vikingtunics

musings of a Viking clothier in the 21st century

Linen Viking tunic

Linen Viking tunic

This is a linen tunic with contrasting linen trim

some of my latest Viking tunics….

some of my latest Viking tunics....

This is a wool blend tunic with woven jute Celtic knot trim

Viking Age Tunics

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First the history; from a pamphlet printed for the Society for Creative Anachronism.

 

The excavations at Birka, Sweden, which cover the ninth and tenth centuries, did not include entire garments. However, the pieces of clothing that were found there yielded quite a bit of information on different types of tunic-type garments, including smocks, tunics, and coats. There is plenty of evidence for linen smocks, wool tunics, wool and linen coats, and even one possibly Byzantine-style linen long tunic. Construction details common to them all include front and back panels cut in one piece, rather than two-piece construction with shoulder seams, and small round or keyhole necklines. Triangular gores were added for additional width in the skirt area of many garments. Unique to Birka is evidence for the woman’s pleated smock from the tenth century; this style of undergarment would not have required gores for widening. Also unique to Birka is the men’s sleeved “riding” coat closed on the chest with small cast bronze buttons running from neck to waist; it is thought to be influenced by Persian riding coats by way of Byzantium and the Rus lands. Some Birka women wore a similar overgarment, but instead of bronze buttons this coat was held together by a fancy brooch pinned through two small loops that were sewn to the two sides of the garment at the mid-chest. It is not known how long the women’s coats were, but clearly if they were meant to be protective overgarments they would need to be rather long–and require more than one closure point in front!

 

Aesthetics

 

Many textiles in the Víking Age were made of worsted wool in twill patterns. These wools were carefully woven, supple, attractively textured, and often dyed in bright colors. It’s a very poor Víking indeed who not only didn’t have an armring to his name but also didn’t have a decent weaver in the entire extended family! He would have had to make do with the horrible, scratchy, coarse wools we’re so familiar with today. Oddly enough, as time went on and the warp-weighted loom was supplanted by the horizontal loom beginning near the end of the tenth century, later period Víking wool fabrics became coarser, fuzzier, and thicker than earlier period ones. This is because the process of extensive fulling and napping was reintroduced to the textile industry, and that’s the tip of a textile production history iceberg that you can run up against some other time. For now, suffice it to say that a great many Víking Age wool garments, particularly the fancy ones, were of fine, soft, bright, and well-made wool fabrics.

 

Certain areas also had ready access to linen, such as England, which produced it, and Sweden, which imported it; as fragile and rare as linen remains are, there is nevertheless much more archaeological evidence for the use of linen in those areas. Silk was available all over the Víking world by the ninth century, and it was liberally used by some of the people buried at Birka in the mid- to late-tenth century. Although there is no evidence of cotton yet from Víking graves, it is known that in the tenth century the Byzantine army issued a cotton padding garment, the bambakion, as part of its outfit (Teall 1977, 204). Varangians, at the very least, would likely have experienced this garment.

 

Some fabrics, such as linen and some naturally-pigmented wools, were most often used undyed. Many wools, however, were dyed in attractive colors, and there are a few examples of woad- or madder-dyed linens. The most common colors which have been found in dye analyses of Víking Age fabrics are red, mostly from madder; blue, from woad; yellow, from weld and an unidentified yellow dye, possibly either broom or a tannin-based dye such as onion skins; purples and violets, from lichens or from overdyeing with some combination of lichens/madder/woad; and greens, from overdyeing with an unidentified yellow dye plus woad (Walton 1988, 17- 18). Some evidence of brown from walnut shells has also been found, as well as one or two pieces that were intentionally dyed very dark brownish-black with walnut shells and iron (Hägg 1984, 289).

 

The chemical evidence seems to point to a preponderance of particular colors appearing in particular areas: reds in the Danelaw, purples in Ireland, and blues and greens in Scandinavia proper (Walton 1988, 18). Although it is carefully hedged, there is a hypothesis in the scientific world that this might possibly reflect regional color preferences rather than archaeochemical factors. 

 

see the entire document here: http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/viktunic.html

 

To summarize, Viking age garments were primarily produced from wool, linen and imported silks. The only restriction on color and embellishment seems to be availability and the silver in your purse.

