By Hilde Thunem (email@example.com)
(Last updated February 25th 2014)
This article focuses on the garment that was worn by Viking women together with the characteristic oval brooches. The garment has often been referred to as an aprondress (hängerock) by the archaeologists, but Thor Ewing points out that the term "smokkr" used in the Viking poem Rígsþula may be the contemporary name (Viking clothing p. 37).
Just as for other Viking garments the archaeological evidence is fragmentary, and the scholars do not agree on the interpretation of what little evidence exists. My intention with gathering different archaeological facts and interpretations is to make my own best guess, which of course may differ from yours :-)
The excavation of Birka was mainly conducted in the 1870s by Hjalmar Stolpe. Although Stolpe made fairly accurate drawings of the different graves, textiles was not considered to be important at the time, and was omitted from the drawings. The textile fragments were later analysed by Agnes Geijer (in 1938) and reanalysed by Inga Hägg (in 1974 and 1986). I have only had access to the analysis written by Inga Hägg in 1974 and a few of her later summaries.
The material found in Birka is from the 9th and 10th century. Of the 128 graves with "tortoise" brooches over a hundred contained fragments from the smokkr. Unfortunately the "hard facts" of the archaeological evidence is nowhere near as hard as we would like it to be when it comes to the smokkr. The main difficulty lies in identifying which fragments definitively belong to the smokkr and not to a mantle, or a dress worn between the serk and the smokkr, or some other garment worn by the buried women. Thus there is a certain amount of interpretation even when sorting out the "facts".
The majority of the clearly identifiable smokkr fragments are remains of small fabric loops that once were used to fasten the smokkr to the brooches. Attached to a few of these are fragments that must be from the body of the dress itself. Most of the loops are unattached however, and in these graves identification of smokkr fragments (aside from the loop) must be made based on where the fragment is found in relation to the different layers in the grave. Geijer and Hägg differ in their willingness to do this.
There is some evidence indicating that the smokkr could have been lined.
One of the graves containing such evidence is grave 464 (fig. 464:2b). Attached to the remains of a linen loop (1-2) was a fragment of fine dark blue wool (6). The wool had a linen fragment (4) lying against its inside and a silk band (3) had been folded over the top of both fragments (like a bias tape). The woman in this grave was probably wearing a blue woollen smokkr, lined with linen and decorated with a silk band along the top of the dress. A small fragment of linen from the serk (5) was lying on top of the loop, indicating that at least in this case the smokkr had been worn directly over the serk (fig. 464:6). The top of the silk band, and thus the top of the smokkr, reached about 2 cm up into the brooch. This means that the front loops of the smokkr was fairly short and would have been completely covered by the brooches.
464. På flera ställen i spännet fanns slätt linne från särken. Vid nålfästet fanns en linneögla (mittdelen saknas) från kjolens framstycke. Under öglans fästepunkter skymtade ett sidenband (3). Öglans ena fästepunkt (2) var delvis täckt av ett löst, lätt hoprynkat särklinnefragment (5). Fragmentet, som var hårt av rost, mjukades upp i svag EDTA-lösning och destillerat vatten, varefter det kunde lyftas så att hela det bevarade sidenbandet blev synligt, 464:2 b. Detta visade sig kanta ytterligare linnefragment (4) upptill. Under hele 4 låg ett ansenligt stycke (6) av fin, blåsvart yllekypert, W21, med avigsidan in mot linnefragmentet och rätan ut mot dräktens and framsida. Yllekyperten fortsatte ensam en bit ut över brättekanten. Den avslutades uppåt av en mot avigan vikt, ca 4 mm bred kant.
Sidenkantbandet tycktes, så långt det var bevarad, ligga vikt också kring kypertstycktes övre kant så att kanterna till linnefragmentet (4) och kypertfragmentet var samlade under ett och samma kantband av siden. I och genam detta band var hängselkjolens ögla (1-2) fäst. Det hophållna stycket av sidenband, linne(-foder) och yllekypert har nått ca. 2 cm upp bakom spännbucklan.
Det större av de fragment (utenfor spännbucklan), som Geijer beskriver, har två vikkanter, som bildar ett hörn, medan övriga sidorna är avnötta eller avslitna snett mot vävens riktning. Den övre av dessa oavslutade kanter passar ganska exakt mot den kant, som yllekyperten under höger spännbuckla vänder utåt, 464:5. Hörnstycket har tydligan legat uppvikt ett par, tre centimeter runt högra brättkanten mot spännbucklans skal.
Hängselkjolens linneögla kring nålfästet i ena spännbucklan var alltså fäst i ett linnefodrat, sidenbandskantat stycke av fin, treskaftad yllekypert (W21). Detta stycke bör då rimligen vara en rest av själva kjolen, eller, rättare sagt av ett av de ögleförsedda stycken, som bars utanpå särken. Ytterligare fragment från denna kjol finns bevarade, några tilsammans med ock närmest inntil rester av den bronskedja, i hvilken kniven var upphängd. Kedjan bör ha legat direkt mot (särkens och) kjolens bröststycke (464:6).
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.39-40, illustrations p. 121
Av de fragment från framstyckets övre kant, som har bevarats, finns troligen ett enda hörnstycke, nämligen det från grav 464. Ca 4 cm utanför spännbucklans kant har detta stycke slutat med en vertikal kant. Om den enbart varit nedfållad mot avigan eller om den anslutit till ett annat stycke (bakstycket), framgår inte av fragmentet.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.54
The grave contains several other fragments of the dark blue wool. One that seems to have been torn off from the brooch fragment is folded along two sides, creating a corner about 4 cm outside of the edge of the brooch (464:5). It is unclear whether the vertical edge of this corner was hemmed or if it was fastened to another piece of the smokkr.
