Viking: to decorate or not, that is the question

I have decided that this is the year I don’t rush outfits. After a (slight) breakdown at Birka over scrapping a dress at 2am and then waking up just to sew something in an hour so I’d have something to wear, I am going to start a wardrobe for myself so that i’ll always have something that I am proud of and would love to show off. I figure that while it is the SCA mentality that “It’s not a real event unless you are up sewing until 2am” it is not a mentality that suits me. Plus, life is too short to wear clothing you don’t like, right? That brings me to my first outfit of the year. I am planning on making a viking outfit. At Birka last year, I loved what I made. It didn’t take too long, I enjoyed every step of the way, and I got an awesome outfit that still gets compliments when I wear it.


That is why I decided to make another one. However I am at the deciding point of how historically accurate would I like to get? My other outfit has two bears on it, who I have named Penelope and Winifred. I love those bears but in all of my researching I have come to the conclusion that it is more of an SCA-ism than a historical reality that appliqués such as those actually existed. Is there a way to incorporate the heavy decoration that I enjoy doing with historical accuracy that would spark the curiosity of those who would like to learn more to come up to me and ask questions? Lucky for me there might be!

In the Hedeby find there was a body of a woman whose dress showed two sets of fabric loops behind a set of brooches. The first set belonged to an outer dress, but the second set was a mystery. Some have speculated that the outer dress was really like a wrap dress, the first set belonging to the inner part of the dress and the second set belonging to the outer part. Others think though that the second set belonged to an apron that hung over the outer dress. Some pictures I have seen of possible recreations have shown this apron as a rectangular piece of fabric that is attached at the brooches and hangs in front of an outer dress that is open in the front. From various other finds it could be quite possible that these aprons were decorated using fabric strips and embroidery.

What does this mean though? It’s hard to say what women of the day wore exactly because there are no complete examples found. Grave sites are not kind to fabric, so we may never know, but we can extrapolate from artwork, finds at various archeological sites, and our own creative minds. At this point though there are many options to choose from that are all considered right until a different site tells us otherwise. I’m going to research all the various styles and choose the one that is right for me.

Sources I’ve found that have great information. I am not claiming I am an expert, and these are not the only sources one should use, but they are a good place to start for those who are curious (like me!): 1. (This is a link to a download of a document. The information is about the various styles that may have existed) 2. (a good general overview of the various layers and terminology) 3. (shows various patterns for the different style) 4. (my go-to place to get general knowledge. Started me down the path of more research!)


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