Lavender Viking Tunic

I wish I could give you a blow-by-blow account of making this tunic, but I can’t. I constructed the garment with the assistance of the good Livia von Baden… (10+ pictures below the cut)

Livia von Baden, who self-identifies as a dumb stick-jock (someone whose SCA participation is limited to the combative arts), but who moonlights as a webwright and a pretty awesome friend.

…and didn’t want to spend her time that day taking photographs when I could be spending the same time just learning from her process and her pattern. [She would appreciate it if I gave credit to the person who gave her the pattern, but I actually can’t remember who that is. Livia, if you’re reading this, please remind me of who it was, and I will change this bit to credit the correct person.]

The patterning and constructing took a while, mostly because I was quite new to this pattern and process, and it took all my attention and brainpower even though it’s actually pretty simple. So I didn’t take pictures of the make-process, and I barely even took notes. I just constructed the tunic (using a sewing machine, because we only had one day together to do this), then took it home to hand-finish. I didn’t photograph the finishing process, either, because I was too busy actually doing the sewing. Mea culpa.

The garment has taken me a little over 2 months to finish. Hey, don’t judge me! I only ever worked on the lavender Viking tunic when I was outside the house, at an A&S & Coffee Night. Oh, right, I should explain that. Since most events in Caid are held on Saturdays, when I can’t drive or carry things or handle money or do almost anything that’s done at SCA events, I don’t get to attend a lot of those. In fact, if I go to 4 events in a 12-month period, it’s been a banner year. That’s really sort of okay, though, because SCA events are the things that everybody sees, but that’s not where the SCA is built. The SCA is built at baronial council meetings, project days, weekly or monthly activities (martial, arts & sciences), household get-togethers, all that sort of thing. The events are just the pretty payoffs for the things you do behind the scenes, the whole rest of the time. I don’t currently belong to a household, so that’s another thing that’s closed to me at the moment. Therefore, roughly once a week, I invite anyone in the area to come out and do hand-work with me at a coffee shop I like. It gets me out of the house, and lets me interact with more people in my barony. That’s where we do A&S — arts & sciences — together, talk, catch up. This is one of the ways I build my SCA community, my village.

So, the fact that I only work on this garment for about 2 hours, roughly once a week, has made it slow. Plus, I don’t know if you know this, but if you can sew something on a machine in under 2 minutes, it will easily take you 2-3 hours to sew that same seam by hand. At least if you’re using a ‘hidden’ whipstitch (second image down on the page), which I was. A running stitch would’ve been just as period, would’ve taken roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the time of the whipstitch, and I thought of using it. But the running stitch leaves a lot of the thread on the outside of the seam, and that means that any sort of abrasion from the body or from other garments can wear that thread away really quickly and easily, making a less durable tunic. I want this tunic to last until the fabric wears through, without my having to repair it at all, if possible. So I opted for the hidden whipstitch, which takes more time, but also saves more time in the long run.

Speaking of saving time, why don’t I get on with this? Blah blah seamstress-cakes, and the tunic was finally something I could put on and model in the mirror. I slipped it on, fastened the keyhole neckline with its safety pin (not a final solution, don’t judge me), and looked…

…and just about cried. Folks. When I constructed this piece, the thing fit and felt comfortable and wonderful. When I had finished the seams and the neckline, all but hemming the bottom and putting the button and loop in the neckline, it no longer fit.

I spent about a week sobbing and whining on Facebook and begging everyone for help, and being just so frustrated that I was probably very short with people (not on purpose, but my speech patterns follow my moods rather closely) and actually unable to take any of the excellent advice that they offered, and secretly wanting to “accidentally” burn the thing in a cooking incident or something just to get it out of my life. The smartest clothiers, seamstresses, and costumers (whatever titles they’d prefer, that’s the ones I mean!) in the SCA Garb group gave their suggestions, and some of them seemed smart but not like things I knew how to do.

Plus, I have this thing where if I’m going to do something, I feel a visceral pull to do it right the first time — or not do it at all. Which means that before I ever do a thing, I research the heck out of it, then acquire the tools to do it, then acquire the materials to do it, and then sit around for a while and research a lot more and finally do the thing. And then if I get something wrong, I cry, then move on to something else, because I’m not often able to figure out how to fix what’s wrong. So I felt that, if I was going to actually fix what was wrong, I needed to have the right fix, so I only had to do it once, and then could do it that way forever and ever on future garments as well.

