Friday, May 8, 2009

Pskov Re-Creation Project--More Thoughts About The Shift

I am still pondering exactly how I will construct the shift for my Pskov reconstruction. Since my last post on this subject, I have re-read a web article by Hilde Thunem, which discusses various archaeological textile finds and artwork from the Viking Age in order to arrive at an appropriate (and at least potentially dateable) Viking shift design.

I had read this article before, but noticed that Ms. Thunem had added some information to the article since I had last read it. Among the added information were two photographs which she identified as showing pleated "south Slavic serks." These were of interest to her because the Kievan empire was a major linen producing area in the Viking age, and scholars, particularly Agnes Geijer, have suggested that the women at Birka imported the pleated linen shifts of which traces have been found from Russia. Both photos are from the Trajan monument in Adamklissi, Romania, and thus earlier than the Viking period, but still of interest in the absence of better information. They are even more of interest to me at the moment, since I am trying to recreate a garment that was found, and presumably worn, in Russia instead of one of the Birka finds.

The photo on the right appears to show a man, instead of a woman, and the garment he is wearing is ambiguous in cut. It could be a pleated shift with no sleeves and a draped front, or a shawl-like garment over a loose (but not pleated) shift, for example. However, I am more interested in the photo on the left. This photo shows two women, each in short-sleeved garments that are gathered or pleated into banded necklines. However, unlike the Pskov remnant, no tie strings are in evidence; except for the pleating, the neckline is more like the Manazan shirt I've just made for myself than anything else I've seen. Even more curiously, the garments appear to stop, or be belted, at the hipline, before falling into a loose skirt.

Other than suggesting that Slavic women apparently wore shifts with pleated necklines for a long, long time, the photo on the left raises a number of questions. Is this image evidence that Slavic women sometimes wore shifts with stand collars during the Roman era? Were they doing so continuously until the tenth century? If so, how were those collars made? Did they have a flap that buttoned closed like the Manazan shift (a feature that might not have been shown by the artist)? Or did they tie closed? If they tied closed, where are the tell-tale tie-strings? Would the slit have been down the front or down one shoulder? Is the garment really a hip-length shirt worn with a skirt, or is it just a long shift belted at the hipline?

I do not intend to add a stand collar to my Pskov shift, since the find itself clearly indicates that there was no collar, merely a strip used to hold the gathers/pleats of the neckline in place. But it would be interesting if the sculpture had provided support for my original conjecture that the Pskov shift had a slit down the shoulder, instead of in front.

It is also interesting that the garment is shown with short sleeves. We know that the Pskov shift had long sleeves because the tall silk cuffs survived. Or do we? Could the red silk pieces be short sleeves, instead of deep cuffs for long sleeves? No, they are unlikely to be short sleeves, because they measure only 21 cm in circumference around the ends--and that is barely enough room for me to force my small hand through. Similarly, the Pskov shift had a deep strip of silk sewn at the bottom--suggesting that the garment was longer than hip-length.

There is much food for thought here. I should seek out other period artwork showing women in shifts--if I can find any.

EDIT: I looked at the Adamklissi sculpture more closely and now think that it shows a belted garment, with the cloth bloused over or perhaps rolled over the belt. Comments from anyone who disagrees would be appreciated.


  1. It's very interesting... I'm from Pkov :)

  2. Hi, Galena! Welcome to my new blog.

    I noticed that the Pskov Archaeological Centre has taken down its short report on the apron dress find that was at Have they published anything else, or are they waiting for NESAT X to come out with their English article about the textiles?