Someone compiled a data base with images and information on the finds for Viking Age possaments. Enjoy!
If you would like a bit of a taste of this author's work regarding silks, you can checkout an article on silk trade that she wrote here: https://www.academia.edu/10620737/Silk_trade_to_Scandinavia_in_the_Viking_Age._In_Textiles_and_the_Medieval_Economy_Production_Trade_and_Consumption_of_Textiles_8th_16th_Centuries._Angela_Ling_Huang_Editor_Carsten_Jahnke_Editor_._Oxbow_Books_2015
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I think that this could also be subtitled "My love-hate relationship with Herringbone cloth".
In my Textiles and Dress Class, I discuss what types of cloth are the most common in the Viking Age and talk bit about tracking down modern textiles that, even if not perfect, are good options for reenactment. Another item I touch on in that class is making good choices. We all love the rare graves, and unique items, but one kit made of 20 different unique pieces steps away from being a good historic representation of a time. An easy way to start building a better kit is in your cloth choices, and one can consider weave structure, threadcount, and color when making those choices.
For me personally, I lean towards the most common weaves (tabby and twill), whenever possible. I will add an element such as broken diamond twill to my kit for a very high status persona, but would not add broken diamond twill, herringbone cloth, a silk band, tablet weaving, and possements all to one costume because it would be showing too much that was rare in period all at once. My love-hate relationship with herringbone reflects the fact that I find the weave attracted, but I am often frustrated when it tends to be more readily available in the weights I want than the more historically common twill and tabby. (And this is additionally frustrating when the herringbone cloth is two tone, which is also something less common in period.)
I turned the data from Lise Bender Jørgense's book Prehistoric Scandinavian Textiles, as well as some additional works, into charts to help illustrate how common (or not) weaves were in various areas.
Denmark - 9th Century
Jørgensen's work on the textiles of Denmark covers graves, excluding Hedeby, and is nicely broken down into two centuries. One issue with this work that it only covers weave structure in the synopsis, and for me to break it down between linen and wool, I would have to reference back to collect that data. Further, some of the data here is provided by textile pseudomorphs, which only show us the weave structure and leave no cloth to analyze. It is likely that some amount (even a good amount, according to the author) of the tabby shown here is linen. It is also possible that some of the tabby weave represents a type of fine, open weave wool that was used for veils and mantles but that was also used as specific burial clothes or covers. It is also noted by the author that there are additional "fine silks" not covered in her work because they were detailed elsewhere.
For Denmark the charts are based on the total number of textiles/textile impressions.
Denmark - 10th Century
The notes above apply to this category also.
For Hedeby I had to reference the book Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby by Eva Andersson; Die Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Grabern von Haithabu by Inga Hägg; and VikingAge.org, as well as Jørgensen's work to obtain data for the chart.
Note that I only have the percentages for weave structure, not total number of fragments for Hedeby, and the percentages in Andersson's work are listed below. I believe it is, in part representative of the silk cloth, possaments or metal brocaded bands found in the graves. As mentioned previously, some of the fine tabbies might represent burial cloth.
It is also interesting to note that only one of the "other twills" is a herringbone weave, and the only herringbone sample from the settlement finds was from a legwrap. Also relative, the most common cloth from the settlement is 2/2 twill.
Sweden - Excluding Birka and Gotland
One of the nice things about Jørgensen's work is she does break out unusual segments of data, such as that from Gotland. This allows the reader to look at Sweden and Gotland (which tend to have very different types of grave goods) individually, rather than as a whole, which can skew the presentation.
Birka - Linen & Wool Cloth
For Birka I had two separate sets of data from which to work. One from the analysis in Jørgensen's book, and the other from Andersson. This first breaks it down into fiber types, as well as weave, but is based on number of graves, rather than number of textiles.
Birka - Textiles
This chart was based on a chart produced by Inga Hägg that covers the Birka textiles and that was reproduced in Andersson's work.
My only note here is that Jørgensen makes the comment that the Broken Diamond Twill is far more common in Western Norway, than in the South East.
For York I had to compile information from Anglo-Scandinavian Finds from Lloyds Bank, Pavement and Other sites by Arthur MacGregor and Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate by Penelope Walton. Some of the fragments might represent one piece of cloth, but the author's were not completely sure and hence they, and I, listed them separate.
I think that by now that everyone with even a passing interest in Viking anything has seen the media extravaganza that is the Warrior Woman of Birka. I will not bother to post the mainstream news source click-bait headlines, here is the link for the piece about the recent DNA analysis of Birka grave Bj 581.
Unfortunately, this is stirring all sorts of Laegertha-esque fantasies in people. There is more to the science behind learning about the lives of those interred long ago. In this case, there is also an issue of whether or not those bones indeed even belong to that grave.
Other considerations also need to be processed. If weapons = warrior, then does that mean children buried with weapons took to the field of battle? Does it mean a 5 year old child was a master tailor because she was buried with the tools of the trade? There are also things like a female grave in Norway that contained a sword that was too large for her to wield. A great deal more study needs to be done before we can make any real determinations about whether warrior-women are more than a myth.
