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Regia Anglorum – Basic Clothing Guide

Textiles Frequently Asked Questions

Textile Questions

This is the edited transcript of an e-mail exchange between Beth Patchett in Canada and Hazel Uzzell, the then Regia Anglorum Textile co-ordinator. It is reproduced here as it is felt that it could be useful for everyone.

Q: Does Regia require all garments to be hand-woven? My answer to this would be no, since there is no mention of it in the handbook and most of the photos I've seen do not appear to be hand-woven.

A: No, Regia doesn't require any garments to be hand-woven. what luxury that would be! Some members have indeed made cloth from 'scratch' spun, hand dyed and woven on a warp-weighted loom, but as this is a weekend hobby for most of us, there just isn't the time.

Q: Does Regia require garments to be hand sewn?

A: I would rather that garments were hand sewn. Somehow you just feel better about a garment that you have sewn yourself! That said, Regia accepts machining on seams that definitely will not be on show (bearing in mind that members of the public are quite capable of picking up the skirt of your dress to peer at the side seam.) I even had someone who sniffed my sleeve (he worked in a dye factory) when I told him it was dyed with madder. All seams must be neatened and not left raw.

Q: What stitches and finishing techniques are acceptable?

A: There are 4 basic sewing stitches: running stitch, blanket (button hole) stitch, overcast (whip) stitch, and herringbone stitch (primarily a decorative stitch). To finish a garment you simply use combinations of these stitches. Flat felled, with a whip stitch, a blanket stitch, or a running stitch. Fold the seams in towards each other and whip or blanket stitching them together, or fold the seams out and under and whip, running, or blanket stitching them together. Some silk edges (from Ireland ) were rolled. Seams were sometimes 'inlaid' or covered with a piece of yarn couched along the seam on the right side for strengthening (or magic protection?), as well as the type of fabric being finished.

Q: What thread must be used?

A: If you are sewing linen, use linen thread. If wool, use woollen thread. I tend to go for the same colour as the cloth, but it doesn't matter. Some seams were visible and appear to have been used as a decoration. If you can, use threads from the cloth you are sewing - but I know that is not always possible. If you have woven the cloth yourself, of course you would want to use up the warp wastage (thrums).

Q: Must the garments be hand finished with bone, rather than steel needles?

A: No you do not need to use only bone needles - there were iron, or more easily used, bronze. If you are rich - silver perhaps? We use authentic needles on the LHE (I would hope!) but if you are sewing at home, it doesn't matter.

Q: Does Regia require that the sett of the fabric used, be within period specifications?

A: We try to stay within the range of the sett (warp/weft count) for our period but like you, we have difficulties here as well. We have a few cloth suppliers who attend our re-enactors fairs who are pretty good and we usually say to new members, get a snip of the cloth and show it to someone who knows. I often get bits of cloth sent to me in the post so that I can say 'yes' or 'no'. What you need to do is 'get your eye in' for something that looks and feels right.

Q: Does Regia require that all fabrics be of a period weave?

A: Yes, and they are tabby, basket weave, and the 1/2 and 2/2 twills including: herringbone, chevron, and diamond.

Q: Does Regia require that all fabric be woven with singles (unplyed threads)?

A: No, we do not require cloth to be woven with singles and even though Z twist was more common, we do not insist on that.

Q: Does Regia allow for 'plaid' fabric?

A: This is a vexed subject! At one stage, no patterned cloth was allowed. This was because people tended to go a bit mad (the 'car rug' syndrome!). Now we allow stripes and checks within reason.

Q: Does Regia allow for fabrics that are not 100% natural fabric? For instance, if I have a piece of fabric that appears to the naked eye to be wool, but is in fact 85% wool and 15% nylon can it be used. (The nylon will appear under a magnifying glass.) What about things that are good 'linen look'. Or a wool/silk blend that looks like wool?

A: It isn't always possible to get fabric that is 100% natural. Here good linen is expensive, so we allow a mix of synthetic as long as it looks like the real thing. (Remember, you are more likely to go up in flames in synthetic!)

