The aprondress from Køstrup (grave ACQ)

By Hilde Thunem (
(Last updated October 21th 2013)

A small graveyard in Køstrup, Fyn in Denmark was excavated in 1980-1981. Of the fifteen graves that were found, only one is of interest to the textile enthusiasts, namely grave ACQ. The grave contained a small casket with ironwork and a lock, two tortoise brooches, several textile fragments, six glass beads, two quartz beads, an iron knife with sheath, and an iron key (too large to fit the lock of the casket). The grave goods are described by Charlotta Lindblom, and according to her, they indicate that the grave is from the 10th century.

The initial analysis of the textiles in the grave was carried out in 1981 by Henriette Wielandt. While I haven't been able to get access to her report, both Lise Bender Jørgensen (in 1986) and Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg (in 1993) have written about their examination of the textile remains. Charlotte Rimstad mentions the find (in 1998) and gives a summary of Wielandt's analysis. In addition, Odense Bys museum very kindly allowed me to examine these textiles. Unfortunately, time constraints meant that I couldn't go through them all, so I had to focus on the most significant pieces.

The archaeological remains

Most of the textiles were found inside or on top of the tortoise brooches. There was a lump of textiles inside the left brooch (x505). The right brooch (x501) had turned in the grave so that the underside pointed upwards and had much less preserved material inside.

The aprondress (smokkr)

The majority of the textiles inside the left brooch came from a smokkr. These fragments (x541) of woollen tabby was made of two-ply yarn (19-27/11-16 threads pr cm).

smokkr, fragment x541
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x541 and seam 585, inside of garment?, large version (1.1 MB)

According to Lønborg, the smokkr had been dyed blue, although no mention is made of whether the dye was identified chemically or just visually through a microscope. The upper edge of the smokkr had been finished by folding ca 0.5 cm of the cloth over and stitching it in place (with a running stitch according to Lønborg). Unfortunately, I was not able to determine whether the fold ended in a raw edge, a selvedge or had been folded again to hide the raw edge.

Af selekjolen er så meget bevaret, at man kan se, at kjolen har været lukket fortil og har været afsluttet opadtil af en ca. fem mm. bred søm, der er syet med forsting. I selekjolefragmentets ene ende ses resterne af et gauffreret stykke, der har siddet midt mellem fiblerne, velsagtens for at give kjolen vidde. Gauffreringen ser ut til at være fremkommet gennem en simpel rynkning med en hørtråd.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 176-177

Køstrup smokkr, 
details of pleating One end of the smokkr fragment had been pleated with tiny pleats, 2-3 mm deep and 3 mm wide. The pleated part is currently approximately 7.6 cm long. The longest pleat is torn 4.3 cm from the top of the smokkr, so we don't know whether the fabric only was pleated near the chest, or if the pleats ran further down.
Photographs: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, details of x541, large version left (530 KB), right (2.1 MB)

Køstrup smokkr, 
details of pleating Lønborg suggests that the pleating was created by drawing the cloth together in pleats by a single linen thread. It is unclear from his description whether he believes that the thread was removed afterwards, or if it is still present.

I was not able to spot the thread if it was there, but the fabric is tightly pleated with little space between the ridges. In addition, there were no information in regards to which side was the outside and which was the inside of each fragment. Finally, I am no textile expert, and so may not be able to interpret all that I am seeing.

If the fragments are puzzled together they make a piece roughly 25 cm long, running from the middle of the dress, under the left brooch and down under the arm. The fragment reaches only 10 cm down from the edge, and so give little information as to how long the smokkr was.

Køstrup fragment
Photograph: Thor Ewing, Viking clothing, plate 4, large version (220 KB). Position of loop and seam added by me.

As usual, the smokkr would have been fastened to the brooches with fabric loops. Unfortunately, during my examination I was not able to determine the exact position on the fragment where the lower loop from the left brooch had been fastened.

In Charlotte Rimstad's article there is a slightly fuzzy photograph with the brooch placed in relation to the smokkr pieces. I have marked the position (as far as I can determine) onto the better quality photograph by Ewing. If her placement of the brooch is correct, the pleating doesn't start immediately after the brooch. Instead, there is approximately 6-7 cm with unpleated cloth between the brooch and the pleated part.

Køstrup smokkr, 
details of seam

Endvidere ses på den anden side af fibel x505, mellem fiblen og armhulen, en lodret sammensyning av to ægkanter.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 176-177
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, seam x585, large version (820 KB)

There is a vertical seam (ca 1.9 cm long) connecting two cloth edges on the large fragment. The seam is placed between the left brooch and the armpit, roughly 4-5 cm from the brooch (provided Rimstad's positioning of the brooch is correct).


The right brooch

According to Wielandt (as summarised by Rimstad), there were two loops (x543 and x518) made of woolen tabby inside the right brooch. In addition there were a couple of linen strings (x545 og x546).

Køstrup smokkr, 
loop x518

Derudover fandtes et sæt brede lærredsvævede uldstropper (x543, x518) og nogle løse tråde af hør (x545 og x546).
Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i uld og guld, p 18
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, fragment x518, large version (1.2 MB)

Lise Bender Jørgensen have examined both the woollen loops, and have reported on the details of each textile. Unfortunately, there is a discrepancy in the numeric codes used by Wielandt (in Rimstad's summary) and by Bender Jørgensen. Wielandt assigns x543 to one of the loops within the right brooch, and x544 to some linen fragments within the same brooch. Bender Jørgensen does the exact oposite. I haven't examined either of the fragments, so I cannot say who is correct.

