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cl-Danish-11C-art - 9/11/09


"A Reconstructed 11th Century Danish Costume" by Master Giles de Laval. This is a two part article. Both parts are in this file.


NOTE: See also the files: clothing-books-msg, p-shoes-msg, underwear-msg, Norse-msg, Low-Countries-msg, fd-Norse-msg.





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:



Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


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.


                               Thank you,

                                    Mark S. Harris

                                    AKA:  Stefan li Rous

                                         stefan at florilegium.org



A Reconstructed 11th Century Danish Costume (Part 1)

by Master Giles de Laval





This research project had two primary aims:


1. To reconstruct, as authentically as possible, an outfit such as might have been worn by a middle-class (free) farmsteader or urban dweller from early 11th century Denmark, based largely on archeological evidence. This location and social class were chosen based on the archaeologoical evidence available from the various finds in Denmark, and would give a more realistic impression of the dress of Western Scandinavia and the Danelaw, without the Oriental influences found in much of the Birka grave goods.    


2. To examine archeological evidence and academic theory in a practical context, by making, living and working in the garments in a variety of conditions.


General reconstruction notes


The costume was based almost entirely on archaeological finds from Denmark, with some elements and corroborating evidence from urban centres in Sweden (Birka) and Danish England (Jorvik). Wool and linen fabrics were selected to match the archaeological finds as closely as possible, in documentable colours derived from available dyestuffs. Metal items such as the pendant and garter hooks were made by cire perdue casting (from wax models). With the exception of the shirt, seams were generally sewn by machine in the interests of not going mad. All garments were finished by hand.


Shirt (Skyrta, Skjorte)


During the excavations carried out in 1984/85 of the town of Viborg S¿nders¿, Denmark, a lump of cloth was found in a post hole, dated to the early 11th century. Careful conservation revealed that this was a linen shirt, largely intact due to favourable (anaerobic) conditions in the soil; to date, this garment remains the only shirt from the Viking period found in Scandinavia or Europe in such good condition. The shirt was woven of a single ply Z-spun linen thread in a tabby weave. The shirt was not originally dyed, but has been stained grey-black by long immersion in charcoal and tannin-rich soil. The shirt displays several unusual features, including a quilted half-lining, a variety of complex seams and a double-layered neck opening, most likely inspired by Byzantine and Persian clothing.  


Reconstruction: A tabby weave 50% wool, 50% linen blend dyed to a pale green shade simulating available plant dyes was used in the reconstruction. This choice proved to be a mixed blessing; although an authentic and luxurious fabric, it's tendency to crush if looked at wrong made it somewhat frustrating to work with. Due to the complex nature of the seams, the shirt must be sewn entirely by hand; machine sewing cannot reconstruct the types or behaviour of the original seams. The extant garment featured decorative quilting stitches fixing the outer to the lining and forming a pattern of a square and four diagonal lines on the front and back body; in my reconstruction I decided to omit this quilting in the interests of economy and aesthetics. The unusual and complex seam construction is at first daunting, but is not difficult, and saves a great deal of time and effort by enclosing all raw edges and eliminating bulky seams with minimal effort and a surprising elegance of construction. The original length of the sleeves is unknown; here they are reconstructed to wrist-length.




Full breeches gathered at the knee were a widespread fashion in Scandinavia and Russia, being documented by the Arab traveller  ibn Rustah c950: "...full trousers of one hundred ells of fabric a pair, and when they put them on, they roll them up to the knees and fasten them there." Fragments of a pair such trousers were recovered from Hedeby harbour, and date to the 10th century. The remains consist of a wedge-shaped front panel of woolen 'rep' fabric, and parts of the seat and legs, which were made of double layers of crepe-weight wool tabby.  The front panels of the trousers were dyed red, the seat panel yellow-green.


