I’ve written a short article on the value of entering the medieval mindset when re-enacting, rather than merely “medievalising” modern concepts and material goods (something I call the “Gilligan’s Island approach” to re-enacting). Click the link below to read and download the article.
This was actually the most difficult challenge. The Baronial coronet is slightly too large for me and has no means of attaching padding inside, and in the setting of the step-down of the previous Baroness followed by my own investiture shortly afterwards there was no way to make it fit. The only option was to use a hairstyle or headwear that created a roll for the coronet to sit on to stop it slipping down. I also needed to attach the hanging strings of pearls to this roll as I could not attach them directly to the coronet.
The extant images below (and numerous others available on line) show several alternatives: hair parted in the centre and fastened at the back, styled to create extra volume at the sides; a headscarf or veil which is wound to create a padded roll at the edge, or a jewelled padded roll. It is difficult to tell for certain if this latter “padded roll” is made of fabric or is just hair wrapped with jewels – none of the carvings seem to show hair-like details, but in the mosaic of Empress Theodora the roll is brown and could be hair.
My own hair is not very long and is very fine and difficult to style, so using a hairstyle was not an option unless I modified one of my hairpieces, which I decided against due to lack of time. The veil/roll option tended to slip, so the easiest option was to use an existing padded roll and attach the praependulia to this using earring hooks. The roll I had was not quite right – it should have been a little fatter and with vertical decoration instead of spiral, but it served the purpose. I will attempt some of the alternatives when I have time. Below is the final effect with the coronet in place.
From the extant images and archaeological research, it would appear that the earlier Byzantine “collar” (chrysomanikion?) is a piece of jewellery, and the later, broader version is jewelled onto a textile or gilded leather base similar in style and decoration to the loros. The images and extant neckpiece below all date to the 6th century.
The images below are all later in date and show the collar’s similarity to the loros. All these examples also include a pniktarion (choker).
I had initially planned to use some fabric which had a cream raw silk warp and metallic weft, but the overall effect was much too pale, so I resorted to (shock! horror!) gold lamé. I placed a layer of thin bamboo wadding underneath for a softer effect, and in retrospect I should have added a further layer of firmly woven fabric to stop the beadwork from stretching the collar out of shape. I based the colour palette of gold, pearl, blue and purple on a selection of Byzantine jewellery. I have used pearls, glass and metal beads and other jewellery elements including some lapis-inlaid pieces taken from an Afghani necklace.
To make the collar I started with a circular toile slightly more than shoulder width across, with a close-fitting neck hole cut out. The slope of the shoulders was adjusted to fit by pinning, the depth of the collar made even all the way around, and the centre back marked. This toile was then used to create a single piece collar with an underlap at the centre back. The collar is fastened with metal hooks and thread eyes. The weight of the collar keeps it under tension and stops it from coming undone. The neck edge was bound in bias tape made from the same blue silk as the sleeve lining, and a row of flat blue glass beads next to that. This would help to blend the join with the pniktarion. Next I did the beaded fringe, which was a mistake, because all the subsequent beading got tangled in the fringe as I was sewing it. I also erred in beading the fringe directly onto the collar instead of onto a ribbon header, which meant that when I decided that the collar was ever so slightly too wide it was too difficult to change it. The fringe beading technique is shown below. It is important to put in a locking stitch every 1-2 dangles so that you won’t lose too many if the thread ever breaks.
An alternative to two-thread couching which is better for large beads is backstitch. I used an upside-down version of backstitching to help keep the pearls in line better. This is less flexible than normal backstitching. The crooked rows of my pearls are the result of the pearls being too closely spaced + tension too tight + fabric stretching + no underlayer of padding stitching. I am planning to re-do all the lines of pearls at a later date.
The bead work combines several beads in clusters to create the effect of single larger jewels. It also incorporates a Stormhold Baronial commendation I had received previously (loosely tacked on so I can remove it again) and carved stone leaves in a laurel wreath for my membership of the Order of the Laurel. One tip for getting nice smooth curves when outlining is to use tiger tail or similar stiff beading thread/wire for the stringing thread, and couch at interval of 2-3 pearls. I’ll probably add additional outlining pearls later. The beauty of beadwork is that you can keep adding to it.
The pniktarion is the choker part of an Afghani necklace which was the source of the lapis jewels. The dangly part of this necklace was quite wide and had never looked right on me because I have a fat neck and it only went about 2/3 of the way round. Instead I added some blue glass pendant leaf beads which blended with the blue beads on the flat part of the collar to visually link the two. It still needs a cloth backing put on. I could then also add some additional beads to hide the bare segment. (Addit: I have since discovered that only the Empress wore a pniktarion, so I will leave that out of the ensemble in future).
Next: part 4 – headwear
The delmatikion and himation are both very simple pieced garments based on rectangles and triangles. Both garments have been cut so that they will just fit over my head and no neck closure is required unlike extant examples which have a neck closure. Depending on your cutting layout, you can either cut the sleeves as single pieces, or add the flared bit separately and piece them with a seam along the flared edge of the sleeve, or insert a square folded in half diagonally. I tend to sew my side panels so that the bias is against the centre panel and the side seams are on the straight grain of the fabric. This also creates a curved hemline so the garment doesn’t droop at the sides.
