Historical Sew Monthly September – Brown Finnish Viking Age overdress

Brown wool peplos-style Finnish Iron/Viking Age

Brown wool peplos-style Finnish Iron/Viking Age

You might remember from my original idea-planning for this year’s Historical Sew Monthly, I was really wanting to do a Finnish Viking Age costume. I also REALLY didn’t know what to do for the brown challenge for September, because I really don’t care for the colour brown. I did ponder though this lovely brown and tan herringbone weave linen for the challenge (purchased last fall in Quebec City), which I had bought with the plans of a Viking-Age underdress. Plans have changed just slightly, and for the challenge I’m presenting the overdress instead, in a delightful brown herringbone weave Australian wool. (I wish you could feel this wool.. it’s smooth and soft and GORGEOUS…)

I’ve been working on this costume for a VERY LONG TIME… I was working on the coils for the apron alone back in March, and displayed my work-in-progress at Borealis’s Winter War. The outfit itself has a lot of elements in it, and I was really challenging myself by trying to do as much of the outfit by hand as possible. (Not an impossible feat, as many of the elements are straight edges, taking more time and patience than actual hand-sewing skill.)

The outfit

While I don’t have every piece completed yet for both the outfit and it’s accessories, the final outfit will include:

Underdress in herringbone linen – in period this would have been ‘underwear’ however I’ll be wearing it as the dress, since I tend to overheat. Over this would have been a wool dress in a similar cut. I’m skipping the wool dress for comfort.

Overdress in herringbone wool – this is a ‘peplos’ cut garment, simple rectangles pinned at the shoulders and belted at the waist. Some of the examples of this are moderately decorated with stitching (not embroidery) but mine is quite simple, in keeping with most of the historical examples.

Apron – these were the show-stoppers, with amazing bronze coil work. This might be one of the smallest garments, but ultimately was the most time consuming because of this bronze coil work.

Necklace – I made this necklace for an A&S challenge back in April, but only received the coins I had ordered in June to finish it off. Read more about the A&S entry here.

Brooches – I have two sets of appropriate brooches, one are silver-plated bronze from Raymond’s Quiet Press, while the second pair are pewter from the Museum Shop at Victoria’s museum during their Viking exhibit from Sweden.  While the Vikings in Scandinavia favored the oval brooches to hold their apron-dresses (and the animal head brooches in Gotland) the round brooches were worn in Scandinavia as well, and were the preferred style in the Baltics. These brooches are vital to the wearing of the overdress.

Belt – While a friend has offered me the loan of her inkle/tablet weaving loom, I’ve yet to borrow it and try my hand at this, so for now the belt is a purchased length of tablet weaving. I haven’t read yet if buckles have been found in graves gendered female in Finnish graves, so I think a tied fiber belt is a reasonable option. These belts were embellished like the apron, with small bronze coils.

Knife & sheath – this is more ‘costume’ at this point, as I don’t yet have a knife to go in my sheath, and the sheath is a work-in-progress itself at this point, but is intended for this outfit.

The overdress

The fabric

I found just a small amount of this amazingly gorgeous brown herringbone weave wool at 3-star fabrics in Calgary – a shop I rarely go to, and honestly find rather difficult to shop in. It’s in a difficult (for me) to reach location, and is set up like a warehouse, which makes it very hard to browse and be inspired. They have a HUGE selection of home decorating fabrics, but a very small selection of wools and linens. A few more bolts of silk… but when I went, I was looking for wool and linen!

The shopkeeper let me know that the wool was from Australia, and while I was there I also picked out the wool for the apron (which I’ll post about separately).

The pattern

Although this is an incredibly simple pattern (two rectangles!) I actually did fuss around with this a bit before cutting into my fabric. I wondered if the rectangles were closed on the sides or open, how large to make them to get the right coverage as well as front drape, and other elements. I used a few lengths of other fabric I had in my stash to test out sizes before cutting into my fabric. I am a larger woman with a full bust and hips, so I wanted something not just accurate as I was able to accomplish, but also something practical, and just as important- flattering!

