From stash to trash

It’s amazingly difficult to throw out stash stuff – even if its only proper place is in the trash!

The yarn

A case in point: three years ago, at Romni Wools’ annual July sale, I found some yarn in beautiful shades of grey, indigo and white. It was 80% wool/20% nylon which I thought would wear well, and the price was good, so I bought enough to make a Faroese shawl and a sweater vest.

My first project with it was the Faroese shawl. Once I figured out where to put the markers so that I wouldn’t have to count too often, it was the perfect “carry around” project and I was very pleased with it when it was finished.

For a while.

The disappointment

Closeup of the horrible-yarn Faroese shawlSoon after I started wearing the shawl, the yarn started to beard. Horribly. Eventually it looked as if I’d worn it while wrestling with goats. I tried smoothing the bearding off with one of those pumice-like bars that’s made for removing pills. That took off the first round of bearding, and it eventually stopped. To be replaced by dirty-looking pilling and these funny little twisty protrusions. Not a great look!

So I stopped wearing it, put it in the “disappointing” pile and left the yarn in the stash.

I’m in the process of getting rid of that “disappointing” pile and thinning my fabric and yarn stash. Some of it I’ll give to friends&family, some I’ll sell, and some I’ll donate to charity.

Horrible yarn in bin bagThe difficult decision

When I came to the beardy yarn, it was surprisingly hard to do what needed to be done – namely, trash it.

Nothing else makes sense. I’m not going to use it, and I’m not going to give it to a friend, sell it or donate it to a charity.

Setting someone up to waste time and effort knitting something from it would be unconscionable!

But still, it was amazingly hard to put this lovely-looking yarn – and the shawl I’d made from it – into the bin bag and trot it out to the curb on garbage day!

But it’s done. It went out last Tuesday.

The Faroese shawl – take two

The whole beardy yarn debacle had one good result – I discovered that I really like Faroese shawls, so when I found a beautiful yarn in just the right weight & colour (though not exactly cheap), I took the chance & made another. Which has worn beautifully.


Blue Faroese shawl

By | November 22nd, 2018|damage, knitting, the stash|Comments Off on From stash to trash

The Viking coat – Part 1

My Viking coat is finished!

Blue Viking coat with green bordersIt’s been a journey; I’ve been working on the coat since spring. It came together from three sources: weather, a stalled project, and a pattern I bought so long ago that it now turns up in listings of vintage patterns on Etsy and eBay.

The weather:

Several years ago I was horribly cold at an SCA * camping event. There was frost overnight and, while daytime was warmer, it was still crisp.

It wasn’t the first time I had been cold at an event, just the worst, and I thought it would be nice to have a seriously warm Viking-style coat.

The stalled project:

During the years people were donating their furs to Goodwill, I got a full-length black mink coat that I intended to use to line a cloth winter coat. I found the ideal tweed for the coat shell, got the interlining fabric and studied much information on how to sew furs. And stalled there, intimidated by the idea of cutting into a fully-functional mink coat.

That was more than ten years ago. Finally, I figured this was ridiculous and decided to take the indirect route – to make a fur-lined Viking coat to get experience in handling that much fur.

Due largely to the lack of surviving physical evidence, there’s been a lot of discussion on whether the Vikings used much fur and whether they used it for linings. I think they did, and I agree with archaeologist Tuija Kirkinen. In her paper on the ritual use of fur, she stated that “the use of pelts and furs for clothing is self-evident in a region at the edge of the taiga”. ** While I don’t live at the edge of the taiga, the weather, even in southern Canada, can get ridiculously cold, and I’ve found that furs (and I include sheepskin) are best at keeping me warm when the temperature dips below -30C (-22 Fahrenheit).

The pattern:

The Turkish Coat is one of the first patterns Folkwear published. I don’t remember exactly when I bought it – sometime around 1974. And I’ve been meaning to make it ever since.

The Viking coat was the perfect opportunity. From surviving fragments and images, it appears the coats Viking men wore might have been constructed in a similar way.Folkwear Turkish Coat back view drawing

Granted, it’s a “male” garment, and the existing evidence shows women mainly in shawls. Which I’ve tried, and discovered that to keep warm in seriously cold weather, I’d have to wrap myself up in many, many layers.

Nope. For the sake of sanity and mobility, I decided on a coat.

The materials:

The fabrics: since this was going to be an experiment, I wanted to spend as little as possible on it, so I dug through my stash and found two yardages that worked well together – a medium“indigo” blue  and a vivid apple green  wool.

