Monday, 29 June 2015

Prehistoric fashion

Time to chase away the winter blues with something from a nice hot country!  This headband belonged to an individual from the Natufian culture, which thrived between 13,000 BCE and 11,000 BCE in what is now the Levant.

Image found here.

The El Wad headband is made of dentalium shells, and they were obviously strung in rows using fibre that has since rotted away.  The shells themselves are stuck to the skull with some sort of concretion, and it looks as though there were more shells that didn't get stuck to the skull and have fallen away.

Natufians seem to have liked dentalium shells, and they often buried their dead with dentalium jewelry.  This paper gives some interesting insights into the variety of personal adornment the Natufians used, and speculates to some degree about how the items might have been constructed.

The El Wad headband is Early Natufian, meaning that it predates the invention of weaving (see Elizabeth Barber's Prehistoric Textiles, 1991).  I suspect it was most likely made with twined linen thread, much like the textiles being made at that time.  So far I haven't had a lot of luck finding out how the headband was made (surely there must be some pseudomorphs in all that concretion?), but looking at it I can see we have parallel rows of dentalium shells, with a bit of a gap between each row.  To me that suggests the shells were strung on warp threads, with a pair of weft threads twined around the warps between each row of shells.  This would keep the shells in place, and would be consistent with surviving Natufian textiles.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Winter gloves

The theme for June's HSM challenge is Out of Your Comfort Zone.  It's a great theme, since a challenge is far more rewarding if it actually is a challenge.  Technically speaking, jumping boots and all into something with no idea what I'm doing is not out of my comfort zone, it's what I do all the time, but I was genuinely rather uneasy about this project in the beginning.  I decided to do a pair of gloves, and gloves are tricky.  They have lots of tiny pieces with very small seam allowances and I've never made gloves before.  True, these ones are only fingerless gloves, which is a bit of a cheat, but I was still worried about getting them to fit and this was definitely unfamiliar territory for me.

I'm happy to say they were a success, and because they were challenging they were a particularly rewarding success.

In fact this project relates to being "out of my comfort zone" in two ways: there's no heating in my office, and I do need some fingerless gloves if I'm going to get through the winter without losing a couple of digits to frostbite.

I'm greatly indebted to this blog post by Hallie Larkin, which gave me a lot of useful information on how to put the mitts together.  Now that I've made a pair, I also have some suggestions for anybody who fancies a pair of 18th century mitts this winter:
  • How the gloves fit is influenced by the type of fabric you make them in, and you won't really know what the fit will be like until you've made one up.  Always make a mock-up with this pattern.
  • At first glance, you immediately think putting the thumb in will be tricky.  You're right.  I find the best way to do it is to sew up the thumb, then take the thumb lining and fold the seam allowance under, and sew this to the glove around the thumb hole.  When the lining is in place, I attach the outer layer of the thumb.  Again, I fold the seam allowance under and stitch it around the thumb hole, in this case with herringbone stitch.  The raw edges of the thumb hole end up in between the thumb lining and outer fabric, along with the thumb seam allowances.  The process isn't hard as such, but does require a lot of manual dexterity.
  • Worried about tackling the tricky bits?  Have a glass of wine first and you will be fine.  In fact, sitting in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine while stitching one of these is a nice way to spend a winter evening.
  • An important secret to success with these mitts is to baste the outer fabric and lining together before you start sewing.  Baste around the thumb hole, and around the S-shaped slit that helps it fit the wrist a bit better.
You can just about see my basting stitches in this photo.  If I'd been thinking properly I would have made them in a colour that was easier to see.
When finished, the slit looks like this:

The Challenge: Out of Your Comfort Zone.

Fabric: A piece of shot silk taffeta out of my silk scraps box.

Pattern: This one, which I shamelessly stole from the Dreamstress's Pinterest page.  This pattern is obviously made for someone with small hands.  I had to enlarge it a lot to get it to fit me.  My hands are pretty average-sized, so I think most people using this pattern will have to enlarge it.  However, it is a good pattern and I highly recommend it.

Year: 18th century.

Notions: Silk embroidery thread.

How historically accurate is it?  I think it's very accurate.  The materials and construction are accurate, and the pattern is obviously based on original 18th century mitts.

