The Return of a Challenge

The posts in English are back! (And I have noticed a bit of Swenglish sneaking into my Swedish posts too, so this bilingual thing might not be working in my favour…)

This time, for the Flora and Fauna challenge, I’ll be making a Viking style apron dress. And there’s probably gonna be another post about preconcieved ideas, just like this lengthy tale of medieval hoods, because there are some serious interpretations at work here! So there will be lengthy research-rambling posts about this project. You have been warned.

My initial idea for really getting the flora and fauna of this challenge was to have embroidery in the style of animal ornamentation on the dress, since that was a big thing for the Vikings. At least there is plenty of evidence of the different animal ornamentation styles on metalwork and even on wood, so even though there is no evidence of animal ornamentation on dresses (again, see upcoming post of clothing evidence…) it’s not a too far a stretch into the plausible. Examples of the different ornamentation styles can be seen in some blog posts in this blog.

Well, so much for the original plans. Then I realized that I have to get slightly better at making freehand animal ornamentations before transferring the plan to the dress. At my level of skill now, people can tell that it’s Viking style animal ornamentation, but I’m not really happy with it. So it might not be entirely done before the challenge deadline…

But hold on, there is more to the Flora & Fauna than just ornamentations. Excepting the fact that it’s wool fabric, sewn with linen thread waxed with beeswax (you have both flora and fauna there already), the colour of the garment could also be connected to both parts of the challenge. The facts about the colour comes from a book in Swedish, called Purpur Koschenill Krapp – En bok om röda textilier av Gösta Sandberg.

The fabric with flash

The fabric with flash

It was extremely difficult to get the colour of the fabric translated to my camera! This picture above isn’t quite right, but it was among the two best shots…

I fell in love with the fabric at a Viking market last year. I had woved that this would be a market where I didn’t buy any fabric and I was doing really good. So good in fact, that when I was preparing to leave, I even went with some friends who were gonna buy fabric. Then I saw this fabric and well… You can guess the rest. There wasn’t much of it left, so I got a discount, and lo and behold, it wasn’t a market without fabric purchase. But it was worth it. The colour purple has historically been very desirable, so I was really doing what anyone in history would have done at the sight of affordable purple fabric. (Well. Possibly apart from women in Sparta and Syracuse in antiquity, where that colour in dresses was a sign of prostitution…)

Extracting the purple colour from the murex shells was done in Phoenicia, approx 1500 BCE, according to Egyptian sources. Ever since then, it has been a colour for the rich and wealthy, since each shell extracts such a small amount (only a few drops) of dye. The murex were collected in baskets around the Mediterranean by freediving fishers, or by fine ”lobster traps” rigged with Cerastoderma edule (hjärtmussla in Swedish). It’s believed that two of the murex species were extinct due to Phoenician hunt for dyes. But not until Byzantine Empire fell in 1453 did the murex industry of the past finally cease, though it was weakened before that. If I really stretch the plausible, I can argue that purple was known to the Vikings, since their Eastern routes took them all the way to Constantinople… (The Viking Age itself is subject to some argumentation about when it started, and when it finished, but roughly it’s from ca. 750/800 to ca. 1050. Well before the end of the Byzantine Empire anyways…)

More close to home for this dye is the Nucella lapillus of Northwestern Europe, which is mentioned in an English 8th century source as the purple colour is used to mark linen wares. This species is also known in the West coast of Sweden and Norway. But you don’t even have to have the murex or nucellas to get this colour. It’s entirely possible, and even occuring in history, to counterfeit or imitate the ”true purple” by putting a red yarn into a indigo or woad dye, or to comb dyed red wool and dyed blue wool together.

Or, you could use some other plants, like orchil (Roccella sp.), tuschlav (Lasallia pustulata), or even lysticka (Hapalopilus rutilans), to get a purple colour to your garment. So the colour, though rich and reserved for the wealthy and powerful in antiquity, is not at all un-plausible for a Viking apron dress. And when it comes to Viking garments, plausibility is the way to go.

The fabric in the "firework" setting of the camera

The fabric in the ”firework” setting of the camera

So, with a long blog post, I argue the case of materials and colour to fulfil the requirements for the challenge! (And when I have practiced the animal ornamentations a bit more, there will be more Flora & Fauna on the dress too.)

EDIT: Just saw that the find from Pskov has a red-purple silk strip inbetween two blue silk strips. Still different material and different quantity of the colour, but anyway, as evidence for colour goes, this is as good as it’s gonna get. The article is here.


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