According to Bender Jørgensen x518 was made of tabby with 17/10 threads pr cm (Z/Z thread). Loop x544/x543 was made of tabby with 18/18 threads pr cm (Z/Z thread).

The loop x518 appears to be 1.1-1.4 cm wide and torn at a length of 3.8 cm.

The left brooch

Rimstad reports that Wielandt observed two loops of woollen tabby, one (x569) situated at the bottom (sewn to the smokkr fragment and a tablet woven band), the other (x570) at the top of the brooch.

Til fragmentet var syet en bred lærredsvævet uldstrop (x569), der sad om spændets nålefæste, og som yderligere var syet sammen med et brikvævet pyntebånd (x584). En tilsvarende uldstrop (x570) sad om spændets nåleholder. Ydermere fandtes der rester af endnu et par lærredsvævede stropper (x572, x703) ved hhv. nålefæstet og -holderen, blot smallere end det første par.
Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i uld og guld, p 18

Køstrup smokkr, 
loop x569?

Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x569?, large version (1.6 MB)

When examining x569 I found that the loop strap was 1.0 - 1.3 cm wide. The loop in its entirety would have stretched from the top of the smokkr, past the tablet woven band and around the needle inside the brooch. Only the piece that ran between the top of the smokkr and the tablet woven band remains. It is currently 3.9 cm long. I am not able to tell from the fragment where it was fastened to the smokkr.

According to Rimstad, Wielandt also states that there were two slimmer loops of linen tabby at the bottom (x572) and top (x703) of the left brooch respectively.

Only one of these is mentioned by Lønborg. He reports that there was a 5 mm wide, blue, linen band in the left brooch, made from four layers of linen tabby (22-26/20-24 threads pr cm), folded and whip stitched along one side. According to him, the band was fastened by folding it around the needle in the brooch, instead of having a loop at the end. Køstrup smokkr, 
fragment x572 Køstrup smokkr, 
folding of x572

I fibel x505's ene side er bevaret dele af et ca. 5mm bredt, blåfarvet hørbånd, fremstillet av 4 lag ombukket lærred med en kastning langs den ene side, der tolkes som rester af et bærebånd til ophængning af nøglen og kniven. <...>

Det smalle hørbånd fra fibel x505 er entrådet og har trådtal på 22-26/20-24 pr. cm.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 177, 178, illustration p 178
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x572, large version (200 KB)

Currently, the linen band x572 has fragmented to a degree where it is impossible to see how it once were fastened to the needle. As for the other linen loop, there is no fragment x703 in Odense Bys museum's list of textile fragments from grave ACQ.

Construction of the woollen loops

Lønborg agrees with Wielandt's observation of two woollen loops within each brooch. He have examined the way each loop has been constructed.

Construction of loops According to him, two of the straps were made from the same fabric as the smokkr. They were folded and whip stitched along the side (as shown leftmost in the illustration).

Then there was one strap with a linen core (made by folding linen cloth) where the smokkr fabric had been folded around the core and whip stitched along the side (rightmost in the illustration). Possibly because they did not have sufficient smokkr fabric left to make a strap the usual way? The last strap was folded and whip stitched along the side, but was made from a less finely woven woollen tabby than the smokkr.
Illustration: Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 177


Among the remains was a 13.3 cm long and 14 mm wide fragment of a tablet-woven band (x584). The warp is a two-ply woollen yarn, originally dark blue. The weft is missing, which indicates that it might have been a linen yarn. The band is patterned, with several figures made out of coloured woollen thread. Lønborg believes that the band's original length was 20 cm, and that it ran between the two tortoise brooches along the top of the smokkr.

fragment x584
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x584 (outside of garment), large version (610 KB)

According to his description, the band was whip-stitched to the front loops (but not to the smokkr itself). There were two woollen strings running along each side of the band and whip-stitched to the loops. It is uncertain whether they were fastened to the tablet-woven band in some way. However, stitches in the two lower strings indicate that they were stitched to each other and to the smokkr in at least one place.

fragment x584 and strap 569

Mellem fiblene, langs selekjolens vandrette søm, har et mørkeblåt, ca 14 mm bredt mønstret brikbånd af uld været anbragt, oprindeligt ca 20 cm langt. Brikvævningen er udført som tohulsbrikvævning med totrådet ultråd i trenden, mens islætten, der i dag ikke kan iakttages, har sannsynligvis vært av hør. Mønstrene der er fremstillet i uldbrochering, er udført med forskjellige tråde i forskjellige farver, der desværre ikke kan bestemmes, men som i dag fremtræder i rødlige, brunlige og gullige nuancer.

Båndet har været hæftet med kastninger til selekjolens forreste stropper. Langs begge sider af brikbåndet er anbragt to uldsnore, fastsyet med kastesting til stropperne, men hvis eventuelle fastgjørelse til brikbåndet er usikker. Sting i de nederste snore og i selekjolen indikerer dog, at disse snore et enkelt sted har været hæftet sammen, både indbyrdes og med selekjolen.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 177-178
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, marked 'x584 and strap 569', large version (840 KB)

Lønborg proposes that the band was created by a two-hole tablet weave, and that the the pattern was constructed using a brocading technique. He draws the pattern as a set of geometric shapes.

fragment x584
Pattern by Agnes Raaness, based on the pattern in the article by Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg.

While this specific pattern is unique, there are similarities between parts of it and other tablet woven bands from the period.

