The attendant’s blue dress (2)

I see it’s been a while since I attended to this. Busy with other things.

It’s tempting to think of an attendant as a servant, and therefore having very plain clothes, but where would be the fun in that? My attendant is going to be wearing the queen’s hand-me-downs, which in reality is probably what really happened. Probably.

I’m exploring a variety of different blues. Blue can be so many things – sky blue, sea blue, light blue, dark blue. Then it can have so many relations with other colours – turquoisey blue, purpley blue, browny-greyish blue. This page is a combination of seaside blues. That sample on the right-hand side is a lovely turquoise silk dupion, and is unfinished. I’ll come back to it later.

This circular motif is meant to be the decorative feature on the centre front of the dress, and was made by coiling silk sari yarn around itself onto a shibori/tie-dyed circle of very lightweight cotton, and then lightly stitching a very fine sparkly tulle over the top. The outline is a glittery chainette yarn couched down. From a distance it looks a little jewel-like, which is not quite what I intended originally, but which has kind of grown on me a bit. The Oseberg tomb was raided in antiquity, so all the queen’s jewellery was stolen long ago. It would be nice to restore at least the appearance of some of it in these pages.

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The attendant’s blue dress (1)

The woman buried with the queen on the Oseberg ship is generally thought of as her attendant. The second woman is thought to have been about 50, whereas the queen was much older. The attendant was wearing a blue dress, which I’m starting to imagine here. I’ve been making some fantasy fabric samples out of yarns and threads, and my very rough attempts at weaving have been a startling reminder of how long it takes to weave anything by hand without a loom. The Vikings would probably have used warp-weighted looms, but it’s a long and tedious process.

The page itself isn’t finished, and the samples range from about 1” x 2” to 3.5” square. Of course, this is just an exercise – an excuse, really – to play around with threads, just to see what could be made with them. I’ll be using standard woven silk and linen for the other samples. Just a reminder to myself that all fabric starts with thread, and that even thread has to be spun from something. The sample below (about 1.5” square) is woven using mono canvas as a kind of loom, which helps to keep the edges straight. The predominant thread is a very dark blue chenille yarn, almost impossible to photograph, but which has a very pleasing velvety texture.

The above sample is made with yarns, threads, and ribbons and is meant to represent something like a decorative woven band. The one below is linen yarn in both warp and weft, with a little added sparkle from a viscose chainette yarn.

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Laying out

I’m starting to put some of the bits and pieces together. The pages are about 11” square, with an extra inch for the binding margin. I’m covering squares of cartridge paper with fabric, which I’ll eventually fix back to back so that the reverse sides won’t be visible.

I originally planned a double page spread for the red dress, but I’ve ended up with far more than that so I’m now spreading out the red samples over four pages.

I also imagined another hem sample, which is sitting on a page with the earlier one:

I had lots of short lengths of green threads, which I ironed to a strip of bondaweb on cotton fabric. I like the way just laying down a lot of different threads creates a new and unusual fabric. I see now that it could do with a bit of a pressing with the iron to sort out those wonky lines. Funny how you have to look at photographs of things in order to see their imperfections. Not that there’s anything wrong with imperfect or wonky. I don’t know whether this is finished yet. I imagine the queen might request the addition of a few little beads…

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The queen’s red dress (5)

Another sample, this one about 8” square, imagining something around the neckline.

This is just collaged silk and cotton fabrics, with some very simple appliqué, embroidery, and couched threads.


Still sampling. On the embroidery frame at present, and in progress:

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The queen’s red dress (4)

Just a small sample, about 3” x 4”: couched threads and simple embroidery on silk.

I’m imagining it as the end of a cuff. That picot edging is something that was actually found on one of the Oseberg textiles, made by looping a thicker yarn across the edge and catching it down periodically with a couple of stitches.

I found it a bit fiddly, in terms of keeping it relatively neat and even, and had to undo and redo a couple of loops. The Viking example was smaller, finer, and much neater than my rather rough-looking effort. Thank goodness the queen isn’t real and will never have to see it 🙂

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The queen’s red dress (3)

Having now got all the threads in order, I’ve at last made some progress with the second sample. When I say progress, actually I mean finished. It’s often quite surprising, when you set out on a piece of work, that it turns out to be complete so much sooner than you expect. In this case, that’s probably because I worked on little bits of it in what few spare moments I had, so it was kind of finished by stealth. I’m imagining this sample as a bit of the lower border of the queen’s dress. This may not be entirely correct, as most authorities I’ve seen suggest that the Vikings didn’t have decorative hems. Well, they do in my little world.

This piece measures about 7” x 9” and is made up of layered strips of fabric, with some little bits of patchwork applied.

