Finnish coil-embellished apron (part 5: grid motif)

Completed grid ornament (small). It's about 2cm long

Completed grid ornament (small). It’s about 2cm long

In my previous post I showed off the corner fan-shaped motifs for my coil-embellished apron. Today I’ll show how I made the grid motifs which are a square or diamond (depends on if they’re displayed on point or not).

Small ornament

Divided and undivided strips of coils

Divided and undivided strips of coils

The grid-style ornaments start out by stretching out divided sections of coils. More about that in my previous post about finishing coils. I used the small-diameter coils for this work. The original extant aprons and mantles used more than one size of coil for embellishment.

The small grid ornament took eight strips of five coil bundles, and four small coil pieces.

The small division areas work to line up the coil strips and let me thread the linen yarn through the coils to fix them together. (below) I used a double strand of linen yarn, and left a long tail at the beginning of the work.

 

Lining up the stretched-out coils and matching them up

Lining up the stretched-out coils and matching them up

In the extant photos of coil ornaments, the little crosses are visible between the coil bundles, showing that this is how they were made.

Stringing on the coil strips

Stringing on the coil strips

After threading the coils into shape, I went through and smoothed the edges of the coil strips. I found this hard to do when the coils were loose, without distorting the coils, but once they were strung up this was much easier.

Just going through in one direction makes the ornament a bit `floppy`, so I also went back and went through the grid in both directions. This results in quite a sturdy ornament. I also finished the corners with small coil sections.

Completed grid ornament (small). It's about 2cm long

Completed grid ornament (small). It’s about 2cm long

I left the working yarns on the ornament after weaving them through the coils to attach the spiral motif to the apron.

Large ornament

The large square/diamond grid ornament was made in the same manner, except I used 14 strips of coils 8-bundles long. (Below)

Large coil ornament being placed in the middle of the apron

Large coil ornament being placed in the middle of the apron

Finnish coil-embellished apron (part 4: corner motifs)

Completed decorated apron

Completed decorated apron

I made a number of different motifs for my Finnish coil-embellished apron, including four fan-shaped motifs for the corners of the apron.

My first attempt I used braided linen yarn, and the larger diameter brass coils. I followed the design from one of the extant pieces, but didn’t like how it came together as much as I liked the style I’d previously done.

I decided to continue with the larger diameter coils (because the coils on the border of the apron are also the larger variety) but opted to use the linen yarn as-is instead of braided, so that I could pass through the coil work more times to shape the motif.

Beginning a fan-shaped corner motif

Beginning a fan-shaped corner motif

The corner-motif starts with kind of a coffin-shape, using two long pieces and three short pieces. The total fan-shaped motif required 10 small pieces and four long pieces.

I left the yarn tails used from stringing the coils to sew the motif onto the apron when it was ready. Two needles was very helpful to string the coils, because I could work from two sides, rather than having to work from one side to the other.

Finnish coil-embellished apron (part 3: Coiled border)

Completed decorated apron

Completed decorated apron

In my previous post I showed how I made the coils for my Finnish coil-embellished apron. In this post I’ll show how I made some of the embellishments.

Coil-embellished apron border

Materials

The first thing I did on my apron was to hem the top and bottom edges. In period the fabric was woven with woven-in tablet weaving at one edge, and was woven to size, with tubular selvages. I don’t have the ability (or loom! or space for a loom!) to weave my own fabric, so I chose purchased wool fabric in an undyed wool colour. I wanted something fairly substantial to be able to support the weight of the coils without drooping. I pre-washed the fabric to full it slightly, making it even more dense and sturdy.

Another documented option to finishing selvage edges on the Finnish mantle is the blanket stitch, so I decided to do this on my apron as well.

Period examples have wool thread for the finishing and to sew on the coils. It looks that in some ways the wool was fingerlooped together to form a cord, but was still very fine. I knew I’d need something smooth (to go through the wool as well as to go through the coils), strong, and in different colours. I tried a number of options using wool for this including:

  • A wool-silk blend lace-weight wool
  • A wool lace-weight wool
  • A wool medium weight wool, unplied
  • A silk-bamboo sock-weight yarn
  • A sock-weight linen yarn
  • A lace-weight linen yarn
  • Lace-weight linen yarn braided together
  • Wool pulled from the selvage, used straight
  • Wool pulled from the selvage, with two strands plied together on my drop spindle.

Not all of these were successful. The medium-weight wool, unplied as well as the selvage wool used straight shredded when I tried to sew with it. The silk-bamboo is obviously not a period alternative, and also got very fluffy with the coils. The wool-silk blend wood, and linen yarns all worked well. The selvage yarn plied on the drop spindle worked well, but was very time-consuming, and I didn’t feel it was a good use of my time.

Braiding the linen yarn created a nice firm cord for threading the larger coils, but I thought it would be too thick for the small coils or for sewing onto the apron.

Using a blanket stitch to hem the top and bottom of the apron with blue linen yarn

Using a blanket stitch to hem the top and bottom of the apron with blue linen yarn

Because of these factors, I decided to use the thinner lace-weight linen yarn for the majority of my project. I had this in red and blue – red for sewing on the coils (red yarn appears to be the main colour used for the coils) and blue for hemming (blue seems to be a popular colour in Finnish clothing). I also used the lace weight 100% wool for hemming the long edges, since I couldn’t find the right colour in linen.  I wanted this hemming to be less noticeable so that the coils would stand out more.

