Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Another Reconstruction of the Pleated-Front Apron Dress

An acquaintance of mine from several mailing lists, Shelagh Lewins, has just put up a page on her web site showing pictures of her recreation of the pleated-front Viking apron dress based on the Køstrup find.  You can admire her work here.  My less impressive effort can be found here.

There are several obvious differences between Shelagh's version of the apron dress and mine.  One is the trim.  I am still a beginner at tablet weaving, so instead of making completion of the dress depend on my weaving trim for the dress, I chose to use commercially-manufactured trim.  Shelagh is a skilled tablet weaver, and has chosen to ornament her dress with tablet-woven pieces she made, using period motifs.

Another difference is that the tablet-woven trim on Shelagh's dress appears to extend across the entire front edge of the dress, while mine is limited to the area between the brooches, ending where the pleated section ends.  I used only a short section of trim because I understood that approach to be consistent with the actual find.  However, the only photograph I've seen of the find is of poor quality and it is difficult to make out details from it.  A scan of the photograph, which I made from my copy of Thor Ewing's book, Viking Clothing, can be seen here

A third difference is the straps.  My dress, like all of my apron dresses, uses small (no more than about 2.5 cm high) loops in the front, and a longer loop in the back.  I wear my apron dresses fairly high up on my body, but even so the back loops are usually about 5 or 6 inches (12 to 15 cm) from the  top rear edge of the dress to the point where the loops fasten to the brooches.  Shelagh has used small loops in both the front and the back, so that her dress falls more like a peplos.  In discussion on the Norsefolk_2 list, she reported that the dress stays put very well and is very comfortable.  My dress, in constrast, tends to be pulled forward by the weight of the brooches and beads, even when belted.   On the other hand, I don't like having the dress bunch up at the armpit, which is what tends to happen when I wear a peplos unless I make it significantly wider than one would do with an apron dress.  Perhaps I should deal with the problem by running the pins through my underdress, as well as though the loops.

Finally, Shelagh found a lovely medium weight twill for her dress, while my dress is made from a fine gabardine.  (I had wanted a fabric more like the one Shelagh used, but was misled by photos on the vendor's website; having received the fabric, I decided to live with the consequences and use it for the dress anyway.)  I like the heavier twill better for the purpose, and think that the extra texture of her fabric would help prevent slipping even if she had chosen to make her loops longer. 

Both of us, however, used the same basic construction technique.  Our dresses are a tube, made by taking a piece of fabric of the correct size to cover us from collarbone to hem, and sewing it into a tube at one side.  The dresses were then pleated in the front, in the area between where the brooches would sit,  to narrow the top of the tube to fit the upper torso.  Interestingly, I recently obtained an article about the Køstrup find which seems to be expressing the opinion that the pleated section of the dress was an inset, sewn into the top of the dress on both sides. Hopefully, I'll get to blog about that article later this week.

If I make another Køstrup apron dress, I will try Shelagh's suggestion of using only short loops, just to see whether I find the result comfortable, since it clearly results in a dress that stays in place better than my version does.

EDIT: As of tonight (July 4, 2010) I noticed that Shelagh has updated her page to describe her construction method in greater detail. Check it out!


  1. The Køstrup article seems to say that the tablet woven band was only between the brooches and only 20 cm long:


    Melem fiblerne, langs selekjolens vandrette søm, har et mørkeblåt, ca. 14 mm bredt mønstret brikbånd af uld været anbragt, oprindeligt ca. 20 cm langt.

    Between the brooches, positioned along the horizontal seam (edge) of the suspended skirt, was a dark blue, ca. 14 cm wide patterned tablet-woven band of wool, initially ca. 20 cm long.

  2. Google Translate agrees with your read of what the Rasmussen/Lønborg article says about the length of the tablet-woven band. I just wish I had a photograph that showed that. The photograph from Viking Clothing is useless for that purpose.

  3. Have you guys seen this? I know the era is wrong, but...

  4. @Portia No, I had not seen the second century CE "Roman" sculpture from the eastern half of the Empire (wish the site had more detailed information about where it was found, but antiquities sellers seldom do, unfortunately), and it is interesting. Unfortunately, without more information about where it was found (and thus what woman, or sort of woman, the sculptor was trying to depict), it's hard to make reasonable deductions about what it tells us about her costume.

    It has long been assumed that the Roman stola (the wool overdress that was emblematic of decent Roman matrons) was the ancestor of the Viking "apron dress", but that's a proposition that's hard to prove. Stolas, like apron dresses, hung from straps and could be pleated like the garment shown on this statue. On the other hand, the stola was characteristically made from wool and was always pleated, while there is evidence that some Viking "apron dresses" were made from linen and not all "apron dresses" were pleated. More information about this statue might be a helpful link in establishing this chronology.

    The David Aaron site refers to the "cloak" over the statue's head as a "himation". That's unlikely, as the "himation" was seen as a Greek, not a Roman garment. If the woman was Roman, that fabric likely was part of a palla, the wrapped cloak commonly worn by Roman women. It could even be a separate veil.