Month: October 2015

Finnish Iron Age Garb: Basic Info

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.

finland1  finland3pernio

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).

Regional styles of Finnish dress
Regional styles of Finnish dress

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).

Twill wool. Note that if you look closely you can see diagonal lines.
Twill wool. Note that if you look closely you can see diagonal lines.

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.

Some woad dyed wool. Picture from:
Some woad dyed wool. I’ve seen many museum reproductions with even more vibrant cobalt blues. Picture from:

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.

Latgallian (I think) coils
Latgallian (I think) coils. (NOT FINNISH)
Estonian coils on a headpiece
Estonian coils on a headpiece. (ALSO NOT FINNISH)

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.

The process of adding on an integrated tablet woven band. I believe that this would have been easier when it was done on warp-weighted looms.
The process of adding on an integrated tablet woven band. I believe that this would have been easier when it was done on warp-weighted looms, instead of adding it later in the process. This picture is from the blog linked above, taken by Lara Baker-Olin.
Here you can see how it would often be done with the same color, and have a brick-like design to the stitches from only threading two holes in the tablets. This picture is from Mervi's wonderful blog (see below).
Here you can see how it would often be done with the same color, and have a brick-like design from only threading two holes in the tablets. This picture is from Mervi’s blog (see below).

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.

The top (with the green) is woven with a tubular selvage. The bottom is woven the regular way and you can see the blue weft thread.
The top (with the green) is woven with a tubular selvage. The bottom is woven the regular way and you can see the blue weft thread.
Applesies and Fox Noses
Applesies and Fox Noses

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.