Purple Viking Is Purple

Remember how I told you about my lavender Viking tunic? It still has the problems I mentioned before, because I’m lazy and don’t want to fix them right now. But those problems aren’t going to matter much, once it goes under some other garment.

I made that tunic, and told you that story, so I could tell you this story. This is a much better story, because it’s a love story: the story of an auntie and a niecelet. The auntie is Su Ralston, known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Su of the Silver Horn. She’s been sewing, as she told me, for about six years longer than I’ve been alive — and believe you me, it shows. Her garb is terrific. She understands construction very well, understands color and pattern and fabric drape and all the other things. She also knows when things must be precise and when it’s okay to be “good enough.” Su is a Laurel, someone widely recognized as having mountains and mountains of expertise in a given subject, and as offering that expertise freely to others within the SCA. A Laurel is the equivalent of a Knight — a peer of the realm — except that where Knights get their peerage is through combat, and Laurels get their peerage through learning and disseminating knowledge and skills. I’m pretty sure she has her Laurel in embroidery (Caid, our kingdom, requires a person to “major” in something, because they focus on depth of knowledge here rather than breadth), but sewing is her secondary expertise (her “minor”).

All this is important because, as I mentioned, Su has some amazing garb. Not all of it fits, however, since she made it many years ago. Rather than reworking it to fit her, Su said she’d rather have new pieces, so she offered her non-fitting garb to me. Naturally, I leaped all over that: I need garb, she has garb she was intending to get rid of anyway, and the rest was joyfully logical. Now I have garb. There’s a beautiful Viking tunic of pea green and cream tiny checks, and it goes under a pea green hangerock; there’s a plain cotton muslin tunic that goes under a black and white checked hangerock; there are a few more isolated pieces; all of which I’m sure I’ll eventually put somewhere on this blog. So, yeah, I have garb.

Sort of. See, while Su’s garb was close to fitting me, none of it was a perfect fit. Su’s arms are long and slender in relation to her overall size; mine are rather beefy for my size. Su is taller than I am. Her shoulders are a bit more narrow; her bust at the time she made these pieces was smaller than mine is now; we have different shapes. So last May, Su and I worked together. She’d sit and knit, and tell me what to do so that I could ‘edit’ her garb. Sleeves had to be cut shorter; hemlines raised; straps shortened; a gusset or gore here, a tuck there. There are actually still edits to do on a lot of the pieces — I want to open up each sleeve a few inches and put in a button and loop or a hook and eye, so that I can undo them and roll them up when my hands need washing or when dishes need doing, or whatever. But the bulk of the pieces are finished. They’re all wearable, and have been since May.

All except one. My favorite piece of all, I hadn’t even touched until this week. And y’all, this dress is beautiful. Whenever I look at it, I actually contemplate portraying a 9th or 10th century Viking instead of a Spanish woman of the 14th century. It’s a hangerock (Viking apron dress) in rich, grapey purple. There’s magenta raw silk trim, beneath a rainbow striped (sort of: red, navy, lavender, green,and gold, each separated from the other colors by a thin line of black between them, all together less than 1″ wide) trim: at the straps, around the top, all down the front. Brass buttons with a sort of lacy cutout pattern joined the edges of the left front and right front together.

Purple wool, magenta silk, rainbow trim.
Purple wool, magenta silk, rainbow synthetic  trim.

Oh, yes, it’s also open down the front. You see, Vikings are known for their apron dresses. A lot of Viking women seemed to wear them, though not all: straps holding up what more or less amounted to a tube, or apron, that was wider at the bottom than at the top. The tubes could be of several different types (look them up), but I’ve never actually seen one that was open at the front. So, why is this one? Well, Rus women (the people from whom Russia is named) frequently wore gowns that were decorated vertically down the front, rather than at all the other seams or around the top and bottom. Su conjectured that, since the Finns and the Rus had a lot of contact within the Viking age, and shared a lot of fashion sense because of their frequent contact, a woman who was living in the area of geographical overlap/proximity might easily be wearing garments that were a little bit like those of Rus women and a little bit like those of Finnish women. So she created this hangerock (and one of the pieces above) with that thought in mind: open down the front, trimmed to highlight the vertical center line at the front, but also trimmed around the top edge and on the straps.

