Hi everyone… so this post will be the first in a series detailing my progress as I undertake the journey of creating a (slightly) stylised version of the commonly accepted viking apron dress. While there’s some disagreement as to the exact style of the apron dress (given that archaeological finds aren’t exactly able to provide us with complete samples of the dresses), the general consensus is that the whole outfit consists of a long chemise underneath (usually linen) and a dress over the top with wide straps, a simple shape and flowing skirt. To this is added the traditional ‘tortoise’ brooches and one or more strands of decorative beads (glass, metal, stones, talismans etc). The more strands and the more decorative the strands supported by the beads, the wealthier you were in the Viking Age.
– header image getting inspiration from google – The Viking Queen (in blue), a Pinterest post (in red) and the Ingrid the Hearthkeeper costume from ArmStreet (in green) –
So that brings us to the first part of the outfit design process: the pattern! Now, there’s a wealth of patterns available online for the viking apron dress. They range from the (supposedly) ultra-simple two panel, two gore dresses; all the way up to 6 (which I think is a bit excessive). I’m going for the semi-simple 3 panel, 3 gore skirt. I have a friend who insists that 4 panels are the best – but I like the elegance of an uninterrupted bodice so 3 works for me!
Once you decide on the pattern you’re going for, you need to take your measurements as accurately as possible. I followed the instructions in this diagram for help working out exactly what measurements I needed to take (spoiler: you’ll need the fullest part of your bust, your waist, and the length between your underarm to the curve of your waist), and then worked out how long (from bust to the hem of the dress) I wanted it to be.
These measurements combined will help you determine how large the piece of fabric is that you’ll need to buy (3x bottom hem + height of the dress). For peace of mind, I purchased fabric 2.5m long x 150cm high, to account for a fudge factor in the sewing/cutting process and for accessories/spare bits. With this pattern, I should only need 1m in length – but this way, I can make two dresses if I want.
The materials you’ll need
- A sewing machine is going to be the first (and most important) part of making any machine-sewn outfit – so if you don’t have one yet, you should probably get one. You can certainly sew the outfit entirely by hand – it’s just going to take longer. The other materials and general process you’ll need to follow are basically the same.
- Good scissors. Buy a pair of scissors specifically for sewing. There is nothing worse than having a pair of scissors that aren’t super sharp and end up tugging on threads and messing up your pattern. I bought a pair of inexpensive dressmaking scissors from Spotlight for about $12.
- Flexible measuring tape. I like having plenty of tape to measure with, so I got a 3m quilters measuring tape with inches on one side and centimeters on the other.
- Tailor’s chalk. This will help you sketch out your pattern directly onto the fabric you’re going to use – you write on the reverse side of the fabric and you can remove all the markings with a damp cloth without issue.
- Thread. This can be a controversial issue with some people advocating for super cheap thread and some advocating for really expensive… I find (and have been advised) that Gutermann threads are the most usable – and for this project, I’m using the polyester thread. Make sure the thread is as close a match to the fabric you’re using as possible.
- Metal bobbins. These are for your sewing machine and provide a vital 1/2 of the stitching.
- Trim. This is optional, but I’ve decided to use some decorative trim for my apron dress in blue and gold – this will go around the bottom hem of the dress as well as around the top of the bodice.
- Pins. These are to hold your pattern pieces together as you re-check pattern piece sizes and get ready to sew
- Fabric! The most integral part of the process – no fabric, no dress. Typically, viking apron dresses were made out of linen or wool – but this is my first time sewing without a paper pattern, and it’s going to need to be fairly hard-wearing given what I want to use the dress for, so I found the shade I was hoping for in an inexpensive woven polyester curtain material at Spotlight (you’d be amazed at how diverse and brilliant curtain and upholstery materials can be – and no-one will ever know it’s not pricey dress fabric), checked the length was what I was looking for, and bought it. The fabric has a lovely subtle weave pattern to it that I think looks pretty (and authentic) – and has a weight akin to a medium-weight wool – so perfect for the winter.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the drawing, cutting and pinning stages of the dress, so stay tuned!
DISCLAIMER: I am no sewing expert. I have sewn a few simple pieces with a sewing machine previously, but I’m still pretty new to machine sewing. I will be completely honest throughout these posts and will be providing pictures as I go – so novices and experts alike can follow along without issue. If you do find any instructions or updates a bit challenging, let me know!