Sew Viking!

Ransacking a cloak to make a smokkr and kaftan, pillaging a mundane coat for the finishing touches…

One of the most satisfying aspects of the SCA (for me at least) is fleshing out the look (and developing the requisite skills to create said look) of your chosen persona. As most newcomers to the society, I was initially entranced by the idea of a high renaissance gown, complete with pearls, beading, silks, ruffles…all the late-period fashionable bells and whistles. It’s an easily accessible style, I think, considering it’s a common one portrayed in genre media with a fantasy or medieval theme. As my exposure to the various time periods and medieval cultures broadened, though, my initial infatuation with Italian Renaissance subsided, to be replaced by an ever deepening desire to delve into my Scandinavian heritage.

Sew (hur hur) began my research into Viking women’s dress. I won’t go too much into the specifics of what I’ve uncovered so far, as there are A LOT of theories and possible reconstructions of what Viking women probably wore early period, but I will share with you one particular sewing escapade which I feel remains true to my Viking ancestors in terms of its relentless reconstruction and adaptation of something from another culture, to fit my own purposes.

Skin it, cut it up and use the innards too!
I had a cloak. It was given to me back when I was first finding my SCA identity (about a year ago), and at the time I thought it was awesome. Many gored, made from a fine, teal blue wool on the outside and a soft, dark grey wool lining, I thought this cloak would come in handy for years to come. Sadly, as I learned more of Viking dress and what enthusiasts and textile experts proposed with their many theoretical constructions of early period the-soon-to-be-murdered-cloakdress, this cloak just didn’t fit. Early period Viking cloaks are simple, and while there are extant finds that support the use of gores in other items of clothing, sadly nothing exists in the realm of cloaks to suggest they were gored. Paired with a distinct lack of disposable funds, a murderous desire to cut up all that lovely cloak fabric and re-purpose it was born.


10th century smokkr in dark grey wool, based on a proposed pattern Monica Cellio
The original pattern can be found here: and is a reconstruction of a textile find from Hedeby, Denmark. I tried to keep my pattern as close as possible to Cellio’s, but decided to change a few things to suit the shape of the scavenged fabric and to keep in line with what I’ve found works well on my body shape. The main changes being; a centered panel on the front with a gore centered on the back, and lengthening the side gores to fit the fLine drawing of the pieces used to make up the smokkrull length of the dress so that the top of the front panel could be narrower (a narrower front panel on top means I can have, for want of a more sophisticated term, the seams running down the nipple-line, which makes for a better fit on my figure and easier tailoring). Sadly, I forgot to take pictures during the construction phase of the una-smokkr-pattern2smokkr, but here are some nifty line drawings I rendered in Illustrator and some photos of the finished product to make up for it. The shape of the scavenged pieces of fabric I started with for the smokkr are exactly the same as the pieces pictured in the below section on the making of a kaftan.


Photo of Una in her gray smokkrPhoto of the back view of Una's gray smokkr
Photo, circular brooch and garden of awesomeness courtesy Guntram. The rest of it made by my own hand (tablet weaving on the yellow strip included – w00t!). Back view with gore!

And now for the kaftan…
Based on a pattern by skogsduva, which can be found here:cloak-pieces and adapted to fit the shapes of cloth I pillaged. The style is based on recreations of overcoats found in Birka, Sweden. While I would have loved to try my hand at an overcoat pattern from Denmark, my web trawling didn’t turn up anything useful. So a smokkr from Denmark and kaftan from Sweden it is! I console myself with the fact that they are both from around the 10th century…

Above right are the pieces as scavenged from the cloak and below are a few pictures as I figured out the front panels, back panels and side gores. This was very pin-and-fit heavy process but I got there in the end. My pattern differs from skogsduva’s in that the back was made from two panels (necessitated by fabric shape) with a gore nestled in the center back seam as I felt it just needed a bit more flare. I also had to patch some fabric over the bust area as it gaped too much, and cut some fabric away from the bottom up to get the coat to flare open when pinned together under the bust.


Just add in some arms, armpit gores, some scavenged silk trim and voila! The maroon silk trim looked good (and is totally documentable), but I felt it still needed more. And so the Viking seamstress cast her eye about to see what else could be ransacked…


Enter my mother’s old coat, which I had worn during my late teens, but alas, many years of martial arts and a naturally big bosom meant that I soon outgrew my mother’s narrower frame. The faux fur collar and cuffs were promptly pillaged and finished with a backing of the same red silk as used from the trim. I’ve fastened them with a cunning button and loop method, which will allow me to use this collar on more than one coat. I like planning for future garb.


And there you have it! One cloak into two new pieces of garb, with lots of fun, blood, sweat and trial and error tears figuring things out in-between. The above pictures courtesy dear Guntram. Please excuse the creases! I didn’t feel like ironing for the photo-shoot.




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