Open-front apron dress

Open front apron dress

Open front apron dress

I’ve seen a lot of women online in open-front apron dresses with their Viking-age costumes. I understand that they’re getting the idea because some brooches were found with many different fabrics in them, and thus there’s speculation that more than just one apron (dress) may have hung from one set of brooches – but I don’t know… the whole idea seems very impractical to me – it’s basically like a coat that is open in the front and doesn’t cover your shoulders or sleeves. The open front also means it doesn’t protect the garments under it from smoke, dust, dirt, etc… Still, there’s argument to say that it may not have been an ‘every day’ garment, but rather something for special wear…

(additionally they often wear rectangle panel aprons over them, frequently heavily embroidered which also has very little documented support, but darn it looks pretty!)

Either way, I saw one woman wearing it and thought if nothing else, it looked very flattering on her, so since I had some rust-coloured wool that was just a bit too small to make a full apron dress out of, I’d give the open-front apron dress a try.

I’m wearing the apron above with my brown linen underdress (it has shorter and wider sleeves than the underdresses I’ve made since), and my oval and tri-lobed brooches from Raymond’s Quiet Press in silver-plate.


I use flat patterns for my costumes normally, so used the same back pieces from my other apron dresses to make the back for this new dress too. For the front, I used the normal front -side pattern, and adjusted it so it could meet at the centre front with a brooch.


The fabric is from the Grandmother’s fabric sale this year, and is a rust-coloured wool twill. The weight is a bit heavier than suit weight, but a little lighter than coat weight, so I figured that this would be a good fabric for the over-dress. Since it’s wool, it hangs a bit nicer than I think a similar cut in linen would hang.

I trimmed the dress with remnants left over from my brown linen underdress. I thought that since the colour of this wool was pretty earthy, that although a bright blue silk would pop on the rust colour, that a more mellow, earthy trim would make for a more simple dress.  I made my straps of this same brown linen, as the straps from finds have always been linen, even when the dresses were wool –  perhaps because linen doesn’t stretch as much as wool does, and thus the straps would support the dress better through long-term wear and cleaning. I’ve also seen other people wear apron dresses with straps that match the underdress, and the straps seem to ‘disappear’ which makes for a unique look as well.

Additionally… since this is such a speculative garment – I also didn’t reallllly want to devote my expensive silk to something that might get infrequent wear, where as leftover scraps of linen are a lot less precious to me. (Gosh I do love silk…)


The construction on this apron wasn’t much different from my other apron-dresses, apart for the need to bind both the top edge and the front edge. (I considered just turning and hemming it, but it seemed a bit bulky and I thought it might not hang correctly.) I used the brown linen to do reverse facings to handle the raw edges, and hemmed the hem as normal. I sewed the facings down using brown silk thread, though part way through the project I ran out, and switched to a lighter brown silk thread that isn’t a perfect match.  I don’t normally use silk thread, and always forget how lovely it is – it just seems to disappear into the fabric. I really need to invest in an entire spool cabinet of silk threads.. right?


Since the fabric and colours are quite ‘rustic’ – and very different from my regular colour palate, I don’t really have any trims to coordinate. Since the colours are quite ‘natural’, it also didn’t feel quite right to do any seam embroideries yet… so I decided to leave the apron un-embellished so far. I don’t really see this changing honestly – again, not wanting to devote the resources to something that is so speculative.

Up next…

well I also made the embroidered panel, and it’s complete too – so I’ll have it in my next post!


5 comments on “Open-front apron dress

  1. Lovely! Both comfortable and elegant. How does it move when you walk?

    • Dawn says:

      It is quite comfortable! I think due to the weight of the fabric, and the trim – it hangs pretty much straight down. I suspect if it weren’t worn over another dress it might open up when I walk – but over the underdress, it really remains mostly “closed”.

  2. […] Open-front apron dress (wool) […]

  3. Ellie says:

    Thank you for your commentary on the practicality of the open front apron dress. They certainly are very flattering, but I too have been struggling with the practicality. In that environment, it does not seem like your average viking would have forgone warmth for the sake of fashion; just doesn’t make sense in frigid arcitc climates, and, we don’t see the Saami doing this today. The speculation that this is formal wear makes a LOT more sense; also makes sense as to why you might see it in graves. I’ve read some documents that propose that what we’re seeing in the burial sites wasn’t everyday -wear, but rather they dressed up in their fanciest garments just like how we bury our dead in a suit or nice dress today. So of course you’d see evidence of a nice Norse lady wearing her “sunday best” at her funeral, and, it wouldn’t need to be practical either.

    I’ve also raised an eyebrow or two about the heavily embroidered layered apron panel. No way that’s everyday clothes. I wear an apron everyday to protect my clothes as I work and yeah no. They aren’t super pretty and they have tons of stains all over them. They are simple and easy to launder because that’s their purpose. I DO embroider clothing regularly and I have NEVER embroidered a functional apron. Why would I waste my time and effort? I’d be just awful if I damaged it, so I’d have to put another apron on over top!

    my notion is that the hangernok in general would have been very simple and function more like a smock than a decorative piece, but who knows for sure. Vikings were VERY interested in their appearances, so maybe it truly is a fashion statement

    • Dawn says:

      Oddly, one of my first junior high sewing class projects was an apron (to then be used in cooking class) with embroidery on the pocket – but I’m pretty sure that was so the teacher could teach us basic embroidery rather than starting a second project for just that.. LOL My mum also did a LOT of embroidery when I was very small, and did make embroidered (hostess) aprons – But agreed… for real WORK (and not just being pretty), putting a lot of extra effort into a garment that would likely get stained and ripped and burned… makes no sense.

      All of that said… It’s interesting to see how different groups interpret things too – here the embroidered apron panel is like a “trend” – I didn’t see a lot of it when I travelled to other Viking reenactment groups abroad. So, just like filks and other things… I think it’s fine – knowing it’s likely an SCA-ism, instead of being documentable. (and I do like all the pretty bling too! LOL)

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