HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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(how to choose) Viking age colours

This post is a collab with Korps and contains advertisement for plantdyes and fabrics

I wanted to put down what I have learned about coloured garments and fabrics from the Viking age, so you may use it as a guide when deciding on the colours for your viking outfit.

Colour pigments available during the Viking age according to Ewing in “Viking Clothing”: blue (woad), lichen (purple), red (madder) and yellow (not identified) but also…

Blue could range from soft, muted grey-blue, watered blues, to saturated deep blue tones. The same goes for other colours; white wool, lots of dye and a skilled dyer will get you deeper and more even colours than mixed wools, and so on. The range of red is very wide; orange hues, muted brown-red tones, to saturated reds and cold red such as wine red. Lichen purple range from violet and almost lavender tones to purple hues with red and pink tones. Yellow dyes can be made with a great number of different plants all the way from a beige soft tone to brilliant yellows, or light green tones.

Walnut shells found in Hedeby and Oseberg gives you rich reddish browns, or warm browns.

Natural colours from the sheep’s wool ranged from white to muddled white tones, browns and dark browns. Black fabric would not have been as black as the fashionable 16th c fabrics, but more brown-black from the sheep’s natural colour.

The shawl and silk cap are dyed with natural colours (woad), while the dress and apron dress are dyed with modern dyes.

By sorting the wool into different qualities and colours you can make fabric that is white and therefore gives a very brilliant colour when dyed, but also mottled fabrics, or striped ones by weaving with threads of different colours. Some weaves from the Herjolfnes finds (medieval period) are made this way; by having one colour in the warp and one in the wheft.

Different ways of dyeing: the wool, the spun yarn or the finished fabric. Dyeing spun yarn and then weaving gives you a fabric that is a bit mottled, but was also used to make patterned fabrics. Dyeing the woven fabric make sure you get the exact amount you need for a garment in as even a tone as possible. Dying the wool before spinning is mentioned in later sources from the medieval period, and one madder-red example was found in viking settlements in York.

Many people probably wore undyed clothing in natural beige, browns, dark brown tones, woven in an even tone, mottled hues or patterned by the use of different natural shades during weaving.

Muted and soft colour tones, as well as mottled hues, were easier to make than deeply saturated colours and thus cheaper. Plants used for dyeing have been found growing in the same regions as the viking settlements, as well as being imported as raw materials, or already coloured fabrics.

Brilliant red and blue tones are being mentioned as high-status markers worn by royalty and their followers or being important gifts. Especially blue seems to have been a popular colour with lots of examples from finds and written texts. Old sagas and literature describe people donning coloured garments (a blue kirtle for example) before going out on important business, so if you are planning on attending an important meeting, a great feast or avenging a friend, you could always wear your best red cloak or blue kirtle for the occasion!

Linen was unbleached, or bleached. A linen shirt being “white as snow” was a status marker clearly standing out to those around the wearer. A finer weave and brighter white were seen as superior and would give higher prices.

(There are examples of dyed linen fabrics in red and blue colours, but they are uncommon so I will not go into details here.)

Shades based on cochineal

What should you look for when buying fabric?

Vibrant and saturated: blue and red were popular but expensive, if you would like to create a high-status viking these are good choices. Combine these with high-status jewelry, good quality shoes and white linen for undergarments.

Muted, soft shades: if you want to create everyday garments, softer tones are better: soft blues, reds, yellows, dyed browns, but also all in-between hues that are hard to describe in text: rust-red, red-brown, yellow-greens, light purple-pink hues, warm tones between yellow-orange-brown-apricot. Combine with unbleached, half bleached or almost white linen underwear.

Uncoloured wools are a good choice for the everyday clothes of people living farther from cities and other trading areas. For underwear, unbleached or half bleached linen, or another layer of wool fabric will do nicely. (Finds from Norway and Gotland indicates that an all wool outfit were more usual there).

Sometimes it can be difficult to find good fabric choices, so here are some examples from Korps that I would recommend. Avoid the darkest reds/greens/blues/turquoise and go for the softer shades. The beige/natural coloured wool is a great example of an undyed fabric choice.

I always order fabric samples to be able to see and feel the fabrics for real before buying (you should do it too, they have lots of samples!) It also gives you the opportunity to match shades with each other for a great outfit. For more on that subject; check out this post.

Korps have plant dyes if you want to try plant dying yourself, along with a free booklet (in Swedish) with information and formulas. Look for fabrics that are sold for plant dying, or ask for those, to avoid already coloured or treated fabrics.

Remember: not all plant dyeing available today was used during the Viking age, some are imports from a later date, or was not effective enough without chemicals. If you want to learn more about plant dyes and colouring there’s much to read on the internet, even at Wikipedia.

Plant-dyed examples found in a second-hand store.


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2020 in review

There’s a lot to say about this year, but at least I’ve been having plenty of time for sewing. Unfortunately, a bad shoulder gave me some pains, but with rest and a training program, I think we are mostly friends again!

