"Thorsbjerg Trousers" by Lady Rosalye Langmod.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
by Lady Rosalye Langmod
The so-called Thorsbjerg Trousers take their name from the bog in the north of Germany in which they were discovered in the late 1850s. Scientists have dated their deposit in the bog to be no later than 300 AD, predating both the official SCA period by 200 years and the Viking age by 500 years Nonetheless, the Thorsbjerg trousers are favored by Viking, Germanic, and Roman re-enactors in Europe.
Although officially, Romans decried trousers as effeminate and barbaric, the most surprising artistic evidence that coincides with the physical trousers is from a wall in Bulgaria of a slave carrying footed trousers complete with a belt. It is not beyond imagination that a Roman officer stationed in northern Germany would seek a more native way to endure the harsh winters.
The Bayeux Tapestry also features illustrations of soldiers wearing skin-tight, flesh colored trousers, similar in fit to Thorsbjerg Trousers, making these trousers a favorite for early-period re-enactors from Anglo-Saxons to Franks.
Personally, I think the appeal of the Thorsbjerg Trousers is two-fold, both in what they tell us about 4th century clothing and in the ingenuity of the pattern.
At first, the Thorsbjerg Trousers utterly baffled me. I could not, for the life of me, understand why anyone in the 4th century would pattern a garment in such a way that they must sew ten pieces, plus the belt loops, together. (That's thirteen seams.) Originally, I theorized that this must be a mistake on the part of the seamstress (and there are several portions that are imperfect, which is very encouraging for a novice seamstress like myself) or that the original owner of these trousers went through a growth spurt and/or wore his seat out often. After all, the Marx Etzel Trousers and 15th century joined hosen are sewn in two and three pieces and when time is needed for other matters, it doesn't make sense to spend so much of it sewing. However, this premature theory of mine (although not unlikely) is contradicted by the Damendorf Trousers, another bog find from the same historical period as the Thorsbjerg Trousers, which have a similar pattern.
Above Left: Damendorf Trousers. 3rd-4th
Above Right: Simulated Damendorf Trousers.
Left: Simulated Thorsbjerg Trousers.
It is important to note the similarities and differences between these two trousers from two different archaeological finds.
But, before I surrender completely that my original theory of a growth-spurt or that the seamstress made a mistake in measuring, I should share that it surprised me to learn that the infamous ten-piece trousers were not the only pair found in the Thorsbjerg mose, another pair was found, albeit not nearly as well preserved.
Here is the second pair:
[The image in the center indicates the remaining fragments while each side is a representation of the original garment.]
There is one common factor between all three pairs of trousers: a separate seat. It is possibly this extra seat that has lead historians to believe that the original owners were of horse-owning status, after all, they would need a replaceable seat since it would gradually wear out while riding. However, notice that it has five less pieces than the better preserved Thorsbjerg trousers? Like I said, growth-spurt.
Wait a second? What's this?
My boyfriend's underwear follows the same pattern as the Thorsbjerg Trousers? Well, I hope Fruit of the Loom doesn't think they have a copyright on the pattern because they're in for a disappointment. Why the heck are we using fourth century Germanic technology (because, essentially, clothing is a form of technology) that the Romans deemed "barbaric" for underwear?
This question literally kept me awake during the night, especially when my first attempt at patterning went so disastrously. (I'll explain later.) Finally, approximately seven hours before I was scheduled to teach a class on these trousers at Clothiers, I had a light-bulb moment. Whether the design is intentional or by chance, this pattern sends the tension laterally over several seams, rather than putting the strain on a single seam down the crotch. Because the pieces are mostly cut on the bias with a few straight edges, this increases the flexibility of the garment, limiting the strain on the seams.
How much fabric will I need?
sewing there will always be an element of mathematics and when it comes to
sewing and math is definitely your friend when you're purchasing fabric.
In these trousers, you're going to have three to four panels: one for each leg, one for your seat and crutch, and an optional panel if you want to add feet.
The first two panels will equal the circumference of your thigh at the widest part (T=___). The third panel will measure ¼ the circumference of your hips, plus 1-2 inches. Your optional panel will be the width of your foot, plus seam allowance.
Below is a diagram to give you an idea. If your legs are longer than the width of your fabric, you'll want to add a panel for the belt/waist.
Figuring out the pattern of the Thorsbjerg Trousers is fairly easy with observation, it's working out how to measure for the garment that is the tricky part.
Thankfully, I found this wonderful website from Shelagh Lewins, "Making a Pair of Thorsbjerg Trousers - Using the original method developed by Freyja Eriksdottir"
This page gives instructions on how to measure and construct the garment and, with the exception that the page has few illustrations, it is immensely helpful. ( I have distributed a printed copy of this webpage as a handout, following the permissions as defined at the beginning of the page.)
There are some problems that you will encounter when you make your mock-up pattern.
The main problem is that cotton (or the cheap poly-blend I use to make patterns) simply does not act the same way wool does. I pulled my hair out over my original pattern, but when I transferred it to wool, I literally fell in love.
The second is, you will only have two straight edges to work with, so do not, as I did, expect the seams to lay perfectly on a flat surface. These trousers are designed to fit closely to the wearer. Even with the patterning fabric, although I had difficulty with laying the seams, I had no problem fitting it to Günther.
Be sure to cut the pieces as quadrilaterals (the dotted lines around the images in the instructions) rather than perfect squares and rectangles because this directly effects the fit, making it too bulky. Also, you want the bias edge for stretch.
Rather than sew the seat, the legs, then attach the front piece last as Shelagh instructs, I sewed the front piece, the seat, then had Günther pull them on like a skirt. I pinned the front to the seat, then pinned the legs to fit him. I did this because I still needed to work out the kinks from the original pattern, which was a little too big in the seat. (Günther lost weight between the fittings, but it is easier to take-in a garment than it is to expand it, so be generous with your measurements.)
As for materials, the original garment is thought to have been made of un-dyed white(ish) wool. The seams were unfinished (it was the 4th century, after all) and done in a running stitch with wool thread. The wool will felt as you wear the trousers, holding the seams together. Be very careful when sewing with wool, the thread likes to break and if it is a thicker, handspun variety. It is highly unlikely that they were lined, but modern skin is less accustomed to rough wool seams chafing the thighs, so you may want to consider lining them in linen, and I definitely recommend using linen instead of wool if they're going to be worn while fighting.
If you choose to make a footed pair, like the original, keep the seams open from the bottom of your calf muscle to your ankle and close them with laces. This was done in the 4th Century, presumably to allow the wearer room to pull the trousers over their ankle, and will allow you keep the tight fit.
Copyright 2014 by Kali Jackson, <ROSALIETHECELT at HOTMAIL.COM> or
<ROSALIE.EDAIN at FACEBOOK.COM>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.