1500 Stitches: diverse arts of Margaret Wolseley

Dressing Children in Historic Garb: Tenth Century Norse

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Clothing a Modern Miniature Viking

Children's garb need not be modern, nor medieval fantasy wear, nor expensive, nor does it need to be good for only a single season. I read other people's research about 10 th century Norse clothing, then scaled their patterns to fit my 3- and 6-year-old boys. I made the garments large and added growth tucks so that my children could wear for these garments for two to three years.

Their outfits consist of the following components:

Researching the Patterns

The 10th century in Sweden is far removed from either my persona or my husband's, so I own no primary resources about Norse clothing. I found a great deal of apparently well-documented information on the Internet. The articles listed below were the most useful during clothing construction.

Viking Tunic Construction Copyright © 1993, 1997 Carolyn Priest-Dorman

Þóra's Basic Viking Hat text © 2004 Carolyn Priest-Dorman; pattern © 2001 Carolyn Priest-Dorman www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/manshat.html

Thorsberg Trousers James and Kimberly Barker

Winingas Author Unknown

Children's Clothing: Perfect for Using Up Cloth Scraps

The fabric used for this clothing is entirely scraps and leftovers. Most were the remains left after cutting an adult garments; some portions were salvaged from doomed pieces of poorly constructed garb. I purchased only one item: the wool leggings were once a pair of damaged men's dress pants, bought at a thrift store for $0.25. Some components required piecing; this was not difficult to do and is documented on even high quality garments constructed in previous centuries[1].

All the fabric is either 100% linen or 100% wool; these fabric types have been found in Norse graves[2]. I am mostly pleased with the colors, as I believe the browns, blues, and reds are within the range commonly available to Vikings[2], and the stripes and are woven in, not printed. I tried to change the black fabric of Edward's tunic to a less saturated modern black, but the bleaching I attempted did not improve the color.

Construction and Decoration

In the interest of time (I started the items in mid-January to early February, and wanted to finish them before the Tourney of Ymir in mid-February) the seams joining the fabric pieces were executed on a machine. On the linen tunics, I finished all raw edges either by turning under twice or by flat felling; because this sewing is visible on the outside of the finished garment, it was done by hand. On the first linen tunic, I was unhappy with the rolled hem at the neckline, so on the second I made a facing. Neither method yielded a result that pleased me, so in the future I plan to finish the neckline in a manor more consistent with burial finds, "enclosed by or edged with durable or decorative trimmings [2]." The wool used is felted so that this degree of finishing is neither necessary nor practical. The hems on the wool garments have been turned once, and inside seams edges have been left unfinished.

The trim and sewing threads are inaccurate for the time period, because there, too, I used up scraps. The sewing threads are primarily cotton and polycotton thread, with some silk. I believe that for a completely period construction, the garments should have been hand sewn with linen and possibly silk thread[2].

The trim on both tunics is cotton, which would most likely not have been available in 10th Century Europe. I did not buy the yarn for this project, just used up some handy scraps. I started the tablet weaving in order to do parallel work while teaching my six-year-old how to tablet weave. The pattern is the simplest of chevrons, with the turning direction reversed at random, because that was what I was teaching him. The trim on the brown tunic was tape-woven on my father's box loom by a number of beginner weavers, mostly youth, who stopped by over the course of a reenactment. The blue and silver tablet weaving made by my son is probably not cotton, but an unknown modern material.

Surviving examples of Viking era tablet weaving include silks and linens brocaded with silver and gold wire, and double-faced 3/1 broken twills worked in silk and wool[3]. Collingwood describes no surviving examples of simple threaded-in designs or cotton warps from 10th century archaeological finds. I assume that, since Norse weavers knew advanced techniques, a basic threaded in design like I used is probably an acceptable beginner style piece of weaving.

From Measurements to Patterns: Tunics

The image at right, from Carolyn Priest-Dorman, served as my tunic pattern.

