Four grey hunters

distance greyhuntersThe Point of research 

As we find new information, it is time to implement it. When we found that Gaston say you use grey clothes in winterhunting, as we wrote about here, we had better make ourself some grey clothing. For us this is what reenacting is about. When you find new information you need to upgrade your kit to reflect this. Otherwise…. what is the point of research?

This article is about the use of research and the first one literally written by both of us together. We wanted to share an example of how you can go about to interpret the material you have, how to think around your sources to reconstruct a believable garment. You will never be spot on, so it is always good to know HOW you think as you do and WHY.

For us the interpretation is often based on how the garment falls around the body in the picture. This will give some clues to what kind of textile, how it is cut and what seams that are used. Many people look at the pictures, but don’t really see them. They have a illustration of a person from the age, but they do not see things that they do not already ‘know’ they wore. Another common thing is to explain everything that don’t fit into your picture of the age is to call it ‘artistic freedom’ on the illuminators part, even if it appears in several pictures and from different artists.

Another trend in reecreating is going fancy. Sure, you like to have the tight cottehardi with fifty-eleven buttons. Sure, they where high fashion at the time. But what is the type of character you are actually wearing? Many have very simple cottes, especially when doing manual labour. Not to say that the manybuttoned cottes are not used here also, but how many reenactors dare to make the simple cotte today? Or to renounce from wearing all the nice stuff they have accumulated over the years? We are the same here, we like to use the nice things also. But we feel in our hearts that we should show the simple and common as well.

We scoured our homes after fitting textile, and the books after fitting clothing. Granted, the climate in the books might not be the same as we have. The books are written in France, and Gaston himself lived in Occitania. I don’t really know how winter down there is, but  there might be a difference from Scandinavian winters in cold and snow-depth. The cloth is not very thick though, as we see the garments mostly as a over-garment for functionality. The layer principle is at work here, and our experience tells us that you don’t need thick clothing when moving around in the winter forest.

Emils kyrtil

My kyrtil is partly inspired by two pictures of boarhunters from Livre de chasse, the Morgan library version, folio 83 and folio 84. Kombo 83 och 84On both pictures, most hunters wear greyish clothing, so I assume it is a winter hunt. Both kyrtils are of calf length and very wide, loose-fitting.

F 83 (left)  has a delicately cut S-curved shoulder seam, almost like a grand assiette. It features a puffy sleeve, seemingly cut at an angle by the elbow, possibly also with a narrow cuff making it tighter over the wrist (it doesn’t really show but is an assumption based on my interpretation of how the fabric falls when the hunter is aiming with his crossbow). If F 84 (right) was thought to depict a garment of a similar cut is hard to know, it looks a little simpler, without the grand assiette and it could have another type of baggy sleeve with less fabric in it. Still, they are much alike and on both pictures I notice that the grey fabric folds and drapes very nicely against the belt. That makes me think of an ingenious cut that I’ve seen on preserved 14th century kirtles from Herlofsnes, Greenland.

As none of the pictures show the front of the garment or the cut of it in detail, I decided to combine them with an archaeological find in my interpretation. From Herjolfsnes there is a wide kirtle known as Norlund 63. I think it appears to be much similar in cut and drape to those depicted in Livre de chasse and it is also contemporary with them. 61

Norlund 63 is characterised by its loose fit and baggy S-cut uppeIMAG4346r sleeves with a narrow cuff over the wrist. The most obvious difference to the kirtles of Livre de chasse is that this one has a small standing collar and that it buttons down front with 16 cloth buttons. I went for just a handful of buttons as I don’t need more. In Livre de chasse it is more common to have just a few, rather than a full button row down the front. I really like the collar and as collars appear on other kyrtils from the same manuscript, I decided to keep it.

All in all, my winter kirtle is far more based on the archaeological find rather than the pictures from Livre de chasse, but I think it is a fair interpretation as they all are contemporary and of a similar cut.

 

johans

the inspiration for Johans kyrtil

Johans kyrtil

I found a loose garment in the same book (Folio 83v.), a jaunty loiterer mostly chewing the fat with the other hunters down in the corner. As the cloth I found at home was double-sided, grey and light brown, it seemed like a nice fitting garment. The scene is a boarhunt at winter and all hunters wear shades of grey. I thought the garment was probably very simple and loose. The arms looked straight and I could see no collar. While it was possible it had an opening at the front, I did not think it had one, based on the thought of the simple garment. To get width over the 10898268_10152526556922765_3317232265131267743_ntorso but not over the shoulders, I extended the gores in the sides up to the arm-opening. Based on most cottes construction at the time, I used grand (or grandish..) assietes for the armholes. This is also for the freedom of movement. Grand assietes is superior in matters of movement in a garment. The seam of the arm was left on the underside of the arm though, not on the back as is more common. Perhaps a rear-centred seam would have been a better choice, but I choose the underarm variant to stay with the thought of the simple construction. The edges was left raw.