Top and bottom hems

As noted above, I used blue linen yarn to hem the top and bottom edges with a blanket stitch. I think that the fabric is dense enough that I didn’t have to fold it, but I opted to fold the fabric to give a sense of the density of the tablet-woven or tubular selvages from period.

I used two marks on my thumb to keep the stitches even – thanks Pinterest for the idea!

I flipped the hem from the top to the bottom, since the apron will be worn with the top flipped over the belt.

Side hems

Version 1

The reverse of the first attempt of the side hems. (With some selvage yarn that I would try for the next attempt.)

The reverse of the first attempt of the side hems. (With some selvage yarn that I would try for the next attempt.)

I started off by doing a bit of a loose running stitch to hold the hem in place, and then went straight onto attaching the large-diameter coils (24 gauge wire) with the red linen yarn – also using a blanket stitch. This looked beautiful from the front, but the spaces between the blanket stitches was too long on the back. I ended up removing this entirely.

Version 2

Trying out silk thread for stitching the hem

Trying out silk thread for stitching the hem

I tried a few alternatives to finishing this edge. I tried the selvage yarn – but this broke far too easily. I tried plying the selvage yarn, and while this worked fine for doing a blanket stitch on this hem, I decided that the work involved was more than I was willing to do. I tried a silk thread, (left) which looked ok, and blended in reasonably well, but I decided it wouldn’t really work either. I ended up using the 100% lace-weight wool in a colour that matched the fabric very well.

The plied selvage yarn, straight off the drop-spindle!

The plied selvage yarn, straight off the drop-spindle!

Attaching the coils

Once the sides were hemmed with the wool yarn, I was ready for the coils. I chose the large-diameter (24 gauge wire) spirals, cut to 2 centimetres long and finished (as per my previous post about finishing). I still did the blanket stitch, using red linen thread, but basing my length between stitches on the width of the spirals.

Completed decorated apron

Completed decorated apron

 

Finnish coil-embellished apron (part 2: finishing coils)

For different areas of the Finnish coil-embellished apron, there were different kinds of coils I’d need. I had a few different requirements:

  • a lot of same-length cut coils for the side borders
  • stretched-out coils evenly divided for the gridded motifs
  • a number of coils cut to various lengths for the open work motifs

Finishing cut coils

For cut coils, I needed both ends to be reasonably smooth so that they don’t shred the yarn or catch on fabrics too much. In an initial attempt with these coils I tried pushing the cut edges into the tubes, and while this worked ok for very large diameter spirals, this was not good for the small ones because there wasn’t enough room inside for the threads to pass, and the yarn became snagged even more easily than without them tucked in.

 

To make the cut spirals I:

  1. measured the spiral to length, and used a chisel to divide the wire. Unfortunately the chisel wasn’t suitable for cutting the wire which would have been ideal!
  2. slipped the spirals with wire cutters. This wasn’t perfect because it squished the coil a bit, making the next step necessary
  3. used the tip of needle nose pliers as a mandrel to re-open and restore the shape of the coil along both edges.

 

Next, I:

  1. Threaded the coils back onto the jig rod
  2. Used needle nose pliers to smooth the edges of each coil along the rod, making a smooth spiral.
Finished smooth coil on the jig rod. Pearl head and regular pin for size guide. These are small!

Finished smooth coil on the jig rod. Pearl head and regular pin for size guide. These are small!

The smoothing of each of these takes a LONG time.. I timed one 13-15 centimetre strip, dividing it into 8 2cm long spiral beads. It took 5 minutes to finish off just the 8 beads, and that doesn’t include the time to wind the coil!

cut but unsmoothed coils above the measuring tape, smoothed coils below

cut but unsmoothed coils above the measuring tape, smoothed coils below

Finishing divided coils

For the divided coils – where they’re stretched out rather than cut, the finishing involved some similar steps, but not all. This also took a lot less time, since there were far fewer rough wire edges.

The steps included:

  1. Measuring and dividing the coils with the chisel as previously
  2. Using the snips to cut the strips into the desired lengths
  3. Stretching the coil spacing with my thumbnails, and trying to straighten out the coils which curve through the dividing slightly.

Finnish coil-embellished apron (part 1: Making the coils)

Completed decorated apron

Completed decorated apron

For an SCA competition I wanted to re-create the coil-embellished apron I made previously, now that I had a lot more information about how extant versions looked (from my visit in November 2015 to Hämeenlinna, Finland).

I’ll be dividing up some of the how-I-did-it posts over the next few days, because I have a LOT of photos to share 🙂

Making the coils

The extant coils are made of bronze, however I read that modern brass is similar in composition to bronze of the time, and it’s certainly far more affordable and available. I was able to find wire locally, while bronze wire was much more expensive and I’d have to order it in. This became very important because this project took a LOT of wire.

After seeing an extant example, and looking at research, I decided to mostly work with 24 gauge wire. I did also purchase 22 gauge wire, but didn’t use it on the apron.

Coiling the wire on the jig

Coiling the wire on the jig

I started off trying to use a simple rod to coil the wire, however found that it was difficult to keep the wire smooth on the rod. I decided to purchase a coil-making jig online, which came with two rods and a holder which can be affixed to a table.

Coiling the wire takes a very, very long time. The jig can only accommodate 13-15 centimetres of coils at one time, so it’s not just the coiling which takes time, but also setting up the jig for each new strip of coils.

The photo to the left shows the coils in progress, and I also shared a quick Instagram video – below.

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