In 1980-1981 the Bishopric Musuem on the Danish island of Fyn did an excavation of the Køstrup grave site outside the city of Odense. The site included 15 graves dating back to the Viking Age but only one, referred to as grave ACQ, included textile fragments. The textiles were found in relation to a pair of tortoise brooches and have been dated to the 11th century. (Rimstad, p. 18, 1998)
Inside the left tortoise brooch a larger fragment (x541) of a smokkr was found. The fragment consisted of several pieces of wool in a tabby weave that had been dyed blue (Rasmussen & Lønborg, p. 175, 1993). One end of fragment x541 was pleated; wrinkled together in order to create curved pleats (Hägg, p. 12, 1974).
This post will present an interpretation of the pleated fragment and a reconstruction of the same fragment in relation to an entirely re-built dress. The dress is hand sewn in a dark green diagonal wool twill with a dark green wool thread. The lining inside the pleated part is sewn in an unbleached linen tabby weave using an unbleached linen thread.
I first considered lining the smokkr with reference to Birka grave 464 (figure 464:2b) where a dark blue wool fragment was found lined with linen and had a silk band folded over the top of both fragments (much like a bias tape).
“På flera ställen i spännet fanns slätt linne från särken. Vid nålfästet fanns en linneögla (mittdelen saknas) från kjolens framstycke. Under öglans fästepunkter skymtade ett sidenband (3). Öglans ena fästepunkt (2) var delvis täckt av ett löst, lätt hoprynkat särklinnefragment (5). Fragmentet, som var hårt av rost, mjukades upp i svag EDTA-lösning och destillerat vatten, varefter det kunde lyftas så att hela det bevarade sidenbandet blev synligt, 464:2 b. Detta visade sig kanta ytterligare linnefragment (4) upptill. Under hele 4 låg ett ansenligt stycke (6) av fin, blåsvart yllekypert, W21, med avigsidan in mot linnefragmentet och rätan ut mot dräktens and framsida. Yllekyperten fortsatte ensam en bit ut över brättekanten. Den avslutades uppåt av en mot avigan vikt, ca 4 mm bred kant.” (Hägg, p. 39-40)
I then decided against it and finished the upper edge by folding 0,5 cm of the cloth and stitching it in place. According to Lønborg, the Køstrup fragment had been folded and sewn with running stitches. I used overcast stitches as I wanted them to be invisible on the outside of the smokkr. “Af selekjolen er så meget bevaret, at man kan se, at kjolen har været lukket fortil og har været afsluttet opadtil af en ca. fem mm. bred søm, der er syet med forsting.” (Rasmussen & Lønborg, p. 176-177)
It hasn’t been determined whether the fold ended in a raw edge or had been folded again to hide the raw edge, but in order to avoid unnecessary tearing I folded it twice before stitching it in place.
The smokkr fragment from Køstrup was found pleated with tiny pleats, 2-3 mm deep and 3 mm wide. The pleated part is approx. 7,5 cm wide but at its longest part torn a little over 4 cm from the top of the smokkr making it impossible to determine its original length.
Since I sew my dress while being 7-8 months pregnant I had to take into consideration my temporary body shape and size which made me decide to let my pleating run from the top of the smokkr to the point where my belly was most protruding. This way the draping created by the pleating gave extra room for the growing belly.
I did, however, have a hard time making the pleats as tiny as the original. Taking into consideration that I lined the inside of pleated area with a linen fabric, which made the fabric even thicker, I settled for pleats with an approximate width and depth of 8 mm.
The pleating is suggested by Lønborg to have been created by pulling the cloth together using a linen thread. “I selekjolefragmentets ene ende ses resterne af et gauffreret stykke, der har siddet midt mellem fiblerne, velsagtens for at give kjolen vidde. Gauffreringen ser ut til at være fremkommet gennem en simpel rynkning med en hørtråd.” (Rasmussen & Lønborg, p. 176-177, 1993). It’s unclear whether the thread was removed afterwards or if it’s still present.
I strengthened the front part of the smokkr with a 30×30 cm piece of linen just to make the pleating sturdier. I used linen threads to pull both cloths together creating a 7-8 cm wide pleating with pleats 1 cm deep. I let the linen thread remain in the pleating, simply because I don’t know if the pleating would hold should the thread be removed.
Taking Rimstad’s article into account, her guess is that the front loop was placed approx. 6-7 cm from the pleated front of the smokkr. Looking at Ewing’s photo of the Køstrup fragments puzzled together, Rimstad’s suggestion would be that the loop was placed at the golden brown part at the top (see image below).
With reference to Birka grave 835 my loops have been stitched along the side (figure 835:3b). The fabric is folded in four layers but does not contain an inner loop of a stronger fabric (e.g. linen). Like the front loops found in grave 835, they have been sewn closed apart from a couple of cm at the end (figures 835:2 & 835:3a).
“Långa sidsömmade öglor av yllerips, W22, upptill och nedtill i båda spännbucklorna. De från kjolens framstycke är sammansydde mitt fram till verkliga hängslen och enbart ett par centimeter har lämnats som öppna öglor.” (Hägg, p. 45, 1974)
Other loop fragments that have been found attached to smokkr fragments have been open from the part that lies around the needle (of the buckle) all the way to the base at the top edge of the smokkr (Hägg, p.54, 1974). I therefor left my longer back loops open.
Looking at Ewing’s fragment picture again, there is a vertical seam (approx. 1,9 cm long) connecting two cloth edges on the large fragment.
The seam is placed between the loop and the armpit, roughly 4-5 cm from the brooch (should the brooch placement analysis be correct). This would be consistent with the fragments found in Birka grav 434, where a fragment of dark blue wool seems to have been torn off from the brooch piece, folded along two sides thus creating a corner approx. 4 cm outside of the edge of the brooch (figure 464:5). It’s unclear whether the vertical edge of this corner was hemmed or if it in fact was fastened to another piece of the smokkr. This could, however, be an indication of how and where the panels of the smokkr were divided. Having an edge between each front loop/brooch and armpit could suggest that this is where the back panel/panels started.
Since I usually divide my apron dresses into three panels and divide my circumference in three (x2 for the front panel and x1 for each back panel) my panel edges usually end up underneath my armpit. I find that this makes it easier to measure my panels during the sewing process and also gives a discreeter look to the finished dress.
Below are some images of the finished dress as a whole.
Update September 11th 2016: Some modifications were made a few months after my pregnancy to make the garment fit better. I shortened the dress about a foot and fitted a gore into the back seam.
Inga Hägg – Kvinnodräkten i Birka: Livplaggens rekonstruktion på grundval av det arkeologiska materialet, Uppsala: Archaeological Institute, 1974
Liisa Rasmussen & Bjarne Lønborg – Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, Fyndske minder, Odense Bys Museer, Årbog, 1993
Charlotte Rimstad – Vikinger i Uld og Guld, Om de danske vikingetidsdragter baseret på tekstilfunn i grave, Speciale, Forhistorisk Arkæologi, Copenhagen University, 1998
Hilde Thunem – The aprondress from Køstrup (grave ACQ), last updated 2015
Thor Ewing – Viking Clothing, The History Press, 2006
Charlotta Lindblom – Køstrup – en nordvestfynsk vikingetidsgravplad, Fyndske minder, Odense Bys Museer, Årbog 1993