There are loose stitches on this and other fragments that probably used to fasten a lining, strengthening the indication that this smokkr was lined. Fragments of the dark blue wool were also found attached to a bronze chain and knife hanging from the brooches, indicating that the smokkr at least was long enough to reach to the hip.
The evidence for lined smokkrs is very limited. This could indicate that few smokkrs were lined, but the scarcity of evidence could just as well be explained by the difficulty in deciding whether the fragments belong to a lining, an inner smokkr or a serk. Also, a lining is closer to the body and thus more likely to deteriorate.
Of the more than 100 graves with smokkr fragments, Inga Hägg describes 36 in detail in "Kvinnodräkten i Birka". Several of these graves contain fragments that probably stem from an inner dress or lining in addition to remains of a woollen smokkr. Almost all of the inner dresses or linings were made from linen (grave 464 is an example), but one grave (973) had a broken lozenge twill smokkr with a lining of repped wool. Here the twill and the repped wool lay parallel until they met at the edge of the smokkr and the seam was covered by a string. There is also one grave (954) that contained a woollen smokkr fragment with loose stitches which both Agnes Geijer and Inga Hägg interpreted to mean that the smokkr originally was lined, but there are no traces left of the lining itself.
The fragments of lining are too small to ascertain whether the smokkr
was fully or just partially lined, although Geijer leans towards a
The smokkr was fastened to the brooches with loops made from folding a strip of cloth and stitching over the edges. Unfortunately the loops at both top and bottom of the brooches tend to be torn at the edge of the brooch or at the top of the loop. Thus the archaeological material doesn't tell us how long they were. Nor does the report from Inga Hägg give any details on their width.
The stitching could run along the side or the middle of the loops. The loops from grave 835 were stitched along the side (fig 835:3b), while grave 465 (illustration below) contains at least one loop with stitching along the middle. Hägg points out that side stitching might result in a stronger loop, because the fabric is folded in four layers instead of the three layers of a middle stitched loop. Sometimes the loops contained an inner core of a stronger fabric. This is the case for several of the silk loops where the silk is covering a linen core.
The loops that have been found attached to smokkr fragments are open from the part that lie around needle until the base at the edge of the smokkr. The one exception is the front loops (at the bottom of the brooches) in grave 835 which were sewn closed, except for a couple of cm at the end (fig. 835:2 and 3a). The back loops were torn, and so we don't know whether the same treatment was given to the loops that once ran over the shoulder.
835. Långa sidsömmade öglor av yllerips, W22, upptill och nedtill i båda spännbucklorna. De från kjolens framstycke är sammansydde mitt fram till verkliga hängslen och enbart ett par centimeter har lämnats som öppna öglor.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.45, illustration p.130
I de bevarade exempeln är kjolens öglor öppna från den del, som ligger kring nålen, ned til basen, där kjolen tar vid. Ett undantag från denna regel är ylleripsöglarna i grav 835.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.54
Loop fragments are found in 105 graves in Birka. The majority of the loops were made from linen. Only 14 graves contain one or more woollen loops and 22 contain one or more silk loops.
Unlike grave 464 with its single linen loop at the bottom of one brooch, the large majority (70 of 105) of the graves have at least one brooch with several loops at either the top or bottom of the brooch, or both. One example of such a grave is 465. Each brooch in this grave has 2 loops at the top. One of the brooches has 3 linen loops at the bottom; the other has 2 or possibly 3 linen loops plus 1 silk loop (S4) at the bottom. The longest of the linen loops at the bottom of brooch I (465:6 b) continued down to the edge of the brooch. Inga Hägg believes that this and the silk loop at the bottom of brooch II was used to hang tools like scissors or other decorative items from the brooches, and thus was not part of the smokkr. This still leaves two loops at the top and two at the bottom of each brooch.
465. Spännbuckla I, 465:6 b: innerst kring nålhållaren sitter en ögla av relativt grovt linne och utanför den en annan av finare linne. Kring nålfästet finns minst tre linneöglor, varav en med tydlig mittsöm. Spännbuckla II, 465:6 a, har 2 linneöglor kring nålhållaren, den ena av (numera) blått linne. Vid nålfästet finns 2-3 (?) linneöglor hårt inkapslat i korrosion samt ett sidenband.
Från graven kommer ett par lösa fragment av yllekypert, W 12. Ett stort stycke av samma W 12-kypert finns bevarat i utsprungligt läge, pressat mot förmultnade trärester från gravens botten, 465:1. Trästyckets form visar tydligt, att det med vidhäftande textilier ursprungligen legat under ena spännbucklan. Detta stycke yllekypert, avslutat med en rak vikkant, är på mitten täckt av en kraftig rostutfällning av samma slag, som den över och runt nålfästet i spännbuckla II. Om man passar in yllekypertfragmentet under spännbucklan efter formen på trästycket, kommer rostutfällningarna att täcka varandra, 465:1. Kypertfragmentet hamnar med vikkanten ca 3 cm upp i spännbucklan i samma läge, som kypertfragmentet från förangående grav. I själva verket måste ylletyget även i detta fall härröra från kjolens framstycke, 465:5.
En linneögla kan, liksom i grav 464, antingen ha varit fäst i ett foder eller eventuellt direkt i kypertstycket. Den längsta av öglorna kring nålfästet i spännbuckla I, 465:6 b, bör ha fortsatt över brättekanten på kjolens framsida, där det förmodligen burit upp sax, kniv och/eller kam. Sidenbandet vid nålfästet i den andra spännbucklan är antagligen också bärband för ett redskap, eventuellt för den pryl som fanns i graven.
