Sunday, February 14, 2010

More About the Pskov Find, Specifically, Apron Dress Design

My copy of NESAT X arrived last week. Unfortunately, it's arrival was immediately followed by a huge blizzard, so that I spent most of my time working from home and trying to help my husband dig us out from the snow drifts, instead of reading it.

I did read the official write-up for the Pskov find. It does include additional, and interesting, information that was not in the preliminary articles but, as always, raises additional questions which, by way of memorializing my own thoughts, I will set forth here.

1)  It appears that silk used on the apron dress and underdress consist of three different kinds of samite.  Most of the trim on the apron dress comes from a textile with a "Bahram Gur" hunting pattern.  The illustration at the right, which is from the article, shows how a piece of the Bahram Gur textile was cut into strips to be used for trimming, and the other illustration (also from the article) shows which sections were applied to particular portions of the apron dress's uppermost section.  The Bahram Gur sections are described as now appearing to be blue-green, with a yellowish tint, while the sections marked "IIa" and "IIb" in the apron dress sketch are described as "reddish violet" and come from a different textile--the same textile that was used to trim the cuffs of the underdress.  The third type of samite was of indiscernible color  (though the authors suggest that it might have also been reddish violet, which would create a pleasing color contrast) and consisted only of a narrow band, 4.5 cm wide that was used as binding (referred to as "trimming" in the sketch below) on the outside edge of the apron dress.

2) The full write-up refutes my original speculation that the Pskov team might have been placing the top of the apron dress upside down in devising their reconstruction. As the attached sketch also indicates, stitch marks clearly show in three places on the edges of the silk binding.  However, the original reference to the strap locations being 85 cm apart does not appear.  Instead, the article contains the following, somewhat cryptic paragraph:

The second article, in Slavic areas called a sarafan, may be akin to the Scandinavian apron.  This is connected to details no. 6 (Fig. 49.4 [i.e., the long piece with the two types of Bahram Gur silk used as trim]) and no. 8--an apron dress strap (Fig. 49.14 [it is shown here]).  Detail No. 6 is of particular interest in terms of the reconstruction of the type of garment which it decorated.  This detail, sewn from several strips of silk cloth, probably served as the trim of the top edge of the sarafan (as mentioned above, over the entire surface of the reverse side, a destroyed layer of blue linen and the remains of sewing threads have been observed).  On the broad central area of detail no. 6, at equal distances from the centre, the base of a strap of blue linen on one side, and the remains of sewing threads on the other, have been identified.  The distance between the holes was equal to the width of the preserved fragment of the strap.  On one of the narrow lateral strips of the detail described, at a distance of 20 and 25 cm from the place to which it is attached on the broad central part, the remains of threads and traces of sewn on straps have also been recognized (Fig. 49.5 [i.e., the sketch of the top of the apron dress above]).  The general symmetry of detail no. 6, as well as the symmetrical position of the remains of one of the straps, and the traces of a similar one on the central part all suggest the presence of the identical straps on its second narrow lateral strip.  Furthermore, since any trace of sewing on the straps is absent on the narrow strip, we may suppose that these were long straps.  Such straps are also mentioned by I. Hagg (1974) and F. Bau (1982) in their description of the apron.  These consisted of a narrow long strip of cloth turned into several layers and folded in two in the middle.  The ends of the strips (each separately but close to each other) were sewn to the top edge of the clothing from the back, thus forming a long loop.

NESAT X, "Studies of the Textiles from the 2006 Excavation in Pskov," Zubkova, Orfinskaya & Mikhailov at 297 (emphasis supplied) (hereafter "Zubkova, Orfinskaya & Mikhailov"). 

Based upon these observations, the Pskov team concluded that the Pskov apron dress is rather like Geijer's original idea of the apron dress--a piece of cloth with two small loops on the front, two long loops in the back, folded around the body and open on one side.  Zubkova, Orfinskaya & Mikhailov at 296 (the sketch reproduced on the right is also from the article). 

Here is how I understand this paragraph. According to the diagram of the apron dress fragment, there is evidence of the placement of three straps; one on the surviving "narrow" strips; one on the top of the "broad central area" about 20-25 cm away from the first strap, and one on the opposite end of the broad central area.  Thus, each of the two straps on the top of the broad central area are "at equal distances from the centre".

Assuming that the sketch of the apron dress fragment is to scale, the two strap locations on the top of the broad central part may well be 85 cm apart (though the present article does not say so).  However, if the Pskov garment was an open-sided garment suspended on straps, like the design proposed by Agnes Geijer, there are even more serious questions about how the garment could stay in place during wear without a belt, or without pinning the apron dress to the undertunic (of which there doesn't seem to be evidence)--or by adding additional straps to the apron dress, as I had suggested.

