Sunday, May 31, 2015

Viking Women's Garb: Smokkr

With my Serk finished and ready to wear, I needed to finish the second layer of my viking women's garb: the Smokkr or apron dress. The apron dress has been interpreted in many different ways over the years. It has been portrayed as a pair of flaps front and back, a wrap style garment, either crossing over the breasts, or held shut in the center with another brooch, or as a fitted or semi fitted tube. Without a complete extant garment, and with most artistic representations ether very stylized or possibly representing ceremonial garments, we cannot say for sure exactly what the apron dress looked like. Certainly we cannot say how many variations there were, or what they all looked like. I feel confidant that we can eliminate the flaps front and back interpretation based on the finds at Haithabu of garments with distinct pieced sides, and just from a sheer stance of impracticality: that's the kind of thing you'd catch on fire leaning over to cook. But all of the other interpretations may hold some weight. Personally I think that the evidence most closely supports the fitted tube interpretation, and center brooches were most likely used to hold a caftan shut, but we cannot say with any degree of certainty that this was the only way center brooches were used, or that the fitted tube was the only style of Smokkr made.

Because I believe that the most likely, and best supported by existing evidence both pictoral and archeological, interpretation of the Smokkr is the closed tube, all of my Smokkrs will be based on this interpretation. This smokkr is however based more closely on the find at Kostrup which had a finely pleated/smocked front panel. This piece is a fairly large extant find: the material remaining seems to be much of the chest and part of the side of the garment, along with both shoulder straps and a piece of tablet woven trim. I am again deeply indebted to Hilda Thunem, who's extensive article gathered the original evidence in a language I could  read. I am following her reconstruction of the garment, tailored to my own measurments. Her article is here for those who have an interest. It is beyond excellent. Kostrup find

The choice of the pleated front Smokkr was a practical one for me. While I personally prefer the look of the more fitted closed tube style dress, the pleated front gathers a little extra fabric at the front of the gown and gives room for an expanding belly. This should fit me all the way through my pregnancy, and after.

I am using a black twill wool that has been slightly fulled and lightly brushed on the outside for this garment. Fabric choice was mostly driven by the fact that I had it already in my box of woolens. I did agonize ofer a while over the color. What evidence we have for viking dye preferances indicates a love for bright colors and patterns. Besides that true black is ridiculously hard to get from natural dyes. It's possible. Just annoying, time consuming, and difficult. In addition from my own experimentation I find it unlikely that the black achieved from natural dyes would have been the same as the black we can get from chemical dye. I did seriously consider attempting to lighten the black and then overdye it, but after consulting with other enthusisasts decided that my chances of ruining the fabric were too great. It was too close to the event to mail order fabric, and I had already shot my wad buying my tortoise brooches, so I decided just to go with what I have and live with the slight historic inaccuracy.

The smokkr is cut as a straight front and back panel, a side piece with one angled edge, and then a single gore placed between the side and back.
The curves on the back piece ae achieved by shaping the back panel with the garment mostly put together and on the intended recipient. Haithabu gives us plenty of examples of curved seams to shape garments. The result is a garment that is fairly nicely fitted in the back, with a slight pleasant fullness in the front. 

the most time consuming part of this garment is making the pleats at the front. There are a number of ways to stabelize these pleats, I followed the example of Hilde Thunem in her article about it, gathered the pleats with rows of basting and secured with smocking stitches across the inside of the garment. this provides a flexible and not bulky set of permenant pleats. The pleating could also have been made permenant by steaming, and I may yet try that eventually, but think it might not hold up well to laundering. 

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First I did a several samples of pleating to decide how long my pleating stitches needed to be, and how much I needed to draw them in. That gave me a final measurement for the front piece of my serk. After all the pieces were cut, I marked the outer edges of the portion to be pleated with pins, and made marks every eight of an inch with soap. a chalk marker would have been better because it would have made finer more accurate lines, but of course I couldn't find mine.

 And this is another reason why a chalk marker would have been preferable. The top edge has to be turned under before you pleat it. On wool this requires steam. Steam removes soap marks...... Oops.....
 Once I had re marked the top edge, I simply stitched on the marks, leaving long tails to pull it up with. As you can see, by the time I'd gotten to the bottom I'd figured out that it might be a good idea to mark my stitching lines horizonatally as well. It's harder to stitch straight than you'd think once you get away from the edge.
 Then you just pull up the stitches to the final measurement, You can see here that as you start pulling them up they do not want to go evenly in nice neat pleats. This was probably partially a factor of the relative thickness of my wool. It was neccesary to pull the pleats up as tightly as possilble, steam heavily, and pull on the top and bottom of the pleated section. this made the pleats sort of "pop" into place, and the steam set them in that position. Then I was able to let the pleats out a bit and spread them evenly to meet the proper finished measurement.

The finished pleats were held in place by rows of smocking stitches on the inside of the garment. Then the whole thing was steamed into shape to set it, and the basting stitches removed.  The whole process of getting the front pleated took me between 4 and 6 hours. However since it was all done by hand it was the kind of thing I could take outside while I watched the kids play, or do while I watched a movie.

With the pleating finished I was able to put the rest of the garment together. This does not have flat felled seams. The seams are pressed to one side instead of open, and embroidery will be run over the seam allowance later. I discovered a problem after I had put everything together but one side seam, and decided I should wrap it around me for an idiot test before I put it together for the final fitting of the back panel. It was too small. A mistake in measuring the front panel had put me off by several inches. I cut a new, wider back panel with sloped sides, not straight, to compensate for this error. This made the smokkr too big, which was what I wanted. I had my mom fit the back for me and take in the excess as tucks, which gives me some extra fabric to work with so it will still fit me after I start breastfeeding and my chest measurement goes up. While mom was pinning I had her pin the shoulder straps (which are long loops of self filled tube.) and set the hem between the knee and mid calf.

I did get it done in time for War of the Roses, although I was just finishing it off before bed the night before. And although it's not finished finished (no embroideries, no trim) it did look nice I think. And my tortoise brooches came in time too, so I was all set! A simple head scarf of lightweight linen to cover up my kind of crazy hair (it's pink at the ends right now) completed the outfit.
Finished pleating and brooches. You can see how the straps are made of a long
loop of self filled casing sewn together in the center.

pictures taken at event. it's too bright to see the pleats at the front.
The little thing hanging from my left brooch is my site token for the event. 
After wearing it at the event the only upgrade I plan to add (other than embellishment) is to possibly drop the hem an inch or two, and also to open one of the side seams a bit to make a slit that will allow me to get at the pocket in my serk. Hiking up the smokkr is cumbersome, but the pocket works GREAT. Especially so I can carry my cell phone, which I need to have so my husband can get me if he needs me.

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