De övriga två öglorna nedtill i varje spännbuckla korresponderar mot nålhållarsidans två öglor och torde därmed ganska säkert kunna antas komma från kjolen. Den ena av desse öglepar hör då rimligen till den yttre kjolen av yllekypert (W 12), medan det andre paret möjligen kan sättas i samband med det linnefragment, FH, som skymtar under yllematerialet på 465:1. Det är givetvis också tänkbart, att linnet i detta fall härrör från serken.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.42-43, illustrations p. 121
The woollen fragments from the graves are currently fairly darkish in colour and discoloured by rust or by the decomposition of the body in the grave. Inga Hägg doesn't mention which tests (if any) has been used, but states that it is very difficult to identify what the original colours of the woollen fragments were. The two colours that can be identified is dark blue and dark brown (Inga Hägg 1974 p 52). In addition, one of the graves (1090) contains fragments of what might have been a woollen smokkr made from a striped fabric, with blue and reddish brown 5 mm wide stripes, and possibly decorated with a tablet-woven woollen band.
1090. Öglor kring nålhållare och nålfäste i båda spännbucklorna. Materialet i öglorna är tuskaftat ylle. Fragment av vad som kan vara en linneögla finns dessutom i den ena spännbucklan.
Från samma grav kommer lösa stycken av ylleväv. Båda yllesorterna är tuskaftada, den ena, W 28, är en mörkblå ripsväv. Den andra, W 33, beskrivs av Geijer som randig i två färger, blått och rödbrunt, ränder ca 5 mm breda. Till detta fragment hör enligt Geijer vad möjligen kan vara ett brickvävt prydnadsband av ylle. Spännbucklornas öglor ser snarast ut att vara av det senare slaget, W 33, och det är därför kanske rimligt att tänka sig, att det av Geijer beskrivna kulörta fragmentet med ränder och prydnadsband skulle vara en del av kjolen.
Utom dessa textilier finns även bevarade en del lösa linnefragment tilsammans med rester av revben. Det är dels kantstycken med fållvirkning och söm, dels delar av öglor. Dessa fragment skulle möjligen kunna härröra från ännu en kjol (öglor med rester av framstyckets övre fållkant under någon av spännbucklorna), nämligen den inre omlottkjolen, som då skulle ha varit av linne.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.48
Most of the linen fragments appears to be undyed, but there is at least one exception. Grave 563 contains a blue linen fragment that has been folded and decorated with a red twined string. The appearance of blue and red on the same fragment, which thus has been exposed to the same discoloration, shows that the colours must be original instead of a result of metal corrosion.
563. I ena spännbucklan fanns linnefragment i flera lager (fig 1-2a). Sedda från dräktens framsida består dessa av blått linne i 3-4 skikt (troligen et avsnitt av kantfällen), det yttersta prytt med en röd snodd (563:4 1-2b). Fragmentet tväras av 3 á 4 efterstygn. Det blå linnet låg utanpå en ursprungligen vit (?), nu rostfärgad linneögla (563:4 1-2c), vars övre del fattas. I öglans nedre del fanns ett par nära nog upplösta stygn, som troligen anknutit öglan till kjoldelen, 563:1-2c. Innerst låg et lite stycke rostfärgat, ursprungligen vitt (?) särklinne uten annen förbindelse med de övriga textilierna än själva korrosionen (563:4 1-2d).
Den andra spännbucklan har rester av samma blå linne, som lager 1 i foregående, här i en ögla. Över den, dvs innanför denna ögla i drakten, fanns rester av ljust, rostfärgat linne, av samme kvalité som (den rostfärgate öglan i den andre spännbucklan). Troligen rör det sig även här om resterna av en ögla.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.44, illustrations p. 125
The top of the smokkr seems to have been finished by having 4-5 mm of its edge folded towards the inside of the dress and stitched in place. In addition 11 graves show traces of decorative bands of one type or another. The bands of the 9 woollen smokkrs are folded over or lie along the top of the smokkr. The decorative band on the linen smokkr (563) is placed a bit beneath the top, where it covers both the stitches that keep the hemmed edge in place and the fastening stitches for the loops. Inga Hägg comments that the hemming stitches would usually be invisible on wool, but would show up clearly on linen. She believes that the reason that the band has been placed lower on the linen smokkr could be to cover the stitches.
There were no smokkr fragments attached to the loops in grave 834, and it is unknown whether the smokkr in this grave was made from wool or linen. Fragments of rough linen cloth were found around a scissor, but it is uncertain whether these stem from the smokkr. A decorative band lay unattached across the bottom of the needle in one of the brooches. It may have run along the edge of the smokkr as shown in the illustration below, but could also have been fastened further down.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, illustration p.53
Unusually large fragments of woollen cloth had been preserved in grave 597.
There were woollen fibres on the lower of the linen loops found inside one of the brooches. One of the fragments of woollen cloth found in the grave had press marks and traces of wear from the edge of a "tortoise" brooch, indicating that it had been worn on the inside of the brooch and thus was a part of the front of the smokkr. The upper edge had been folded, and a piece was missing at the position where the loops would have been fastened (597: 2).
The fragment had been torn at both sides, but one of the tears fitted closely to another large fragment of the same cloth, together creating the largest preserved piece of a smokkr in the Birka material (597: 3). Its 22 cm long preserved edge would have run along the front of the smokkr, from one brooch to the other.
The grave also contained a piece of the same woollen cloth underneath remains of the body, probably from the back of the smokkr, if the layering of the grave has been interpreted correctly.
597. Öglor av linne kring nålhållaren i båda spännbucklorna och kring nålfästet i den ena. Vid änden på den undre av nålfästesidans öglor syns trådar och fibrer av ylle (W) från den vävnad, vid vilken öglan varit fäst, 597:2. I graven fanns för övrigt ovanlig store stycken av yllekypert. De har alla lossats från spännena ved tidligare tilfällen och i görligsta mån slätats ut, dock inte så att karaktäristiska veck, missfärgningar och nötingsmärken gått förlorade.