I'm not sure what to make of this. It seems to preclude the possibility that the Pskov apron dress was a wrapped garment (since if there were additional loops on the part of the dress we have, it seems likely that the researchers would have seen traces of them). The article also discusses Flemming Bau's hypothesis involving multiple loops, front-cloths, and back-cloths.  The authors reject the idea of front-cloths and back-cloths as being inconsistent with the physical evidence of the Pskov find, though they do not consider whether the presence of more than two pair of loops could indicate a wrap-around design.

Does the Pskov evidence rule out a wrap-around design?  What if there were multiple long straps on the "back" portion of the apron dress (i.e., the part that did not survive from the Pskov grave)?  I'm thinking of my green linen apron dress.  Spread out, that dress looks like this (see photo on the left). If the Pskov dress had another set of long loops on the back side of the apron dress (in addition to the one that appears near the right-angle bend shown on the sketch of the surviving apron dress fragment and its missing mate), it might not matter so much that the small loops on the front are so far apart.  Or, perhaps there were two sets of long loops--one set of which were crossed in the back (so that the strap on the right-hand side connects to the left-hand brooch in the front, and vice versa) and one of which (the ones near the right angle bends on both sides) were not. 

I need to think about this new information.  Maybe I need to get some really cheap scrap fabric, and experiment with pinning different strap configurations to a piece of fabric where the front is cut like the Pskov fragment.

3)  The article confirms what I had suspected from the picture of the neckline of the underdress, which is "turned inside out along the edge of its neck, cut out and gathered in fine pleats. ... The folds were fixed with a thin band, which pulled together the edges of the collar."  Zubkova, Orfinskaya & Mihkailov at 297.  However, the find suggests that the brooches might in fact have been pinned into the underdress.  The article notes that "On its pin [i.e., the pin of one of the tortoise brooches], straps of linen and a fragment of a collar from a garment made from a similar linen textile were preserved."  Zubkova, Orfinskaya & Mihkailov at 292 (emphasis supplied).  

As always, any thoughts, comments, or information that might bear upon the construction of the Pskov apron dress (or anything else about the find, for that matter) would be greatly appreciated.


  1. Thank-you so much for posting this!

    Is there any more information about the little piece of vertical trim? (Piece VII) If I'm understanding your summary correctly, then it would be running down the open side of the apron, yes?

    This is a combination of an 'upside down' comment, and here, but what if the brooches were worn higher up? I'm not sure they would be comfortable shoulder-brooches, but maybe over the collarbones? Would having the lower back of the dress pressed up underneath the arms help keep the wide front panel in place?
    (I don't think it would solve all of its' problems, especially if it is open on the other side.)

    Once again, thanks!

  2. Part VII? Well, let's see....

    The article mentions it twice. Here's the first reference: "Moreover, the narrow strip (VII in Fig. 49.5) sewn onto detail no. 6 (so that in all probability it was positioned on the line of the lateral seam of the blue sarafan), was perhaps red-violet too (it was impossible to identify its colour during the investigation)." (pp. 295-96).

    Here's the other quote. "The completely decayed lower part of this garment unfortunately cannot give us any idea of its length nor its design below the silk trimming. Nevertheless, a small detail in the form of a 2 cm wide strip (measured without the folds) sewn onto the narrow lateral parts of detail no. 6 (VII in Fig. 49.5) apparently served as the trim of the cut in the lateral seam or, on the contrary, covered the lateral seam. None of these suggestions contradicts the reconstruction of the apron as proposed by A. Geijer." (page 298).

    Detail no. 6 is the big piece believed to be the top of the apron dress.

    I'm noticing something else. Fig. 49.5 labels both VI and VII as "trimming", and I assumed that both VI and VII were made from the third type of samite, the one of unidentifiable color--but I can't find anything in the article that says that explicitly.

    As for "would wearing the brooches higher up help keep the front panel in place", remember that the front panel is about .3 meters wide--and what would have been the *back* of the dress started at the bottom of that width (i.e., the dress was cut .3 m lower on the parts that went around the back). So no matter how high you put the brooches, the dress *can't* be pressed up under the arms--to the contrary, the dress was cut lower to avoid it being right under the arms,as the reconstruction drawings showed.

    That problem puzzles me too, but I'm even more puzzled by how you design the dress so that all that expensive sewn-on Bahram Gur silk is displayed. If the front loops were 85 cm apart, as the markings on the sketch and earlier reports suggest, having the brooches high might help with slipping--but how they would keep the front section (with the expensive and rare silk trimming on it) from slumping into impossible-to-see folds is hard to ascertain.

