Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Volva Outfit--Another Piece Done

My faux "shaggy calfskin shoes"
At least six months after acquiring the necessary components for the "shaggy calfskin shoes" for my völva outfit, I have assembled them into something I can wear.  The result is shown in the photo to the left.

My method here was not even remotely historical, so I am not counting this as a Historical Sew Monthly project.  This is essentially a quick-and-dirty modern "costume" style item, meant to approximate the possible appearance of the shoes described in the Saga of Eric the Red.  As I said in an earlier post, the foundation of these "boots" is a pair of Minnetonka brand boots, which in turn are based, loosely, on historical Amerind moccasins.  The shaft is a band made of faux fur, sewn into a tube and slid onto my leg, where it's positioned so that it conceals the top of the Minnetonkas at my ankles.  After settling the bands in place, I took a long thin lace for each "boot" and strung and knotted large brass beads onto the ends, and used those laces to tie the faux fur cuffs closely around my ankles.  Originally I was going to tie the thongs around the both top and bottom of the faux fur band, criss-crossing the laces in back, but it occurred to me that for that to work I would need to sew the thong into a channel at the top or bottom of the band, and since the band stays up pretty well without any tying, I thought that for my purposes it would be sufficient to just wrap the length of the band around my ankle (and over the faux fur band).  So that's what I did.

Interestingly, if I tie the thongs with enough length between the knot and the beads, the beads clack together when I walk.  I wonder if that was why the völva wore big brass knobs on her boots?

Calves, Highland Cattle breed
(from Wikimedia Commons)
Finally, since the shoes are described in the saga as "calfskin" the faux fur I used is a bit of a stretch.  Most cattle do not have thick fur like the faux fur I have chosen for this item.  One of the plausible exceptions, a breed called simply Highland cattle, has long fur that looks rather like the sheepskin-textured faux fur I am using (see the picture of Highland calves to the right of this post).  However, Highland cattle were brought to Britain during the Neolithic period, and, to my knowledge, did not arrive in Scandinavia during Viking times (though it can be found there now). Highland cattle are more cold-tolerant than many cattle breeds, though, and they probably could have survived in Viking age Scandinavia had they been taken there.  (Icelandic cattle, which probably do go back to the Viking age, don't look anything like Highland cattle, and do not have shaggy fur, unfortunately.)  I can't use the thongs I selected with the Minnetonkas alone, leaving off the faux fur cuff, because the thongs are too thin.  In addition, the balls I strung onto the ends of the current thongs do not have holes big enough for me to string them onto thicker thongs that might work with the Minnetonkas.

So I've accepted that my boots are for general Northern flavor, and are not documentably historical.  I could always experiment with wearing the cuffs and thongs with my more accurately styled Viking shoes, or even get other thongs if I find brass balls with suitably sized holes--my improvisation only cost about $10.00 USD.

In other news, I have concluded that I should use my old Migration Period necklace for this outfit, to avoid having to incur additional costs for beads to make a new necklace. That makes sense, since the necklace won't show much, if at all, underneath the type of hood I'm planning to make.

And I still have the mittens to finish.  I'm not sure whether that will come before or after the lambskin hood, since I still haven't bought any lambskin or lambskin substitutes yet.


  1. These look good. They have a "circumpolar shaman" look to them that really works. Historical accuracy is an ideal to strive for, but there's nothing wrong with quick and dirty if that's what gets the job done. My "Viking" footwear is currently a pair of modern faux-suede boots which look kinda-sorta Viking underneath a long skirt.

    1. Thanks! "Circumpolar shaman" was the general look I was going for, based on the language (in translation at least) from Eric the Red's Saga: she wore "shaggy calfskin shoes with long thongs and large knobs on the ends of them...." You can't tell from the photos because of the fur, but the length of each thong is about a foot and a half (45 cm). The balls are large beads permanently knotted onto each end, and the length is wrapped around my ankles before being tied.

      Looking back at the language is making me think again. Calfskin isn't usually very shaggy. *Could* the volva's shoes have been made from the hide of a shaggy breed, or was the "shaggy" part an addition?

    2. Unfortunately I don't speak Old Norse well enough to provide any helpful input as to why the word "shaggy" might have been used (perhaps it meant the hair was left on the skin instead of being removed during tanning?), nor do I know anything about historical cattle breeds. But it wouldn't be surprising if shaggy cattle like Highland cattle were known in the Viking world. You say they've been living in Scotland since the Neolithic, and Scotland was well within the Norse area of activity.

    3. Maybe you're right; I don't speak Old Norse either, and my knowledge of Highland cattle so far is limited to what's on Wikipedia.

      I think it's plausible that some Highland cattle ended up in Scandinavia during the Viking age, but I have no proof that they got there, or how, or where the local populations of such cattle might have ended up.

    4. It's worth considering the Norse had extensive trade routes, and the volva was fairly itinerant. She could have opportunities to encounter all sorts of traded commodities.

    5. I suspect that's true, but documenting it would be difficult.

    6. Probably impossible, sadly. That's always the problem with early period research.