Sunday, June 22, 2014

G63 Coat Reconstruction

Rough Description:
This piece is based on one found in Herjolfnes, Greenland, as part of the Viking settlement from the 14th century.  It is a knee length, loose, coat like garment with set in armscyles and a short collar. 

The main body is made of eight trapezoidal pieces, four in front and four in the back, with a front buttoned down to the waist (conjecture).  The original garment had buttons about every ½ inch, and probably 30-40 originally[1].  The sleeves were made of four pieces, consisting of a funky shaped upper arm with a gusset in the back, and a lower sleeve with an elbow gusset; the sleeves are only about arm length (not much, if any extra length) with a deeply curved armscyle.
Seams, decoration, and fabric:
The back seam is 1.08% longer than the front seam and seems to have been decorated with a backstitch.  The seams also lay towards the back.  The garment is constructed in such a way that each of the eight pieces has a straight and a bias edge, and all of the seams are constructed with straight-to-bias, limiting stretch.  It also seems to have been decorated and re-enforced along all the seams with stab stitching.
The fabric used in the original was a 2/2 wool twill, originally very dark brown.  The garment is believed to have been trimmed around the neck and down the front opening (on the left side with the buttonholes) with a thin material woven in 2/1 twill, originally madder colored.  There are also traces of tablet woven edging on a piece believed to have been the bottom hem.  The thread used for the stitching was likely finely spun wool or goat hair.

My goals in making this garment are to make a working garment based on the original, as close to the original in patterning as possible (while still making a garment that fits me and my sense of aesthetics) and learn about seam and finishing techniques of the period.


Project Journal

Material Used:
The fabric I’m using is a 135” (ish) piece of 43” wide heavy wool coating I purchased from Fashion Fabrics Club; the fabric unfortunately contains 5% nylon—I decided that would be acceptable due to that fact that is getting harder to find low priced wools (that I like) and it’s such a small percentage of synthetics.  The fabric is a brown and black plaid that was woven in a hounds-tooth pattern—not that you can tell after I fulled it.

My seam/stitch plan:
I do not know how the seams lay originally but feel that folding them in pairs, as in G42, to cause the thick fabric to lay in full pleats is plausible.  I believe that on the original garment the seam allowance was only a quarter of an inch or so[2] (in order to save valuable fabric) I’m going to use somewhere around one half inch—but as narrow as I can, considering the thickness of the material.  I will also stitch the garment together with a running/back stitch and whip-stitch the seam allowance down to one side or the other (for the reason stated above).  While I do not know for sure if this was the exact seam used on this garment, it is similar to ones used on others in the find and period.  The back seam will be sewn the same way, but the seam allowance will be fastened down with a.) stab stitch b.) back stitch or c.) Mammen embroidery stitch (a kind of herringbone).  I will use coloured linen thread for the decorative stitches. 
I am using 60/2 white linen thread from Wm Booth, Draper (waxed, of course) for most of the stitching.  The stitch I finally decided on is a stab stitch, roughly 1/10-1/12th of an inch long.
For the decorative stitching I decided to use red wool yarn I had on hand that I pulled one ply off of.  I chose the wool over the linen thread I originally planned because I felt that the linen would sink into the fabric to the point where you wouldn’t be able to see it.  I chose the color mainly for aesthetic reasons but on the original garment you can see bits of lighter brown colored material on most of the seams.  I feel that this was possibly a madder dyed thread[3].  My readings in WitE found that they did indeed have access to red dyed threads, for embroidery at the least.  I also ended up using a Mammen style stitch for a couple of reasons; it will tack down the seam allowances like I need; unlike a back/stab stitch it will re-enforce the seam (always important); and I like how it looks—even if I can’t document it to 14th century Greenland.  I found about eight inches into the seam that I was doing the stitch wrong, and not making it dense enough—it should be going over two and under one.  I may do it over.  I did end up doing it over, more properly this time—it looks much better this time around.  I think I may also end up sewing the edge of the seam allowances on this back seam with an overcast stitch to neaten it.  I did eventually end up doing this.
The other seams are sewn with a stab stitch, the seam allowance is folded over and overcast (making sure my stitch doesn’t go all the way to the right side of the fabric), then I added a row of stab stitch in the red wool through the folded over seam allowance.
Wrong side of typical seam.