Using my elder son's measurements, I drew this out on graph paper and sewed a first linen tunic. The resulting tunic fit William, so I put it onto my younger son, Edward. I shortened the hem, tucked the sleeves, and put a tuck in the center back to help the too-large garment fit him. Then I measured how much length I had "removed" in each of these locations, and added those measurements to the pattern to create a tunic large enough for William to grow into. When I finished the larger garment, it was fitted to its wearer with tucks and pleats.

The shoulders were narrowed with a pleat down the center back that tapers to nothing at the waist. The sleeves are folded and tacked down at the wrist; because I planned to do this, I did not taper the sleeve for their full length but stopped several inches short of the wrist, so that the part I was trying to fold and tack was a cylinder instead of a more difficult cone shape. As they have grown I have removed and re-tacked the hems and cuffs, and removed the pleat down the center back.

When I attempted to use the same pattern for the wool garments, with just a tiny bit more ease so that they could be over-garments, I encountered problems. The wool was too bulky to be pleated as much as I had the linen. The wool tunic I had cut for William sits unfinished in a box; perhaps he will need it by next year. I gave him the tunic meant for Edward, and cut a smaller wool tunic for the three-year-old. (This is why I had to use a dark black that I thought unsuitable for early Norse clothing - I had used up my other wool scraps on the too-large tunic.)

From Measurements to Patterns: Hats

The hat pattern was inspired by Carolyn Priest-Dorman.

The first hat that I cut was the blue wool one. I discovered that it was too small, both in that it was snug on my elder son's head, and not long enough to cover either boy adequately. Since the hat pattern was highly speculative, I felt it perfectly reasonable to salvage my first attempt by lengthening it with a contrasting band of red and giving it to the younger child.

The second hat I made with my elder son, guiding him through cutting, sewing on machine, hand finishing, and eventually in appliquéing a piece of his own tablet weaving.

From Measurements to Patterns: Trousers

The trousers were the last items I attempted, and the most challenging. At the time when all the other items were made (January-February 2008) I did not feel that my patterning skills were up to trousers, so I dressed my children in pajama bottoms and was comforted that these hardly showed. By February 2009 I was feeling bolder.

I measured my eldest son first and drafted a pattern on scrap cotton. The resulting pattern piece was so confusingly symmetrical - children are not shaped like adults, so the distinctive crotch shape on the pattern piece fell almost in the middle of the leg - that I ended up ruining the mockup when I tried to alter it because I turned it upside down without realizing. The first mock-up was close to wearable, and the second mock-up fit wonderfully, so I cut and assembled the wool.

Pleased with this product, I measured my youngest child and adjusted the patterns based on his measurements. The first cotton mockup I made fit well - better, in fact, than his brother's final pair. I cut and assembled a wool version of these trousers, though in my haste to finish them, I forgot to add the belt loops.

I am counting on two features to ensure that these trousers are worn for at least two years. First, they are cut slightly loosely throughout, and the wool naturally has some elasticity. Second, the waistbands are held up with an elastic band cut slightly long. There is a small portion of the inside of the waistband that is not sewn down. I can, in the future, expand the waistband by reaching through this hole and tacking the elastic more loosely. I know that the boys will also grow out of the bottom of the trousers, but I am counting on covering their lower legs with winingas.

I know that elastic is strikingly non-period, but since I anticipated some unfortunate accidents in the bathroom if we had to untie belts in order to lower their trousers, I decided that this was a reasonable compromise.

Improvements and Future Work

I intend to finish the seams on the wool tunics with a decorative overcast stitch.

To complete this outfit, I wanted to sew leather shoes, but lack of time (and lack of skill at leatherworking) prevented me from tackling this project.

I want to learn brocaded tablet weaving and broken 3/1 twill, which would make more historically accurate trim than what I used.


1. Burnston, Sharon Ann. Fitting and Proper:18 th Century Clothing from the Collection of the Chester County Historical Society . Scurlock Publishing Co., 1998

2. Priest-Dorman, Carolyn. "Viking Tunic Construction." Viking Resources for the Re-enactor. 1993, 1997. 4 Mar 2009 < www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/viktunic.html >.

3. Collingwood, Peter. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving . McMinnville, OR: Robin & Russ Handweavers, Inc., 2002.