Thursday, November 12, 2015

HSM #9--The Lined, Wrapped Apron Dress Complete

Bottom corner, from the inside
Front view
Although it has taken me an additional month just to get the silk strip and loops sewn onto to the top of my lined, wrapped apron dress, the dress is finally complete. Here it is!  I have included close-ups of the corners and of the top edge both from the right side and wrong side, despite my less than stellar hand work, for those of my readers who want a better idea of exactly how it was made.  (I hope to replace the shots of me wearing the dress with clearer ones shortly.)

I realized, in the end, that I do not have enough information about the Grave 464 find that inspired this project to know exactly how the lining might have been secured, or even whether the entire dress was lined (though I think this was likely, if the dress truly was a wrapped-sheet type of dress). So I proceeded in a manner that would solidly fasten the wool and linen together without leaving raw edges, and covered the raw edge of the wool at the top with a pieced strip of my silk. The result gives the general idea of what a lined wrapped apron dress would be like in wear, but hardly qualifies even as an attempt to make a dress that is consistent with the fragments in Birka Grave 464.  

So here is how I made the dress.  

Small loop, from the inside
First, I laid the linen on top of the wool, wrong sides together, matching the fabric edge to edge as best I could. That meant matching the selvages on one side, and cutting a strip off of the other side, partly to attempt to (roughly) even out the differences in the fabric size, and partly to obtain a strip of fabric from which to make the loops.  Wool apron dresses with linen loops are common at Birka, but I had less of the linen than I did of the wool, so I didn't wish to cut the linen.  (If I had been concerned about cutting my piece of wool, I would have used scraps of linen from my stash for the loops; fortunately, my wool piece was large enough that I could spare a bit of it for the loops.  I like having matching wool loops better, and at least one period apron dress find has matching wool loops.)  The top was chosen so that the longer side would wrap around me; in other words, the fabric was aligned so that the dress would be about 36 inches long from top to bottom.

Next, I folded the top corner diagonally on the top and side to square it off (see picture), double folded the wool over the linen to enclose any raw edge, and stitched the two together using a whipstitch.  I continued this process along the bottom and other side, folding the corners but not cutting them (see pictures) as is common with modern mitering technique.

Finally, I cut two pieces of my silk, each about 3 1/2 inches wide and stitched them together end-to-end to make a strip long enough to cover the entire top edge of the dress. I folded all four sides of the strip to hide the raw edges.

And that is where I ran into a problem.

Because the linen and wool pieces aren't quite the same size, I had to figure out how to stitch the silk onto the top of the dress without (1) allowing any of the raw edge of the linen to show, and; (2) without having the line of the silk across the front of the dress look crooked or uneven.

What I ended up doing was a three-step process. First, I whip stitched the folded edge of the silk onto the linen lining, about 1 cm beneath the top edge of the linen.  Then I whip stitched the top edge of the linen to the wool, as close to the top edge of the wool as possible.  Finally, I folded the rest of the silk strip forward, over the top edge of the wool (with the raw edge of the silk tucked underneath) and stitched the silk onto the front of the dress, adjusting the visible width of the strip as necessary.

Left side view
Right side view
The most obvious difference between this dress and my wrapped, unlined, linen apron dresses, is that this dress is noticeably heavier than the other apron dresses I've made, except maybe for the Hedeby-style dress I made from heavy cotton denim. It's surprisingly warm and it hangs well--even better than my pure linen apron dresses.  Moreover, the way the dress wraps across the front conceals the fact that the line of the silk trim is (still, despite adjusting) uneven.  The unevenness in the hem caused by the fact that this is a wrapped garment shows, very slightly, at the bottom center, but is less conspicuous than the unevenness of hem that shows when I wear the wrapped linen apron dresses I have made.

Overall, I'm happy with the way the dress came out. Though I don't have enough information to guess how close I might have come to the way such a garment could have been made during the Viking period, let alone how the garment in Birka Grave 464 really was made, the project shows that a lined apron dress would have been wearable and comfortable.  As to whether one considers it attractive, it's not particularly sexy to modern eyes, but it has a clean dignity to it that is reminiscent at least some of the images of women in Viking period art.

HSM Challenge #9--Color Challenge Brown

Fabric A yard of very dark brown mid-weight wool, about 58 inches wide; a yard of cream-colored mid-weight linen, about 57 inches wide; and strips cut from a quarter-yard of silk taffeta.  The silk I had previously bought for another project, but the wool and linen were newly acquired.  

