Category Archives: Archeology

Old Pants!

I’ve been told the Irish invented them. Or Native Americans. Or whatever culture you feel strongly about or can claim ancestry from. Because descending from a culture that didn’t come up with pants for eons is a little embarrassing to us ‘Muricans.

Today, my award for best invention ever goes to the Chinese. Two 3,300 – 3,000 year old burials were recently excavated in the Tarim Basin, and yep, the dudes were wearing pants. Check out the weave on those things, too. Pretty snazzy.

So in the list of things we’re thankful for, thanks, 4,000 year old pastoralists, for pants. They rock.


Shifting for Myself

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*halfhearted clap* yay …

I’m so punny.

I’ve just finished my shift-on-a-budget, based on Sharon Ann Burnston’s awesome internet tutorial.

http://sharonburnston.com/shifts.html   <~ this one.

I followed the patterns taken from her 1752 Connecticut shift. I had to alter it somewhat, because I was working with very thick, loosely woven linen. It was way, way too thick and loose for a shift – but this is my shift-on-a-budget, and I didn’t put out a single penny for it, so hey. The selvages had to be wider to accommodate the ravely fabric. Not like Bolero by Ravel-y; way less cool.

Because I was making it from four old aprons, I couldn’t use the incredibly frugal cutting methods used during the 18th century. I had to piece the body down the side, and I have three pieces making up the back. One sleeve is made of three pieces, and the other from two.

I narrowed some of the dimensions; such as the wide sleeves and body, because the fabric is thicker and I didn’t want it to be tremendously bulky.

I ran out of linen thread 80% of the way through, and had to flat-fell some seams with cotton-poly ickyness. I’m thinking of pulling those stitches out and re-sewing them in linen later.

I wanted to cross-stitch my initials in the front in black silk, but I only had a dark greyish-purple. I figured that was pretty close, so I began – but I can’t cross-stitch. I know, it’s like one of the easiest stitches in the world and somehow I can’t do it.

I’m going to blame it on the linen. The weave was so loose that my stitches never looked neat. There.

I wound up just doing the initials in an amateurish backstitch. I’ll take them out if enlightenment ever reaches me and I can cross-stitch them.

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I did get to do something cool when I pieced the back: two of my pieces had selvages, and I butted them as Sharon Burnston suggests in her instructions. It came out feeling nice and smooth, even with the crappy fabric and my unfortunate-colored thread.

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I can’t say that I’m perfectly pleased with it. The materials I had were crappy, and it shows in the finished product. The shift fits in with the theme of my budget outfit, though. It’s pieced from older clothes and handsewn, and it’s better than the shift I had before (that thing had too many drawstrings). I’m excited to wear it, especially with the button cuffs. To finish the shift, I want to see if I can reproduce a broken 18th century cuff button in my collection.

This one. Maybe without the ship etching. I love the octagonal shape.

This one. Maybe without the ship etching. I love the octagonal shape.

Now I’m stuck. I need another sewing project, and I only have half a yard of the same linen left, and a few yards of cotton-poly crap thread.

And the idea of making this is stuck in my mind … I don’t have anything to wear it with (yet), I just love it.

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A quick sketch. The cups look like eyeballs and the straps look like ears … and now that you’ve seen it, that’s all you see …

But I wouldn’t try it until I had the materials to do it justice. Maybe I’ll just work on fitting and nail down a pattern.


What Survives

I’ve been watching silent films lately, and it’s made me so appreciative of them. Through old films, we get to see people and ways of life that have, for the most part, completely disappeared. “See that old guy in that 1924 film? He could have been born in the 1850s.” Crazy.

I am always fascinated by what’s still around after a long time. Look at antiques. Conditions meet, somehow, and we’re left with something that may have been considered garbage before. Now, in some people’s eyes, it’s a little treasure.

A European pin ball frame, dated to the 17th or 18th century. Though it's spent probably hundreds of years underground, the wool used as a pin ball remains glued to the inside of the frame.

A European pin ball frame, dated to the 17th or 18th century. Though it’s spent possibly hundreds of years underground, the wool used as the ball remains glued to the inside of the frame. I’m not sure if it was originally pinkish, or if that’s from the dirt. I like to think it was pink.

I’ve begun my own clothing collection recently. Someday I would love to work in a museum as a textile conservator, and I decided it would be wise to practice on some of my own garments first, to get some experience. Of course the project grew, and before I knew it I was scouring thrift shops for old things, and asking for donations from friends and relatives. My collection doesn’t have much that’s very remarkable or expensive in it, but it’s got tons of sentimental value, and I think it’s all fascinating.

A good family friend donated an entire 1962 full-dress US army uniform, and as I was hanging it up, I found a box in the jacket pocket. It was the box for uniform’s epaulettes – and the epaulettes were inside. As well as the plastic bag they came in, the ordering forms and the receipt for the entire uniform. On eBay this might only fetch a few dollars, but in my mind, it’s priceless little time capsule. Yeah, I know, it’s not crazy old. It’s still very cool, though.

The box I found - epaulettes, bag, order form and receipt.

August 11, 1962: epaulettes, bag, order form and receipt.