I have read three well-thought-out countpoints so far, and expect to see more in the future. My hope is that perhaps we will look more closely at additional graves (particularly those excavated more recently).
To say that I completely love linen would be a gross understatement on my part. I find this cloth to be a god-send in the local humid summers. It allows me to, quite comfortably, wear multiple layers of garb (presenting a more period look), than I otherwise could. Also, if you are using a long-staple linen, the fabric has great longevity.
I am the first to admit, however, that I use far, far more linen in period than my persona would have, and in far, far more colors. It is an exception that I make for events such as Pennsic, where it is almost a requirement for my comfort. I think most of us, in this area, tend to do that. What I want to discuss today though, is evidence for the use of linen in the Viking Age. Why? Because I have heard far too often very flat statements that Vikings rarely used linen, they never grew their own and sometimes narrower statements, that seem like they should have more of a foundation, such as "in Norway in the Viking Age no one used linen".
To start, Linen is a bast fiber spun from the flax plant. The first use of flax was in 7000BC in Turkey. (Ejstrud, 17) The first evidence of flax in Scandinavia is a seed from a Danish Iron Age find with the earliest piece of fabric being from the Roman Iron Age. Sweden has shows shows evidence of flax cultivation with similar dating to that of Denmark. (Ejstrud, et. al. 18; Viklund 509, 510)
There are other bast fibers as well, such as nettle and hemp, that were accessible to the Viking Age Norse. In archaeological finds it can even be difficult to differentiate between bast fibers. I have also noticed a trend, of late, where people are searching in desperation for hemp cloth to use for garments after the publishing of the article "Viking and Early Middle Ages Textiles Proven to be Made from Hemp". (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep02686 )
What I find interesting about that list bit, is that that particular study, while fascinating, used only 10 textiles, all of which were either decorative or home goods (two coverlets and the rest wall hangings). 6 are pretty solidly Viking Age, two others might be (skewing, by date, more to wards "might not"), and two are not. Only 4 of the tent total show use of hemp, and three of those show mixed use of flax and hemp. (Skoglund) I find that this is a fascinating piece of research, but it does not convince me that hemp would have been a top choice for garments.
This week I stumbled on a newer piece of research that thoroughly analyzed a number of textiles from Western Norway to fully determine whether the bast fibers involved were flax or hemp. In, "Identifying plant fibre textiles from Norwegian Merovingian Period and Viking Age graves", they look at ten samples, nine of which are considered to be from CLOTHING, and the last being from a purse. (https://www.academia.edu/34152492/Identifying_plant_fibre_textiles_from_Norwegian_Merovingian_Period_and_Viking_Age_graves_The_Late_Iron_Age_Collection_of_the_University_Museum_of_Bergen ) This piece, delightfully, helps to answer some of my questions.
9 of the 10 items were positively identified as flax and the final one was only able to be determined to be some type of bast fiber. (Lukešová) . I do hope that similar studies are carried out in a few other locations, to further confirm (or to counter) my thoughts that bast fiber garments worn by those of some social status (or at least wealthy enough to have a set of oval brooches, I will not deny that someone of lesser means might well have worked with native nettle or merely worn only layers of wool), were indeed flax rather than other alternatives. (See quote from conclusion below.)
There is evidence in some areas of Viking Age Scandinavia of pit houses, which are typically associated with weaving of linen or other bast fibers (the environment inside is more humid, making it ideal for weaving the difficult threads). Production tools and location for seeds and pollen finds can also be considered if one was trying to determine if flax and/or hemp is locally produced, but whether it was local or imported is less relevant at this moment to me than proof that, indeed, these garments were made of flax. (As a side note, Hägg, in her most recent work at Hedeby, mentions that she believes it is possible that the pleated underdresses were actually a Slavic imported item. That is a bit of research I would dearly love to see more information on!)
Even more interesting in this recent paper, was the information that two of the garments (both identified as "Women's clothing") were not the tabby weave most often associated with but lozenge twill. Of those, one dates to the Viking Age (the other is Merovingian Age) and is from Vinjum in Aurland. (Also interesting is that the paper labels this as a 10th Century find, as does Lise Bender Jørgensen, but Sørheim lists it as 850CE in her paper about the imported metal work.) Finds of linen in twill are rather rare, so this shoes that a diamond twill is a possibility, even if an archaeological rarity.
That of course let me on a chase for more information about twill weaves in linen, and I did turn up a couple of additional items. (Note that this is not a formal survey on my part, and I did not even take a crack at the Birka material for this, it was just a quick glance at Jørgensen's catalog of finds as well as Walton Roger's work at York.)
