Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Vendel" Costume--Progress and Change

Quite a while ago, I decided to make a pre-Scandinavian or "Vendel" period costume.  Since then, I've learned a number of things (including the fact that only in Sweden do the scholars use the term "Vendel" to describe the time period I have in mind).

Brooch from Grave No. 58
The most useful thing I have learned is that this brooch sold by Raymond's Quiet Press ("RQP") is a reproduction of the rectangular brooch found in Grave No. 58 at Nørre Sandegård Vest ("NSV"), which is located on a Danish island close to the south coast of Sweden.* (The accompanying picture is from the NSV book; a kind person sent me copies of illustrations from the jewelry section of the book.)  This grave dates roughly to first half of the eighth century (700-750 CE). The other brooches in Grave No. 58 were a pair of small tortoise brooches, with designs that make each brooch resemble a trilobite, a prehistoric arthropod that we know of exclusively from fossils. Another interesting thing I learned is that Grave No. 58 contains beads, but the beads were not strung between the tortoise brooches. Instead, they appear to have been strung on very short strands, using bead spacer bars, below the big rectangular brooch.

So I've decided it would be more practical for me to try to reproduce the Grave No. 58 costume, which is technically not Vendel because it is Danish, not Swedish, and the Danes do not use the term "Vendel" for the period just before the Viking Age. (According to Robert Ferguson, the Danes refer to this period as the "Germanic Iron Age.")  Here's my current plan now:
One of the Grave No. 58 "trilobite" brooches
  • Obtain a copy of the RQP brooch.
  • Obtain enough beads to string about 5 short strands beneath the brooch. How many beads that will take will depend on the size of the beads involved, but probably between 30-50 will do.  I have located an on-line bead store that will sell me an inexpensive assortment of annular beads, and I can hunt for individual beads to achieve an approximately correct look.
  • Obtain Sculpey and make bead spacers and tortoise brooches from it. I don't plan to try to make the brooches look like trilobites, but small, plain tortoise brooches are sometimes found at this period, and I'm willing to try making those from Sculpey.
  • Obtain long straight pins to use to fasten a shawl on my shoulders.  (Most of the early NSV graves appear to have such items, no matter what style of brooch they contain.) At this point I'm not sure from my sources to date what the pins found at NSV looked like, but I can work on that item later.
  • Make or otherwise obtain a spiral armband (I have some ideas about how to make this item on the cheap).
  • Sew a long shift from my white wool, as planned. It needs to have a keyhole neckline, since the rectangular brooch apparently was used to hold one closed on the occupant of Grave No. 58.  I will probably use my Snartemo band on this shift even though it's not clear that such bands or designs were used in Danish dress at this time.
  • Decide what shape the overdress should be and sew it. I believe that the overdress needs to be suspended from loops, because the tortoise brooches are shallow; if their pins are confined to the center of the bowl of the brooch, there would be no other practical way to use them to hold a dress). Although there is increasing evidence for apron dresses, including Danish apron dresses, to be pleated for at least a portion of the top middle front of the dress, I know of no evidence for such pleats in Grave No. 58, so I will simply make it as a wide tube, as I did with this dress.
Now that I have something resembling a plan, I should be able to move forward.   We will see how much this plan ends up changing as the project advances.

* The brooch appears on the same page as Raymond's "Saxon" brooches, but its design is unmistakeably that of the Grave No. 58 brooch.   It even appears to be the same size as the Grave No. 58 find.


  1. neat!

    There's a pair of brooches from Birka that I think look like trilobites, too! from grave 349, shown in image 1a here (even the profile is trolobitey! I thought maybe I was forcing an image I like onto something that was an abstract longboat or something.

    I'm slowly plodding along my Viking garb (one for fighting one for feat), and I was thinking of mocking up some trilobites!!

    Oh, and where do you find your wools? I'm in Texas and I'm looking online and the prices are EEK (but at least I have access to an obsessive period dyer). What are your thoughts on gabardine for an apron dress fabric? it's a twill weave with a tabby (plain) weave look on one side and a traditional twill look on the other side (an artifact of the nature of the weave)- I was thinking it would have that look of tabby but give my (ample) bosom a little room without swamping my waist.

    1. synj-munki: I don't pretend that the archaeologists call them "trilobite brooches" but as you note, the design is *very* reminiscent of the fossil forms.

      I've tried using gabardine for garb, and in my opinion, it doesn't work. The surface is too slick and shiny, and the drape is wrong. I think all wool flannel is the cheapest possibility that works right.

      It does tend to be expensive (averages $15-$20 per yard). I usually use it only for apron dresses, and that price isn't as insane for me, because I'm small enough that I can make an apron dress from a yard if, as is often the case with flannel, it's 58-60 inches wide.

      If you need more cloth than a yard, you're naturally going to need to look for bargains. Sometime EBay will turn some up--usually ordinary people trying to get rid of fabric pieces they don't need. You have to read descriptions carefully and send questions to the seller to make sure the piece is something you'll want to use, and if it's an item that's out for bid (as opposed to "Buy it now" items which sell for a fixed price) you'll have to monitor the auction. You also have to remember that you'll have to pay the shipping cost, and factor it in when you're deciding whether a particular piece of fabric is within your budget.

      Here's a piece I'd consider if I didn't have the fabric for my current project already:

      This one is not a color I'd want to use but the weave looks beautiful and you said you know some dyers:

      I used to use (she also sells on EBay), but I see her prices have gone up a lot since I last shopped with her. Lovely colors, though.

      You can try browsing, but I find that it can be hard to tell what their fabrics will be like without a swatch, and they charge for swatches. Their prices can be good, though. also has vendors who sell vintage wool fabric pieces--some of those can be even better deals than EBay, though the same cautions apply. Here's a nice piece:

    2. hey, I'm an archaeologist, and I think it looks trilobitey ;)
      (though I'm not a norse-lands archaeologist)

      I've seen an non-apron Vendel (I think) period brooch that looked trilobitey that had been labeled "headless quadruped" by a museum in Stockholm

      yeah, I'm not a small person, in any direction (5'8", 4ft bound bust and hips, 2.5' waist, manly shoulders- there's going to be some stress on the bustline to keep it from looking a maternity pinafore), so I was looking at around 3 yards (gotta have gussets for the hips) in a light color, any spare is part of trade to the dyer. As I live in Texas, wool in the fabric stores is mostly suiting (so dark colors, and treated so it will not full). I will definitely check out those resources.

  2. and the Vendel period is the end of the Migration Period, yes?

    1. Yes that's right; the part immediately before the Viking age; roughly 7th-8th century CE.

  3. You can sometimes find 3+ yard pieces of fabric on Etsy or EBay, though it will take some looking. Good luck!

  4. Have you got M. Rundkvist's work on Domed ooblong brooches? There is a lot of information about hsoe trilobite brooches...

    1. Yes, I do; fascinating article, though it does not specifically address any textile finds in brooches or their costuming implications unfortunately.

  5. You should take a look at the Wulfheodenas Facebook page for things Vendel