Basketweave linen Viking coat

VikingCoatPortrat_Oct2014

A coat for my Viking “wardrobe” hadn’t really been on my mind, until I ordered some fabric from Fabric.com – which I had hoped would work for an apron-dress, but when it arrived it was far too heavy to hang correctly. Since I didn’t really have anything else in mind, and the Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge  for early August was for something for “the Great Outdoors” I thought I would try out a Viking coat instead.

Unfortunately, I didn’t finish it in time for the August 15 deadline, so it’s really a late entry!

Since much of what I’ve read suggests that coats would have been made of wool instead of linen, this is already stretching a bit, but if nothing else it will make a good mock-up before making a wool version if I decide to make one…

The fabric is basketweave in navy and black 100% linen. The website suggests that the fabric is just navy, but it’s actually a black and navy weave. (It also comes in ‘maroon’, ‘black’, and ‘multi’, though the fabric is not reorderable, so it may not be available later on..) The website description says that the fabric is:

“This linen fabric is lightweight with a basketweave woven texture and a full-bodied drape. Perfect for dresses, pants, skirts, jackets and even home decor such as window treatments, pillows and tote bags!
Washing Instructions : Dry clean to maintain original texture or machine wash/dry low/remove promptly to soften.”

However, I found the fabric far too stiff; although it’s lightweight, I wouldn’t want to use it for a dress or pants…    A lightweight coat seems like a much better idea for this fabric.

Starting ideas

I found a few different variations, and am dividing them into two parts, those that resemble an underdress – just split at the front, and those that don’t resemble a split-front underdress.

Coats like an underdress

I started off just looking at images on Pinterest for “Viking Coat Pattern”, which led me to Skogsduva’s pattern for her Viking Coat/Kaftan which was inspired by textile finds from Birka (Sweden) dated to the 9th and 10th centuries. She notes that these original finds don’t have shoulder seams, though she opted to include them in her design.

Along with separate front and back pieces attached at the shoulders, her design also has a center back gore, side gores, long tapered sleeves, and underarm gussets. She’s designed a v-neckline which she trimmed with hand-made trim.

Skogsduva also points to a Viking Tunic Construction document by Carolyn Priest-Dorman which is the same apart from a round neckline. More importantly, she shows a coat pattern that is nearly identical to the tunic pattern apart from the back centre gore and the center front opening.

Next, Eugenia Swingle posted a possible layout of a Viking coat, though it’s in Icelandic so it’s likely not her original sketch, however it’s unattributed. It’s nearly identical to Skogsduva’s pattern, offering a version with shoulder seams and one without. She also posted her variation, which omitted the underarm gussets and instead she added in rectangular pieces under the arms for ease. She also designed hers to have a slight overlap on center-front.

Just browsing Pinterest, this style, with a V-neckline seems to be the most popular…

Some additional examples:

 

Coats unlike an underdress

Additionally, I found a slightly different design based on finds at Hedeby. This design, featured on the Viking Age.org suggests a coat made of wool or linen more popular in the 9th Century and less popular in the 10th Century. They show a deep curved neckline; cut to show off the necklaces (festoons) below, and fastened (with a brooch) approximately below the breasts. They also suggest this coat may or may not have had side gores, but likely not.

This low-cut rounded neckline seems to be reasonably popular on Pinterest as well.

The next variation that I saw frequently on Pinterest seems to be mostly popular for men, and includes a waist seam and a full (split) skirt along with pieced sleeves.  However, one pinner commented that it wasn’t a Viking coat, but rather from the Moshchevaya Balka Necropolis Complex in modern-day Karachay–Circassian Republic in Russia.

My pattern choice

Although the low rounded neckline looked nice with the jewelry, I considered how warm it might be – and I suspect less so! Thus I opted for a design with a higher neckline.

Interestingly enough, AFTER I had begun sewing, I read Ciar’s article in her blog about her caftan – and her comment about garments being worn not just for warmth and protection, but also for fashion – which I think is an excellent point. (Go read it here!)

Next I thought about the design itself. As I just finished making my black linen underdress, which is similar to the design Eugenia opted for, I decided to do something similar – since all of my notes on measurements were already sitting on my sewing table.

Finally I considered the center front – many of the coats shown flare open a great deal between the closure and the hem – but I kind of wanted mine to hang a bit more closed – especially since I bet I’m more ‘hippy’ than some of the costumers I’ve been looking at! To address this I first thought about adding a gore to the centre front panels like the gore in the centre back.  I’ve made a similar coat before, using a pattern from the Renaissance Tailor called Eastern European Rectangular Constructed Coats.
Once I sketched out the possible layout, I came up with a possible alternative that could avoid the seam joining the center front to the center front gore. After a few calculations, I figured that I could cut the ‘gore’ onto the front piece, as well as the back gore onto the back as well.

My approximate cutting layout is below – keeping in mind it’s just a rough sketch and not at all to scale. It also worked fine for my body shape & size and the width of fabric I had – if you opt to make your own you might need to adjust. Although it looks like there are spaces between the pieces, it’s actually a very, very low-waste layout -most of the cutting lines butted up against one another, I’ve just drawn them out for clarity.

Layout for the pattern I decided upon - a speculative design for a Viking coat

Layout for the pattern I decided upon – a speculative design for a Viking coat (not to scale)

The main body of the coat, the sleeve, and then on the bottom, the top side gores

The main body of the coat, the sleeve, and then on the bottom, the top side gores

Construction

The first challenge I ran into, beyond how stiff the fabric was, was that it would NOT tear. Normally for ‘rectangular construction’ its great to tear the fabric to ensure all of the rectangles are even, but this wouldn’t tear at all; instead I followed the basket weave to cut the panels. Of course this also means they are more subject to being off, and it takes longer too!