 

Viking Winingas

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Known variously as legwraps, wickelbander or winingas, they are woven woolen strips which were wrapped around the lower leg among the Anglo-Saxon and Viking cultures. It is believed that the leg wrappings served a number of purposes, including increased warmth, and were secured either by tucking in the end or fastening it with a small hook. Based on surviving remnants found at Birka and Bernuthsfeld Germany, pictured on the Bayeux Tapastry and mentioned in Laxdaela Saga and by the Franks De Carlo Magno and Vita Karoli, my leg wraps are made of a soft charcoal gray wool cloth, cut in bands about 3 yards long by 4 inches wide. Edges are finished with a discrete machine overlock stitch to prevent fraying.

Methods of securing the winingas are subject to speculation. It is thought that the most common method was simply tucking in the loose ends, although there is occassional evidence of more elaborate methods. Ties below the knee suggesting garters with tassels or tags are seen on some high status figures in the Bayeau Tapestry. Hooks appear to have been used; a pair of hooks were found below the kneecaps of the skeleton in Birka graves Bj903 and similar bird or mask-like hooks are known from other finds.

to be continued……

a very basic tunic….

I love a challenge! So, I get an email from a person, wanting to know if I can give them a better price than what they’re seeing on the web. OK, send me the site. It’s funny, when I first started making clothing years ago as a hobby, people would show me all kinds of drawings, diagrams, pictures of paintings, etc, to give me an idea of what they wanted made. Now, I get web sites from other retailers! My, how times change. Although, one did send me a photo from my old web site. LOL That was easy!

Anyhow, I get this picture, if you google “Viking tunic” and click Images, you’ll see it about a hundred times, I know it well. It has come into my booth at faires, so I’ve gotten to see it close up. In fact, someone left me one after buying a nice linen tunic from me. Now I have the picture, the customer’s preference for color and a real good idea of price. This actually wasn’t much of a challenge, it was more of “do I want to make the sale and hope they’ll upgrade down the road?”.

I’m rambling. Believe it or not, I had kinda like ethical issues in my head. Problem; to give the customer what he desired, I would have to use cheaper fabric, which would mean I’m not selling a “Viking” or “historical” tunic anymore. I don’t want to copy other retailers. Solution; as a merchant my number one priority to give my customers exceptional service and the best product I can make. Well, that solves that! So, I just go shopping, find the best cotton blend I can find at a reasonable price in a selection of colors. Then purchase a ton of trim in a couple of patterns, and la! I’ve got a quality Viking style tunic that I can sell at $40. And good news! Customers do come back and upgrade.

Here’s a few pictures of my final creation. I think it compares pretty good to mass market garb in the same price range. Plus, I guarantee my work, so no worrys!

Cheers!

basic Viking tunic

basic Viking tunic

tools of the trade…

I’ve gotten a couple of emails asking what kind of tools and machines I use in my clothing business, so I’ll give you a quick tour. From the tone of one email, the writer is really going to be disappointed when she sees my “shop”. I didn’t set-out to start a clothing business, economic times kinda pushed me into it. So I used what I had, which fortunately is working out so far. Had I put together a business plan, got some decent financing, etc, it would look a lot different…maybe someday.

As far as the space, I’ve always kept a “work” room. I like to make stuff. If I didn’t have an extra bedroom, I’d sleep on the couch. So the basics were there. The room is 10′ x 10′ with a small closet. Someone gave me a dining table, which is just about the right size for most projects. I built counters and shelves to fit, nothing fancy, just functional. In fact I’m still not done with the room, but I’ll get back to it later.

Sewing room of Tunics by Jerry

My Sewing Room

Like that color!? I read some color studies concerning creativity and productivity. Orange it is! I think it actually works too. I don’t seem to get drowsy all the time like I did when I worked in a gray cube as an office drone. So this is the view from the doorway. To the left is the closet and computer area, then of course a serger and a straight stitch machine. And lots of thread! I buy the 3,000 yard cones, which you really need on a serger. But I found a neat little adapter (in notions) that allows me to use the cones on my other machines too. You’ll save a ton on thread doing it that way. For bobbins, I recommend those cool racks they sell (behind the machine on the right) or make one. To save time, I keep about three bobbins of each color on hand. Don’t neglect your seating either. I found these two professional “task” chairs at an office liquidator for about $20 each, worth it!

