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Garment Production

After a phase of almost no sewing work, things have advanced during the last two or three weeks.
I have finally finished a kruseler that is now waiting to be tried out with the appropriate hairdo underneath, and a woolen sideless surcote is finished apart from the hem. The upper area of the surcote is lined with rabbit fur for extra warmth, and I am looking forward to testing this garment, though proper wearing will have to wait some months.

While working with fur, I have also decided to sew myself fur mittens. I get very cold fingers very fast, and I have rabbit furs and wool, so why not make fur-lined woolen mittens to keep my hands warm? I wanted to make non-modern ones (of course) so I can also use them on medieval events during winter time (or in severely cold spots). For medieval handwear, both gloves and mittens are known, and in the 14th and 15th century, even “lobster mittens” (two compartments for two fingers each, and the thumb) can be found on pictures. I opted for the earlier (and warmer) classic mitten type, though.

There are not many finds of fur garments, and cut and shape are usually impossible to tell from pictures. But the bookshelf, again, comes to the rescue with Rainer Atzbach’s wonderful thesis about the finds from Kempten in Southern Germany. The Mühlbach-Ensemble in Kempten is a complex of a few buildings that sported hollow spaces between floor layers and between rooms. Those were filled with remnants of daily life – fragments of clothes, wood pieces, dust, straw, coins, paper scraps, and so on. Because there was no soil environment, and because it was all kept dry all the time, vegetable fibres and furs have kept well.

Fur usually degenerates in the soil, due to the tanning process (with alum) that does not result in leather as resilient as oak-tanned (or similarly tanned) leather. Thus, tannin-tanned leather might still be found in digs with good conditions, while furs or alum-tanned leathers will have disappeared. And this is why the Kempten finds are so important: It is the largest known find of furs from medieval times. If you can read German, Rainer’s book Leder und Pelz am Ende des Mittelalters und zu Beginn der Neuzeit: Die Funde aus den Gebäudehohlräumen des Mühlberg-Ensembles in Kempten (Allgäu)” is definitely worth a look. It is not only a documentation of the finds from Mühlberg, but he also gives very well-researched, concise histories of leather and fur garments. If you need to know something about shoes and fur garments, the book is a good start to delve deeper into the topic.

By the way, the first mitten fur lining is finished already, and the second one is coming along nicely. I hope to finish both mittens, including the woolen layer, on Friday.

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