Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Braid on the Hedeby Dress

I was thinking about my project to sew a fitted apron dress based on the Hedeby find, using the pattern Peter Beatson recently suggested.

I remembered that the Hedeby find shows a piece of whipcord-style braid (I take no position whether it was made by the whipcord method or some other means) sewn onto a part of the dress, but I couldn't remember whether the braid was sewn over a seam or somewhere else.

I was thinking of this, because it occurred to me that if the braid was sewn over a seam that might be further support for the idea that the Hedeby fragment came from a fitted, closed-tube type apron dress that had to be wriggled into. Why? Because braids were sometimes sewn over a seam to strengthen the seam.

However, the braid on the Hedeby fragment was *not* sewn over the seam; it was sewn over the *dart*. Beatson observed:

The top margin, which is made from the selvedge of the fabric, is turned under once and fixed with an elaborate hemming seam. The sides - one is cut straight and perpendicular to the selvedge, the other somewhat curved - must have been seam positions, as they still bear traces of stitch holes. Parallel to the straight edge, and starting about 7cm from the top, a simple dart has been formed using running stitch, and a braided cord has been applied to the ridge thus formed using whip stitch.

Based upon these observations, Beatson suggests that there was a line of braid extending down each side of the dress, starting over the dart positions, and continuing up to the top edge and down to the hem.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Was the braid purely decorative, or did it actually serve a function in this position? The herringbone stitch at the top edge hem likely did serve a function--it secured the top edge, which, if the dress truly was fitted, would receive a lot of stress, while preserving some stretch to aid the fit. Beatson observed: "Ingenious use of a selvedge [for the top edge] made this margin firm, and the sewing technique with which it was hemmed acted like modern zig-zag stitch, able to stretch without breaking."

That observation does tend to support the idea that the dress was a slightly flared, but fitted, tube. But why put the braid over the darts? To discourage twisting of the dress in wear?

Maybe I need to place braid on my dress (when I resume sewing it) and find out. I did place a selvedge along the top edge, but it's a fairly soft selvedge, so I'm not sure it will have the same effect Beatson suggested this use of the selvedge had for the original garment.


  1. Some ideas about why put the braid over the dart.
    1) To protect the fabric of the dress from fraying, so that the braid receives all the wear from the arm rubbing at the body instead of the main fabric. It is much easier to replace the braid than to patch the dress. (Recently I made myself a 20th cent. sarafan, and these garments have hems bound with strips of some different fabric exactly for this purpose. It is both practical and decorative.)
    2) The braid was sewn to the dress for decoration before the dart was made. It also explains why the dart is on the outside - the braid is still visible this way.

  2. Your suggested reason 1) may well be right. The relevant seam is close enough to the armpit that it might suffer enough friction to endanger the stability of the seam.

    On the other hand, I'm not so sure about 2). If the braid was sewn on before the dart was made, wouldn't the dart suck the braid into the seam? It's not clear to me that it would still be visible.

  3. The dart is made inside out compared to modern darts. That is to say the dart sticks out of the outside of the dress rather than being tucked away inside. So in option(1) it would not be sucked inside the dart

    1. I stand corrected, Jennifer. It was not clear to me from the photos I've seen that the dart was sewn on the outside. I gather that it's clear what side is the outside because the braid is sewn on the side where the dart sticks out?