HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Living at Birka

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At the beginning of August, I took my camp equipment and moved to Björkön for a long Viking-weekend. I had such a wonderful time and wanted to show you some great photos and inspire you to maybe travel there yourself when the world allows.

As many of you fellow viking-nerds know, Björkö was the place where the viking city Birka was situated, and it is very beautifully situated outside Stockholm, in Mälaren (so it is in the inner archipelago, not towards the sea) which makes for a great climate. Wild apples and cherry trees grow over the island, and sheep grass the ancient hills, grave mounds and ancient monuments still visible from the viking era.

There are still lots of grave mounds left as they were, but also a museum, a newly built experimental viking village with boats tied to its pier, and good paths to stroll to different sites on the island. As you can imagine, I got quite excited when asked to join some friends there!

When the sun set, we took a stroll around the pasture lands, enjoying the view over the water and the surrounding islands, with a small picnic basket with us. The path took us over viking age grave mounds, past the Black Earth (where the city Birka was situated) and toward the Homelands. When darkness came, we returned to the village to lit a fire, and enjoy the company of each other.

The village is built as an experimental viking settlement which allows a group to actually live in the houses, tend the gardens and the buildings, as well as sleep, cook and go around their daily life there- as well as greeting modern visitors during the day time. Not everything is 100% accurate with what we know today about the daily viking life, but things get mended, rebuilt and used in a historical way, with old tools and knowledge (and modern safety measures…)

It was so cosy going around the settlement, with the sound of cooking and woodworking, the smell of fire and tar, and vikings going around their day tending to their business. I brought my market stall and tent, setting it up with a nice view over the water, where I spent some time drinking coffee and chatting about all things viking age. I also held a lecture about clothing and dress in the Viking society, inside the interesting museum on site.

My friends Joel and Josefin took me on a guided tour since they had been here before, and we went to see the excavations going on near the shore a short walk away. This was so interesting and I learned a lot about archaeology (which seems to be such a hard job, working on your knees for hours, patiently digging through the ground.) It was also very clear how much the field has developed since the early reports, that we base much of our understanding on when recreating viking age. I look forward to the reports from this excavation!

Outfit of the day; linen shift, apron dress in woollen diamond twill inspired by the Köstrup find, woollen shawl and tortoise brooches to fasten the outfit with.

In the photo below, I just have the blue dress and loose hair, feeling a bit undressed, but also happy to finally be cool enough…

I spent the days in the market stall selling some viking things, or strolling around with new friends in the museum, out in the landscape or by the fire. This was just what I needed after a summer of staying-at-home, and even though we weren’t many it felt really good to be outside again, doing things I love.

If you want to know more about how to visit Birka, here’s a link with useful info, there are some lovely boat trips during the summer which will let you stay to see the interesting bits and take a swim before going back.


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From a Viking market

Gunnes gårds yearly autumn market is a really cozy place to be, and me and love traveled there to have a viking weekend together. There was a downpour when we arrived on Friday afternoon, but the rest of the weekend offered lovely weather and fun meetings. I hade a really busy time, and didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked, but maybe that is just a sign of having fun?

I brought my work with me, as usual, and we were hanging in our new market tent, meeting new friends and just having a good time. The tent is a market tent for all those viking markets (and for me when I travel alone) since the larger pavilion is medieval style, and also quite heavy to bring by myself. I am happy with the tent, though the large double bed we have is a bit big for it, but hey- it is hard to have it all!

During Saturday and Sunday I held two lectures about viking age clothing from a visitor’s perspective, hoping to lure more people into the interesting world of viking age… Love sat by the tent during that time, to try to help customers with questions. He is not by far as handcrafty or interested in clothing as I am (being more of a brewer/archer/gamer), but he sure looks the part in his outfit =)

Tried out a new hairstyle inspired from a find from pre viking age. It is a french braid from the top of the head going down, and then another regular braid with all the hair, twisted into a bun and pinned into place with the hair pin made of wood. Quite simple, doable without a mirror, but holds in place during the day. I like it, I will definitely try it out again!

I also got to try out my new apron dress. It is made in a very thin blue wool fabric, with a matching veil/thin shawl in the same fabric. Perfect for those warm market days during summer. Under I have a bleached linen shift. The jewels and beads I think you have seen before; it is all old and the glass beads are those I made myself. Here is also the hairstyle from the side, a bit worn since it was afternoon by the time we took the pictures

We also got the most awesome neighbours to hang out with! Two really talented spinners, one of them here with Susanna who runs Viking age clothing. I really recommend her patterns if you want to sew viking clothing for yourself, she is very knowing and talented in viking era clothing!