Vinjum in Aurland:
Fragments, 2.8X2cm. Diamond twill with a repeat of 20/10. Z/Z spun, 38/26 threads per cm. She lists it as probably linen. (Jørgensen)
Denmark: Søllested, Denmark (Item 97 in the book): Linen in broken twill or possible diamond twill; Z/Z; 30/13 threads per cm. (I am unsure of the gender of this grave, but there are no brooches in the grave.) (Jørgensen)
Sweden: Vivallen, Tännäs s., Härjedalen, SHM 15052: 4 Grave 4 (Item 35 under Viking Age Sweden): 1) 2/1 twill, Z/Z, 20/10 threads per cm, plant fibre (Jørgensen)
Sweden: Mossegårde, Fiilene s., Vi.istergiitland. SHM 15333 (Item 65):
1) 1/2 Gooseeye, Z/Z repeat of 18/12, thread count of 32/13 per cm, probably linen; 3) 1/2 Gooseeye Z/Z; plant fibre (Jørgensen)
Further, Penelope Walton Rogers' work from York records:
If the linen tabbies may be considered largely domestically produced, the origin of the linen textiles in other weaves is not so clear. Simple 2/2 twill in linen, or probably linen, of which there are four examples at 16-22 Coppergate (1273, 1332, 1403 and 1462), is Fig. 150 Padded pleat, 1462, in carbonised 2/2 twill. Not to scale extremely rare elsewhere, although there may be some examples from Spong Hill in Norfolk (Crowfoot and Jones 1984, 22, 24). Similarly only a small number of 2/2 broken diamond twills in linen are known from Anglo-Saxon sites, from Barrington, Cambridgeshire (G. Crowfoot 1951, 30-32), Finglesham, Kent (E. Crowfoot 1958, 17, 36-7), Sutton Hoo (E. Crowfoot 1983,460) and Spong Hill (Crowfoot and Jones 1984, 24), with counts of 16-18Z x 16-18Z, 22-24Z x 18S, 21-22Z x 15-17Z and 16Z x 16Z respectively, all with varying pattern units.
So what does this mean for me? It is, indeed, possible to use a very occasional linen twill garment in a high status kit. Would I choose to make the entire kit from twill and diamond twill linen? No, but a single garment could be possible.
And one more note about linen, because this item also comes up regularly and I mentioned before that I use linen in far more colors than would have been available historically. We know that linen could be dyed blue, as it turns up in archaeology. Woad and Indigo coat the fiber shaft in a manner differently than others dyes, such as madder, where dye does not take up well and often results in a pale shade that is not light fast. I have personally gotten some pretty light yellows on linen with weld and Queen Anne's Lace, and a lovely soft coral with madder, but I do not know that I could say that the Viking Age Norse would have desired such subtle colors.
In my research on Stripes and Plaids, I did make note of several Viking Age examples of colored linen and those are noted below (again, this is not a formal nor complete survey):
My Personal Plans
I plan to continue to use linen, rather than other bast fibers, for under garments and underdresses, and even occasionally headcoverings, in my more accurate kit. I might eventually incorporate a piece or two of twill linen as well, and my focus, in terms of color, will continue to be bleached, natural and blue linens over all. (For the bulk of my non-demo, non-teaching events, however, I will continue to use the spectrum of colors in my currently linen garments, but explaining, as I do now, the reasons behind my choices when discussing my garments.)
Bender Jørgensen, Lise. Prehistoric Scandinavian Textiles, (Det Kongelige Nordiske oldskriftselskab), 1986.
Ejstrud, Bo, Andresen, Stina, Appel, Amanda, Gjerlevsen, Sara and Thomsen, Birgit. “Experiments with flax at the Ribe Viking Centre” (Ribe Viking Centre & University of Southern Denmark), 2001.
Lukešová, Hana, Adrià Salvador Palau and Bodil Holst. "Identifying plant fibre textiles from Norwegian Merovingian Period and Viking Age graves." Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 2017.
Skoglund, G., Nockert, M, and Holst, B. “Viking and Early Middle Ages Northern Scandinavian Textiles Proven to be made with Hemp.” Scientific Reports, 2013.
Sørheim, H. "Three Prominent Norwegian Ladies with British Connections." Acta Archaeologica 82. (2011)
Walton Rogers, P. "Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fiber from 16-22 Coppergate,” The Archaeology of York Volume 17: The Small Finds. 1989.
Viklund, Karin. “Flax in Sweden: the archaeobotanical, archaeological and historical evidence.” Veget Hist Archaeobot, 2011.
For most reenactors, the aprondress (also called hangerock, tragerrock or smokkr) is the ubiquitous female garment of the Viking Age. In fact, I am frequently asked by women if they have to wear the aprondress in order to do a Viking Age Norse impression.
Archaeology shows that during the latter part of the 10th Century the necessary brooches for the garment appear less frequently in graves and they eventually disappear by the end of the 11th century across Scandinavia. (Hägg, Textilien un Tracht, 320-321). In Denmark the brooches fall out of favor as early as 900CE in some areas. (Eisenschmidt, 100) This could be, in part, due to adoption of Christianity, and with it a more continental style of costume. The new style of costume could have been due to foreign fashions becoming a status symbol among the elite and wealthy in Scandinavia.
The first evidence of shift in costume is seen in Denmark, particularly in trade centers such as Hedeby. Denmark shared a border with the Carolingian Empire and trade between the two locations was common. Eventually, foreign items became status symbols in Scandinavia. Examples of this include items such as Frankish belt mounts (items that later morphed into their own form of trefoil brooch), and goods such as leather pouches and belts that were possessed by the elite of society. (Krag, Oriental Influences, 113-114) There was even foreign influence on dress beyond accessories and ornament. The caftan is a an example of such an item as it was thought to have either been in imitation of high rank foreign dress, or that the garments were received as gifts from foreign officials. (Hägg, Textilien un Tracht, 327; Krag, Christian Influences, 239-241; Geijer, Textile finds, 95-96; Andersson, Birka, 39-40).
