In the pink

Original gown- a bit pinker than the photo here shows.
Original gown- a bit pinker than the photo here shows.

It's been a whirlwind of emotions as I've hand-stitched a gorgeous, palest pink woolen gown, only to wear it once for a few hours for some photos, wash it and have the dye run out unevenly leaving me with a blotchy mess and a hand-stitched gown which was essentially unwearable. 

At the right is the original gown- a basic T Tunic shape, loose sleeves and it's not terribly form fitting.

Usually, I wash anything I make in a vinegar rinse to set the dye. I just hadn't had a chance to do that with this gown just yet and had worn it without. I had thought that it would stay clean enough for a few hours, and I'd do it afterwards.

This is not how it played out. 

For no apparent reason, leaving it to soak in lukewarm water caused the dye to run out of the gown. This had never happened before, and I was really unsure what to do about it. I did realise that whatever I did needed to be done while the fabric was wet or it would dry the stains in.

The disaster zone
The disaster zone

After the initial soak and hand wash, and while it was wet, I made the anxiety-inducing decision to put it in the washing machine before it dried to try to even out the blotches or maybe get the rest of the dye out. 

This only resulted in felting the gown and shrinking it a bit. It still fitted, but as a body-hugging gown rather than the loose, overgown with soft folds like it was originally. 

The felting was a disappointment, as the original fabric was so soft and light. 

Anyway, it was blotchy and awful and unwearable.

Suggestions from the hive mind on social media for dealing with it included:

  • attempting to strip the remained of the dye out
  • overdying it 
  • stripping and then overdying
  • cold water dyes
  • dye with food colouring
  • using it as a peasant dress

All of these ideas had some kind of a drawback. I only ever hand wash my medieval clothes, so I really wasn't keen to put it in a washing machine again with a commercial dye like RIT or similar. These require hot water anyway, and as the wool hadn't been washed in really hot water, only luke-warm water for the initial wash, I was concerned about further shrinkage. I have a front loading washer and I was also concerned about dye sitting unevenly.

Of course, a large pot is easier to manually agitate the fabric to ensure an even dye. The entire gown in a reasonably snuggly wool made for a really, really large pot, and then, getting an even heat under it. It just wasn't possible with the tools I have at my disposal. I laundry tub filled to the brim would hold the water, but wouldn't heat without a fire or heater under it. 

Stripping the gown first to white had it's own set of issues. Commercial dye strippers are harsh or wool and bleach wouldn't do it any favours either. Then hoping the dye would take evenly over the top was a worry also. 

Cold water dyes seemed possible but again, I'd need to use a washing machine to try to get it even and I worry that my machine cycles have periods of sitting, so it wasn't ideal. How much dye to use was a worry. Most importantly, would it dye evenly? I didn't want to end up with the same patchiness only in a different colour. 

Dying with food colouring was a surprise suggestion, but it has produced successful results for a friend in cold water. 

I have some wonderful natural dyestuffs from DAHAD, some Australian friends who sell them (along with wool and threads), but again- pots, heat, even colour, wasting proper dyes on what may not end up with a good result.

Using it for peasant clothing wasn't really on option either. Just because people were poor, it didn't mean they didn't have skills. Their clothes might wear out or become torn and mended, but their cloth itself would not necessarily have been poorly woven, dyed or sewn. Presenting an outfit as poorly dyed to represent a person of limited income is, I feel, not particularly accurate. 

Fast forward to last month when a purchased a few meters of wool fabric in a scarlet red. I know enough to wash that by itself before I make anything lest it turn a whole wash pink. 

Lightbulb moment!

My idea was this- I needed to wash the red wool in the machine to make sure I get the initial dye run out. I have a blotchy used-to-be-pink gown which is unwearable. Everyone knows that even in cold water, if you wash a new red thing with anything else, the whole load comes out a beautiful pink. 

Since I pretty much had nothing to lose, I crossed my fingers and put the new red, wool and the blotchy gown into the washing machine, selected the wool setting (lukewarm temperature, gentle agitation) and hoped for the best.

The result.