Right side of typical Seam.

Journal Notes:
I’m starting to cut the pattern out of my material, the material is about 43” wide, but I think that the plaid on it is longer than wide, and for style reasons will cut it out with the panels running vertically on the fabric.  I am making this garment roughly 45” long (the original was probably 40”) to bring it to about my knees.  Each of the two 45” long panels of fabric will be cut into two lengthwise, then diagonally to form pieces 6” on top and roughly 15” on the bottom (with one bias cut edge).  I will also while patterning and sewing be attempting to match the pattern to some degree.
When I cut the angles, I had to do so very carefully—the fabric, even though I measured carefully, was not in even sized pieces.  I believe this is because the fabric did not shrink perfectly even (the selvages didn’t shrink as much as the rest)—I probably should have stretched it flat before cutting.  After cutting the body panels out I had just under one yard remaining with which to make the sleeves. 
After stitching up the back seam, the pattern there matches almost perfectly—the horizontal lines are just about spot on, but the vertical ones are off slightly.  I think that about half of the seams won’t match up, unfortunately—I didn’t cut quite carefully enough.  Or I should have stretched the fabric first, maybe taken the opportunity to shear the nap as well.
I’m finding that to get the overcast stitch properly hidden I have to keep my stitches as close to the edge of the fabric as possible and try to keep the same angle as the fabric grain.
Because of my miscalculations in cutting I had to trim a bit off of the tops to even them up before trimming the slanted shoulder and neckline.  I did this by keeping an even distance from the plaid lines, which actually makes the top a curve.  While I cannot tell whether this is the case in the original, I am going to leave it like that, more or less because I feel it will help in the draping.
Another problem I ran across here was that the sides weren’t the same size; the left side of the back was about an inch smaller.  My solution—proper application of brute force (I stretched it).  It was a serious pain to get anything to measure the same, even though on the front the two sides were the same size at the top still nothing would cooperate and be laterally symmetrical.
The shoulder seam I stitched again with a row of stab stitching in the red wool, then flattened the seam allowance to either side with a row of overcast stitches.  WitE says that the shoulder seams may have been decorated with stab stitching holding down the seam allowance, however, aesthetically I didn’t like how this looked, and as I couldn’t really tell from the pictures of the extant garment that I was going off of how that seam was really finished—for all I know it could have been overlapped (but I seriously doubt it).

On the Armscyles and arms[4]

On the original garment the armscyle seams appear to come down about 10.5 inches measured parallel to the front side seam[5].  On the front; about 2/3rds of this appears to be roughly straight, then it curves sharply towards the side, and maybe up a little.  The back side of the armscyle appears to be a fairly simple curve, probably about the same height.  I am also making the assumption that the garment’s armscyle seam is at the point of the shoulder, it may be a bit farther in—emulating a similar but simpler style of the grande assiette sleeve.[6]

I also thought at first that the armscyle cut out about half of that panel, now after studying the photographs some more, I think it was more like 1/3rd or so.  Those side pieces were also larger then the center pieces (maybe), something I didn’t realize when I patterned it.

Something else I am wondering is whether on the elbow seam, one side was curved—either concave on the lower piece, or convex on the upper.  I think I may try it.  I didn’t, mainly because I wasn’t sure where to put the curve, it would have needed to be at the point of the elbow, and the gusset already supplied that.[7]
Upon starting the arms I immediately ran into problems—the main problem was not enough fabric, so I had to get creative on my layout while trying to stay true to the original proportions.  I’m going to have to piece the gussets on the upper arms out of two pieces of material in order to get them wide enough, because the difference between the upper arm at the proportionate width and my armscyle measurement was fourteen inches, only three of which I could take in with the curve.  Somehow my measurements were off for the better—the armscyle measurement was probably about 25-27 inches rather than thirty-one.  After pinning the main upper part of the arm, I found that the gusset would only have to be 4.5 inches +seam—right about what I calculated as proportionate! 

