Creating The Östergötland Viking Dress
I have fantastic news! The Montreal Museum of Archeology and History (Pointe-à-Callière) is hosting a Viking Exhibition, and they invited me to read my books to families during its free family day on Sunday, July 17, 2022. From 11 am - 5 pm, I'll be reading Old Mother Frost, Midsommar Sol and Who Is That in the Sky?
This is my first in-person event, and I am thrilled! Going into this big event, I only had one question: "What am I going to wear?!" Since it is a museum hosting this Viking-themed family event, I wanted to make it area-accurate but still personal to me. So I decided to create my outfit with inspiration from the new archeological finds around Östergötland (where I have traced my mom's side as far back as the 1300s). I assume my family wasn't among the rare sea-farers and raiders of the time and that ordinary people didn't migrate too far from their birthplaces before the 1300s. Between archeological records published on Academia, a blog by an archeology student (who sought to do similar), and reaching out to the Östergötlands Museum and Historiska: Swedish History Museum, I was able to piece together all the historical elements I could find.
Old Nordic Dress: Collecting Finds From Östergötland
I like to back up my projects with academic research, so I expanded my timeline and took an eclectic approach. For this project, I put together findings from Östergötland that vary from the Iron Age, Vendel Period and Viking Ages.
What I couldn't find, I modelled after the 1700s folk dress from the area (colours and layers similar to Viking Age material found in Östergötland and Sweden). The folk dress is incorporated as it seems like a logical bridge between old and new traditions.
When it comes to folk dresses, each region has its colours and patterns. The folk dress is a tradition practiced today during national celebrations and significant church events.
As for historical evidence of materials and styles, during my messages with the Historiska museum, they told me the most common items were:
White or natural linen underdress
Linen or wool dress
Leather or wool belt
Much of this information matched what I had read in the blog by archeologist Cheyenne Olander, who was part of the Aska mead hall excavation and shared her journey of recreating an outfit specific to the Vendel period based on the 650 – 950 AD discoveries at the hall.
I did want to create as much as possible myself. Fortunately, my best friend Dani Bowman is a costume designer in Halifax. She showed me how to make the clothes I needed. Although I purchased the linen underdress from Grimfrost, Dani showed me how to handcraft the red linen dress, and I took a stab at making a green wool apron, which turned out beautifully!
Old Nordic Embellishments
The embellishments are essential. I scoured Academia for excavation notes of other sites in Östergötland. I searched news archives for mentions of archeological discoveries in the area (often giving me enough keywords to find what I needed on Academia.com).
Some of the finds in the graphic below are items from a recent archeological dig in Aska, Östergötland, Sweden. The museums didn't have much information on this site as it was still 'exclusive,' and information wasn't available. With that information, I took to Academia, where I found excavation records published by archeologists on the Aska site.
I tried to stick exclusively to finds from Östergötland with some exceptions: The peplos-style dress found in the Hammerum burial site in Denmark. The only reason I use this is its similarity to the peplos-style straps of the Skedevi, Östergötland folk dress. Bringing these designs together, I am using an ancient example from Denmark and tying it in with a local 19th-century variation.
I did favour a tortoise brooch over the 8-11 AD Viking drum brooch (above) after the Historiska museum assured me they are a popular piece found in many Vendel and Viking Age excavations throughout Scandinavia. Honestly, I mostly opted for tortoise brooches because the replicas are much easier to acquire.
Below is a graph modelled after a diagram the museum sent me:
Viking Age Jewelry: Glass Beads
Glass beads are common in burials. A discovery in Berga contained 400 glass beads within 26 graves. Most beads were round blue and barrel-shaped red beads dating from the Vendel and Viking periods.
In Fröjel, most glass beads are monochrome, barrel-shaped, cylinder-shaped, and solid in colour. Colours often include red, orange and yellow.
Unfortunately, most glass workshops in the area were closed down due to the pandemic, but I did manage to acquire monotone glass beads and craft my necklace with a leather cord. The glass beads will be fastened to the tortoise brooches holding the straps to my apron.
Viking Age Shoes: The Turn-Shoe
As for shoes, I got lazy in my research, and instead of looking for studies, I Googled 'Viking Age shoes.' I learned there is a sort called 'turn-shoe' made of leather, but I don't have any academic sources to cite.
I tried purchasing three pairs this past year, and none of them made their way to me, so I attempted to make a pair from scratch! The pattern ended up being two sizes smaller than advertised. After losing motivation after the first shoe, I made an alignment error on the second.
Hopefully, my final turn-shoe order comes in on time, or I may be stuck going barefoot!
Below is my first attempt at leather turn-shoes:
The Outfit: Old Nordic Style Östergötland Dress
I don't think I can rightfully call this a Viking Age dress now that I have taken inspiration from several periods. Still, I can call my outfit a modern reconstruction based on Old Nordic discoveries of Östergötland. Now that it's all together, what do you think?
Don't forget to catch me at the Viking Exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History (Pointe-à-Callière) on Sunday, July 17, 2022, from 11 am - 5 pm!
Special thanks to:
Dani Bowman: Professional costume designer and best friend. Thank you for teaching me the basics of sewing an apron dress, crafting the accents and making it look beautiful!
Mark Meadows: One of my kindred, my tribe, my friend. Thank you for the one-on-one leather crafting workshop, the leather and the tool kit.
Geneviève Dubreuil-Royer: Of Clan de l'Estuaire, who made my custom tablet woven belt while her husband, Jonathan Guay, made my loom.
Historiska museum: For answering my many questions, providing lessons and direction, and offering graphics so I may have visual examples. (Also, thank you for hosting the permanent Viking Exhibition. I visited in 2016, and my interest has peaked ever since!)
Grimfrost: For making it easy to purchase a linen under-dress. I wish I'd gotten the shoes!