Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mom's Age of Exploration Unit: Apron Dress Retrofit

What happens to your old garb? 

Think about the early sewing projects that make you wince when you look at them now. How about the pieces that just don't fit right... they could be a little too short, or bind too much around a slightly rounder belly than you'd like to draw attention to.

Their lives don't have to be over. 

I've made a summer project of updating, retro-fitting, and/or completely re-making my garb using what I've had on hand. There's been a lot of seam ripping, dyeing, some creating piecing, and other quick fixes which have breathed new life into my family's SCAdian wardrobes. 

I had no idea how wasteful I'd been before this. I had two totes of garb that just didn't work for us anymore, and I guess I just forgot the lessons I learned at Theatre UAF, ripping seams, removing and reapplying dye. I'm glad I finally wised up. 

It started with my husband's fighting tunic. His favorite tunic contains a color combination I'm really not fond of, which means he can feel free to do whatever he wants to it without me really caring about damage.

He attended several fighter's practices without me, so it wasn't until later that I realized the tunic's short sleeves were leaving big parts of his arms exposed, his neckline was too wide, and that the overall length was just too short to cover much of anything once he had a kidney belt binding it up. 

I swiped it from him, tossed it in the wash, and ripped out the hems. I had a few scraps of the rust colored main fabric left, so I used them to lengthen the arms. There was not enough of it to lengthen the overall tunic, so I pulled out some of the leftover contrasting teal linen and added a wide strip of it to the bottom. 

While those changes only took me a couple hours, they dramatically improved the usefulness of the tunic. It was a major "ah-ha!" moment for me, and after that I looked at my old projects in new light.

When Mom asked me for my help costuming three ladies in male and female Viking garb for her Age of Exploration unit, I knew I'd be diving again into those old projects. Some of the pieces were in good enough shape to go her way immediately, but my teal wool apron dress had some strap issues that needed to be addressed. 

As you can see, the straps on these apron dresses pre-date my more detailed research. Now that's not a major issue, but as much as I'm in love with the wool of this dress, the straps have always been too long for a good fit, and they also roll up in ugly ways. 

Seam ripper to the rescue! I removed the straps and ripped out all their stitching. I used every scrap of this fabric making this dress, so I had to cut the strap fabric in half longways in order to make long enough shoulder loops.

After the straps were fixed, I decided to add a little more pizazz to the dress by tablet weaving some gorgeous silk. I'd had the black silk on hand for years, and it was only recently that I was able to find a lighter contrast of the same silk: Gudebrod Bros, Size F. The Etsy seller was even nice enough to tuck in an extra spool for me to play with!

Here's the design I used, based on the chevron pattern in Schweitzer's “Beginning Tablet Weaving” handout. It took 14 cards, with a simple four forward, four backward motion.
One of the things I like about tablet weaving is that it makes it easier to try out quick tricks like this: Looping the thread over the bar on one side so I don't have to tie a knot there. My pattern only uses even numbers of each color, so it works perfectly! 

Also, to avoid the knot getting in the way on the other side, I divide my threads into quarters. The left top and bottom sections are tied together over the bar and pushed to the left, while I mirror the same on the right. Then, as I weave, I just wind the finished band in between the two knots. No more fighting to keep it from messing up my tension!

After that, all that was left was to attach the trim to the top of the apron dress. I am completely and totally in love with this! The pale green color looks more like a cream in contrast, and once it was sewn down on both sides it just made the garment come alive.

And, finally, we have the result. When you compare this to what it looked like initially, it is so much better! With the weaving, this update took about ten to twelve hours of work, but it also rescued a project that had been relegated to the old garb hoard and made it fresh and fabulous!

There are other projects in the hoard that need attention, so I will be continuing to go back through it and rescue/update what I can. Stay tuned!


Baker, Jennifer. "Stitches and Seam Techniques Seen on Dark Age/Medieval Garments in Various Museum Collections." 2009. <> 11 June 2014.

Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing. Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, Inc. 2006.

Glæsel, Nille. Viking Dress Garment Clothing. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 2010.

Hägg, Inga. "Viking Women's Dress at Birka: A Reconstruction by Archeological Methods." Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E.M. Carus-Wilson. Ed. N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting. Pasold Studies in Textile History. 1983.

Schweitzer, Robert. “Beginning Tablet Weaving.” Forward into the Past. 2 April 2011. <>
Geijer, Agnes. "The Textile Finds from Birka." Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E.M. Carus-Wilson. Ed. N. B. Harte and K. G. Ponting. Pasold Studies in Textile History. 1983.

Thunem, Hilde. "Viking Women: Apron Dress." 25 February 2015. <>


  1. i am trying to figure out what symbol that broach/buckle is! is it a cross? i assume its viking but i would like any info you have on it thanks. trying to do reasearch.

    1. They're pretty stylized, but more of a figure eight than a cross. They're item No. TB26 from Raymond's Quiet Press, and based on extant examples. He used to offer silver plating. I've seen them in several sources, including pg. 65 of the Ewing book mentioned above. I hope that helps!

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