Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Fitted Wrapped Apron Dress--Conclusions

With a belt.
Without a belt
As promised, here are the pictures of my fitted wrapped apron dress. Each photograph should be clickable for a larger version. I have my husband, Eric, to thank for taking these.

Despite the evidence (e.g. from Birka and Pskov) that any dresses that might have been wrapped designs were probably trimmed across the entire top of the dress, I chose to trim this dress only along the area between the brooches. I did that primarily to speed up completion of this project, not because of any theories about how apron dresses were trimmed.

Having gone through the exercise of making this type of dress, I now believe that it is very unlikely that any Viking woman ever made, or wore, such a garment. Why? Because this approach is based less on the existing (and limited) design evidence and more upon certain assumptions about how apron dresses may have been made.

Rear view, unbelted
Rear view, belted
Consider this. There is certainly evidence that can reasonably be interpreted as indicating that some apron dresses consisted of flat pieces of cloth that were wrapped around the body. Some of the Birka finds--particularly the finds from Grave No. 597 that extend in a straight line from brooch to brooch--tend to support this theory, as does the Pskov find. There are other finds, such as the Hedeby fragment, that suggest that some apron dresses were made from specifically shaped pieces of fabric and sewn together to fit the contours of the body.

The concept behind the type of wrapped dress I made, however, is that someone wanted a wrapped garment that would fit the body relatively closely. Why would a Viking care about that? I care about it, because I'm exploring different theories of apron dress design. But a Viking woman would know how apron dresses were usually made--or at least how they were made in the area where she lived. If she decided to explore different designs, it would more likely be for practical reasons. Perhaps she had only a limited amount of the fabric that she wanted to use, or wanted to achieve a tighter or looser fit.

Best view, belted
In other words, if a Viking age woman wanted an apron dress that fitted closely to the body (and it is far from clear that any woman of the period would have wanted such a garment), it's unlikely that she would have tried to fit triangular gores into a sheet of fabric, as I did. Instead, she likely would have abandoned the idea of working with a flat sheet at all, and would have attempted to make a pieced garment rather than seeking to force a wrapped peplos to do a job for which it is not naturally suited. Certainly Viking seamstresses were not deterred by the prospect of piecing together fabric to make a garment.  The Viborg shirt demonstrates Viking ingenuity and willingness to experiment with pieced construction techniques, and the Hedeby fragment does also (though it is unclear whether the garment that fragment came from was made or worn by a local "Viking" or a foreigner).

There are other facts that militate against the use of this apron dress design by the Vikings. One is that it is difficult to make the hemline of the dress come out even. I certainly did not succeed in doing so. My dress is enough longer and fuller on the left side that it looks a bit odd (see photographs). It's also difficult to belt the dress attractively without a full-length mirror--something the Vikings did not have (though I suppose a keen-eyed relative or friend might have been an adequate substitute).

Finally, I note that, to complete this dress, I had to lengthen the back set of loops by at least an inch (2.5 cm). The back loops measure 7 5/8th inches long (about 19.3 cm) from the place where the loop folds at the top to the edge of the apron dress (and they are sewn onto the edge without more than a millimeter's overlap). When I had the loops shorter, the dress tended to cut into my body at the armpits. This may be, as Hilde Thunem has suggested, because this dress is fitted rather than loose (and the very top of the dress is the most tightly fitted part of the garment). The pleated tube-style found at Køstrup and some of the Norwegian graves, which Shelagh Lewins recreated, would be looser and may well require much shorter loops to avoid having the dress shift during wearing. So it's possible, maybe even likely, that the rear loops of apron dresses were of different lengths, based both upon the measurements of the wearer and the style of the particular dress.

Unfortunately, existing grave finds do not preserve the full length of apron dress loops, so this hypothesis cannot be directly tested. It may be useful for me to look at the length of the rear straps on the variety of dresses I have made, to see whether my limited experimentation with different designs supports that idea.

EDIT:  (5/11/2013) To correct the last paragraph.  It originally said that grave finds "do not preserve" apron dress loops which is wrong.  What I had meant is that only a small portion of each loop is preserved, so it's impossible to tell what the full length of the loop was while the dress was being worn.


  1. Hi! I really like your dress and I must say you give me strength to finally finish my viking underdress. Well, I'm a beginner and this is my first sewing project I've ever made, so I'm not really confident in measures and so on. Now it seems, that the dress is too long with long sleeves and also too wide. I hope I can somehow repair it. I want to do also appron dress from purple linen cloth, but I'm not sure if I have enough material. Do you think that in this case is possible to have appron dress which isn't sewed together on the sides? I didn't find any evidence on the internet about the use, so I'm not sure.

  2. Nefi: Welcome!

    The underdress I'm wearing here was not part of this project; it was just an underdress I had handy that I wore to for the photographs. If you're looking for assistance with making a better fitting underdress for yourself, consider trying again with the directions from one of these sites:

    The point of the project in yesterday's post was to explore possible design options, not to make an apron dress that makes the most efficient use of available fabric. It is certainly possible to have an apron dress which isn't sewn together on the sides, and I've made such garments. Look here for examples. .

    As for "evidence of the use" of a purely wrapped style, you should read the following article, which is an excellent summary of virtually all of the known evidence: .

    Good luck with your own outfit.

  3. Thanks for these links. I'm surprised I didn't find your article about wrap around styles before, but I haven't reached to read all of your articles yet. For my underdress I used this pattern:, since there is well explained how exactly do cut, sewing etc. Do you think, that this pattern will be good? I'm pretty afraid of armpits part, when I tried to put on the dress, I felt some tension in this area (maybe because of bad measures?). I wasn't confident in measuring, so I somewhere added few more centimeters of fabric, but I think it was quite bad idea. :D
    I hope someday I will make such gorgeous costumes like you! :)

    1. Nefi: It's hard for me to guess whether the pattern you refer to will work out for you or not, since I don't know what your figure is like.

      Here's what I mean. I have made underdresses using a pattern similar to the one you are using, and I have found them to be very big and full all over, and very flattering and comfortable. However, my figure is small on top, and big through the hips, and I have been told that on women with large busts that the type of pattern you're using tends to be tight on top for them. If you are large-breasted, that may be what's going on. However, if the dress is not uncomfortably tight, you can still wear it and it will be fine.

      The patterns I usually use feature a separate small piece of cloth to prevent extra tightness in the armpit area. The advantage of that approach is that you can make the dress less tight in the armpits by making that piece (usually called a gusset) bigger. You may want to consider experimenting with that type of pattern for your next underdress. Good luck!

  4. Ace articles, thank you for posting it! I just spent the weekend in Viking costume near York, and found that my hangerock was an indispensable overgarment. I would have been terribly cold without it. I brought Anglo-Saxon costume but decided I was not prepared to lose a layer of wool, and stayed as a Viking.

    Do you think that a wrapped hangerock would be likely to be worn with a belt?

    1. Yes, I do think that a wrapped hangerock would have been worn with a belt. It's impossible to prove this, because most female Viking Age graves contain no evidence of belts, but all of the non-fitted designs look better (and in some cases, move better with the body) if they are belted. As I did for my photographs above, I generally use a cloth or tablet-woven belt with my Viking dresses.