Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


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Tutorial viking/medieval shift or underdress

Underwear in linen – you can always use another one. Here is an easy and basic tutorial about how to make your own. I use prewashed white or natural linen fabric, about 150 cm width. For a male under tunic or shirt in size large you need around 2 meters of fabric, the same amount for a shift or under dress for size small- medium. If you are tall, take another 50-60 cm. If you need a bigger size or want the dress shirt to be long and full, take 3 meters of fabric or draw out the pattern pieces on a paper first.

It is important to zigzag your fabric at the cut sides and then wash it on 40 or 60 C degrees, to make it shrink before you cut and sew in it. Otherwise it will tend to shrink a little, each time it get wet or washed. After you have washed the fabric, iron it flat and then lay it out on the floor/table for a better view.

Start with your measures;

  1. Length of shift/shirt + 3 cm seam allowance
  2. Width of shift (around your chest or your widest part of your body) + 6 % for movement.
  3. Width of armholes + some cm for movement. Compare with a cotton shirt that fits you.
  4. Length of arm, when bending your elbow at 90 degrees.

When you have measured yourself; draw out the pieces you need on a paper with the measurements you got from the above, it makes it easier if you are not an experienced seamstress. This is my layout with pattern pieces; front, back, two sleeves, two sleeve gussets, two side gores (one is split in two). I cut out my neckline at once, but you can first sew your shift/shirt together and then try it on to adjust the neckline to your taste. Note that I also cut out my armholes on the body pieces; around 4-6 cm on the shoulders and then in a straight line down. This makes the shift lay better on your shoulders.

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If you are going to sew everything on machine, start with a zig zag around all fabric edges. This is important so the fabric wont fray and fall apart when wearing and washing. You can also sew the garment on a overlock if you have one.

After this, it is time to sew the pieces together. Start with the sleeves + sleeve gussets and then the gores for added hem width. I always pin the pieces first, on a flat surface.

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Sew the pieces together with machine or by hand, and then press the seam allowances to each side with an iron, or by hand. Repeat these step after every seam, and it will be easier to sew the crossing seams nicely and it will make the seams look better.

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Then sew the shoulders together, and the side gores to the front (or back) piece like this. When these are done, lay the garment out on a flat surface, with the right side up, and put the sleeves on top of the garment right side down and pin the armholes. You don’t need to do a fitted sleeve on this item, just sew the sleeves in place as a regular seam.

Last; pin and sew the side seams, and the sleeves together. When sewing the area around the sleeve gussets you might find it a bit bulky. Don’t be afraid to finish of your seam, cut the threads and then change direction or the way the fabric lay on the machine (or in your hand). Make it as easy as possible for you at every step and you will find it much more fun!

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When I have sewn together my garment, I usually try it on, adjust the neckline and the length of the sleeves if necessary, and then I finish the hems by hand. The easiest way to do this in a historical way, is to fold the hemline twice and whip stitch it down (this will keep the fabric from fraying, or hide your zig zag stitch). I use waxed linen thread in the same tone as the fabric, which makes for an invisible seam.

Good luck sewing!

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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 historical clothing). It´s made of a tabby woven wool and the construction of the dress is inspired by the find from Hedeby. The pattern is made by 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 skirts 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 do it with a trail, with overly long skirts. That’s my interpretation of the trail 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 trail 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 the 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 arms movement later.
  • Width around your body (1) (the widest part of your body, often around your chest/over the breasts. 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 figure close, 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 dress is built by 4 pieces 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 that you doesn’t need a longer dress 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 upmost pattern takes 250 cm of fabric, and gives you a dress lining of 80cm *4= 320 cm. You can absolutely do with less; the one at the bottom- right gives you a lining of about 270 cm, using just 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 (but before you cut them after your figure) you will want to bast them together in order to try the size and fitting. The dotted lines on the picture above indicates were you can make the dress a little bit figure close (waist/under the breasts, under the armpit and at the back). When you try out the dress, remember to have your shift/dresses underneath so it wont get to 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 the same wool fabric as I made the dress itself. 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 lay comfortable 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 want, decorations is a nice way to spice up your apron dress. A tablet woven band, a small piece of silk fabric or a silver thread posament is find-based decorations from the viking age. Good luck with your sewing!

