Note: Right-clicking on Chrome will open up a box with a “Translate” option
Mervi Pasanen– (She also does European stuff. “Vanhemmat tekstit” takes you to the next page) She is the expert that most spreads information to English-speaking SCAdians. Finnish garb Laurel. Co-author of Applesies and Fox Noses.
Olof Trollkona– Very nice stuff! Particularly good replica of Pernio headdress (both the inaccurate and accurate versions)
Note: Almost all the following information is gathered from the Finnish Iron Age Facebook page. I am not an expert and can be totally wrong about any of this. 😛
Wire is categorized into soft, half hard, and full hard. Soft metal brends more easily but does not hold its shape as well. Full hard is great for holding sharp corners and such but it is more brittle and harder to work with. For Finnish coil decoration it is recommended to get half hard wire, which is in the middle. It is stiff enough to hold the shape, but soft enough that it isn’t brittle and is easy to work with. Soft also works, since the coiling process (being worked) hardens it.
The exact metal composition of the bronze doesn’t seem to be that important, as they didn’t have the technology to do exact mixes anyways. But note that there IS a difference between bronze-colored art wire (probably made of aluminum,with a colored outer layer), and actual bronze wire made of bronze. The “art” wire is much lighter, and any sort of scratching on it will show the silver-colored aluminum underneath the colored layer. It’s probably still fine generally (not at all period, though), but bronze or brass wire isn’t that expensive considering how much time and effort you’ll be putting in to this, so you might as well get the real thing, IMO.
I am saying “bronze” wire, because that is how it is referred to, but in actuality it was more brass like. The period wire DID have tin in it. Most replicas I have seen look more brass like, and from personal experience bronze coils get very unshiny brown (like an old penny) VERY quickly.
The wire they used is smaller than you would expect. The absolute biggest wire was 1.5mm (about 15 gauge) that was used as single rings (not coils) on the edge of a shawl (not an apron). For aprons, you should probably go with 0.5 – 0.7mm (20-24 gauge) for the interior decoration, which was done in the later period. The size of the wire on the edges of the apron is slightly larger (and in bigger coils) than the size of the wire on the decorative pieces. You can use 0.7- 1.3 mm (16-20 gauge) wire for this.
In short- The later time periods used smaller wire than the earlier time periods. The interior decoration used smaller wire than the border. The interior decoration was a later development than the border. Not everyone would have an interior decoration either.
Same note as always: Almost all of my information is from the Finnish Iron Age Facebook group and the documents they link to. Another one of the best resources is Mervi’s blog (which I’ll talk more about below).
Women’s Finnish garb consisted of three main layers: An underdress, an overdress, and an apron. There would also be a shawl in colder weather. This outfit is often generically referred to as a “Eura dress” (so that’s a good term for Googling), but in reality the Eura dress is a specific style of Finnish dress from the city of Eura. Baltic garb styles are very similar to Finnish including: Estonian, Latvian, Livonian, Latgallian and Semigallian (so those are also good Google terms).
Below are some pictures of Finnish Iron Age clothing reproductions from the Finnish National Museum. The first is ACTUALLY a “Eura” dress, because it is made in the style around the city of Eura. The middle dress is a Nikkei dress and the last is the Pernio dress. Note that while the Eura and Nikkei dress have a chiton-like overdress, the Pernio dress has a smock-like design. THIS IS NOT ACCURATE! Although you may see the smock-like overdress in pictures and such, it is actually a misinterpretation of the evidence from the 1930s.
Regional Styles: There were very specific local styles. Especially regarding headwear, jewelry, and apron designs. The pieces would NOT have been “mix and match”. For example, nobody would have worn a Pernio headdress with Eura spiral bracelets and Tuukkallan apron coil design. However, if you DO want to mix and match, it’s unlikely to be noticed, since there aren’t too many Finnish personas in the SCA. 😛 Below is a guide to various local styles. It was originally from a Finnish document (which’ll take me forever to hunt down again cuz it’s in Finnish), but I first saw it on Oonagh Bahn’s “Viking Age Finland: Study and Recreation of the Eura Dress” write-up (link is pdf).
Fabric: EVERYTHING IS MADE OF WOOL! (or leather for shoes and such). I believe vegetable fiber such as flax (linen) or hemp could be used as the weft threads in tablet weaving in such, but generally if you were wearing it, it was wool.
