Historical Sew fortnightly #13 Under $10
Challenge #13: Whip up a fabulous item for under $10
My secret santa person was Cathrin ”Katafalk” Åhlén.
A person who I admire and who is a amazing seamstress. What in the earth could I make her? Well, luckily for me, Cathrin does not know everything, and I was told that tablet weaving wasn’t really her thing. It’s really not my thing either, but I can handle it and have made a couple of things with it.
So I decided to make a tablet wowed belt. In the summer-gift-game you have to present some documentation of what you have based your gift on etc. So here follows the documentation and thoughts about Cathrins belt.
”Jesus Christ and his blessed mother, of royal blood They were tough, never thought of wearing the belts of silk, gold and silver fashionable Among wealthy women”
– Gilles d’Orlean, priest in 1200s Paris
Belts have a practical function. The belt can be used by a working woman to hook up the dress or attach a bag in. Almost every social class used belts at least some times. In 1363 there were laws about who got to wear what, and for example the law stated that ”linen girdles [were] for ploughmen” (Dress Accessories s35). However, it is important to see the belt as something anyone could have and that they could look very different. The poor wore belts that were simple as possible and the rich had as nice as possible. Beautiful decorated belts could be a suitable dowry. Giovanni Boccaccio writes in his book ”The Decameron” (1353) that a woman received such a belt, and a few rings, the bridal gift.
Materials and appearance
Women wore their belt at the hip. The strap was stuck in a knot at the buckle and then hung down along with your legs. Through the artwork and finds you can see that they have often been long (about 170 centimeters) and narrow (about 1-2 cm). Belts were made primarily in four materials: leather, woven, embroidered fabric and pure metal. The poorest persons belts was of course very simple. They were usually made of leather and had possibly just a buckle and no strap end. Bockstensmannen, who is often classified as an ”ordinary 1300’s man”, wore a simple leather belt. It had belt buckle, but do not seem to have had a strap end at all. In Luttrell psalter there are pictures of working men who have simple undecorated belts. 1397 the rich Italian lady Margherita Datini asked her husband about getting two leather belts, one black and one blue, both of which have buckles in silver. She writes that she likes the heavier and wider belts before the narrow, modern and her husband writes to her that ”if Margherita want to wear it as peasant women wear so it is acceptable.” (Rosalies Medieval Woman)
The woven belt
There are finds of woven belts from all around the 14th century. Some of the finds are extravagant, woven in silk with many mounts and pretty strap-ends and buckles. Many are extremely well preserved and is now in different museums. When aiming for the last half of the 14th century, some of the finds have many mounts. The woven band is often very complex and beautiful.
This belt is from Italy. It It is a very beautiful and ornamented belt. The fabric is barely visible from the outside because of the different fittings that are placed on the woven base. This belt can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The belt fittings are made of a special kind of enamel technique called ”Lower taille”. The Lower Taille allows the silver to shine through the translucent enamel on the belt. Without knowing very much about the user, we can at least say that this is a very lavish belt.
Note: These two pictures was first presented as two belts. After studying them some more I realized that it’s the same belt, only presented twice (front/back) in the museum. My misstake.
This second belt is ”Eric of Pomerania’s belt”. It can be found at the National Museum in Copenhagen. It was found sometime in the 1800s in a basement in Denmark and the different parts of the belt has been dated to somewhere between 1200 to mid 1400. The belt is dated to somewhere between early 13th century- early 14th century, while the strap end and belt buckle belong in the mid 15th century. This actually only confirms that weave in silk is very durable, maybe even as durable as leather, since the user found it as a good idea to use it so many years after it was made with a new strap-end and buckle. The colors used were originally green, red and blue. The belt I call ”belt no 1” has some similarities in patterns with Erik of Pomerania’s Belt.
During excavations in London (often called just the ”London Findings”), the archeologist found as many as 10 different belts and belt fragments. In this context it is not so much, especially as London finds contains so much finds on other areas such as for example strap-ends. The belts found there were made of silk (eight pieces), worsted (one) and silk and worsted (one).
One of the belt findings is described in Dress Accessories. It is a relatively small single band woven in silk in two colors: pink and greenish yellow. The band is striped and woven with twelve tablets. It’s very thin, only 0.85 inches wide. How long it was when it was used is difficult to way because only fragments remain of the belts. The small fragment is dated to the 13th-14th century. Compared with many other findings, it is relatively simple in its design. The small portion has three small seizures in bronze.
Dune belt, Gotland
There are a fragmental find from Gotland which is also interesting. It is the so-called Dune-belt. Today it can be found at the Historical Museum in Stockholm, and it was probably woven with octagonal tablets and dates to the mid 1300s. It is believed that it was buried roughly around 1361 when Valdemar Atterdag took Gotland, and many Gotlanders lost their lives first at the battle of Mästerby and then the battle of Visby. The belt is – like the London find – in pieces. It is in five pieces, more particularly, and there are 30 small mounts in sterling silver (silver-gilt). Nowadays it’s brown, but it was from the beginning multicolored. Exactly what colors are hard to tell. Several archaeologists have looked at the pattern and one theory is that the belt originally had a pattern with different diamond shapes.
Cathrin’s belt is made out of wool yarn. I have talked a lot about silk belts, but the limit for the ”summer-gift-game” was 50 SEK ($7,30), and therefore I had to use something else than silk. There are finds that are in wool with a weft in silk. So that’s what I did. The wool is red and green three-threaded yarn. The silk is a 36 threaded silk in a nice green color. The silk was something I had home, and I bought the yarns from my local yarn shop in Karlskrona. They were on sale and cost me 28 SEK each.
Setting up the warp took me almost two hours. In my defense, I did some mistakes and took care of a one year old toddler at the same time. Well, here it’s finally finished and looks nice.
After this it was just a go! The pattern comes from the way you warped up the treads, so you can do the weaving without thinking since you just turn all the tablets 1/4 laps every time. Piece of cake, really. The weaving took me about 6 hours. I tried not to go on max speed because I wanted to make the belt as even as possible. Even though I thought of it all the time, the width of the belt differs from 1,3- 1,4 centimeters. But I’m very satisfied with the result.
The Challenge: Under $10
Fabric: No fabric, but wool and silk yarn. A belt buckle
Pattern: A 12-tablet simple pattern.
Year: the second half of the 14th century
Notions: Silk yarn as weft.
How historical accurate is it? Pretty much. The yarns are correct, the pattern is correct. You can never be 100 % accurate, but I think I’m pretty close on this one.
Hours to complete: Around 9 hours
First worn: Never. It’s a gift.
Total cost: Two yarns that cost 28 SEK each, 54 SEK in total. That would be $7,90.