Saga Viking Apron dresses

The wax figures representing the earliest settlers of Iceland in the Saga Museum

The wax figures representing the earliest settlers of Iceland in the Saga Museum

In a previous post, I showed off one of the styles of apron dresses shown on wax figures representing characters from Icelandic sagas at the Saga museum. Here I’m going to show off all of the different reproduction styles on display.

Hallveig Fróðadóttir, 874

The wax figures representing the earliest settlers of Iceland in the Saga Museum

The wax figures representing the earliest settlers of Iceland in the Saga Museum

This first display is of “Ingólfur Arnarson, who came to the country with his wife Hallveig Fróðadóttir in the year 874” –Saga Museum, and in this display they’ve portrayed the character wearing an apron dress that may be somewhat fitted through the bust and waist, with a flared skirt, and a curved shaped armhole.

Based on the reading I’ve done so far, it looks like a more fitted style like this might be is dated to the 10th Century (rather than the 9th as this display portrays) from finds in Hedeby and Birka.

Shaped arm areas on this  apron dress

Shaped arm areas on this apron dress

Melkorka Myrkjartansdottir

The next figure is wearing a drastically different apron dress – this one appears to be nothing more than two panels of fabric, folded at the top and pinned at the shoulders. The figure doesn’t appear to be wearing a belt to keep the over-garment from twisting around, falling into the fire, being blown about by wind… etc. The panel on the front is trimmed on the side edges such that the trim shows on the “wrong” side of the top part of the garment, and the “right” side of the lower part of the garment.

Mother figure wearing a folded apron dress held with "roach" shaped brooches

Mother figure wearing a folded apron dress held with “roach” shaped brooches

This style seems to be a variation of the Ancient Greek and Roman Peplos, which evolved considerably into the Viking Apron dress. However, this style does seem to have some later historical finds backing it up – from about 1000 CE. In Finland.

“Peploses were worn later in time in many northern European areas, such as in Anglo-Saxon England, and evidence that a similar garment was still being worn around the year 1,000 C.E. was found in a grave in Eura, Finland.”  – Cathy Raymond

In a document from an issue of the Compleat Acachronist (Issue #59) it is suggested that this peplos-style apron dress was used by the people in the area prior to what is known as the “Viking Age”. (Keeping in mind that the people living in the area now Finland were not “Vikings”.)

This figure’s display isn’t dated, but it comes before 1000 CE, and after 874 CE, so although it’s depicted as a more recent story than the first display, the figure is wearing an apron-dress in a style that is far, far older.

Another peplos-style apron dress: Freydis Eiriksdottir

Round brooches on her shoulder at the Saga Museum

Round brooches on her shoulder at the Saga Museum

The character above is also wearing a peplos-style apron dress. It too is two pieces of fabric, folded at the top, and pinned at the shoulder. There are no side seams but this character does have a belt on at least. This display also wasn’t dated, but would be about 1000 CE.

Another peplos-style: Thorbjorg litilvolva

The Volva at the Saga Museum

The Volva at the Saga Museum

The final figure is also undated, but also wears a  peplos-style apron-dress more aligned to a much older fashion, or fashion attributed to a different region and not Iceland. This is unadorned, apart from a contrasting band at the hem.


Like the previous post from the Saga Museum, I’m unsure if the inconsistencies between my other research and the apron-dresses displayed at the Saga museum are backed by their own historical research, if perhaps they developed their display based on Finnish models, or if perhaps they just represent inaccuracies.

With that in mind, although I enjoyed the displays, I don’t think I’m going to base any of my costuming research off their displays.

Sagamuseum – The Saga Museum
Grandagarður, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
+354 511 1517

First outing – in Viking Garb

Quick photo after the event of my Viking garb

Quick photo after the event of my Viking garb

Although I started pulling together a Viking garb kit last year in preparation of a wedding (that I was unfortunately unable to attend) I finally had the chance to wear my outfit (as it is so far) to an event in June.


June 13-15, 2014 was the Barony of Montengarde’s Dragonslayer event.  (Website, Facebook event link) which is summarized as “… it is a weekend of Archery, Heavy Combat, Rapier, Arts & Sciences, and best of all: camaraderie.”  In the distant past I attended a few SCA events, and had thought this would be similar, but it was significantly smaller. At other events there were usually several things going on at once, lots of Arts & Sciences classes/workshops, lots of merchants selling neat things, etc… but at this one it was just one area visible to non-participants doing combat, and one tent with leather goods for sale. There didn’t seem to be any classes going on, as I could see everything going on in one glance as the site was so small in comparison to what I had attended in the past.

