About dangerous business

Boy, do I have a story for you today! It involves mystery, murder and… a latrine…

Allow me to take you back to the beautiful year of 1076. Yes, the days without proper indoor plumbing. I realise that doesn’t sound very romantic, and trust me it gets worse, much worse.

Private toilets, also called privvies, were not common for regular people like you and me but larger castles and manor houses had lavatories built to the outside walls of their dwellings. The result was, as you may know, that the feces and urine ended up in a cesspit below.

A fine gentleman, named Godfrey the Hunchback, Duke of Lower Lorraine was enemies with Dirk V, Count of Holland. Why? Well, according to Dirk Godfrey was supporting the wrong side, so enter a hired hit man.

Or, in this case, hired stab man who was enlisted to assassinate Godfrey. The assassin climbed up till right under the privvy and when Godfrey was doing his business he was stabbed with a spear. Yes, you’ve got it right: stabbed where the sun doesn’t shine. Godfrey died of his injuries roughly a week later. The killer was never found.

Bring some back-up next time you need a pit-stop…

Skjoldehamn Undertunic 2

Hi all, it has been a weird few weeks for me in which there were quite a few curveballs. But hey, that is called life, and there will always be times in my life when bronchitis is on the agenda and nothing else. I got through it! And I am back to my Skjoldehamn project. So, come & sit (you DO have a coffee, right?) and I will show you!

Perhaps you remember from my earlier post on this tunic, that I still had to create the stand up collar and front ‘bib’. Well, the tunic is finished and again I used left over fabric for these collar & bib pieces.

Here are a few photos of the finished undertunic.

I learned quite a few things here! Of course, I kept an eye on the 1st goal of this project, i.e. making garb from cheap thrifted (or donated) fabric so that aspiring historical crafters can make something that doesn’t break the bank.

The 2nd goal being a go-to set of clothes for myself to use in the kitchen at events or to use while running around at events.

The fabric for the tunic was donated and the collar was made from a leftover bit I still had at home. What have I learned? This was the first stand up collar I ever made and in retrospect, it would have been better if I hadn’t cut the neck opening as deep as I had, because this feels a bit too wide. I am not unhappy how it turned out, I just could have done better. Also, the colours are much too pale on me, BUT you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right? It is a good idea to replace the collar and bib at some point with a coloured linen.

Because I will use this set for kitchen work at events, I have decided to look for second hand linen to make a 2nd undertunic. After a day of hard work & cooking it’ll be great to put on a clean tunic! The next step is the breeches, fingers crossed I can find fabric 😉

The Saint John’s Fern

This is a new category on my blog, and one that I had in mind from the beginning but it is only now that I have found a good book to start with.

The Saint John’s Fern by Kate Sedley

Allow me to introduce you to Roger the Chapman, a former Benedictine monk, turned pedlar & mystery solver. “The Saint John’s Fern” is the 9th book in the series about Roger the Chapman, published in 1999. The first Roger the Chapman book was published in 1991 and the last on in 2013. There are 22 books in this series by Kate Sedley.

Kate Sedley, the pseudonym of Brenda Margaret Lilian Honeyman Clarke (born 1926) is an English historical novelist. She is 95 years old and still active as a writer! Now that is a life goal if ever I saw one!

The Story

Master Capstick, a rich old man, is beaten to death. His nephew Beric is seen leaving the scene, covered in blood, and has since vanished. Where could the culprit be? It has been 5 months since the crime and the murderer has yet to be arrested. It is a real mystery where he could be. Roger the Chapman doesn’t like murderers, even worse if they get away with it.

The local people, quick to fall back on the witchcraft of their ancestors, blame the Saint John’s fern, which if eaten can make a man invisible. Roger, already responsible for solving many difficult mysteries (remember this is book 9 in the series), suspects that there is a more obvious answer and begins his own inquiries.

These books give you double the fun: lots of good cultural and social, as well as historical, detail about Medieval England and really fun puzzle/murder mysteries. It helps that the main character is a clever man with a good head on his shoulders, and now a chapman (travelling salesman) has some worldly knowledge as well. Yet, his opponents manage to fool him (and you as the reader). A good and fun read till the end.

Monkey business

Today, I am going to take you to our capitol Amsterdam. There aren’t many 16th century houses in the city anymore, but this one is quite remarkable and worthy of a post.

Between 1544 and 1550 a house was built on the Zeedijk, in the heart of the city. The Zeedijk is one of the oldest streets in Amsterdam, and the mixture of old houses with monumental gables and the nostalgic atmosphere make it a real tourist attraction. Mind you, it wasn’t always a happy place. Back when I was attending Amsterdam University in the late 80s -early 90s, the Zeedijk was a place you wanted to avoid with a passion.