The strip across the centre was made by ironing a strip of red silk fabric to bondaweb, cutting out the little irregular diamond motifs, then layering the red strip onto some green cotton fabric. I found if I trimmed a bit off the cut-out shapes, I could then re-attach them to the cut-out centres, leaving that tiny green outline showing through from underneath. The edges are covered by couched yarn.

The rest of the decorative work is very simple: mostly couched yarns and running stitch, with a bit of seeding behind the patchwork triangles. I love that red silk.


Just one more tiny red sample to make, and then I can begin to assemble the first page.

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Diversion

OK, so I had to break the rule about not buying stuff. Yes, already. Well, what can you do? I needed more textured/shiny/glittery stuff for my Viking ladies. I like these space-dyed variety threads from Oliver Twists Fibres because you get a little of a lot, and when just a little is all you need, they’re perfect:

They look lovely in that twisty skein, but they’re impossible to use like that. Once you pull one thread out, you tend to end up with a chaotic heap of loveliness that tangles itself up the minute you turn your back on it, as you can see in the white pile on the left. I needed a way of organising the threads, just so that I could see what I’ve got. I have used those little card bobbins in the past, and still have a lot of threads that have been wound like that for many years. Largely, I don’t like them, for this reason:

I don’t like the creases. I like my thread to be smooth and straight. I don’t like that zig-zaggy effect it gets from being permanently pressed like that, and I worry about whether it weakens the thread. So I did a bit of lateral thinking and came up with this:

Plastic drinking straws, cut in half, with a slit cut into each end, make excellent thread bobbins. Who’d have thought it? The bendy end works just as well as the straight end, and very fine threads can be wound onto quarter-lengths. Of course now I want to do this with all my threads, so I’m taking a break while I focus on that.

I may be some time

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The queen’s red dress (2)

Flying past with a quick update: here is the first sample, which I’m imagining as perhaps a section of the hem of the red dress.

Various silk fabrics, with little tassels made from textured yarns. And yes, OK, the Vikings probably didn’t have tiny gold beads, but if they had, they’d have used them on everything. And in any case, this is entirely imaginative and any semblance to realism will probably have got quite out of hand by the time I’ve finished.

And now a collage of glorious red:

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The queen’s red dress (1)

The older of the two women interred in the Oseberg ship was wearing a red dress. She appears to have been important in her community, and, for the purposes of this project, I’m calling her a queen. The first little sample I’m making is a fragment of what might have been the cuff end of the sleeve of her dress. I’ve based the design on one of the Oseberg silk fabrics:

The drawing of the dress is done on watercolour paper and coloured with pencils and watercolour, then cut out so that I can position it somewhere on the finished page. It’s basically the shape of a Viking dress, though it appears to be doubtful that they would have decorated the hem in that way – but then this is a purely imaginative project, so I’m telling myself I can do what I like. It’s only for my amusement, so it doesn’t really matter too much if I go a bit rogue. 

Those little triangles on the design looked like patchwork to me. Scholarly opinion seems to state that the Vikings didn’t do patchwork, given that none has ever been found. This doesn’t seem logical to me. If fabrics were difficult to produce, and some were expensive, it seems obvious (to me, at least) that any Viking woman would sew small bits of fabric together to make something bigger rather than waste them. It’s true that the cutting pattern for dresses generated very little waste (it’s a bit like cutting out kimono, more or less a series of rectangles) but there’s always something left over, in my experience. Anyway, there’s my first major departure from accepted Viking technique. Pretty impressive, really, since I haven’t even started yet. Going back to the design, I thought I’d have a go. I wasn’t sure this would work, given that the triangles are about half a centimetre on their right-angled sides:

(Normal-sized glass-headed pin for scale). The fabrics are fine silk dupion and batik Pima cotton. It took a while, and a bit of concentration, but – well, of course it worked:

And now I’m having a rummage through a little pile of red.

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Oseberg Book One begins

Here’s the plan: two mixed media/cloth books based on the textile finds from the Oseberg ship burial. The first one will be to do with clothing; the second to do with home furnishings, linens, wall hangings, etc.

There is enough evidence to state that the two women buried in the ship were wearing, respectively, a red dress and a blue dress. There was also some sort of veil covering the older woman’s face, and there appears to have been a caftan-type open-fronted coat, with at least one fine shawl plus various other garments. In this first book, I plan to imagine fragments of these clothes. I’m not setting out to recreate anything realistic or full-size; I just want to explore bits of what might have been there, using fabrics and techniques that a Viking woman might broadly recognise.


The pages of these books will be a little larger than Excavations, at about 11″ square (ish). The front cover, barely begun, shows the spiral-headed prow of the ship, couched in brown wool. I didn’t have enough dark brown fabric so I had to improvise. I’m intending to complete this series with whatever I already have in because I don’t want to buy more stuff. Let’s see how far I get with that.

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