Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mom's Age of Exploration Unit: Viking Under Tunic

Sometimes learning history can be a bit of a drag, but in my mother's classroom it is a fantastic journey of discovery. For her upcoming unit on the Age of Exploration, she has asked me to help her costume herself and two of her peers in Viking garb. I already made her clothing for a Viking lady, but she wants her kiddos to see the male version as well, so a little gender-bending is in order!

I decided to start with the under tunic, mostly because it's been a tight summer and I had the fabric on hand. Well, most of it. I had to do a tiny bit of piecing at the back, but it worked perfectly!

For the design, I decided to go with what Marc Carlson describes as Nockert, Type 1. This style is very well represented, and I saw either identical or very close versions on Þóra Sharptooth's site, as well as in Nille Glæsel's book and on the Hurstwic site. Some versions include the front gores, while others leave them out. I decided to include them, for ease of motion and wear. I've seen (and made) a lot of tunics with only side gores, and they have a tendency to pull a little too tightly over the tummy.

When I moved on to the construction, I decided to pull out all the stops. I referred back to Jennifer Baker's wonderful stitching type handout and decided to use a (possibly overkill) backstitch to join the pieces, with a flat fell finish. I also used my favorite hem-stitch, although some of my hems were so small that they actually became rolled hems. As an additional step towards authenticity, I decided to actually do all the stitching with a linen thread. I usually go straight for Guterman's Heavy Duty threads, because both my husband and I are very hard on garments, but since this is for classroom use I did finally pull out the spool of linen thread I've been hoarding for the better part of a decade!

Finally, I decided to add tablet-woven trim to the neckline. In men's garments, this seems like it would be more of an outerwear feature, but I justified it with the thought that Mom will also be using this tunic for her female garb as well, where the length of the under tunic will be hidden.

Here's an image of backstitch in action. I love how much stronger it is than a simple running stitch. I've received comments before on how I'm doing modern over-kill here, but it is a documented stitching type, and if I was a real Viking lady, I'd rather do it right the first time than have to keep re-sewing the same seam when it breaks.
My secret for good necklines is to sew them flat. I always make sure to finish them before I sew up the sides, and they are so much easier that way! This actually became more of a rolled hem than a straightforward hem stitch, but the extreme narrowness is actually more period. Don't want to waste precious fabric!
In this view, you can see the garment laid out, with only the front and back gores missing. I will usually do those last, because otherwise it can get a little overwhelming to work with the entire thing open at once.
More backstitch, with a hint of my workspace/ironing board. In an apartment as small as ours, it meets my crafting needs perfectly!
This image was taken while I was finishing the side seam. You can see some of my tools of the trade. I had no idea when I started how important the beeswax would be while I was working with the linen thread. It has a tendency to felt and knot, but an occasional swipe with the beeswax makes a huge difference!
Here's a view of the underarm gore. Once I started sewing the gores open, there was no going back! The overlap both strengthens the seam and allows me to neatly finish the other seams as well. I still don't like them, but now at least it's not outright hatred!
And now we get to the tablet-woven trim. I can't believe I've only been rigid heddle weaving since January, and tablet weaving for the last couple weeks! For the trim on this tunic, I wanted a very fine, narrow band. After my experiment with silk thread, I decided to actually weave with my linen thread. It took three colors, but I am in love with the results!
And, finally, the completed garment on my duct-tape mini-Mom! Really, for all the costuming I've been doing for her, the duct-tape form has been a huge help.
All in all, I'm pretty proud of this project. It brings together a lot of the skills I've been learning and refining this summer, and without that additional study I wouldn't have been able to create something so authentic. 

Finally, I'm going to leave you with an image of this tunic with the hand sewn apron dress I completed just before this project. They may be different sizes, but together they demonstrate a pretty productive summer in terms of my costuming skills.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, so please don't hesitate to comment. Thank you!


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

Carlson, I. Marc. Some Clothes of the Middle Ages: Kyrtles/Cotes/Tunics/Gowns. 2003. <> 14 August 2014.

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

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

Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds from North Greenland. Denmark: Aarhus University Press. 2004.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. "Viking Tunic Construction." Þóra Sharptooth's Resources for the Re-enactor. 1997. <> 5 January 2014.

Short, William R. "Clothing in the Viking Age." Hustwic. 2014. <> 14 August 2014.

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