A woman's grave from the 10th century at Birka (grave 965) contained several tablet woven bands, whereof the patterns can be found in Agnes Geijer's report on the Birka textiles. One of these bands has several figures similar to the left one on the Køstrup fragment (light blue in the pattern above), while another band from the same grave has an "unfinished swastika" similar to the Køstrup figure found in second position from the right (grey in pattern above).

Birka B19 Birka B7

Agnes Geijer, Birka III, die textilfunde aus den gräbern, illustration p 82 - 83

Finally, the central figure in the Køstrup band (violet in the pattern above) can also be found in a woollen band worn by the man buried at Mammen in 970-971.

The woollen band from Mammen

Illustration Lise Ræder Knudsen, Det uldne brikvævede bånd fra Mammengraven, p 149

According to Lise Ræder Knudsen, who examined it, the woollen band had been woven in a 3/1 double-faced broken twill using 17 tablets.

Båndet fremstår i dag med 38 trendtråde. Der har været en kantbrik yderst i hver side trådet med 4 nu rødlig brune uldtråde, herefter fra begge sider 5 brikker med 2 tråde i hver af samme garn som kantbrikkerne. De resterende 5 brikker i midten af båndet har været trådet med 2 nu gulligtgrøn brune tråde i hver.

Uden for mønsteret ligger trådende bundet i en uregelmæssig 3/1 dobbeltkiper, i mønsteret går trendtråden om bagpå båndet og islætstråden ses tydeligt.

Langs mønstrene i båndet ses huller efter nu nedbrudte og forsvundne vegetabilske tråde. Selv om båndet nu fremtræder som to-trådsbrikning, er det altså oprindelig vævet med 4 tråde i alle brikker.
Lise Ræder Knudsen, Det uldne brikvævede bånd fra Mammengraven, p 149

At first glance it appeared to have been created by threading four wool threads through the two outermost tablets and two wool threads through each remaining tablet. However, a closer examination showed gaps in the pattern, due to deteriorated vegetable threads. Ræder Knudsen concluded that the fifteen tablets in the middle had been threaded with two woollen and two vegetable (e.g. linen) threads, and that the vegetable thread would have been the one creating the pattern, twisting above the woollen background weave.

Could something similar be the case of the Køstrup band? The pattern remains in the case of this band, and I am not sufficiently knowledgeable in regards to tablet weaving to know whether Lønborg is correct in his assumption that this band was created with just two woollen threads for each tablet.

Unfortunately, the original dyes used in the Køstrup band have faded into brownish, yellowish and reddish shades, and it is no longer possible to determine the original colours. It is possible to see that some of the patterns would have been differently coloured than their neighbouring figures though.

fragment x584, details start of band
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x584 (details, start of band), large version (1.6 MB)

fragment x584, details end of band
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x584 (details, start of band), large version (3 MB)


Lindblom reports that eight beads were found in the grave. Two were made from quartz and the rest of glass. Five of the glass beads were barrel shaped: one reddish-brown, one white, one orange, one red/white mix and one black bead. The last was a square green bead.

According to Lønborg, there were remains of a thick thread around the top of the needle in the right tortoise brooch. Fragments of the same type of thread also appeared on the top loop in the left brooch. He believes that this thread was used to string the beads and hang them between the brooches.

Endelig ble der omkring den ene fibels nåleholder/jernnål (x501) fundet rester af kraftig tråd. Fragmenter af samme type tråd optræder på stroppen fra fibel x505's nåleholderende. Disse trådrester kan være rester af den tråd (...) der har været anvendt til opphængning af perlene mellem de to fibler.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 177

Other remains

Wielandt (according to Rimstad) found three fragments of fine linen tabby. There was one (x542) innermost in the left brooch, underneath the fragments of the woollen smokkr, one (x525) on top of the left brooch and one (x544) within the right brooch.

I følge [Henriette Wielandts analyser] fandtes der inderst i skålspænde [x505] rester af en fin lærredsvævning i hør (x542) (...). Uden på denne, dvs. tættest på den dødes krop, var endnu en lærredsvævning (x541), men af uld.
Over skålspænde [x505] fandtes lærredsvævet hørstof (x525) svarende til stoffet inderst i spændet. De to fragmenter kan være fra samme vævning.
Skålspænde [x501] indeholdt langt færre tekstiler. Inderst i spændet fandtes få mineraliserede fragmenter af hørlærred (x544). Tekstilet svarer til det stykke stof, der lå inderst i skålspænde [x505], og det er derfor sandsynligt, at de to fragmenter er fra samme stykke tekstil.
Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i uld og guld, p 18

Lønborg's report describes the same layers in the left brooch, but contains no details in regards to the right brooch. According to Lønborg the linen tabby was woven with 20-28/16-18 threads pr cm.

Særkens hørlærred, samt hørlærredet over fibel x505, er entrådet og har et trådtal på 20-28/16-18 pr. cm.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 178

Rimstad's summary also states that there were two layers of woollen cloth (x524, x527 and x548), with a layer of down and feathers (x523 and x547) between them. This wool and feather "sandwich" was found on top of the left brooch, above the linen fragment x525. Lønborg describe the same layers, and includes the detail that the woollen cloth is a tabby with 12-13/7 threads pr cm (two-ply yarn).

Over skålspænde [505] fandtes lærredsvævet hørstof (x525) svarende til stoffet inderst i spændet. De to fragmenter kan være fra samme vævning. Herover fandtes to lag grovere uldstof (x524, x527 og x548) med et lag dun og fjer (x523, x547) imellem.
Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i uld og guld, p 18

Lastly, Lønborg describes a small iron fragment. On top of the fragment are two layers of tabby with two-ply yarn (8/8 threads pr cm, probably wool). Above these layers is a small tabby fragment (26/29 threads pr cm, probably linen) and fragments of two narrow woven bands (warp 4 threads, weft 24 threads pr cm).

