HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Viking apron dress, part 2

Are you longing for that perfect iron age (viking) look of square awesomeness, yet still wanting to show off some womanly curves? Fear no more, this is how you make your apron dress fit really nicely! (Yes, we are going to be more serious real soon)

This apron dress is the same style as you can find in this tutorial, but back then I never guided you through the fitting, straps or stitching. Kind readers have asked for more details, so now this part 2 is here for you.

Ok, so let’s start with the dress already cut out and basted together (white machine thread). It looks something like this, hanging a bit boring…

Step one- try it on!

I pinned two pieces of ribbon onto the dress to be able to try it on easily. These will later be my guides for making the sewn linen straps.

In the back, I put the straps closer to the middle. I find them more comfortable and less likely to slip off my shoulders.

Now it is time to do some shaping! I like to wear my apron dresses higher up on my body, which means I get fabric bulk under my arms. To avoid that, I draft a curved line under my armpit and then cut away the excess fabric. You don’t have to make a full “arm hole”, just add some space for your arm.

Drafting the curved line in the armpit with a fabric marker.

The next step is to pin away fabric in the seam above the bust. Here the seam stood out a bit, so in order to follow the shape of my body, I pinned away a little fabric. As you can see in the photo it is not much, only to add a soft shape.

Marking the fitting with pins will allow you to feel the new fit.

Next are the side seams in the front. I pin away fabric under my bust, turn at my natural waist and continue out in a soft line to the basting line again. The goal is not to achieve a super snug fit, just to highlight that you have a body underneath.

Pinning the shape loosely.

Continue with the back seams and pin away fabric to add some shape to your waist here too. I hold my hand by my natural waist, and as you can see I did not aim to make the apron dress tight. Just removing a couple of cms to add shape.

My goal here was to be able to wear the apron dress with a woollen kirtle underneath, so I needed the fit to be loose. If you want a tighter fit you can try pinning away more fabric- just remember to try it on with new basting seams afterwards to make sure you can get it on and off. Apron dresses never have lacing or such.

Pinning the back seams by the waist.

Now it is time to check out the new fit! Mark the position of your pins on both sides of the seams, remove them to be able to take off your dress easily, and then bast along the drafted lines.

Basting can be done on a machine or by hand.

Here you can already see the added shape of the bust and waist, even without the seams properly finished. When you are satisfied with the fit, remove the old basting from places with double basting. This is needed to finish the dress by hand with a historical stitch.

Trying on the dress again to check the fit.

Press all seams with the basting still in place. (This step is important if you want to try out the seam below, but if you use a sewing machine for your dress you should first sew all seams on the machine, remove the basting thread and then press.)

Pressing the seam allowance to either side will make the sewing easier.
This is what the new shaping looks like after the pressing.
Sewing with wool thread.

Turn the apron dress so the right side is out (yes, we are sewing the dress from the outside) and start by the hem with a small whip stitch. Work your way up on the outside, fasten the thread on the inside of the garment as needed, and repeat with all four seams.

This is a sketch of how the seam looks, side to side with the actual seam.

The key to making this seam look neat is to make small stitches mainly running on the inside of the garment. I like to start from the bottom up, so I can try out the best thread tension and width between the stitches where it does not show so much. The pressing in the step before also helps a lot, as well as the basting on the inside, keeping the garment together while I sit comfortably on the sofa, sewing.

Close up on the seam. If you sew with wool thread, choose a thread with a high twist and 2-3 ply. Take shorter threads and a needle somewhat thicker than the thread. This will make the thread last longer when you work.
Finish the dress with a double folded hem and whipstitches. Press all seams when you have finished.

When the dress is done, it is time to make some straps! Use the ribbons from earlier as your mockups /guides to decide how long your straps should be, but remember that the tortoise brooches will take some space too. Add seam allowance (3 cm) and extra for your loops. If you are unsure, make the strap 10 cm longer and then cut away the end you don’t need when you have made the loop and finished off everything else.

Linen fabric going to be apron dress straps.

The measure for my dress straps was approx 30 cm long and 4 cm wide. I made 2, and then 2 really short ones to make the loops attached to the apron dress above the front seams. Then I pressed the straps in the middle, folded them, and then folded in the edges. Very smooth!

