This guide out­lines the ba­sic pat­terns and con­struc­tion tech­niques of Viking–Age men's cloth­ing, whether that be a Saxon or Viking per­sona. This is the start­ing point for all new mem­bers in the levy look­ing to put male kit to­gether for their first pro­mo­tion. This cos­tume is typ­i­cal of most men in the Viking–Age — that of An­glo–Saxon or Scan­di­na­vian freed­men, labour­ers, sub­sis­tence farm­ers, or ap­pren­tices.

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Construction Techniques

Even the poor­est peo­ple in the Viking–Age so­ci­eties of North­ern Eu­rope were good tai­lors — they had to be, most peo­ple lived far away from ur­ban ar­eas, and even then they might not have the money or goods to trade for com­pleted gar­ments. Be­cause of this, I sug­gest plenty of prac­tice at seam­ing, and fit­ting. Old tea tow­els and bed­sheets are good to prac­tice on.

Tools of the trade

  • Nee­dle
  • Thread — wool for wool, linen for linen. Avoid cot­ton thread
  • Scis­sors or shears
  • Dress-mak­ing pins
  • Tai­lors chalk, or fab­ric marker (for draw­ing pat­terns or mak­ing ad­just­ments) or use
  • Pat­tern pa­per - cre­at­ing a pat­tern on pa­per means you can reuse pat­terns, and any changes you make can be drafted for the next time you de­cide to make a gar­ment
  • Beeswax — run thread through a beeswax block to stiffen the thread, pre­vent knots and be ex­tra wa­ter­proof

Tip. When cutting fabric, keep the bottom blade of your shears on the cutting surface. This will allow them to glide smoothly through the fabric. If you can, use clamps or weights to help the fabric move less when cutting or measuring. If you are cutting two or more layers at once, think about getting a rotary cutter.

Basic Stitches to Master

  • Run­ning Stitch
  • Back Stitch
  • Whip Stitch
  • Blan­ket Stitch

Term: A tack stitch or basting stitch is a very quick and loose/long form of running stitch to piece together a garment for fitting.

Run­ning Stitch

Run the nee­dle right to left, in–out–in–out. If you use run­ning stitch for seams, you will need to roll/​fold the seam and use a whip stitch for re-in­force­ment (dis­cussed later).

Running Stitch

Back Stitch

You go back over your own stitches so that the stitches are smaller on one side than the other. Bring the nee­dle up at A, back through the same hole of B, then up at C, then back down through D/​A. This is very strong, and pre­vents the thread from pulling out. Use for seams.

back Stitch

Whip Stitch

Also known as over­cast stitch, use this on the edges of fab­ric (eg. un­hemmed, or seam over­flow) to re­in­force and stop fray­ing.

Whip Stitch

Blan­ket Stitch

Also known as but­ton­hole stitch, this is sim­i­lar to whip stitch in that it’s for fin­ish­ing a raw edge, but it catches the loop of thread re­sult­ing in an L or J shape along the edge of the fab­ric.

blanket stitch

Seams

Cer­tain seams will need more re-en­force­ment that oth­ers. The shoul­der seams, and un­der­arm gus­sets will need ex­tra se­cu­rity, so use back stitch there. Side seams can be done with a tight run­ning stitch (aim for 8-10 stitches per inch on light fab­rics, 5 min­i­mum on oth­ers). Some seams will want to be folded and re-en­forced with a whip stitch, es­pe­cially on linen which is prone to fray­ing.

Stitching the seam

A seam, fixed with a run­ning stitch, then re­in­forced with a whip stitch.

Fold the two sides of fab­ric in to­wards each other. Run the stitch (run­ning or back) along the in­side por­tion, be­ing sure to catch all 4 lay­ers of fab­ric. Once done, whip stitch the top of the join.

there are other seams you can use that ex­ist in Viking–Age ar­chae­ol­ogy, but this is the sim­plest. Jen­nifer Bak­er’s ar­ti­cle is a great re­source for seam­ing ideas.

Under–Garments

Overview

It’s not clear from ar­chae­ol­ogy how Viking-Age peo­ple lay­ered cloth­ing, as most finds are frag­men­tary, ad­hered to the un­der­side of metal brooches and buck­les on the top­most layer.

How­ever, through the ex­am­i­na­tion of lit­er­a­ture, and ac­counts from the pre and post Viking–Age, we can de­ter­mine that there are two dis­tinct male gar­ments: the shirt, and the kir­tle. The shirt, we as­sume, is an un­der–gar­ment. It’s shorter that the kir­tle — just be­low the waist — and is prob­a­bly close fit­ting.

One of the only known ex­tant finds of a Viking–Age shirt is from Vi­borg in Den­mark. It’s a made from many small pieces of linen fab­ric, with a draw­string neck­line and sleeves that are tight at the wrist.

