Saturday, August 18, 2012

Viking Apron Dress - Take, 6... I Can't Count!

The Viking Apron Dress. The term has different connotations to every SCAdian costumer you talk to. It can be short or long, flared or straight. The straps can be solid or loops, crossed or straight. Until more extant information is available to us, it's a huge guessing game

For those of you who aren't aware of it, this woolen over dress has become a staple of the SCAdian scene. Pretty remarkable for something which survives as only fragments and scraps in the archeological world. We have no complete images or sculptures, just some loops and - maybe - part of the top and torso. There really is no telling.

It's a fun mystery, and even a bit of an informational treasure hunt. For my part, I have tried out many different versions and I have a stockpile of research which could support any one of them.

In the image to the left, you can see I'm wearing a fitted and flared version with solid straps. It is one of my favorites (it has a totally awesome swish factor that my inner 5-year-old adores) and I actually managed to get some kind of trim on it. The under dress is more medieval than Norse, but that's a topic for another day.

One of the things that's open to interpretation is the strap construction. Cut along the same lines as the top dress, the gray version to the left features a different kind of strap. Most of the scraps which have survived have managed their journey through the years by being near metal as it corrodes. This corrosion process manages to preserve precious bits of fabric while the rest of the deceased's clothing gives way to decomposition.

Take for example Inga Hägg's work at Birka. The large turtle brooches that were so popular with women during this time period have managed to preserve a small snapshot of the garments they were directly above. It's surprising how many layers of wool and linen she discovered, and it's even more difficult to figure out what each of them were and how they were constructed.

In the picture to the left, I have turned over my brooch so you can see the way the straps fit into the pin. Imagine if it were right side up. Hägg found 5-8 layers of fabric underneath, and up to two on top. Some can be explained away as trims and facings, but that's still a lot of fabric. In this image, you only see two layers: The wool Apron Dress and the linen under dress. Every time I delve into the research, I get a little distracted wondering about those other garments. There are some small images which have survived - small metal figures that many think to be representations of the famous Valkyrie. Even those are abstract, shown in profile with few clothing details to help us out.

While there are still other versions of the Viking Apron Dress that I have not tried out, I think I will stick with this one and move on to work on those other layers. I have dialed in an Apron Dress pattern that I both like and find vaguely supported by the research. Now for the next mystery. I plan on working on those other layers Hägg mentioned - the pleated linen shift she talks about and the wool and silk caftan or ???

I like a good historical clothing mystery.

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