Ett stycke diamantkypert (W10) är fargat av rost och har tryck och nötningsspår efter kanten på ena spännbucklan. Nära mitten på stycket fattas en del av fållkanten. När dette stycke passas in under spännbucklan, 597:2, kommer spännets undre linneögla att hamna mitt för det ställe, där en del av fållkanten fattas. Antagligen är det just från detta ställe, som yllefragmenten nedentill på öglan härrör. Styckets läge under spännbucklan antyder, att det bör vara en del av kjolen framsida, 597:4.
Troligen i närheten av spännbucklorna låg, enligt Geijer, en klump med textilier och annat organisk material. Den innehöll förmultnade rester av kroppen och et stycke W 10 av samme kvalité som det i ena spännbucklan. Därnäst földje lämningar av ett ytterplagg m.m. Lagerföljden visar - om den er rätt uppfattat - att det måste röra sig om ett avsnitt från dräktens ryggsida. Detta W 10-fragment bör alltså komma från kjolens bakstycke.
Det stora stycket diamantkypert, 597:3, t.v., torde vara identisk med det ena av de två fragment, som enligt Geijer täckte ovansidean på den ena spännbucklan. En noggrann jämnförelse mellan detta stycke och de andre W 10-fragmenten från graven visar, att det och kantstycket, 597:2, måste härröra från ett och samma plagg, alltså kjolen.
Material från kjolens framstycke har med andra ord kommit att hamna på skalet till den ena spännbucklan, och det bör ha skett på så sätt, at spännan under förmultningen sjunkit djupare ned än omkringliggande tyglager, i vilka de bäddades in. Särskilt om kvinnan legat något på sidan i graven, vilket läget på spännbucklar och pärlor eventuellt antydar, kan det känn ha innträffat, att en del av kjolens framstycke vikts in över skalet på ena spännbucklan.
En detaljgranskning av väven och dess söndertrasade kantar visar, att de båda styckena har passning som 597:3 visar. De utgör tillsammans det största bevarade avsnittet av kjolen i hela birkamaterialet med sammenlagt 22 cm.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p.44, illustrations p. 126
The other major excavation of Viking clothing was in Haithabu in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The textile material is from the 10th century and was analysed by Inga Hägg, who writes her reports in German, (my third language). I have used Shelagh Lewins summary to check my translation of the information given on the smokkr, but any mistakes are my fault.
Most of the finds come from the harbour at Haithabu, and consists of used clothing which has been coated with tar and used as ship's caulking. This means that we can't use the layer in the grave or the position on the body to identify what garment a given fragment belong to. On the bright side, we may finally get an impression of how much everyday wear diverged from the clothes people were buried in.
The harbour yielded two large smokkr fragments of fine repped wool (not unlike the repped wool found at Birka). The fabric had been dyed brown.
Fragment A is 30cm high, 16-23 cm wide and 0.1 cm thick. It is roughly wedge-shaped with one straight side and one slightly curved side, both with stitch holes where the fragment once was attached to other pieces of the smokkr.
The upper edge (16 cm) has been created by turning over 1 cm of the selvedge towards the inside and stitching it in place with "Ösenstich". There is a hole close to the top with a felted area around it. The bottom edge (23 cm) is torn.
A dart runs parallel to the straight side of the fragment, from 7 cm below the upper edge down to the tear at the bottom. Unlike modern garments, the ridge of the dart seems to be on the outside of the smokkr. The width of the dart varies (2-5 mm), and the widest point is about 15 cm below the top edge. Here the garment shows traces of wear; the cloth is felted in a band across the garment and a hole has been worn through at the dart.
A thin piece of braid has been stitched in place on top of the ridge formed by the dart. The braid extends beyond the dart up to the top of the smokkr. It has deteriorated considerately but seems to be 1-2 mm wide, made of six threads, three red and three yellow.
Fragment B, (12 by 25 cm) has stitch holes down one side (1) and traces
of the dart (2), although not of the braid. This fragment is
wider than fragment A, leading Hägg to postulate that it would have
been positioned a bit lower on the body than fragment A.
Since the fragments are found as part of a ship's caulking and not in a grave, identification of exactly what garment they stem from is more difficult (there are no "tortoise" brooches here to confirm the presence of a smokkr). Inga Hägg believe that the hem, combined with the shape of the dart, deeper in the middle than at the edges, is evidence that this is part of a smokkr, not a sleeve or some other garment.
The surviving fragments are only wide enough to have covered part of the body. Probably it covered part of the back, as the dart is shallow enough to make it unlikely to be from the front of a smokkr.
Inga Hägg: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu, p.38-42, 168-170 illustrations p. 39 and 41(red line added for emphasis)
In addition to the finds in the harbour, Inga Hägg also analysed and reported on the textile remains from the settlement and graveyard of Haithabu. This provides additional information about what the Viking inhabitants of the town were wearing.
Only 1% (16) of the examined graves at Haithabu graveyard contain "tortoise" brooches, so while the smokkr was still worn by the Haithabu women it was obviously not the only type of garment worn. The only fragments of the smokkr preserved in the graves were the loops inside the brooches. These were usually made from fine linen cloth (Hägg does not say how many loops were found inside each brooch in her Swedish summary and I have not been able to find more detailed information in the German part of the report, but that could be due to my lack of German.)
Hägg was not able to clearly identify what fragments in the graves belonged to the body of the smokkr, so it is uncertain what material was used (although we know from the harbor find that at least one smokkr was made from wool). One grave (159/1960) have fragments of a two-shaft woollen cloth that may have come from the smokkr, if the layering of the grave has been interpreted correctly.