Sewing Tools

My favorite tool is that red thing on the right. It’s a power rotary cutter. I started with the manual version on the left, but after Angel (of Bodice Goddess) let me borrow her’s, I had to own one. If you use the manual one, you have to have a cutting mat to go with it, not with the power one. If you do lots of cutting, ya gotta have one of these! The power version will go through about six layers of cotton twill like butter, sweet. **CAUTION** The blades on rotary cutters are simply round razor blades, touch ‘em the wrong way an’ they’ll cut you, I know. Please be careful, I wouldn’t even let a pet near ‘em. An assortment of rulers is good too, mine go from 6″ to 72″ and of course measuring tapes too. For marking, I use sharpies (yea, it’s like doin’ a crossword in ink), on dark colors I use tailors chalk. Chalk comes two ways, one that is really chalk and one that is actually wax, kinda like a crayon. Be careful with the wax one, it leaves marks on some fabrics. Test it with a hot iron, it should disappear. The other little goodie is that metal thing up on the left. It’s for making bias tape. They come in different sizes and work pretty good on cottons and linens.

Sewing Patterns

Sewing Patterns

Any pattern that I’m going to use a lot, I transfer to cardboard. My local Michael’s is nice enough to give me the used stuff from their custom framing area. Someday I’d like to transfer them to some kind of plexi or masonite board just like the pros do. Another choice is clear plastic sheet which you can buy in rolls at any hardware store. I always label my patterns and include dimensions. I keep some weights around too, or old books, whatever’s handy. The closet there is for storage, fabric, patterns,etc. The rest of the fabric is , well, on any flat surface in the house. I don’t throw anything away till it gets too small to be useful. My dining room is my showroom. I do allow folks to come by, with an appointment, especially during the winter when we’re not on the road.

Show Room

The "Show Room"

Well, that’s the nickel tour! I’m ta work now. As always, please email me with any questions and comments are welcome.

Cheers!

introducing Angelika Strycka

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I just wanted to share  a facebook friend with everyone, her name is Angelika, she’s from Poland, and she does the most incredible clothing and especially, hand embroidery that I have ever seen. I don’t think she’ll mind if I share some of her work with you. Keep in mind though, her work is totally by hand using historical stitching techniques – I can only dream of doing such work!

I’m keeping busy; working on a Legend of Zelda Link costume and a 1890′s frock coat, both new territory for me, but hey, gotta pay the rent! Anyhow, enjoy the pictures and make sure and visit her page on facebook, you’ll be amazed!

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fabric sources for historical garb

The most common question I get when a patron comes into my booth is “who makes your tunics?” I get to reply with great pride “I do!”. Next is “where do you get your fabric?”.  The answer to that one is not so simple. I normally just come back with something like, “depends on the project, the going price and availability of wool, etc”. And to a certain extent, this is all true. So, since I’m having my coffee before starting to work, I’ve got some time to go into more detail.

If you’re making any pre-19th century garment (assuming European) that is going to be worn next to the skin, your first choice should be linen. The why of this is another article, so I’ll make a note to come back to it. So you run down to the local fabric store, here in Stockton it’s Joann, and ask directions to the linens. They actually carry a very nice selection of medium weight linens and linen/rayon blends. My last trip (I go about 1.5 times a week) linen was at $14.99 a yard, the blend $8.99 a yard. For starter project, I would recommend using the blend, it’s a very nice fabric for the money although you’re limited as far as color. Since you need 3 yards to make a tunic, you can see how this could save you a lot. But before you make your selection, find the “suiting” fabrics. I tripped over these linens by accident. They are the best Joann’s has. Not much in colors, but they have a navy blue that is so good, I made myself one! Important tip #1: sign up on-line to get their emails, I get about two 40-50% off coupons a week, plus other specials. #2: sign up for the snail mail flyer, more coupons! And finally #3: Once a year, Joann’s puts out this little magazine for about $2.95 a copy. The entire back page is coupons. They’re usually good for a couple of months, a great investment. They hide it by the cutting tables, so you might have to ask for it. I usually buy two or three, they sell out fast. Last note: when I’m having my fabric cut, I always have them check the price. You cannot use coupons on sale merchandise, but look for those great 20% entire purchase. Last last note: yea, I sound like a Joann employee, I’m not. They won me over ’cause on Veteran’s Day, I (being a Veteran) get an additional 20% off my entire purchase. Nice to be appreciated.