Use waxed linen thread for sewing in linen fabric. Linen straps on wool dresses can be found in grave finds from the period.

Whipstitch the folded straps along the edge. When you have finished, press them again but with the seam in the middle. This way the stitching will be protected in the middle and the straps will be looking really nice and even.

Nice and even, I love pressing seams!
Making loops for the tortoise brooches.

To make the loop in the edge of the strap, finish the seam along the line and then fold the edge back and fasten it with some stitches. I like these loops, they keep the brooch in place and look neat. The small fabric pieces for the lower loops get treated in the same way. Double fold, press, whipstitch along the line and fold to a loop.

The loops are sewn to the inside of the upper hem, beside the front side seam.

Fasten the lower loops to the front, and remember to put them where you pinned your ribbons on in the beginning. The placement will help the shaping of the garment. If you wear a modern underwire bra, the placement of the loops is often towards the middle from the bra straps. Remember that your tortoise brooches should have a fairly even place to rest on your body.

Sewing the straps onto the back of the apron dress.

Before attaching the straps to the back, try the dress on with your tortoise brooches, to adjust the length needed for your straps. When you are satisfied, pin the straps in place on your back, and sew them with some waxed linen thread. I like to work my way around the strap and through the wool fabric to make them sturdy.

That’s it! We’re done with all the fitting and sewing, and owners of a splendid apron dress with a perfect fit! Did you like this post? Support me on Patreon to help me make more!


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Making nice looking seams without ironing

If you have browsed my earlier tutorials (and videos on my Patreon) you might have discovered that I really looove pressing my seams all the time. But how did they achieve good looking seams “back then” without the use of a modern iron?

A smoothing stone: a flat stone or piece of glass (in Swedish “glättsten”) were used with a flat polished wooden board to smooth out fabrics and seam. I have seen several finds from the Viking age but there are examples dated iron-age to medieval period.

Putting the fabric/folds/seam on the board, and then pressing down with a smooth piece of glass/stone will work pretty well, and give you strong arm muscles too…

Here you can see more examples

A smoothing bone or pointed bone creaser (falsben): A polished piece of bone that you can use for flattening out seams, both in textiles and leather. I wanted to show you some historical examples, but couldn’t find any photos to borrow, which makes me a bit unsure about the history of the tool. I was taught it was a really old tool, basically used since forever (in Sweden, that means at least during the 19th century…) That is not medieval, but since I have seen similar items from earlier periods, I use it. You could use the backside of a knife handle or a bone awl or stylus as well.

This works really well, and makes the seams beautifully flat, smooth and glossy. I actually use mine to finish of handsewn seams in linen, the hemming on fine veils etc. It is a bit of extra work, but quite fast and easy. The pointy tip gives an advantage over small smoothing stones in my opinion.

Heated irons are heated up by fire, and used in the same way as a modern iron with a damp pressing cloth. Historical items are both solid, and with a compartment for putting in pre-heated pieces in. This method is demonstrated in the series “A stitch in time”.

In Sweden, it seems that the iron came in use during the 16th century, placing it at the end of the medieval period. In Europe I believe it to be a bit earlier, and it is found in China during the 4th century.

Apart from having to make a fire and wait for the heating this is basically the same thing as using a modern iron, when you get used to the tool and how to estimate the heat.

My two favourite things for flattening the seams when I don’t have an iron around:

Smoothing bone: for linen, leather and thin wool items. Makes a really glossy and nice finish on linen shirts and veils. If you want one; buy one in bone, not plastic.

Gripping the seam with your hand to flatten it out while sewing down the seam allowance: good for thicker or fulled wool fabrics. You simply hold the seam allowance in place while sewing it, and the fingers on the underside of the fabric stretches it out and create the flat appearance on the outer side.

Both of these methods are nice, but I rarely use them in my everyday work, to save my fingers and joints from strain. Choosing ergonomic methods is also important, but every once in a while it is nice to make an item with no modern tools at all!


Welcome!

I am Linda, and Handcrafted History is my one-woman business located outside Sundsvall, in the middle of Sweden. Follow me on my handcrafting and historical adventuring here on my blog!