Apple green fulled wool swatch




While they’re both commercially dyed, both are colours that are possible with natural dyes that were available to the Vikings.

The blue is easy – woad, which contains indigotin. Woad seeds were found on the Oseberg ship.

On the other hand, green can be dyed many different ways, so the possible dye sources are guesswork. Maybe woad plus weld or broom – or one of the many other sources of yellow.

Coincidentally, a friend – textile artist Jaclyn Paltanen – just did an experiment on dyeing woad-based greens on wool and got a lovely range, including that apple green!

Both fabrics are pure wool, and they’re fulled. The apple green is a lightly-fulled 2/1 twill; the blue is more heavily fulled so I’m not sure what the weave is.

There’s still occasional discussion about whether Vikings fulled their wools, but apparently archaeologist Inga Hägg has documented the existence of fulled wools in Viking-era finds in Hedeby in her Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu***.  Fulled wool is not appropriate for every kind of garment – but for a coat intended for Canadian winters it most definitely is!

The lining: this is where I spent some money – $35 if I remember correctly. When I bought the donor coat for the lining, I wasn’t sure what the fur was (and neither was the man who owns the secondhand shop where I bought it). We guessed it was some sort of water critter – maybe beaver or otter – or maybe marten, all of which were available to the Vikings **.

To my surprise, when I took out the lining, I discovered it was fur seal."fur seal" stamp on skin side of fur coat used for lining It’s not at all like what I know as seal!

Turns out the fur seal is a southern hemisphere beastie, so it’s improbable that a Viking-era coat maker would have had access to it. However, I’m taking a pass on “authenticity” here; the furs I thought it might be – beaver or otter or marten – would all have been available. We do the best we can!

Making the coat:

The first step was figuring out how to allow for the thickness of the fur lining. While I got over 48 million hits the last time I googled “fur sewing”, the vast majority handled fur in the present-day convention – as something to show on the outside of the garment. Finding information on working out how to allow for a fur lining took some digging. The clearest I found was on a Threads Magazine forum post from 2010:

“Take a length of the fur and wrap it around your middle with the fur facing inward, safety pinning it closed. Using a tape measure, measure around the outside of the fur. Take off the fur and measure around at the same spot. The difference between the two measurements will be your “fur adjustment.”

So that’s what I did, and it worked!

Viking coat muslinTo check the size and length, I made a muslin ****, trying it on over a wool Viking-style gown and a heavy sweater.

After I cut and assembled the shell fabrics I gathered my courage and started on the fur coat.

Taking it apart, I was reminded of the amazing amount of hand work that goes into furs! Even though the pelts are now sewn together by machine, the garment assembly is largely manual. hand stitching on inside of fur coat used for liningThe edgings and the lining were sewn in by hand, and there was a grid of long, loose hand stitches anchoring the pelts to the underlining throughout the coat.

Once I’d disassembled the coat, I realized I’d been lucky. The body of the coat was very close to the shape & size of the body of the Folkwear pattern, with only one significant difference: the original fur coat had a straight up-and-down overlap, while the pattern’s fronts are at an angle that’s supposed to keep the coat closed without fasteners. All I needed to do was stitch in two triangular sections at the centre fronts to add the overlap – and luckily again, the front facings which I had removed were big enough to cut the triangles from.

The sleeves were another matter. Originally, I intended to use the fur sleeves to line the fabric wool twill sleeve liningssleeve, but I found that the combination of the fur and the fulled wool fabric was too bulky for comfort. So back to the stash, where I found a medium-light woolen twill remnant that worked to line the sleeves.

pocketRegarding authenticity, I made two decisions to be deliberately inauthentic, and the first was pockets. The Folkwear pattern has no pockets – just pocket slits, which are probably Viking-appropriate. But with a fur-lined coat intended for brutally cold weather, making pocket slits that would have been convenient openings for weather to get in seemed self-defeating. So I added pockets. Gotta have somewhere to stash those kleenexes!

My other “inauthentic” decision was to underline the coat with a lightweight cotton, much as the underlinigpresent-day fur coats are. I wanted to make this coat look good and last as long as possible, and the underlining helps with both. It keeps the internal stitching – and there’s a lot of it – from pulling on the outer fabric and showing through to the right side.

If cotton made it to Scandinavia at all during the Viking era it would have been a wildly exotic fibre, and way too expensive to use as an underlining.

I could have used linen, which was available then, but the 3.5oz linen I have in my stash would have added a lot of weight – and the coat is heavy enough as it is. There may be some super-fine linens that wouldn’t have been so heavy, but from what I’ve seen on the web they’re also super-expensive. Which is where reality cuts in – this is a coat to wear, not a museum-quality interpretation.