Still, I stayed for a few hours, watched the Rapiers and Youth Combat, talked to a few people, and for  a big part – checked out everyone else’s garb!

Garb at Dragonslayer

While I was there with a mundane purse and shoes (and my not-so-period lavender & silver hair!), I did take note of some of the deviations from some of the research I’ve been doing in some of the participant’s outfits. In reading some of the SCA groups on Facebook versus some of the more strict re-enactment groups (largely from Europe) it’s clear that SCA events are a lot more flexible on ‘authenticity’. (Which is good.. I have no intention of starting to hand-sew everything I make!) Some of the deviations I saw included:

  • belt-buckles on leather belts for women’s garb (what I’ve read thus far suggests that there are very rare finds from female graves with belt buckles from the Viking Age)
  • trim on hems of apron dresses and underdresses (the reading I’ve done so far suggests that trim was used at necklines and sleeves, as well as front openings of coats, but no finds have included applied trim at the hem – if it was used or not is totally speculative.)
  • belt-hung purses (which there also isn’t evidence for in what I’ve read – though I have heard of framed purses and tiny coin purses from the Viking Age)

I also saw a few things that I think were more SCA-isms rather than undocumented costuming choices – animal tails hung from belts, buttons and pins on a scrap of fabric off the belt, and decorated flag-things off the back of belts… I’m not really sure what any of that was about!

Note, I’m not identifying these things to infer that they’re “wrong”, but rather to remind myself about the difference between what I’ve been reading online, and how they’re interpreted at events by a variety of people. (Not to mention that the idea of “authenticity” should be flexible considering the lack of real evidence!)

Quick photo in my garden of the Viking outfit - taken after the event.

Quick photo in my garden of the Viking outfit – taken after the event.

My Garb

I wore:

  • Brown linen underdress – made t-tunic style with separate sleeves, no shoulder seam, and underarm gusset.
  • Blue linen apron dress – cut, pieced, and fitted style with red silk and blue trim
  • Orange trim belt – some orange trim in geometric designs tied as a belt – I haven’t dyed the other trim for a new tied belt (with no buckle) so I just grabbed that
  • Attempt at tortoise brooches – the ones I made from belt blanks. For some really odd reason I couldn’t FIND my other brooch-options, festoon, or the dangling bits. I have no idea why since I photographed it a week ago, and there shouldn’t be any reason not to find them…
  • Accessories – I also wore a small hammer of Thor pendant (the one I wear almost every day…) and from one of my brooches I hung my stone ‘dagger’ pendant – mostly just to have a dangling bit… with my other ones unfound…

Blue Linen Apron Dress

Top of the blue apron dress with my festoon and broaches

Top of the blue apron dress with my festoon and broaches

I’m blogging a bit backwards when it comes to some of my Viking garb posts – I started off with a purple-pink apron dress (which has a few problems, mostly because of my impatience) and from there made this blue linen dress, and then the dark blue pillowcase-turned-apron dress – but I blogged about the dark blue one first, now this one, and haven’t even taken photos yet of the purple-pink dress… Still…

I started out with this dress wanting to make it quite fitted through the bust and waist, but when I put it on it was just TOO fitted – the back waist area pulled in an unattractive way to my eyes, and putting it on over top of an underdress was challenging – and again, not attractive. I ended up opening up the side seams (which I had thankfully done with wide seam allowances instead of serging them closed) and put in additional panels which gave just a little extra room at the bust and waist… and then since I was already in there, gave a bit more width to the hips and hem (although they didn’t need it).

Yes… I made it all by machine.. which I know isn’t period, but I’m going for the “look”, not historical accuracy. Plus serging linen is a lot faster and easier than hand-finishing unseen edges!

Trim on the blue apron dres

Trim on the blue apron dress

Once I had the circumference of the dress accurate – I found it actually fit really nicely. It pulls on over my head, but still falls well on me – with or without a linen underdress. (Although I don’t plan to wear it without an underdress, it’s at least nice to know that I can….)

close up of the purchased trim

close up of the purchased trim

I chose to do a reverse facing on the top edge with some very plain (not shiny) even-weave silk I had left over from another project. I ‘auditioned’ this red, a darker red, a blue and a purple silk with the dress and my selected trim, and really liked this red best.

The blue and white trim was in a grab-bag from the Grandmother’s Fabric Sale this year. It’s acrylic as far as I’m going to guess, but I thought it at least LOOKED good  – simple stitches over a blue band of cloth. It doesn’t look like tablet-weaving, but rather like an embroidered band of fabric used as trim.

After reverse-facing the top of the dress with silk, then stitching the lower edge of the facing down creating the band of red silk at the neckline, I sewed the blue and white trim down on top of the red silk. Of course, adding in the facing I also sewed in the loops for the straps – long loops in the back, short loops at the front.