However the arms--like every other piece on this blasted thing, aren’t exactly the same size.  That is why when I did the gusset on the back of the arm I sized each armscyle individually.

Arms, before smoothing and top stitching.

It really is amazing that such an asymmetrical pattern piece can have two seams that actually fit together (with a little fiddling)—which means that I must have done something right.
Both arms are done and attached to the main body now.  The design of the arm is rather interesting as it has an integral elbow pocket, and the gusset in the back allows good movement—although it currently kind of sticks out.  I’m going to see if it corrects slightly when I add the row of stab stitching folding the seam allowance to the body side around the armscyle.  Another solution, if I make another G63 would be to maybe make the back half of the armscyle deeper.  It didn’t correct itself with the stitching.
The way I did the cuffs is purely speculative—the original garment’s sleeves were in too poor condition to tell.  I used a corded overcast stitch to fasten down the seam allowance, then two rows of stab stitching in the red wool.  I did it this way mainly for durability—that overcast stitch should keep it from stretching out of shape, and the stab stitching is partially decorative.
The corded overcasting and stab stitching on the cuff.
The Collar Construction
I fit the neckline by the simple expedient of cutting it small, putting the garment on, then marking where it should be.  From there it was a simple matter to trim it, making sure there was a good half inch seam allowance.  The collar is a strip of the material about 2 3/4th inches wide—on the extant garment it is only about an inch high, but may have been worn down.  I will trim it to my desired height after attaching it. I was also going to bind the top with a layer of red linen, but have decided not to now for simplicities sake—instead I will fold it over, overcast stitch the raw edge, and add a couple of rows of stab stitching.
With the lack of visible evidence on the neck seam, I have decided to stitch it the same way as the rest of my seams—a row of stab stitch in linen, overcast the seam allowance down to the collar (I feel that laying the seam allowance onto the collar rather than the body will make it lay better—if I did it the other way I think it would be bulky), and add a row of stab stitching in red wool (maybe two, in order to balance out the top). I ended up laying the seam allowance onto the body. Doing it this way made the collar stand up correctly, whereas if I had done it the way I originally planned it would have tried to spread outwards and not fit my neck closely.
To secure the seam allowance on the top edge, rather than using a simple overcast stitch, I used a variation that was used on some of the garments from Herjolfnes—an overcast stitch that is additionally secured with twisted thread[8].  As you are taking each overcast stitch, you go over one of two threads; the next stitch you go over the other thread, making sure to rotate the threads the same direction every time.  I believe that the purpose of this method is to cover the raw edge of the material (making it look neater), possibly add some decoration if used on the exterior as it sometimes was, and also to help prevent the seam from stretching and distorting with wear—not necessarily in that order, of course.  It was likely used mainly on long seams.

The Buttons and Front:

I made the buttons out of roughly two inch circles of the same wool fabric.  I sewed a running stitch around the outside, about a quarter inch from the edge, and pulled it tight.  This being done, I then added two concentric circles of stab stitching in the wool yarn to flatten it out,  and followed that by running back and forth on the back to help keep the disc from turning into a cup.
I sewed them on at roughly 1.5 inch intervals—on the original they were only about half an inch, but I believe my fabric is thicker and buttons are much larger.  The original buttons may have been wood maybe covered in fabric or thread. 
The way I made mine resulted in a similar appearance to the few cloth buttons found at Herjolfnes[9].
         My rendition has twelve buttons down the front (including the one on the collar, plus three groups of three below the belt.  The original garment had 15 remaining on the front—bearing in mind that there was only about eleven inches or so of that side found (my math says there would have been 30-40 total), and the remains of three that it is believed went below the belt.  I chose to use three groups of three because the original had a group of three well below the belt--five and a half inches from the bottom. Nörlund’s theorized pattern of the garment shows a wide gap there without any buttons—however the drawing he made of the fragmented garment shows that there was a piece missing from the left side of the front going from just above the lowest group of buttonholes to the mid-chest.  I feel that it is reasonable that there would have been more groups of buttons in the missing portion below the belt—if there wasn’t I believe the garment would gap, rather unattractively.
The right side of the front opening (with the buttons) is hemmed with the same corded overcast stitch that I used on the top of the collar—to help keep it from stretching, and will also be decorated with two rows of stab stitching.
The left side with the buttonholes will have a thin strip of red linen down it.  On the original this was 4 mm wide on the right side and 6 mm on the back.  It is unknown if it was hemmed or not.  The fabric on the original strip was a thin piece of 2/2 twill, madder dyed—none of the sources tell what the strip was made of, but was probably a very fine imported wool.  While I know that linen is incorrect, I do not have access to any wool that is fine enough to work, and I have a leftover piece of fine red linen from another project.
I cut a piece of the linen approximately one inch wide (I tried to keep it straight but didn’t quite succeed) by the full width (55”-58”) long.  I intend to bind the left edge of the garment with this strip, trying to keep as close to the original measurements as I can.  I will use a stab stitch (hidden in the seam allowance) to attach it to the right side, and an overcast stitch on the wrong side.  I should have cut the linen about half again as wide—I didn’t have enough for the seam allowance on the wrong side.  So, rather than redoing as I should have I continued on, using a corded overcast stitch to help re-enforce the edging and (hopefully) keep it from fraying.  Time will tell whether I succeeded or not.
The buttonholes are fairly standard, a horizontal cut bound with a loose buttonhole stitch.  On the original garment they were about half of an inch apart, but again, my buttons are much larger than they probably were on the extant garment.  It is also unknown how the buttonholes on the original were finished, as there are no traces of stitching around them.  The fabric may have been intentionally fulled in that area so it wouldn’t ravel, or more likely had a form of stitch known as singling.  Another option is that linen thread was used and just didn’t survive (personally I doubt it due to the fact that all the other thread used on this garment was fine wool or goat[10]).

The Hem:
The bottom hem of the garment is almost non-existent on the original remains—however a small fragment that is believed to be did survive.  This piece wasn’t hemmed in the usual modern sense but rather had a “trim” of tablet woven piping stitched to it.  This piping was doubtless woven as part of the garment—with the weft of the tablet weaving being the same thread that attached it to the material.  I feel it is also likely that the hem was also re-enforced with an unusual form of stitching known as singling.
Singling seems to have been used on the Greenlandic garments when the raw edge was not going to be folded and hemmed or bound in different cloth, but would rather be decorated as above.  The stitch itself was a form of nearly invisible running stitch which forms a ‘S’ line going along the edge to be treated.  This—in theory—served to help re-enforce the material and help keep it from raveling with wear.
On a side note I believe that the reasons for not hemming a garment the usual way (single or double folded) were; 1) of economics, folding a hem meant you were wasting one half to a full inch of material (as hard as it is for us, modernly, to understand that degree of thrift); and 2) design—a normal hem won’t drape as nicely with the thicker material (too stiff).
On my rendition of this garment I did use singling (in red linen thread), which due to the thickness of my fabric is almost completely invisible.  I also modified the pattern of the stitching slightly, making it more like vertical ‘W’s than horizontal ‘S’s.  I found that the singling helped compact the weave of the material along the hem when tightened—perhaps to make a sturdier surface on which to attach card-weaving.
I originally thought the piped tablet woven edging was parallel to the hem—not so, rather it lays on the right side of the fabric at the very edge.  It also appears to have been produced with two hole weaving[11], as opposed to the more common (now at least) four hole.  Likely a simple pattern was used (this is conjecture, as even with a magnifying glass I can’t see the picture well enough to tell), in the same madder dyed thread as the stab stitching and was probably four to eight tablets wide.  This form of decoration is produced by tablet weaving as usual, but the weft thread is also being run through the foundation fabric in a deep overcast stitch.
These couple inches are as far as I have gotten.  One day, I may actually do it, but it will wait until I have good cards.
On my rendition I intend to try to do a simple chevron or diamond patterned weave in red and white with two hole tablets.  I will attach the weaving as above, and try to keep the hem flat and as flexible as possible.  If I can document the pattern I use so much the better but am not sure if I will be able to--beyond theory and conjecture anyways.

