My first attempt at a ‘historically correct’ undergarment is the Haithabu serk. I choose to turn to the Hedeby findings for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the second major excavation site dating back to the Viking Age apart from Birka. Secondly, the Haithabu fragments show evidence that the garments weren’t just combining the classical geometrical shapes, but composed of advanced tailoring techniques, where several of the pieces have been cut into shapes that closely follow the body. Having sewn the classical panel serk before, I thought I’d might give this a go.
The linen fragments collected at Haithabu are made of a fine tabby structured weave, similar to the linen in the Viborg shirt. Although there is not enough left to make a conclusive identification of the garment, Hägg (in Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu) is prepared to say that the finding was an inner garment simply because it’s made from linen.
The Haithabu serk fragments are too scarce to provide any substantial evidence in regards to the neckline. The lack of brooches placed higher on the breast in the graves indicates that there were few keyhole slits closed by a brooch. It’s generally assumed that the serk followed the cut of the undertunic, with a round opening for the head. Since I’m not wearing anything underneath the serk, I’ve just cut an oval opening for the head.
No serk fragments from Haithabu have been identified as gores and no other archeological evidence related to serks support the idea that the Haithabu serks used gores. Thor Ewing (in Viking Clothing) speculates that gores were a European invention which was not used by the Vikings. The few over tunic remnants in wool that have been identified as gores (S29 and 55A) Ewing claims might have belonged to European clothing that had been traded in at the harbour. However, fragment S29 from Haithabu is a woolen twill gore, 43 cm long and 19 cm wide at its widest. The gore is torn at the bottom so its original length can’t be determined but its sides show traces of having been folded (ca 15 mm) and stitched to neighbouring pieces on either side. The fragment confirms that gores were used in Haithabu, regardless of their origin, thus I’ve chosen to use gores in my serk – both triangular ones in the front and back but also trapeze shaped ones in the sides.
Fragment 57 (identified to belong to an over tunic) from the harbour shows that at least the sleeves of the tunic had a fitted shape that followed the curved armholes of the garment’s body, instead of the regular rektangle or trapezium shaped sleeves.
Naturally the serk sleeves cannot be as narrow as wool kirtle or wool tunic sleeves, since linen is less stretchy than wool, but a qualified guess is that they still were more narrowly tailored than the e.g. Birka serk (which I’ve reconstructed here). My sleeve is just so narrow that I still can put my fist through it.
As with the Birka serk we have no information in regards to the length of the garment. Archaeology doesn’t present any fabric fragments other than those preserved by metal artefacts, which usually weren’t placed at the lower parts of the garments. I’ve made the serk just above ankle length.
The Hunnestad Monument in Ystad, Sweden, has an image stone (DR284) depicting the giantess Hyrrokin riding a wolf, wearing a serk that comes no lower than her knees. It’s not impossible to imagine the serks being short to function as work clothes and not get soiled at the hems, but at the same time the sub-arctic climate in Scandinavia (even though it was a few degrees warmer a thousand years ago) should suggest one would wear longer dresses than thigh length ones. One theory is that Hyrrokin was drawn with an extra short serk to highlight her indecency. Many other stone images (e.g. Bota in Garde parish, Tjängvide in Alskogs parish and Tängelgårda in Lärbro parish, all on Gotland, Sweden) from the Viking Age show both women and men wearing knee and ankle length garments. If this length is applicable to both over and under garments one might speculate. I’ve chosen to make my Haithabu serk ankle length to provide as even layers as possible between my under and over garments in order to make them resilient against the Swedish weather conditions; to isolate and keep the cool inside during warmer days and to retain the heat during colder days. I also want it to be visible beneath my smokkr.
Please feel free to use my Haithabu serk tutorial.
Inga Hägg – Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, K. Wachholtz, 1984
Inga Hägg – Die Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Gräbern von Haithabu, K. Wachholtz, 1991
Thor Ewing – Viking Clothing, The History Press, 2006