I actually made my longer back loops a bit TOO long. I found that I could loop them through the front loops and secure them with a very short pin. Since my “turtle broaches” so far aren’t really broaches.. hopefully this means I can thread them on to the straps, and then secure the straps with safety pins… creating the right look, even if the function isn’t accurate.  I also found that I could cross the straps in the back, and then could use a longer pin to attach the front and back loops… once I get proper pins that is!

Blue linen Apron Dress

Blue linen Apron Dress

After finishing the top of the dress, I hung it overnight, checked the side seams to ensure any slight bias hadn’t stretched and made the hem uneven, then serged and hemmed the dress.

The linen is a hand-dyed lightweight linen (I bought it undyed from Fabricland, not Fabric-store, so I don’t know the actual weight… but I’m guessing it’s probably equivalent to 3.5 oz lightweight linen) I can’t even remember the original colour – I think it was a light blue and then I overdyed it with blue and black dye to get the grey-blue colour I’m much happier with.

In the future I might still add some embellishment (hand stitching) to the seams or hem… I’m not 100% sure on that yet, and I figure it might be better to wait until I have more research on that before I invest the time. I also really like the apron dress the way it is – and if I were to embellish it further I might like it less… so… we’ll see.

I’ve shown it here with my festoon (which has some problems.. but I’m happy with it for the time being until I can correct them) and a tied belt – which actually is a very long belt with a buckle on the end – I’ll end up swapping that out for something different when worn.

What do you think?

If you do Viking reenactment – what do you think of my Apron Dress (aka Smokkr, Hangerock) ? What other suggestions would you have for future improvements? Let me know in the comment section below!

Apron dress – a reasonable attempt

Brown linen under tunic, blue cotton apron dress with festoons & 'turtle' broaches

Brown linen under tunic, blue cotton apron dress with festoons & ‘turtle’ broaches

The other day I shared a quick, simple ‘pillowcase dress’ I had made – but I had an ulterior motive in making it (other than it’s just super quick, simple, cute, and really low-waste). I wanted to see how it would work as an attempt at an early-period Viking ‘Apron Dress’.

I had the ‘pillowcase dress’ in the back of my mind, but then when I was looking at early-period (tube-style) Viking Apron Dresses, combined with the “reasonable attempt” bog dress from A Wandering Elf, (An option she suggests would be reasonable for Celtic or Norse, although not documented, but still easy to make, and light and cool to wear for summer or hot-weather SCA/ Faire events) and the super-pleated, full apron dresses inspired by the documented find from Köstrupkjolen. (Links are in Norwegian.) I thought this might be another “reasonable attempt” and fit a “view from a distance” standard. (And something I would wear for the mundane world, but definitely not documentable.)

The finished "Pillowcase dress"

The finished “Pillowcase dress” without adornment

Now, my version deviates in a number of ways… none of the inspirations involve gathering – they all involve pleating. Their pleats are held in place with banding or stitching, and then straps (or pins/broaches) are attached for the shoulder straps. My version uses a drawstring which I don’t think is at all period whatsoever. Still – from a distance, and once all of the other costume elements are added… I think it LOOKS good. Ren Faire or dress-up party good that is 🙂
Once I got the pattern dimensions correct though (figuring out how long to make the shoulder straps in relation to the arm holes, for instance, and how wide I wanted the band at the top – this could easily be re-done  with pleating and pinned straps instead of a drawstring, with nearly the same (from a distance) effect. (Although up-close it would look significantly different pleated vs. gathered.)

Since it’s a very, very low-waste pattern as well, I think it fits that goal, and although I made my first version in cotton, it would also go together well in linen (especially if pleated… hmmm pleated linen… ) (I also know my keys and broaches aren’t right.. but it’s a start!)

Brown linen under tunic, blue cotton apron dress with festoons, 'turtle' broaches, & 'tablet woven' belt

Brown linen under tunic, blue cotton apron dress with festoons, ‘turtle’ broaches, & ‘tablet woven’ belt

In the photo above I’ve re-used a buckled belt as a tied belt just to get the photo… for costuming I’d replace it with a similar tied belt.  The braid used for the belt is commercial bought, but I thought it was a reasonable approximation of tablet weaving, since I haven’t learned that, nor had the chance to buy any “real” tablet weaving… yet.  The festoon is from a previously written post.

What do you think?

If you’re involved with Viking recreation – what do you think of my attempt? Do you think it meets the “reasonable attempt” criteria?

