Embroidery is a somewhat debated issue in the Viking Age reenactor scene.
Yes—I am aware that "Vikings" arguing about embroidery sounds kind of funny, but it is true! ^^
The problem is actually a very basic (and presumably also historically accurate) one, namely that many of us like to look and dress nice. But with modern access to an overabundance of fabric, patterns and strong colors, this has a tendency to lead to overdoing things in a way that then tbecomes historically inaccurate.
And for many, embroidery in particular has become a pet peeve. This is not to say that embroidery wasn't used in this era at all: For example, we have well-preserved finding of elaborate embroideries on clothing in the Mammen find (1) in Denmark (dated to 970-971). These embroideries depicted leaves, masks, animals and birds, and the yarn contained a lot of iron and copper which may derive from the dyeing process (2). While the surviving textiles consist of silk and wool, many additional needle holes illustrate possible linen embroidery that has since decayed. The same grave contained fragments of dye stuff from Poland or Armenia, tablet weaving of purple silk and silver, fur, golden sequins, and needlebinding in golden and silver threads. The man in this grave (or the people who buried him at the very least) sure knew to appreciate the bling!
Other examples are the multicolored embroideries of animals, spirals and geometrical patterns from the Oseberg grave here in Norway—which were possibly made in the British isles (3) and may have been used to decorate the clothing (dated to 834, 4).
While we can conclude that embroidery was definitely used during the Viking Age, I would not claim that they were common in the elaborate way and size of my forecloth which I commissioned from a friend. That piece in particular seems to cause debate when someone posts an old photo of mine in some group on social media such as here, even though I wouldn't have posted it in a group dedicated to historical accuracy myself, or worn in to an event with stricter requirements.
Anyway, let's call this "disclaimer" sufficient for now, and on to the topic of my most recent creation that I really want to share with you! I actually made it during my Yule holidays, but due to busy times at work I couldn't get around to posting it earlier. I wanted to try embroidery for the first time myself, and commit to posting it here however crooked and imperfect it might be, so that I will be able to show some progress over the years to come.
I chose a pattern based on "the Lady of Tuna", a gilded silver pendant from Sweden dated to the Viking Age (5).
She is wearing a shawl over her dress, and a cape with a long train. Her hair (or possibly her haircloth) forms an Irish knot hanging down her back. Some have interpreted the large circles on top of her chest as a possible exaggerated depiction of Freya's necklace Brísingamen, or of a brooch with pearl rows (6).
I used light Icelandic "einband" wool thread for the outline, on pure wool canvas left over from a tunic I made for my loved one a couple of years back.
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen some of the process:
For the filling I used various wool threads that I had lying around from previous sewing projects, including some yarn where I actually had to separate the strands and wax them.
Embroidery done—but what should it decorate? I wanted to make a Birka bag, which is very similar to the Hedeby/Haithabu bag that I've made previously. It's is a clever historical design, where two identical wooden handles shape the bag, and rope is put through holes on each end of the handles to function as a shoulder strap (while also making the bag firmly closed when worn). Many handles for such "bracket purses" have been found in Hedeby, and underwater excavations in 2014 (7) at the harbor in Birka (which was a trading centre in Sweden during the Viking Age) revealed several similar handles but with a somewhat different design.
I ordered reconstructions of one of the Birka handles from Taberna Vagantis, and to my pleasant surprise they showed up in my mailbox already a couple of days later.
While the handles have been relatively well preserved, less is known about the rest of the bags, how they looked and what they consisted of. The only fabric remaining are some fibers of thread or cord found in the holes in at least one of the brackets from Hedeby, but the bag itself could have been made of cloth, leather, or even some sort of net, as can also be seen in much later iconography of similar bags in Medieval manuscripts (8). I chose to go with wool fabric, and to line it with linen to make it less stretchy.
I wanted to remedy the issues I have experienced when using my previous Hedeby bag, where I have found the opening a bit to narrow, and also to prevent the lumpy look the bag gets when being filled with various stuff. I therefore decided to make side panels in addition to the front and back. All the fabrics are leftovers from previous sewing projects, namely dove blue wool from one of Christian's tunics, blue/grey diamond twill from one of my Hedeby apron dresses, and linen from an underdress.
The final assembled product:
Recent empirical testing (from this weekend) proves that it can comfortably hold my SLR camera, needlebound mittens, and a bottle of mead. ;-)
Music: Cornelius Link - Blinding Lights
According to the Old Norse calendar, we are approaching the end of the third of the six winter months, and find ourselves in the middle of the winter half-year. Next week we will enter the month of Þorri. King Þorri is a personification of winter described in medieval manuscripts such as the Orkneyinga saga.
For the past week, we have had lots of wonderful snow here on the west coast of Norway. 🌬
My niece bought me this comb when visiting the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. ♥
My new Hedeby shoes, handmade by my friend indHans Gunnar at Eikthyrnir. ^^
They are handsewn in vegetable-tanned leather, but modern rubber soles have been added for more durability (and better grip on the slippery snow and grass).
I also made those knee-high needlebound socks recently! Keeping warm and dry. 🧦☝🏻
Music: Munknörr - Andi (ft. Sigurboði)
Happy new year!
A new year, a new and clean page for this year’s posts. As always, the past years posts can be found in the archive links at the very bottom of the blog. And keeping true to traditions, it is time for my annual calendar overview of Viking and Medieval markets in Scandinavia.
Side note: Do you know what is a good example of a waste of time? Making my overview for the market season of 2020! Doing the research and finding the proper links, contacting organizers when in doubt about something, and setting it all up—only to have the pandemic hit and the vast majority of markets cancelled a couple of months later.
Anyhow, let's not let anything stop us from looking forward to the market season of 2021! This year organizers are understandably more apprehensive about announcing the date of their markets. But while the season might not be a normal one I certainly hope it will be more lively than the last, so that our poor hungry reenactor hearts can find some solace again around campfires across the world. ^^
Some markets are biennial or have been cancelled this year (marked as N/A), and as of yet there are also a lot of TBA's (to be announced) which I will fill in as they come. Markets that have fixed dates recurring every year will also be listed as TBA until they have confirmed the actual date for this year. If in doubt about whether an event might be cancelled, contact the respective organizers for more information.
(name of event, date, link) in the comment section below.
The direct link for bookmarking or sharing this post is Valkyrja.com/calendar2021.html.
Music: Kings & Beggars - Como Poden Per Sas Culpas