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

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