We can ex­trap­o­late a sim­pler pat­tern from the Vi­borg shirt by look­ing at a frag­ment of a child’s linen smock from York. It had two sleeves, a side and part of an un­der arm gus­set.

An­other part of the un­der­wear is the breeches & hose, or trousers. Again, much of our knowl­edge comes from pre and post Viking–Age finds, such as the Thors­berg trousers and Dät­gen breeches, but there is some con­tem­po­rary arachae­ol­ogy. There’s a frag­ment of woollen hose found in Hedeby, Ger­many, and an elab­o­rately dec­o­rated pair of woollen leg­gings from Skjold­e­hamn, Nor­way.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing and com­plete finds from York is a woollen sock wo­ven us­ing a tech­nique called Naal­bind­ing. The knot­ted con­struc­tion makes them ex­tremely hard weav­ing, and quite wa­ter­proof.

Textiles

For the shirt, use a medium weight, undyed Tabby (plain weave) linen. Get one with a sett of 15-20 threads per cm.

Undyed linen colours range from bleached grey­ish white to a muddy green–brown.

The Sett is how finely the yarn of the warp and weft threads are woven together.

tabby weave tabby weave in linen

For the breeches or leg­gings, use a semi-fine, or fine-medium wool. Again, stick to nat­ural colours: white fleeces were pop­u­lar, as were light brown and dark brown. Some­times, a light wool and dark wool were used to­gether to add a two tone ef­fect to the weave. Be on the look­out for a 2/​1 or 2/​2 twill or her­ring­bone (chevron) weave.

The weaves look very distinctive. 2/1 and 2/2 twills have diagonal lines, while herringbone has alternating bands of diagonals. There are many kinds of twill used in the Viking–Age.

2/2 Twill Weave 2/2 Twill Weave in wool Herringbone weave in wool

Colour Palette

Linen
Wool

Shirt

This is a hugely sim­pli­fied ver­sion of the Vi­borg shirt. You can ei­ther cut two rec­tan­gles, or fold the fab­ric over and cut just the neck hole like a pon­cho. The square gus­sets can be in­serted un­der the arms for ex­tra space. The sleeves ta­per to the wrist, be­ing quite close fit­ting. The bot­tom hem should sit just be­low the groin. Cut the neck hole quite small, and make a short front open­ing. This can be pinned, or laced.

 
Viking Shirt Pattern
 

Measurements: Around the chest, under the armpits, this will give you the width. Keep this garment more or less square. For sleeves, armpit to centre of the palm of you hand for length, then take measurements for the bicep and wrist. Remember to leave allowances for seams, and refitting!

If you fancy a go at the more elab­o­rate Vi­borg shirt, take a look at this ar­ti­cle from which the pat­tern is based.

Breeches

Be­sides the Skjold­e­hamn an­kle–breeches, there are frag­ments from Hedeby and ear­lier Iron–Age footed–breeches that in­di­cate pos­si­ble meth­ods of con­struc­tion.

The legs of the breeches, how­ever long, are cut as tubes with a sin­gle seam — ei­ther in­side or out­side. The breeches have a large seat, and some bag­gi­ness for the be­hind. A sep­a­rate waist belt is folded over to in­cor­po­rate a draw­string.

 
Viking breeches or trouser pattern
 

Short breeches should fall just be­low the knee, long breeches should be fit­ted at the an­kle. There is a small cut to al­low the foot through, which is re-en­forced with a blan­ket stitch.

Socks

There is ac­tu­ally very lit­tle ev­i­dence for socks be­sides the sin­gle find from York and wool socks from Skjold­e­hamn. The for­mer is a naal­bind­ing sock with a mad­der-dyed trim, the lat­ter are woollen rec­tan­gles sewn up un­der the heel. They may have been a rare item; per­haps leg wraps were ex­tended to wrap around the feet, or shoes were lined. Sadly, the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal record does­n’t say much, so use your dis­cre­tion — it’s OK to do with­out!

Decoration

Some sim­ple dec­o­ra­tion can be added to the seams of the breeches. A com­mon form of dec­o­ra­tion is us­ing a vis­i­ble stitch in a con­trast­ing colour. Sev­eral ex­am­ples of a Her­ring­bone Stitch have been found do­ing just this.

 
Herringbone stitch
 

You could also sew a small 3-ply braid onto the edge for added pro­tec­tion and colour.

Colours

Stick with com­mon mad­der and woad based dyes - giv­ing a brick red, or light blue.