For the pin ball and the epaulettes, conditions miraculously met, and the stuff survived. As a conservator, however, I (will) have to learn how to bring those conditions together continuously and reliably. No pressure.

Here in southern Delaware, we’ve got bugs. Summers are humid and hot, while winters are humid and cold. These conditions are difficult to deal with since I don’t have a sealed or perfectly climate-controlled room to store my collection in. I’ve been racking my brains for cheap, viable ways to preserve my items. I’ve created covered hanging storage. I’ve bought packs of desiccant, which seem to work pretty well in our 100% humidity (“doesn’t 100% humidity mean pure water? Should I be drowning now?”). I bought a huge bundle of fiberfill and I’ve begun wrapping and padding hangers for the heavier dresses and coats (soooo tedious … ). I got a few yards of muslin and making my own garment slipcovers – archival materials companies, beware; I can make one for less than $3.

Or how about shoe support? Buy a pair of pantyhose and cut off the foot and part of the leg. Stuff it full of fiberfill, tie the top closed, and stuff that into the shoe. Voila, cheap shoe supports. It has spandex in it, but hey, it’s crazy cheap and it’s much, much better than nothing.

The Smithsonian has a few pages on textile preservation. One suggested that I could put cloves or pepper in sachets and store these near the clothing. The aroma is supposed keep pests away. I made a few sachets last week. They were easy enough to make, and they do smell peppery. I don’t think any of my pieces have bugs to begin with, but it’s a good precaution to take. So far, it’s kept some silverfish away. And it was certainly cheap enough.

.39 cents worth of nylon tulle, and a handful of peppercorns ... let's see if this works.

.39 cents bought me more nylon tulle than I know what to do with. I made the little bags with loops to go over the hanger hooks. I make sure the bags don’t touch the clothing.

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve created that ultimate mesh of conditions in which all my collection pieces will survive perfectly in. If I keep trying, it can only get better, right? I’m certainly learning along the way.

And because silent films are just awesome, check out A Fool There Was, with Theda Bara, 1915. There are a few versions on YouTube, none of which like it when I try to link them to this blog post.

Phooey.

But it’s a fascinating movie that’s somehow survived these 98 years. You’ve got to appreciate that.


Buttons!

I’d always wanted to combine two of my favorite professions – archeology and the study of clothing – until I had a ‘duh’ moment, and realized there’s not a lot of clothing left down there.

Erm … yeah.

So I kind of dropped that idea. It’s always nice to return to it when I can, though. I love metal stuff, and metal usually survives pretty well underground. I call these O.R.Os – Old Rusty Objects. Here are a few O.R.Os (buttons) from the UK, all metal detector finds.

Some early buttons, and what is possibly a mount (top left picture, on left). The smallest buttons is like a doublet button, and is possibly lead. The oblong piece is a lead acorn-shaped button. The large button with a chip from the edge is a gorgeous medieval piece, with a fletched design in the center.

Three early buttons, and what is either a button or a mount (top left picture, on left). The smallest button is like a doublet button, and is possibly lead. The oblong piece is a lead acorn-shaped button, the loop at the top is broken off. The large button with a chip from the edge is a gorgeous medieval piece, with a design that reminds me of arrow fletching in the center.

Tudor doublet buttons and what might be an early sleeve button - if it's not early, it's 18th century. The doublet buttons always remind me of those Dots candies. The sleeve button here has a Tudor rose on it: my photography is bad and the button's corroded, so you may have to take my word for it.

Tudor doublet buttons and what might be a 15th c. sleeve button – if it’s not that early, it’s 17th – 18th century. The sleeve button here has a Tudor rose on it: my photography is bad and the button’s corroded, so you may have to take my word for it. The doublet buttons always remind me of those Dots candies. I like the one that’s ribbed. They are probably made of lead; they’re solid and pretty hefty.

Some tombac buttons from the 16th - 18th century, with one 18th century broken brass button. Tombac is an alloy of brass and copper, with possibly a little zinc, tin, or lead thrown in. Tombac is silvery-gold and seems somewhat stable - these buttons haven't corroded too badly.

Some tombac buttons from the 16th – 18th century, with a broken 18th century¬† brass button. Tombac is an alloy of brass and copper, with possibly a little zinc, tin, or lead thrown in. Tombac is silvery-gold and seems somewhat stable – these buttons haven’t corroded too badly. It was used for cheap buttons and jewelry.

One of my favorites: an 18th century sleeve button. It has a beautiful design of a ship under full sail.

One of my favorites: an 18th century sleeve button. It has a beautiful design of a ship under full sail. Like the earlier Tudor rose sleeve button, the link is neatly soldered so it wouldn’t stretch and fall apart. It’s a little ironic that on both examples, the second button itself broke off, instead of the link.

Another naval-themed 18th century button: a naval uniform button with a fouled anchor, haphazardly cut down to a smaller size.

Finally, another naval-themed 18th century button: a naval uniform button with a fouled anchor, haphazardly cut down to a smaller size. I guess it was easier to trim the button than enlarge the buttonhole – or maybe it wasn’t being used as a button any longer? Who knows.