Av hängselkjolen finns bare bandöglorna från hängslene bevarade (t.ex. Abb. 66,4a-c; 67,6; 68,4) och små fragment, om vilka man inte med säkerhet kan säga att de verkligen härrör från kjolen. Bandöglorna är mycket fina (Abb. 114), i regel av linne. Av vilket material övriga deler av kjolen bestod är oklart. En ripsartad tuskaftsväv av ylle från grav 159/1960 (Abb. 67,3; 115,5) kan, av mikrolagerföljden att döma, möjligen härröra från hängselkjolen.
Inga Hägg: Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Gräbern von Haithabu, p.277
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. This grave contains (among other things) a comparatively large fragment of a smokkr, a tablet woven band, several decorative strings and eight beads. According to Charlotta Lindblom the non-textile grave goods indicate that the grave is from the 10th century.
In the following, I have focused on the smokkr, but more details of the other parts of the find can be found in my article on the Køstrup find.
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.
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 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).
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
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)
Lønborg suggests that the pleating was created by pulling 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. /p>
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.
Photograph: Thor Ewing, Viking clothing, 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.
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
Photo: 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).
In addition to the woollen fragments there were three pieces of linen tabby that Wielandt believed came from a second smokkr. One of them (x542) was found inmost in the left brooch, underneath the fragments of the woollen smokkr. One (x525) lay on top of the left brooch, and the last fragment (x544) was found within the right brooch. According to Lønborg the linen tabby was woven with 20-28/16-18 threads pr cm.
Inside the right brooch
According to Wielandt (as summarised by Rimstad), the right brooch held two loops (x543 and x518) made of woollen tabby and a couple of linen strings (x545 og x546).
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 can't say who is right.
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.
Inside 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. Lønborg agrees that there were two woollen loops within this brooch as well.
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
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.
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.
Lønborg agrees with Wielandt's observation of two woollen loops within each brooch. He have examined the way each loop has been constructed. 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 patterned tablet-woven band (x584). Lønborg reports that the band was created with a two-hole tablet weave. The warp was a dark blue two-ply woollen yarn, while the weft is missing (and was probably made of linen). He believes that the band was originally 20 cm long and ran between the two tortoise brooches along the top of the smokkr.
Photograph: Odense Bys Museer and Hilde Thunem, x584 (outside of garment), large version (610 KB)
According to his description, the band were 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 som 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.
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)
A woman's grave from the mid-10th or early 11th century was excavated in 2006 in Pskov by Elena A. Yakoleva. Later, Elena S. Zubkova, Olga V. Orfinskaya and Kirill A. Mikhailov published a report on the finds in 2010. As English is not the first language of the authors (or me), some of the details in the report are hard to interpret. Any errors in the summary are (as usual) my fault only.
The grave had been plundered and no traces of a body remained. However, a block of soil was recovered from under the floor of the grave, containing several textile fragments, two "tortoise" brooches and the remains of the base of a birch-bark container reinforced by wood. In all probability, the textiles had been stored inside this container before being placed in the grave. This had protected the textiles from the deterioration of the body, and allowed more than usual of the surface of the garments to be in contact with the preservative metal of the brooches. On the other hand, there was no information to be gleaned from the position of the fragments in relation to the body, something which makes it harder to determine what garment(s) they belonged to.
The report mentions that there were 11 fragments of thin blue linen tabby and silk (unfortunately it doesn't list them). Although the linen was heavily degraded and mostly present as a black crust, the archaeologists were able to determine that it had originally been folded in several layers and made up the main bulk of the fabric inside the container. The silk fragments were covered on the reverse side by a thin layer of degraded linen, with the exception of the tucked in edges and connecting seams. Together with traces of sewing threads, this strongly indicated that all the silk parts originally were sewn onto linen as decoration.
After examining the fragments, Zubkova, Orfinskaya and Mikhailov concluded that they had come from two separate linen garments faced with silk. In the following I will concentrate on the fragments that may have come from a smokkr or a smokkr-like garment.
The largest fragment from the grave had a total length of 1,5 m and a total width of more than 30 cm. It consisted of several strips of silk that had been stitched together. All of the silk strips were of the samite type, but there were three different qualities.
Photograph of the Pskov fragment
The upper (I) and lower (III) band, and the side bands (V and IV) were made of a samite with a golden-pink pattern on a blue background with green bands. The middle silk band (II) was made from a reddish-violet samite. A similar reddish-violet fabric was used for trimming the edge of the fragment, except for Ib that had been trimmed with an unidentified silk samite. In addition, there was a small strip of silk (VII) sewn onto one of the side bands. The colour was impossible to identify although the archaeologists theorize that it might have been made from the same reddish-violet samite silk as II. They believe that it might have covered a vertical seam.
Elena S. Zubkova, Olga V. Orfinskaya and Kirill A. Mikhailov: Studies of the Textiles from the 2006 Excavation in Pskov, p 294 and 295
When examining the golden-pink patterned silk strips, Zubkova, Orfinskaya and Mikhailov were able to recognize the pattern as part of a hunting scene showing Bahram Gur, who ruled Persia in the 5th century.
Fabrics with a similar (although not identical) motif are known from finds throughout Europe. In Russia, silk textiles with a similar design are known from Moshchevaja Balka and Nizhnij Archyz, two burial grounds in the northern Caucasus that were in use during the 8th and 9th centuries (which may give a place to start further work on discovering exactly when and where the Pskov silk piece was manufactured).
Whoever cut the Pskov silk strips appeared to have done so with no concern for the integrity and direction of the original fabric design (they probably just liked the look of the fabric). However, the different silk strips can be pieced together to form a larger piece. The longer silk strips (III a and I b) show that the hunting scene was repeated twice on this original piece. The piecing together of the existing fragments also allows us to extrapolate some of the less preserved silk strips (IV and V).
In addition to the large silk fragment there were some 4.5 cm wide reddish-violet samite strips. These had been trimmed at one side by the same method that was used to create the trim for the large silk fragment. The reverse side of these strips were covered by remains of linen, indicating that they probably had been sewn onto the hem of one of the linen garments. If so, this is one of the few instances of evidence we have for decoration of the bottom of a Viking Age garment.
