Norse pillbox hat

wool "pillbox" hat

wool “pillbox” hat

On one of the Viking groups I’m part of on Facebook, there was some discussion about the frequently seen “santa hat”, the 5/6-panel hat, and finally the pillbox hat as options for Viking Age men’s Norse headwear.

I wanted to start a menswear-style outfit for my Norse Viking Age ‘wardrobe’ (more about why later… the other post is a work-in-progress still) and decided I wanted to include a hat as well.

‘Santa’ Hat

‘Santa’ style hat with point-end and braided wire trim. Linked from Pinterest.

The ‘Santa’ hat had a fair amount of criticism on the Facebook group, despite the fact that it’s seen quite frequently online from costumers. (Sometimes referred to as a Trader’s hat, Birka style hat, and Rus hat)

The biggest support for this cap seems to be the end points. Since they were made of metal, they have survived even when the rest of the caps have not. The comments against this headwear suggest that the end-cap is not enough evidence by itself, and there isn’t any other evidence for this hat style.

Two graves from Birka had the conical silver end caps (or what are thought to be end caps).  Peter Beatson writes that traces “of silk were found on the inside of the mounts” suggesting they were used with fabric – though that doesn’t limit the possibility to clothing. He adds that “in one case, the hat was further decorated with four woven silver wire pendants” and on another from grave Bj644 a “woven gold wire ‘passement’ band was apparently fastened from the brow to the peak”. The other grave was 581 for reference. (Source: Monica Stroud)

Conical hat

Picture stone linked from Pinterest

There is however, evidence for a similar kind of hat – that I’ll call a conical hat style – it’s a much shorter pointed hat than the ‘santa’ hat, and stays upright rather than flopping over… the evidence for these hats is in the picture stones, wood carvings, and bronze figures, though there aren’t material findings. It is similar in shape to the naalbinding hats some people make, though I don’t think anything has been found to suggest they’re one and the same.

These could also be depictions of helmets too – though there are scenes portrayed that don’t seem especially war-like to me… While metal would have kept the shape, the shape could also be kept by using thick wool, felted wool, or even heavy seams in lighter weight wool. Reeds/straw would also keep the shape, but would be much less likely. The Viking website references Thor Ewing that “Although it is not possible to determine if the depictions are meant to be helmets or hats Ewing seems to think that it is more ‘plausible’ that they depict hats”.  These depictions include the Middleton Cross (dated to the late 9th/early 10th century) and Kirklevington in England, the bronze figure speculated to be Thor from Iceland (dated to near 1000), a figure of the god Freyr from Sweden (Rallinge) and a picture stone from Sanda, Gotland. (Gotland Runic Inscription 181)


There is speculation that this might either be a figure of Thor, holding his hammer, or a Christ figure holding an (upside-down) cross

My photo of the Thor figure from the museum in Iceland.

In the wikipedia entry on the Gotland Runic Inscription 181 the author describes the Odin, Freyr and Thor figures “depicted as wearing typical Viking Age clothing, including a cloak known as a hekla and a tasseled conical cap called a skott-húfa”.

Another piece of artwork depicting this style of cap is carvings from the Hylestad stave church. The church is dated to the late 12th to early 13th century and in the wood carvings Sigurd wears the hat in several scenes. A discussion suggests that this IS a helmet in these carvings, so that the ‘hero’ of the pictures can always be identified.

Panel hat

Panel hat as seen on Pinterest

Another commonly seen pattern is for the panel (skullcap style) hat – this is usually 5 or 6 identical rounded triangle pattern piece hat. Vikings Online has a hat in this style (with only for pieces) as part of their basic kit guide.

I didn’t find very many references about this style of hat – the only reference I could find is from Looking for the Evidence, which notes a grave (#Bj976) from Birka, Sweden. Jennifer Baker notes that the hat is “six pieces skull cap” made of wool with linen bands.

There was also a Facebook post which references Birka grave 958. Looking for the Evidence only notes a silver brocade band from this grave (insofar as headwear is concerned), and I wasn’t able to find any other references to this kind of hat, apart from costumers who had made their own or were trying to sell them.

Pillbox hat

The first reference for this style of hat is Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns by Lilli Fransen, Anna Nørgaard, Else Østergård (Google books link) which shows a number of different hats in this style, along with patterns. I just used measurements for mine, rather than scaling up from the published patterns.

The original hats were found during an archaeological excavation at the site of Herjolfsnes in Greenland, and represents fashion created after the middle ages; the book specifies that the garments are “an insight into how children and adults had dressed 800-900 years ago.”

Marc Carlson writes that the clothing “is from the 14th and early 15th centuries” and that “the Greenland Colonies were less wealthy and far more distant than the main cultural centers of Europe” which might suggest the possibility of  ” a cultural ‘lag time’ for the styles to sift down from the ‘upper crust’ into the provinces.” Although there isn’t any evidence during the Viking Age for this kind of hat, it’s possible that the style was popular before the 14th century in the major cultural centres of Scandinavia.

