Monday, June 25, 2018

A Viking Wood Frame Bag

The completed bag.
Though I didn't manage to finish my Hedeby bag in April, I have finished it at last!  See the photographs accompanying this post.

I very nearly made the seam allowances for the lining bag too narrow.  The problem with doing that is that stitching too close to the edge of my moderately coarse linen can result in having the stitches pull out of the linen in wear. however, I succeeded in making my seams narrow enough that all raw edges were enclosed and the structural part of each seam was sewn through two folded edges, which should make it strong enough for a durable lining.

Because I made the seams on the lining bag so narrow, the lining is bigger than the felt outer bag, though that's not a big problem in use.  A slightly bigger problem is the fact that the felt seams are thick enough that the frames don't quite sit squarely where they should, making the bag a tad lopsided.  It still seems solidly functional, however.

With regard to the "trim", I ended up cutting a strip of the amber wool about 4 inches wide and folded both long edges under.  The top folded edge was stitched the top edge to the top of the bag, and the bottom edge was stitched to the body of the bag.  After that, I sewed the frames to the bag by stitching each wool tab down separately to the bag, first on the inside of the bag, then on the outside.

The steps involved in my method of construction, in order, were as follows:

Looking into the bag, showing the lining.
1.   Whipstitch the edges of the felt bag together (treating the bag as I had pinned it together for the last post on this subject as the wrong side of the bag, since both sides are very similar in appearance).

2.   Add a running stitch close below all of the whipstitched edges.

3.   Turn the felt bag right-side out.

4.   Cut an approximately 4-inch (about 10 cm) wide strip of the thinner amber fabric, turning the long edges under, and stitch the strip to the bag at the top.

5.  Stitch the lining pieces into their own bag shape.  Here, I folded each raw edge inward, whipstitched along the folded edges, and then sewed underneath the matched edges using running stitch.  Note:  the lining bag stays inside-out.

6.   Sew the bottom of the amber wool strip to the body of the bag.

7.  Stitch each frame to the top long edges of the bag by running tabs of wool felt through each of the slots in the frames, turning the short ends of the tabs under, and whipstitching the folded edges of each tab down. (Note:  The inside edges and the outside edges were stitched separately; I did not try to make each stitch go through both tabs.)

Top of bag.  This picture shows the colors best.
8.  Place the linen lining bag into the felt bag and line it up properly (so that the narrow sides of the lining are against the narrow sides of the felt bag).  This guarantees that the seams of neither the felt bag nor the lining will be visible in use.

9.  Fold the top edge of the linen lining bag under (i.e., so that the raw edge would be against the inside of the felt bag).  Whipstitch the top folded edge of the linen lining to the top inside of the felt bag.

10.  Thread the cord through the holes in the wooden frame pieces, and tie knots in them to secure them in place.  The photographs show how the cord was threaded through the frames and how the bag stays closed naturally when worn.  The bag stays closed best when the contents of the bag have substantial weight (like, for example, an apple, or a smartphone).

For the Historical Sew Monthly fans among my readers, here is the challenge-critical information.

The Challenge--May: Specific to a Time [of Day or Year]

Material:  Wool felt for the bag, medium-weight linen for the lining, cotton cord for the handle, and a thinner, paler wool fabric sewn on to the outside of the wool felt for decoration.

Pattern:   I was inspired by Kristine Risberg's pattern on Nattmal, though I ultimately made my design, as I've discussed in an earlier blog post.

Year:  Roughly 10th c. CE.

Notions:  Dark brown silk thread from Guttermann to sew the bag together (though the originals might well have used linen or wool) and light gold silk Gutterman thread to sew the lining.  Also two birch wood frames based on Haithabu designs that I purchased on Etsy.

How historically accurate is it?  We only have surviving frames, not complete bags, among the Viking finds, so that's hard to ascertain.  My frames are ridged and black on the sides, suggesting that some kind of woodburning technique was used to cut them out; so far as I know, that method would not have been used in period.  I tried to stick to period materials and stitches, though I suspect that wool cord, not the cotton cord I used, would have been used to make a wool bag in period, and probably such a bag would have been stitched with wool or linen thread, not silk.  However, all of the material types I used (birch wood, wool, linen, silk) were available in Viking Age Scandinavia except (probably) for the cotton cord, and we do not know what weights and weaves of materials were actually used for similar bags.   In addition, although whipstitch and running stitch were used in period garments, I'm not sure that my particular combination of the two was used for seam construction in period; I'd have to recheck my sources.

Overall, I'd give my bag an historical accuracy rating of 70% at best. 

Hours to Complete:  About 6 hours, exclusive of time spent selecting materials and planning the design.

First Worn:  I haven't "worn" it yet since I have not visited any good venues at which to wear my Viking attire lately.  But since it will be useful to have a hands-free bag to carry necessary items any time that I'm wearing my Viking clothing, it will definitely see some use.

Total Cost:  $37.18.   I paid $15.00 for the wood frames (postage was free), $10.95 for the brown wool felt for the outside of the bag (inclusive of postage), and $11.13 for the amber wool for trim (inclusive of postage).  The linen used for the lining, cotton cord for the handle, and sewing thread all came from my stash.  All prices are in U.S. dollars.


  1. Congratulations on completing your bag! Wool felt is nice, so the tabs won't ravel.

    The frames look like they're laser cut; if you'd like to, you can sand off (or tone down) the black on the top/side edges. It's easiest done before assembly, but with a bit of care you can do it now too. Start in an inconspicuous place to see how much work it is - I only have experience from much thinner pieces (model building), and the black layer on the frames might be a little thicker.

    1. That is a thought, Anna; but I am a bit reluctant to do that because the black part extends pretty far and the wood pieces are on the thin side.

  2. It's very impressive, and it looks very sturdy and practical. Your design contributes to this, of course; having a continuous piece of felt with no seam at the bottom seems like a good structural choice.