Endelig blev der ca. 2 cm NV for fibel x501 fundet rester af et lille stykke jernblik med et rundt slået hul. I rusten var flere stykker tekstil med spredte sting bevaret. På jernblikkets ene side ses to lag totrådet lærred, sandsynligvis uld, med et trådtal på ca. 8/8 pr. cm. Ovenpå dette ses et lille fragment af entrådet, lærredsbundet hør? Med et trådtal på 26/20 pr. cm. Ovenpå uldlærredet ses ligeledes rester af to vævede band, der er lærredsvævede over fire trendtråde, mens islættens trådtal ligger på ca. 24 pr. cm.

De vævede bånd kunne være et stykke af en kantning af en kappe og det lille stykke jernblik kan have været fastsyet på kanten og være en del af et lukketøj.
Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 178


Although the fragments from grave ACQ at Køstrup provide a lot of new information about the smokkr, there is still a lot of room left for interpretation. Wielandt and Lønborg each have their separate theories as to how the woman would have been dressed.

It appears (from Rimstad's report) that the difference between the two theories stems from a dispute about the order of the layers of fabric. (Such a dispute is not visible to me, but I haven't had access to Wielandt's paper, just to the summary presented by Rimstad.) It is clear, however, that the two researchers interpret the presence of linen on top of and inside the left brooch (underneath the woollen fragments) very differently.

Wielandt proposes that there was a linen garment on top of the woollen one. According to her, this is why there was linen innermost in the brooches. She believes that there were two smokkrs: a blue woollen smokkr (with woollen loops) worn next to the body, and a linen smokkr (with narrow linen loops, x572 and x703) worn on the outside.

She suggests that the linen on top of the brooch may come from the smokkr or from a shawl. On top of the body there were a kind of duvet (with two layers of wool enclosing a layer of down and feathers).

Resultatet af Wielandts analyse fører til følgende tolkning af dragten: Kvinden har været iført en indre stropkjole af uld med brede stropper. Sømmen og pyntebåndet har siddet i midten foran, mens gauffreringen har været i siden for at give vidde. Herover har hun haft en ydre stropkjole af hør med smalle stropper, og oven på selve spænderne har hun haft endnu et hør-lag, måske fra stropkjolen eller fra et slag. Derover har hun haft en slags dyne.
Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i uld og guld, p 18,19

Lønborg on the other hand, proposes that there was an undyed linen underdress (serk) worn inside a blue woollen smokkr.

Stratigraphy by Lønborg It is true that the stratigraphy inside the left brooch (where the wool is closer to the body than the linen) works against this interpretation. Lønborg's explanation is that the needle of the brooch was stuck through the serk, resulting in a piece of serk linen being pushed into the brooch. The woollen fragments of the smokkr were then folded on top of it during the decomposition.

Illustration (slightly modified) from Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 176

While piercing the serk with the brooches isn't normal practice, evidence of it has been found other places than Køstrup. Inga Hägg remarks in her analysis of Haithabu that while unusual, there were two graves where this had happened. She suggests that the purpose of the arrangement was to keep the brooches stable when the dead women were carried to their graves, fully dressed and on display.

Som exempel på egenheter som har med gravskicket att göra, kan slutningen nämnas två kvinnograver. Här hade spännbucklornas nålar trätts genom framstycket till underliggande plagg, dvs särken (...). På så sätt hölls spännen med pärlsnoddar och annat på plats i dräkten trots att den döda befann sig i liggande ställning. Detta arrangemang är onödigt om det var meningen att den döda bare skulle placeras liggande i graven men inte om hon bars dit påklädd och synlig för alla.
Inga Hägg: Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Gräbern von Haithabu, p.278

According to Lønborg, there was only one linen strap inside the left brooch, not two. It is possible that fragment x703 disappeared before he got the chance to examine the finds. (It is not on the list of fragments in the museum.) However, Rimstad observes that Wielandt mixes up the numeric codes of the linen loops in her report, which to my mind lends some credibility to there never having been a second strap in the first place. If so, that decreases the probability of a linen smokkr.

Instead Lønborg proposes that the linen band (x572) was used to carry the knife and the key. This fits much better with the way it was folded around the needle (if Lønborg has recorded it correctly), which does not look anything like a smokkr loop.

Also, although one should be very careful applying our modern day "common sense" to dress codes from the past, I personally find it very unlikely that the dyed and pleated woollen smokkr should have been hidden beneath a plain and less costly linen smokkr.

When interpreting the rest of the remains, Lønborg suggests that the two layers of tabby wool, the layer of down and feathers, and the layer with linen (all on top of the left brooch) could stem from a duvet or a cloak of some kind. He also considers the small iron fragment with two layers of wool(?) and a layer of linen(?) and two fragments of bands on top. His suggestion is that this may stem from a cloak of some kind, decorated with the woven bands and with some kind of closing mechanism made of iron.

Charlotte Rimstad supports Lønborg's interpretation of only one smokkr. She believes that there was a woollen feather-filled duvet that covered the body, but proposes that the linen fragment has nothing to do with the duvet. Instead, she proposes that the linen on top of the left brooch could be part of the serk that have folded itself in over the brooch as the body deteriorated. She seems to be unaware of the iron fragment described by Lønborg, and so does not entertain the idea of a cloak.

