Category/Level: Historically focused/Beginner
About Jacquette: I have participated in the SCA for about 12 years, off and on. I was an avid sewer in my early years, but in the past few years have found it difficult to give my attention to. This project will encourage me to get back into a hobby I have long admired while challenging me to focus on historical research.
Her Project: My plan is to construct a Viking apron dress that would have been specifically used for breastfeeding. By interpreting burial artifacts, illuminations, and foreign cultural influences, I will portray what I theorize is the style mothers would have worn while feeding their young. This focused piece is inspired by my own lactation challenges, and my interest in how mothers prevailed in history.
The under tunic (or serk) for my Norse (Viking) garment is based on the Herjolfsnes archeology find in Greenland. I focused on the garment D10585.1 which shows a serk with a front slit in the middle of the chest. This garment got me thinking that with the slit in the middle, a Viking mother has accessibility when breastfeeding her child.
All the sewing was done by hand with wool or silk thread which was purchased at a SCA event. The stitch used for the basic structure was the running stitch while the decorative stitch is the hemming bone stitch. All together the under tunic was made with linen or linen-blend fabric. I am proud to say that I finished all raw seams with a whipstitch. I rarely ever complete a garment’s raw edges.
I had originally planned to make this layer an exact replication of the historical garment, however, due to issues in the patterning and construction of the garment I had to do some modifications. Firstly, the tunic was too short at the bottom (or hem), thus I added a blue linen kick-panel to add length. Secondly, I attempted to sew the gores and gussets in the technique suggested by “Medieval Garments reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns” but found complications when doing so. When adding the gores, I folded the raw edge of the serk and sewed it flat to the gore using the herringbone stitch. This work marvelously on the sides of the garment and added an extra decoration. However, when using this method to gores in the back or front, I had to use a different stitch and manipulation of fabric around the points of the gore to make it not pucker as much. After attempting this on the back and being frustrated, I chose not to add the gore to the front, which would be similar to garment D5674.
If I was to redo this garment I would finish the seams with a flat-felled seam or French seam. The greatest hurdle I would like to overcome is being consistent with all my stitches. I notice that when I get fatigued I tend to get sloppy with the size and length of each stitch.
The second layer of my Norse (Viking) garment is the apron dress (smokkr). This garment is roughly based on the Birka archeological dig. The construction is based on the theories of Hagg (1974). I mainly focused on the grave titled 464 and 465 for interpreting the types of fabric and parts of construction. The Birka dig found fragments of a blue wool with a linen fragment pressed against it. Encompassing both fragments at the top was a strip of silk. Thus I chose the wool as my main fabric component and linen as the lining for the smokkr. For the sides, I folded the wool over the raw edge of the linen and stitched it with a whipstitch. I did not double fold the fabric. I found this technique was the better way to sew the garment because of the thickness of the wool. I used a strip of white silk over the top of the linen and wool, and used a whipstitch to finish the seam.
The main construction of the smokkr was based on the theory that the apron was made of one solid piece of fabric that wrapped around the body. I tried to imitate this in my construction and found that for a voluptuous woman this caused extra space around the bust line. A better choice would be to gather or pleat the material. The smokkr loops I made from wool. The fabric was folded on both sides, causing 4 layers, and stitched along the raw sides with a blind (or sometimes called ladder) stitch. This was found in many of the Birka graves. The majority of the graves also had several loops at either the top or bottom of the turtle brooches, especially in the case of 465 grave. This leads me to believe that other components, such as a front smokkr panel, could have been attached.
This brings me to Bau’s (1981) theory of the front smokkr being open and a front panel being hooked onto it with loops. The theory of the detacheable front panel would be plausible for a breastfeeding Viking women who would have to adjust or get rid of the front of the smokkr to have access to the chest.
The third layer of the garment is based on Yorkshire Museum’s Viking Silk Cap (900AD-999AD). I chose this as a basis for what a Viking mother would have worn around her head to cover up her hair while breastfeeding. Personally, I found that breastfeeding while there is hair flying all over the place is very frustrating. Therefore, some form of cap would be plausible. The main body and fabric of the cap was made similar to the Yorkshire cap. It was constructed using two silk fabric pieces with a seam down the middle. I chose to put a linen lining to add comfort and interest to the cap. I used the same method of finishing the seams as with the smokkr. I folded the edge of the silk and linen, however, I did a double fold since it was not as bulky as the wool. I whipstitched the seam with silk thread pulled from left over pieces of fabric so to match the cap.
The fourth layer of my garment is an attempt to replicate a tri-lobed brooch. Based on skeletal remains in Birka and other locations, the tri-lobed brooch was usually located around the “adams-apple” or chest of a serk, or attach to a cloak or coat. The use of this accessory for the serk was similar to a button, holding the top two edges together. This would be plausible for Viking women who would need some form of closure around the neckline of the serk.
I tried to replicate the tri-lobed brooch by making clay molds and melting metal into the molds, aka casting. This layer was extremely difficult for me because I never had dealt with metal and casting before, and I did not have proper materials like a kiln. I used terra cotta clay and sculpted a mold. I then baked it using a typical kitchen oven at 275 degrees for about an hour to harden the mold. I had to make sure that the mold was less than 1/2”, so it would dry out properly. If not properly dry, it could explode when hot metal hit it and there is moisture (known as a steam explosion). Unable to get bronze, gold, or other fine metals, I attempted this accessory using molten lead through a melting pot. Having difficulty designing a clip to attach to the brooch, I settled on melting a safety pin to the backside. If I could do it again, I would solder pieces of metal together to create a clip.