Merovingian Update – Pleats!


So I’ve been procrastinating on starting this tunic because I decided I wanted pleats. And I was afraid I’d muck them up.

I did a YouTube search for sewing pleats to get some tips and hopefully confidence and saw some videos on using a fork to make pleats. (Such fun!) Well, I thought, if I had a fork that was 5 mm wide, I could use that method to make even pleats without fussing with marking up the fabric and measuring or math. (I love math, but I also hate it. Sorry Math.)

A search in the basement for something that was fork like I could use yielded a little light bulb with two prongs on the bottom (Not sure what tool this came off of, I asked the husband, he didn’t know either so it’ smine now. :)) The prongs were 5 mm apart! Perfect!

Up to the sewing room. Put edge of fabric on machine, put needle down. Use tool to roll a pleat against the needle. Put foot down, make two stitches, raise foot and repeat. I tried first with the sewing machine and my wool fabric, that didn’t go great, it was all uneven and fluffy. May be the wool, I thought. So I tried again on a scrap of linen. Better… but still not even.Β  Stopping every two stiches because of the size of the pleat was time consuming, show why not just do it by hand?

I took the opposite edge of my linen scrap and did just that and lo! Much more even, and really about the same amount of time. Insert, fold, remove, stitch. Insert, fold, remove, stitch.

Now, that’s all well and good to pleat the top edge, but I need pleats going down the length of the fabric! That either means pressing with an iron (I tried, it was not a good result.) or stitching the pleats. I turned the fabric over to the ‘back’ side, and ran a row of tacking stitches along my pleats. It was easier than I thought!

Anyway, very successful pleating experiment. Up next; trying it on the wool again. πŸ™‚ If it doesn’t go well I may do my undertunic out of linen because linen.

Photos of the experiment are on my Flickr account:

Pleating Experiment
Costuming · SCA

Merovingian Update

So I finished reading The world of Gregory of Tours edited by Kathleen Mitchell and Ian Wood and Fortunitus’s Poems (edited and translated by Michael Roberts, sorry, my Latin is horrid.)Β  I did glean some useful things from this. Neither Gregory nor Fortunitus are very descriptive when it comes to costumes, alas, but Fortunitus did mention a few times marks of beauty (Lots of milk-white skin and rose-colored lips, one mention of a white neck. Brushing hair until it shines, things like that.) and at least we know that Men and Women’s costumes were distinctive of each other. (That’s kind of a ‘duh’ but still, it’s good to have confirmation in a literary source.) I did really enjoy reading them together.

Now I’m wending my way through From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Katharine Reynolds Brown and Dafydd Kidd. Great volume, some lovely articles. Mostly focused on jewelry, of course.

I have decided that I aught to start my under-tunic. I want to do a pleated garment, I have a lovely light blue, lightweight wool in my stash that I think will do marvelously. Going with a standard rectangular construction. Warp-weighted looms mean wide width, shorter lengths of fabric, which gives us plenty of room for pleats. (One of Aregonde’s neighbors in the Saint Denis crypt had a blue pleated wool survive in her grave, possibly a tunic.) Going to match it’s pleat size.


  • How far down do I sew the pleats? Just in the bodice area?
  • Do I bend the pleats toward the neckline, or end them straight into the shoulder seam?
  • How do I handle the neckline? (I’m leaning toward a standard keyhole.)
  • How long do I make the sleeves? (I think wrist-length) and how do I finish the wrists? trim?
  • Hem length (Have pretty much decided floor length, same as I always do.)
Costuming · SCA

Dress in Anglo-Saxon England

Had trouble sleeping last night so I picked up Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Manchester University Press 1986.

The book is a bit light, and dated, but still yielded some useful points to my Merovingian research.Β  First a citation about the Saxons being neighbors to the Franks on the continent,Β  since they and other Germanic peoples invaded England there was definitely a cultural link there.
Bonus: Apparently some 5th or 6th century female graves in Kent were supplied with very Merovingian jewelry; paired bow-headed broaches at the waist, paired bird-shaped broaches and the crystal ball we’ve seen before. Apparently Aethelbhert, late 6th century King and convert to Christianity according to the Venerable Bede had a Frankish wife.