S, our neighbour, also had a very cool minimalistic camp, with just a small sleeping area, a cooking fire and some personal equipment.

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Now I am back home, and since this was the last market for the season, I am doing some after-season work; washing and mending clothing, taking care of camping equipment, packing everything down, writing lists and such. I am also doing a look over of the wardrobe and camp, and plan to sell of some things that has not been used during the season. Most things will be up shortly on facebook or my Etsy, so be sure to check in there every once in a while!

 


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Making a better Apron dress

This blog post contains a collaboration advertisement for sewing machine guides from Sewingland.

I thought I would share my best tips and tricks for making good apron dresses, since I have made a whole bunch of them by now, and probably most of the mistakes too. If this is your first try at an apron dress, check out my tutorials Easy apron Dress or Fitted apron dress first. At the end of my post, you’ll find a link to useful sewing machine guides if you would like to make your dress on a sewing machine.

Nr 1. Use enough fabric. I know it’s tempting to save on the fabric, but trust me. Too short and tight a dress will look like a modern dress. I use around 2 m *1,5 m to mine, and if you are larger/longer than me, you need a bit more.

Nr 2. Use a thin enough fabric. Save the sturdy, felted wool fabrics for a coat or a cape and chose a thin, rather loosely woven fabric. It should be comfortable and have a nice fall, try to drape it over a piece of furniture, like a table, and look how the folds drape.

Nr 3. Try it on while sewing with all your other layers of clothing, to make sure you will have enough room under the apron dress for a shift and a possible warmer dress if you think you will be needing that.

Nr 4. Don’t make the straps too long. I think it looks very strange when women are wearing their dresses in the middle of their bust, or even under their nipple area. Please don’t. When you fasten tortoise brooches, you can pin them through your strap, or make a knot at the end of a strap being a bit too long.

Nr 5. If you don’t have tortoise brooches to fasten your dress with, don’t use modern buttons or fastenings in the meantime. I have learned that apron dresses were not a thing without brooches, like the dress is an accessory to the jewellery and not the other way around. You don’t have to wear apron dresses for reenacting a viking woman, a simple long kirtle will do. So skip the apron dress if you don’t own the brooches, or sew the straps directly to the dress itself if you are momentary without them.

Nr 6. The thin fabric could be lined with a strip of linen or wool to protect the hem and support the top.

Nr 7. You may sew on a piece of tablet-woven band or a thin silk strip around the upper part of the dress, to make it durable, enhance the fitting and also, for decoration. Another way to decorate the dress is to sew a small wool braid to the top.

Nr 8. Decorating your dress doesn’t have to be expensive. Use thin strips of patterned silks, tablet woven bands, viking silver posaments, or just a braided cord. On the small figurines, it seems like there is decoration around the hem of the dress, and in grave finds there are remnants of silk and decorations around the upper part, partly inside the tortoise brooches. Save money and time and decorate only the upper part of the dress, or do the whole thing!

Nr 9. Use the same type of thread as the decoration you want to sew to your dress. Silk thread for silk fabrics, wool thread for woven bands, and a very thin and fine silk thread for posaments. This will give you a nice seam, that is as little visible as possible, and doesn’t damage the decorations.

Nr 10. To protect your dress from everyday stains; use a belt to fasten up your dress while working, this will protect the hem from mud, open fire and stains. Also, an apron is a very good choice for protecting your clothes. Or remove the apron dress and work in your shift or woollen dress. It seems the apron dress was a status symbol and finer wear, so it is probable that women didn’t wear them while labouring.

Follow this link to more help on sewing machines: http://sewingland.org/best-sewing-machine-for-cosplay/

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Tutorial Apron Dress

One of the dresses that I still like after using for many events, is my Viking age apron dress (it’s actually one of my oldest piece of clothing). It´s made of a medium-heavy tabby woven wool and the construction of the dress is inspired by the find from Hedeby. The pattern is made of 4 pieces and is quite simple, you´ll achieve the fitted look by making small adjustments according to your body.
As you probably already noticed, there are amazingly many different variations of reconstructions and suggestions on how the apron dress may have looked, and I also think there were different variants during the viking age. However, I decided to imitate the find from Hedeby, as this has a piece of a probable seam preserved, and gives a suggestion of how the skirts/panels may have been assembled. After reading some discussions on the website Historiska världar and looking at gold figurines, I also chose to sew the dress too long, to create a train. That’s my interpretation on the figurines and picture stones and I was curious about how the fabric would fall with such a model. After a while, however, I cut off the excess fabric that made the overly long skirt, since I got irritated about the fabric dragging mud everywhere and getting in my way. It was a nice view though, the long skirt trailing behind.

