One of my most recent completed projects is a black linen underdress for my Viking wardrobe. The same underdress is also suitable for a few other early-period costumes. The black linen is from Fabric.com, from my post not too long ago about online purchases.
It was only after I made this dress that I thought about actually researching the underdress pattern – instead for this dress I used the same kind of pattern I’ve used a few times before for general early-period underdresses. I’ve used this same general pattern (with some variations) for my most recent brown linen underdress, a blue underdress (with an embellished hem), a white linen underdress (with embellished hem) and a pink & purple underdress.
The dress doesn’t have shoulder seams, and the main body is a rectangle with a neck hole and slit cut in. The long bottom gores flow out from the waist for additional volume and hip-room, while the upper gore gives additional room for the bust and sleeve movement. Both gores start as rectangles, that are split at an angle – very fabric conservative. The sleeves started out as rectangles, but on Viking gowns sleeves have been shown as tapered, so that was an adjustment I made during construction.
Simply enough I tore my linen into the rectangles, and then cut the rectangles into the wedges as needed, plus cut the neckline and the front neck slit. I cut the main body fabric without shoulder seams, as this was the style from the 10th Century that I’m most interested in replicating. (For individuals who are very small, or who are using very wide fabric, this may not be the most efficient use of fabric.) I originally cut the sleeves as plain rectangles, knowing that I’d taper them later (although this isn’t an efficient use of fabric.)
The neck slit was bound with a small scrap of linen, and the neckline was bound with a similar near-bias (but not true-bias) scrap leftover from other cuts. The overall fabric waste was minimal.
I sewed the lower side gores to the upper side gores, and then the gores to the sleeves, and finally the gore-gore-sleeve-gore-gore combination to the sides of the main body piece. From there I tried on the dress, and realized that I’d cut the sleeves far too long. I pinned and basted them to length and taper them. I tried it on, liked it, and then trimmed the sleeves and finished them.
Then I folded, pressed, and basted the sleeve hems. For the dress hem, I hung the dress up overnight to let any bias ‘hang out’ before doing the same; folding, pressing, and basting the hem. From there I finished sewing the hems, and embroidered the neckline.
Seams & hems
I had no interest in hand-sewing a complete garment at this point, so all of the seams are sewn by machine, with serging to finish the edges. The cuff hems, facing/binding and embellishment however are sewn by hand. On the hem I opted to use a blind-hem stitch with machine… which I’m reasonably happy with. If I had a bit of time though I might decide to re-do it by hand.
I wanted to do a bit of embroidery on the dress, so started off with a herringbone stitch on the neckline. I considered doing the cuffs as well, but might do that at another time. I used Pearl Cotton in #321 – a medium-dark red.
While I know that a lot of re-enactors usually say to avoid black… I’m going to take a stretch on this one. I LIKE black, and there are a few suggestions that black may have been a possible dye colour during the Viking Age. (With that being said, dying linen black would probably have been very, very difficult.. but too bad.) I’ve done the embroidery in dark red which is much more documentable. Plus I like it, and am thinking of using a fair amount of red throughout my Viking wardrobe.
This is 100% linen fabric is from Fabric.com and is “Washed Linen” – it’s listed as “very lightweight” but isn’t re-orderable.