It is unclear exactly how many linen loops were found during the excavation.
<...> a second bronze oval brooch was discovered. On its pins straps of linen and a fragment of a collar from a garment made from a similar linen textile were preserved.
Elena S. Zubkova, Olga V. Orfinskaya and Kirill A. Mikhailov: Studies of the Textiles from the 2006 Excavation in Pskov, p 292 and 297, (my emphasis)
However, at least one of the loops has been preserved. It is made from blue linen, and roughly 1 cm wide.
There was also evidence of loops on the large silk fragment. The base of a blue linen strap remained at one side of the top band (I), and there were traces of needle holes and sewing threads (where the distance between the sewing holes was equal to the width of the preserved strap fragment) at equal distance from the centre on the opposite side.
Additionally, 20 and 25 cm from where one of the side bands (V) was
attached to the central piece, there were remains of sewing threads and
traces of sewn on straps. Unfortunately, there is not enough preserved
of the last side band (IV) to determine whether it had one or more loops
in the same position.
The minor finds may not have the sizeable fragments mentioned above, but they still provide additional information on the smokkr. For example, there have been found pleated remains other than the Køstrup smokkr, and several of the minor finds have more than two loops in each brooch, proving that the appearance of multiple loops aren't limited to Birka.
Three female graves were excavated at Værnes in 1940. The finds were sent to the Collection of national antiquities, and was later examined by Charlotte Blindheim who wrote a report on them in 1945. The grave with the most remains contained two "tortoise" brooches, a third brooch, 17 pearls and several textile fragments.
Inside one of the brooches, there was a small piece of woollen diamond twill that had been folded over at one edge (probably the edge of a garment) and a piece of rougher tabby, possibly linen, laying in a short loop around the head of the needle.
Illustrations from Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 145 and PL X
There were also two strings inside the brooch. One was made from two woollen yarn pieces that had been twined around each other, while the material of the other could not be identified. Both of the strings lay in a loop around the bottom of the needle, and appeared to have been tied around it.
More diamond twill was found in a lump of fabric separately from the brooches. Two of the diamond twill fragments were folded over along one edge, just like the diamond twill inside the brooch. A small piece of linen(?) possibly split into two narrow straps of some sort seems to lie attached to one of these twill fragments. The same fragment had a woven band sewn by to it by whipstitching.
This band appears to have been woven with the same technique as the tapestries from Oseberg and would have been ca 1.1 cm wide. The weft that bound the band together has disintegrated in the grave (it was probably made from linen) and so the warp lies uncovered in places. The pattern of the band was created by using a decorative weft in red wool which still remains, enabling us to see that the band once had some kind of geometric pattern. A similar band with a similar motive is sewn to one of the Oseberg tapestries.
The lump of fabric also contained diagonal twill that lay in folds with the traces of a very rough weave inside some of the folds.
Lastly a lump of fabric lay on top of one of the brooches. This contained some diagonal twill, probably the same cloth as the diagonal twill from the other lump, and several fragments of the fine diamond twill. There was also a tiny piece of a very rough woollen fabric woven in a two colour plaid pattern.
Innerst mot spennens skall ligger en tvunnet snor, - nå delvis løs, men den har vært festet i en løkke om nålehodet og knyttet om dette. Snoren er tvunnet av to ullgarnstråder som begge består av fire totrådete, s-tvunnete tråder. Tvinningen er jevn og fin. Litt lenger ute og nå helt fastrustet til nålehodet ligger det nok en snor. Om også den er av ull, kan en ikke si med sikkerhet. Den ligger som den første tråden, i en løkke om nålehodet, og endene er knyttet på oversiden av dette rett overfor nålekjeden.
Utenfor disse snorene kommer det så en liten bite av et stoff som har vært brettet om og fallet, så det er tydelig at vi her har kanten av et eller annet plagg. Det er nok igjen til at en kan se at det har vært et fint ullstoff vevet i gåsøyemønster, men tetthetsgraden kan ikke avgjøres. Ytterst er det rester av et annet, noe grovere, toskaftet stoff, muligens et linstoff. Det ligger, etter det en nå kan se, i en kort løkke om nålehodet.
Den løse klumpen (som lå inni en av spennene) inneholdt i alt fire lag tøy, men to av lagene viste seg å inneholde ett og samme stoff - en diagonalbinding. Den lå dels i folder og inni disse lå det biter av et meget grovt stoff. Tett inntil det diagonalmønstrete stoffet lå rester av et fint ullstoff i gåsøyemønster. Tettheten er ca 32 tråder pr cm. På to av bitene er det i den ene kanten en smal fall, som den på det fine ullstoffet inne i spennen.
Til det ene hefter det en liten stump av et vevet bånd som vevteknisk er ganske interessant. Det er på et sted bevart i full bredde, så denne kan fastslås, den er 1,1 cm. Som en kan se ligger renningen åpen på visse partier. Den har bestått av 14 tråder. Det er ikke bevart store biten av båndet, men nok til at en kan se at de åpne partiene kommer igjen så regelmessig at det må være gjort med hensikt. <...>
Mønstret har tydeligvis vært rent geometrisk, men teknisk sett er det en vevnad av samme type som Osebergrevlene med to islettsystemer: et bindeislett som vel har vært av lin som nå er borte, men som ser ut til å ha gått gjennom hele båndet, og et mønsterislett av ull.
Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 144-145
Den tredje tøyklumpen, som skal ha ligget oppå den innerste av spennene, inneholdt flere stykker av det samme fine ulltøyet som den andre klumpen. Det største stykket lå fast presset oppå et stykke av en vanlig firskaftet diagonalkypert. Det er visstnok rester av det samme stoffet som lå i den løse klumpen. Tetthetsgraden er i hvert fall så vidt det nå lar seg avgjøre, den samme (ca. 13 tråder pr cm). Oppå disse to stoffene lå det så opprinnelig biter av en skinnfell med lange hår. Endelig lå det innerst mot spennens skall et ganske lite stykke av et meget grovt løst ullstoff - vevet i to farger i rutemønster.
Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 146-147
The two other graves each contained a pair of "tortoise" brooches. One of the brooches contained some textile fragments around the head of the needle. Around the bottom of the needle there appears to be one or two strings partly covered by a piece of fabric that might be a loop, but it is very hard to make out the details because of the rust.
According to Blindheim the woman in the richest of the graves probably wore two smokkrs. Due to the linen loop in one of the brooches, and the small pieces of linen found in the grave she believes the inner smokkr to be made from linen. The outer was in all likelihood made of the fine woollen diamond twill, and was held up by the twined strings and decorated with the band woven in Oseberg tapestry style.
Værnes isn't the only finds where twined strings are used as loops for the smokkr. Blindheim has examined evidence from Tråstad in Norway, where one of the brooches contained possible fragments of two straps looped around the needle in a figure of eight. One of the straps is made from fabric (linen?). On the outside of this strap are small fragments of a twined string. There is also a finer string that has been tied to the bottom of the needle.
En kan skjelne to stropper som ligger i en 8-tallsløkke rundt nålehode og stilk. En er av stoff (lin?), og utenfor denne er det små rester av en tvunnet snor. I enden av nålehodet er det dessuten knyttet fast en meget finere snor.
Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 158
In addition Blindheim refers to the museum in Bergen, where according to the catalogue of finds there are two other finds with traces of strings that have been used to fasten the smokkr.
In the same report she describes another minor find from Lammøya in Norway with a more "traditional" set of fabric loops similar to what was found in Birka. One of the two brooches found here has several linen fabric loops inside it. One is well preserved and lay around the bottom of the needle. Fragments of one or two others lay around the needle itself, and there are also traces of linen at the point of the needle. The other brooch lacks the needle, but has traces of fabric at both ends of the brooch.
På den best bevarte spennen ligger det ved partiet omkring nålehodet rester av flere stropper av lin. En er meget godt bevart og knyttet fast til selve nålehodet. Rundt stilken ligger det rester av iallfall en, muligens to seler til. Her fins det dessuten linrester ved nåleskjeden. På den andre spennen mangler stilken, men inni nålehodet ligger det rester av noe som tydeligvis har vært en stropp (av lin?). Også ved nåleskjeden er det noen ubetydelige tekstilrester, men disse er for forrustet til at en kan si om det er lin eller ull.
Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 158
Finally Blindheim mentions that there are several finds not available to her at the moment because the museum's collections are closed. She intends to study them later, but refers to the catalogue of finds. According to the summaries found there, at least two of the finds show evidence that the brooch has been attached directly to the fabric of the smokkr at one end and by a loop at the other end.
Det sees tydelig at Spænderne have været anbragte paa den Maade af en af Klædningsstykkets Fliger har været indstukket paa Naalen (gjennomstukket af den) og en anden fæstet ved Hjælp af en om Naalen indenfor Naleskjeden lagt Strop av andet Slags Tøi.
Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 159, find from 1896
Det kan ogsaa her, ligesom paa enkelte andre i senere Tid indkomne Exemplarer iakttages at Naalen foruden at gaa igjennem et Stykke Tøi har baaret en Strop.
Charlotte Blindheim: Vernesfunnene og kvinnedrakten i Norden i Vikingtiden, p 159, find from 1898
In 1976 Inger Marie Holm-Olsen reported on the finds from 9 women's graves in western Norway.
Eight of the graves yielded in total 16 woollen fragments with traces of hemming. Holm-Olsen doesn't give any more details in regards to which garments the fragments might come from, but at least some of them are likely to be from a smokkr. The hemming technique is the same in all the cases; the cloth has been folded over twice, so that the hem consists of three layers of fabric.
One of the graves also yielded pleated fragments, and one grave had several preserved fabric loops, evidence of the presence of at least one smokkr.
Grave B 10720 at Sandanger
This grave have yielded several intact fabric loops of the kind used to fasten "tortoise" brooches. Three loops of woollen diagonal twill were found, all of them created by folding a strip of cloth several times and stitching it together.
One of the loops was fastened to a fragment of woollen diamond twill, and one was fastened to a fragment of the same diagonal twill that had been used to create the loop. The last of these loops had loosened from whatever fabric it had been stitched to and was laying alone.
Tre av hempene er av diagonalkypert, de består av flere lag sammenbrettet og sammensydd stoff. Den ene hempen er nå løs, de to andre er sydd fast til hvert sitt stoffstykke. Av de to siste er den ene sydd fast til et stykke av samme sort stoff, den andre er sydd fast til et ringvendstoff.
Inger Marie Holm-Olsen: Noen gravfunn fra vestlandet som kaster lys over vikingtidens kvinnedrakt, p 199, illustration p 200
Hempene må skrive seg fra to forskjellige seleskjørt, den ene av diagonalkypert, det andre av ringvend. Skjørtet av diagonalkypert har hatt hempe og skjørt av samme stoff, skjørtet av ringvend har hatt en hempe av diagonalkypert. Sammen med den tredje hempen er ikke stoff av selve skjørtet bevart. Hempen er av diagonalkypert, av samme kvalitet som hempen på ringvendskjørtet.
Inger Marie Holm-Olsen: Noen gravfunn fra vestlandet som kaster lys over vikingtidens kvinnedrakt, p 203
Holm-Olsen interprets this as evidence that the woman in the grave wore two smokkrs, one of diamond twill, the other of diagonal twill. Both smokkrs had loops made of the diagonal twill.