Final details and a decison:

Once the coat was “finished” and wearable, I decided that, having put so much thought and work into, it would be worth going the extra mile and spending a bit more time and money on trim and fasteners.

Which is another post!

* Society for Creative Anachronism – a world-wide reenactment group that focuses on pre-1700 CE history

** Tuija Kirkinen The role of wild animals in death rituals: furs and animal skins in the late iron age inhumation burials in southeastern Fennoscandia. Fennoscandia archaeologica XXXII, 2015

*** Inga Hägg Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu (The textile finds from the harbour of Hedeby) Neumünster, K. Wachholtz, 1984, ©1985

****I use 1/4″ gingham for muslins – the gridded weave of gingham makes the grain lines obvious. (And yes, there’s only one sleeve – I took the other one off to use as a pattern for the sleeve lining.)

By | October 19th, 2018|costume, dyes, fibers, fur, indigo, SCA, the stash, Viking costume, woad, wool|1 Comment

The push-down stash

Like most fabriholics, I have a stash. A fabric stash that, despite my best intentions, keeps on growing.

Every single yardage in my stash was acquired with the intention of making something specific – and most of the somethings never got made. And, with every addition, the likelihood of previous intended projects actually getting made recedes.

Some things didn’t get made for financial reasons

Sample panels of Turkish-style ikatLike the long vest I wanted to make with the set of gorgeous silk & cotton sample panels that I got at the Textile Museum’s legendary Yardage Sale. There was plenty of fabric to make the vest parti-coloured, which was what I originally intended. But I really loved the deep rose & black colourway and discovered that, though the design had been discontinued, the deep rose & black was still available. From France. At $600 US/meter. Plus shipping.


That took the shine off the project, though it’s still on the intentions list. That was three or four years ago, and the disappointment has mostly worn off; I’ll probably make the vest eventually – parti-coloured instead of all deep rose & black.

Some things haven’t been made for technical reasons

black mink coat

The black mink coat

Like turning the black mink coat that I got in the years people were donating furs to Goodwill into a lining for a tweed coat.

Fox fur zibellingo with gilded head

The zibellino

I’ve got the tweed. I’ve got the fabric for the interlining. I’ve researched on how fur is handled. I’ve made small fur items, including a zibellino.

But I’ve been seriously nervous about cutting into a fully functional mink coat.

Blue Viking coat with green borders

The Viking caftan

This has gone on for ten years, which is ridiculous. So I finally took a sideways step and made a fur-lined Viking kaftan, using a fur seal coat from a local second-hand store for the lining.

With one thing and another, it took me most of the winter to work through the learning process, but now I have a wearable, albeit heavy, fur-lined coat.

So, the mink-lined tweed coat is back at the top of the stack now. With luck, I’ll get it finished before the vintage raccoon coat I wear when it gets brutally cold falls apart (which it’s threatening to do)…

Some things haven’t been made because I have no real use for them

Detail of the silver/coper/bronze sequinned fabric


Like the overtunic I want to make from the gorgeous sequined fabric I bought on impulse five or six years ago.

I know what I want to make from it: a twenties-style evening gown with a glittering overtunic. I have the glitter; I have the black silk to make the underdress.

But the last time I wore an evening gown – a Balmain model with a skirt of layers of flowing grey & white chiffons and silk ribbons that I made from a Vogue Paris Designer pattern – was the McGill graduation ball in 1965!

Some things haven’t been made for practical reasons

I love tweed. I have a lot of lengths of tweed. Tweed is a cold-weather fabric. I live in a centrally-heated universe – and global warming is making tweed season shorter and shorter.

Five tweeds, mostly greys

A sampling of my tweed collection

The tweed for the mink-lined coat - grey herringbone with black, white & taupe flecks

…for the coat

Outer garments like my mink-lined tweed winter coat project work, but I’ve already got more coats for moderately cold weather than I actually need.

Tweed pants are too hot, ever. And sometimes scratchy.

Tweed skirts are good for winter, but wearing panty hose or tights doesn’t do it for me – and knee-highs or socks feel odd under skirts. This winter I’m going to try wearing colourful long knee socks with decorative garters in the medieval/renaissance mode & see how I feel about it. If it works, maybe more tweed skirts.