The practice of covering the body with a woollen duvet filled with feathers and down is known from other Viking graves, among others several graves at Haithabu. If the wool and feathers were from a duvet, it is possible that the linen came from a shawl or cloak of some kind, decorated with woven bands at the edges.

However, there are also some Viking outer garments that are filled with down and feathers. I wonder if the Køstrup body could have been dressed in such a garment. Perhaps with a partial lining of linen, and woven bands as a part of the closing mechanism? (This would explain why the bands were in the same layer as the linen).

Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to examine these fragments. Neither Wielandt (in Rimstad's summary) nor Lønborg goes into much detail regarding them, leaving me with very limited information. At least it allows me to guess :-)

The smokkr

Both Wielandt and Lønborg agree that the fragments of blue woollen tabby came from a smokkr. However, that is where the agreement ends. According to Rimstad, Wielandt believes that the pleating was placed on the side of the smokkr. Lønborg, on the other hand, places it in the middle, between the brooches.

Kvinden har været iført en indre stropkjole af uld med brede stropper. Sømmen og pyntebåndet har siddet i midten foran, mens gauffreringen har været i siden for at give vidde.
Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i uld og guld, p 19 (om Wielandt's teori)

None of them give a reason for why their opinion differs, which makes it hard to know whom to agree with. Until more information surfaces, I am inclined to lean towards Lønborg's interpretation. Wielandt's theory would place the pleating beneath the arms, which should have resulted in more wear (although that is only true if the dress was used before it became a funerary garment). Also, if part of the purpose of the pleating is to decorate the smokkr, it makes sense to place it according to maximum visibility, namely between the brooches.

Both Wielandt and Lønborg believe that part of the purpose of the pleats would have been to increase the width of the garment. Having examined the pleats, (and created a reproduction) I am uncertain as to how much width they would have provided in practice.

Køstrup smokkr Charlotte Rimstad's picture of the brooch and fragments show that there was a stretch of unpleated fabric, roughly 6-7 cm long, between the brooch and the pleating. If we use Lønborg's assumption that the distance between the loops was 20 cm (a similar length - 22 cm - was observed on the smokkr front found in Birka), the pleated part would probably have been about 8 cm, with a stretch of 6-7 cm with plain fabric on either side, between the pleats and the brooches.

If we take into account the dimensions of the pleats (2-3 mm deep and 3 mm across), then the added width over a pleated part 8 cm long would have been somewhere between 11 cm and 16.5 cm. (Each pleat increases the width with 4-6mm and there is 80 mm/3 mm + 1 = maximum 28 pleats.) Although it certainly provides some width, it is not a very large increase on a dress that goes around the body.

Although the Køstrup fragment is larger than most of the smokkr fragments in existence, there are limits to what it can tell us about the shape of the smokkr. However, the fragment runs from the middle of the front of the smokkr and continues along the side of the body far beyond what a separable apron would, which excludes the open-fronted smokkr presented by Flemming Bau.

Nor does the rectangular smokkr (open at one side of the body), provide a particularily good match for the Køstrup evidence. Thor Ewing states that a side opening would probably not have been combined with a pleated front as it would make the garment hang unevenly. Instead he proposes that the smokkr was closed. While I don't believe that the pleats would provide sufficient width to be a problem in case of a side opening, I agree with Ewing that this smokkr was probably closed.

When Agnes Geijer proposed the model of a smokkr with a side opening, it was partly to explain why no vertical seams appeared among the Birka smokkr fragments. The Køstrup fragment on the other hand, has a vertical seam stitching two cloth edges together, roughly 4-5 cm from the left brooch. Thus it does not fit the basic assumption underlying Geijer's model. Unfortunately, since we only have a fragment from the left side, we can't tell whether this smokkr originally was a simple tube, sewn together with a single seam, or whether it consisted of several pieces, possibly cut to fit the body as in Haithabu.

The Køstrup fragment is not the only remains of a pleated smokkr that has been found. Inger Marie Holm-Olsen reports that several fragments of a tabby wool, whereof three were pleated (2-3 mm deep pleats) were found in a woman's grave in Vangsnes in Norway. The rest of the fragments were plain, but it is uncertain if this is because the pleating has disappeared in the grave, or if only part of the garment was pleated, like at Køstrup.

Tre fragmenter av et toskaftstoff, B 5625 Vangsnes, er plisserte. Plisseringen er jevn og regelmessig og tilsvarer helt den Agnes Geijer har beskrevet fra Birka. Foldene er to-tre mm dype, og de framstår i tversnitt som en sammenpresset bølgelinje (Geijer 1938, 16). <...>

De øvrige fragmentene av toskaftstoffet fra B5625 Vangsnes viser ikke spor av plissering. Om dette kommer av bevaringsforholdene, eller om bare en del av stoffet opprinnelig var plissert, er vanskelig å avgjøre.
Inger Marie Holm-Olsen: Noen gravfunn fra vestlandet som kaster lys over vikingtidens kvinnedrakt, p 201, illustration p 202

In addition, Anne Stine Ingstad reported that there were found fragments of a finely pleated (4-5 mm deep pleats) woollen smokkr in grave C at Kaupang. Unfortunately, both the Vangsnes and Kaupang fragments are too small to shed further light on the shape of the smokkr.

The construction of the smokkr loops is interesting, because it may indicate that the person creating the dress found it aesthetically more pleasing with loops made of the same fabric. While two of the loops are wholly made from the same fabric as the smokkr, one has a linen core with an outside of smokkr fabric. It is possible that this was a way to use the very last of the fabric and get a loop that looked the same as the others from the outside.