Of note the Kentish burials did not have buckles on their garters (if they had garters); the author presumes this points to longer hemlines, much like other authors assume fancy garters mean short hemlines, still an assumption. People wear lots of fancy stuff that’s out of sight, though in general when we have jewelry we want to flaunt it.Β  They also did not have any earrings save one burial that had them on her necklace. The author postulates that the Kentish ladies had close fitting headdresses so earrings would not show… I’m more inclined to think that Anglo-Saxons did not wear earrings and the ladies were not so wed to the Frankish fashions as to poke holes in their ears when no one around them was doing so.

So, if I can find some more recent information on Kentish burials of the time, I may have some more clues to Merovingian fashions. πŸ™‚ See? it was good I took this book out.

It’s been a staple of SCA and other reenactors for years and really was ahead of its time, though scant on concrete textile information. It’s written in a very accessible prose, which, alas, makes it a little hard to parse technical information. I’d much rather charts and graphs, you know.


Costuming · SCA

Merovingian Update

We’re still in hard research land. I read the article on shoes posted in yesterday’s blog, and went and pulled out “Stepping Through Time” and got most of the way through the scant references to Merovingian shoes in there; the author of Stepping Through Time postulates that the Merovingian innovation was that their flat shoe patterns had a distinct sole, though the sole was still a part of the whole and not a separate piece of leather. Interesting that the Shoe Museum article has a small, tear-drop shaped separate ‘sole’ on Aregunde’s shoes. Looking at the extant fragments… one wonders if this is a nod to a small bit of a different leather on the bottom of her foot… could it be a patch? Or indeed a separate sole as they envision. *ponder* (The cross-gartering is awesomesauce, btw.)

Also did a search through the University Library and on my break today picked up four new books to delve into:

Dress in Anglo-Saxon England by Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Manchester University Press 1986 (I figure as a related culture it’ll give some clues for construction.)

Caring for Body and Soul: Burial and the Afterlife in the Merovingian World by Bonnie Effros, Pennsylvania University Press, 2002

Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages also by Bonnie Effros, University of California PRess, 2003


From Attila to Charlemagne: Arts of the Early Medieval Period in the Metropolitan Museum of ArtΒ  edited by Katharine Reynolds Brown, Dafydd Kidd and Charles T. Little. Yale University Press, 2000.

Can’t wait to see what juicy tid-bits these give me πŸ™‚ Yay research!


Costuming · SCA

What to do with Diamond Twill?

So a while back I bought some Diamond Twill fabric, it was a good price and I got it in blue (because Blue) and thought I’d probably make a Norse Viking-era Apron Dress from it (as many archeological sources point to apron dresses being diamond twill and blue), but my friend Maggie said “You don’t *have* to do Viking” and that got me thinking… where and when was this fabric used?

Google Scholar found me an excellent article:

“Early medieval textile remains from settlements in the Netherlands. An evaluation of textile production” by Chrystel R. Brandenburgh in the Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries May 2010, pp 41-78

Which was a great read, I recommend it for anyone interested in textile manufacturing and early period textiles. (by the way, over half the textiles found were diamond twills and there were 6 hats found, probably men’s in diamond twill with red silk braid embroidery on the seams. Kinda dorky looking, kinda want to make one.)Β  Anyway, in the article she mentioned that the area of the Low Countries surveyed was boardered by the Merovingian’s to the south. Ah ha, I’ve heard of Merovingians, and I like the way the word sounds so I put in a new search on Merovingian.Β  Because France!

Several articles later (ah Queen Aregonde/Arnegundis, how lovely your grave is!) I have a full blown research project going. πŸ™‚ I’ll keep you posted.

Discoveries thus far:

Paired small broaches – this is an area for questions. One broach at the neck is easy to figure out where it goes, but a pair? Could be worn in necktie formation; one on top of the other, or bowtie formation, left and right. They are near the neck/upper chest region. I’ve come up with several possibilities and will be looking for evidence to support or deny them.

  • two broaches at keyhole neckline, one on top of the other
  • One broach on the under-tunic neckline, another on the over-tunic (lower, having them right on top of each other would be uncomfortable and also no one would see the pretty brooch!)
  • Brooches on either side of the neckline opening, connected by a tie? pinned to a piece of fabric to hold the opening closed?
  • Brooches on either side of the neckline decoratively, not serving any function (I don’t think this is likely, but have to consider it a possibility, many ladies wear brooches now a days that serve no function other than decoratively after all.)
  • Keyhole neckline pulled open and ‘lapels’ fastened open by brooches (fun, but not much precedence for that idea.)
  • Brooches used to hold veil to dress on either side of the neckline
  • Brooches used to fasten a cape or wrap

Paired bow brooches – in the Roman period these were worn at the shoulders, probably to fasten a peplos-like garment (read: bog dress). In the Merovingian period, however, they move lower on the body, still in pairs. By the end of the period They are near the thighs and have amulets a set distance from them at the knees (perhaps suspended from a belt?) of note Aregonde did not have them. She did, however, have a super awesome belt buckle which re-enforces my early assumption that the bow broaches have become associated with belt furniture in the Merovingian period. Just an assumption now, we’ll see if I can get any evidence behind that.