I thought it would be fun to share some projects with you here, as an inspiration and a kind of journal to myself: I always forget what I have been sewing, and find myself longing to finish yet another personal “small project” but not understanding why I don’t make any progress…

72 garments finished during 2020; both for customers, friends and myself. I am not going to write about them all, and many have not been photographed yet. I also have a whole bunch of things not yet ready; commissions, old projects known as UFOs (unfinished objects) and some rather new ideas I have been working on.

Easy, simple and comfortable blue Viking dress. Want to make a similar? Use the Shift-making tutorial and the Insert a Gore-tutorial to make a long shift with 4 gores.

It was time to make some new viking clothes and I managed this blue dress, the red apron dress and some matching items, like the handwoven and woad plant-dyed shawl. I am really pleased with how the outfit turned out, even if the outfit might not be sexy to the modern eye… I love experimenting with different historical cuts that could have been in use, trying out how they look and feel when I make and wear them.

Later I made this early 14th century outfit as I finally, after a long period of 15th century-romance, have laid my eyes on new conquests. The 13th and 14th centuries are very nice, and I want to get to know them a little more. The next project will be something from the Maciejowski/Morgan Bible.

I have made several complete outfits for customers based on viking age and medieval clothing, and this was the year when I only met GOOD CUSTOMERS! I kid you not! Everyone has been polite, fun to work with and sent their payments. For those of you working regularly in customer service; you know my feeling here! How did I get to be so lucky? And, will this continue during 2021?

A hand-sewn 16th century shirt inspired by the Sture shirt (without decorations and embroidery). This shirt took over 40 hours to make, more than most dresses… Is it pretty? Yes. Was it worth it? Give me another year before I answer…

I have also worked on 18th century clothing, learning more about the period and the methods in use. There’s a couple of skirts, a jacket in wool and one in printed cotton, as well as a small linen cap. I am looking forward to going to new kinds of events and trying out the kit to see if it will work.

I made a new short-sleeved kirtle with a waist seam, similar to the blue Weyden-inspired dress from years ago. This dress is rather loose (I might need to take it in a bit in the side seams) and it’s made with a curved front seam. It is going to be a great working kirtle! The long-sleeved green 15th c dress also got sold, they mysteriously shrank in the wardrobe during last winter)

Apart from sewing I also dived into some video making, filmed lectures for the digital Medieval Week as well as setting up a new Youtube channel, and working with content for my Patreon page. Video editing and voice-overs still make me sweat, but my plan is to continue to improve in these new areas, creating more and better content for you readers. Patreon makes this possible since I get support to work with my content, and my hope for 2021 is that my page will continue to grow, inspire and teach handcrafting ideas to everyone interested!

It feels like it is early yet to plan for this year, but of course, I am hoping for a market season of some kind, and I have so much new content for sewing workshops and material for a new viking lecture as well. As for the blog, there is a long list with tutorials to make, as much as I have time for. All concluded, it really feels like 2021 will be a Great Year!


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Some of the clothes I’ve made this year

Sometimes I get the feeling that I never get anything done, or that I haven’t made a piece for sale in like, forever. So I made a list of some of the things I have done this year, both for customers and for myself and love, and then I felt that yes- maybe I have been quite productive after all!

In the beginning of the year, I think I accidentally started this Herjolfnes recreation, all hand stitched.

I made our wedding outfits for our Midsummer wedding:


Supporting linen dress, white silk dress, velvet over dress, purse, belts and for love; silk shirt, silk brocade doublet and under west, woolen hose, bag and belt. Also, I remember sewing some tunics and dresses for our families for the wedding.

Did I sew this houppelande also, or did I finish it the year before? It is also all hand stitched, on wool, silk and rabbit fur.

During autumn, I apparently needed to redo my apron dress, make a whole new viking coat by hand and put it all together to a new outfit, along with some tablet woven bands.

   Also, some commissions took place, like this coat…

… as well as a number of hoods, shirts and tunics (here’s some of them along with the silk cotehardie)

I also remember some viking hedeby trousers (baggy pants)- four of them i think.

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As well as some hand sewn viking clothing…

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I updated my shop and market stall during the spring with cloths, small flags and my own logo hand painted on a linen fabric.

  Made a whole bunch of veils in linen and thin wool for different outfits;

I studied 16th century tailoring manuscripts and sewed two jackets for women, in wool fabric (one for my friend Linnea and one for myself)

Oh, and rosaries were totally a thing- I have read a lot about them, made a whole bunch of drawings, some pieces for sale and a folder about how to do them yourself, as well as holding some workshop on the subject.

This is far from everything I have made, and some pieces have not even made it to being properly photographed though I have been wearing them on several occasions.  Also, quite a few items and commissions also are just on fb or my Instagram accounts, otherwise this post would be far to long.

All in all, I think I have; 1. made quite some things and 2. need to be even better at documenting them and writing about them here on the blog.