 
 

Outer–Garments

Overview

Outer–wear for most peo­ple of the Viking–Age was made of wool. Wool is a good ther­mal in­su­la­tor, so helps in both the win­ter and the sum­mer, al­though it’s easy to as­sume that lay­ers would be dis­carded in hot weather. Wealth­ier peo­ple were known to wear linen as the outer layer — Saxon buri­als from be­fore the pe­riod show this, but those clothes could also be fu­neral dress so it’s hard to tell.

The kirtle’ or over–tu­nic is a knee-length gar­ment with a full skirt. It could be hitched up at the waist with a belt, and sleeves are slightly bag­gier and can be rolled up. The neck lines of these outer gar­ments seem to have a wider neck that the shirt, but we have very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion — most ex­tant finds of tu­nics are ei­ther frag­ments, or pre or post Viking–Age. Thank­fully, there are some il­lus­tra­tions of every­day dress in con­tem­po­rary art work.

June on the Tiberious Calendar

British Li­brary, MS. Cot­ton Tiberius B. v Part 1, fol. 5r

The cloak was an im­por­tant item, par­tic­u­larly in the gift-giv­ing cul­ture of the Vikings. As well as be­ing an­other layer of thick wool for warmth, they make great blan­kets. Sim­i­larly, there are phases through­out the Viking–Age where head wear comes in and out of fash­ion. Hats, caps and hoods are known in ar­chae­ol­ogy.

Textiles

For outer–gar­ments use wool, but try to get medium or hairy wools. Again, like the wool tex­tiles for the breeches, search for 2/​1, 2/​2 and Her­ring­bone (chevron) twills. There is also ev­i­dence for di­a­mond twill fab­ric at York, and in ear­lier finds such as the Thors­berg tu­nic. There are wool tab­bies pre­sent in ar­chae­ol­ogy, but they are all quite loosely wo­ven, per­haps for blan­kets or sacks, so avoid.

Diamond Twill

Di­a­mond twill weave in con­trast­ing warp & weft colours.

Tunic (kirtle)

The tu­nic should be knee length and with a full skirt. This can be achieved by cut­ting the skirt width into the pat­tern, or by adding tri­an­gu­lar gores into the sides and op­tion­ally, the front. Al­ter­na­tively, for­get the gores and have a split in the side (don’t have a split in the front). The arms are a bit bag­gier, but should still ta­per to the wrist. op­tion­ally, you can in­set the sleeves at the shoul­der for a bet­ter fit. The shoul­der seams are op­tional — you can fold the fab­ric over like a pon­cho and just cut the neck hole.

 
Hedeby Kirtle
 

For the neck­line, use a round cut rather than square (which is an 11th cen­tury fash­ion suit­able for our late–Saxon por­tray­als). You can key­hole’ it with a slit at the front in the cen­ter and use a thong or pin to keep the it closed. Some ex­am­ples of neck­lines are quite wide, com­ing from the neck to the col­lar bone. A short v-neck is also ac­cept­able, with a rounded back.

Use the same fab­ric (and colour) for all the parts: sleeves, gores and gus­sets.

 
Kragelund Tunic

The Kragelund tu­nic has a dis­tinc­tive v-neck.

 
Measurements: Measure the length from the back of the neck to the back of the knee. If you want a better fit (and you should), take a measurement around the chest and around the waist. If the waist is slimmer than the chest, bring the garment in before fanning it out for the skirt. To inset the sleeves, measure from the point of the shoulder, behind the neck to the opposite point.

Colours

Stick with nat­ural wool colours — light-brown to dark-brown. If you pick a dyed fab­ric, try to find one with a washed–out colour, like a onion skin colour, or brick red.

Cloak

A ba­sic cloak is sim­ply a rec­tan­gle of heavy–hairy wool. The fab­ric can be tabby wo­ven or a sim­ple twill like her­ring­bone. The edges should be raw, or fixed with a blan­ket stitch.

 
Shepparding on the Tiberious Calendar

British Li­brary, MS. Cot­ton Tiberius B. v Part 1, fol. 5r

 

The cloak is clasped at the shoul­der (right shoul­der, un­less you’re left handed!). Al­ter­na­tively, it can be a semi-cir­cle with the curved side at the bot­tom when it is pinned.

The clasp can be a sim­ple af­fair — leather thong­ing, or a pin. The pin can be made from wood, bone or metal. One of the most pop­u­lar types of pins in the Viking–Age, was the ringed pin. Again, these can be made from bone, iron or cop­per-al­loy.

Viking Ringed Pin

A ringed pin from Got­land in the British Mu­seum

 

There a few other de­signs of pins — an­nu­lar, penan­nu­lar and ansate, and a num­ber of brooches. For a sim­ple kit, stick with a pin.