Hours to complete: Hallie Larkin reckons it takes about 16 hours to make a pair of these things, and I would say that's about right.

First worn: Around the house immediately after finishing them.

Total cost: I can't remember.  That silk has been lurking around my place for years.  Maybe $10?

Monday, 1 June 2015

Moretum: the rustic Roman breakfast food

Recently, Cathy Raymond made some moretum, as described in Virgil's poem of the same name.  I'm not a huge Virgil fan, so this was the first time I'd come across the poem.  Moretum is often translated "Salad", perhaps because the more accurate translation "Cheese Spread" is deemed too plebian.  Nevertheless, moretum is a cheese spread with herbs and garlic.  Yum!  Here was a recipe I absolutely had to try, and it fits conveniently into the last Historical Food Fortnightly challenge of the year: Breakfast Food.

I ate my moretum with crispbread.  It's not authentically Roman, but it is delicious with moretum.

Virgil's poem describes farmer Symilus preparing his breakfast before going to work in his fields.  First he makes bread, but he doesn't have any meat to eat with it and the thought of eating bread on its own doesn't appeal to him, so he makes some moretum.  This involves a number of herbs from Symilus' vege garden:

"ac primum leviter digitis tellure refossa
quattuor educit cum spissis alia fibris,
inde comas apii graciles rutamque rigentem
vellit et exiguo coriandra trementia filo."  You can read the full Latin text here and there's a translation here:

"Away, he garlic roots with fibres thick,
And four of them doth pull; he after that
Desires the parsley's graceful foliage,
And stiffness-causing rue,' and, trembling on
Their slender thread, the coriander seeds"

That's an insane amount of garlic.  Cathy Raymond says Roman heads of garlic were smaller than ours, but it still seems like a lot, especially since the poem specifically tells us the smell makes Symilus' eyes water.  It's so much garlic that I question whether this recipe is representative of what the Romans actually ate, or whether Virgil was indulging in a bit of poetic exaggeration.  It just doesn't pass the sniff test (pun intended).

I don't know why Virgil might have exaggerated the quantity of garlic, but I used half a clove.  I don't know where that translator is getting parsley from either.  It looks like they've translated apius as parsely, but apius is celery.  I covered both bases by using parsley and celery.

When Cathy made moretum, Opusanglicanum talked of making it with Pecorino Romano.  I'd like to try it with labneh, but Pecorino Romano is closer to what Virgil had in mind.  Pecorino Romano was made in Roman times, and Symilius' cheese is obviously some type of hard cheese.  He keeps it hanging from his roof by a string tied through a hole in the middle of the cheese.

The poem goes on to describe how Symilus pounds his herbs and cheese together in a pestle and mortar.

This is the recipe I've come up with, based on the poem:
  • Half a clove of garlic (though in hindsight a whole one would be nice too)
  • Roughly equal quantities of Pecorino Romano and finely chopped celery 
  • A good pinch of parsley
  • A small pinch of rue
  • A small pinch of coriander seeds
  • A dribble of olive oil
  • A couple of drops of red wine vinegar
Pecorino Romano quickly forms a paste when you crush it in a pestle and mortar.  It does not need a lot of olive oil, and I would recommend adding just one or two drops of vinegar at a time.  I think it would be easy to add too much and spoil the flavour.

The Challenge: Breakfast Food.

The Recipe: Moretum, from the poem of the same name attributed (perhaps wrongly) to Virgil.

The Date/Year and Region: First century BCE Rome.

How Did You Make It: Just like Symilus in the poem, I put all the ingredients in a pestle and mortar and ground them into a paste.

Time to Complete: Just a few minutes.

Total Cost: The block of Pecorino Romano set me back $12.50, which I thought was excessive at the time.  Now I've tasted the moretum, I have to say I don't regret buying the cheese.

How Successful Was It? Very, very good.  Next time you're entertaining, consider making some moretum to serve as a dip.  I'm confident your guests will enjoy it.

How Accurate Is It?  Very!  I've even made it in a pestle and mortar, although if we're going to be honest that's mainly because it requires less effort to make it the authentic Roman way than to clean out a food processor.