Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


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Making a better Apron dress

I though 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 to…

Nr 1. Use enough fabric. I know it’s tempting to save on the fabric, but trust me. To short and tight a dress will look like a modern dress.

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. Dont make the straps to long. I think it looks very strange when women are wearing their dresses at the middle of their bust, or even under their nipple area. Please don’t.

Nr 5. If you don’t have tortoise brooches to fasten your dress with, don’t use modern buttons or fastenings in the meantime. The latest thing I have read about apron dresses is that 1. you don’t have to wear them for reenacting a viking woman and 2. they wear always worn with brooches, like the dress being an accessory to the jewelry and not the other way around. So skip the apron dress if you don’t own the brooches, or sew the straps directly to the dress itself.

Nr 6. Thin fabric could be lined with a strip of linen or you can use lining inside the whole dress to make it sturdier.

Nr 7. You could also 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.

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 is 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 the 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 choise for protecting your clothes. Or remove the apron dress and work in your shift or woolen dress. It seems the apron dress was a status symbol and finer wear, so it is probable that women didn’t wear them while laboring.

 

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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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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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Vikings at Årsunda

Oh, look! Some more photos from the autumn market at Årsunda vikings. It really was such an awesome and inspiring event so I wanted to share it with you as much as I can!

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The amber viking dress.

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R in his viking outfit, were most of it is handstitch by him

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Cooking without digging a hole in the ground

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Hanging out by the house

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What a nice tent and camp!

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Look at the red shoes- so awesome!

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H playing games

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Me and M trying to be still long enough for taking a photo.

We happened to wear matching outfits. I’m blaming it on both of us having really good taste in fabrics…

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Autumn with Årsunda Vikings

Autumn meeting at Årsunda with market, cooking over the fire, coffedrinking, chatting with old and new friends, party with lots of food, songs, bonfire in the night… What more could you wish for?

This last autumn we visited Årsunda vikings for a viking weekend. One of the best things with late autumn and early spring events is that it’s cold enough to actually wear all your layers of viking clothes. Which is both cozy and pretty! So this is a photo post with lots of viking inspiration for you – maybe to make some clothes of your own, or just dream away for the event season to begin?

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I call this my amber viking outfit. The garments are both new and old, mixed together for warmth and for the lovely colours.

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M/G and M (all my friends names start at the letter M?) in their warm outfits

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M in her newly made, hand stitched outfit.

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M/G in her party outfit

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The market area during the day, were both trading, games and good conversation happened all at once. The tents were put up during Friday dag and evening, and on Saturday the area was filled with people cooking breakfast, playing and talking. Magic!

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By the camp fire. Crafting, writing new songs and eating some lunch. And coffee.
(No, coffee is not viking age, but it’s really good for keeping the mood up and making new friends)

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M and his very fancy beard. The tablet woven trim is made by the other M

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View of the market area from the house

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Met some new friends =)

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Fresh food waiting to be cooked, outside one of the tents.

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And lots of nice camps!
These group also had some nice ceramics for sale. I really like this kind of markets were hanging out with old and new friends is the most important, and bringing your wares for sale is just a reason to be there…

Keep in touch- there will be more photos from Årsunda this spring. If you appear in a photo and doesn’t want to, or if you like a photo and would like to use it, send me a mail and we’ll work something up!

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