Monday, May 18, 2009

A 9th Century Viking Caftan

As I've mentioned earlier, my daughter has recently decided that she would like to wear Viking Era clothing. In putting together her wardrobe, I decided that she should have a warm, outer layer for winter. Some quick research led me to the caftan. Carolyn Priest-Dorman (Mistress Thora Sharptooth, in the SCA) defines the woman's caftan as, "The outermost layer of garb, it's a long-sleeved long coat which was pinned together at about the solar plexus with a large brooch; it ... was heavily ornamented," A Quick and Dirty Guide to Viking Women's Garb in the 9th and 10th Centuries.


Although entire pieces of clothing were not found in the Birka, Sweden excavations, which cover the 9th and 10th Centuries, archaeologists were able to gain a lot of knowledge about several different tunic-style garments such as smocks, tunics, and coats. Several construction details that were common in most of the pieces included the front and back panels being cut in one piece (i.e. no shoulder seams) and triangular gores added to widen the skirts, (Priest-Dorman, Viking Tunic Construction. ) Ms. Priest-Dorman includes the following conjectural pattern:

I used this pattern, although I did not taper the sleeves because I was making this caftan for a child and I wanted to be able to adjust the cuffs as she grew. I did fully line the caftan with the same fabric I made it out of to add warmth and to protect the embroidery. Ms. Priest-Dorman mentions that linings were found in all of the clothing layers except for the smock (Quick and Dirty).

I chose a simple, geometric design for the embroidery on this caftan. An embroidered design based on circles was found at the Oseberg burial site:

(Ingstad, The Textiles of the Oseberg Ship.) Drawing by Tone Strenger.

My design is not a copy of any known embroidery, but I think that it would be pleasing to the Viking eye.


I chose a lovely, light-weight, dark brown, tabby-woven wool flannel to make and line the caftan. The archaeological record repeatedly finds that wool was one of the basic fibers used to make Viking Era clothing, (Priest-Dorman, Colors, Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction. ) The construction seams were sewn with a sewing machine using standard machine thread. The running stitch embellishment and the laid threads of the couching are wool yarn. I used sewing thread as the couching threads.


Although I machine-sewed the seams, I did finish the seams using running stitch. Inga Hagg found a seam treatment very much like this from the Hedeby (northern Germany) archaeological excavation (Jones, Archaeological Sewing. figure 21)

As I mentioned earlier, the caftan was often heavily ornamented. Embroidery was not the most common form of ornamentation, although there were several examples of embroidered caftans found at Birka. Embroidery was worked in wool, silk, and metal threads. Again, this is a garment for a child, so I chose wool because it is harder wearing than the other fibers. Stem, chain, herringbone, split, and couching stitches are all documentable embroidery stitches for the Viking Era (Quick and Dirty).


I cut out two copies of the pattern from the wool fabric and sewed the lining together on the sewing machine. For the outside of the caftan, I sewed a seam, then finished it by hand using running stitch before I sewed the next seam. When the shell was sewn together, I then chalked the embroidery design onto the fabric.

I laid the motif with a colored wool yarn, using matching sewing thread to couch down the threads.

When the embroidery was finished, I matched the right sides of the lining and the shell together and sewed the lining in. I trimmed the hems to match and folded the edges in together and overcast them to finish the hem. For the cuffs, I trimmed the cuffs to match, and then turned the raw edges to the inside and used a running stitch to hold the cuffs together. Lastly, I added a final line of running stitch through the coat and the lining to tack the lining down and add shape to the finished coat.


I bought the wool fabric already dyed. In the Viking Age, the color could have been achieved by either using the wool from a brown sheep or using walnut shells and possibly iron as a mordant (Priest-Dorman, Quick and Dirty). I used natural, un-dyed cream-colored wool yarn for the running-stitch embellishment.

My daughter and I had fun with the couching yarn colors. She wanted rich, warm colors, so we decided on browns, red, yellow, and orange. Instead of buying yarn in those colors, we took un-dyed yarn and dyed it in the kitchen. In the Viking Age, browns were achieved using walnut shells: a dye rich in tannic acid. Allison and I used tea, another tannin-rich material, to create the two shades of brown. The yarn that we dyed the lighter shade was kept in the dye bath (a very concentrated steeping of tea) for about five minutes. The darker shade was kept in the same dye bath for close to half-an-hour. Rich, vibrant reds were available to the Vikings by using madder as a dying material (Priest-Dorman, Colors, Dyestuffs, & Mordants). We used something a bit more accessible and child-friendly: Cherry Kool-aid. We mixed several packages of Kool-aid into a bowl of boiling water. We then put our length of yarn into the bowl and let it sit until all of the color had moved from the water to the yarn. We used lemonade for the yellow. It is known that the Viking dyers had a good, bright yellow, but so far, chemical analysis has been unable to figure out which dyestuff they used to make it. This yellow is known as "Yellow X," (Priest-Dorman, Colors, Dyestuffs, & Mordants). We used orange Kool-aid for the orange yarn. I am not entirely certain that the Vikings would have been able to achieve this particular shade of orange. They understood over-dying (dying a piece one color, and then putting it into a different dye bath to blend the colors), so perhaps they could have mixed Yellow X and madder to create a good orange (Priest-Dorman, Quick and Dirty). Nevertheless, Allison is happy with the colors on her caftan.

This piece was entered into the Open A&S competition at Gulf Wars 2009, and at TRM Loric and Diana's Coronation. It received good feedback, especially in regards to encouraging children in the Arts and Sciences.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Countess Onora's Rose Cloak

When I was made a Countess, and awarded the Rose, Duchess Mary Grace of Gatland made me the most beautiful cloak. So, when it was time for Onora to become a Rose, I wanted to do something similar for her.

