Viborg Shirt Observations, Conjecture and Puzzlement

Gusset and Neck Hole The gussets are almost exactly the same size as the neck holes.  It would be convenient, and save fabric to make the gussets out of the fabric removed to make the neck holes.

Fabric Width and Pieced Lining
I assume that given enough fabric the medieval seamstress would have preferred to cut the linings as a single piece. So then the fact that the lining is pieced implies that it was done to conserve fabric. This then placed the width of the original piece of fabric at about 39.5 inches wide.  That is 22.5″(width of the main body “poncho”) + 17″(width of the widest piece used in the lining).

Even though the proposed cutting diagram shows it as a single piece, the article says that it’s uncertain whether the lining on the back of the garment was cut as a single piece.

Selvages and symmetry
I’m bothered that the right and left sleeve use different seams to join the two pieces of the sleeve together(overcast selvages on one and flat-felled on the other).  The proposed cutting diagram with the article actually has enough selvages that the left sleeve could have been cut/sewn just like the right one.  This bothers me even more since the seam treatment is visible on the exterior of the garment. The article is very clear about the seams used on the sleeves.

To me that implies that either the cutting diagram is incorrect (and there wasn’t enough selvage available) or it’s a modern (or even just a personal) hangup and the medieval seamstress didn’t care.

That said, I can’t re-arrange the pattern pieces to make a more logical cutting pattern that conserves more fabric.

Minor Puzzlements

I’m puzzled why the body of the shirt is lined, but not the skirt.  I suppose this could for added warmth while still conserving fabric.

I’m also puzzled why the neck uses such a complex set of ties to keep it closed.  The neckhole could easily have been folded inwards and finished that way instead of adding the binding/ties. I suppose it does make it so the neck hole will fit over your head and still close tightly.

Lastly I’m puzzled why the front and back of the shirt use the “fixative” stitch.  Is it purely decorative or does it serve a purpose (may not figure this out until I sew it together)(if ever).

Front Lining

Sunday morning I bought some more linen. I very carefully found linen of the right weight, with a firm selvedge, that (at least reported that it) was 100% linen. I washed and dried this and FINALLY cut out all the pieces.

This linen is -still- slightly wrong as compared to the medieval linen. Modernly, firm selvedges are reinforced.. that is they have about twice the thread count of the rest of the fabric. I believe the medieval fabric edges were not reinforced. That said, this is the closest I’m going to get without weaving my own fabric.. so it’s good enough.

I’m using an S/Z two-ply linen thread to sew this together. At this time I’m using it as-is. If the thread frays a lot I will start waxing it.

From The Viking Shirt From Viborg:
Joining the selvages
The lining of the bodice is made from two pieces of fabric, the selvages of which are sewn together with an overcast stitch from the right side so that the seam faces the front.

The selvages of the two right sleeve sections are sewn together with an overcast stitch from the wrong side.

I find that first sentence very confusing. What I understand: The lining of the front of the body of the shirt is made of two pieces (noted in green on the cutting diagram). They are cut so that both pieces has selvage on the edge. These selvages are sewn together using an overcast stitch so that the pieces could be flattened (no seam allowance). I think the sentence is trying to tell me that this seam would be made on the “right side” of the fabric which would mean that it would be close to the body. Structurally I don’t think it makes any difference.

This morning on the commute I finished this first seam.

This evening I’ll try and finish the second seam(the sleeve seam).

Note that the description calls this the “right sleeve” but that the cutting diagram has labeled the “left sleeve” on the selvedge. I’ve decided that the cutting diagram is mis-labeled. In the pamphlet, in a later image the right sleeve is very clearly the sleeve with no seam allowance on the join. So the sleeve I sew together tonight will eventually be the “right” sleeve.

Groking the Pattern

Cheap krinkle linen is put away. Probably will use it for a chemise or somesuch. Got new linen and washed it.. No krinkles. Saturday I dragged a table out of the garage and into the dining room and used that to lay out fabric to cut out the Viborg shirt.

I totally -grok- it now. I know why it was cut the way it is cut and totally know how to adjust it to fit Fearghus(win).

