Molly's Viking Dress

by Lady Mary "Molly" Isabel

This article is on the Viking under-dress and apron I wear. I have not included much on the documentation of the garments for the sake of brevity. The under dress is a bastardization of a pattern that I found in Tournaments Illuminated, Issue 117, "Tunics the Period Way" and is from about the 10th century. That pattern was an adaptation of a men's tunic pattern (NOTE: You can make this for the guys and just shorten it to tunic length.) The author of that article, Maggie Mulvaney included a front and back gore but because I hate to inset gores I omitted them. As this causes the skirt to be somewhat narrower, I will include the directions for the front and back gores for people who would prefer a really full skirt. The really great thing about this pattern is the inclusion of underarm gussets, which really make the dress comfortable to wear and very easy to maneuver in. (oooooh- functional AND period!!)

My under-dress is made from linen, which is so cool in the summer. It also acts as a great insulator in the winter under another tunic. The cost can be prohibitive for some folks (@ $8 a yard) but there are always other options. Linen blends are often cheaper and cotton broadcloth ( or just about any cotton if its not too stiff) works as well. I would recommend natural materials if you can find them (for comfort) but just about any even weave synthetic will do the job. Look closely at your fabric. If it's kind of rustic and looks like it might have been woven in the dark by hand, it'll probably work.

I usually start with about 4 yards of fabric. Someone smaller than me (I'm a size 16) could do the dress on 3 yards and someone larger than me would need more. I usually figure that with 60' wide fabric I will need enough fabric to go to the top of my head and back down to the floor. Then, if I'm worried I usually add an extra yard. It's a lot easier to take fabric away than to add it in. As you get used to this pattern you'll be able to more easily determine how little fabric you can get away with. If you are using 45" wide fabric you will want an additional 11/2-2 yards to make a good skirt. Also if you want the front and back gores figure the same amount of fabric. The first measurement that we'll need is for the body of the garment (see fig. 1). No seam allowances have been added to this pattern so, you may want to add an additional 1/2 - 1" to your measurements to compensate for that. Measurement "A" is the distance from your shoulders to the ground x2. Now you may notice that this measurement doesn't leave you a whole lot of material for the hem. Well, you have two options,. If you have plenty of fabric, cut this measurement a little longer, say from your nose to the floor or the top of your head to the floor (this is what I do, that way I never have to worry about my dresses being too short). The second option is to cut it from your shoulders to the floor and just use commercial bias tape to make the hem. Sew one edge to the bottom of the garment, iron up the hem and stitch it in place. Measurement "B" is your waist measurement divided by 2. (Be generous, no fibbing here. You want to be comfortable!) This will be the narrowest part of the garment and the hardest to fix if you cut it too small. So now you have a really long rectangle that's twice as long as you are. Fold it in half and now you have a garment that's about your length and (0011) now we have shoulders. (If your fabric was not long enough to let you cut the body in all one piece, don't fret it. Just cut 2 pieces that are your height and join them at the shoulders.) Add a hole for your neck and a narrow facing. (I put a narrow band of woven trim just at the top part of the neck, none down the slit and I pin or tie the garment's neck closed.) Big, contrasting Norman neck facings would probably look odd on this gown. If you REALLY need to do a big facing, turn it to the inside of the garment.

The next piece that we're going to cut is the sleeves (fig 2). Measure from your shoulder to fingertips (Measurement "C"). This may seem a little long, but it will leave you plenty of material to hem at the wrist. Measurement "D" is your bent arm at the elbow (or upper arm). This produces a pretty wide sleeve. For those people who would prefer a narrower sleeve, see bottom part of fig 2. The top part of the sleeve is still measurement "D," but the wrist measurement ("E") is the distance around your closed fist. This will produce a sleeve that is slightly tapered. Attach "D" to the shoulders of the garment body.

