Norse Dress

We have had many requests for costuming information on various early people. Since there are a number of persons with Norse personas and because we had a lot of articles on Nordic subjects in this issue, it seemed like a good place to start. Materials used for Norse clothing include wool, linen and some silk. coming from the northern lands, these people probably made extensive use of furs. They were probably taken with bright colors and made use of the brocades and silks plundered while viking. women were skilled weavers and wove fine materials on their warp-weighted looms. Decorative bands of tablet weaving were used to enhance the garments.

Norse Women:

Norse dress for women consisted of an under tunic with long, medium or short sleeves, the characteristic apron, and later own a shawl. The earliest tunic was you basic T. The easiest way to make one that fits is to use an old blouse or shirt as the pattern (figure 1). If your material is less than 60" wide, use the leftover material from the sides to lengthen the sleeves (figure 1a). Sew the additional length to the sleeves before you sew up the arm seams. You can cover the seam with trim if you wish. For women's tunics you will have to add enough length to bring it down to the ankles.

After about 800 A.D., a pleated linen tunic became fashionable. It had either 3/4 length sleeves or was sleeveless. Figure 2 show the cut. The back of the garment is cut longer than the front so there is a slight train. Use a material such as linen, 100% cotton or a blend that holds a crease well. Colors for the tunic should be light as it is difficult to dye linen in dark or bright colors with natural dyes. To construct the pleated tunic, sew the side seams on the dotted lines. For the sleeved version insert the sleeves as shown in figure 3 otherwise turn under the raw edges of the arm holes and stitch down. Turn the raw edges under at the neck (or cut the garment so the neck edge is a selvage), sleeve and hem edges and hem with a narrow hem. This looks best if you hand sew it. Pleat the neck opening every 1/3" and pin in place (figure 4). The object is to reduce the size of the neck opening to about 18-20". If you finish and the opening is too big, you'll have to make smaller pleats. When you have finished the entire neck edge, sew down the pleats. You can either sew them down next to the neck edge or sew in from the edge about 3/4" which leaves a small ruffle. Cover the seam with narrow trim or a bias trip. Another option is to put a drawstring in the top of the garment, but the pleating at the neck edge won't be as nice. (This is a basic peeve of mine, I hate to see machine stitches showing.) Now you need to pleat the bottom of the sleeve down as you did for the neck or you can just iron the pleats in place.

Ironing the pleats is easier with two people. First dampen the material. If you sprinkle the material with water, roll it into a tight roll, place it in a plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator, in about 4 hours the garment will be evenly damp. You can actually leave it in for a couple of days if you need to. Place the garment over the iron board with a the board inside the garment. Pin neck edge of the garment to one end of the ironing board and stretch it from neck to hem. Form the pleats at the hem edge to match the ones at the neck and have your helper hold the pleats taunt while you press them into place. Do three or four pleats at a time and continue around the garment until you have pleated it all.

The apron consisted of two panels, one for the front of the body and one down the back, and had loops of material attached to each side of the apron top (figure 7). The two sections were joined at the shoulders by ornate brooches. Some researchers think the apron had two narrow panels, while others believe the panels were wider and wrapped around the body overlapping in the front and the back. The wider apron would have been warmer and it also tends to slip less on the body when working. Tow construct the wide apron cut two panels the width of your bust measurement plus seam allowances. For the narrow apron cut two panels of material 12-16" wide (the exact width depends on how wide you are). The length depends on your height and how fancy the apron is to be. For everyday wear, the apron is shorter, reaching from about 2" below the collarbone to below the knee. A fancy apron could reach to the ankles. Hem all four edges of the apron and make narrow fabric tubes for the shoulder straps. For the narrow one they are attached to the inside of the panes as shown in figure 5. The wider apron has four loops, two in the front and two in the back (figure 5a) and the brooches would catch all four loops. Note that the loops in the front are shorter than the ones in the back. The exact length of the loops depends on your build and the type of brooches you use, so you will have to play around with it. You can also chat and just use one set of straps on each side and pin your brooch over them. This is better if your brooches have flat backs instead of hollow ones like the Viking brooches. The apron was decorated with embroidery, trim or appliqué. The decoration was usually a narrow band at the neck edge of the apron and a wider one at the lower end. The sides could also be trimmed. The material used was often quite costly, especially for special occasions. Everyday aprons were probably something serviceable like linen.

A shawl consisting of a square of material was often worn over the tunic and apron. It could be worn either hanging straight down (figure 6a) or folded in a triangle (figure 6b). In either case it was fastened by a special shawl brooch which was rectangular or tripartite in shape, or in some cases was shaped like a round box with a removable lid. Hanging from the apron brooches or from a special brooch of their own were small, useful, everyday implements such as a small pair of scissors, a knife or needle case.

The hair was worn loose or in a sort of ponytail tied in a knot at the head. For married women the hair was often covered by a knotted kerchief. The kerchief could be a square of fabric folded into a triangle or a triangle of cloth hemmed on the edges. Another type of headwear was uncovered during the Jorvik dig in England. It was a small cap made of silk and is shown in Figure 7.

Shoes include the types shown in Issue II of Early Period as well as low, heelless boots.

Norse Men:

Men's' dress was fairly simple in construction. It consisted of a tunic, constructed like the women's T-tunic. but reaching only to mid-thigh. The tunic had a round neckline and a slit in the front to allow it to be pulled over the head. The slit was often closed with a single button (figure 8). The tunic was decorated with braid or trim and was generally made of wool. It is quite possible that they wore an under tunic of linen or silk.

There were several different varieties of pants depending on the period and location. Most common were simple pants resembling pajamas or slightly tighter and looking more like ski-pants. Figure 9 shows how to cut these. Another type of pants were the full pantaloons, adapted from cultures encountered in the East. Cut two lengths of material as long as from the waist to the ankles plus 12". Construct as shown in figure 10 and put a drawstring or elastic in the waist edge and leg openings. Cross garter or wrap the fullness of the legs tightly.

The Norse cape, while rectangular in shape, was not worn symmetrically. It was draped over the left shoulder and pinned either over or under the right one (figure 11). The object was to leave the sword arm free. Since their dressy capes were often made of fancy imported material, when riding on a horse they wore the cape backwards with the longer part in front so they would not rip the cloak from the shoulder fastening when they mounted or dismounted.

Men wore low boots such as the ones in this issue.

Both men and women wore large amounts of jewelry to show wealth and status. See any of the books below for examples.

Norse children:

As in most cultures, the children wore the same style of clothing as their parents.


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