Post red wash. It's less patchy in the daylight, but perhaps a second red wool wash?
Post red wash. It's less patchy in the daylight, but perhaps a second red wool wash?

First pulling it from the washing machine, I was so excited! It looked like it had worked!! The gown was definitely almost even, with the side gores looking a little browner for no real reason I could think of. The gown was made from a single piece of cloth is a single dye lot, so the simply was no reason for discolouration other than the disaster at hand.

Of course, it needed to be dried before I could get too excited about the whole thing, because, as well all know, dry looks a bit different to wet. I hung it to dry and then had to leave for late shift at work where I wouldn't know if it had actually worked until I returned home and saw it in the morning light.

It was a very long late shift, let me tell you. I did a facebook post about putting it in the washing machine and wanted to say it worked, but had it? Had it really? I just wasn't sure.

10pm. I'm home and it's dry and under fluorescent lights, it looked pretty good. How would it look in the morning? I was hopeful but not entirely convinced. Fingers crossed.

6am. Coffee and examination time. Nope, wait. The kitty wanted to go for her walk and have breakfast. Oh, kitty, you're killing me! Finally, I could look at the gown properly. Happiness ensued! For all intents and purposes, it's wearable again. It's not even, but it's also not terribly noticeable in broad daylight when it's on. 

It's fixed enough to wear. I may still do another wash with red fabric to see if it evens it up just a tiny bit more. I'm concerned that it might be more patchy if darker.



Thrilling news!

Goodness me, it's been a busy few days! The follow-up from the ABC Radio interview has been so much better than I could have hoped for! It seems I'm not the only modern woman who feels that censoring the nipple on the front cover of the book sends an entirely wrong message in today's world. 

I'm invited back to chat about this with the rather fantastic Sheridan Stewart who is still slightly agog about the Wandering Womb Theory and whether it might be used to excuse any number of female complaints! Just kidding! It does make one wonder though whether if they were lumbered with this kind of nonsense back in the middle ages, whether any women used it to their advantage. 

Not tonight dear, I have a terrible headache. I guess my womb is stuck in my head again. Nothing I can do about it. Goodnight!

As a bonus, they were very interested in touching bases and connecting with my cover art illuminator, Tania, a long time friend and founder of the Tania Crossingham School of Illumination for a chat about what she does. 

Queensland Museum, Medieval Power
Queensland Museum, Medieval Power

As well as the cover of my book, I've worked alongside Tania when the British Museum exhibition came to the Queensland Museum with their amazing "Medieval Power: Symbols & Splendour."  

I had a number of displays and talks, including some After Dark program talks of Between Linen Sheets: The Very Secret Sex Lives of Medieval Women and Tania gave some beautiful illumination demonstrations and displays. 

It's just thrilling and I'm excited about the possibilities.


Something really cool this way comes

I am utterly exhausted and in need of some solid sleep, so I'm going to have an early night and then late shift tomorrow, but I just wanted to remind myself that I saw the coolest thing on a medieval statue and I need to blog about it. I'm so so so keen to hear what others thing. 

Maybe it's a thing which is common everywhere and I haven't seen it before now, which is possible, or is it really a very Cool Thing.

And yes. I have a picture.



Trying to get pregnant?

Trying to have a baby? Are you in need of some medieval herbal help? Yes? 

Not for the first time, I invite you to not try this at home!  

Medical health journals like the Tacuinum Sanitatus  of Vienna had a lot of really helpful advice for a large range of  illnesses and ailments, but it also included some unusual advice for  those trying to conceive. Perhaps a lack on the husband's part might be  the problem? Don't worry, Ladies! All is not yet lost!  

Nasturtiums  are a relatively easy garden plant to grow with bright colourful  flowers and edible pods and leaves. According to the book in question,  these tangy plants may help in the necessary requirements for  baby-making, but also may cause migraines, which, as any woman knows, is  absolutely not-the-least baby-inducing.   

Luckily, a slight  sprinkle with vinegar and all will be well again. The mood and passions  reignited and in the months to follow, the bloom of a new life!  

That's the theory, at least.   

It might be true that you don't make friends with salad, but might you make a baby? 