Another garment that likely has ties to both status and conversion could be women’s headcoverings. Very fine wool and silk tabbies, as well as an impression of open weave linen, have been found in numerous graves, particularly those of women, from the Viking Age and beyond. Frequently this cloth is interpreted as veils or caps because of their similarity with the existing identifiable headcoverings from Dublin, Lincoln and York. The 10th Century grave from Hørning had such a fine wool mantle affixed to a wide tablet woven band that appeared to have been draped across the head and down along the body in the manner of a Frankish, Byzantine or Roman dress (Krag, Denmark, 29-34)
Additional places where a shift in costume likely happened earlier were certain settlements in the British Isles, where it is thought that in many locations the Norse style of dress was abandoned within a mere generation or two, or that the settlers were from Denmark (where fashion had already changed) rather than Norway or Sweden. (Kershaw, 225-227)
Is Transitional Dress for You?
Would you or your family be recipients of exotic foreign gifts (and fashions), either from your own ruler or from a foreign official?
Would you be considered high status or wealthy?
Do you live in an urban area/trade center rather than rurally?
Do you live in a region that has already converted to Christianity?
Does your chosen region and time show a decline in oval brooches as grave goods?
How Would Transitional Dress Look
In the late 10th Century the popularity of the aprondress declined and was replaced by fashion that evolved, in part, from surrounding cultures. There are a few existing male garments from this period, but little outside of headcoverings for women. Study of the known textiles, foreign influences, art from foreign influencers, and the occasional written record is needed to extrapolate what how this costume likely looked.
In this example of such possible fashion, this woman wears a gown of fine wool twill or tabby, dyed blue (well-dyed cloth would be a status symbol). Her sleeves are of an exaggerated length and pushed back up onto the forearm. Because she has the means, they are held there with bracelets or silk cloth cuffs could have been an option.
The dress itself could possibly have some tailoring as that practice started before this style arose amongst the Norse, but is not a closely fitted garment.
The outer gown is worn over a linen dress, closed at the throat with a small brooch. She wears a necklace of colorful glass beads and metal pendants. While round pendants are used here, a cross would also be a an option.
Her headcovering consists of a small cap or cloth (similar to those from Dublin) covered with a veil. This would likely be fine, open weave wool, though linen or silk are also possibilities. The veil itself might be edged with a fine, brocaded tablet woven band.
The length of dress and the long sleeves, as well as the dyed cloth and other jewelry show her status. A woman with less wealth might have a slightly shorter gown, sleeves that reach the wrist only, less or no jewelry and undyed cloth (from a naturally pigmented sheep’s wool).
Undertunic: This garment would be most likely undyed and could be linen or wool. Sleeves would likely taper to the wrist. Gores or godets at the sides (and possibly front/back) could allow for movement, but this layer would likely have less volume than the garment under which it is worn. It is possible that this garment can have a very long slit in the front at the neck, held closed with a small brooch.
During the late Viking age this linen garment might have been a Slavic import (Hägg, Textilien, p325) and might also have been finely pleated into a neckline such as seen in examples from Birka and Hedeby.
Tunic/Dress: This layer would most likely be of wool tabby or twill, with a high status garment possibly being of a broken-diamond twill. The sleeves would be long and likely fitted at the wrist (observe the tapered sleeves in the Moselund and Kraglund tunics) through the middle of the 11th century, but often images show a wider sleeve at the end of that period, eventually evolving into the the gorgeous bell sleeves of the 12th century. The sleeves could also be exceptionally long, and pushed back to form small wrinkles at the wrist. Necklines might have been be a keyhole, circle, oval or perhaps a slit similar to that from the Kraglund garment. Because this type costume was a status item during the Viking Age, the gown would be long. Gores at the sides, and possibly the front and back, allow for movement.
This dress could also be worn in layers over an undertunic. A wealthy woman with connections might also have had silk trim on her gown, or have had cloth that was well dyed.
Garment References: To help compile my own costume, I worked with contemporary art from nearby cultures and also the extant garments we have that might date, at least, to the end of the Viking Age. I also sourced the Hedeby fragments, and some of the Herjolfsnes finds, as Inga Hägg mentions in her work at Hedeby that the tunics there were of similar construction to some of the types found at later Greenland.
Belts: There is little evidence for belts in female graves of the earlier Viking Age, likely because one could suspend tools from the oval brooches or even from a single brooch that served as a tool hanger. Belts do appear, however, a few times in in period evidence, particularly in the British Isles. Further, the Hedeby aprondress fragment shows wear at the waist. (LeGett, Belts).