Then there are vests and jackets but…

Many things haven’t been made because of time

… I don’t think I have to say more about this one…

By | August 26th, 2018|fur, medieval, Renaissance, the stash, The tweed chronicles|Comments Off on The push-down stash

Mining the stash part 2

LiviaDaPortoThiene&Daughter4webTurns out my Mining the stash project is going to be delayed. For the best of reasons: I’m going to Italy with my sister next spring – and the dates are just too close to do both justice.

Much as I enjoy the annual SCA* Arts & Science comptetition, it’s no contest – I’m off to Italy!

A great opportunity to look at lots of art and at any historical textiles I can find.

With luck, I’ll be able to see stuff I’ve never met before and gather lots of information on colour, details and those visual elements that translate poorly at a resolution of 72dpi, or even in book-size photos.

In the meantime, I’ve gone through the stash & chosen the main fabrics for the gown and coat and the fur for the lining and the zibellino (the furpiece the countess is holding over her arm).

fabrics & furs for the Livia di Porto Thiene outfit project


  • The coat fabric is a grey/taupe cotton velveteen – apparently cotton velveteen is closer to what Renaissance velvets were than 21st century velvets. I’m hoping to be able to check this out while in Italy!
  • The gown fabric is dark green silk damask – to show the detail, I’ve made the scale bigger in the sketch than it is in real life
  • The fur lining will come from an tawny mink coat a friend found when clearing out his mother’s estate
  • The zibellino is a red fox fur I bought in a second-hand shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

Tempting as it is to get started making the outfit, this is as far as I’m going to go with the project until I come back from Italy!

Actually, that not quite true –  I’ve made the zibellino and am working on a detail that doesn’t show: stockings. As the countess is dressed for winter, she’s almost certainly wearing stockings.

I’ve used my imagination and am making a pair of knit red silk stockings in the style of the pair found in the tomb of Eleanora of Toledo. I dyed the yarn with cochineal and am waiting for it to dry. It looks like it’s going to be more towards purple than the red I was aiming for, so it’s going back in the dyepot tomorrow.

Stay tuned

* SCA – Society for Creative Anachronism


By | November 6th, 2014|costume, cotton, fur, Italy, SCA, silk, the stash, travel|Comments Off on Mining the stash part 2

Adding to the stash

Regardless of overstuffed storage space, the stash grows.

The Textile Museum of Canada Volunteers’For Love of Cloth” sale last weekend tested my resolve – and it crumbled a bit.

A pair of sample panels in this huge, gorgeous stylized carnation pattern that looks like it’s inspired by Ottoman ikats bushwhacked my resolve. They’re gorgeous; no idea what I’m going to do with them. They’re from Pierre Frey in Paris, and I discovered that one of the colourways is still available – one more yard would be enough to make a spectacular vest. However, when I found out that the fabric is $600/yard + tax + shipping, I gave that idea up. Maybe something parti-coloured!

My mission for going to the sale actually was to find a fabric to make the shell of a mink-lined vest. A couple of years ago I found a vintage mink vest with a the label of Simpson’s, a long-gone department store I used to shop at, and I bought it out of nostalgia.

The vest fits but it’s showing its age – bald spots around the arm holes and a couple of divots from moth-munches – so I decided to turn it into a vest lining.

I wanted a shell fabric that was lightweight and interesting, and lucked out with a sample panel of a toile de Jouy-like  cotton/silk damask.

Green and blue sample panel of cotton/silk damask in a toile de Jouy-like pattern










Now all I need to decide is whether I want to use the blue version or the green version…


By | October 21st, 2014|cotton, silk, Textile Museum of Canada, the stash|Comments Off on Adding to the stash

Mining the stash

I’m mining my fabric stash for next spring’s Ontario Society for Creative Anachronism Arts & Science competition. The plan is to use mostly what I have on hand, only buying new materials when there just isn’t anything in the stash that’s suitable.

A bit of background: the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international organization dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th century arts and skills, and the Arts & Science (A&S) competitions include all of those except the martial arts.

A&S costuming competition gets into some pretty extreme authenticity, using only natural materials like silk, linen and wool. Which can be financially challenging – hence the mining of the stash. Luckily, over the years I’ve run into some irresistible bargains that I figured would come in useful “someday”.

Well, “someday” is here!

I’m basing my entry on this 1552 Veronese portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene which is now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland:

1552 Veronese portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene currently in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
It’s not going to be an exact copy; for one thing, the colours that suit the Countess look dreadful on me, and for another, my local second-hand stores don’t run to sable, which is what the fur draped over her arm is. Or lynx, the lining in her coat.

So the excavation begins!

By | May 4th, 2014|costume, fur, medieval, museums, SCA, the stash|Comments Off on Mining the stash