Reconstruction: The reconstructed pattern given in Hagg is largely conjectural, and based on the seam placement of the few surviving fragments, which establishes the width and approximate shape of the front panel, and the seam placement joining the legs to the gusset panels. It was the similarity of these seams to the 7th century Thorsbjerg trousers which enabled the Hedeby fragments to be identified as trousers. In this instance linen dyed to a suitable colour  was used for economy and to allow for summer wear; an example of linen trousers also survives from Birka excavations. It is likely the contrasting wool seat panel was a substitution due to insufficient matching fabric at the time the trousers were made. The arrangement of the seams at the rear is similar to the Thorsbjerg trousers, the off-centre placement decreasing stress on the seams and allowing for more durable wear. I have chosen to include this feature in this reconstruction in order to more closely emulate the original garment, and to display this practical aspect of construction; a lightweight green wool was used. The trousers are very full and may be cut down at a later date.




Knife and scabbard: An example of a domestic utility knife, of a type common throughout the 8th-11th centuries. The sheath is of tooled vegetable tanned leather set with a binding strip of copper, worked with a decorative leaf design. (Knife and scabbard fabricated by Amanda Baker.)


Purse: Based on a 10th century example from Birka grave Bj731. The bag is of wool 'rep' weave, the lid is of two leather layers with an edge binding of leather. Of the two straps, one is functional (engaging a buckle), the other decorative, with cast bronze animal head mounts. The bag was decorated with silk appliquŽ and a silver 'passement' (woven wire band).


Reconstruction: Herringbone woven wool was substituted for the bag for the sake of economy. The lid was made from two layers of soft blue-dyed leather. The two straps are stitched to the bottom layer, and fed through slits in the top layer of the lid, which both conceals and protects the stitching. Cast bronze animal head mounts from Fr¿jel were fixed to the decorative strap of the purse. Although the original purse features a tooled leather edge binding on the lid, I have chosen instead to trim the edge of the lid with a passement woven of fine bronze wire. I also decided to omit the silk appliquŽ decoration, although this may be added at a later date.


Jewellery: The ring is of the "braided wire" type found in both treasure hoards and grave finds from Ireland to the Baltic countries, usually in silver or gold and sized to fit men and women. The cross is a cast bronze replica of a 10th century example unearthed at Birka. Elaborate glass beads are more common to female jewellery, although several men's graves have been found to contain between two and five beads on a cord, often strung on either side of an amulet such as a Thor's hammer- the cross was chosen instead to reflect the widespread adoption of Christianity in Scandinavia during the 10th and early 11th centuries. The cross and beads are strung on a blue-dyed spun wool cord. (Cross pendant fabricated by Raymond Mosely.)


Tunic (Kyrtill, Kjortyl)


Based on surviving portions of a garment made of 4-shafted woolen twill from R¿nbjerg Mose, Denmark, a bog find excavated in 1891 (Originally thought to date to c1200, although carbon-14 dating carried out by the Museum of Denmark in 1998 has placed the date around 1280). Although this garment dates to the late 13th century, it is almost identical in cut and construction to numerous 10th century finds from Hedeby harbour. These garments commonly feature two-piece body construction with fitted shoulder seams, fitted sleeves and rounded armholes, and multiple side and front gores; a surprising degree of tailoring sophistication for the time.


Reconstruction: A medium weight woolen twill was chosen in a suitable shade. Blue dyes have been extracted from many Danish and Anglo-Scandinavian textile samples, presumably from woad, although indigo was also known from imported silks. Contemporary iconic evidence shows that Scandinavian overgarments were worn from mid-thigh to knee length, although other extant garments from Denmark (eg Moseland tunic, c1050) indicate that longer garments were also known. In this instance I have been guided by the length of the R¿nbjerg Mose tunic, 120cm in length. There is no archeological evidence for a button or tie closure at the throat; it is possible that the tunic was pinned by a brooch, or left unfastened. Practical wear has shown that a fastening is not required. The garment has been left unadorned to reflect both the extant garment and the socio-economic class of the reconstructed outfit, although tablet woven braid, silk samite or brocade strips and embroidery are all appropriate as decoration, and may be added at a later date.


Leg-bindings (Wickelbander)


Examples of woolen bands, usually woven to a narrow loom-width 7-10cm wide, are known from several urban sites, including Hedeby and York. These are identified as leg bindings, a fashion widely represented in early medieval art. Most of the finds are of herringbone twill, woven as whole cloth, and have selvedges on both sides. Hooked metal tags, or "garter hooks", are commonly found in England and Scandinavia; particularly elaborate cast examples are known from Sweden and Russia. It is thought these functioned to fasten the leg bindings.