It is also possible that cloth belts without metal fittings were worn, such as a cloth girdle or sash as could be found in other areas of the world during the Viking Age. As the aprondress was falling from fashion, and other styles of dress were adopted belts might have become more common. For example, after the Migration Era (7th century and onward), it seems that Saxon women were shifting towards styles with a Mediterranean influence and these included woven belts, including possibly tablet weaving or open, net-like cloth sashes with fringed ends. (Walton Rogers, Cloth and Clothing, 220-221). A belt is even specifically mentioned in the poem “The Baptism of King Harald” which occurred in 826AD. Here the Danish King and his wife’s newly adopted attire for the ceremony is described. She wears a gold-brocade silk costume, a gold-wrought veil, belt and bracelet. (Krag, Christian Influences, 241). There are also images of women, from these areas of influence (Saxon and Byzantine), that seem to show a belt as part of the costume.
Remember too that just as with earlier Viking costume, that wearing no belt at all is an option.
Mantles/Cloaks: Metal figures and the Oseberg tapestry, as well as archaeological finds, show women wore some sort of layer over their tunics and gowns. Both cloaks and coats as part of Norse dress have been suggested by various experts.
As time progresses cloaks or mantles seem to be more common in depictions from other cultures (such as Byzantine or Saxon). A cloak or mantle could be pinned in the center front. Rectangular or square cloaks would be optimal with half-circle being a possible very high status option.
Headdresses: Metal icons from the Viking Age show women with their hair left uncovered in elaborate braids. These figures also seem to depict high status dress, and it is possible that uncovered hair might have been for festivals during that time period. However, there are also theories that those icons might not have represented human women or dress at all and that too should be considered here.
With the waning of the Viking Age came Christianity, and with that new religion arrived the concept of covering ones hair for modesty. While it is often said that pagan Norse women “always” wore their hair uncovered and Christian women “always” covered their hair, the evidence does not make such a clear delineation. There can be very practical reasons (beyond fashion) for covering ones hair, especially where working in the sun or around smoky fires.
The largest collection of extant women’s head coverings comes from Dublin. These finds, dated 10th-12th century, are of either silk or very fine, gauzy wool, have small scarves, caps and veils. There are a number of ways to wear these items, including using the scarves and caps as a base for a veil, which corresponds to well to some head dress styles from Europe during the same time period. Linen, while not found as a headcovering at the sites, might also have been a possibility.
The caps that have been found are universally narrow with the final width measuring between 15-18cm wide. Half of the extant items show signs of having a dart stitched into the back (allowing it to conform to the head), some of these had the excess fabric still visible on the outside of the cap forming a peak. Some caps were also sewn down the back, while others were open (possibly to accommodate a bun?). There are also several narrow scarves, some with fringed ends, and some even narrower cloth bands. Many of these items have been dyed. All of this points to variety in possible headcovering styles.
My Own Interpretation
I am working with this type of kit currently. Specifically, I am trying to build out an appropriate costume for a high status woman from late Viking Age Denmark. My patterning inspirations come from Hedeby (and consequently, Herjolfsnes) and Moselund, with exaggerated long sleeves styled after those from 10th and 11th Century art, such as the image to the left from the New Minster Charter (966CE).
I am using layered headcoverings based on those from Dublin (though in my photo here, my wool veil is slipping off the back due to my taking it off to use as a class example and not having a mirror when I replaced it). For my photo I am wearing a leather belt, because I have not yet crafted one for myself that is textile based.
This garment is in linen and was to test the construction of my Hedeby/Moselund patterning. The next iteration will be in fine, dark blue wool twill with silk trim. I also have dyed a fine wool mantle/veil that fits with graves such as that from Hørning and Fyrkat. While my look represents a woman of high status, and has elements, such as the veil, that fits with Christian ideals, she is not necessarily a convert herself (as there are thoughts that graves such as Fyrkat might have been to a volva). I look forward to working further with these concepts, patterns and the over all look.
References & Resources
Andersson, Eva. Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby (The Birka Project for Riksantikvarieambetet), 2003.
Andersson Strand, Eva. ”An Exceptional Woman from Birka”, A Stitch in Time: Essays in Honour of Lise Bender Jørgensen (Gothenberg University), 2014.
Bender Jørgensen, Lise. Northern European Textiles until AD 1000, Aarhus University Press), 1992
Bender Jørgensen, Lise. Prehistoric Scandinavian Textiles, (Det Kongelige Nordiske oldskriftselskab), 1986.
Blindheim, Charlotte, “Drakt og smykker”, Viking 11.
Christensen, Arne Emil and Nockert, Margareta. Osebergfunnet: bind iv, Tekstilene (Universitetet i Oslo), 2006.
Fetz, Mytte. “An 11th Century Linen Shirt from Viborg Søndersø, Denmark”, Archaeological Textiles in Northern Europe: Report from the 4th NESAT Symposium 1.-.5 May 1990, NESAT 4 (Copenhagen), 1992.
Fransen, Lili, Shelly Nordtorp-Madson, Anna Norgard, and Else Østergård. Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns (Aarhaus University Press), 2010.
Geijer, Agnes. Birka III, Die Textilefunde aus Den Grabern. Uppsala,1938.
Geijer, Agnes. “The Textile Finds from Birka,” Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe (Heinemann Educational Books), 1984.
Gråslund, Anne Sofie. “Late Viking Age Christian Identity”, Shetland and the Viking World, Papers from the Seventeenth Viking Congress (Lerwick), 2016.