Pattern:  None needed.  The dress is based upon Agnes Geijer's theory that at least some apron dresses may have just consisted of a flat piece of fabric with loops sewn to the top edge that is wrapped around the body and fastened with pins.  (Perhaps older women wore wrapped apron dresses while younger women wore more fitted ones resembling reenactors' dresses based upon the Hedeby find?)  To the extent my limited information about the fragments found in Grave 464 at Birka, I tried to make the finished garment consistent with that information.    

Year:  The Viking age.  I think Grave 464 is one of the earlier Birka finds (9th century C.E.) though I'm not certain of that, and I don't know the extent to which anyone has attempted to date the finds in that particular grave.

Notions:   Dark brown, 100% silk Gutermann thread for stitching the wool and linen together along the sides, and some dark red 100% silk Gutermann thread for stitching the silk band in place.   Both were from my stash.

How historically accurate is it?   Not as accurate as I'd like it to be.  I don't really know whether the silk was folded at its outside edges where it attaches to the wool.  I suspect, though, that the silk actually found in Grave 464 was heavier and less prone to raveling than mine, and thus would not have required the foldovers on the edges of the silk that I needed to make on my silk.  Also, my wool and linen fabric pieces were slightly different in size and I didn't want to cut into the wool (which was the larger of the two) very much because I wanted to make sure there would be enough width that the dress would wrap around me comfortably.  As a result, in some places the linen and wool do not meet at the top, so the silk strip covers both but doesn't enclose them at the fold the way the original apparently did.  Because of this, I had to stitch the wool and linen together *before* folding the silk over both, and I know of no evidence that that was done on the original.   In addition, I don't know whether the corners of the dress were mitered in the modern fashion or only folded over to square them up, and I used silk thread, while the original was probably sewn with linen or wool.   So I don't rate the historical accuracy higher than about 50%, at best.

Hours to completeI didn't keep track very closely, but I think about 6-7 hours, spread over several non-consecutive days.

First worn:  To determine the correct placement for the loops.  When making an apron dress, I typically pin all the loops to the top of the dress with safety pins and try the dress on to determine whether the placement is appropriate before stitching them in place, and that's what I did here as well. The first real wearing was for the photographs accompanying this post.

Total cost About $45.00 USD (not counting the cost of the spandex-containing linen I'd bought to use for the project originally and had to replace).

EDIT (12/2/2015):  I forgot to mention that I did not spread the fabric out on a table to do the matching or any of the sewing.  I merely held the linen and wool in front of me, matched edges as best I could, and folded and stitched from there, so it *is* possible to do that.  (I did spread the partly-finished garment briefly on a bed to figure out how and where to place the silk strip, though).


  1. It's great to see it finished! Although it's not form-fitting it is quite stately, and it's interesting to see how it drapes. It does have a nice drape compared to the linen-only version, which I assume is because of the wool.

    1. The wool itself is not terribly heavy--it's at best a medium-weight wool. But when combined with the linen, the resulting sheet is quite heavy and surprisingly warm as well.

    2. Do you know how heavy the original wool was? Perhaps the linen lining might have been to give it more body. I seem to recall reading somewhere that viking wool could be very fine.

    3. Viking wool could be very fine indeed, but I don't know whether the wool fragments in Grave 464 were among the fine wools or not, I should check Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe and see whether Hagg's essay sheds any light on this question.

  2. Hi, I have a question, not in post topic :) Some time ago I found on your blog short mention about pleated textile fragment from Gotland. I can't find it now - can you point me at this post or at something about this find?

    1. That's a great question, but unfortunately *I* don't recall a mention of such a find, so I can't point to it! I'm feeling rather poorly today, but later on I'll see if I can locate it and, if so, I'll comment again.

  3. Olofek/Krucza: It occurred to me that I could try a web search on this blog to try to find the post you're thinking of, and I found it! It's from 2010, and this is the link to it: It contains a link to, but that link is dead for some reason; I'll have to see if I can locate the report in question and resurrect the link. Thanks for bringing this up!

    1. Thanks a lot! I could not find it, and I started to think that I maybe dreaming about this post or something? ;) I will try to find this summary from dead link, maybe I have it on my old disc :)

    2. Hi, Olaf! It occurs to me that you might be able to find the information I originally linked to using the Wayback Machine: I'll try it too. Thanks again for bringing the issue to my attention.

    3. Okay, I have edited the HTML for the September 2010 post that refers to the pleated Gotland fragment so that it points to the copy of the original information that was preserved by the Wayback Machine. Olaf, it's pretty bare-bones and doesn't discuss the pleating in detail (and is somewhat ambiguous in its description), but it's the only information I have on the subject. Good luck!