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Here is a list of what you need, and some easy steps to follow to make one of your own!

What you need:

  • 2-3 m *1.5 m fabric (2 m= small, 3 m=large)
  • scissor
  • measuring tape
  • markers for fabric
  • pins
  • needle and thread or a sewing machine
  • a friend to assist with the final adjustments on the dress

The measurements you need:

  • Armpit-hemd (3) (as long as you want the dress to be) + 3 cm sewing allowance at the bottom, and 5 cm at the top if you would like to make the dress with a higher look (like my green one) when measuring from the armpit; start as high up as you can get under the arm. you will cut out space for your arm movement later.
  • Width around your body (1) (the widest part of your body, often around your bust. Divide this measurement in 4 and then add 4cm to each piece (seam allowance and leisure of movement)
  • Armpit-waist (2) (in this case, your waist is your slimmest part of your body, after which the dress is going to get wider)

I chose to make my dress rather fitted, but a more loose style will make it possible to wear a pair of underdresses under it, which can be nice during colder weather. The 4 pieces are of the same size and shape. They start out straight and then gets wider at the waist.

The amount of fabric you need depends on your measurements, but I drafted up three different ways of putting your pattern pieces out on your fabric, depending on how much fabric you want to use.

For the draft to work you need to have a fabric that is 150 cm in width, and the dress can not be longer than that. 1F + 2F is the two side pieces, 3B + 4B is the front and back ones. The bottom-left draft shows how you can use the fabric in an effective way by doing a gore in one panel.

The upper pattern takes 250 cm of fabric and gives you a dress with a hem circumference of 80cm *4= 320 cm. You can absolutely do with less; the one at the bottom- right gives you a hem of about 270 cm, using under 200 cm of fabric. This is for a small-medium sized person. If you have a larger size, remember to add width not just to your upper area but to the skirt as well, to make the dress drape nicely and give you space to move.

After cutting the pieces from the fabric, baste them together in order to try the size and fitting. The dotted lines on the picture above indicate where you can fit the dress (waist+under the bust, under the armpit and at the small of your back). When you try out the dress, remember to have your shift underneath so it won’t get too small. If you’re using a modern bra during your viking adventures, then also wear it during fitting sessions.

When the dress is done, I usually make the straps in linen or wool fabric (linen straps are more common in finds). Make them as narrow bands (folded double) and sew them on to the back of your dress at the same position as your bra straps would be, this will make them fit comfortably on your shoulders. In the front, you may sew them down to the dress if you haven’t got tortoise brooches yet, otherwise use these to fasten the straps to the dress. I prefer to do a loop at the end of the strap, and then another one at the front of the dress; these you can clearly see in finds from the viking age, and it also makes it easier to use the brooches without damaging your fabric.

If you feel that you would like to add something; decorations are a nice way to spice up your apron dress. A tablet woven band, a small piece of silk fabric or a silver thread posament are all find-based decorations from the viking age. Good luck with your sewing!

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Viking age- reading tip

Are you interested in the viking age, but wonders how to learn more? Browsing pinterest on all lovely photos, but thinking that everything might not be historical? Here’s some really good links and reading for you! (And no, of course you don’t have to exercise your hobby the most historical way possible- but it’s always interesting to know-how)

 

Susanna Broome is a great tip if you want patterns and reading about pattern construction. Her page includes lots of good-to-know, as well as patterns for sale, both in english and swedish. She is both historical well-read, as well as daring to say “I did this, we don’t know if that is the correct way, but it´s working and gives you a nice outfit”.

Viking clothing (Thor Ewing) is a good read. Everything might not be historical accurate since he is making conclusions- but it makes the book interesting for reenactors and not just a list of different finds.

Pinterest is both very good, and quite dangerous. Lots of pretty clothes, lots of fantasy, lots of guesses. But also lots of finds and photos from museum and databases, good quality handcraft and historical interpretations. Look for Viking Finds rather than just “vikings”, archeological material, posts about what have been found and were, and pair it with written sources.

For viking finds of metal, ceramics and the like, different museums offers online databases. For example, I found one of the original tortoise brooches (that I use in my outfit) on the Västernorrlands Länsmuseum which is only a short trip from my home.

Good luck with your reading, and please write a comment if you have any more interesting reading tip to share!

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