Hägg, Inga. Die Textilefunde aus der Siedlung und us den Gräbern von Haithabu (Karl Wachlotz Verlag). 1991.
Hägg, Inga. Die Textilefunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu (Karl Wachlotz Verlag). 1984.
Hägg, Inga, “Kvinnodräkten i Birka: Livplaggens rekonstruktion på grundval av det arkeologiska materialet”, Uppsala: Archaeological Institute, 1974
Hägg, Inga. “Viking Womens Dress at Birka,” Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe (Heinemann Educational Books), 1984.
Hägg, Inga. Textilien und Tracht in Haithabu and Schleswif (Wachholtz Murmann Publishhers), 2015.
Harrison, Stephen H. “Viking Graves and Grave Goods in Ireland”, The Vikings in Ireland (Roskilde), 2001.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Reconstruction of a Viking Magnate Dress”, Archäologische Textilfunde - Archaeological Textiles: Textilsymposium Neunmünster 4.-7.5, 1993, NESAT 5. 1994.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Denmark - Europe: Dress and Fashion in Denmark's Viking Age”, Northern Archaeological Textiles; Textile Symposium in Edinburgh, 5th-7th May 1999, NESAT 7 (Oxbow Books), 2005.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Oriental Influences in The Danish Viking Age: Kaftan and Belt with Pouch”, North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles X, Oxbow Books, Ancient Textiles Series Vol. 5, 2009.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Finely Woven textiles from the Danish Viking Age”, NESAT IX, Archäologische Textilfunde - Archaeological Textiles, 2007.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Dress and Power in Prehistoric Scandinavia c. 550-1050A.D.”, Textiles in European Archaeology: Report from the 6th NESAT Symposium, 7-11th May 1996 in Borås (Göteborg University), 1998.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Finely Woven Textiles from the Danish Viking Age”,
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “New Light on a Viking Garment from Ladby, Denmark”, Acta Archaeologica Lodziensla Nr 50/1: Priceless Invention of Humanity – Textiles, NESAT 8, 2004.
Hedeager Krag, Anne. “Christian Influences and Symbols of Power in Textiles from Viking Age Denmark. Christian Influence from the Continent”, Ancient Textiles: Production, Craft and Society (Oxbow Books), 2008.
Hedeager Madsen, Anne. “Women's Dress in the Viking Period in Denmark, Based on Tortoise Brooches and Textile Remains”, Textiles in Northern Archaeology; NESAT Textile Symposium in York 6-9 May 1987, NESAT 3 (Archetype Publications), 1990.
Heckett, Elizabeth Wincott. Viking Age Headcoverings from Dublin (Royal Irish Academy), 2003.
Heckett, Elizabeth Wincott. “Medieval Textiles from Waterford City”, Archäologische Textilfunde - Archaeological Textiles: Textilsymposium Neunmünster 4.-7.5, 1993, NESAT 5. 1994.
Helle, Knut. Cambridge History of Scandinavia, Volume 1 (Cambridge University Press), 2003.
Henry, Philippa A. Textiles as Indices of Late Saxon Social Dynamics”, Textiles in European Archaeology: Report from the 6th NESAT Symposium, 7-11th May 1996 in Borås (Göteborg University), 1998.
Henry, Philippa A. “Who Produced Textiles? Changing Gender Roles in Late Saxon Textile Production: the Archaeological and Documentary Evidence”, Northern Archaeological Textiles; Textile Symposium in Edinburgh, 5th-7th May 1999, NESAT 7 (Oxbow Books), 2005.
Jenkins, David. The Cambridge History of Western Textiles (Cambridge University Press), 2003.
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Recently on the Viking Clothing forum on Facebook (the rather "hardcore" forum I have mentioned before in some of my posts), there was a discussion about necklines on women's Viking Age caftans/coats. Quite often I see coats with a very deep U shaped cut out. There is no real evidence for that cut, though I do understand why reenactors opt for that shaping. It allows for one to see the impressive brooches and bling.
There is some scant evidence of a straight edge opening, so when I made my own coat, I opted for something between the two. I choose a deep V neck that has only the very slightest curve to it. Unfortunately, my entire coat came out too large, so that neckline opens up too much and the whole thing wants to slide off my shoulders. (Fortunately, I already have cloth with which to craft a new outergarment at some point.)
I think the most brilliant reconstruction I have seen so far is offered by a reenactor named Louise Archer. She gave me permission to share her work here. Her coat is which is made from a Herdwick diamondtwill wool and in her detail photos you can see she has a Dublin scarf. That is made from Manx Loghtan wool! (I cannot express how much I love her choices, and how lucky I think she is to find these wools to work with.) Her coat comes to the neckline, as would a straight-opening male caftan. She can fasten it at the top for warmth, OR just use the brooch further down, which allows it to open at the top around her brooches and bling. This is practical the similarities to the proposed male garment make it make a great deal of sense. Beyond that, this construction (or anything with a straight edged front) also makes it somewhat similar to items from nearby cultures (such as Frankish or Saxon women's coats).