I posted one of the photos on the Viking Clothing (SCA-style) group on Facebook (which I found thanks to the Wandering Elf’s blog) and most of the comments were about the accessories instead of the apron-dress. Some of the areas for improvement (other than what I already identified) included:

  • Not using the belt with a buckle – yep, that was more just to have a belt, more so than to use that one – I have plans to make another tied belt out of a similar braid.
  • The longer key chain could be shorter to be less in the way when worn – a reasonable suggestion; I’ll wear it and see if it’s ever in the way and adjust from there.
  • The white belt is for chivalry – the belt is actually a cream and brown braid – but if it looks white in a photo, then it might look white in person from a distance too – on the agenda- make sure the braid I use for the next belt is dyed! 🙂
  • The short-sleeved underdress should be fine – and for cooler weather I can wear a long-sleeved dress under it – which I have!
  • The gathering is what appeared the least authentic part of the outfit to one poster, who had recommendations for a form-fitting tube dress, a “double C” wrap dress, a wrap front dress, a split open front, and the pleated version that I was considering in my ‘inspiration’. The same poster went on to elaborate that there was only one example of a pleated apron dress, with pleating only between the broaches, and done perpendicular to the body (like cartridge pleats) rather than knife pleats.
  • Read all the comments here:

So.. I’ve got lots of options for changes – but also a few thumbs-up so far for the “reasonable attempt” for an upcoming event I am hoping to attend!

Pillowcase dress (adult version)

The finished "Pillowcase dress"

The finished “Pillowcase dress” (I probably should iron it before photographing it…)

I saw a few examples of the “pillowcase dress” (or top, nightie, etc) on Pinterest, and actually really thought it was cute for a super-casual summer dress, top, or tunic, so the other day when I was on a sewing spree, I figured I would make it up.

I wanted to see how it would work first off, so I picked some leftover fabric from another project. I’m pretty sure I picked up this blue cotton from one of the East Indian stores (Reena’s probably) for super-cheap, for some costume I made for a friend-of-a-friend when we attended an SCA event years ago. I picked it for him because it was a good colour, super light, and yep… cheap.  It’s similar to a cotton batiste (actually it probably is a cotton batiste…)

Pattern.. we don’t need no stinking pattern….

First I cut off three strips of fabric from the raw edge – these would become the straps for the dress. They were sewn end-to-end, and then into a tube, and then turned. I didn’t even finish the edges since I used the selvage on the tube ends.

Pattern drawn on folded fabric with chalk (and and then drawn on in Photoshop so you can see it better)

Pattern drawn on folded fabric with chalk (and and then drawn on in Photoshop so you can see it better)

Really I just guessed and estimated on where the lines should go. I folded the fabric in half, then half again the same direction, so I could cut the front and back in one go. I drew the lines on with chalk, but for this photo (above) I’ve drawn the lines on with Photoshop so you could see them better. From the leftover ‘scraps’ I cut not-quite-bias strips which would become the arm binding, and a straight strip on grain to bind the back neck. This resulted in very, very, very little waste at all.

Cutting a slit for the back neckline

Cutting a slit for the back neckline

Next I cut a slit in the back panel, about 6 inches down, in the center top where the neckline will be. I just did this freehand as well. This will make the ties go in the back instead of the shoulders – like in this example from the Sew Tessuti Blog (originally found on Pinterest).

Binding the back neckline

Binding the back neckline

I bound the neck slit the same way you’d bind the placket on a cuff for the most part – really super-simple and not tailored at all. This fabric sewed up so nicely – I really didn’t need pins at all for the most part. Binding was super-easy too, because this fabric presses so nicely. I basted the binding by hand, and then finished it by machine – the sheerness of the fabric meant the hand-binding went really quickly.

The finished "Pillowcase dress"

The finished “Pillowcase dress”

Next I sewed the side-seams, using an enclosed seam technique usually used for sheers (mostly because I was lazy and didn’t want to change my serger thread, but also because this fabric is semi-sheer and it does look good, plus nicely secure) followed by binding the arm holes with the nearly-bias strips I had cut from the ‘waste’ fabric. Then it was just a matter of sewing down the top edges to create the casing for the drawstring. I didn’t even have to finish this edge because it was on the selvage!  The hem is also on the selvage, and for the time being I’m leaving it unhemmed as well – we’ll see how it wears this way; I may need to add a hem just to give it some weight in the future.

The result

I’m really happy with the result; as a simple summer dress or tunic it works perfectly. It’s light and airy, and with all the gathering I didn’t find it too sheer – though let’s see how that turns out in the bright summer sun. It would also work well for a nightgown, and shorter for a simple top.

The day after finishing it, I actually started cutting out another version.. though this time in a gorgeous super-light-weight satin.

But… I also have another thought for this blue cotton version… which I’ll share in a few days…