Last night, I got Hakim to photograph me wearing the tunic. I slipped it on, modeled — not for attractive photos, but to show the fact that the shoulders had these weird bunching and lines going from armpit to shoulder-top, and that it was now slightly too tight. Except that it wasn’t. Look here:

I was mystified, but then remembered a thing. “Hang on,” I said, and reached behind my neck to fasten the keyhole together with the safety pin.

You know what's not easy? Safety-pinning your keyhole neck together without also pinning in the long dangling tails of your head scarf.
You know what’s not easy? Safety-pinning your keyhole neck together without also pinning in the long dangling tails of your head scarf.


Voila, the problem returned.

I modeled some more, then let Hakim sit down and go back to his Downton Abbey DVDs. Or maybe it was American Ninja Warrior. I don’t really know; I was pretty deep into my own brain at that moment. I got back to my research, vowing to upload the photos in the morning.

This morning, I went to upload those photos just now, and… Wait a minute…

So, this tunic was made precisely for me, to my measure, right? Right. And then I cut out a neck-keyhole. And then I did the slit-the-bottom-and-roll-the-sides-back sort of hemming of that keyhole. Which removed a good inch of fabric from that area.

I planned to put a loop on one side and a button on the other side as a fastener, but I haven’t done that yet. So when I fasten the dress up, I have to do it with a safety pin. Which closes up that missing inch, subtracting it from the width of the back body piece of the tunic, but not the front body of the tunic.

When I unfasten the safety pin to take the dress back off, magically the sucker fits.


But I am an idiot who learned something and solved the problem, so we’re good. *faint*

And here is the solution to the problem, which was never actually a problem, but a stage in the construction process.

Now the only thing left to do is finish the hem, which I plan to do this coming week at A&S & Coffee Night. Then this tunic will be ready to wear! Stay tuned, though, kittens, because eventually we’re going to learn what this tunic is going to go under. I promise, it’s going to be worth the look.


Now that it’s been a couple of months, I was all set to pull this out, finish it off, and put it in my wearable stack. I’m still going to do that, but I must also admit that I’m not 100% thrilled with it, even now that I fixed that one fit issue, and after trying the tunic on for Dame Arianna (Ann Hartl, a sewing Laurel) and having her input on it, I am clearer about why it’s so disappointing.

The rectangular construction tunic, at least in this particular formula that I used (and I have no idea what find(s) support this particular design), is based first on the largest measurement of the body — be it shoulders, chest, waist, or hips. I have broad shoulders, but not quite as broad as my hips, nor even as large in circumference as my chest/breasts. So, automatically, this design just isn’t going to be ideal for me.

To fix this tunic, I would need to:

  1. un-pick the entire side-seam on each side;
  2. un-pick the under-arm gore;
  3. replace the under-arm gore with one that’s about 2″ longer per side;
  4. un-pick the gores from each side;
  5. replace them with gores that go up about 2″ higher, and therefore, will also need to be lower at the bottom;
  6. starting at the current placement of the gore, draw a diagonal line inward from there to about 1.5″ to 2″ in from the shoulder edge;
  7. remove about 1.5″ from the shoulder width, along that diagonal line;
  8. re-attach the sleeves, the new gores, the new under-arm gussets;
  9. lengthen the sleeves with an extra strip of fabric, because moving them in will have left my wrists uncovered in a way that looks decidedly stupid, at least to my own eyes;
  10. cover the above sleeve-seam with some trim, which I’ll also need to weave for myself;
  11. cut an opening up each sleeve so I can roll it back when I need to work or wash my hands.

So, as you might guess, this tunic is probably not going to get a lot of play, until and unless I decide to suck it up and re-hand-sew the majority of it, or learn to properly use a sewing machine without wanting to kill everything. I’ll still wear it, but I won’t be really all that happy in it. It might actually be easier to just re-make the darned thing, using the above information, and donate this one to my barony’s Gold Key.

I’m starting to kind of hate this tunic, if I’m being honest.

5 replies on “Lavender Viking Tunic”

  1. Yay for learning something new, and for finding what’s been bothering you!!

    I’m so glad that this wasn’t an “error” in the pattern, or even with rectangular construction, but something that happened and got ‘fixed’ and the fix messed something up.

    *happy dance*

    1. I know, right? Imagine my relief, surprise, happiness, and sheepishness as I learned that the problem was simply that the darned thing wasn’t finished yet! 😀

  2. I feel your frustration! But I have to tell you, your post was hysterically funny. And at the end of it, I wondered…somewhere in the mists of time, was there a Medieval seamstress who went thru the same thing?

    1. I feel sure there must have been at least one. Probably many, very many, have gone through the process of reinventing the wheel!

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