Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Hedeby Apron Dress

I didn't get the dress completely finished for event, but it was done enough to be wearable, and my hopes are high that there'll be another Norse themed event next year to showcase all the features I didn't get done in time.

In the end, I made my dress almost exactly as I'd cut Órlaith's. I did look into cutting my main panels in a A-line shape as per the Hedeby fragment, but the difference between my bust and hip measurements was so slight, I didn't feel it would have added anything to the dress.

My vague look of annoyance in the third picture was when I was questioning Órlaith if she was really going to keep taking pictures of me while I was adjusting my costume. She gleefully replied in the affirmative, and kept snapping. sigh

But this is my almost finished dress. The seams of the dress need to be sewn down, and I'm currently spinning up some scoured Gotland fibres for that job, and I didn't have time to place the darts and trim onto the back. The top of the dress was hemmed with a herringbone stitch, made from the inside to add a little give to the hem, and when trimmed with the tablet weave from my barter with Catherine Weaver of Thamesreach, was invisible from the outside. The belt is also made by Catherine Weaver, but was gifted to me by Baroness Caitríona, back when I had no intention of going Viking *ahem*. The brooches and hair pin were purchased from Pera Peris.

As Crown Princess Isabel of Drachenwald was in attendance at the event and rumours were heard of court to be held, I wanted my garb to have a "day" look as well as an "formal" look. I figured while beads and jewellery, while all well and good, would get in the way during day time chores, so I omitted the beads for during the day and wore the belt which will eventually have a great number of items suspended from it; for the moment my site token looks all lonely hanging there.

The formal look shows off the shaping around the waist much better without the best in place. One of my biggest surprises with this dress was that as I had decided not to wear modern underwear with it, there was still a surprising amount of support from the fit of the apron dress. And speaking of underwear, I've seen conflicting accounts speculating whether Norse women would have worn anything under their dresses. An unseasonally warm October weekend doesn't give the best of testing conditions, but a boat trip on Sunday morning over Lough Ree confirmed that you'd have to be crazy to not have something on underneath when the harder weather comes on. So a pair of simple trousers will be added to be sewing list for this outfit.

Overall I'm very pleased with this outfit. I think it looks well on me and the fit keeps the dress close to my body without tangling my legs. I was only really chilled on my arms and shoulders, where I only had one layer of linen to keep me warm, thought getting to work on a kaftan to wear while outdoors should sort that out. Given that we don't have enough of the dress fragments to have a single "correct" look, I feel confident that my interpretation is a good one; when I get it completed that is. But with a sewing list of fun projects for this costume as long as my arm, I've no fear of it not being seen through. 

As it happened, it was a good thing I'd planned for a formal look to my dress too. While I was at the event, HRH Isabel invited me to become her Mistress of the Wardrobe for the coming reign. I was breathless! It's such an honour!. The whole Kingdom is going to be seeing my work, and I need to find ways to step up my game. 

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Bits N Pieces

This week my friend Vuirneen suggested that we take a trip to Beads N Bling, a fabulous jewellery and millinery supply store in Dublin that is sadly closing it's doors in a couple of weeks time.

There's so much I would have loved to pick up, were credit and storage capacity unlimited, so I had to content myself with a book, some trim and a few beads and things. They had such a treasure trove of a shop, I really am quite sad to see them go.  

And no, the fabric still hasn't been cut out yet.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Planning the Apron Dress

In the making of my own apron dress, I wanted to make a more fitted dress than those styles observed in the other parts of Scandinavia. As I've already mentioned, my research led me to the Danish-German settlement of Hedeby, and the evidence of darts found there. Unfortunately, when making this style of Apron Dress, there are very few hard and fast rules. Yes, there exist fragments from Hedeby, but of only one dress panel. This means any possibly re-creation of the dress is based on one's own interpretation of the finds. So here I present my thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, there is the matter of the Hedeby find. This is composed of two fragments, both of which show evidence of a dart, with trim sewn over the dart on the outside. Hägg posits this fragment as a side back piece, lining up the seams of the piece with the side and centre back lines on the body. Other re-enactors have suggested that the piece was actually a side panel, with the dart matching up to the side seam on the body. Of the two, I agree more with Hägg’s interpretation of the placement. Under the arm is a high friction area, and adding a braid to an already raised area would result in faster fabric abrasion. Now, given some of the two part-sleeves also found in Hedeby, maybe this was exactly what happened. But as the trim goes from the very top of the dress and continues the length of the dress fragment to presumably the full length of the dress, while on the found sleeve fragment the partial piece lies to the outside of the arm and away from the potential abrasion area; I don't think this is a likely arrangement. Based on this my own dress will feature darts towards the back of the dress rather than the sides. Further to this, the felted hole near the top of the fragment may have been an attachment point for straps, and placing this fragment as a side piece places this hole almost under the arm.

Going back to the apron dress find from Hedeby, the found piece we know to be a complete piece due to evidence of sewing holes at both sides, and from this we can attempt to surmise the rest of the garment. If we assume the piece was one quarter of the total dress, with a chest measurement of 64cm and a potential waistline only 15 cm below this, this gives the piece at fitting quite a small torso, and some re-enactors have speculated that this indicates the piece was originally worn by a child or young adolescent. I originally considered that this would necessitate a different cut for an adult garment, but throughout history, children seem to have been dressed in mini versions of adult clothing, so there's no reason to think this small garment can't still be used as a template. As a template in would indicate A-line shaped pieces, though the addition of gores may be required to fit this adult woman's curves. Other finds from Hedeby confirm the use of gores in items that may have been tunics or serks (underdress), but more importantly it means the style of gores was in use in the region; an important factor for how my underdress is constructed and for how I plan to make my apron dress.

So where does this leave me and how I plan to construct my own dress? I'm a great believer of conspicuous consumption in historical formal wear, even in modern wear for that matter. That is, the use of fine fabrics and accessories in a conscious display of wealth. For that reason my theory is that the front of the dress is cut in a single, unbroken piece. Although Norse looms would have regularly been able to produce quite wide fabrics as well as narrower widths[1], I believe that a smokkr, fully adorned with brooches and beads, could serve as a statement for the fineness of the fabric used for this dress. I've seen tantalising references to an "Old Norse laced dress" or "dragkyrtill", with the reference given as laz ar siþu, Falk 1919, p 158, but not being able to find any more information on this it remains a vague reference. And much as I'd love to find reason for a laced smokkr, allowing for how small the textile finds usually are, I haven't seen evidence of lacing loops or metal rings or even sewn eyelets in Norse garb. So I have to conclude, unless more information is uncovered, that the dress was semi-fitted and not laced tight.

I'll be cutting my dress more or less as Órlaith's was cut; that is as a central front piece, two back pieces and including side and back gores for width and swish. As I haven't her height, I'll be cutting my pieces a little wider, more in the A shape and bringing the apron dress to mid-calf, rather than full length, so as to show off the hem of the underdress. Hmm, guess I can't put off the cutting any longer.

[1] - Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia  By Phillip Pulsiano, Kirsten Wolf