The house, at number 1 Zeedijk, can be found on a 1544 map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz. Back then it was an inn where sailors could stay for a few nights. The second and third floor had ample space for the sailors; hammocks were hung on the beams to create enough sleeping space for them. Their payment, if they were short on cash, was often a monkey or other animal, which they had taken home from their travels to more exotic places. The innkeeper could then sell the monkeys to rich citizens to settle the bill. The café is therefore appropriately called “In ‘t Aepjen” meaning In The Monkey.

Now… mind you, those monkeys quite often were covered in fleas. The customers left the inn scratching the flea bites. We still have a saying in Dutch “in de aap gelogeerd’ meaning ‘staying with the monkeys’; referring to something that looks like a good deal but turns out bad for you.

picture: Wikpedia

About my garb, part 2

This post is really about one lady, and one lady only, and no she isn’t me! Have a seat, you will enjoy this if you appreciate archaeology and early garb. Make a cup of coffee!

In 1995-96 a small settlement from the Roman era was excavated near Castricum. There aren’t many settlements unearthed from this era, and so the find was quite unique. The archaeologists found several human remains, neatly buried on a small grave field. One skeleton was closeby, but in a different spot and hastily buried in a shallow grave.

Lab tests showed this was a woman between 25 and 30 years old. The archaeologists named her Hilde. Hilde lived in Castricum around 400 C.E. Around her neck they discovered glass beads filled with gold leaf, as part of a necklace. It isn’t clear whether she was buried with her clothes on, as there were no textiles found in the grave.

DNA testing showed she was not related to the others found neatly buried inthe grave field. The chemical composition of her bones indicated she was born and raised in modern day Eastern Germany. It is unclear how her life ended.

Because the skeleton and head were mostly intact, it was fairly easy to do a facial reconstruction. I love the fact they turned the lady into a strawberry blonde, although there isn’t much proof of that.

Here again, the clothing is based on finds from other parts of The Netherlands and Germany. And my copy of the underdress and peplos-style overgown.

I don’t have a large weaving loom, so the cloak you see here that Hilde is wearing isn’t something I can make yet. I do have another cloak of coarse wool, with a tablet woven trim. The same goes for the beads from Hilde’s necklace, I haven’t found them so I am wearing amber instead.

Source: Huis van Hilde

About my garb, part 1

This is post is long overdue. Well, I think it is. Not that I *need* to explain myself but garb is quite fundamental for your persona. I have already dedicated a post to the name Ava van Allecmere, which you can read here. It seems only fair I now write about why my garb is late iron age/early medieval.

When I returned to the SCA in 2011 I really wanted to stay close to home with the name and the garb. My persona’s name is from the 10th century and luckily I already knew quite a bit about the early middle ages in terms of clothing. For the first few years my garb was generic medieval, if you will, there was a huge lack of direction but that is actually ok. But then in 2015 a museum called Huis van Hilde opened its doors and that gave me basically everything I needed.

The museum focuses on the archaeology of the province of Noord Holland. Not only are excavated pots, swords and other household goods on display, they have an awesome collection of fully clothed human figures, recreated after excavated bones. This in itself is spectacular, simply because the area is below sea level and was, at times, often heavily flooded. Most of the ancient treasures simply disappears. There certainly isn’t a wealth of excavated material, but we must make do with what is found.

The map on the left is where my home province is situated in The Netherlands. The map on the right shows you the province in detail and in red our capitol Amsterdam, in green Alkmaar, where I was born… I will stop saying that, you know that by now.

The blue dots are the towns of Velsen, Castricum, Heiloo, Uitgeest and Hippolytushoef where excavated human remains combined with some splendid textile finds, resulted in the basis for my garb. Allow me to tell you more!

  1. The first one, is the body of a young child found in Uitgeest around 1983. Carbon dating tells us he was buried around 100 b.c., so we are talking late Iron Age. The dna confirmed it was a boy, who was given the name Aak. He was about 9 years old and 1,30m tall. It is unknown what caused his death. Here you can see the boy on display at the museum and my version of his tunic.
The boy’s skeleton found in 1983

Although there weren’t any textiles found in this particular grave, the costume department at the museum created a tunic for him. I am not sure which examples they used, it is possible this creation is based on the Lendbreen tunic as this is close in age, but much further geographically.