Marking the pattern on the fabric with pink chalk - enhanced in Photoshop so it would show up here

Marking the pattern on the fabric with pink chalk – enhanced in Photoshop so it would show up here

After cutting out my pattern pieces, assembly was as follows:

  1. Sew one edge of the (optional) back gore into the back center seam, repeat with the other side.
  2. Sew the top side “gores” to the bottom side “gores” at the shorter (waist) seams
  3. Sew the top side “gores” to the sleeves at the underarm
  4. Sew the gore-gore-sleeve-gore-gore panel to the main body piece
  5. Sew the side seams from underarm to hem, followed by underarm to wrist.

I sewed all of my seams by machine, and finished all of the seam allowances with my serger. (I have no interest in hand-sewing a complete garment!) However, I did want to have as little machine sewing show on the outside of the garment as possible.

Next, I stay-stitched the front-center opening so that it wouldn’t warp during the next step…

As several of the seams are bias-to-bias (albeit not true bias) I had to let the garment ‘hang out’ after doing the bulk of the seams, so that I would be able to hem the coat more accurately.

Sketch of the speculative design for a Viking Coat (not to scale)

Sketch of the speculative design for a Viking Coat (not to scale)

Course correction

After letting the coat hang out, I tried it on, and found that with the back centre gore, the coat hung back very distinctly, in a way that I found really annoying. It’s strange how light the fabric is, and yet so heavy too… I ended up cutting it out and re-sewing the seam.

I also ended up trimming the length of the sleeves at the same time.

Lining / Trim

Since this is a “lightweight” linen coat, I’ve opted not to line it.

Instead, I used a wide strip of red linen on both of the cuffs to make a doubled cuff. On the front opening I used 3 narrower strips of red linen to reverse face the opening and neckline.  I sewed the facings down by machine, and then used the machine to baste the strips in place, to hand-stitch them later. (And later some embroidery too.)

Hems

After letting the hem ‘hang out’ I needed to trim the hem – I hadn’t cut the angled portions of the fabric with the hem in mind, and I am pretty sure that the bias hung out a bit more too, so there were some portions that definitely needed a trim.

Hemming it myself was going to be a challenge, so I opted to get my brown-paper-tape dress form (kind of like a duct tape dummy). She went up on a stool, which then went up on my drafting/cutting table. Using a ‘statue’ to keep a consistent level, I marked the new possible hem line with dots of chalk. I basted a line of high-contrasting embroidery thread. Putting the coat on, the embroidery thread line was really visible to check the hem line.

I trimmed the hem, then serged the raw edges, pressed the hem in place, basted it by machine, hand-sewed the hem, and then removed the basting.

Front opening with embroidered contrast reverse facing and tri-lobed brooch

Front opening with embroidered contrast reverse facing and tri-lobed brooch

Embroidery

Over the sleeve/cuff seam I did a ladder-type stitch which holds down the seam allowance and adds a bit of (very subtle) embellishment. On the edge of the facing where it meets the body, I did a blanket stitch, on the hem I did a herringbone stitch, and then along the front opening I did a series of triangles, just with a running stitch topped off with two more stitches. Although there are a LOT of tiny triangles, once I got a routine going, it was actually really quick. I used the linen yarn I picked up in Victoria, BC for the embroidery – and it was actually really easy to use! I was really happy with it!

Decorative stitching on the sleeve & cuff

Decorative stitching on the sleeve & cuff

Result

The finished result of the Viking age coat - way too big for me.

The finished result of the Viking age coat – way too big for me.

Since the pattern for the Viking Age coat is purely speculative, I also think that this coat would work well enough for a generic SCA coat – but I don’t really love it. I think it’s too big, and too heavy, and not fitted enough to wear really comfortably.  It really does need to be belted to be comfortable, which is ok, but not quite what I had in mind. If I were to make it again I’d make it a LOT more form-fitting, and probably in wool instead of linen.

Still, I wore it on a very chilly late October evening, and remained quite warm with it on over my linen underdress and apron dress.

 

Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014

I’m not trying to follow the  Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014 every two weeks, and I did start mid-way through the year, but this one was helpful to help me put this material to use! The challenge due August 15 (that I was horribly late for, since I didn’t consider it ‘finished’ until the embroidery was done) that this fits into is:

#15: The Great Outdoors – due Fri 15 August.  Get out into the weather and dirt with an item for outdoor pursuits.

The Challenge: #15 – the Great Outdoors.  I’m going to presume that the coat/caftan was worn as much for warmth as for fashion, and like any other ‘coat’ is worn… outside!

Fabric: 100% basketweave linen (with lightweight 100% linen for trim)

Pattern: drafted based on pure speculation

Year: Viking age

Notions: thread, fine linen yarn for embroidery

How historically accurate is it?: I don’t really know! I’ve seen comments about tabby weave and twill, but not yet (yet!) about basketweave. With that being said, when I was learning to weave, basketweave was one of the earliest weaves I learned, suggesting to me that it’s highly likely it would have been available during the Viking Age. The fiber content is appropriate for the Viking Age as well, though from what I’ve read it would be much more likely to be wool over linen. The colour might be a bit darker than likely, but I’m ok with that. The pattern – pure speculation on my part. The embroidery stitches are period-correct – and this time around I even used a linen yarn for the embroidery!

Hours to complete: No idea! I did this one over several hours in bits and pieces.

First worn: SCA Tavern night, October 27, 2014 (a very chilly evening, though no snow was on the ground yet).

Total cost: I think that the fabric was $6.98 US/yard, plus shipping costs. I bought 4 yards. The lightweight red linen used for trim was leftover from another project – likely about $10-15.00/meter, but I used less than half a meter. The yarn for embroidery – I forget, but I suspect it was around $8-10.00/skein?

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