Q: Does Regia allow for coloured linen to be used?

A: We use coloured linen. I have dyed linen with madder, woad and weld. The woad and weld come out every bit as good as on wool. The madder was a bit paler. What I do not like to see is bright bluey-white linen. It just doesn't look naturally bleached. I would prefer low ranks to used bleached or unbleached linen instead of coloured - but that isn't going to happen!

Q: Should garments be cut using geometric pieces, similar to the tunic found at Birka and on the Bocksten Bog man. Can we omit the front gussets?

A: Geometric pieces make for easier fitting when passing your clothes on to someone else. With regard to front panels or gussets; there are archaeological examples from 12C and 13C with front gussets on tunics (apparently not always set in dead centre! poor tailoring?). These are the same colour as the tunic. The Mammen tunic (970-971AD) would seem to have had a centre gusset - at least that is how it has been reconstructed in the National Museum in Copenhagen. I do know of some people in Regia with centre gussets in their tunics, but you can omit them as you can also omit side gussets.

Q: Can we use keyhole neckline, such as those found in the Bayeux tapestry?

A: Yes, you can use keyhole necklines - also round and square.

Q: What embellishments to garments are acceptable?

A: Trim and embroidery are acceptable for high ranking people. You can use a tablet loom for narrow trim. We have little evidence for horizontal looms from the early part of Regia's period. There is slightly more for later on in our period. However, any narrow trim that you can weave on a horizontal loom can be woven on either a tablet loom or a warp weighted loom.

Q: What fibres are acceptable to use?

A: Wool, linen, silk and silver or gold thread.

Q: Do we need to try to keep the fibre diameters within period specs?

A: It would be good to keep fibres within period specs, but so little secular Anglo-Saxon embroidery has been found! Silk used for embroidery had usually not a lot of twist or even none at all.

Q: Do the trims made on a horizontal loom need to be made with singles, which I believe, are far more common than plied in period, though plies are not unknown. I've read that if you try to use singles with a tablet loom, that they will unspin themselves and that plied fibres where used in this way in period. Is this correct?

A: Machine spun singles work OK on a tablet loom - I'm doing some at the moment. As for plied fibres - machine plied do work - I haven't tried hand plied.

Q: What embroidery motifs are acceptable? Do we simply look at other period sources, such as manuscripts, architecture, and the Bayeux tapestry and take elements from that?

A: Motifs. Now there's a question! The only Anglo-Saxon secular embroidery that we have are small pieces of vine scroll, and on the Llangorst textiles, inhabited vine scroll with what appear to be peacocks and bunches of grapes. This last could be counted thread embroidery, or, some experts think the design may be woven in the cloth. The jury is out…. Viking motifs - well, you couldn't do better than look at:

And there are also the Oseberg textiles. These motifs are mostly couched circles - rather like the Olympic Games motif - with small backward facing quadrupeds in them. They also used strips of decorative silk sewn into their clothes.

Q: Do you embroider right on the fabric, or on a contrasting colour which is then applied to the garment?

A: We should, I think, embroider on separate cloth and sew that onto the garment. When the garment wore out - or was passed on, then the embroidery could be removed and re-used, as with the Masseik Embroideries.

Q: Where should the embroidery go? Is there any provenance for embroidered keyhole necklines?

A: Where to put the embroidery. Manuscript illustrations show decoration on garments worn by royalty as neck, wrist and hem. For anyone else, it seems to be contrasting edgings in the same places - but no embroidery. However, we are continuing research on this question

Q: Can we simply decorate with embroidery 'medallions' - i.e. One element, then a large gap, and then another element? Or must the embroidery all join together?

A: If you use the Bayeux Tapestry as an exemplar, isolated medallions would seem to be OK - but remember, these may be representations of Byzantine silks. Examples of medallion designs can be found here.

Q: What stitches can be used?

A: The contemporary ones were: stem-stitch, outline-stitch, running stitch, split-stitch, chain-stitch, couching, and surface couching.