The wool is always a 2/2 twill. I think herringbone might also be okay. 2/2 means that the weft thread goes over 2 then under 2. You can tell a fabric is twill because it will have diagonal lines in the weave. Personally, I make sure the wool I buy is twill (check for the diagonal lines) but don’t bother to try to figure out exactly what kind it is (2/2, 1/2, etc).
I know an all-wool outfit sounds really hot, but a fine wool actually breathes really well and isn’t scratchy at all. In the summer, you can skip the overdress and wear just the underdress with the apron. I’ve done this in June/July and been pretty comfortable. In the winter you can add a shawl.
The wool would have been spun on a drop spindle, and woven on a warp-weighted loom. This is the oldest style of loom which dates back to the Neolithic era. Although it is much slower (and takes up more space) than a horizontal loom, there is no noticeable difference in the quality of cloth it produces. (So don’t worry about not having a warp-weighted loom unless you just want the experience of it, is what I’m trying to say.)
Color: Anything you can make from natural dyes is generally good. Blue was a preferred color, especially for mantles, shawls, and overdresses. And by “blue” I mean BLUE (such as royal blue or cobalt). I’m guessing (seriously JUST GUESSING) that this would have come from woad dye, which was the only light-fast blue dye available at the time. Indigo wouldn’t have made its arrival from Asia til later.
Red was also a popular color, but was NEVER used for aprons. It was too strong of a color for a woman to put over her private parts. However the fingerlooped thread that the bronze coil appliques were stitched on with were often red.
Seams: All the sewing should be done with wool thread. (It’s a general rule that you want your cloth to be stronger than your thread, because you would rather the thread snaps than that it rips through the cloth).
I have NO CLUE what style of seams they would use. I randomly came across this article on the Gaeira’s Anvil Facebook page, which mentions the use of “round seam” (by which I think they mean flat fell seams?) for Viking woolen sails. But that doesn’t mean much. If anyone has any sort of source for this, I would love to know.
I DO know that they would NOT have done any of those fancy decorative seam finishes that you sometimes see on Viking /Nordic /whatever garments. I think the sewing thread color should match the fabric, but for my personal project that wasn’t realistic (I’m using store bought fabric and doubt I could dye my thread to match decently), so I used undyed (white) thread, which IS slightly “decorative” looking, but whatevs.
Finn-Specific Details: There are some details in Finnish Iron Age garments that aren’t usually seen in other areas. The coil decorations aren’t limited to the Finns, but they are pretty much limited to the Baltic area. You won’t see it in the rest of Europe or Asia. Below are some Baltic (not Finnish) example of coils.
I also have not seen integrated tablet weaving outside of Finnish or Baltic garments, but this may mean more about what garments I am looking at than whether it existed elsewhere. The Finns would have finished off the edges of their cloth with this technique which uses the warp of the fabric as the weft of the tablet woven band. This strengthens the fabric and prevents fraying. I recommend this dress diary by Khalja Korkhi of her using the technique. In the picture below from the site the tablet woven band is of a different color than the fabric, but it would also often be of the same color. It is most frequently in a brick-like pattern that results from only threading two holes in your tablets.
Something very specific to Finland was tubular selvages on their tablet weaving. This technique resulted in stronger bands and hid the weft thread at the edges. The picture below (and the orange picture above) are both from Mervi Pasanen’s blog. Not only is her work absolutely amazing, but she literally wrote the book on Finnish Iron Age tablet weaving (along with Maikki Karisto). The book is called Applesies and Fox Noses and you can (and should) buy it here. A little trick to navigate Mervi’s blog: At the bottom of the pages “Vanhemmat tekstit” will take you to the next page.
Accessories include: Leather shoes, naalbinded socks, leg wraps and ties for cold weather, a tablet woven belt. Jewelry was all bronze and the basics include two brooches for holding up the overdress, and a chain that hangs from the brooches and has everyday items attached. Headwear was very regional.
Same note as always: Almost all of my information is from the Finnish Iron Age Facebook group and the documents they link to. I’ve seen quite a few pictures of finished pieces there, but not too many details on the exact process, so I figured I’d share how I fuddled my way through making an apron here.