One of the hats in the book was sewn in “almost white Greenlandic vaðmál in 2/2 twill” while another in the same shape was the same fabric but in a grey, with a “grey warp and a light grey weft”. The second one (page 126) shows two seams at the back… much like mine ended up being (in order to get the best use of re-used fabric).

Marc Carlson has notes on four of the hats found at the site along with a pattern for their construction on his website:

linked from the Journal of Archaeology

Viking also references the pillbox hat, noting archaeological finds from the Netherlands dated between 600 and 900 in Leens. One hat is made from several different pieces of fabric, in this case a diamond twill. This cap has decorative stitches along the seams.  More information about this hat can be found on Early medieval textile remains from settlements in the Netherlands. An evaluation of textile production by Chrystel R. Brandenburgh. An alternate view of her document can be found on the Journal of Archaeology.

I was led to the pillbox hat as an alternative because several of the costumers on the Viking Facebook group mentioned something similar to “I’ve been moving towards wearing a pillbox hat, as there’s more finds of that sort closer to (Viking) context than there are for panel hats.” – Zane Bruce, Feb 5, 2015. 

My pillbox hat

The hat started as a hardly-ever-worn and too small wool skirt I made years and years ago. The fabric is a heavy-weight wool, and I was able to cut the tip in one piece, and the band in two pieces out of part of the skirt (possibly with enough left over for the ‘santa’ hat if I decide to make it too).

The wool is purple – the third photo where I’ve attached the tip to the band below seems to be the closest to the actual colour – at least on my monitor.


The band seams were sewn first by machine, and then I used red pearl cotton embroidery thread to stitch down the seam allowance with a running stitch, and then I overcast the seam on the outside with a cross stitch.

The tip was sewn to the band by machine, and then overcast with a cross stitch.

I made the lining from silk (as it’s warm, insulating, and nice for my hair) by machine, and attached it by hand.

I planned on trimming it, but didn’t like any of the trims that I auditioned. I have a number of trims that will work – but all are too long for me to cut up just for the hat… I’ll probably use them on a neckline (or something) and use the leftover on the hat. (Which means trimming the hat might be a long time coming…)

wool "pillbox" hat

wool “pillbox” hat

My head is a lot larger than my foam head’s… hence the reason the hat looks so large on the form!

Norse Pillbox hat

Norse Pillbox hat

Other Viking Age hats

I won’t be exploring these right now, but Viking also notes

  • Forage style caps
  • Naalbound hats
  •  Straw hats
  • Skull caps
  • and Phrygian caps

Historical sew fortnightly

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I joined the Historical Sew Fortnightly mid way through 2014. While I’m working towards the 2015 challenges, I also am playing a bit of ‘catch up’ as projects present themselves from the remainder of the 2014 set.

Challenge: #7: Tops & Toes – Tops and Toes and focuses on accessories: specifically those that go on top of your head, and on your feet.

The challenge was originally for April 15, 2014

Fabric:  heavy-weight purple wool & lightweight red silk habotai for the lining

Pattern: self-drafted

Year: 14th century Greenland

Notions: embroidery thread, thread

How historically accurate is it? The pattern comes from examples that have been found in Greenland, while other similar examples are reported from centuries earlier. The fabric is wool – though much heavier and a different weave from the originals. The originals I used as reference didn’t have any decorative stitching, but mine does. Likewise, the silk fibre is period -correct, but the cotton floss isn’t.

Hours to complete:  I think I probably completed this including the embroidery in a few hours. I spent as much time trying to put  together some trim for it, which I never ended up using.

First worn: Not yet

Total cost: Both fabrics and the floss were in my stash – one way or another. I used less than a meter of either fabric – if I had to buy it new, the wool would be $15-30/meter (depending on shop, sale, and season) and the silk was between $10-15/meter originally I think.

5 comments on “Norse pillbox hat

  1. […] Pillbox hat – purple wool lined in silk […]

  2. […] Norse menswear pillbox style hat […]

  3. Tyrone Brown says:

    Would it be possible that the conical hat was implemented as some form of ski-mask/balaclava? It would make sense to have a hat that could be pulled down like a hood to protect the face from the cold, so perhaps they had some eyeholes in them.

    • Dawn says:

      Some of the Sami “traditional” dress (so, like 18th century) accessories are similar to Viking Age Norse accessories, and none of them are balaclava that I know of to lend some credence to that theory.
      Pulling it down would also mean either not as conical as it’s interpreted – or it would have to be a knit (like modern balaclava) to stretch which is post- Viking period.

      Since I don’t believe there’s any evidence for these hats beyond the small cones that have been found – I think any speculation is just that… speculation.

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