Beyond her wonderful coat, I also wanted to point out the photo of her Dublin style cap. This very will illustrates one of the points I made a few days ago in my article on the facts we have about headcoverings from the Viking Age (that being that all of the extant examples are actually very, very tiny).
I really love this work and look forward to seeing more from Louise.
, If you have stopped by here before, you likely know that I try to leave the Woulda/Coulda/Shoulda’s out of my work. Those phrases tend to lead down long and winding roads into fantasyland. The other thing I strongly dislike is absolutes. The idea that something was always one way is rather off-putting (especially when it is something readily disproven). There is this balance that must be achieved when looking at what bits of evidence we have, while still applying some creativity to sort things out into a reasonable approximation of what is historically plausible.
With that in mind, I want to talk a little about some research I am doing on women’s caps from the Viking Age. There is evidence of an assortment of interesting headcovering possibilities, including the caps, as well as some narrow cloth bands, small scarves and veils. I think that, over all, the caps seem to be the most common item I see among reenactors, and are one of the first that I personally used. I will eventually expand on this post, with full citations and the like, but I wanted to toss what is going through my head out there now.
To start, I will define a Viking age cap as a small item, usually square, though the top might be shaped with a dart, that typically has ties attached. I have found mention 21 such caps/possible caps in my research. There are additional small fragments, especially from Dublin, and one from London, that are thought to possibly be from caps, but I have left those items out for the moment, as I am trying to look few specific details that can help provide a better understanding of these items. The items for which I compiled data range from the 9th-11th century (with 2 being listed as uncertain), with most of them falling into the 9th-10th century range.
All of these items have one thing in common, and that is that the cloth of which they are constructed is a light weight and very fine tabby. Most of them are even described as having deliberate space left in the warp and weft, giving them a gauzy appearance. They are delicate and most have some level of transparency. All of the extant items are wool or silk, though at least one of the author’s who have studied these items thinks that linen was also a possibility, and that the fiber did not survive in the ground.
Fine, gauzy cloth textiles, many of which have been attributed to women’s headcoverings, have been found in a number of graves and sites, and across a range of locations, including York, Hedeby, Oslo, Hørning, London, Lincoln, Kaupang, Önsvala in Skåne, Oseberg and possibly Birka. Each of the caps meets the criteria of being a very fine fabric. Unfortunately, most textiles in graves are preserved by contact with metal objects, and metal near or on the head is not always common. It is entirely possible that there were indeed caps of heavier cloth (there is one from Finland and one from the Netherlands that have some similarity to these items that were not of fine cloth), but I think there are enough caps and cloth remaining to believe that at least for certain circumstances, that there might have been a preference for fine textiles for this accessory.
A further complication concerning these caps is that most of the items that are actually identifiable as headcoverings do not come from graves at all. That takes them out of context and while there is an assumption that they are indeed women’s headcoverings, they also could have belonged to children (or both women and children).
Another similarity in all of these items is size. The finished width of them is very narrow. Of the 20 that I looked at, 14 of them have a definite width, or at least an estimated width applied to them by the researchers. They range from 15cm to 18cm wide, with an average of 16.7cm (6.6 inches). That is exceedingly narrow (far narrower than many reenactors make them and far more narrow than my own first attempts at recreating these items). Simply put, these will cover only the back of the head if worn by an adult.
Of the 20 items, 10 had traces of having had a dart, following the curve of the back of the head, sewn into them. 6 were too fragmented to tell. One of the caps from York had the point created by the dart stitched down to the side.
While many of the caps appeared to have a back seam that went the length of the cap, one from Lincoln and two from Dublin were open below the bottom of the dart.
5 of the caps had patches applied. Interestingly enough, one of them had a patch applied on the inside of the cap (which would leave the damaged area showing). One had patches applied near where the ties were attached, presumably for additional strength. One also showed signs of darning.
I think there is a reenactorism that has developed around the ties on the caps. I have heard statements to the effect that caps have too have the ties set up into the cap (an inch or two, or more, from the bottom corner), as the example from York shows. I have even heard that caps with ties at the bottom corners were only for small children. I think that is odd given that we simply do not have the grave evidence to state exactly who wore these caps. Further, 7 of the 20 examples that I used for this research have the bottom corner of the cap stretched out of alignment, as if there had been a tie there at one point. Only 3 of the 20 show evidence of a tie set further up into the cap, and 10 of them are too fragmented or just do not have evidence of ties.
Beyond the location of the ties, it is very hard to say where or how they were tied. Most reenactors prefer to tie them behind the head or under the hair, but one cannot discount them being tied under the chin like a later coif either. (The tie would be well hidden under certain styles of veil from that time period as well, and there is an image from Kiev that shows such a headcovering, tied under the chin, as well.)
I think that these caps (and possibly the scarves as well) were a base layer for additional headcoverings. A cap tied in place (whether under the chin or back under the hair) makes for easy of pinning a veil in place and can help to keep hair out of the face or out of the way of tasks. The manner in which a few of these are patched (with little care for a visible hole, in the case of one patched on the inside, or in case of a visible patch for reinforcement on another one) makes it seem as though the appearance of the item itself was not terribly relevant (even in the case of a costly import such as silk).
