Orange caftan

The final layer of my elevation outfit is an orange caftan. The garment consists of four panels and two side gores, plus simple rectangular sleeves with gussets under the arm.

Picture of me just before my elevation. Photo by Ludwig.

Picture of me just before my elevation. Photo by Ludwig.

I have seen a lot of discussion about the neckline shape of the woman’s caftan, so I will include my thoughts on the topic. I have seen two general ideas – one is that the caftan was cut with a open neckline to show off the paired brooches and swags of beads, the second is that the garment had a high neckline that could be folded back to show off the jewelry. The fragments of this garment type from Birka are very small so there is very little archeological evidence to support either idea.

Back view of the caftan. The seams are finished with running stitch in yellow silk, so you can see the general shape of the pattern pieces. Photo by Kara.

Back view of the caftan. The seams are finished with running stitch in yellow silk, so you can see the general shape of the pattern pieces. Photo by Kara.

Evidence from Birka

Much of the information available on the Birka caftan is available in Inga Hägg’s article “Viking Women’s Dress at Birka: A Reconstruction by Archeological Methods” in Cloth & Clothing in Medieval Europe. This is an older book (published in 1983) but the pictures of the extant fragments are still very useful.

Fig. 17.24 is a diagram of a round brooch with loops of silk preserved around the pin and Fig. 17.21 is a picture of an extant silk fragment the contains a small loop attached to the front opening. The fabric in Fig. 17.21 shows the design of the oval brooch impressed from the backside, which indicates that the layer was worn over the brooches. These fragments point to a silk-trimmed outer garment (typically called a caftan by archeologists) that was held together by a brooch at about the same height as the oval brooches, which was pinned through small loops of fabric attached to the garment.

Fig. 17.22b shows a silk fragment with a hemmed edges that sits partially covering an oval brooch. Since the hemmed edge sits on top of the oval brooch, this seems to support the theory of an open neckline. While it is not conclusive, it is interesting that none of these fragments show any evidence of fabric folded back at the neckline.

Cultural context

One argument I have heard against the open neckline is its impracticality in cold weather. This leads to several interesting question – particularly the strength of fashion as an influence on Viking Age clothing and our interpretations of the garment’s purpose. Viking Age women wore jewelry and decorated their clothing so I think it is safe to say that fashion (rather than just practicality) did influence clothing choices. I also feel that we as reenactors need to be very careful when interpreting the role of each garment. For example, this garment has been called a caftan or coat by archeologists, however it doesn’t necessarily follow that the garment was worn primarily for maximal warmth (for modern context, consider the differences between a blazer and a parka – the both fall into the general category of ‘coat’ but each serves a very difference purpose). Since the evidence indicates that the women’s caftan was closed by a single brooch – and therefore hung open for most of the length in front – it doesn’t seem likely that its purpose was maximizing warmth.

Hägg’s article “Mantel och kjortel i vikingatidens dräkt” (Capes and tunics in Viking Age dress), suggests that the caftan layer was worn under the cape or mantle that is generally seen in period depictions of women. This suggests that the open neckline would be covered by an additional layer when needed for warmth.

Foreign influences?

There may have been foreign influences for this garment, but these influences are not clear cut and do not provide an obvious answer to the likely shape of the neckline. There are several example of women’s front closing garments in various cultures that might have been known to people at Birka, which was a major trading center.

There several example of Frankish women’s front-closing garments. The robe of Arnegundis (6th century) appears to have been closed with a brooch at the throat. This doesn’t really help with our question since the Birka example is fastened by a brooch below the level of the paired brooches. Another Frankish example, the robe of Bathilde (7th century) has a complicated pieced layout with a folded over cowl collar. In the descriptions I have seen, this garment was not closed with a brooch at all, so again the similarities to the Birka examples are limited.

Alternately,  the Birka caftan may be evidence of Eastern influences, but this view seems primarily based on assumption that the female garment is associated with a male garment style (also from Birka) that is closed by a row of buttons and is associated with Eastern style belt fittings. Hägg includes line drawings of various Russian and Estonian coats in “Mantel och kjortel i vikingatidens dräkt” but does not specify if they are male or female garments. Again, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence about neckline style for female caftans to provide a conclusive answer.

And so . . .

In my research for my caftan I did not find a conclusive answer to the neckline question, so I went with my personal preference and decided to use an open neckline for my caftan. Maybe I will try a high neckline for the next one and compare 🙂


Blue diamond twill smokkr

The second layer of my elevation outfit (over the natural white serk that I wore for my vigil) was a smokkr in blue diamond twill wool. This smokkr is made using the five-panel pattern I developed based on fragments from Hedeby and Birka; for this dress I did not include the dart from the Hedeby fragment.
This garment is totally hand sewn (thanks to Viscountess Whilja and Mistress Caterucia for their help!). The top front is decorated with a tablet woven band, and the bottom hem is edged in contrasting silk.
The straps are made of strips of the same wool as the garment, folded twice to encase the raw edge and then sewn using whip stitch.