The last loop was made of a coarser wool, possibly because there was no more smokkr fabric left. Lønbord doesn't mention which of the loops were the front loops and which were at the back of the smokkr, so we don't know if e.g. the "odd loop" had been placed at the front, hidden beneath the brooch. Because the decorative elements had been stitched to the front loops, they may have been longer than usual.


Lønborg proposes that the tablet woven band was fastened to the loops, but not the smokkr (see the stratigraphy above). This is markedly different than e.g. Birka, where the decoration was stitched along the top of the smokkr. One would assume however, that if the Køstrup band had been stitched to the smokkr, the remains of the stitches would still be visible to the archaeologists.

Reconstruction according to Rimstad

Illustration by Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i Uld og Guld, cover page

The tablet woven band had two strings running along on either side, stitched to the loops. The lower strings had been stitched to each other and the smokkr in at least one place.

Lønborg proposes that the beads were hung on a string at the bottom of the brooches. However, Charlotte Rimstad points out that the remains of the suggested bead-string was found near the top of the brooches. (Usually I would have expected that this was due to the string sliding upwards when the body was placed in the grave or during the decomposition, but if the needle went through the serk that would be impossible.) Rimstad's interpretation is that the thread were fastened at the holder for the needle point, and hung above the tablet woven band.

Lønborg suggests that it is possible that the clothing in the Køstrup grave had been made especially for the funeral. He refers to the description of a Rus (Swedish Vikings) funeral, by Ahmad ibn Fadlan, where an important man was buried in a set of garments made for the occasion.

If this is the case for the Køstrup find, it would explain why the smokkr decoration might be seen as focusing on display over practicality. In addition, it would fit with Hägg's observation that tortoise brooches were fastened to the serk when the body were meant to be displayed on its way to the grave. At the same time, I have worn a more stripped-down version of the decoration, with only the tablet-woven band, and found it no less practical than other smokkrs I have worn. Thus, while the fastening of the brooches in the serk is probably a funeral practice, I believe that the smokkr might very well have been worn in daily life before it was buried with its wearer.

Some reconstructions

There are several reconstructions of the Køstrup smokkr in Danish museums. When comparing them to the archaeological evidence one can see that they tend to have too large pleats. Also, they pleat the entire front of the smokkr, instead of just a small piece.

The decorations are significantly simpler than what has been described by the archaeologists. Only the reproduction made by the National museum uses the correct pattern for the tablet woven band. More importantly, the bands are sewn along the top of the smokkrs, instead of using the more complex arrangement with band and strings connected solely to the smokkr loops.

Køge Museum reconstruction    National museum reconstruction    Trelleborg reconstruction
Køge museum, photograph by Hilde Thunem National museum of Denmark, photograph by Hilde Thunem Trelleborg museum, photograph by Hilde Thunem

While I don't blame them for choosing a simpler solution when making an exhibit that can be touched by the public, it gives quite a different impression than what the original smokkr would have done.

Reenactor Shelagh Lewins has created a reconstruction pattern of the Køstrup smokkr that uses short loops for both the front and the back of the smokkr. Køstrup smokkr 
pattern by Shelagh Lewins She argues that the loops in the graves are always short - only the area near the metal has been preserved - so making the upper loops long is a pure guess.

The reconstruction she suggests builds directly on the Huldremose dress and other peplos dresses, but adds the loops as suggested by Geijer and Hägg in order to avoid piecing the fabric. The entire front has been pleated like in the museum reconstructions.

The resulting front loops are too short to allow for the arrangement with the tablet woven band (we know from the evidence that one of the front loops (x569) was longer than 3.9 cm), but could be made longer if one wishes.

My interpretation

I have been fascinated by the Køstrup smokkr since I first heard of it, and after I finally got to visit the museum where the actual fragments are stored I decided to make my own interpretation.

Fabric: I chose to use fine woollen diamond twill instead of the tabby originally found in the grave. The twill was dyed using woad as in the original find (although I cheated and used chemicals instead of urine :-).

Pleating: Rasmussen and Lønborg suggest that the pleats were created by pulling the cloth together with a single linen thread. However, my experience with this method is that it only creates a pleated section in the immediate area around the thread. Even creating pleats that are 4.3 cm long (where the longest pleat of the fragment is torn) is a challenge when using a single thread.

Also, the Køstrup textile fragment is currently stiff and inflexible due to metal salts and earth, but I can't help noticing that even when being buried with a duvet and/or a cloak on top, the pleats have remained very regular in shape. In contrast, when I created pleats using a single thread, the pleats tended to move with the fabric (when the fabric was worn) so that some pleats was crushed tightly together and others were stretched apart. Thus I am sceptical towards the single-thread theory. However, I can think of several other possibilities for how the pleats could have been created.

Alternative 1: Using several linen threads to pull the fabric into pleats. This would make the pleats more stable and allow for longer and more regular pleats than using only a single thread. These threads may then have deteriorated in the grave, just like the linen weft in the tablet woven band.

Example of pleating using steam 
treatment Alternative 2: Using several threads to pull the fabric into pleats and then treating it with steam (by holding it over boiling water for several hours). Afterwards, the threads can be removed, leaving regular pleats that keep their shape. (Nille Glæsel has been experimenting with this technique.)

Example of pleating sewn to a linen base Alternative 3: Creating pleats by whip stitching along them and/or sewing them onto a base of linen fabric.