On the cut:
This cut is—depending on fabric width, of course, a very fabric economical one.  I will save my scraps to see how much waste is actually produced.
I don’t think I’m going to really have any scraps remaining that are useable—which is a shame, I wanted to make a G87 hat.
I am however making the buttons out of scraps of this material.
As a note, I feel that the fabric used in the original was probably 20-23” wide, based on the width and cut of the body pieces.  After checking Woven into the Earth I found that the fabric width was probably about double this, based on loom widths and (plausible) cutting layout.  The fabric I chose may actually have been several inches narrower (after I fulled it) than the original fabrics.

Conclusions and What I Learned

         This garment was a meticulously planned and engineered piece of work.  I know that my rendition doesn’t match the degree of finesse that the Norse seamstress who made the original possessed, though I gave it my best shot.  My stitches are also about twice the size (at least) of the ones they used.
         I learned quite a bit about the seams of the era, including a couple of little known ones (singling, corded overcast) and how to document the processes in a project.  I learned that it’s important to stretch the material before cutting into it.  I learned about the fabrics and (some of the) theories of construction at this site.  It taught me that handsewing isn’t scary after all--as long as you have a comfy chair, and that attention to detail and planning is everything.  It fired my interest in doing more working replicas of garments—up on the to-do list are the Thorsjberg trousers and the Moselund gown.
         Things I would do differently would be to use smaller stitches and a bit lighter of a fabric, cut the main pieces slightly differently—with the outside pieces being slightly larger—and cut a curve into the elbow seam on the arm, making it bent.  I would also use smaller buttons—which would be easier with lighter fabric.
Time spent cutting and sewing on this garment:  72 hours and 0 minutes (roughly)
This does not include time spent planning and writing.

I decided, when I put this piece of documentation up online, to leave it in the original format.  This is partly to show how my writing has evolved and grown since this project (in January of 2012), and partly because I do not feel like smoothing out the rough spots...

Someday, I will get a good photograph of the garment being worn.  Really.



Østergård, Else:  Woven into the Earth; Textiles from Norse Greenland.  Aarhus University Press, 9788772889351 (abbreviated as WitE)   While this site doesn’t have anything new, the pictures of the original garments are larger than in WitE.  Helped me figure out the arm and Where I learned about how to do the tablet weaving    Helped with the tablet weaving by confirming my theory on how to make it piped. Decided this was not the correct way.
On using two-hole weaving.

[1] My very rough estimate
[2] Not sure where I read this
[3] Based on observations in Woven into the Earth and my own notions; I need to see if I can find anything substantiating mine—someday.
[4] All this is my speculation and observations unless otherwise specified.
[5] I came to this conclusion by noticing that the bottom of the armscyle was about even with the bottom-most remaining button.  As I did have the measurement for the length of buttoned material, it was a simple matter to transpose it over to the armscyle.
[6] I believe I have read something linking the two in the past.  I’ll have to look it up; it was one of the 14th century clothing pages.  I think it might have been second page, paragraph two.
[7] To do this I think I would have stitched the elbow gusset on, found the rough center of the bottom sleeve piece, and then cut a curve that was about an inch deep at the center.
[8] Page 100 Fig. 70 of Woven into the Earth
[9] Norlund No. 41.  Page 170 of Woven into the Earth
[10] But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence…..Especially in this case.
[11] WitE pages 104-105

© John Frey, 2014.  The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.

No comments:

Post a Comment