Now, bear with me. The Frisians, expert weavers from the 7th century onwards, were know for their *Pallia Fresonica* which even made Charlemagne greedy. This tunic is basic enough to be somewhat credible, but I am still looking for evidence. That said, even I have to wear something at events, so on the right you can see my version. I am finishing the outfit with a copy of the Huldremose skirt, which is from the same era. This photo dates from 2018, I have since lost this skirt and am in the process of making a new & better one!

2. In 1972 archaeologists found traces of a battle between Romans and Frisians in the town of Velsen. It is known from historical sources that the Frisians revolted against the Romans in the year 28 c.e. In the year 47 the Romans left the province for good. Based on finds discovered in the immediate area, one of the warriors was reconstructed this way. On the right, my copy of a blue wool tunic (albeit a bit vague…). Again, we can see the beautiful plaid weaving Pallia Fresonica.

3. Again in the town of Velsen, a thigh bone of a female was found in what used to be a bog. The remains of a willow tree were found as well and archeologists suspect the tree was sacred in honour of the Germanic god Wodan. Several artefacts were found as well, like pots, animal bones, antlers, a bronze bracelet and a cloak pin, all dated between 100-200 C.E.

The thigh bone was used to recreate the woman, and her face… no that isn’t me, but she looks a lot like one of my archaeology friends! The dress is made after a find in Germany from the same era. On the right you see 2 of my dresses, linen and wool.

Part 2 will be posted next week!

Source: Huis van Hilde

Skjoldehamn Undertunic

I can’t remember when I last wrote about this project. It has been quite some time, I know that much. The thing with lockdowns is that shops are closed, as you know, and that the thrift stores were hit as well, as in not being able to go there to find the much needed fabric for this project.

Somewhere in October of this year, I got the word out to all of my fabric friends that this project was on involuntary hold and that I would be happy to buy left over fabric from them, in exchange for some cash or a Tudor Cheese Tart. This, sadly, went nowhere and I wondered if I should pause the project until the unforeseeable future, that is until AFTER the plague.

Then my husband went to pick up something at a friend’s house and came back with the items wrapped in a large sheet of cream coloured poplin. Big enough for sewing, but were they willing to part with it? A phonecall answered that question and the fabric was mine! YAY!

I know, I know, poplin is far from authentic material for historical clothing, but the goal of the project was to make something that *looks* authentic and is affordable. Perhaps you remember that my budget was €40 (roughly $46). The colour was good enough, but the material…. I didn’t debate with myself for very long though, this was going to be my Skjoldehamn undertunic. I also want to use this as *work garb* for events, running around, helping out in the kitchen. I figured poplin would at least survive food stains and the obligatory turn in the washing machine thereafter…

I went to look for the academic master thesis by Dan Lovlid but the Academia.edu no longer features it, so I cannot show you the pages I have used for this undertunic. I have a copy at home, of course! Yikes, another setback! Now what?? How can I link & share this with you? I did find the English summary but that isn’t entirely what I was looking for in terms of demonstrating where I found what exactly. The original thesis is more elaborate and has therefore more details on the excavated garments.

Well, I am not giving up! I have fabric, and I SHALL create the undertunic. There, I’ve said it. I went a-googling for a few moments and found several websites with patterns for the untertunic, this one should work best for you if you want to recreate with me: https://www.medieval-baltic.us/skjold.html

If you DO happen to have a copy of the original thesis, please go to page 81, titled Skjorta. Being the plus size goddess that I am (ahem…) I had to ignore the measurements because it would nowhere near fit me. On page 83 is a diagram/pattern of the undertunic.

Diagram Skjoldehamn undertunic

A, B, C and D, E, F are the side gores. When I made these, they didn’t sit comfortably, so I left one side gore out, leaving 2 on either site. Hereunder what I have come up with. I took very careful measurements of myself and then cut the fabric. Front panel, back panel, 4 side gores, 2 sleeves and 2 gussets. The long seams are machine sewn, the visible seams were done with linen thread in light brown.

I have yet to decide on how to do the collar and *front flap*, but I will figure that out soon, here is what the actual excavated garment looked like, on page 97 of the Master’s thesis.

The original budget that I gave myself was €40.

  • The hood cost me €3,50,
  • The socks were made of old left over white wool I still had,
  • The trim for the breeches was also made from left overs,
  • The fabric for the undertunic was a gift
  • The fabric for the breeches cost me €6 (I still have to start sewing those!)

I have €30,50 left right now and I still need to make

  • Woolen overtunic, fingers crossed I can find wool but I could now spend a bit more….
  • Woven belt

Egmond Abbey

If you follow this blog, then you perhaps also are familiar with my first blog post about how I developed my medieval alter ego Ava van Allecmere. In short, I was born in that area and the abbey of Egmond church books were the source of my SCA persona.