One of the graves near Aregonde’s had a dark blue pleated wool tunic. Exciting πŸ™‚

Lovely silks and gold thread embroidery (need to check my Gold Thread research files because I’m pretty sure I’ve got something about Aregonde’s embroidery in there too.)

Read an article on glass beads in the Merovingian era; “Indo-Pacific glass beads from the Indian subcontinent in Early Merovingian graves (5th-6th century AD)” by Constantin Pion and Bernard Gratuze in Archaeological Research in Asia (2016) pp 51-64. According to their findings not only were glass beads from Africa and India found amongst more locally produced or Mediterranean beads, 93% of them were green. (There are some large polychrome beads found, mostly single beads with lots of smaller single colored beads that are mostly green.) and lots of tiny beads in headdresses or positions that may indicate they were sewn onto clothing or veils. It looks like beads were very popular in the early Merovingian and then fell out of fashion toward the end of the era (Of note our friend Aregonde did not have beads.)

Given the very scant material available on Merovingian costume, I’m also looking at Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Alamannic and Thuringian finds and some finds and art from Byzantium and Italy (as those were cultures admired and perhaps copied.) Fun!


Costuming · Life · SCA

Weekend Update

You know it was a busy week when I write the Weekend Update post on Thursday…

Saturday was a big local demo downtown for the Cleveland Public Library’s Mini-Maker Fair. I got a carpool together with Nadjezda who lives in Euclid too, and had the brilliant idea to meet for breakfast with our husbands which was fun and we must do it again. πŸ™‚ She was a great carpool companion as we figured out where we were going and where to put my car!

The demo was long and grueling, I was tired but hopefully somewhat chipper and pleasant as I talked about the Middle Ages and worked on frantically finishing sewing my dress for the party that night. I did fence so go me. πŸ™‚

Got home around 5 something and sat in a chair for a while staring at the sky going ‘duh’ while I decompressed, heh. Marie came over and we got dressed for the Tavern party. She was wearing my old dress and I wore the new one I just finished sewing! Alas it gaped in the front. I think I need to add a bit of stiffening to the edge and/or more hooks and eyes to prevent that. For the emergency basis Marie whip-stitched me into the thing and we found a bit of lace to use as a fichu and cover the worst spot where the front opening bent over the transition of corset and bust.

By the time we got to the 18th Century Tavern Party my husband was HANGRY, fortunately for us we still arrived before food was served so he could not blame his hangry-ness on how long it took us to get dressed πŸ˜‰ His move improved dramatically after the salad course.

The party was MUCH FUN as usual. Sunday was spent in recovery and running errands. We went to the mall just to get some walking in as it was cold and wet.

Monday Tuesday and most of Wednesday I was finishing up the Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Leadership Lab which was just wonderful. I’m a bit sad the class is over, honestly. It was a great experience and I’d recommend it to anyone. Weatherhead Executive Education does a bang up job.

I did, however, gain weight over the three days. Three pounds. One each day (so not fair.) Their catering is quite fabulous. Anyway, went fencing last night because dammit, gotta work that off! Am fencing much better, I think. Feels good to be improving!

Costuming · Life

Weekend Update

Saturday was the Dental School’s 125th Anniversary, I’d been looking forward to it but was hit by a killer bout of depression Thursday. Felt a little better Friday but by Saturday I still wasn’t really excited about facing humans. I did it anyway and I’m glad I did, it was a great shindig. Really good food and hey, I’m a team player or some such. πŸ™‚

Sunday we went to archery practice and I did not shoot so bad at all. Got an actually good score on the first target of the seasonal shoot (my normal mediocre on the second target, but it’s still an improved score.) and improved my score from horrible to just lousy on the King’s challenge shoot. Starting to feel somewhat optimistic that this practicing strategy of mine will work out in the end.

On the sewing front I finally repaired my Colonial corset. May need to consider making a new one but for now… it is wearable.Β  Having issues getting the sleeves into my bodice for the new Colonial gown I’m making. Isn’t that always the way?