Hat/Hood

Most male hats in ar­chae­ol­ogy point to a sim­ple woolen cap — there’s pan­eled hats from Birka, pill­box caps from the Nether­lands, naal­bind­ing caps from Ger­many and po­ten­tially sun hats which are seen in art­work.

 
4-panel hat pattern Pillbox hat pattern Sun hat
 

Left to right: 4–panel hat pattern, pillbox hat pattern, possible straw sun hat from the 11th century.

Decoration

As with the breeches, you can add dec­o­ra­tive stitches in a con­trast­ing colour to the seams, and thin braid on the edges of the neck and cuffs.

Dou­ble her­ring­bone stitch over brown wool felt.

 

Here's a great article about stitches in general.

Accessories

The ac­ces­sories listed here are per­sonal items that fin­ish off a cos­tume. these are key items for the fit of cloth­ing — usu­ally func­tional as well as dec­o­ra­tive, and some es­sen­tial for any work or trade.

Shoes

Shoes from the Viking–Age are made of leather and are usu­ally of the turn shoe’ con­struc­tion. The top part is cut as one piece then stitched to the sole in­side out around a last — it is then turned the right way out so that the stitch­ing is on the in­side.

Il­lus­tra­tion of a turn shoe

Jorvik shoe pattern

Sole con­struc­tion

Sole construction

Stitch­ing the sole

Sole construction
Replica Jorvik leather shoe

Re­pro­duc­tion of a turn shoe with V-back heel riser, based on a find from York.

Here's a good article about Anglo-Scandinavian shoe patterns.

Belt

Men wore a gir­dle around the waist, usu­ally of leather but pos­si­bly rope or cloth. The strap is about 1/​2 inch to 1 inch in width and tied (with split ends) or buck­led. Buck­les can be made from bone, iron, pewter or cop­per-al­loy for this kit. Buck­les are usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by a strap end which pro­tects the leather and pro­vides ex­tra dec­o­ra­tions. Many metal items in the Viking–Age were stamped with a ring and dot mo­tif.

iron buckles

A se­lec­tion of iron buck­les and strap ends.

Knife & Sheath

A knife is of course a great util­ity. Made of iron, some­times with a hard steel edge, the knife or seax could be any­where from a cou­ple of inches to the size of a ma­chete. These aren’t adapted for war­fare, but tools that are used around the house, or out in the fields and woods.

The han­dle would be of wood, or bone, some­times with cop­per-al­loy or iron fit­tings. Hous­ing the knife is a leather sheath. The sheath is made my wrap­ping the (wet) leather around the knife, cut­ting to shape and stitch­ing one seam. In some cases the stitch­ing is pro­tected and re­in­forced by a metal fit­ting.

selection of knives

Leg Wraps

Leg wraps are cloth strips that wrap around the calf and fas­ten just be­low the knee. They func­tion as sup­port and also to pro­tect the trousers from wear. The cloth strips should be 2–3 inches thick and around 12 feet long and made of wool in a sim­ple twill weave. They are wrapped around the calf start­ing at the an­kle (or around the foot) and tie around the back of the knee with thong­ing, cloth or with a hooked tag made from iron or cop­per-al­loy.

The wraps, some­times called winingas or putees, could be wo­ven as a sin­gle piece or as a cut off from other fab­ric and joined to­gether.

Jewellery

For this por­trayal, a sin­gle neck­lace with a pen­dant will suf­fice, and per­haps a ban­gle of cop­per-al­loy. There are many finds of crosses, ham­mers, spears and axes as pen­dants made from iron and cop­per al­loy, and some of bone. Use woollen yarn or leather for the neck­lace.

Date Published: .Last up­dated: by .

This ar­ti­cle is meant as a guide to new mem­bers to get their first kit to­gether, rather than as an aca­d­e­mic work. How­ever, if you are in­ter­ested in find­ing out more about Viking–Age cloth­ing and ac­cou­trements, please find a se­lec­tion of books and on­line ar­ti­cles.

Books

  • Ben­der Jør­gensen, L. (1993). North Eu­ro­pean Tex­tiles un­til AD 1000.
  • Ew­ing, T. (2006.) Viking Cloth­ing.
  • Lars­son, A. (2008). Viking Age Tex­tiles. In: Brink, S. eds (2008). The Viking World.
  • Os­ter­gaard, E. (2004). Wo­ven into the Earth: Tex­tile Finds in Norse Green­land.
  • Owen-Crocker, G. (2010). Dress in An­glo-Saxon Eng­land.
  • Pa­ter­son, C. et al (2014). Shad­ows in the Sand: Ex­ca­va­tion of a Viking–Age Cemetary at Cumwhit­ton, Cum­bria.
  • Wal­ton-Rogers, P. (2006). Cloth and Cloth­ing in Early An­glo-Saxon Eng­land: AD 450-700.

Websites