And then she loved it and wore it for many years, and kept it nice, and then freely and joyfully gave it to me. Because she loves me and doesn’t want to see me show up looking bad at events. (Plus, she wanted new garb, and couldn’t justify making any until she’d gotten rid of her old garb. But mostly just because she’s generous and awesome.) See? I told you it was a love story. But it doesn’t stop there, because not only did Su give me the gown, but she also permitted me to alter it to fit me better.

Therefore, the changes I’ve made to this gown, under Su’s excellent guidance:

  • Added 2″ wide, 9″ long gussets at the top, under each arm, to give me room to breathe.
  • Because of the addition, I extended the raw silk magenta trim to cover that open expanse of wool, as well as the rainbow trim over the silk trim.
  • Removed the existing buttons and replaced them with others (sewn onto both edges, not open-able).

That last was important. The existing buttons were gorgeous, the gown was gorgeous, so why? Well, it’s like this. The gown is a reddish purple. The tunic beneath is a bluish lavender. They went together okay, but not great. Being the brilliant woman that she is, Su searched her own stash and found brass buttons that have a round bump in the middle, and suggested that I should paint the bump to a color that was sort of in between the color of the dress and the color of the underdress — but closer to the underdress, so that they would tie the two together into something that looked appropriate together. Then she found a bottle of lavender ink/paint/something-or-another and loaned it to me so that I could do that for myself. The result is beautiful, an integrated, cohesive look.

Purple hangerock, with the trim still not sewn down yet.

Last night, Su came over and finished the two pieces of alteration that I don’t currently have the skill to finish for myself — tacking down the last bits of rainbow trim, which has to be done at the very edge of the trim by someone who’s super in control of the line on which she sews. To surprise her, on Friday I made a little Viking coif to go over my head, using the same fabric I used for the serk, and sewed it with the reddish purple thread that Su brought, that she used on the hangerock.

The coif is a bit too big, really, but it’s still cute, and it’ll serve the purpose of keeping my head/hair more covered than it would be in just the huva (under-cap, the same idea as the St. Birgitta cap, but a different design). Su was delighted that I managed to sew something from start to finish, without a pattern, without needing any help at all. That’s exactly what I wanted to show her: that her teaching is being used, and that I’m absorbing the knowledge that she and some other excellent teachers have been trying to impart to me.

So, here’s the finished look: myself, and Hakim, and the two of us together.

Try as we might, we couldn't make anyone understand that we wanted to show ALL of us -- including the bottom of my gown, and the trousers I made for Hakim out of the same fabric as my underdress. However, this was the best of the photos we did get. To be fair to the photographer -- Suleiman, a professional photographer -- by the time he got to us, I was probably forgetting to even TRY to say "Please get a full-body shot."
Try as we might, we couldn’t make anyone understand that we wanted to show ALL of us — including the bottom of my gown, and the trousers I made for Hakim out of the same fabric as my underdress. However, this was the best of the photos we did get. To be fair to the photographer — Suleiman, a professional photographer — by the time we got to him, I was probably forgetting to even try to say “Please get a full-body shot.”

2 replies on “Purple Viking Is Purple”

  1. Wonderful!

    You could have finished the edges by hand, but the rest was machine sewn, so it matches more closely (not better).

    Great job, little bee!
    ~ Su

    1. Thank you, Aunt Su! 🙂 Okay, “more closely” instead of “better” match, but… yeah. That’s why I didn’t hand-sew it down. I loved wearing it, BTW, and everyone admired it. You make gorgeous garb.

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