I think it possible that the cap was a common item worn daily, and perhaps a veil was donned on top of it if one was leaving home or receiving guests. I do not consider the cap alone to be “outerwear” for harsh outdoor climates as the size of these items do not allow for much protection from the sun and the diaphanous nature of the cloth itself does little to provide warmth. I would not necessarily consider it “formal wear” at this point either. I believe that, especially later in the Viking Age, that women were using veils as a symbol of status and that these caps might well have been worn under those. In fact, a small wool gauze veil or scarf does a great deal to make a veil less likely to slip around on slick hair.
The dart itself is fascinating to me. I find that a soft cap of wool gauze with a dart) lays exceptionally well under a veil (the peak of the dart naturally folds over, without leaving much of a point at the back of the veil. I linen cap with no dart, tends to leave a more visible point under the veil. I definitely plan to experiment more with a variety of options.
I think that some details about the caps varied greatly, such as whether there was a dart (though I lean towards more having had them historically than not) or the location of the ties. Those with an open back bear some similarity to the proposed uses of the scarves, in that one could wear the rectangle of cloth and tie it on back under the hair. This type can slide further forward on the head than a cap with a back could. It could be regional or just personal preferences when it comes down to it. There are so many variables.
Heckett's work with the headcoverings from Dublin includes diagrams that show ways one can wear the caps, but I think that a more recent item in an article by Penelope Walton Rogers gives a more interesting view (both can be seen below).
(Note If you bring up wool to many people, especially in America, and the first thing they think of is the itchy sweater that their grandmother knit for them (mine was red). These memories can often make people shy away from wool fabric for reenacting purposes, but the reality is that for most of us, that would have been the choice material for our persona. In fact, some very strict groups have requirements that state you have to make your garments out of wool to even participate. Inevitably, this brings up the conversation about someone's wool allergies and what to do about that.
First thing that needs to be understood is that no one is actually allergic to wool itself, unless, of course one is also allergic to the hair on their own head. Wool is made of keratin, just like our own hair and finger nails. There are, however, some people who have reactions to it, so understanding the actual cause of the reaction is important.
There is one other factor, and likely it is the most common one, that can make people shy away from wool. That is the "scratchiness" of the fiber itself. This reaction can be excessively annoying and can happen for a couple of reasons.
Also look for a more fine cloth. Some vendors, such as Burnley & Trowbridge, sell swatch sets of their cloth. I recommend ordering swatches from them and other outlets to see which materials might best suit your needs an level of sensitivity. There are 100% wool fabrics out there that surprisingly don't actually "feel" like wool at all.
Another factor that comes into play is the perception that all wool will be hot and heavy. Much of the cloth from Norse finds is exceptionally fine with very high thread counts. They had lightweight wools! As mentioned above, poke around online and order swatches to see the variety of cloth that really exists. I prefer wool for my veils and headdresses. A wool gauze is no warmer in the summer than linen and my handwoven wool dress is no warmer than a linen of the same weight. Avoid coatings or heavily fulled materials if heat is a concern.
Another option, for those that do not have a chemical sensitivity, or who can wash out the offending chemicals, but still find wool uncomfortable, is to make sure that the wool fabric does not touch the more sensitive areas of your body, such as your neck. For women doing Viking age, this can be simple as you can wear a wool aprondress over a linen underdress. However, if you need a wool tunic you can wear a wool one over linen and then you can add a linen facing inside the neckline and inside the sleeves to prevent the wool from coming in contact with your skin. Tacking it down on the inside with small stitches will leave it invisible from the outside completely and adding a wear cord at the opening edge will further remove it from your skin.
(Note that this post is not an insistence everyone wear wool, but I do know many people who previously shied away from the fibre by working with it and figuring out how to make it work for them. As always, your own best comfort is important so be reasonable as you test your limits!)
I will be teaching my "Deeper Look at Textiles & Trim of Viking Age Dress" class twice this year at Pennsic. It will be at 9am on Peace Week Friday and 9am on War Week Tuesday. Both sessions will be in AS13. This will be the same class as last year, but will also include a bit more information on head coverings (as well as some new samples). This class is 2 hours long.
I also am working on finishing some research and prepping a new class on Women's Viking Age Transitional Dress. This class will cover what happened to the aprondress as the Viking Age progressed to the Middle Ages. This also will have information on changes in textiles during that time, as well as information on headcoverings. I am guessing this will be a one hour glass with lecture and samples. I hope to teach that once during Pennsic, and possibly once somewhere prior to that.
I dance, race cars, play video games and am on a fantastic journey to recreate the past via costume, textiles, dance and food.
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Blogroll of SCA & Costume Bloggers
Below is a collection of some of my favorite places online to look for SCA and historic costuming information.
More Amie Sparrow - 16th Century German Costuming
Gianetta Veronese - SCA and Costuming Blog
Grazia Morgano - 16th Century A&S
Mistress Sahra -Dress From Medieval Turku
Loose Threads: Cathy's Costume Blog
Mistress Mathilde Bourrette - By My Measure: 14th and 15th Century Costuming
More than Cod: Exploring Medieval Norway