The abbey in Egmond still is one of my favourite museums and it is high time I devote a blogpost to it!

In the first half of the 8th century Saint Adelbert arrives in the area which we now know as North Holland. He was a companion of Saint Willibrord. Legends say that Adelbert was the son of king Egilbert of Sussex, who had renounced all his rights to the throne and became a missionary. After his death, Adelbert is buried in a wooden chapel in Egmond.

In the first half of the 10th century, Dirk 1 the count of Holland built a convent in Egmond, thus creating the oldest convent in The Netherlands. The nuns’ sole purpose was to pray for the health of the count’s family. Saint Adelbert’s bones were transferred to the convent in 922, at the request of a nun named Wilfsit. It is believed a well with healing water started to appear very soon after. It is a shame there is no more information on Wilfsit.

The nunnery became famous because of the well and attracted many pilgrims. Of course, in 950 the nuns were *moved* and replaced by monks. Now, why doesn’t that surprise me? Mansplaining medieval style….

Well of Saint Adelbert, Source: Meertens Instituut

Most of what we know about Adelbert comes from the monk Ruopert of Mettlach. At the end of the 10th century, Egbert, bishop of Trier and son of Count Dirk II of Holland, sent Ruopert to Egmond to record the local stories about Adelbert. Ruopert processed these traditions into a “Vita Sancti Adalberti” ( biography).

Around the year 975 a fire destroyed the box that contained the bones of St. Adelbert. A piece of parchment, dated from around that same time, was found in Egmond in 1983. It is believed to have been created after the fire for the new box with what was left of St. Adelbert’s remains. It reads: ‘Hic requiescunt membra sancti Adhelberti confessoris Christi‘ (These are the bones of Saint Adalbert, follower of Christ).

Source: Meertens Instituut

The old & first convent no longer exists. It was demolished in 1573, during the Spanish Siege. The only thing that remains is the outline, look how lovely.

Abdij Egmond Binnen, source Peter van Aalst fotografie

One of the most spectacular pieces in the museum, is the 12th century tympan of St. Adelbert. This was on the west wall of the abbey, when it was renovated in the mid 12th century.

The rest of the abbey museum’s collection consists of models of the abbey from the 10th century till its destruction in 1573, historical books and some lovely examples of excavated pottery. Other art, photos and movies bring the remarkable history of the abbey to life.

Bag for sale

This bag is going to be a new item in my shop, but I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate a post to it.

The bag is made of light blue wool, with grey linen lining. There is an extra pocket for your phone.

The embroidery is done in dark blue wool and white, green and red silk. The image can be found in the Moesgaard Museum (Denmark), because this image is a carving on a rune stone on display there.

The Mask Stone is dated to c. 970–1020. It was found in 1850 in the foundation of a water mill that had burned down where it had been used as a cornerstone. The stone is of granite and measures approx. 160 cm in height by 47–70 cm in depth. The carving of a 110 cm-tall mask in mammen style. There is an inscription, which is placed on two of the sides and above the mask. It reads: Gunnulfr and Eygautr/Auðgautr and Áslakr and Hrólfr raised this stone in memory of Fúl, their partner, who died when kings fought.

The bag is 17 by 27cm and costs €40.

Oldest dress in The Netherlands

There has been a bit of radio silence. Our summer was long & lazy, we didn’t go anywhere special but the hammock in the garden was excellent nonetheless.

We did actually go to a week long Viking reenactment event in Archeon, in Alphen aan den Rijn and we had a lovely time! Somewhere late June a friend sent me an email which contained the follow up of the research done on a piece of textile found in the South of the Netherlands, near Uden.

I was amazed!! I am also glad I finally have some time to write about this, so that you can join the excitement, so to speak.

So, what’s the story here? In 2010 (yep, a while ago) some textile fragments were found in the grave of a woman from the Iron Age, near Uden. The small pieces were found on bronze and iron jewellery, bracelets and anklets which were also excavated from the same grave.

Based on these fragments, researchers from the Leiden Museum of Antiquities and the Governmental Department for Cultural Heritage concluded it must have been a long dress with long sleeves. The research team was also able to establish the weaving pattern of the dress. The analyses showed that it was a red and blue plaid dated 2800 years ago!! Wow!

For those readers that have knowledge of Dutch, have a look at this TV news item here (source NOS.nl).

You don’t have to guess what my next project is going to be, after I finish my Skjoldehamn garb later this year… 😉 Keep an eye on this blog!