Updated: May 3, 2018
This subject is something that I’m very excited to share with everyone!! The Quest for the Golden Seamstress, 2018!!
Last year I became aware of an event that takes place in the Barony of Roaring Waste. Ivar and I had become friendly with their Baron & Baroness, Izzy & Eamon. Baroness Izzy told me about an event they hold every year called The Quest for the Golden Seamstress. It’s a sewing competition which takes place over the course of 20 hours. You must put together an entire outfit/garb, skin out, from scratch and be as historically accurate as possible. There are three class levels; Novice, Advanced, and Master. Each level has different requirements. Here is a basic outline of the categories and judging guidelines:
Early period - 600 to 1100 (i.e.: Byzantine, Saxon, Viking)
Middle period - 1100 to 1450 (i.e.: Burgundian, Houppelandes, Cotehardies)
Late period - 1450 to 1600 (i.e.: Renaissance, Tudor, Elizabethan)
Judging Guidelines 20 points per category
• 25 - Inspiration & vindication of how/why you did what you did, written
(should be done in advance) or oral
• 25 - Accessories made on site
• 50 - General WOW! factor of what you tried to accomplish
Total possible points 200
Our Project-The Skjoldehamn Bog Find
From the thesis of Dan Halvard Lovlid:
"The body in the marsh.
The Skjoldehamn discovery was found on the farm Skjoldehamn på Andøya in Nordland,
Norway in 1936. One day in June of that year, Rikart Olsen found a corpse wrapped in a
blanket under a turf cutting in the marsh near the farm. The Chief of Police ordered the body
buried in a cemetery, but despite this, it was reburied nearby. The Museum of Tromsø heard of this in late autumn, and, since it was assumed that the discovery was not more than about 200 years old and that it was being removed from its original place, archaeological investigations were ordered at the site. Instead, farmer Hans Liavik was asked to dig the find up gently and send it to Tromsø.
When the museum received the body in November 1936, it turned out to have far greater
interest than expected. It was wearing a hood (a medieval hood with shoulder gores), kirtle,
belt, shirt, breeches, socks, ankle bands, ankle ties and shoes. It was, as I said, wrapped in a blanket that was wrapped with leather straps and woven bands. The buried person was lying on a reindeer skin, which in turn was on top of at least four to five birch sticks. The grave was covered with a layer of bark."
Team-Game of Threads
Up to 15 teams can compete, and each team can consist of up to 6 members, plus a model. The model can be a participating team member, but is not required to be.
Allow me to introduce you to your 2018 Golden Seamstress team from Donnershafen!!
(Starting top left & moving clockwise)
Systa (Zoe Smith), Fulke of Rutland (Ryan Charboneau), Thorni (Toni Berry), The Group, Baroness Marina (Cathy Magee),Oswin (Sarah Elderkin)
The entire outfit consists of 9 articles of clothing (hood, shirt, kirtle, belt, breeches, ankle wraps, ankle ties, socks, and shoes); inkle-loomed sleeve and breeches trim, 8 different braids including a braided belt with 6 whipped tassels and shoe ties, and tablet-woven ankle bands.
Systa was in charge of the red "shirt" and the hood, including drafting and cutting the patterns.
Fulke was in charge of the shoes, socks and ankle wraps.
Thorni was in charge of the drafting and cutting out of patterns, machine sewing, breeches and embroidery.
Oswin was in charge of the machine sewing, socks, cloth ankle wraps, and embroidery.
Marina was in charge of the blue "kirtle", the belt and the decorative braiding.
Everyone participated in research of the entire outfit and in hand-sewing the garments.
In addition to this team, we had an amazing "away team", Merlyn (Carol Hellstrom) and Biebhinn (Caitlin McSweeney).
Merlyn inkle wove the bands for the breeches and sleeves of the kirtle using wool from her icelandic sheep, as well as making a 12-string braid for the drawstring on the breeches. These items were permitted to be made ahead of the event, as they're considered "accessories".
Biebhinn tablet wove the leg bands for us.
The pattern was a mystery, as the surviving pieces seemed to be a mix of different patterns, almost as though the bands were a practice piece. So, she came up with a close facsimile.
A Million Hours Of Research
Well, it seemed like a million hours....
Geographically, our team was pretty spread out across Northern Michigan making it difficult to have face to face meetings, so we set up a group direct-message on Facebook to make communication easier. This became an integral part of our research collaboration. Our initial reference source was the original thesis by Dan Halvard Lovlid. Unfortunately, it was in Norwegian, which none of us could read. We struggled along with Google translate for a while until we discovered an English translation by Baroness Gwynnyd. We downloaded that and Thorni was able to merge the photos from the Norwegian version into the english version so we had the complete document with photos in English! Now we could get down to the nitty-gritty of deciphering all the details of the garment:
what type of fabric
finished edge stitches
the bead on the shirt and how and where it was attached
And the more we dug in, we began to realize how large the scope of the project really was! We also quickly discovered that not being able to view the garment in person made the research even more challenging. We began to rely heavily on human sources that had viewed the garment before and/or had been involved in hands on research of it. The garment itself is currently located in Tromso, Norway. Systa was key at making contact with the museums' curators and persons who had first-hand knowledge of the outfit. She was relentless in her research and with tracking down valuable contacts. Oswin provided some very useful information about the event itself and what we could expect from chatting with some former competitors at Val-Day.
Thorni printed off the entire document with the photos and put it in a binder, divided it according to garment pieces and we began to divy up the work. We met 3 more times and communicated via Facebook Messenger daily before the event took place at the end of March.