Moving on! My mostest favorite supplier for linen is Fabric-store.com. This site is very straight forward, easy to use. Their shipping is reasonable and quick. And they take Paypal. I have two recommendations. For most of my projects, I use the 4C22 medium weight linen. It’s 7.1 oz to the yard and comes 59″ wide. And all under $8 a yard. For the quality, this is a bargain! Excellent color selection too. I’ve been using this fabric for about three years and no complaints yet, in fact I think I’ve created quite a few linen disciples. You’d think people living in California would know how much more comfortable linen is than cotton. I love the orders for tunics “just to hang out in”, they’re usually in the wild not-so-historic colors. And I also like the IL019, a slightly lighter (5.3 oz) linen in a really good variety of colors. Women seem to prefer the lighter weight, men the medium, go figure. Either way, make sure and sign up for email alerts (I recommend this for any site you’re interested in), they have sales from time to time. I also get a 7% off coupon with every order, so just about takes care of the shipping. They also have a rewards program, but unless you’re buying a lot of fabric, you probably won’t use it.

Gotta get to work, but one more source before I finish. If you need wool, start at Joanns in the suiting fabrics. Good basic colors. But of course, everyone wants green! Joann doesn’t sell green wool. Good news though, try these folks, periodfabric.com. They carry a really nice selection of basic wools, all for under $15 a yard. I use them any time I need dark green wool. They’re a bit slower on the ordering process and shipping, but be patient, it’s worth it!

Until next time,  Cheers!

Wool Viking Tunic

Plum colored wool from Period Fabrics

 

the pirate coat finished

As threatened (pirate term for promised) here are a couple of images of the finished coat. After posting it on my FB page, it was immediately invited to the Pirate Rendezvous next weekend in Sacramento! Another admirer asked if a twin was available, maybe in a different size. Of course! No problem! OK, a few notes and I’m back to work, well maybe after lunch.

Most common question: Why no buttons or closures of any kind? Answer: I’ve found by leaving those types of accessories off, it gives the garment a wider historical range (not that skull & crossbones trim has any historical range), leaving to the purchaser to assign it to any particular period or place. Also, by leaving these items off, it keeps the price very reasonable. I will sell this one for $75.

Question the second: What period is this pattern from? Answer: It’s actually based on my Viking tunic pattern. I change the period or look by adding details such as trim, buttons, pockets, etc.

If you have any other questions, I’d be more than happy to respond.

Cheers!

sewing a pirate coat in a storm

pirate, coat

the Pirate coat in progress

Actually, the storm is outside. After a month of freezing weather, the wind came up and sure enough, the rain rolled in yesterday. My sewing room has two windows in the corner, acting like an amplifier of the sounds outside. So, as I’m working on this coat with a pirate theme, it sounds like a hurricane against the back of my house. Kinda settin’ the mood, eh!

This coat started as usual with the purchase of some cool trim with skull & crossbones. See, I’ve made it a habit to always try something new whenever I reorder trims. Don’t want to get stale! So once I’ve got the trim, I need to build a garment around it. Believe it or not, this seems to work out. All I need is to find a good pirate audio book on Librivox (http://wiki.librivox.org/index.php/M4B_Catalog) and I’m ready!

Since the trim is silver/grey skulls on a black ground, the coat should probably be black, which fortunately, I always keep some black cotton twill on-hand. I find this to be a great all-purpose fabric; I’ve made tunics, pants, hoods and coats from it. Only drawback is I have to chalk a big X on the inside of the fabric to make sure I don’t sew it backwards. I also keep a good cotton blend for lining. I prefer this to satin or other traditional linings. My first coat, which I made for myself, was lined with an old sheet ’cause it was the right color and it was there. I think a lot of garb is created this way. Like the trim I ripped off a bed skirt for one of my first tunics. Bet Woolrich didn’t anticipate that!  Anyway, I liked it, everybody who borrowed it liked it (if that coat could talk….hehe), so I always use cotton blend unless otherwise requested.

Oops! I better get to work! So, I’ve got black cotton twill for the body, burgundy cotton for the lining, and skull & crossbones for the trim, and found a recording of “The Pirates Own Book” by Charles Ellms. The rain seems to be dying down a bit. Freshin’ up my coffee and I’m back to work. I’ll post a picture of the finished coat on another post.

Cheers!

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