Thursday, September 16, 2010

Three Interesting Pieces of Evidence About Apron Dress Construction

It occurs to me that, over the past few weeks, I've run across information that has changed my thinking about what apron dresses really may have been like.  Since part of the function of this blog, for me, is to summarize interesting things I learn in the study of costume, I'm jotting down those ideas for my own reference.

1. Evidence of decoration.  Until I read Hilde Thunem's summary of Inga Hagg's research, I didn't realize that the research could be read as showing not merely that apron dresses might be decorated, but that it  may have been more common to decorate them than to not decorate them.  Granted, the decoration does not appear to be as elaborate as some reenactors would like to make it (no embroidery or metal-brocaded tablet weaving seems to have been found on an apron dress, for example), but a number of the Birka fragments, which include bits of the apron dress layer at the top of the dress show that either silk strips or colored cord were sewn down along the top of the dress.  Thunem also discusses a find from Kaupang that has tablet-woven trim sewn onto it, and cord apparently sewn to one edge of the trim, but it's not clear whether this find was part of an apron dress or what part of a garment it might be from. 

2.  Another pleated wool apron dress?  The pleated fragment found at Køstrup, which also seems to be an apron dress, also may not be unique.   This summary discusses a Gotland find consisting of two fragments from the same 2/2 twill wool, "which has been pleated." The write-up indicates that the pieces were stuck to a knife and knife sheath, They are small (one is 4 by 3.4 cm, the other is 1.5 by 4 cm), and the write-up does not indicate where or whether these finds were located relative to a body. Granted, these fragments may well not be from an apron dress, but they still should be kept in mind in case later information makes an inference about the garment from which this fabric find derives possible.

3.   The Lining Issue.  Hilde Thunem, who is familiar (to varying degrees) with all the languages in which the archaeological reports that bear upon female Viking era costume are written, gives an interesting summary of the very small body of physical evidence for lined apron dresses (or "smokkrs") in this web article-in-progress on the subject of apron dresses:
Of the more than 100 graves with smokkr fragments, Inga Hägg describes 36 in detail in "Kvinnodräkten i Birka". Several of these graves contain fragments that probably stem from an inner dress or lining in addition to remains of a woollen smokkr. Almost all of the inner dresses or linings were made from linen (grave 464 is an example), but one grave (973) had a broken lozenge twill smokkr with a lining of repped wool. Here the twill and the repped wool lay parallel until they met at the edge of the smokkr and the seam was covered by a string. There is also one grave (954) that contained a woollen smokkr fragment with loose stitches which both Agnes Geijer and Inga Hägg interpreted to mean that the smokkr originally was lined, but there are no traces left of the lining itself.

The fragments of lining are too small to ascertain whether the smokkr was fully or just partially lined, although Geijer leans towards a partial lining.
(Emphasis mine.)

Grave 973 is one of the Birka graves that also has a textile fragment with an attached loop surviving.  The fact that at least one grave had two layers of textile with a join covered by a potentially ornamental string suggests that at least some apron dresses really may have been lined.

It would be interesting to see how a lined apron dress drapes and hangs.  Weaving fabric to match the linen twill and repped wool find in Grave 973, and then sewing an apron dress from the fabrics, would tell us much about how such a garment functioned, and might even give clues as to likely designs for such a garment.  Alas, I am no weaver, and do not anticipate having the time to take up weaving any time soon.  But it would be an interesting experiment.

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