The pleats created by this method look fairly right, and one can argue that the linen fabric and stitches would have deteriorated in the grave, along with e.g. the weft of the tablet woven band. However, I would expect that the archaeologists examining the fragments would have observed needle holes left behind when the thread disappeared. Thus when Rasmussen and Lønborg do not mention such holes, it probably means that they weren't there.

Given the information I currently have, I believe that the second method is the most likely. It creates regular pleats without requiring threads or stitches to have disappeared in the grave. I therefore initially chose this for my reconstruction.

We don't know how far down the pleats ran (the longest pleat is torn at 4.3 cm). I decided on a length of 23 cm, letting the pleats reach down to the upper part of my stomach. This gives a decorative effect where it is most visible while not requiring the work of pleating the entire length of the dress. Also, I find it practical to stop the pleats at a place where they would not interfere with a pregnant belly (of course, it is pure speculation whether a Viking woman would have agreed with me).

During a trial run I observed that my dark blue woad dyed fabric lost some of its lustre when being steamed. In order to avoid that, I decided to steam undyed fabric and then dye it afterwards. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fit the entire front piece above my pan of boiling water, so I ended up treating only the upper part (containing the pleating) with steam. This resulted in a clear colour difference between the upper and lower parts during dyeing. (In hindsight this was obvious. The steam treatment would have permanently opened the fibres of the wool, and the more open the fibres, the more dye they absorb.) The end result was not pretty...

Realising that I could either use this light blue discoloured fabric or wait another year for the opportunity to dye with woad (I don't have the facilities to do it at home) I abandoned the steam method. Instead I took the fabric I had already dyed (in a dark shade of blue) and created pleats by sewing them onto a linen base. I did regret choosing an alternative that is unlikely to have been the one used in the Køstrup smokkr, but at least it produced pleats that look similar to the fragment and have the correct scale. Unfortunately, they don't move as the steamed pleats would have done, but I preferred that drawback to waiting another year to make the reconstruction.

Picture of my smokkr, Photograph by Ingrid 
Galadriel Aune Shape of the smokkr: The main Køstrup fragment is 25 cm long and 1 - 10 cm wide, thus there are definitive limits to what it can tell us about how the smokkr looked before it deteriorated. It is my belief that the basic shape of any smokkr is a closed tube (see my article on smokkrs for the full discussion of this), but I am very much aware that not all experts would agree with me :-). However, if we consider the Køstrup evidence on its own, the fragment show that this specific smokkr was closed in the front. The vertical seam also indicates that this was a closed garment, which means no side openings.

There are two competing theories regarding the position of the pleating. One places it at the side of the smokkr (Wielandt) and one places it in the front (both Lønborg and Rimstad). I am not in favour of side pleating, as I would expect such a placement to result in more wear on the pleats (from the arms rubbing against them). Also, if the pleating is meant to decorate the smokkr, it makes sense to place it according to maximum visibility, namely between the brooches. Finally, the front is where one sometimes would want the extra fabric gathered by the pleating.Thus, I will be placing the pleating of my smokkr in the front.

One of the things I really wanted to reproduce correctly was the size and extent of the pleating (although as mentioned above, I had to settle for one of the less likely construction methods). I believe that the tiny size of the pleats (3 mm width and 2-3 mm depth) and the fact that the front was only partially pleated (if Rimstad's report is to be believed) would have a major impact on the interpretation of the shape of the smokkr.

This is something that none of the museum reconstructions appears to have taken into account (which is not surprising given that for many years Rasmussen and Lønborg's report was the only one available on the find, and it gives no information on the scale of the pleats). Using the photograph taken by Charlotte Rimstad, showing the relative position of the brooch to the fragment, together with the assumed distance between the front loops I end up with roughly 8 cm with pleating, surrounded on each side by an unpleated stretch of 6 cm.

From this I conclude that, while the Køstrup smokkr certainly could have been a simple tube with a single seam and no further shaping, there is no reason that it must have been so. The tiny pleats and partial pleating doesn't exactly amount to an enormous increase in the fabric in the front, and thus may allow for a more fitted garment. (Unfortunately, the lack of further fragments means that we will never know whether this actually was the case.)

Further, I decided that instead of creating an unshaped garment around the existing Køstrup fragment I would use the evidence from another Danish 10th century smokkr, namely the one found in Haithabu harbour, to fill in the gaps. Among other things, the Haithabu fragments demonstrate that smokkrs from this time period and geographic area could be constructed from several pieces and fitted to the body.

I chose a rectangular front piece as it easily allows for pleating and will keep the side seams parallel with the pleating in the upper part of the smokkr. This fits fairly well with what little we can deduce from the Køstrup evidence. For the rest of the smokkr, I decided to use the Haithabu smokkr pattern proposed by Carolyn Priest-Dorman and Peter Beatson and Christobel Ferguson.

This pattern places the Haithabu fragments as part of a side piece instead of a back piece (as assumed by Inga Hägg). This is entirely possible - the fragments were found in the harbour, so we have no regarding their position on the body. It uses rectangular front and back pieces, and so combines nicely with the Køstrup evidence.

My pattern My front piece was cut wider than the back piece, in order for them to have the same width at the top after the pleating. When cutting the side pieces, I tried to keep as close to the dimensions of the original Haithabu fragments as possible, just to get a feel for how it actually looks. However, with the dimensions of the front piece dictated by the Køstrup evidence (20 cm between the front loops and 5 cm at each side from the front loop to the side seam) I realized that I had to slim down the side pieces a few centimetres in order to not get too large a circumference at the top of the smokkr. Finally, I cut side gores as in the pattern.

