Viking Dress and Overgown

Viking dress and overdress modelled by Julie
Viking dress and overdress modelled by Julie (American Girl)

Viking Dress can Cover
After the intense frustration and hassle of the gauze gown, I decided to do something completely different. For this outfit I used Viking dress and cover by Read Creations. The pattern doesn’t specify a date but clothing styles changed extremely slowly at that time and something of this sort could have been worn anytime from roughly 500-1100 AD. I’m calling it 1000 for indexing purposes.

It’s actually been finished for a week, but I decided I needed beads to complete the outfit so the post was on hold until I picked them up yesterday.

Brown solid quilting cotton for the dress (not sure of brand but a bit too thin for imitating wool) and a light mushroomy / lavendar warm grey solid for the overdress (also too thin). I had less than a half-metre of each so there wasn’t much room for error, as I found to my cost.

Seams were stitched in 100-wt silk thread and overcast in blanket stitch with single strand embroidery floss as usual.

If you haven’t been to your local Lincraft store in a while it might be worth while checking it out — there are lots of jewellery findings there now that are ideal for doll accessories. For this outfit I bought jump rings, thin leather cord (which I didn’t use in the end because it wasn’t supple enough at this scale) and knitting cotton (originally bought for hem decoration but I ended up using it for the lacings).

I was able to find some small-scale beads on etsy that were ideal for the bead string on the overdress. I was going to use oval beads to simulate turtle brooches, but from what I’ve read they were restricted to married women so I’ve left them off this outfit. The string of beads is a little long for the width but it looks pretty good and it’s sewn onto the shoulder straps so I’m not changing it now.

I cut the gores first and found that instead of four identical isosceles triangles I had three (almost) identical ones and one that was significantly smaller. I still don’t know how that happened. Given that they were supposed to be applied in pairs at the side that was a big problem. I didn’t have enough fabric to cut another triangle so I decided to use the three identical ones at front and sides, and add the two end triangles (which were almost the same size as each other, though smaller than the other gores) to the back. This was not a wise decision — I should have cut down the three bigger triangles to the size of the fourth — as it led to a further issue (see below). Since I was going to add a front gore I decided to split the front into two halves because I hate inserting triangles into a point — there is always a wrinkle, no matter how much you try to hide it. Because I was adding gores to the back I had to reduce the length of the opening at centre back, so the ability to add a larger slash at centre front was a bonus.

Actual construction went fairly well. I found my white chalk pencil a couple of days earlier so I was able to draw seam lines on pieces as I needed them. It turned out that two of the triangles weren’t symmetrical (which I should have predicted with one of the four being wonky) but luckily (or possibly subconsciously) I had attached the shorter sides first so I was able to trim the long sides. I was pleased that the front gore had no wrinkles at the top — it was worth sewing the extra seam at centre front. Once all the seams were done I smoothed out the hemline curve and did a 3/8″ double turned hem (the pattern said 1/4″ for the first turn and 1/2″ for the second but I prefer to have both turns the same size). The hem is a little wobbly on the inside because of the difference in circumference — I should have adjusted the seam line or added a gathering line to help pull in the fullness. It doesn’t look too bad on the outside.
Hem of the undergown
I used my hera tool to make eyelets — nine on each side at the back of the underdress, spaced at half-inch intervals. They were secured with quilting thread in blanket stitch. (Sorry, I didn’t get a photo of the eyelets.)

The overdress was even more simple — five panels (back was split) and four gores (all of which were actually identical this time). The top hem was a double-turned quarter inch and the hem was a single-turned quarter inch with the raw edge overcast. The back opening was also supposed to be a single turn but I really didn’t want that so I made it a double-turned eighth of an inch. The shoulder straps were way too long — I didn’t want to waste effort sewing two when one would do so after checking the fit I cut one in half and used a half on each side. I’m sure I’ll find some use for the other one. I did think about doubling them up and making loops, as some of the original dresses had, but that requires functional pins and/or brooches and would be bulky, so I stitched both ends instead. The overdress is just large enough to pull on over the feet and hips but not over the head and shoulders and the shoulder straps are long enough to go over the hands.
Inside the overgown
For the closure I sewed jump rings to the back. I don’t have any jeweller’s pliers at the moment (my old set went to my cousins a few years ago and the new ones I’ve bought are still in transit) so I ended up using scissor-action eyebrow tweezers to get the jump rings closed properly. I was very close to giving up and sewing eyelets instead but I persevered. The rings are at one-inch intervals instead of half, though. I may add the rest of the rings later on when I have the proper tools.

Both the gown and overgown are tied with knitting cotton rather than leather cord — the cord just didn’t work at this scale.

Viking dress undergown Julie with arms up
Below the waist is fine, but the undergown is very baggy above the waist and the sleeves are too long. I know that underarm gores are a real part of these gowns, but the in extant garments the armscye is usually a lot smaller so it’s needed. Doll sleeves and armscyes have to be fairly wide to allow the hands to go through, and reaching overhead isn’t essential, so the gores don’t add much to the fit. The slope of the shoulders was good though.

I’m not sure why the front opening is slightly longer on one side — I’m sure I lined it up properly when I did the seam. Oh well, I’m sure there were similar errors in the viking era, and a brooch would hide it. I also note that it was quite difficult to get the undergown on and off the dolls. I had allowed 6 times the length of the opening for the lace, but it was still too short and the ends got a bit messy having to re-thread the tapestry needle I was using. I need to re-do the laces to be a little longer and also seal the ends with glue. (Leather cord wouldn’t have frayed but, as I said earlier, it was too stiff and didn’t close the dress properly.)

Because the sleeves are a bit long on Julie I decided to try the outfit on Pearl (Our Generation) and Matilda (Australian Girl), who both have longer arms.
Undergown front
Undergown side
Undergown back
Overgown front
Overgown side
Overgown back
Pearl has the hair button at the back so the fit around the middle isn’t great. Her shoulders are flatter than AG so the top of the gown doesn’t sit very well. The sleeve length is a little better though.

In spite of being 2″ taller Matilda has much the same chest and arm measurements so I figured the dress would fit her too. I was very wrong. Her shoulders are actually quite narrow — the straps of the overgown barely cover the joint — while the point of the upper arm (where the acromial process/origin of the deltoid would be in a human) is quite wide, so the gown looks remarkably odd on her. I’m glad I found this out, though, because I’m planning on making a 16th century dress for her and now I know I’ll have to do a mock-up of the bodice first.

Lessons Learned:
1. “Measure twice, cut once” applies to sewing as well as carpentry.
2. Quilting cotton really doesn’t pass for wool very well. Stock up on plain flannelette when you find it, as you can be sure there will be none available in stores when you need it. Cotton drill or canvas would also be good options.

Notes for future versions:
1. Make the dress and overdress gores a little narrower.
2. Make the back seam of both dress and overdress half an inch wide or add a placket.
3. Reduce the size of the underarm gores to 1″ or leave them out.
4. Shorten the sleeves by ¼” for American Girl dolls.
5. Deepen the facing at the front if you want a keyhole neck opening.
6. Only cut one length for the shoulder straps.
7. For the undergown, cut lacing 8 x the length of the opening and trim afterwards.