This past weekend, I, Kyle, and my friend Karen made the five-hour drive down to Knox City, Missouri, to visit the Viking fort of Ravensborg. The drive was, thankfully, an uneventful one, and we arrived at about seven in the evening. Of course, little could be done that evening in the way of work or Viking things, so we unpacked, ate supper, and sat around and caught up with friends. Karen and I hemmed her dress for the weekend, which was both relaxing and challenging, with only oil lamps and candles to light our work.
The next morning, the menfolk set to work on hanging the gates for the new gatehouse, and Karen and I began to dye cloth. John had asked me to do something with a white lamb’s wool caftan he had, so I decided we would try our hand at dyeing it madder red. That took all day. (In fact, this process is still ongoing as of today!) Since we needed a fire, and it was dark and smoky in the longhouse, Karen and I decided to work outside. Good choice, since the weather was as nice as it was!
Madder roots are complicated to dye with. As they contain two colors, a yellow and a red, and since the yellow dissolves more easily in water, one must often simmer the roots for nearly two hours, starting with fresh water each hour, to wash out the yellows and pull out the reds more clearly and avoid an orange color. So we simmered and strained, and simmered and strained, and finally were able to put the caftan in the dye with the roots, after which it simmered all day, and sat all night, and still ended up a peach color. (It was frustrating.) I had to pour out the dye before we drove back home, but saved the roots and set the whole thing soaking again once I got home. I am happy to say the caftan is more of a orange-ish red now than it was before, and steadily getting darker.
While we dyed, Kyle and Little John split wood and fixed John’s shoes (they ruined my needle!) and kept us company for a while.
Meanwhile, the men were working on hanging the gates on the gatehouse, which is quite impressive, aside from the part where there are not enough ladder rungs for a woman in a dress to easily get to the second floor.
The blacksmiths, who had made the hinges earlier, were busy forging rivets to attach the hinges to the gates, while others were hard at work cutting and putting together the gates themselves. It was a lot of fun to watch, and very interesting. When we could, Karen and I took breaks from the dyeing to watch the men work on the gatehouse, and also to climb up into the gatehouse itself and get a good view of the land.
Of course, as always, there were new pieces and details in my kit, and of course Karen’s kit was all new. I had a new dark blue wool overdress, and have added tablet weaving to my blue apron dress since Viking Meet. With a wool dress, I was finally warm enough at Ravensborg for a change!
I also had a new tablet weaving belt, which worked nicely with a dress that is otherwise rather shapeless. I have woven a piece of tablet weaving to edge the dark blue dress, but didn’t have time to sew that on before this weekend. One thing at a time. I’ll get it sewn on eventually.
Karen had a simpler dress. She was portraying a slave captured from Ireland (her idea, not mine, I swear!) and thus had what we would call Hiberno-Norse clothing. It is a much simplified and much cheaper looking version of most of the women’s clothing I make, and does not have an apron dress to go with it, partially because the Irish didn’t often wear the apron dress, and partially because only free women could wear the apron dress. Both the underdress and overdress were made the same, the underdress of a cheap off-white linen, the overdress a pale green, and just a little shorter. She had a braided hemp belt and an apron, since she was working and didn’t want to wreck her dress. (I wore an apron too for a while when we were dyeing.) She wore my old Gillie Brogues, a type of Celtic shoe.
She also had manacles. No joke.
Overall, it was a very functional and comfortable dress to wear, or so she said. I think she was a little more mobile than I am in my tight apron dress, but we were both able to climb up into the gatehouse, so. . . I think both styles of dress allow for about the same mobility and freedom.
All things considered, it was the about the best weekend I have spent down at Ravensborg so far, even though there was no fighting. (We were too busy working on our individual projects.) We had some kids come down to trick-or-treat Saturday night, and we all told stories and sang songs at the feast Saturday evening in the old Viking feast entertainment way. Sunday morning found us packing up and going our separate ways, already looking forward to the Return of the Sun in April, the next time we will meet at Ravensborg.
And for once, this weekend, it didn’t rain.