Brown wool peplos-style Finnish Iron/Viking Age

Brown wool peplos-style Finnish Iron/Viking Age


I decided to do as much hand-sewing on this project as I could, so opted to use silk thread to hand-hem all sides of the two rectangles. This wasn’t so much a skillful task, but rather just one to test my patience – I really am not a huge fan of hand-sewing, but I thought ultimately it would look better and less “quick and easy” considering how simple the pattern is.

In period, there is “evidence” (or rather the lack thereof!) to suggest that sewing would have been done with linen thread, not silk. (Although the Viking Age Norse had silk.) This is because while the protein fibers have survived to some degree, the plant fibers have rotted away. I opted to use silk thread because:

  • It disappears nicely into the fabric
  • It’s strong and long-lasting
  • I had the right colour of silk thread on hand
  • I don’t have any linen thread in the right colour
  • I haven’t yet found a local source for linen sewing thread to get any in the right colour
  • At least silk is period.. unlike polyester sewing thread!

More to come!

Brown wool peplos-style Finnish Iron/Viking Age worn with an embellished white apron

Brown wool peplos-style Finnish Iron/Viking Age worn with an embellished white apron

I’ll be blogging about other parts of this outfit separately.. so stay tuned! (Follow the tag “Finnish” or the category “Finnish” to see more)

In the photos here, I am wearing my over-dress with the blue linen underdress I made previously (I haven’t yet gotten around to constructing the linen underdress, which I’m still hoping to sew by hand) and in the photo above, with the current coil-embellished apron.

Historical Sew Monthly

The overall project has taken me many months to complete, but luckily I have gotten to this point so far in time for the September Historical Sew Monthly challenge, though I wasn’t super anxious for the challenge, as normally I don’t really care for the colour. I think this time around though, it’s a perfect match for the outfit I wanted to create!

September – Colour Challenge Brown: it’s not the most exciting colour by modern standards, but brown has been one of the most common, and popular, colours throughout history. Make something brown.

The Challenge: The garment is a Viking Age Finnish peplos-style overdress, worn with an underdress, apron, and accessories.

Fabric: Brown herringbone weave Australian wool. This is a documented weave from Viking Age Scandinavia and Baltics. The colour would have been available both through natural wool, as well as dying/overdying.

Pattern: self ‘drafted’ – it’s just rectangles, though I did fuss around a bit to find the right size to fit and flatter.

Year: Viking Age

Notions: silk thread. I would have used linen thread which would be more period – appropriate, but I haven’t found a local source yet for linen hand-sewing thread, and my very small amount of linen thread from Vancouver Island was entirely the wrong colour. Silk thread would have been available, but likely not used in this way. The brooches and belt which fasten and secure the over-dress are accessories, but might as well be considered notions as well, as they’re vital to the construction/wear of the garment as-is.

How historically accurate is it? The fabric content and colour are accurate to the place and time. The cut of the garment is based off of accepted research, though I’ve never seen first-hand examples. The sewing thread is off, as mentioned above.

Hours to complete: I really don’t know – I plugged away at hemming the fabric here and there over a number of different occasions. Maybe 6 hours? I’m not a very fast hand-sewer.

First worn: Not yet, just for photos. I’ll likely wear it to Montengarde 12th Night if I get all of the accessories done in time.

Total cost: Not sure. I’ve forgotten how much I paid for the fabric.

4 comments on “Historical Sew Monthly September – Brown Finnish Viking Age overdress

  1. Memy's Meandering says:

    I’ve been looking for construction hints on an Anglo Saxon over dress. You mentioned that you fussed a bit to get the fit right. Can you please tell me how you knew that the fit was right and what you might have tweaked from the original rectangle? While you might not love brown, the colour in combination with the blue underdress really does justice to your colouring.I’ve just found your site and am amazed at what a prolific seamstress you are! BB, Memy

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks! The futzing around is mainly around the width of the rectangles and the placement of the brooches. The overdress is draped at the front – but not across the back of the shoulders – hence the front needs more width at the neckline than the back.

      Lots of folks do their peplos dresses by pinning the fabric wide, and then pulling the dress to the front to get the drape – but if the rectangles are the same size – then it will be shorter in the back than the front.

      Since I didn’t want the shoulder “wings” to be vastly different from one another, this meant cutting the rectangle larger for the front than the back. It’s not so much knowing the fit was right.. just what I felt looked right and looked flattering.

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