Onora wears early to mid-12th Century clothing from the British Isles, so I wanted to make a very nice piece, but not have it overly flashy. We picked out a really pretty coat/cloak-weight wool in a dark gray and black herringbone. I chose a simple, A-line cloak pattern, and sewed the seams with black wool thread, using running stitch and overcast-felling.

I prepped the piece by tacking a piece of black cotton batiste on the back of where the rose would go. This added stability to the work area. After chalking out the rose design on the front of the cloak, I used sewing thread and running stitch to outline the picture. Now I didn't have to worry about the chalk lines rubbing off.

For the embroidery, I used red, green, white, and yellow wool yarn from my stash. I'm not sure of the brand or weight, but I figure that string is string, and it worked very nicely. I used a "double chain stitch" that was made up by Mistress Alyssia. This is becoming one of my favorite filling stitches. It fills densely and quickly, with very little thread on the underside of the piece, and a very pleasing braid-like texture on the top. Mistress Alyssia doesn't have any documentation on this stitch, other than we know that they used chain stitch. This is really an easy variant of that, and if she could futz around and come up with it, she figures an embroideress in the Middle Ages could too. I like this logic! I used back stitch for the outlining and detail work.

The actual rose and diamond motif is quite large. The diamond is 18 inches top to bottom, and the rose is 7 inches across.

Because the cloak itself is not lined, I did take a bit of black batiste and covered the back of the embroidery work.

I don't have any full-length pictures of the Countess Onora wearing the cloak yet, but I'm hoping to get one soon. I will certainly post it when I get one.

Embroidery Guild Largess

The Gleann Abhann Embroidery Guild frequently supplies largess for Their Majesties to give out to various dignitaries. This was a simple linen sweet bag which I embroidered using perle cotton in split-stitch.

Blue Silk Ceinture

This is one of my most favorite recent pieces. I was looking through a friend's book, searching for documentation on the Palermo Tunicella and found this picture:

Wow. It's so simple and elegant and gorgeous! I decided to make as close to a reproduction as I could. This piece actually went through several incarnations before I reached the end design:

Here are some detail pictures that are not included in my documentation for this piece, which can be found here.

So, here is this ceinture's competition lineage:
  • September, 2007: Showcased in the "Timelines of Fashion" fashion show at Gleann Abhann Arts and Sciences.

  • May, 2008: Entered into the Barony of Grey Niche's Acanthus (Art's Champion) competition. Won, with a score of 17. My documentation needed to be tweaked, and I was docked for choice of materials in some places. I replaced the gold cording that I had used to edge and tie the belt with the black and gold tablet weaving on the edges, and the black wool/silk braided cords.

  • September, 2008: Gleann Abhann A&S. Entered into Dress Accessories category. Received a 19 (perfect is a 20). Documentation received a perfect score. I only lost a point in Authenticity because I chose to use glass beads instead of real pearls, and I used cotton thread in the tablet weaving instead of silk. The way our rubric is written, I'm very happy with this score.

  • November, 2008: Autumn Melees (Bordermarch, Ansteorra) Open A&S. Populace choice with documentation displayed. Won. Yay!

A pretty picture of me wearing the ceinture, courtesy of Miranda Jordan. This shows the old, gold cording. And yes, my braids are caught in my brooch! Oops!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Greetings Gleann Abhann!

We are proud to announce Gleann Abhann's first Art Wars, which will be held at Athenaeum II on April 18th, 2009.

What is Art Wars???

Art Wars is a team A&S competition where all of the construction is done on site. The competition will begin at a stated time on Friday night and end at a specific time Saturday afternoon (what times will depend on how many teams we have, and how long we think judging will take).


Each team can have a maximum of 8 points.

3 points- Laurels participating in their field of study

2 points- Laurels outside their field of study; GOA - level A&S Awards (any kingdom) participating in their field

1 point- GOA- Level A&S outside their field, and everyone else

Points will be “locked” as soon as a team is registered.

Skill Levels:

Teams need to decide and declare what skill level they wish to participate at. Teams will only compete against other teams in their skill level. Please try to challenge yourselves!

Beginner- Note card style documentation; Allowed to leave site to get more materials if needed; no Laurels or GOA -A&S awards allowed on beginner teams.

Intermediate- Good documentation expected; Allowed to leave site to get more materials

Expert- Thorough documentation expected; NOT allowed to leave site to get more materials.


Again, teams will only be competing against other teams in their category.




Textile Arts (NOT clothing)

Calligraphy/ Illumination


Armor work (all mediums)

Open Miscellaneous (pretty much anything else)


Your team is required to supply any and everything you need for your project. Electricity will be available, but you should assume you need power-strips and extension cords. You'll probably need your own tables and chairs, too.

Certain, larger materials will be allowed minimal cuts to ease transportation, but most materials should be in their most basic forms.

Patterns, designs, etc... may be created before you get onsite, but may not be drawn onto your materials.


Research should be done in advance and documentation may be prepared in advance. The expectations for documentation rise with skill level. Documentation should be presented in a well-organized manner. It can be written or delivered verbally, but sources are expected in the higher level categories.


Judging will use the Kingdom Standards for the categories. These can be found on the kingdom webpage, under Officers, then Arts and Sciences. Judging will be done by qualified members of the kingdom, although judges are not allowed to judge a category and skill level that they themselves have entered.

The team in each category and skill level with the most points wins! In case of a tie, I'm sure we will have some sort of Royal decision.


If you are interested in donating prizes for any of the categories/skill levels, or for any special challenge, please contact me. Please remember that this is a team contest, and prizes should be sharable.

Team Sign Up:

To register your team, please send the following information to Countess Kenna at SperryW at Yahoo dot com:

Team Captain

Team Members

Total points


Skill Level

If you have any questions, please contact Countess Kenna.