25 January 2014

Tunic in the style of a 10th Century Norse Skald: Material Culture 25: A&S50 Challenge

Tunic in the style of a 10th Century Norse Skald
Material Culture 25: A&S50 Challenge
Samia al-Kaslaania

A friend requested a barter commission for his Norse persona. The criteria were that it be suitable for a skald (bard) to wear, and mainly be red. For reference I primarily utilized Gale Owen-Crocker’s book Dress in Anglo-Saxon England.

Having said that, I reached outside of Owen-Crocker’s text to find the pattern used. The basis is an adaptation of Middle Eastern garb from the same time period. Marc Carlson shares an extant version of the same panel-and-gore pattern from the European Middle Ages (noted as a few centuries later). I made the choice because I find the cut more flattering for prosperous men. The otherwise common pattern has the body panel cut as wide as half of the fullest measurement on the trunk. On a luxury-sized body this makes the shoulder seams sag halfway down the bicep, and can feel frumpy to the wearer. In further support of my choice, in the redrawn images Owen-Crocker offers, garments are generally fitted around the body, which can be seen under raised arms (with a few exceptions).

Figure 1 Calendar, London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B, v. fol 4r.

The idea that this cut of tunic is known to the Norse is not impossible. Owen-Crocker discusses that furs were traded with the Islamic lands at this time. Gifts of clothing from local leaders are common in the Islamic lands at this time, and the practice grew to include the merchant class power-brokers as well. Norse traders plausibly could have received tunics as gifts from their trading partners in the south.

Tunic style choices and deviations, based on Owen-Crocker:
·    This tunic comes to below the knee, which is in the common range for the 10th century court scenes. 
·    The hem is cut level to the ground to match the redrawn examples Owen-Crocker offers, thus avoiding the “shark-bite” shaped hem.
·    In keeping with images from this period, the hem is intentionally quite full for someone who is not in warrior gear.
·    The sleeves are not so long so they can be pushed up to show wrinkles at the cuffs. While most period images likely display wrinkles at the cuffs, the modern person wearing it is also a volunteer who moves tables and chairs. Therefore he requested standard length.
·    The neckline is “keyhole” style. Whether or not period images show this kind of access slit at the neck opening, all of the garments have close-fitted necks which would require some sort of additional opening.

The construction is a combination of modern and period techniques. The seams are sewn with a machine, and then finished by hand with decorative stitches so that only hand-finishing on the seams is seen on the outside of the garment. The seam decoration is the Mammem herringbone stitch, from a 10th century Danish find at Hedeby. These are worked in Silk Splendor embroidery floss, three strands. The choice for silk decoration was driven by the concept that the skald is an important member of a royal court—he is the historian, spin doctor, and praise-bearer in this period.

Figure 2 Tenth to eleventh century, life of St. Radegund. MS 250 Fol 24r. Bibliotheque Municipale, Poitiers, France

In addition to the decorative seam finishes, this garment is adorned with tablet weaving at the neck and cuffs. The fiber is 100% wool from the retired DMC De Medici collection. The pattern is a simple 7-forward-7-back, with same-color border cards. This simple repeat produces a nice chevron pattern that lies flat when removed from the loom. The fine quality of the wool fibers coupled with the simple repeat allows it to be curved around the neck and steam-shrunk into place.

Finished Tunic

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