Find me on Instagram as #handcraftedhistory & Patreon to support the blog and influence the next tutorials.

My business offers You made-to-measure historical clothing, handmade by me with high quality materials, and designed together with you or after historical sources.

During lectures and workshops from Iron age (Viking age) to Late medieval period I share my knowledge from more than 20 years of sewing and research, and help you create the outfit from your dreams.

You can also find historical hats here, or shop away from my historical tent during markets around Sweden, and abroad.

On this page, you can find information on How to order clothes, Book me for workshops or browse the free Tutorials on Sewing or Swedish Larping. Below, you find the blog that I’ve been writing for about 10 years. I share research projects as well as fun guides and inspiration for your handcrafting.

Please contact me by email at linda.handcraftedhistory @ gmail.com for invites to markets, ordering clothing, booking workshops or for collaborations regarding the blog.

Here you find my social media and more: linktr.ee/handcraftedhistory

I hope you will enjoy your time here!


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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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My 10 best dresses

Hi! So nice of you to drop by to read! This time, I wanted to take you with me on a small tour of my virtual wardrobe, showing you some of my favourite dresses I have made so far. Be prepared to see some really old stuff now, because it wouldn’t be very fun if I just posted photos of the 10 most recent, high-quality dresses I made right?

(Yeah, you wouldn’t think it was as nice sneaking a peek into my actual wardrobe, it’s quite full and maybe not in the best order. Have you seen my sewing box? Then you’ll have a feeling for what my wardrobe looks like…)

Let’s start at the beginning; my first buttoned cotehardie. This one is an old dress (the photo is from an event in 2010) long gone to someone else. It was my first try doing a 14th century dress with a closer fit. I can’t say I really knew how to make medieval fitted garments but somehow I managed this one and I was sooo happy with it. I remember looking up to others at the event, pondering how to make such awesome garbs like they wore, and how to manage a really good sleeve.

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This early in my erhm, blogging career (can you call it a career if you are not making any money..?) I didn’t get many photos of my own outfits but rather took photos of everything I saw, trying to capture those magical moments and the cool things others wore. Like these outfits- I still remember thinking I would totally want to be that skilled when I grew up!

Oh, I had completely forgotten about this one; the green herringbone twill wool was a really expensive (in 2011) fabric of awesome quality, and I made some kind of Herjolfnes dress with lots of gores in the side and skirt. It was so comfy, fitted me well and I used it quite a lot before selling it. Actually still missing it. Here I am wearing it as a middle dress under my viking apron dress. Couldn’t find any good photo of just the dress.

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Oh, my green Moybog gown! Somewhere around 2010-2011, my real interest in medieval pattern construction techniques began and I wanted to try the Moybog sleeves. I remember that I first made a short-sleeved one, wore that for a while and then remade it with long sleeves and better fitted gores in the skirt. Another dress I was really satisfied with at the time I finished it and wore a lot over several years. Then I wanted to make new experiments and sold it to be able to afford new fabrics.

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The 16th century trossfrau dress is one of my oldest that I still use (I tend to get tired of old projects and sell them off…) But I still like it. I put a lot of effort into research and actually making it historically accurate and fun at the same time and finished it in early 2015. It is hand-sewn, the pattern and construction methods still hold up to my standard, and the colour is just sooo… fugly. The purple hue is actually based on a natural dye, so the thing that is least accurate with the whole outfit is the slashing on the hat; I was too fast and made it pretty rather than historical believable.

My wedding dress from 2017. This has a special place in my heart, I don’t know if it is the dress itself (it is rather plain) or the event it got used at… It’s a 15th century silk dress with open sleeves below the elbow, lined with really thin wool muslin, and decorated with silk cords and small freshwater pearls. I would like to redo it a bit as it doesn’t fit right now, and therefore I don’t use it. But I do feel a bit unsettled every time I take it out from the wardrobe and think about cutting it apart to redo it. Maybe I am lazy, or a bit nostalgic. Yeah, I will probably remake it any minute (year)…

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I loved this one! It is a 15th century houppelande (overdress) in black velvet with moss green edges. The sleeves got lined with my last pieces of green silk that I owned, and they made for a very good contrast to the rest of the dress I thought. The dress was only worn once during this photoshoot in 2017, and then I sold it to a happy customer abroad. I loved it, but I didn’t need it. I mostly made it to practice sewing in velvet and to try out the pattern, as it was my first try to make a full circular houppelande.