The delamatikion is made of a blue/gold (Stormhold colours) shot damask which looks like silk but is actually polyester (I think it is designed as the lining fabric for fur coats). Because it was so thin, I used a heavyweight mid-blue rayon from my stash to give it more body, except for the sleeves which were lined with bright blue silk recycled from an op-shop dress. The damask and the rayon were cut out and each pattern piece sewn together (with a walking foot to avoid fabric slippage) so that they would act as one layer. It is VERY VERY important to prewash the fabrics and pin the two layers together with no tension, otherwise you will end up with ugly puckering and bagginess along the seams of the finished garment. I had to do a bit of unpicking and re-sewing before I was satisfied.
The sleeve was made in two separate layers and sewn together so that all the raw edges were hidden. One problem I have noticed in flared sleeves is that the lining tends to stretch along the bias and slip out at the cuff. To prevent this the lining is sewn with very small stitches ( as invisible as you can make them) along the cuff and along the bias seamline.
The himation is a single layer of a lightweight purple silk/wool blend, obtained as a remnant of 2.8m which was just enough for the garment . The seams are machine sewn and hand felled, with hand-finished hems, cuffs and neckline. The fabric is beautifully soft and warm, but disappointingly it is already starting to pill in areas of friction.
Underneath I wore a sleeveless chemise (esophorion). This is not correct for the period – it should have been long-sleeved – but my himation sleeves were already a little tight.
Beaded and pearled bands: below are some extant examples from the 12th century (not from Byzantium, but the technique is the same). They combine goldwork, jewels, enamelled plaques and couched pearls. The best effect is obtained by using very small pearls (2-3mm) in single or double rows to outline other elements of the design. Using larger pearls will be faster but will just not achieve the same look. One thought I had which I may look into when I have time, was that you could use the enamelled plaques from better-quality souvenir teaspoons, particularly the heraldic ones, if people were not going to look too closely – just drill a few tiny sewing holes around the edge.
The sleeve bands have a base of heavy gold braid. The green leaf-shaped beads arranged into crosses had holes for sewing as droplets rather than flat so they are couched onto the braid. The metallic beads are sewn on using metallic gold thread – I’m not sure how durable this will be in the long run. Because of the huge number of pearls involved I used faux pearls bought in bulk. They are threaded onto and couched with Gütermann polyester buttonhole/ upholstery thread. The diagram below shows couching between every single pearl, but you can get away with doing every second or third one with small pearls. I’ve made mine a little too close together and couched too tightly, which causes the rows of pearls to buckle. I have also skipped the base layer of padding thread described in the links in the previous post, and this has probably contributed to a messier appearance (oh well, next time). The bands do not go all the way around the sleeve. This is what was suggested by Timothy Dawson’s research, and has the advantage that the band won’t rub on anything held by your side.
The front strips were cut from a vintage sari with metal sequins. The fabric was quite thin, so it was sewn to a backing fabric of black cotton before the pearls were couched on. The pearl work on these was all done by a friend of mine (with many, many thanks from me because I would not have finished the garment otherwise).
I could also have added decorated bands on the sleeve edge and along the hem. I may go back and do the sleeves, but will probably not do the hem, due to the risk of damage in the absence of minions to carry me over any dirty bits of ground.
I would have liked jewelled cuffs like the extant enamelled gold examples below, but had to settle for a simpler decorated fabric cuff – with couched gold cord and pearls – worn with stretchy jewelled bracelets over the top. The base is a strip from a geometric gold/purple brocade. The gold cord is designed for tying parcels and has ‘do not wash’ instructions, but I have used it on other garments previously and it seems to wash well. It is ideal for defining lines and decorative elements and for adding additional texture to flat gold. In the past I have couched it around plain glass beads to make them seem like jewels in a gold setting. It is also very easy to machine couch using metallic gold machine embroidery thread and a zigzag stitch with a cording foot which has a groove underneath to allow the thickness of the cord to pass under it. The cuffs are hand couched. Unfortunately the stiffness of the cuff and the size necessary to get over my hand detracts from the softness of the underlying fabric, so I will probably remove the cuffs and make them into separate bands that fasten tightly around my wrists.
Next: part 3 – the collar
I was recently chosen to be the new Baroness of Stormhold, a great honour particularly as all the Baronial positions in Lochac have been held by a couple after the very first Baroness in Lochac, Mistress Rowan Peregrynne, held the position solo. Although my usual persona is 14th century Italian, I have always wanted to try Byzantine and wear an enormous amount of bling, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. I should note here that I have not been fastidious about keeping all the items in my outfit from the same time period, aiming to create more of a general effect than a precise re-creation. This should be kept in mind if you intend to be more accurate in your own research.
I started by looking for pictures of suitable clothing and jewellery, and located some quite useful websites for the technical information on Byzantine clothing in general, and also on some of the particular sewing and beading techniques. Researching Byzantine clothing can be very confusing, as during different periods similar-looking items may have different names, and an item of clothing or a particular form of decoration which is in common usage in one period may be used solely for ceremonial purposes in a later period.