It wasn’t until last night when I was looking at the sewing instructions that I realized that the fabric I used is -AGAIN- totally not right. I need fabric that has a hard selvedge.. this linen has a fuzzy selvedge. The historic find uses the hard selvage in several places.. so sewing a reproduction together with a fuzzy selvage just won’t work totally correctly. Bah humbug.

If I’m going to sew together a reproduction with an eye towards teaching this at an A&S someday then I need it to match the original as closely as possible. So I’m again looking to buy new linen (3rd times the charm.. right?) I think I’ll go ahead and futz the seam treatments and make up this first cut out as something to give away. I hate to waste fabric.. but I also hate to spend all this time/effort hand sewing a reproduction just to be forced to do it wrong because of poor fabric choice.

So back to square 1 on the Viborg shirt.. well more like 1.5 since I now -get- it and just need the proper fabric to get to work on it. (boo hiss)

Also, I am amused to find an error in the Viborg article. It was easy to spot.. but an error none-the-less.

Cheap linen is cheap

So Saturday I got 14 yards of 45″ wide natural linen for $2/yd (SCORE).

The responsible sewing gremlin demanded that I whack of a hunk of it off(~100 inches) for my Viborg project and throw it in the wash on “hot/hot” and abuse the snot out of it (abuse the fabric before you make it into clothes.. then the clothes will behave better)(right?).

While it was in the wash I pulled a thread of the weft off the remaining roll to check it to see what it was like. I want to compare my purchased fabric to the fabric described in the Viborg article. I fiddled with it for a while and found that it was WAY overspun. Very tight. I thought this was a little odd but didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.

When I pulled my test hunk out of the wash I noticed it had crinkled up ALOT. I’ve never had linen do that before. My gremlin decided I should wash it again(hot/hot).

Again it came out of the dryer all scrunched up.

So I ironed it. It was very stretchy. I’ve never had linen be this stretchy. After ironing it, it was mostly flat.. but still had a some stretch to it.

Not sure what to do about it. I’ve thrown it in the wash again.. this time on cold/cold. If it comes out mostly flat I’ll be ok with making stuff with it. If it scrunches again I’m just not sure.

I really don’t want to make an SCA garment that I have to iron before someone can wear it. I mean wrinkles are period.. but scrunchy crepe-y linen seems wrong.

Starting Rumbles

Next project is a reproduction of the Viborg shirt. The plan is to sew this on my commute since it’s all hand sewing. Long term plan is to resize this to fit my boy. Short term plan it to make it in it’s original size to see how it goes together. I thought I had linen for this.. but the linen I have right now is too nice to use for a shirt that no one’s actually going to wear. I’d rather use it for the sized up version for F later. I don’t have the fabric I want to use for this first Viborg shirt so I think while I’m trim shopping I might also pick up a few yards of good-enough linen.

Viborg Shirt

Project started Feb 10, 2010.
Progress: Finished April 19, 2010.
Actual sewing March 29-April 19. (though, really only 7-12 hrs total.)


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:

  1. Overcast two pieces of right sleeve(seam should end up on the INSIDE of the shirt)
  2. Overcast two pieces of front lining(seam should end up between the layers of the shirt)(I think)
  3. Sew shoulder seam connecting front lining, back lining and poncho
  4. Sew the front and back fixation seams from the outside.
  5. Sew the front and back waist seams from the inside.
  6. Flatfell the two pieces of the left sleeve together
  7. Flatfell the gusset onto the back of the left sleeve
  8. Flatfell the gusset and down the length of the left sleeve. Should enclose the sleeve to the wrist.
  9. Repeat for the right sleeve/gusset.
  10. Sew the sleeve seam A and B (connecting sleeves to garment)
  11. Sew the side seams.
  12. Hem the sleeve ends and unfinished edges of the skirt
  13. Sew the skirt overlap down front and back.
  14. Finish neck hole(complex, follow instructions)


Picture of original shirt

My Reconstruction

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.

Another recreation of the shirt (photo of Nick Bibby in his Viborg shirt)