Textile: I used store-bought fabric. Like all Finnish Iron Age fabric, it is a 2:2 wool twill. In period the fabric would be woven to be the right size. The sides of the apron would be selvage edges, and the top and bottom edges would be finished by integrated tablet weaving, which is when the warp of the fabric is used as the weft of the tablet weaving. This meant that none of the edges were hemmed or blanket stitched or anything.
Because my fabric was store bought it had to be cut to size. I felt like hemming it would make it look and hang wrong, so in order to “fake” the look of being woven the right size I pulled threads until the edge was one continuous thread and cut along it. This means that there’s no threads that can fray. On one set of corners (pictured below) I left a little tuft at the edge instead of cutting it off. In the other set of corners, I put some stitches down to help hold the corner together and keep it from fraying. We’ll see how it holds. If either of these options ends up falling apart over time, I’ll update here.
On the bottom edge I pulled out about 6″ worth of thread to create a fringe. I was just generally interested in fringe (ooo pretty), and ended up using it to thread the coils vertically. The apron currently is “fringed” but I don’t think it hangs well. Luckily, there is enough of it that I can go back and do an integrated tablet woven edge sometime.
Coiling Wires: I’ve already written about what type of wire to use here. (Although I STILL managed to buy the wrong type of wire myself on my first go around. It was square instead of round :P)
To make the coils I bought one of these coiling gizmos for $7 on Amazon. I don’t know exactly how the coils were made in period, but putting a handle on a mandrel doesn’t seem unlikely. I don’t have anything convenient to clamp it to in my tiny NYC apartment, so I just held the base in my hand and it worked just fine like that. After coiling, you end up with a really long coil.
For the bottom vertical coils, I just cut through the long spiral piece with my wire cutters every 12 spirals. (The top didn’t need to be so exact so I just eyeballed it). Usually this would result in a little bit of the wire sticking up that would need to be trimmed off.
I broke my first set of wire cutters which taught me that I need to look on the ratings for them to make sure they are okay for your gauge and hardness of wire. The problem is that the cutters that work with half-hard 18 gauge wire make much sharper/rougher cuts than the more delicate ones for smaller, softer wire. I did my best to get rid of any sharp points that might wear on the wool.
Vertical Coils on Bottom: For the bottom, I put a wire on every 6 strands of thread. I sorta hand plied the threads a little bit to make it stronger. Then I tied a knot with 3 threads from two adjacent coils to hold it together. All the period examples I’ve seen would still have a horizontal row of coils at the very edge. I may add that when I get around to adding the tablet woven selvage.
Horizontal Coils on Top: The top of the apron was a bit more of a challenge. In the pictures I’d seen it looks like it was sort of worked in to the edge of the cloth, but I couldn’t think of any way they would do it that would make sense. I knew the Finns used fingerloop braids for other coil-work, so I figured I could use them here too. I didn’t know how to do fingerloop braiding, but there are videos on YouTube teaching it. I did a five-loop flat braid.
In the pictures I’ve seen, there isn’t an obviously different color or material at the edge of the cloth. So the material I used for the fingerloop braiding was threads that I had pulled out of the cloth. I figured that way it would match exactly. The problem I had was that these threads weren’t really meant to be worked with, and the friction of my fingers plucking at the loops would eventually wear through the threads and break them. I would tie knots to fix it when I could, but I could only get about 5″ of braid out before it became completely unworkable. This meant that I had to use three braids to go across the top. I hid the exchange between braids inside of coils, but those coils ended up not being attached as nicely. Going back to secure them should be done in the next week
I attached the coils by threading them one by one onto the braid, and then stitching the braid down to the cloth in between the coils. I also used thread I had pulled off the cloth to stitch the braid down. It would stitch the braid down and then go through the coil. Repeat.The stitches were about 0.2 cm from the edge of the cloth, and then the edge of the cloth goes behind the coils. This is the first time the apron has an obvious front and back side.
I’m a little worried about how well the top edge will hold up without being finished in any way (hemmed, selvage, tablet woven, etc.) If it frays apart and the coils start coming off, I’ll update here and let you know. 🙂
A future project is to make the coil applique design to add to the front. There is not a rush on that project though because not everyone would have one. Only the more well-off people in the later part of the period would have it.