Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Aachen Cathedral Treasury - Part 3: Shrine with nice pictures (tents!)

Following on from my previous posts concerning the Aachen Cathedral Treasury, here is another selected treasure.


Karlsschrein (Charlemange shrine)- 1200-1215 Aachen , gilded silver and enameled copper.

This is a lovely piece of artistry. I read somewhere that 12th C german metalsmiths were copied by the manuscript artists because they were were considered the superior artists of the time. For a colour pictures of the shrine, a glimpse of colour scheme, search for 'Aachen' at this link, and look for the gold and silver metalwork. (sorry direct links not working) It's only a single colour image of the shrine, but it shows well how the colours are and how a few more details can be seen in colour (eg broaches clasping cloaks) than can be seen in the high resolution black and white photos linked to below. Ithink it might have been all gold originally, but the gilding wore off.

Now to talk about specific aspects of the shrine's artwork and how it relates to concrete objects of the era....

The clothing depicted on the shrine is mainly same as 1180, possibly with less droopy sleeves, although with so few women depicted, and then mainly only Mary, it is hard to tell with regards to sleeves.. Are silversmiths behind or conservative, or does fashion not feature the sudden changes seen in France at around 1200? I think it may be rather the characters on the shrine - saints are very often dressed conservatively in fashions a little out of date and lacking the excesses of fashion. But it's also possible German fashion doesn't have a big change from late 12th C to 13th C clothing -this would be a lovely project for someone else to follow up.

There are some really lovely depictions of braids on garments, and the ample stones reflect a period practice we mostly only read about, since extant garments generally have had these stolen, and in manuscripts we can't reliably distinguish these from braid with a blobby pattern.

The material and method used enables us to see a number of features not normally seen - for example crisp lines of applied braid on many of these shoes (almost in the same pattern as the extant shoes of Philip of Swabia of around this time). Manuscripts cannot show the difference between an applied raised braid and a flatter painted on sewn on decoration in this situation, while much sculpture has been weathered, obliterating the crisp lines that make such a distinction possible. The precious and religious nature of this shrine has resulted in excellent preservation.

About half the shoes are in this style with
Many others saints on this shrine have one piece of braid (less high, often wider), running up the vamp of the shoes and far up the calf - these are long boots, and remind me of this pair of hose/buskins.

The crowns shown match well with the extant crowns of this era (mostly german) that I have seen, especially the fleur-de-lis on top.

There are a couple of nice pictures of armour, including details of Charlemagne putting on (or taking off?) his armour. The lines of where the chainmail stops (especially on the legs) are clearer than on many other pictures I've seen. And nice details of surcoats, haulberks without a concealing surcoat, and haulberks with built in hoods (I think).

There are a lovely picture of tents from a fairly close perspective , and a second depiction with similar tents with an interesting feature I'll discuss at the end. I'm quite excited because tents are relatively rare in artwork of this era, and pictures with this level of detail even more so. They appear to be single bell tents, held up by a central pole and a network of guy ropes. The Central Pole is not visible, but I believe it is implied by the use of a ball and decorative caps on top of the centre of the tent. Charlemangne's tent is topped with the eagle (symbol of German royals), while the other tents are topped with crosses.

The section of tent immediately under the ball appears to be a separate piece from the tent roof below it, as clear seams (including textural differences) show on several tents but is probably still a fabric (cloth or leather) as it falls in a curve with gravity, rather than stiffly. This corresponds with stiffener panels used in recreations.

The roof of the tents appears to have been decorated with patterned fabric. Other tents show a pattern of radiating stripes that could be stripes (more accurately arcs), or could simply be tension lines from the guy ropes.

From the edge of the roof, several guy ropes are seen anchored to the ground. They attach to the roof of the tent via a triangular or y-shaped feature. The spacing between guy ropes is quite small, although guy ropes on the front of hte tent have been omitted. This may be to create a doorway, but more likely is for artistic reasons, to not block the view of the protagonists. (other guy ropes end at the edge of the tent to prevent overlapping other characters).

The walls of the tent descend from somewhere slightly inside of the edge of the roof, and descend fairly vertical until about halfway down, and then flare out to the ground. The way the walls flare is consistent with being pegged out (approx one peg per guy rope, so also at fairly regular intervals). I believe I can see a one of these pegs, but it is simply a tapered blob.

It is not clear if any additional structures such as internal wall poles are present or absent, but if the lines on the roof are stress lines, I would guess not.

A doorway opens from the front of the tent in a gentle curve, but the way this nicely frames the scene inside makes me believe this is likely to be an artistic cutaway, rather than a realistic doorway shape. Then again, it might be both a good artistic cutaway shape and a good door way shape.

On the second picture, one tent is depicted with a strange window in the roof. Maybe this is a skylight? Interestingly, the lines I previously identified as tension lines in the roof run through the "window" in the roof from centre pole to guy ropes. Perhaps this is a way the roof was reinforced?

This reminds me a great deal of the tents used by my sca neighbours.

other items
Also depicted on the reliquary are some nice lamps and pennons, which I've added to my forthcoming next post on the topic.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Peasant Shoes I

My friend Asfridr has doccumentation for this type of really simple shoe, I hope she will upload it soon. In the meanwhile, this journal post of hers may be of interest.

These are very very simple shoes to make. They use only one piece of leather and put seams at the toe and heel to turn it into a rough bag shape. Gathering is then used to shape bag into a shoe.

Asfidr showed us how to make mockups out of felt. She described two main ways of making toes and two ways of making heels. I tried both on two mockups:

This first style has a slightly stubbed toe

The second a pointy toe

I decided I liked the second version of both toe and heel better, so made them up out of leather

I used thinnish alum tawed leather because of the simple expedient - cheap and available. Thicker leather would probably be better.