Using it

As the weather was not really on our side we thought we’d just snap some photos of thejohans grey kyrtils to get this article running. We found a grey tangle of brush, to show why grey might have been a smart move during the defoliage season. Most  woods up where we live are evergreen fir, juniper and pine so green might work just as well at wintertime really… But staying true to the huntbooks we took our grey kyrtils out and posed up!

Johan had a basic cotte under and another more loose on top. The grey came up ontop of that. It kept the warmth rather nice, don’t let the absence of snow fool you, it was a very chilly day. Judging from the picture the arms are longer then the arms of the man wearing it, and then turned up. This was a rather good feature as turning them down kept the warmth over the hands well enough.

20150104_151940Emil had double layers of wool with his thin summer-cotte under the new heavy grey one. The generous cut of the new kirtle made the garment drape just like in the pictures. All the draping and folds of the fabric made little pockets of air, soon warmed by the body. When needing to regulate the warmth, it is easy to just undo a button or two.

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 Conculsions

So, after we found out that wintertime you wear grey, there wasnt really much you could do but make some grey clothing. These hands on instrutions are rare in reecreating. Most have to make guesses and read between the lines in recreating a certain type of person. When you also see the text mirrored in the pictures showing wintertime hunting (mostly boar) we felt we did not have any choice but to make a set of ‘greys’
greyhuntersBy Johan and Emil.

 

 

 

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“Can I wear this?”

I and other reenactors often get questions about how we find information, period pictures for inspiration and if there are evidence in the archaeological material for this or that. This is a huge topic, I’m learning still and I cannot possibly cover it with a single post. But I’d like to share some of my thoughts on it, in order to help you answer the recurring question “Can I wear this?” yourself.

Reenactment is about recreating things as close as we can get to the real thing. I believe it is really important to do your best to achieve that. For me this ambition is what makes it challenging but also fun and rewarding. To get as close to the real thing as possible with your medieval gear, you’ll need to start in the right end. Even if an attempt to research may feel intimidating for beginners, it is much easier to first look for proof among period pictures, in historical sources, contemporary art and archaeological material rather than the other way around.

If you first decide what you want, make it or buy it and afterwards try to find proof that things were actually done that way – you are bound to be disappointed. Working that way is an anachronism based on how you decide what you next fashion item will be in your modern everyday wardrobe. Especially as a beginner at reenactment you need to free yourself of this mindset or you risk finding yourself in lack of evidence and thus have to abandon your project or re-do it.

"Can I wear this?" This illumination from Les livres du roi Modus is my main source of inspiration for my next outfit.

“Can I wear this?” This illumination from Les livres du roi Modus is my main source of inspiration for my next outfit.

However, finding information and evaluating it is a craft in it self. You have to have some feel for period art expression, knowledge about the geography, religious life, economy, politics and social strata of the society you are studying just to formulate a question. It helps a lot if you have some understanding for medieval crafts and materials, their value and production.

As I hope you understand, it is not possible for anyone to be an expert on all of this at once. That is why we have professional historians, archaeologists and art specialists. I’ve read my share of history and archaeology but it is in no way sufficient to make me an expert. That is why we need our friends, other blogs, museums and a living network of historical enthusiasts. On the left here in our blog you’ll find a list of links to some of the resources we use for inspiration and information.

The best tool for learning is a healthy combination of curiosity and scepticism. In time, you’ll build up a bank of experience and a reference material among period texts and pictures, it does not come over night. So start to nose around, ask others, visit museums, look at pictures and read, but keep up a sound sceptical approach. Never stop questioning what others say, what you see and what you think you know. Anyone can be mistaken, misinterpretations of old are still around and new ones are discovered all the time.

But then how are you ever to know if a source is reliable, if something is appropriate to recreate and right for you? I’ll give you an example of the process of trying to finding out. Let’s say that I’d like to make a new bag for my hunting outfit. I’ve been looking around for a picture to base my bag on and I’ve finally found one. This white little purse, doesn’t it seem excellent for carrying my phone while I’m out hunting? And it appears in a handbook on hunting, Les livres du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio from late 14th century. Perfect!

Hunters and falconers fighting.

Or is it? What is actually happening on the picture…? They are fighting! Some of you will recognize the scene from Johans post about the conflict that seems to have been between hunters and falconers. There was bad blood between falconers and hunters about which was the noblest and most true kind of hunt – that with birds of prey or that with dogs. The bird-like thingy on the whipping piece of string is a decoy for training falcons, a tool for falconers. Here the hunters are portrayed with horns and the falconers are the ones wearing the little white bags.