Hedeby serk construction

My vigil dress is great for demonstrating the cut of my Hedeby serk because the seam lines show up easily on the white fabric.

This pattern is part of my ‘fragments’ project, where I created speculative patterns based on the diagrams of Hedeby clothing fragments in Inga Hägg’s Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu.

Hedeby style serk

Full length shot of Hedeby style serk

This dress pattern has two main panels (front and back) with a round neckline and inset sleeves, and two gores on each side:

Detail of sides gores

Detail of sides gores

side gore 2

Detail of side gore

One particularly interesting aspect of the Hedeby harbor finds is the existence of several examples of 10th century pieced sleeves.

left sleeve flat

Back view of the left sleeve, showing three-piece construction.

Right sleeve, showing fit and location of seam

Right sleeve, showing fit and location of seam


My first Florentine outfit

I made this outfit back in the spring of 2011, but I lost weight after the bodice was patterned so it never really fit.I just recently re-worked the gamurra so I can wear it again.


Women’s public dress in late 15th century Florence consisted of three primary layers. The first layer was a camicia, or underdress, of fine white linen, cotton, or silk; over the camicia was worn a gown (gamurra) which was cut with a fitted bodice and full skirt; the third layer was a decorative overgown, of which several types were common (Frick 162-163). I chose to make the sleeveless, tabard-like giornea.

This ensemble consists of a camicia, gamurra and giornea.  This style of outfit is depicted in many Florentine fresco images of young, marriageable – or recently married – women (224).

I used the camicia pattern from Thompson (Chemise). The camicia is white linen lawn. I chose to use larger gussets than the pattern (9” square) as my bust measurement is larger than the sample. I gathered the neckline and cuff and then attached a band of the same linen.

I chose burgundy tropical weight wool for the gamurra.  According to Frick, gamurra for everyday wear were constructed of cotton, linen or thin wool, while dressier gamurra were constructed of silk or fine wool (162). I chose this particular fabric because is an appropriate fiber for this garment and because it contrasts nicely with the brocade I chose for the giornea.

The bodice of the gamurra was patterned by Mistress Caterucia Bice da Ghiacceto. The bodice is lined in white linen and interlined with canvas supported with Rigilene.


While the use of Rigilene is a modern method of support, it was recommended because it is fast and easy to work with (Morin). Lacing rings are seen on some illustrations of this style, including Ghirlandaio’s painting Portrait of a Woman. I decided to use lacing rings to add a decorative element to this very simple dress.


The sleeve pattern was created by drawing the openings on to a basic sleeve block – my fiance was kind enough to assist me with drawing in the sleeve openings. It took several adjustments before we achieved the look seen in the painting. The lining was attached to the fashion fabric using whip stitch.

The skirt consists of two 60” panels which were knife pleated into the bodice. This is less full than recommended (Morin), however I underestimated how much fabric was required to construct this type of dress.

I chose the brocade fabric for the giornea because I liked the color and motif, and it fit my price range. Unfortunately the fabric is a synthetic, however I decided this was a reasonable compromise for this project.

The giornea style is based on detail from Ghirlandaio’s Visitation. To create the giornea pattern, I draped muslin over my dress form and sketched out the neck and arm holes. The giornea is bag lined with white dupioni silk, and the neckline is finished by hand using whip stitch.



Frick, Carole Collier. Dressing Renaissance Florence. Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, 2002.

Morin, Kerri (Mistress Caterucia Bice da Ghiacceto). Personal communication.

Thompson, Jennifer.” How to Make an Easy Italian Chemise”.

Mammen-style tree of life bag

My latest project is this embroidered shoulder bag, which will be raffled to benefit to Regalia Fund at Caid Coronation tomorrow.

ImageThe embroidery is based on the ‘tree of life’ design from the Mammen cloak. The embroidery is all done in stem stitch, which is consistent with the original piece. An interesting tid-bit about the Mammen find is that the fill work is done in a darker color than the outline (ie the opposite of most modern embroidery patterns.


Viking Age Embroidered Serk

This embroidered Viking Age gown (serk) was made for Queen Cassandra of Caid for her stepping-down coronation. The cut of the serk is based on 10th century finds from Hedeby, Denmark.