While little is preserved of the Køstrup smokkr beneath the immediate area of the brooches, other finds indicate that the smokkr was at least hip-length. Aside from that, we only have the pictorial evidence, which unfortunately is inconclusive. When there is no clear evidence, it becomes a matter of personal taste and practicality. I decided on the probably-below-the-knees-but-above-the-ankles look shown on the Läbro picture stone.

My pattern My original plan was to achieve as fitted a look as possible, while taking into account the flexibility introduced by the pleats. As I ended up creating the pleats by sewing them to a linen base, I got a tighter fit at the top of the smokkr than would have been possible otherwise (although I believe that a smokkr with steamed pleating could also be fitted, if not quite that tightly). The fitting was done solely by shaping the back piece.

Loops: The Køstrup find has three loops made from the smokkr fabric and one made from a coarser fabric (probably because they didn't have sufficient smokkr fabric left). I decided that I didn't want to go that far in copying the find, and made all my four loops out of smokkr fabric.

Construction of loops Illustration: Liisa Rasmussen and Bjarne Lønborg: Dragtrester i grav ACQ, Køstrup, p 177

The front loops were made according to the technique used on the majority of the Køstrup loops, namely folding the fabric and whip stitching it along the side. My back loops were made by surrounding a linen core with a strip of smokkr fabric. This technique was used for one of the Køstrup loops. It doesn't require as much smokkr fabric as the folding and whip stitching, so perhaps it was chosen because there wasn't enough smokkr fabric left for anything else. However, I wanted to use it for both back loops, because it strengthens them (and they could otherwise be a bit liable to stretch and tear). The loops were 1-1.2 cm wide, matching the width of the original loops.

Decoration: I wanted to recreate the original arrangement, with a tablet woven band sewn to the loops instead of the smokkr, just to see how impractical it was. Rasmussen and Lønborg's pattern of the band is a good starting point, but there were still a myriad of decisions to make.

The original band may have a couple of weaving errors. It is not unlikely that the small figures beside the second large figure from the left were meant to be mirror images of the hearts/arrows used on the opposite side. In addition, the first figure from the right looks strange. Is the unfinished vertical line at the left side intentional? Was the figure originally made out of several threads with different colours, or are the different colours we currently observe a result of the preservation process?

I decided to fix the hearts/arrows in my interpretation. However, due to the evidence being so open for interpretation, I decided to keep the rightmost figure in all its strangeness as a reminder that sometimes, what we find is not what we expect.

The original tablet woven band is torn at 13.3 cm. In order to get the 20 cm I needed for the smokkr I had two options. I could scale up the existing motives until I had my 20 cm (as the reconstruction at the national museum of Denmark has done). This would mean that my band would be wider and with larger figures than the original, but otherwise would look like the band found in the grave. Alternatively I could keep the original size of figures and band, but then I would have to invent figures for the last 6.7 cm.

I decided to keep as close to the original scale of the band as possible. In order for me to judge the practicality of the decorative arrangement I needed a band of the correct width. Also, I am used to fairly broad tablet woven bands as decoration, and I wanted to remind myself how small this particular band is. (Yes, I have seen it at the museum, but I find it surprisingly hard to remember the scale afterwards.)

Of course, this meant that I had to decide on what to put on the 6 - 7 cm of the band that had deteriorated. Apart from the heart/arrow figures, the original band pays little heed to symmetry. If the full length was approximately 20 cm, the piece that remains goes past the midpoint without repeating a single of the large figures. I wanted to keep this unsymmetrical look, and at the same time I did not want to introduce too many new elements by inventing totally new figures.

My compromise solution was to repeat some of the figures from the original band, but to pick them from within the fragment instead of starting over from the start of the pattern. I also decided to introduce one new figure, so that I could have a possible interpretation of what the first figure on the right might have been meant to look like.

my reconstruction pattern
My reconstruction pattern. Everything to the left of the red lines is pure conjecture.

I wanted woad dyed blue wool for the basic weave of the band. As for the rest of the colours, we do not know what they originally were. I tried to pick plant dyed colours somewhat matching what is found in the band (using madder red for the most reddish of the figures etc.) but this is very much a matter of guessing.

When it comes to tablet weaving I am strictly an amateur, so I enlisted the very talented Hanna Johansson to actually do the work. She dyed the yarns and discussed colours and weaving with me. I originally wanted a linen weft (as is believed to have been in the find), but Hanna could not get that to work to her satisfaction and so used a dyed silk yarn instead. The end result fitted very well between my front loops. I have chosen to not add two loose woollen strings on each side of the band, even though this was part of the find. (I might try this in the future, after my kid grows out of the grabby stage).

tablet woven band sewn in place

What surprised me was how easy this was to wear. My first impression when I read about the arrangement was how hopelessly impractical it would be. Having worn it, I am not so sure about Lønborg's proposal that this was a garment created solely for a funeral.

sideview showing the pleating in 
combination with pregnancy closeup of upper part of the smokkr

Perhaps due to its slimness, the tablet woven band stays in position and does not get caught in things. The woollen strings might of course add complexity, but currently my Køstrup smokkr is no less practical than other smokkrs I have.

As for the rest of the decoration, I am still searching for the correct beads (and bemoaning the lack of details in the Køstrup reports).

The tortoise brooches found in grave ACQ are fairly different in design from the ones I am wearing. However, I will not be buying a new set of brooches for each smokkr I make. There is such a thing as going too far... I can however confirm that the pleating works very well halfway into the second trimester of a pregnancy :-)

More about the Viking apron dress (smokkr):


Reconstruction articles