At Pennsic in 2008 I had the good luck of sitting in on a class about the different stitches used in the Viborg shirt. After the class the instructor mailed out a .pdf of an article about the shirt. For years it’s been my goal to recreate this shirt.
Research and Background
During the excavations carried out in 1984/85 of the town of Viborg Søndersø, Denmark, a lump of cloth was found in a post hole. Careful conservation revealed that this was a linen shirt, largely intact due to favourable (anaerobic) conditions in the soil; to date, this garment remains the only shirt from the Viking period found in Scandinavia or Europe in such good condition.
“(T)he most impressive archeological survival is the almost complete linen shirt from a post hole at Viborg, Denmark. The extent shirt from Viborg, which was probably buried in 1018, is of a very similar quality to the fragments from Hedeby graves.” (Ewing, 81-2) “It is not completely preserved, but there are such large pieces that it has been possible to reconstruct the cut.” (Østergård, 124) The shirt was made of an undyed flax linen woven in tabby (density of about 20/12 per cm2, medium quality) made of single ply Z/Z-spun linen thread. The cloth is woven very evenly with an even selvage. The sewing thread is either single-ply Z-spun linen thread or two-ply Z-spun S-plied linen thread. The shirt was not originally dyed, but has been stained grey-black by long immersion in charcoal and tannin-rich soil. The shirt displays several unusual features, including a quilted half-lining, a variety of complex seams and a double-layered neck opening. (Fenz)
This shirt would probably have been called a skyrta when it was created. An article of clothing Ewing says “must always, or at least nearly always, have been made of linen.” (Ewing, 81)
The proposed cutting diagram requires about 97 inches of 40 inch wide fabric(~3 yds). It has 10 pattern pieces and uses 8 different seam types.
The outer layer of the shirt is cut poncho-wise(no shoulder seams). The upper part of the shirt to the waist is lined with the lining having a shoulder seam. The skirts of the shirt are not lined. The outer fabric is fixed to the inner fabric with a running stitch(the square pattern). The side seams end level with the waist and the skirts are open at the sides. The back skirt covers the front skirt by about 5 cm (~2.5 in.) on each side.
The upper part of the shirt is slightly fitted in that the waist is narrower than the shoulder width. The sleeves are cut along the warp direction in two pieces with a small gusset. Only the upper portion of the sleeve was preserved so the length is uncertain. For this reconstruction the sleeves are long and narrow towards the wrist.
Order of operations:
- Overcast two pieces of right sleeve(seam should end up on the INSIDE of the shirt)
- Overcast two pieces of front lining(seam should end up between the layers of the shirt)(I think)
- Sew shoulder seam connecting front lining, back lining and poncho
- Sew the front and back fixation seams from the outside.
- Sew the front and back waist seams from the inside.
- Flatfell the two pieces of the left sleeve together
- Flatfell the gusset onto the back of the left sleeve
- Flatfell the gusset and down the length of the left sleeve. Should enclose the sleeve to the wrist.
- Repeat for the right sleeve/gusset.
- Sew the sleeve seam A and B (connecting sleeves to garment)
- Sew the side seams.
- Hem the sleeve ends and unfinished edges of the skirt
- Sew the skirt overlap down front and back.
- Finish neck hole(complex, follow instructions)
Fabric – I’m using 3.25 yards (not using all of it) of a 60″ wide medium weight 100% linen fabric with firm selvages.
Thread – I’m using an S/Z two-ply linen thread to sew this together.
– The suggested cutting in the article shows ~18.5 inches for the length of the sleeve. This is conjectural as the sleeves were not preserved and the actual length is unknown. I feel the proposed length is very short. I think the reconstruction will fit a “modern” 12 year old boy.. but the sleeves may be very short.
– The neck hole on the lining is ~1/2 inch taller than the neck hole on the outer piece (because the lining neck hole is butted up against and removes the seam allowance) to match up inner, vs outer.
– Because of the fixation stitch front and back the body pieces should be cut 1/2-3/4 inches wider than the lining pieces. The additional width will get taken up in the fixation seam. The height doesn’t need to be changed. The lost height will be taken up by the top/bottom seam allowance on the inner lining.
– The binding around the neckhole is made on a selvedge piece. This is -very- long. Longer than any piece I had left over from my fabric. I had to scavenge this out of another block of fabric in order to complete the shirt.
Mytte Fenz: The Viking shirt from Viborg: Instructions for making a replica 1997, printed by Viborg Stiftsmuseum. Maggie Mulvaney has made available a translation of Mytte Fenz’ original article and the seam treatments of the Viborg Shirt.
Ewing, Thor. “Viking Clothing.” Tempus Plublishing Limited: Great Britain, 2006. (pages 81-91)
Østergård, Else. “Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland.” Aarhus University Press: Denmark, 2004. (pages 123-124)
Ejstrud, Bo. “From Flax to Linen: Experiments with flax at Ribe Viking Centre.” Ribe Viking Centre & University of Sothern Denmark: Esbjerg, 2011. PDF. http://ribevikingecenter.dk/media/10424/Flaxreport.pdf
Another recreation of the shirt (photo of Nick Bibby in his Viborg shirt)