ImageCassandra neckline detail June2012Cassandra back neckline June2012


There are very few examples of Viking Age embroidered motifs; two of the best are from the excavations at Oseberg and Mammen. The fragments from Oseberg are dated to the mid 9th century and include several examples of silk embroidery which were worked using stem stitch, satin stitch, surface couching and split stitch (Christensen 399). The embroidered cloak from Mammen is dated to the late 10th century and was worked in wool using stem stitch (Priest-Dorman 1997). Neither of these examples of period embroidery use stitches other than those listed.

The Dress:

Several fragments from Hedeby provide evidence for a close fitting garment with side gores and inset sleeves. Hägg believes that these fragments came from men’s tunics (Hägg 43 and 50), however since they were found without the context of a grave, it is possible that they could be women’s garments. As in Glæsel (page 64), I feel that these fragments point to a garment constructed similarly to several medieval gowns from Herjolfsnæs, Greenland. The various Herjolfsnaes gowns were constructed with gores at the center front and back, plus multiple side panels (between four and eight) to add fullness (Ostergaard 127 – 129). The Hedeby fragment has only two side panels so it would be much narrower in the skirt than the gowns from Herjolfsnæs.

The fabric used for this garment is blue linen. Blue dyed linen was used for clothing during the Viking Age, as evidenced by a smokkr fragment of blue dyed linen decorated with red string from Birka grave 563 (Thunem). Based on the Regia dye equivalency, the color used is obtainable using woad.

I draped the pattern based on the fragments from Hedeby, resulting in a two-panel gown with inset sleeves and side gores that flare from 2” just under the arm to 10”at the hem. I decided not to include the gores at center front or back as I wanted a dress with simple lines that would lay smoothly under the smokkr, or apron-dress. I drafted a standard inset sleeve based on the recipient’s measurements, with the seam under the arm. The dress has a slight train based on Viking Age depictions of women, including the Oseberg tapestry and various ‘Valkyrie’ figurines.

The Embroidery:

The motifs used for the cuff embroidery are based on a 10th century cup from at Jelling, Denmark (Roesdahl 179), and the neckline embroidery is based on an 11th century silver bowl from Gotland, Sweden (Davis 34). I chose to use designs from Viking Age metal artifacts because there are so few extant examples of Viking Age embroidery.

I chose the materials and techniques based on the silk embroideries from Oseberg, which were worked in multicolored silk using stem stitch, satin stitch, split stitch and surface couching (Christensen 399).

The embroidery was done with Soie d’Alger silk embroidery thread; the colors were chosen to coordinate with the selected fabrics. Based on the Regia dye equivalency, the colors used would be obtainable using Viking Age dyes, including woad, madder, weld, walnut shell, and kermes. Both the neckline and cuff embroideries were done using stem stich, satin stitch, split stitch and surface couching.

The neckline embroidery was worked directly on the garment (as in the Mammen find), while the silk cuffs were embroidered separately and then attached to the serk. The cuffs were backed with linen to provide a secure base for the embroidery.


Christensen, Arne Emil. Osebergfunnet Bind IV Tekstilene. Forfatterne, 2006.

Davis, Courtney. Celtic and Old Norse Designs. Dover Publications Inc, 2000.

“Dye Equivalent Colours.“ Regia Anglorum

Glæsel, Nille. Viking Clothing. Alf Jacobsens Boktrykkeri, 2010.

Hägg, Inga. “Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu.” Berichte über die AUSGRABUNGEN IN HAITHABU, 1984. Translated in part using Google Translate

Ostergaard, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textile finds in Norse Greenland. Aarhus University Press, 2004.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. “Viking Embroidery Stitches and Motifs,” 1997

Roesdahl Else and David M Wilson, ed. From Viking to Crusader. Rizzoli International Publications; New York, NY. 1992.

Thunem, Hilde. ”Viking Women: Aprondress.” 2011.

Pelican Cloak

Pelican July2011

I made this Pelican cloak for my dear friend Dame Ismay back in 2011. This is an SCA interpretation of a cloak appropriate toPelican cloak July2011 a Scandinavian woman from the 9th to 10th century.

The design for the cloak was chosen based on images of women from the Oseberg tapestry and a ‘Valkyrie’ figurine found at Grödinge, Sweden. These images show women wearing cloaks that hang lower on the side than in back, and come to a point on the side. After experimentation, I determined that a rectangular cloak comes closest to mimicking the shape seen in these period images.

I used several embroidery stitches in this project. The outlines in the Pelican patch were done in a combination of split stitch and stem stitch, and the fill work was done using stem stitch. Both of these stitches are used in extant Viking Age embroidery – both were used in the Oseberg embroidery fragments, and stem stitch was used in the Mammen cloak.

I felt that some additional decoration was needed to tie together the piece, so I added a border using the same colors of embroidery wool using stem stitch. The spiral design is based on various Celtic crosses.