These were very easy to make, much easier and quicker than turnshoes. Only trouble was my code - I wanted to use a nice medieval waxed shoe thread (in preparation for more turnshoes), and I haven't got the right mix of wax yet. (that might be a blog post of it's own). If you want easy shoes, use a commercial pre-waxed thread.

I also would be happier if my stitches were tighter (again the wax probably isn't helping here), but this doesn't affect the usability of the shoes.

Here are 3 views of the shoe



detail of the stitching at heel and toe:

And what you've been waiting for - the shoes on:

I field tested them at Rowany Festival. Here's a report:
they wet through slowly- but combined with wool hose wasn't unpleasant, slowed down moisture getting through and the hose were only damp, not dirty of muddy. Thicker leather might mean these shoe lasted hours before getting wet, and they dry relatively quickly for leather. Drying overnight alongside the fire (away from the direct heat) might work in a medieval hut.
Also I took my shoes off and went barefooted when it was dampest, which the canny medieval peasant probably did (the farmers sowing are sometimes shown barefooted), at least in more temperate weather. Having dry shoes to put my cold feet into on the cooler festival days after a while barefooted worked well enough for me.

I'd also like to try tallow on them - I think that might work wonders. But then I'd have to be more careful about transporting them As I'd rather not have tallow on my clothes. Shoes lined with dry straw or fleece might last most of the day if you didn't cross rivers in them. Or overshoes - I'm not sure if peasants would wear pattens, but some kind of cheap overshoe could have been used.

I was comfortable. this leather is a bit thin, gravel paths, and sharp edges hurt. Thankfully these were really rare on the Glenworth site. I didn't have any trouble with my slight tendancy to roll my feet inwards. Seams did not rub. Shoes could be worn barefoot.
The lacings were the main adjustment. Too tight and walking normally was difficult, too loose and they fell off. The was a good spot in between. I was using cotton lacings (I've replaced them since with leather which shouldn't get/look a grotty), and over a long day they loosened off. Extra long lacings that looked around the ankle and tied at the front of the ankle might work better - one of my lacings was longer and I did this, and it stayed on a bit better, and Ii think the thong dragged in the mud less.

I replaced this with leather thonging (shoelaces I think - thanks op shop), and this looks cleaner, but knots in it do not stay done up as well as braid (yes i do always have some fingerloop braid handy). Also the ends dangle about, but I need them to tie the knots. I could move the knot tying place from the back to the side - but then they wouldn't fit either foot. I could sew them closed (I don't really need to loosen the lace to get in and out of the shoes), but I like the adjustability, for when my foot changes size, the lace swells when wet, stretches from use etc, and also it is a little easier to get off If I can untie it. Finally, bringing the laces over to the front and tying a second knot at the front of the ankle seems a better option, but my leather thongs are just a little too short for this unfortunately.

Dancing was no good in these - they fell off mid bransle- but maybe if I had had the lacing just right it might have been ok. They were also slippery on the dance floor, just like my turnshoes. I didn't break into a full run, but I suspect this would have been a problem, while a few jogged steps were not. I guess barefoot might have been an option for the frolicking peasant.

They lasted more than 3 days worth of wear. And another 6 months of at least once a month. You can see one scrape on the back in the close up shot of the seam after 3 days, and they are only a bit dirtier after 6 months. Sturdier heavier leather would probably be sensible.

Monday, 22 September 2008

egg tempera

What else have I been doing? I've playing with egg tempera at a workshop day. It was fun, and one day when I magically have more time I'll try again with a better idea of what technique to use. (sorry the second shot is so dark that you can't see detail easily - it reflects too much with the flash).

Timeline of construction of a pair of Hose

Months ago in February, (I admit, I've been slack about posting) I decided I wanted lots of pairs of hose for Rowany festival, since that part of my wardrobe was lacking (only 2 pairs for 4 days! and one of those thick wool.) I'm getting pretty good at hose by now, given that I've been using the same pattern each time. So I decided to time how long it took to construct a pair. Or to be more precise I constructed one first to check the fit in the particular fabric (it changes slightly each time), and the exact way I was doing the hose, and then timed the second one of the pair.

Construction, Pattern, stitching technique
I've been making copies of the 14th Century Hose from MOL because I think they are the same pattern as 12thC ones for reasons I'll describe in a post soon.

I decide to experiment with a couple of things on this pair. Firstly, I've found the rear seam to be quite weak (running stitch as described on the London hose snapped on the second wear in linen on linen on another pair), and the transition around the seam at the heel difficult. I wondered why the seam used on the foot didn't simply extend up the back of the leg. I guess it would be inelegant in wool with raw edges showing, but in linen all my edges were contained anyway. I tried this method (see pictures to left), and in linen it works just as well, maybe slightly better than the other method. The transition at the heel is slightly tricky, but it's even trickier in linen with double folds changing from this seam to flat felled apart seams.

I chose to make a decorative hem using herringbone stitch on this pair of hose. The pictures to the right show the inside (decorative so it will look prettiest when turned over) and outside (plain) top hems. I have no evidence for this type of hem for this period, or on hose. It just is used on hems elsewhere and when and was pretty.

The last is a shot of how I handle the top of the vamp (top of the arch of the foot). This is a slight adaption for the linen versus a wool that doesn't need hemming. The picture is mostly there to show how I do this.

These hose were constructed on my way to work, sitting at the bus stop, on the train, at the train station, and so there was a lot of stopping and starting and a little unpicking. I probably could have made these slightly quicker under optimum conditions.

So here is my construction progress in pictorial form:

I think the decorative hem took longer than a simple line of backstitching as seem in the London hose would have. But the white linen thread on purple linen fabric is pretty.