new. I worked all evening to get a line undertunic ready to wear.

Day 76 – our first day in costume! I helped with lunch preparations and then spent the day taking care of Ragnarr’s trading station while he was busy building a bead oven. I used the time to make a bone needle. I continued to fuss with the tunic as I am not happy with the sleeves.

Day 77 – I worked on my fishing net, made some cord for a fishing line using slyng, stitched my second tunic with handspun linen thread, did a bit of naalbinding, and tried still more things with the dress. Finally, I think I have a solution – good old-fashioned gussets.

day 78 – laundry with soapwort from my garden, lots of slyng, and netting. I met a visitor who told me about his grandfather’s nets, also made of hemp. His grandfather would soak the entire net in pine tar to impregnate them before use. Mystery of how to apply the pine tar is mostly solved; now I just need to figure out a container to use for soaking the net. He thought the needle I was using was too big for the line, and he Showed me how to make a repair using the “half a loop in and half a loop out” method. I’m not 100% sure how to make this work, so I’ll practice tomorrow. The final thing he told me was that his job as a young boy was to load up all his grandfather’s needles the night before so that his grandfather wouldn’t have to stop and fill one constantly. That was great advice, so I filled all my available needles before bedtime.

IMG_0618 photo taken by my friend Richard

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Day 69 – made a hat for one of my blacksmith friends so he can (hopefully) protect his neck from sparks. The original model was made of leather, but he wanted it in heavy linen. I bought the heaviest I could find and doubled it. I have extra so I can put on additional layers of neck protection, if needed. I also assembled one linen tunic and started to assemble a second one.

Day 70 – knit, cut four fishing poles from scrub trees at the back of my property. I tried bending two for dip nets and broke both. I may end up making a squared dip net like in a 16th C woodcuts (footnote), but I’m not sure how to hold the square net yet. One option might be with sticks out from the pole, as the woodcut appears to have something rigid. Another might be to make a square (lashing sticks together) and attach the net to that, and then hang the whole thing from the pole. That seems more likely to me, so I’ll do some experimenting in the next few days.

Day 71 – hand-sewing the flat felled seams in one of my tunics. I also finished the mittens. I’m not happy with them, but they’re done!

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Day 66 – knitting

Day 67 – dyeing with lichen. I heated up the dye and simmered it for an hour or so. This morning I reheated it and simmered for another hour. Then I added wool and simmered for another couple of hours. I’m not thrilled so far, so I have turned off the heat and will just let it soak for a day or so.

Day 68 – fixed up my hatchet. I recently rediscovered this hatchet, which has a good profile for Viking age re-enactment. Unfortunately it was covered with some sort of black paint (I thought). I didn’t have paint stripper, so I tried a bit of sandpaper and discovered it was just a coating of oil and something black. It came off relatively easily. This morning, I sewed up a little case for the head. I don’t know whether the stitching will last, but it should do for now.



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Day 54 – Assembled Sabrina Welserin’s sausage for a salad, based on the recipe found here: https://feastofthecenturies.wordpress.com/tag/sabina-welserin/. The original recipe is a dried sausage but the redaction was done as a fresh sausage. Since I wanted mine to air dry as in the original recipe, I added Fermento. Having grown up in Germany where wurstsalat was a common appetizer, this recipe amuses me. Wurstalat is literally a meat salad, made with thin slices of veal and other sausages, topped with salad dressing and maybe a few bits of onion or other pickled veggies.

Day 55 – Put about 5 lb of sausage into casings and hung it to dry. I also spent two hours weeding my community garden plot, then ate some of my fresh produce and threw all the lamb’s quarters into a pot of soup. While weeding, I did a lot of contemplating about the need to get better at weed identification (I had let some weeds go wild, and accidentally pulled up what I think might be parsnip seedlings). I was reminded of just how hard it must have been to feed a family in the days before mechanization.

Day 56 – harvested my woad and made woad balls

Day 57 – knitting and a riding lesson (working on posture and relaxation so that the horse has fun – even though I had a hard time tonight)

Day 58 – made two salt fish recipes. They’re for the Royal Guild of Ealdormerian Feast Cooks 2018 calendar, so no pictures until the calendar goes on sale.

Day 59 – spent the day doing modern sewing, so I had to rough out a small netting needle from a wood shim before going to bed.

Day 60 – I needed to clean the house before guests arrive, so of course it was the perfect time to play with dye experiments. First was annato on its own, then annato plus ammonia, and I’ll try to use up the ancient elderberries day after tomorrow (they’re soaking now). I also worked on whittling a spoon. I really must learn to do that sort of things outdoors, especially when expecting company: shavings everywhere!

Day 61 – sewed up four small linen bags to hide modern food supplies while at l’Anse au Meadows later this month.

Day 62 – dyeing with elderberries, using wool mordanted with oxalis acid from rhubarb. I added vinegar to elderberries in a ceramic pot to get more red, and salt in an alum pot to get more blue.

Day 63 – made elderflower cordial, which appears to be more of a Victorian thing. However, there are references to elder as a remedy in Culpeper (1653) . Culpeper recommends using the leaves, stalks, bark and juice from the roots as a purgative. The berries, boiled in wine, are recommended to bring on menstruation,  and also as a black hair dye. The flowers, distilled in water, is recommended to clear sunburn, freckles,  and morphew (a skin blemish, often caused by scurvy), eg ulcers, bloodshot eyes, and palsy in he hands. Geoponika recommends sprinkling a decoction of elderberry leaves to drive off flies. I found many references on-line to traditions about elder, but none were well-documented. This is one of the better ones: Herbal Legacy.

Day 64 – researched how to propagate elderberries, and how to dye with lichens. It turns out I have a huge pile of lichen in my basement.

Day 65 – removed the coating off a little axe and cut out the leather to make a cover for it, plus started a batch of lichen to make a dye bath. It is already turning tea coloured, which is promising.

Results of the dye experiments to date (l to r): rhubarb leaf, annatto mordanted with oasis acid, annatto with ammonia (mordanted with oxalic acid), elderberry with salt (mordanted with oxalic acid), elderberry with vinegar (mordanted with oxalic acid). This doesn’t capture of the bright orange of the annatto with ammonia, but all the rest were about as disappointing in life as they are in this picture.


Lichen dye – mostly reindeer moss with a bit of old man’s beard and some mystery lichen. All were collected several years ago, and had largely been damaged so I wasn’t picking new growth. I finally got an idea of how to make up the dye bath in a proportion to textile, thanks to a footnote in one of my dye books (sometimes paper still beats internet). Traditionally, lichens were done in a strong bath, which “Craft of the Dyer” by Karen Leigh Casselman defines as two parts dyestuff to one part fibre (by weight or volume). She advises that, given environmental concerns around protection of slow-growing lichens, a weak bath allowed to soak for several days is almost as effective. She defines a weak bath as one part dyestuff to two parts fibre. I used about 3 oz of lichen, crushed and ripped apart by hand, with about two Tbsp of ammonia. I’ll let it sit for a couple of days then simmer for several hours before adding my fibre.


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