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My red 14th century wool cotehardie, completely handsewn, and with 20 pewter buttons in each sleeve. What is not to love? It is red, fancy, a really serious try on reenactment clothing and I feel Amazing every time I get dressed in it. Sometime around here I also started to feel like hand-sewing a whole garment wasn’t such a big deal. Nowadays I hand sew most of my wardrobe, with exceptions for some of my undergarments, and projects that have a short time frame.

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Ok, I know, it’s a whole outfit rather than just a dress (I can cheat right?) but I couldn’t leave this one out. The amber dress project was just that; a very serious and creative project which was so much fun to make. The process actually took several years, but somehow this outfit came to be a milestone where I felt that I had learned new things and evolved as a handcrafter.

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Yes, I have a thing for green. But you knew this one would show up here right? It is green, comfy, dramatic and 15th century. What is not to love? This was actually my latest houppelande after making several tryouts to explore drape, patterns, construction methods and different fabrics (you can see them below) and it is handsewn in a high-quality woollen cloth, lined with silk fabric. In this photo, I wear it full “Weyden style” to portrait a well of woman from the middle 15th century, dressed in rich fabrics to the height of fashion of the time.

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Mmm, this is not a clear participant in this post just by the look of it. It is a really simple dress with panels and gores, handsewn in undyed ecological wool (in 2018 like so many of my other dresses). But it is one of those dresses that makes you feel awesome, comfortable and just warm enough whenever you wear it. It’s magical. If I was going to wear medieval/viking clothing every day I would probably wear this one 9 out of 10 days.

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So, there you have it! Some of my projects over the years. It was a bit challenging to pick out favourites, and I know I left my new 15th century wardrobe out (but hey, you’ve seen that one a lot lately) as well as my viking apron dresses I’ve made that I really liked. Sometimes I’ll have to put together another Viking-wardrobe post maybe.

What do you think? You have any favourites that you would like to make a version of, or do you already have “the best dress ever” in your wardrobe? I would love to see it!


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Viking glass beads

Today I just wanted to show you some of my new viking age glass beads that I bought this summer, and tell you a little about viking age beads!

There is plenty of finds from the viking age of glass beads of various colours and types. The most common way of wearing them seems to have been on a string between the tortoise brooches on a woman’s outfit, but the have also been found in necklaces, in small metal circles and loose in grave (also in men’s graves but I have no notion as to how many).

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The world of viking era glass beads is big and interesting, but I am not an expert in any way. There are those who are though, and there is research going on about the subject. Glass beads were both imported by the hundreds and made in viking workshops, with different styles and quality from different geographical areas and time periods. This makes it possible to trace them back to their original area, and tell an estimated time they were created.

You can also find lots of free information on Historiska Museets database (The Swedish historical museum) and here is a search ready-made for you on viking age glass beads, with pictures on the finds; http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/resultat_foremal.asp

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I like glass beads because they are one of few materials that withstand the turning of time and looks something like what they used to be, even after 1000 years in the earth. They are of course also pretty, and the handcrafting behind each bead are often outstanding.

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I have tried to make some glass beads myself with the same technique used during the viking age, but with modern tools (such as gas, safety glasses and an oven for slower cooling) and find it difficult but very interesting. This summer I also, kind of accidentally, bought some beads from other makers, and now I have put everything together in new strings and necklaces for my outfit. These are not identical with specific finds, but more inspired by several different finds and graves. I will probably not keep everything, but they are so lovely I just had to experiment with them.

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All the beads you’ll see in this post is handmade, by me and others. The blue-themed set will be used for festive occations I think, along with my new blue apron dress.

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And for fun, this is one of the earliest strings of beads I made for my viking outfit. The photo is crap, half of the beads are modern, I used a thread that broke and didn’t know much about historical beads at all. Everything from this picture is sold or given away by now, but the brooches I still have and use since they are based on a find from the area of Sweden were I live.

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