The most useful websites were:
http://www.levantia.com.au/ - Timothy Dawson’s site, which has lots of his professional research plus some booklets on Byzantine clothing and footwear which you can buy online.
Also this website http://members.multimania.co.uk/palacecompany/gallery.htm The link to ‘regalia’ has a description of the zoste patrikia regalia.
http://cathyscostumeblog.blogspot.com.au/search/label/Byzantine Cathy Raymond’s blog (linked just to the Byzantine bits)
http://www.katarynas.net/SCA/Dragoslava/DRusOzherlya-Collar.html Kataryna’s Ukrainian/Rus Costume Research, which has a beautiful goldwork and pearl Rus collar and hat made by her.
http://www.goldschp.net/SIG/slovo/news38.html SLOVO Slavic interest group newsletter, with an article on pearl couching
http://www.sca-russian.com/pearls.html All Things Russian website, with information and pictures on pearl couching
http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/research_publications_series/research_publications_online/byzantine_jewellery.aspx British Museum link to ”Intelligible Beauty: recent research on Byzantine jewellery” (downloadable for free as individual articles)
I also created a Pinterest board with all the images I liked, to act as a style sheet.
I read through Tim Dawson’s research, and noted his particular gripe about people choosing to make items of clothing which their rank would not entitle them to wear, such as a loros – the long gold-and-jewelled drape (red on the reverse) which hangs down the front to hem level, and in the back is long enough to wrap around to the front, in men being draped over the left arm, and in women forming a shield-shaped end (thorakion) which is tucked in at the belt – which is seen in nearly all portraits of the Emperor and Empress but in reality is worn by them only at their coronation and on certain ceremonial occasions such as Easter Sunday, and by a select group of other officials on somewhat fewer specific occasions.
I found that the closest Byzantine equivalent to the position of a solo Baroness was the Zoste Patrikia, a personal attendant to the Empress and head of the women’s court, who was the only female courtier to hold a rank in her own right rather than simply by being married to a male courtier and the only female courtier permitted to eat at the Emperor’s table. The position was normally held by a member of the Empress’ family, but there is a contemporary reference to Princess Olga of Kiev being invested during her visit to Constantinople in the 10th century . The zoste patrikia wears a garment with two decorated bands down the front (stikharion delmatikion). Her title derives from the zoste (belt or girdle) she wears, probably referring to a loros, as she is one of the few courtiers entitled to wear one, including on the occasion of her investiture.
The general style I ended up aiming for was this: a brocade stikharion delmatikion with two decorated bands down the front and sleeves flared from the elbow with decorated bands on the upper sleeve over a narrow-sleeved himation with decorated cuffs, a jewelled collar, a jewelled choker (pniktarion) – although it was probably incorrect to wear this as it only ever seems to be seen in depictions of the Empress – and pearl praependulia (paired strings of pearls framing the face with decorated ends). Even though I could have worn a loros, and even made it part of the investiture ceremony, I decided against it because I did not have enough jewels and pearls to do it justice.
Next: part 2 – the delamatikion and its decoration
The nib holder inserts that I ordered from Stiles and Bates arrived the other day, so I thought I’d have a go at making a calligraphy pen on my lathe to test them out. This is the first thing I’ve made since installing the new motor. The timber is from a scrap piece of chair leg and has quite a coarse grain, not really suitable for this purpose, but it meant I didn’t have to rough it out first. First I drilled a 6mm hole for the nib holder, then mounted the timber in the lathe and turned it. I forgot to allow for the waste I’d have to cut off at each end, so the handle is a bit short, but the nib insert fitted nicely and the pen is lovely to hold.
Now to experiment with some different timbers and designs and put them up for sale!
I browse the internet a lot, and keep a big album of all the pictures that interest me, so that when I come across something in an op shop that looks promising, I snap it up. I recently found these children’s sunglasses which look almost like medieval frames in shape, so this weekend I decided to have a go at modifying the shape and removing the tinted lenses so that I can fit some prescription lenses.
I removed the side arms and, using a combination of a small saw and some files, reshaped the bridge and removed the bumps from the nosepieces. I then cut off the part with the side arm attachment and carefully cut up the centre of the little stump that was left to remove the lenses. The lenses are circular, 38mm diameter.
This is the result after shaping the split part so that is can be wired shut again. I’ll use the old lenses as a template to cut down an old set of prescription lenses, and I’ll post again once I’ve got these to fit. If this pair works out they’ll do as a temporary solution while I play around with making some more authentic frames. Frame material options include horn, wood (particularly boxwood), bone and leather. Horn will be easy enough, I already have some horns, and if these are not thick enough I’ll track some down thick horn salad spoons from an op shop. Bone may be more difficult – the best piece is the metacarpal bone, and I don’t think that’s a piece that makes it to retail butchers. (I’ll add this to my wishlist along with the calves feet I recently needed for jellymaking, which were impossible to source retail in Melbourne). I’d probably have to import boxwood. Leather would be very easy to source but I don’t like the style of the leather eyeglass frames as much. I’ll probably get my optometrist to cut a set of lenses to size once I’m happy with the final frames.