Reconstruction: A herringbone woolen twill was chosen to emulate the most common weave of the leg-bindings. As cloth with such a narrow loom width was not available, the 3m bands had to be made by joining strips end to end with reversible seams, as in the 7th century bog burial from Bernuthsfeld. The strips were finished with buttonhole stitching. Although only a few samples of these textiles have been analysed for dyes, lichen purples and blues presumably from woad seem to be common, with examples from Hedeby being coloured  red or yellow. In some examples different coloured warp and weft were used to accentuate the weave pattern: in this case the chosen fabric simulates this technique with undyed yarn and a pale green derived from any number of locally available plant sources. The bronze hooks were based on a single find from the C9-10th settlement known as 'Ryurik Gorodische' near Novgorod, Russia. This hook was almost identical to the pair from Birka grave Bj905 mentioned above. Hooks fabricated by Peter Beatson (Birka Traders Ltd).




Based on examples excavated from 5-7 Coppergate, Jorvik (York), dating to the 9th and 10th centuries.


Reconstruction: Vegetable tanned cattle hide was used, the shoe being constructed with the turn shoe technique, common to extant examples from all over the Northern world. All seams were blind-stitched by hand with waxed linen thread, including tunnel stitched sole. (Shoes fabricated by Peter Beatson (Birka Traders Ltd)).



A Reconstructed 11th Century Danish Costume (Part 2) -

Observations & Speculations

by Master Giles de Laval


Living and working in these garments presented several challenges and problems, providing me with valuable practical insights.




The reconstructed Viborg shirt was unfortunately not completed in time for the Rowany Festival, due to time constraints (a St Louis/Lewis style shirt was substituted for entry of the outfit into the Laurel's Prize Tourney). The incomplete shirt wore well at home, although I cut the sleeves slightly too tight for comfort. This can be fixed by inserting a larger underarm gusset. In my next attempt at this shirt I also intend to use a less easily crushed fabric.




The trousers proved quite challenging, working off the deceptively simple (conjectural) pattern given in Hagg. The arrangement of the crotch and seat panels took care, and required hand finishing before the leg panels were attached. After initially cutting the leg panels too short, I tried again cutting them to mid-calf length. This worked better, but alas looked like hobbit pants. To counter this, and achieve the volume described by ibn Rustah, I cut the leg panels using the entire width of the linen (120cm). While this looked very good, it had a serious drawback that the weight of the garment kept pulling it off my hips, and pulling the legs out of the leg-bindings. I suspect that the original wool crepe of the trousers was lighter than my reconstruction, and fastened more securely at the knees.




The tunic was very successful. Although too warm to wear during the day except for short periods, it was wonderful at night, and was warm enough on cold nights even without a cloak. With the addition of a woolen hood I was very warm indeed. The tunic fit well through the body and sleeves, and the skirt did not need to be kept out of the way at any time, even while doing chores such as fetching water and cooking.  




Knife and scabbard: worn at the front of the belt, the knife did not bounce around when walking, and proved very handy in many circumstances, from opening a carton of milk to cutting plastic tubing off a helmet.


Purse: Despite misgivings about the fragile seeming construction, the purse was highly successful. The purse was easy to open and refasten with one hand (even after a while in the tavern), and held all my goods and chattels without becoming awkward. The hanging strap meant the purse did bounce around a bit worn at the front or side of the belt, but in the course of wear it tended to migrate backward on the belt. Once I pushed it to the side and slightly behind, the purse sat firmly on my hip without bouncing or placing strain on the support strap, and was quite comfortable to wear in that position (perhaps the origin of the hip pocket?). I also received several favourable comments on the unusual and attractive styling of the pouch (especially after adding the plaques to the decorative strap), which was quite unlike many people's conceptions of early period gear.


Jewellery: The cross and strung beads were mostly ok, although I would perhaps string these on a shorter and stronger cord (probably lucet-woven) as the cord had a tendency to snag on things while working and become tangled.    