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The easy apron dress

This apron dress is really simple and easy to sew together- perfect if you want to save fabric, try to hand stitch your garment, or just want to try out a looser fit on an apron dress.

 The description is based on the fact that you have a fabric that is approximately 150 cm wide, and the dress in the picture is about 130 cm long. If your fabric width is different, you will have to redraw the pattern pieces and probably piece the dress together with more gores. I show you a way to make the skirt fuller with a small gore on the drawing below. The method can be used for larger gores also. B = back of the dress, F = front.
Customize the measurements according to your own measurements. The amount of fabric you need depends on your measurements + how long skirt you want. On the pattern diagram, 1 square = 10 cm, so it takes 2.2m of fabric to make the dress to my measurements. Draw a separate sketch of checked paper before you begin so you will understand how the pieces are connected and laid out!
This description is mostly about the pattern-making assembly. If you want to know more about seams and techniques, check out my other descriptions and tips on the blog here.

First calculate your measurements, and draw the pattern on checked paper. The dress consists of an entire front piece (F), and a two-piece back piece (B) that is laid out on folded fabric. To get some extra fullness in the dress lining you can cut it according to the suggestion in the picture (the back piece is then cut in the bottom with a small gore).

Measure around the bust/widest part of the chest = the measurements on the narrowest part of the dress: split the measure in two to make the front and back. Remember to add seam allowance; 1-2 cm on each side. The measures on the pattern is approximately 90 cm (40 cm on the front and 50 cm on the back piece). Because the dress does not start in the middle of the bust, but a bit above, you get enough space to move and dress/undress easily.

The length of the dress; measure from the armpit and as far down as you want the dress to go. Add seam allowance of about 4 cm. In the picture the pieces are 130 cm long. The width of the dress lining becomes 2 * the total width of the fabric so 2 * 150 = 300 cm.

Once you have cut out your pieces, you can first sew the back piece in the middle, then sew on gores if you made any. Bast the front and back together and try; cut out a little for the armpit if you want, and mark with pins where your straps should be attached (I usually like to wear them on the same position where I have my bra straps, I guess my shoulders are used to that.)

Sew the sides together, press and fold the seams, whip stitch them, and finish of the linings by folding them once (on a thicker fabric) or twice (on a more light weight fabric) and whip stitch them. Finish with sewing on thin fabric straps (I usually fold mine twice towards each other, whip stitch them together and then sew them on the garment. Then you are finished!

I really recommend buying a light weight, more loose woven fabric for this dress. Sturdier wools will not fall as nice, and might feel like you move around inside a tent-like garment…

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To finish what you started

Since the end of December I have been having a real cozy and calm time at home. Friends have come and stayed for some days, and much time has been spent in the sofa with tea, conversation and handcrafting. I decided to “get shit done” and emptied all my baskets and boxes with UFOs- UnFinishedObjects. It turned out that I am a real hoarder of started projects, some as old as 4 years and beyond. I decided that I may not start on anything new (except work of course) before I’m finished with everything thats old.

Now I have been productive and finished of some nice things, so I wanted to show you some projects to inspire you to get your unfinished work done!

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Hose for a medieval woman in white wool from Medeltidsmode. Started last summer. The fitting is nice and all, but the cord should of course be just below the knee. I was rather tired that evening. But they will stay up the first times I wear them, and then I just have to move the cords.

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My viking apron dress got a party embroidery in runes that my friend K wrote down for me. Started 1,5 years ago, finished last week. This kind of embroidery is not historical accurate, but the dress is nowadays my party-in-the-evening-dress, so some fun details will be just right.

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A new st Birgitta cap, all hand sewn in linen thread, and a matching linen veil took one evening.

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Finally finished Hs landsknecht shirt, that should have been ready two years ago.

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And made a new smocked apron in handwoven linen for my 16th century outfit.

Dp you have any UfOs laying around that should be done?

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