What I want to say is this – you’ll need an idea of what you are reenacting, who you are in the medieval world and society in order to know what equipment you’ll need. Are you a hunter or a falconer, or in other words – a dogturd or fleapicker? If there is a conflict between hunters and falconers during the time you are reenacting and you want to be a hunter – don’t wear a falconers bag.

You’ll want to be sure to use the right attributes signalling who you are. You should aim for everything to go together in your ensemble of gear. Ask yourself – are you reenacting a man or a woman, poor or rich? When and where? What are your privileges in society and how do you express them? Where do you imagine that the person you are portraying live? What tools or characteristics are typical for your trade?

As I lift my eyes from the first picture of the purse I soon find that the little white bag perhaps could be attributed to falconers to set them apart from hunters. In Les livres du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio only falconers seem to wear them. Why is this? Interesting!

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Could it be that his type of bag is signalling the falconer’s trade in illustrations or has some sort of special use for a falconer? Such a hypothesis calls for further investigation. If I’m right, it makes this bag inappropriate for me to wear as a hunter. But in order to start calling this a falconers bag, I’d have to have stronger proof. I’d like to see the connection in other manuscripts as well or have some other attribution of the little white bag to this specific use. But once you start looking, you’ll see little white bags everywhere…

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The fact that not only falconers are wearing little white bags does not contravene the hypothesis that falconers maybe did as a mark of their trade. What I need is proof from other manuscripts or sources that show falconers carrying the same type of bag. The more pictures or historical evidence, the stronger the connection is.

Here is one from Codex Manesse, early 14th century. 721_10151593492456161_1601862695_nI’d prefer to have support from at the least three different manuscripts or other sources roughly from the same period of time before I conclude anything or decide to make something new. As I only have pictures from two sources and because Les livres du roi Modus is late 14th century and Codex Manesse is early, I’ll either have to keep looking or accept that my hypothesis is invalid.

When I started looking around in other sources, I got curious about what the falconers use the bag for. Knowing that could help me find more information and puzzle the pieces together. The little I know about falconering makes me wonder if it could be a easy-access-bag with meaty treats for the falcons? Little purses are commonly pictured in period illuminations and plenty of them are preserved, but they are rarely white. Why is this bag always white? Could it be a bag of linnen? I know that flax is hard to dye with period methods but very suitable to proof with wax and as such for storage of fresh food.

Mind you, it is not always possible to tell what material it is supposed to be just by looking at a picture. Also, don’t settle with a single picture of a funny looking bag found in just one manuscript before you decide to make one just like it, unless you are in to recreating that single scene exactly as it is. Ask yourself what the context tells you – the text that your picture illuminates, if you can read it or have it translated – what is it about? Does this type of bag occur anywhere else? Release your curiosity, start to ask and look around!

lovesmenotHere for instance is a picture of another bag or purse. It is not of the same type as the one I’m looking for but it is a good example of problems you’ll run into as a reenactor. Can I consider a bag like this one for my medieval hunters outfit?

Notice how big it is, almost like a modern backpack. From this period of time, mid- to late 14th century I know not of any others like it in size. Why is that? I haven’t seen everything, so I had to ask others who are more experienced. When I did, I was told that the text that this illumination belongs to is about the trouble that meets a man courting ungrateful and greedy women. Then I notice that the lady has a grumpy frown upon her face. I see the rejecting hand gesture and her very fancy dresses. I guess that she is not happy with her lovers gift, it is not good enough for her. How ever large and valuable, it is not what she wants from him.

From other texts and pictures as well as from interpreting the motifs on purses from the 14th century, aumônières, or alms purses seems to have been common gifts between lovers. I conclude that it is possible that the purse above is pictured as a large one in order to emphasize its importance, illustrating the great generosity of this man courting his ungrateful lady. Enlarging the most important thing in a picture is a common technique in contemporary art during this time but it can be misleading for us who look at the pictures some 650 years later…

To sum things up – as I am reenacting a 14th century hunter, none of the bags in my examples so far seems to be entirely appropriate. I’m still looking for something suitable, but I hope that sharing my searching strategy can be of help for others.

You will not always find what you are looking for and that is my last tip to you, don’t be to sure that you will. Don’t jump to conclusions to soon, look around, compare pictures from different sources and read the texts that go with the illuminations. Question what you think you know and try to see the bigger picture. As you do, you’ll get more skilled at analysing period art and you’ll learn more about the medieval world.

Good luck!

/ Emil