This piece of clothing probably has the most varied interpretations of all the rest in my challenge and is based on the smallest amount of actual evidence…it is almost amusing to me how passionate some are about their versions. I personally just like the look of the apron dress. It pleases me and it makes a lot of sense in the structure and possible purpose. If we are to believe the concept that the people of this era worn their clothing and accessories as an outward proof of their wealth and/or importance, then one could believe the apron dress might have been created to help support the elements of this wealth as the brooches got bigger and more stuff was hung from them. There seems not to be enough fabric support in the tunic to string your precious beads or wear your precious metal pins and adornments. Also…where were the pockets? One needed something to drape and hang items that may be needed…either physically or to just show off. Something made of a firm, long wearing fabric and perhaps with straps so one wouldn’t have a third layer of sleeves to restrict movement? A wool apron dress would definitely fill the bill. There is several thoughts on the actually dress design that ranges from loose floppy panels to the tighter fitting design that I used for my garment. I will not try to prove the argument for my version but I will say it is the one I feel strongest about! I think the floppy version would have been less practical and not as warm. However there is evidence that more than one apron layer may have been worn and the outer layer may have been a looser open panel construction.
Originally the pieces for this garment may have been woven as rectangular pieces, fulled and then cut.
Small extant pieces have shown pinhole wear, belt wear, flaring at the waist (gores) and some decorative stitching and trim. The various carved figures and artwork illustrate the separation of layers and how the pins were worn and many grave finds include the domed brooches in the appropriate areas on the skeletons inside. This is the evidence that most arguments for the apron dress are based on.
Most of what is known about clothing from earlier time periods comes from examining the fabric preserved on backs of metal objects such as brooches, implements and metallic wire/threads. Under the domed oval (Tortoise shell) pins are preserved “cakes” of fabric that has been analyzed by several scientists over time. Each interpretation has added new information to the finds.
The metal of the pins and other metal decorations have preserved enough of the fabric to show the threads, weave patterns and colors. I believe all finds preserved were of wool, linen and silk and ranged in a variety of the colors available from the dyes and processing of the time. There is evidence of some trims but most seem to be in the front of the dress…where it would be noticed! Same as the beads and other jewelry discovered.
The cake layers indicate the layering of fabric and help us determine how the clothing was worn. There are many combinations of linen and wool found and a few with some silk sandwiched in between. (The silk could possibly be trim or silk straps.)
Some of the brooches have had wool or silk preserved on the front and at a slant which seems to indicate a coat (or a shawl) worn over the top. The back of the brooches are only half covered and in a straight line which give evidence to the front of the apron dress and perhaps a decorate panel.
Evidence shows that the pins were stuck through loops and not directly through the fabric. Since the top loop is only preserved to the edge of the pin, there are different strap theories but no actual proof.
I based my apron dress on a design reconstructed from a small scrap of fabric found in the Hedeby harbor. This is now in Germany but during the Viking era, it was a popular trade port in Denmark. Lots of ripped up, random bits were found in the mud at the bottom of the bay. The most currently popular and practical reconstruction is from a piece that has a hemmed top and a hole which could have been for a strap. There is a curving seam and a felted area that could be belt wear. There is no evidence of how full the shirts would have been but by looking at artwork of the time and comparing with later finds, it seems it would have been practical to flare out the dress to allow room to move, etc. and because fabric was only woven to a certain width, it seems likely that fullness was added with gores and inserts.
Colors are hard to determine in fabric preserved in mud. The elements in the dirt alter the appearance but there I believe there is some testing that can determine what natural dye elements are found on the material. It is very safe to say that the people of the time probably were able to dye their fabric due to evidence of dye materials available. It is also safe to say that their fabric could have been woven and left in the natural wool colors of the animal. I have chosen dark gray wool for my apron dress that could have been woven from the dark fleece of sheep of that period
I used a gray piece of wool that was in my sewing stash long before I even knew what SCA was. I think I was going to make a skirt but then worried that it would be too itchy…I have a mild allergy to wool. I had my heart set at the beginning of the challenge on my apron dress being a yummy, soft, red wool. After hours of online searching for ‘cheap red wool’ and a couple of E-bay losses later and a plea to my friends to look in their stashes, I had to pull up my Viking girl panties (wait we don’t wear them) and go to Plan B. And red wool would have been harder to get at that time whereas the gray would have been woven from natural Icelandic sheep fleeces. This piece of fabric was actually smaller than I wanted but I was determined to cut frugally and make it work…and I did. It is a tighter fit than I may have done with more fabric but I think that is actually better. It is also shorter than I have made before but I like that too. I used a cutting pattern by Carolyn Priest-Dorman based on rectangular pieces and adapted it a bit to fit the amount of fabric I had to work with. The fabric was a dream to sew after the hassle of fraying linen and the decorative seam treatments were as much for look as they were to support and check the fraying. I did read about evidence of braided trim covering seams and would like to add that when I have more time. I did the straps as cords as that is the only part preserved by the domed pins and it is open to interpretation about the rest of the straps. I think it makes the apron look a little dressier maybe? I am calling it my sexy gray Viking dress. The cords were made with wool yarn and a lucet. I call my lucetted cords Viking “bungee” cords. They are versatile and I have used them in various ways. I sewed the entire garment by hand but used a cotton thread to sew the seams. When I have used wool thread for sewing seams that get pressure, it doesn’t seem to hold up as well as I would like so I felt cotton would be better support. I did the seam topstitching in a slightly contrasting thread to be more decorative. I may go back later and do more stitching in red for contrast? I did some decorative treatment on the front facing but not on the back as per the practice of the time period.
The apron dress is done...EXCEPT I have not finished two seams until I have a final fitting with the two pieces that go underneath. I will then need to finish the top facing (and attach the straps) and the skirt hem. Doesn't sound like much left but it will probably bother me until it is done? After the challenge, I may do more embellishment on this piece but since the seams are already topstitched with decorative stitching and the apron panel is highly decorated, I am satisfied with my 'little gray' dress.
I have sewn the front and back panel onto the one side with gore. Now I need to finish the other side and gore and put together for fitting...cross my fingers.
Here are a couple of photos showing the seam stitching from the inside.
It seems I am trying to do this post without my notes so I will have to add in the particulars later. I do find it funny that I am constructing a garment that is based on very little bits of extant material. However, I have found as many varied interpretations as I could and then in the end, the cutting of my garment came down to the amount of fabric I had to work with...
Dress documentation here...
Embellishment documentation here...
I really like the look of the seam treatments and love to do the hand sewing this way. I appreciate the look of hand made items and some how it makes me feel more involved with the project.
Herringbone and running stitch seam embellishment where inserts
are attached to the side panel.
Flat seam up the middle of the insert and hem stitched along the edges to keep from fraying. (I also like the look of that seam with the tiny stitches showing down each side.)
The whole side panel.