The Big (and very long) Day!
The big day finally arrived. We piled everyone into three cars along with everything we knew we needed and everything we could imagine we might need, including tables, sewing machines, sewing materials, all the fabric and thread plus extra everything, just in case. We also brought comfy chairs, blankets and pillows (in the event we found time for a quick nap), and snacks and water provided to us by our thoughtful Baroness Meabh.
The event was held in Holly, Michigan, which is about a 3 hour drive for us. Our support team (and significant others) came along to help set up, be our runners and for moral support at the end; my husband Ivar (John Magee), Systa's husband Rorik (Mike Wallace), Thorni's husband Bodvar (Chip Witte) and Oswin's fiance Gervald (Gary Kopke).
The event officially kicked off at 10pm Friday night, and once it started, team members were not permitted to leave the premises until the event had ended, Saturday night at 6pm. The support team helped us unload and set-up, and while they retired to their hotel rooms for an evening of gaming and imbibing, we got to work cutting patterns and getting down to the business of sewing and braiding. We experienced a few snafooz; Thorni accidentally sewed the breeches casing the wrong way and something went wrong with the lining of Systa's hood, so it wasn't fitting together properly. Then there was a moment of panic when we thought we didn't have enough fabric to make Marina's blue kirtle, but with some creative pattern layout, Thorni was able to make it work!
One of the smartest things we did, (Thorni's idea) was to put together a display board of our project, showing the various materials used, the working out on paper of the embroidery patterns, sizes and color schemes, the braiding and the belt prototype. Here we also displayed the proto-types of the shoes Fulke made in advance while trying to figure out what they might have looked like. There was very little surviving material of the shoes in the grave, so it required a healthy amount of speculation. The socks and leg wraps presented the same problem and Oswin and Fulke spent a good deal of time together working out different possible solutions. The display board turned out to be a very valuable asset to our overall presentation. It was a great way to showcase to the judges the amount of research and teamwork we had put into the project prior to the event itself.
For the rest of the night and all day Saturday, we stitched, braided, and embroidered the garment together. As one piece was stitched together, it would get passed to the next person to add the woven trim pieces and/or braids, and then to another for the embroidery and/or couching to be added on. The main body seams (side seams and armsye seams) were machine stitched; the hems, wrist, ankle and neck seams were all finished by hand. Systa used hand stitching only on both her garments, the hood and the red shirt. The woven bands and braids were all hand stitched to the garment and the shoes were all hand stitched.
As Saturday sped along and the clock ticked down, the judges started making their rounds of all the teams, looking at what they were working on and asking questions... lots of questions. We each took a turn explaining what we were working on, the reason for our color choice, material choice, methods, etc.. They were interested to know what new skills we had learned in order to complete the outfit, and ultimately, why we choose this outfit. After they were satisfied with our Q&A session, they moved on to the next team and we were left with a lot of nerves and nothing else to do but finish as much of the outfit as possible before time was up.
"The scope of the project was more involved than we originally anticipated"... this became our mantra starting late Saturday afternoon, once we realized we weren't going to be able to complete the entire outfit, but we pushed on and vowed to finish as much as we possibly could. It should be noted that the competition does not require you to finish the outfit, only to complete it enough to be able to show what the completed outfit would look like. However, it was our personal goal to get the outfit as completed as possible. As it turned out, Thorni thought it made sense to leave one of the breeches leg seams unfinished so she could explain the reasoning behind the different stitches. This turned out to be an excellent idea, and something we decided we will use again in future competitions.
While most teams started out with the innermost layer of garb first (or undergarments), our body was found with no undergarments and to protect our model Fulke's modesty, we devised a plan to present him in a completely different manner. Since the body was found wrapped in a wool blanket and laid out on a birch litter with a deer skin, we decided to dress him fully and carry him in on a litter, wrapped in the blanket. He would then "rise from the grave" at which point we remove (almost) all the layers and speak about each one. Sadly, the space the event was held in was too small to allow us to carry Fulke in on the litter, so we wrapped him in the blanket and walked him to the stage, carrying in the litter and deer skin. This was received very well by the judges and they loved the fact that we brought "grave goods" into our presentation! The litter was made by Thorni's husband, Bodvar.
Given only 5 minutes to explain, we took turns speaking about the parts of the outfit we were in charge of. We ran over a bit in time, but we covered just about everything, with the exception of the ankle wraps and socks.
Once all the teams had presented their outfit, it was time to start cleaning up our areas and wait for the judges to make their decisions. After getting everything loaded back into the cars, we waited inside for the judges to announce the winners.
And the winners are:
Novice Category - The Babes - middle class Rus woman about 1360.
Advanced - Game of Threads - recreation of Skjoldehamn Find, Norse/Finnish 1050 (complete with burial trappings).
Master - Two Laurels; No Waiting - Ottoman child's garb.
Needless to say, we were blown away by winning our category. There were so many beautiful outfits made and the competition was fierce. We were also informed by the judges that next year we had to compete at the Master level! We were a little awe struck and very excited! So we gathered up our swag-bag and promptly went out for a celebratory dinner! Before the night was over and after more than 24 hours with no sleep, we were already discussing what outfit we could do for next year!
In retrospect, I think one of the best things we did right as a team was to spend a large amount of time researching our project and pulling from as many sources as possible. Also making sure to use period accurate fabrics and materials. Knowing our subject so well definitely paid off with the judges during the interview process and during the presentation.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the event and are planning on competing again next year. We've been scouting the internet, books and museums for inspiration for the next Quest for the Golden Seamstress, so stay tuned!!
Thank you for reading!!