Dark Blue Linen Viking Apron Dress – WIP1

Dark Blue Linen Viking Apron Dress - WIP4, by Sidney Eileen, fitting the dress with darts

The vertical seams are finished here, so in the photo I am fitting the darts on the apron dress.

Now that Diana’s new Viking garb is wearable, I have been working on Viking garb for myself and hope to have it finished before Yule.  At the moment the serk does not look very interesting, being hand sewn of plain drab green linen with no embellishment yet.  I am not wearing it in the photo to the right.  The apron dress, on the other hand, has a lot of decorative and functional work done on it.  There are things I will do differently on my next reconstruction, but I’m sure I will be proud to wear this one when it’s done even if it’s not perfect.

My apron dress is based on the large apron dress fragments found in Haithabu harbor (Hedeby), which has been used as the basis for a great many reconstructions before myself.  I am planning to write up my own reconstruction in a coherent manner after the dress is finished, so for now here are a couple links to excellent information on the find and how other people have reconstructed it.  Reconstructing a Viking Hanging Dress from Haithabu by Peter Beatson and Christobel Ferguson shows much of the archaeological information on the find, and their reconstruction.  Viking Women: Aprondress by Hilde Thunem is all about the archaeology.  Skip down to the section on Haithabu to see the details about this particular find.

The dress is entirely hand sewn from linen fabric with linen thread.  Invisible seams are sewn with thread pulled from the selvage of the material, while decorative and contrast stitching is done in Londonderry linen thread.  I will post a pattern later.  For those of you familiar with typical fitted apron dress patterns, it is made from three panels.  The back panels are straight to the waist and then widen on one side (placed towards the back seam in this case).  The front panel is straight.  There are gores on the sides, and darts in the front and back for fitting.

Dark Blue Linen Viking Apron Dress - WIP2, by Sidney Eileen, showing front (bottom) and back (top) sides of the herringbone seam allowance treatment.

The seam is sewn in a running stitch using thread pulled from the fabric selvage. The seam allowance is sewn down to the outside using a small herringbone stitch in contrasting thread. The colors in the photo are not quite true. The fabric is a dark indigo blue, and the linen thread is a bright saffron orange.

These are detail photos of the seam treatment, with the seam allowances secured towards the outside of the dress with herringbone stitch in Londonderry linen thread.

In most reconstructions using herringbone stitch as a construction stitch (as opposed to purely decorative) it is worked on the inside of the garment. This is because it is easiest to make sure the seam allowance (or hem) is secured on every stitch and evenly turned if you are looking at it, and because it is easiest to work herringbone stitch without it turning out a mess if you are looking at the herringbone, necessitating that the herringbone stitch must be worked on the same side as the seam allowance. This is also, I believe, due at least in part to modern bias, which insists that the seam allowance must *always* be turned to the inside of the garment.

As you can see, the reverse of the herringbone stitch looks exactly like two lines of running stitch, but with some hiccups and flaws where it is stitched through three layers of fabric (the turned over seam allowance). I don’t like those hiccups and flaws, which are all but impossible to avoid without taking an excruciatingly long time to work the stitch by flipping it constantly and essentially working as though both sides were the outside. For someone like me who likes their stitches to look consistent, this is behind irritating.  If the stitches are to be decorative as well as functional this does not make sense to me.

Add in the likelihood of modern bias and assumptions that the seam allowances and hems should be turned inward, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the seam allowances might actually have been turned outward, at least some of the time.  Besides, there is the dart on the fragments I am referencing that is turned to the outside in a decorative manner, even though it is likely in most cases such treatment was done to the inside. So, I have turned the seam allowances out and done the herringbone stitch decoratively, and I feel that the result is visually appealing despite the turned out seam allowances.

Dark Blue Linen Viking Apron Dress - WIP3, by Sidney Eileen, showing the herringbone stitch seam allowance treatment and feather stitch in linen thread.

The seam allowances are stitched down with herringbone stitch, and the center of the seam is being decorated with feather stitch.

This photo shows detail of one of the gores after the herringbone stitch was finished.  I decided to use feather stitch along the center of the seam in a pale green linen even though I have not been able to find a particular extant piece using feather stitch.  This is because I thought it would look pretty, it’s common in SCA reenactment, and would provide a nice, easy contrast that will also reinforce the seam.

Dark Blue Linen Viking Apron Dress - WIP4, by Sidney Eileen, fitting the dress with darts

The vertical seams are finished here, so in the photo I am fitting the darts on the apron dress.

The vertical seams are finished here, so in the photo I am fitting the darts on the apron dress. The extant fragment upon which I am basing my dress has a dart of exactly the right placement and depth to help the dress hug the curve of the spine if the fragment is of a back panel. The darts in the back are basted with all-purpose thread since it’s cheap and will be removed before the dress is finished. The darts in the front are basted with safety pins for convenience since I am fitting myself. They will be re-basted with thread before sewing and the fit double-checked. The white shoulder straps are temporary for fitting, placement, and length of the straps.

After fitting the dress I sewed the darts in running stitch using the same green linen thread as for the feather stitch.  I left the basting stitches above and below the darts so I could use them as a guide for where to place the braid.

The darts on the front panel were far too deep to leave as they were, so I trimmed them down to slightly more than 1cm of depth and turned the seam allowances in like a french seam.  This I whip stitched using linen thread pulled from the selvage before applying the braids.  This gave them a very similar appearance to the darts in the back of the dress.

Another neat feature of the original fragment is the 6-strand braid that is couched onto the top of the dart.  From a garment longevity standpoint, this braid will prevent the fold of the dart from wearing through, and then potentially pulling out of its stitches.  Having a cord or braid sewn onto a french style seam is a common treatment in Viking garment fragments, but here it is done decoratively to the outside of the garment.  It was tricky finding a good description of the braid itself, but thankfully there is PLAIT FROM THE HEDEBY APRON DRESS FRAGMENT, where another wonderful person detailed her reconstruction of the braid and provided a tutorial on how to duplicate it.  I made my braid in yellow and red linen, using the spools of thread as bobbins since I would need about five yards of braid for my dress.

Viking 6-Plait Braid - WIP1, by Sidney Eileen

I needed about five yards of 6-strand braid for the apron dress, so I used the spools like bobbins to make the braid. It’s coming out with too tight of tension, so I will need to use the underside of the braid as the outside when it is attached to the dress. I’m using linen thread.

Viking 6-Strand Braid - WIP2, by Sidney Eileen

I changed the pillow I was using as my braiding surface so the weight of the spools was not dictating the tension on the braid. After about six hours of practice and working on the actual braid it finally has the appearance it should, and the tension is fairly consistent. I am using linen thread.

So, as of the writing of this I am in the process of couching the braids onto the darts.  After that I need to finish the top and bottom hems and make the shoulder straps.

Viking 6-Strand Braid, by Sidney Eileen, Detail of the braid couched to the dart.

Detail of the braid where it has been couched onto one of the darts. This is one of the deep darts beside the bust, where I trimmed down the dart to about 1cm in depth and turned the raw edges in. That was then whip stitched closed before couching on the braid with a much longer stitch. It’s all linen materials.


Project: Dark Blue Viking Apron Dress


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