Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Hedeby Apron Dress, Completed

Here are pictures of the completed Hedeby-inspired apron dress. (Excuse the weird expressions; I was looking into afternoon sunlight, and didn't realize how far shut my eyes were.)

At the last minute, I decided not to apply my trim around the entire top of the dress, since so far as I know there's no evidence that Vikings used trim on the back of their garments (with the arguable exception of the Pskov dress, which was trimmed with silk strips and not tablet-woven trim). Instead, I applied it only to the space between the places where the brooches will rest when the dress is worn. I can't say that this placement is more authentic than putting trim around the entire top edge of the garment, but it is consistent with Viking finds that apply tablet weaving in short lengths to the front of a garment, and I've decided I rather like the look.

As for the fingerlooped braids, none of them ended up being long enough to extend all the way down the side of the dress, but I used them anyway, because I know of nothing in period aesthetics that would see problems in side trim ending above the hem. Despite that decision, I ended up fingerlooping several more braids for the dart seams before I got two that I felt were long enough to use. (I used one of the old ones to help fasten my hair into a bun; I pulled my hair into a ponytail with a modern ponytail holder, wound the ponytail around the holder, wound the braid over that, and tied the ends of the braid together. It came out looking surprisingly tidy and symmetrical; I bet I'll never do so well again.) In contrast to my previous braid attempts, both of the braids that ended up on the garment were made with two red loops and one yellow loop. I decided to do that partly because my red yarn is stronger than my yellow yarn, and I'd been having breakage problems. However, I also discovered that I like the look of the mostly red braids better than the look of the mostly yellow ones.

If I had decided to strive for greater authenticity, I would have made each braid with one red loop, one yellow loop, and one half-red, half-yellow loop (because the original braid was composed of three red and three yellow strands). However, I decided I didn't want the hassle of trying to braid with a two-part loop, particularly given the yellow yarn's propensity for breakage. The breakage rate did, however, lead me to make the last braid using two strands of yellow yarn for the single yellow loop. That ended up working well because the yellow yarn was significantly thinner than the red yarn; as a result, the last braid was both the longest and the most even (though I sewed it on in such a way that it extended only as far down the outside of the dress as the braid on the other side).

Speaking of loops, the linen loops that come over my shoulders to hook over the brooches are about a centimeter longer than they should be for optimal comfort. They are long enough that I can actually cross them (i.e., fasten the left-hand one to the top of the right brooch, and vice versa) in wear. However, it's a bit uncomfortable to do so, and it looks odd, because the top edges of the rear loops come very close to the sides of my neck.

Finally, in addition to its other virtues, the dress is of a good color to harmonize with the caftan I already have, as well as the Birka caftan I plan to make in the (near?) future.

Final observations about the dress, and about what I learned from this project in general:

1) Beatson's pattern makes a viable garment. However, if I made another dress using it I'd make each of the four starting panels 35 cm wide, instead of 30 cm wide. Because of my wide hips, 30 cm panels were simply too narrow, even though I'm small-breasted.

2) The narrow seam treatment I chose helped to make the dress possible. I'm not sure one could make a dress this way with modern seams, unless each panel was very wide (and then the "gores" might still pose problems).

3) It's fairly comfortable despite being very snug. That's probably due to the stretch in the wool. I suspect that, because of the snugness, the lifespan of this garment will be limited. Still, the skills I learned in making the dress (improving my back stitch, learning herringbone stitch, and learning enough fingerloop braiding to make the side braids) make the effort I put into the dress worthwhile.

4) Sewing the braid onto the side darts does seem to have a function--it obscures the fact that there are "gaps" at the top and bottom of the torso darts, and makes the dress fit better. I really like the overall effect of the braids, and I'm pleased that my improvisation in making the dress with a wider back panel resulted in giving the braid-trimmed seams more prominence than they otherwise would have.

5) It is surprisingly difficult to sew braid onto a dress seam where the "seam" only extends partway down the dress. Once I got past the bottom of the tuck, the braid kept twisting away from my needle, the stitching would wander and the fabric along the braid would pucker. This may be partly because I sought to sew the braid on from the inside of the garment, because I couldn't think of any way to couch the braid from the front that wouldn't look really awful. Beatson's article says that the braid was "whipped" onto the dart but the sketch of the relevant fabric piece isn't clear about whether the whipping was done from the outside of the garment, or from the inside the way I have done it. In any event, I found that it was easiest to tack the braid down at about three-inch intervals, and then proceed to sew it down segment by segment. As for the puckering, thank heaven for my trusty steam iron! Otherwise the puckering would be even more noticeable. ;-)

6) Overall, the dress looks rather attractive when worn (at least, when I stand straight, as a Viking probably would have done), even though I didn't achieve the closest fit with my darts, and despite the fact the dress molds to my buttocks, thighs, and hips in a way I'd find embarrassing in a modern skirt or dress. However, I probably will experiment with inserting a few extra gores into the skirt if I make a dress using this pattern again. (I normally prefer wider skirts to narrow, shapely ones, both in my garb and in my mundane wardrobe.)

7) This project could not have been done without the Internet. I learned about the Hedeby fragment through the Internet. I obtained Peter Beatson's pattern from his website, and purchased the yarn, diamond wool trim, and fabric over the Internet. In addition, I could never have completed the braids so successfully (and so quickly) without the advice of Katrin and Teffania. Thank you both!

So now, back to the mantion! Or am I going to yield to temptation and start my "fitted wraparound apron dress" next? Right now, I don't know either! Stay tuned....

EDIT:  After I finished the dress, I came across a reference on someone's web site (was it Kass McGann's?) noting that, if you sew cording on fabric with large stitches, you always get puckers; very small stitches are required to avoid this problem.  So I'm restitching the braids on the dress, taking care to make at least 12-15 shallower stitches per inch.  I was afraid to cut the original threads for fear of opening the tucks, so I just stitched over the original stitching.  I've completed one side so far, and it still seems to have helped!  I'll see what it looks like when I've finished both sides and pressed the dress again.

SECOND EDIT: (months later) I tried wearing this dress over just a shift, instead of over both a shift and tunic, and it looks better and feels more comfortable that way. Another thought to be filed away for future reference.

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