On  your next romantic evening in, dim the lights, light the candles and as  your eyes meet across the flickering glow, tell your special someone  you've prepared the ultimate sexy dinner and wow him with that  nasturtium salad. I bet he'll be speechless.  

You're welcome.


In Stock at the Abbey Museum!

I'm really excited to have my book in stock in the gift shop (both in the real world and online, although it's so new it's not online yet. You'll need to call to get your copy posted out!) at the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology. I'm a member of the Abbey Friends and have been a long time volunteer at events and and a guest speaker at numerous functions.

I'm delighted to announce this very special Museum-only offer! For the price of a book, you will receive your signed book, and some goodies from me: an uncensored dust jacket, a No Touchy Touchy! bookmark and a glossy post card! 


An Interview on the ABC Radio

Oh, this was just so much fun!

Friday morning at 9.40am saw me excitedly standing by to chat to ABC Sunshine Coast Morning Radio host, Sheridan Stewart about medieval lady things, feminine hygiene in the middle ages and my book!

I really love how astonished people can be when I tell then things that is common knowledge to many re-enactors and historians. Most people hearing these things for the first time are often amazed and sometimes shocked and it's for these people I wrote my book. People who haven't heard about the Wandering Womb theory and can't believe that it could have been true.

And it just snowballs from there.

Anyway, the interview was arranged by the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology team (and by team, I mean Michael G who is a champion) to promote the Secret Women's Business: Medieval Feminine Hygiene talk which had already sold out, but it was fantastic that Sheridan kindly mentioned my book and found the topic to be interesting!

We had so much fun!


I'm on a train on the way to my favourite museum, the Abbey Museum of Art &Archaeology and I'm so excited!

I'm taking signed books for their gift shop, doing a talk today and will get to see Senior Curator, Michael Strong's new book Glorious Glass about the stained glass in the Abbey Church. His book was released very recently, but I couldn't attend the opening as we were Covid tracing a case where, while not a close contact, might have come in contact and would thereby potentially risk infecting the Abbey community, many of whom are older folk.

I really wanted to attend, but it was better for me to isolate from social functions. I'll see everyone today instead, which will be wonderful!

I'm so looking forward to it!

Got the blues

Literally. I've got the blues. The wool arrived today from Super Cheap Fabrics and it's beautiful! It's bluer than I was expecting, to a couple of good washes to pull some dye out is on the cards, but on the up side, it's a shade which will work well over the silk gown I've recently made. 

It's quite a thick wool too, so that's a plus, since it's destined to be a toasty surcote with high armholes for wear on seriously cold days and for early in the mornings at events when photographers are out and about before the gates are open and we aren't ready for them. 

I'm very fond of a good surcote, especially the high armhole ones, because they hide a multitude of costuming crimes providing the sleeves are okay on the kirtle underneath. 

And they look like a tent no matter if one is slender or a little chunky. Everyone looks like a tent. And they're pretty with a wimple.

After the pale pink gown disaster, I'm looking to make this up for Abbey and St Ives this year as potential day wear if it's cold. I'll be using the most basic pattern and possibly adding gores in later if I'm enthused.


Sick of it?

Tacuinum Sanitatus of Rouen. Oranges.
Tacuinum Sanitatus of Rouen. Oranges.

There were many wonderful medieval remedies for the ailing medieval woman, but as usual, it really depended on where she lived as to whether she likely had access to toe base ingredients.

This recipe for nausea might be utilised by women for morning sickness, but not if she lived in England, where oranges were unknown during the early middle ages. A lady who lived in Spain or Italy might have much better success in obtaining oranges, if not from the market, perhaps from her own kitchen garden.

The Tacuinim Sanitatus is a textbook which has  five surviving copies, and this particular piece of advice comes from the Rouen version. Often, information was included even if the ingredients were exotic. I particularly like that the orange peel might be candied, but the instructions for doing this are not helpfully included. It is assumed that this was a process which was a familiar one to the person dispensing medical advice.

As with so very many medical recipes, wine is recommended as well. 

Wine. It fixes everything.