The next step is to add the gores and gussets. They both pretty much serve the same purpose: widen a piece of fabric so that people can move more easily. Gores are usually triangular shaped and are used to widen on side if a garment more than the other (e.g.- skirts, where you want it wider at the bottom than at the top). Gussets on the other hand are usually diamond shaped (except today) and are used to widen a whole section of a garment (e.g.- crotches and underarms). With that in mind...

The next step will be to widen the skirt of the Viking under dress by the use of gores. Measure from your waist to the ground and add a couple inches (measurement "F"). Fig. 3 shows one way of cutting the pieces from your fabric. Be aware that if you are using 45" wide material you will not get very wide gores and you may want to make an additional set of gores to go with these (so you may need more fabric than your height x2). Cut along the diagonal of the gores (dashed lines- fig 3). These will be added to the waist of your dress. (To determine where to put the gores, put on the garment and pull the waist together on both sides. Look at where your hips start to widen and pull the fabric apart. Mark this spot with pins. The gussets will be put in about 1" above those marks.) Sew the diagonal part of the gore to the straight edge of the dress on each side, front and back. If you want a front and back gore, sew the straight sides of the gussets together to make a wider triangle. Sew one of the slanted sides of the gusset to the middle front of the dress and cut along the edge of this side, opening up the skirt (fig 4). Sew the other slanted side to the opposite side of the slit, thereby widening the front of the skirt. Repeat for the back. (See dashed lines in fig 5.)

The final piece of fabric on fig 3 is for the gussets. I usually make two squares 7"x7" and cut them in half diagonally. If someone is more chesty, they may want a larger gusset. The best way to know is the repeat the procedure for setting the gores, only pay attention to the chest. Add the (triangular) gussets to the underarms as follows: Put the right angle of the gusset into the right angle formed where the sleeve meets the body. Now lay out the garment and compare it to fig 5. If it looks like the picture, great! If not: stop, step away from the fabric and call me immediately.

Finally, sew the side seams together, hem the wrists and finish the bottom hem. Now your Viking dress is finished.


The Viking apron

The Viking apron dress and is much easier than the under-dress. I was very dissatisfied with the two panel SCA-style Viking apron as it left too many unanswered questions There haven't been a lot of belts found with women's garb. Did this mean that women weren't buried with belts? Were the belts made of fabric that would have disintegrated over time? How did the Viking ladies keep their aprons from falling into the fire without belting them? What about that early morning at Estrella draft from the open sides? Well, fellow Viking ladies.. read on

I found this dress in a booklet published by the SCA called: "Women's Garb in Northern Europe, 450-1000 C.E.: Frisians, Angles, Franks, BaIts, Vikings, and Finns" - Compleat Anachronist #59. It is speaking of an apron that Inga Hagg had discovered in an excavation of a Viking dig at Hedeby, Denmark. It had several panels, narrowed at the waist and widened over the hips. It basically wraps around you like a large bath towel. (See fig. 6).

For the apron dress, you will need a piece of fabric that is 2x your height. Actual apron dresses have been found in wool and linen, but any rubby rustic looking fabric should do just as well. Cut a 4" strip from the narrow edge of your fabric. This will be made into your straps. Now, measure from the outside of one shoulder to the outside of the other shoulder ~our body width). Cut this width down the whole length of the fabric. This will be cut in half to create the hack panel and the gores (See fig 7). Measure from one armpit to the other. Cut this width from the remaining fabric. Cut this in half to create the left front and right front panels. Have a friend hold the back panel onto your back while you hold one of the front panels to your chest. Then measure (eyeballing is fine, this isn't rocket science) the distance between the two panels. This measurement will be the pointy end of the gores. Stitch the panels and gores as shown in figure 8. Make two straps from the fabric that you set aside earlier Have a friend pin the straps to the back panel at your shoulder blades. Finish the edges by hemming, trimming or embroidering (or all three). Wrap the apron around you like a large bath towel, put the straps over your shoulders and secure them with brooches.

I have found that this apron dress is much warmer than the two panel version (especially when it's made of wool). It is also less likely to drop into whatever you're cooking because as you bend over, the dress splits open and swings behind you. Let me know what you think after you try it!

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