Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Return To My Roots: HSM #9--Color Challenge Brown

The September challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly is simple:  make something that is brown in color.  I was having trouble deciding upon a suitable project for this challenge, when I had an idea based upon my roots--the Viking apron dress or smokkr.  Because so many people have made apron dresses (and posted pictures of them on the Internet) since I first became interested in the Vikings, I had begun to believe that there really aren't any research-related reasons to make new apron dresses any more.  However, I may have stumbled upon a project that might be educational, and enough fun to be worth doing.

Despite the number of different styles of apron dress that I have made, I have never attempted to make an apron dress that is lined.  The evidence in favor of lined apron dresses comes from Birka, particularly grave 464.  Hilde Thunem translates the description of the relevant part of the grave 464 textile find in her long article discussing the evidence for Viking apron dresses:
Attached to the remains of a linen loop (1-2) was a fragment of fine dark blue wool (6). The wool had a linen fragment (4) lying against its inside and a silk band (3) had been folded over the top of both fragments (like a bias tape). ...
The woman in this grave was probably wearing a blue woollen smokkr, lined with linen and decorated with a silk band along the top of the dress. A small fragment of linen from the serk (5) was lying on top of the loop, indicating that at least in this case the smokkr had been worn directly over the serk (fig. 464:6). The top of the silk band, and thus the top of the smokkr, reached about 2 cm up into the brooch. This means that the front loops of the smokkr was fairly short and would have been completely covered by the brooches. ...
The grave contains several other fragments of the dark blue wool. One that seems to have been torn off from the brooch fragment is folded along two sides, creating a corner about 4 cm outside of the edge of the brooch (464:5). It is unclear whether the vertical edge of this corner was hemmed or if it was fastened to another piece of the smokkr.
It seems clear that the silk piece covering the top edge (and it had to be the top edge, because a loop was also fastened to it) functioned partly to bind a piece of linen to the wool.  How big the piece of linen originally was remains a question (and Hilde Thunem notes that Agnes Geijer thought that the linen lining of the garment in grave 464 was only partial).  So I started thinking about the reasons why people choose to line garments.  Two substantial reasons occurred to me:  to make the garment warmer, or to stiffen or otherwise change the drape and behavior of the garment in some way.

Warmth may have been a factor, certainly, with any item of Viking clothing, but stiffening would only matter if the garment in question were not an untailored garment such as a peplos; peploses work best with soft drapey fabrics than with stiff ones.  For a wrap-around garment, increased stiffness might actually work better unless you're going for a form-fitting sarong type of garment.

The mitered corner was only 4 cm (not quite 2 inches) from the outside edge of the tortoise brooch; that is approximately the same place where the seam appears on the Køstrup apron dress fragment.  Whether that location means that any seam along the edge of the corner would end up running underneath the arm would depend upon the size of the wearer.  On me, 4 cm from the outside edge of my brooches would place the seam very close to my armpit.   However, if the corner edge was not part of a seam, mitering it (which I have never thought to do on any of my earlier wrapped apron dresses, for some reason) should tend to make the open edge stand upright up and not flop over when worn.  Front corners that do not flop make a wrap-around style apron dress look better, in my opinion. 

In any event, making a fully-lined apron dress would show me whether such an apron dress would be comfortable and easily wearable, which to me makes the construction of such an apron dress an interesting project.

I have some red silk that I can use for the top-edge binding.   I have just ordered a yard of cream-colored linen that should serve for the lining, and am planning to buy a yard of chocolate brown wool for the apron itself.  (The grave 464 find was dark blue, but other apron dresses have been found to be brown, and brown is the color for the September challenge.)  Both fabrics are about 60 inches wide; a yard of each would make a suitable single-wrapped dress that, on me, would be about mid-calf length.  All we know about about the length of the dress in grave 464 is that it was at least hip length (because scraps of the same wool were found underneath a work brooch located at about hip level), so a mid-calf length should be fine for this project.

Hopefully, I'll be able to complete this project before the end of September.  Wish me luck!


  1. Good luck! I've never thought about lining an apron dress, and I'll be interested to see how it goes. Brown and red will be a really nice colour combination too.

    1. Thanks! Though I hope I am not as disappointed in my wool as I've been in the linen I ordered. I received it today, and it seemed okay, until I realized it is...stretchy! It must have a token but significant amount of spandex in it. Wonderful stuff if I intend to learn how to make my own underwear courtesy of the Dreamstress's site, but totally useless for what I need. If I can't find a large enough piece of linen in my stash, I guess I need to go back to ;-(