Like the trousers, these were less than successful. They had a tendency not to unwind, but to loosen and slip down the leg. I suspect the weight of the trousers (above) contributed to pushing them down below the calf. This could be corrected by making the bindings longer, so there is enough to wind and fasten immediately below the knee, so that the bindings grip the calf muscle and do not slip below it. This would seem to be borne out by the placement of the hooks at the knee level (rather than below) in the grave finds. I also suspect that the textiles used in the wickelbander may be of a looser weave than modern fabrics; this would allow more stretch and flexibility around the leg, much like a modern crepe bandage. Winding the wrappings took a few tries to get the hang of initially, making sure the hooks ended up on the outside. The tension placed on the bands while wrapping also placed a great deal of stress on the threads attaching the hooks to the bands. I imagine this problem would be reduced by using longer and more-loosely woven leg-bands.




As the conditions at Festival were extremely nasty and muddy, I decided not to risk the shoes (which represented a substantial investment of labour and money). However from previous experience running a feast wearing said shoes, I have no doubt they would have performed admirably.




The public reception was less than might have been hoped, as the intent of the project was perhaps not immediately apparent. Also, the plain and functional appearance of the garments did not compare well to the overseas visitors', which was laden with lots of beads and embroidery; flashy, but not necessarily accurate. However, as a whole, the project was successful in that the garments worked (more or less) as they should have, and provided valuable lessons where they didn't.


Major References


Beatson, Peter, "An Eleventh Century Shirt from Denmark" Varangian Voice 34, 1995.


Beatson, Peter, "Rus Trousers", "Leg Bindings" & "Costume Accessories". Articles on-line at http://users.bigpond.net.au/quarfwa/miklagard/Costume/Rus/Trader/Rus Male Costume.htm, updated 2001, accessed 25/2/2002.


Burnham, Dorothy, Cut My Cote, Royal Ontario Museum Toronto 1977.


Carlson, I Marc, "Some Clothing of the Middle Ages-Ronbjerg Mose Tunic". Article on-line at http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/ronbjerg.html, updated February 2002, accessed 21/3/2002.


Fentz, Mytte (trans Maggie Mulvaney), "An 11th Century Shirt from Viborg S¿nders¿, Denmark", Archaeological Textiles in Northern Europe, Ed: Lise Bender


J¿rgensen and Elisabeth Munksgaard. Tindens Tand 1992. Article on-line at http://webnz.com/forest/Medieval/articles/Viborg/VIBORG.HTM, accessed 4/7/2001.


Geijer, Agnes, "The Textile Finds From Birka" Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe, NB Hart & KG Ponting, ed, Heinemann London 1983.


Graham-Campbell, James, The Viking World, Windward Frances Lincoln London 1989.


Hagg, Inga, Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, Karl Wachholz Verlag Neumunster 1984.


Hagg, Inga, "Die Tracht" Systemaische Analysen der Graberfunde, Greta Arwidsson, Birka: Untersuchungen und Studien II:2, Almquist & Wiksell Stockholm 1986.


Hald, Margarethe, Ancient Danish Textile From Bogs and Burials, National Museum of Denmark Copenhagen 1980.


Margeson, Susan, Viking, Harper Collins Sydney 1994.

Owen-Crocker, Gale R, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Manchester University Press 1986.


Priest-Dorman, Carolyn, "Colors, Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction". Article on-line at http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/vikdyes.html, updated 1999, accessed 3/5/2002.


Priest-Dorman, Carolyn, "An Archeological Guide to Viking Men's Clothing". Article on-line at http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/mensgarb.html, updated 1993, accessed 27/5/1999.


Priest-Dorman, Carolyn "Viking Tunic Construction". Article on-line at http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/viktunic.html, updated 1997, accessed 27/5/1999.


Roesdahl, Else, The Vikings, Guild Publishing 1991.


Walton, Penelope, "Dyes of the Viking Age: A Summary of Recent Work." Dyes in History and Archaeology 1988.


Ward, Christie L, "Viking Beads and Necklaces". Article on-line at http://www.vikinganswerlady.org/vikbeads.htm, accessed 24/4/2001.


Wilson, David ed, The Northern World, Harry N Abrams New York 1980.


Copyright 2001 by Mark Calderwood. <giles at sca.org.au>. While permission for republication is usually granted, permission to republish this article, in part or in full, requires the explicit permission of the author.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate 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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org