  3. If it wasn't for the small loop on the 'front' of the dress, then I can see it working as the back of the gown (so it sits on the shoulders, and the lower section becomes the front). I'd secretly hoped that it was possible, because it would be a really ineresting way to have an apron dress with 'train'.

    I've only played around with plain fabric without the silk bands, but I'd imagine it would look similar to the curved drape of an academic dress hood.

    But, as I said, if they found a small loop at the front, then the theory makes no sense. :(

  4. If it wasn't for the small loop on the 'front' of the dress, then I can see it working as the back of the gown (so it sits on the shoulders, and the lower section becomes the front). I'd secretly hoped that it was possible, because it would be a really interesting way to have an apron dress with 'train'.

    Not only was a "loop" found on the front, there is a corresponding location on the *other* side where there are thread holes at the right distance apart to have held another loop. The article's a bit cryptic again as to what extent the loop was attached when they found it, but the article expresses the opinion that the strap on the skinny bit that was part of the back/side panel was a long strap. Also, element no. 8 (which is the surviving loop) appears to be the loop in question, and looks very much like a short loop to me. As you said, if the loops were short, that pretty much rules out the possibility of the decorated panel having been worn in the back.

    However, I still have problems with taking the most prominent decorative element of the entire garment--the pieced together decoration from the patterned samites--and putting it on the back.

    I see the point you're making with your reference to the university hood, but I don't think it would hang the same way as a hood. Remember, an academic hood lies across the shoulders, and the width of the hood helps it lie open in an appropriate position to show off the lining. In contrast, the ornamental panel of the Pskov group was apparently supported only by the two narrow loops which were 85 cm apart. I just don't think enough of the ornamental panel (particularly not the reddish violet bit in the middle of it) would show if the panel was suspended that way--whether it hung down the front or from longer loops down the back.

    I need to make a mockup--however crude (I don't plan to do any sewing for this; just to cut some fabric to the correct size for the front panel, but with longer extensions than survive on the existing fragment) and pin on pieces of ribbon for loops) to test my thinking. If I do that, I'll post pictures (if only to support my ranting).

  5. Cunian/Karen MorrisonJune 14, 2010 at 11:12 PM

    I made a crude mock-up of this with the main body of the 'bodice' section passing around the chest, so that the small loops went to the brooches, leaving the edges of the decorated section in the middle front. Then the apron sides wrap toward the back, and long, long loops cross the back diagonally from the apron ends, (20 and 25 cm out as on the original), up to the brooches in the front. It seems to work rather well.

  6. Thank you Karen, for your post! You have tried the sort of idea I was pondering, but had not yet attempted a mock up for myself.

    I understand that your mock up is "crude" (in scrap fabric, perhaps?) but I would still welcome photographs, to see whether it looks the way I thought it might look in practice.

  7. Cunian/Karen MorrisonJune 15, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    Sure. Um - I'm under Karen Morrison on facebook - the old lady in armour. There are pictures there. Or I could get them to you some other way if you could suggest one. I looked for an email link or something, but I don't see one. (May just be being clueless.) Or my email is the pseudonym above (at citlink dot net).

  8. I'll check out your Facebook photos (I don't use my Facebook account much), thanks.

    My e-mail address doesn't appear here; it's cathy at thyrsus dot com.

  9. I checked out karen's reconstruction with the front opening, as posted on Facebook. Brilliant! I'd just have the brooches much higher. RE Hulderamose dresses, and shoulder brooches, see Finnish Viking era reconstructions on

    I'm getting very happy with the diversity of dresses that are making sense, rather than conforming to the standard issue re-enactment model. More!

  10. I've seen Kata Hovi's page and her reproductions, and I made my own reproduction of the Eura costume (back before I developed my current passion for handsewing and more exact construction, alas).

    Inga Hagg thinks that the Viking "apron dress" probably descended from the peplos and I'm inclined to agree, but it would be good if that connection could be more securely proven, since if it were it would help eliminate some of the weirder proposed reconstructions (such as Bau's for example).

  11. And now I've taking a look at Karen Morrison's proposed reconstruction, especially this one:!/photo.php?fbid=1330585792333&set=a.1330580312196.2043354.1461636298&type=1&theater

    This one makes a plausible display of the Bahram Gur silk and it's attractive enough, but as Karen observes it requires an extra slit, and I'm not quite convinced that any of the VA people used an apron dress design that is quite that complex. I need to think about the idea some more.

    Thanks for the comments, Baggage, and the URLs.