Dress Diary: Fuddling My Way Through a Finnish Apron

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.

“Finished-for-now” apron

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.

You can see how I cut along a single thread, and left a tuft at the corner.
You can see how I cut along a single thread, and left a tuft at the corner.

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.

Long fringe as an experiment. I don't like how it hangs, so it will eventually be a tablet woven edge.
Long fringe as an experiment.

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)

Long coil right off the gizmo.
Long coil right off the gizmo.
coils
The coil on the left hasn’t been trimmed yet (see the little bit sticking up). The coil on the right has.

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.

Close-up of the vertical coils on the bottom edge. Note that in less than a month the shiny red bronze has oxidized to a much duller color.
Close-up of the vertical coils on the bottom edge. Note that in less than a month the shiny red bronze has oxidized to a much duller color.

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

In the middle is the wonky coil where one braid ends and another begins. Around it are non-wonky coils
In the middle is the wonky coil where one braid ends and another begins. Around it are non-wonky coils

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.

Really nice reproduction that I will probably use as the inspiration for the coil applique. I have some pictures of this piece in the process of being made which I expect to be extremely helpful.
Really nice museum reproduction that I will probably use as the inspiration for the coil applique. I have some pictures of this piece in the process of being made which I expect to be extremely helpful.

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