Additionally there was a fourth loop in the grave. It is difficult to ascertain how this loop was made due to it being encased in rust, but according to Holm-Olsen it isn't made from a folded strip of cloth like the others. Instead she believes that it might be a cord created by twinning a string around a central core made from several strings. It has been fastened to a fragment of a third woollen fabric, but the report doesn't state what type of weave.
Holm-Olsen believes that this loop is too slender to carry the weight of a smokkr. Also, if it is from a smokkr it would mean that the woman in the grave was wearing three smokkrs on top of each other, something she discounts as unlikely.
Den fjerde hempen er helt gjennomtrukket av rust og derfor vanskelig å analysere. Det er imidlertid klart at den ikke, som de andre, består av et sammenbrettet stoffstykke. Muligens er den laget på samme måte som den siste av de to snortypene [en kjerne av flere tråder, med en tråd viklet rundt]. Den synes å være svært spinkel til å skulle bære et seleskjørt. <...>
Den fjerde hempen som B10720 Sandanger inneholder, er som ovenfor nevnt svært spinkel. Charlotte Blindheim har immidlertid vist at seleskjørtet i enkelte tilfelle har vært holdt oppe av seler som bare bestod av tvynne ulltråder. At den ikke er laget av stoff, behøver derfor ikke å bety at den fjerde hempen ikke har tilhørt et seleskjørt. Det er likevel enda et forhold som taler mot at den har vært en sele, den er festet til et stoff av en annen kvalitet enn dem de andre hempene tilhører. Skulle også denne fjerde hempen være en del av et seleskjørt, måtte en tenke seg at kvinnen i denne graven hadde fått med seg tre slike.
Inger Marie Holm-Olsen: Noen gravfunn fra vestlandet som kaster lys over vikingtidens kvinnedrakt, p 199-201, p203, illustration p 201
She doesn't explain what kind of garment the loop and fabric could have come from if it isn't a smokkr, and writes nothing about where the different fragments were found in relation to the brooches in the grave. One explanation for the fourth loop that springs to my mind is that it could have been part of the closure mechanism for a caftan, or some other overgarment that closed across the chest. Such a loop wouldn't need to bear the weight of a full garment. Still, without more details from the find this is nothing more than wild speculation.
Holm-Olsen also mentions three fragments from grave B 10720 that have been decorated by different cords. She writes that two diamond twill fragments had a braided cord sewn to the edge, and one diamond twill fragment had been edged with a cord made by twining a string around a core made from several strings. This last type of decorative cord is also found edging a hemmed edge of a diamond twill fragment in another grave in Sandanger, B 10772.
Dette finnes på fire ringvendfragmenter fra funnene B 10720 Sandanger og B 10772 Sandanger. Snorene er av to typer. Den ene typen, som er representert ved to fragmenter fra B 10720, er flettet av flere tråder. <...gt;
Den andre typen, representert ved ett fragment fra B 10720 og ett fra B 10722, har en kjerne av flere tråder, om denne kjernen er det viklet en ny tråd. <...>
Snorene finnes fastsydd til henholdsvis sidejare, vevd begynnelseskant og fall.
Inger Marie Holm-Olsen: Noen gravfunn fra vestlandet som kaster lys over vikingtidens kvinnedrakt, p 199, illustration of B10722, p 198
Unless there are several diamond twill fabrics in grave B 10720, it
is reasonable to assume that the fragments decorated with cords at the
edge belong to the diamond twill smokkr from the grave. Holm-Olsen
doesn't say so though, so unless further details from the find are made
available, we won't know for sure.
Grave B 5625 at Vangsnes
This find was originally interpreted to be a serk, but has recently been suggested to come from a smokkr instead. I have included a summary of the original report, so that you can make your own decision as to how the evidence should be read.
A woman's grave at Vangsnes in Norway contained several fragments of a tabby wool, where three of the fragments were pleated (2-3 mm deep pleats). The rest of the fragments are 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.
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
At the time Inger Marie Holm-Olsen writes her report, there appears to be no reports on similar pleated woollen fragments, so she proposes that the fragments in grave B 5625 may possibly be from a woollen serk, mirroring the pleated serks from Birka.
Underkjolen er det i vestlandsmaterialet bare usikre spor etter. Det eneste i materialet som kanskje kan tolkes som rester etter et slikt plagg, er det plisserte stoffet fra B 5625 Vangsnes. Er dette restene av en underkjole, adskiller den seg fra underkjolene i Birka ved at den er i ull.
Inger Marie Holm-Olsen: Noen gravfunn fra vestlandet som kaster lys over vikingtidens kvinnedrakt, p 203
Some years after Holm-Olsen's report came out, the discovery of pleated wool at grave C in Kaupang and Køstrup was reported on. The pleated fragments from both these graves are interpreted to be part of a smokkr, not a serk. Based on these finds, Thor Ewing proposes that the Vangsnes find should also be interpreted as a smokkr.
If the pleated tabby at Vangsnes was from the serk, it is reasonable to expect the grave to also yield less deteriorated fragments from the smokkr, as it is closer to the preserving metal in the brooches than the serk. Unfortunately, because Holm-Olsen was summarizing the finds from several graves in her article, she gives no further details as to whether grave B 5625 yielded other fabrics in addition to the woollen tabby. However, if there were significant amounts of a different fabric, I would expect her to have mentioned it when interpreting the pleated fragments. Also, the Køstrup smokkr is pleated only between the brooches at the front. This supports an interpretation of the mix of pleated and plain tabby fragments from grave B 5625 Vangsnes as a partially pleated smokkr.
Thus I find myself agreeing with Ewing that these fragments are likely to have come from a pleated smokkr.
Kaupang is a Viking market place, and thus not a minor Viking find, but until I find evidence that more clothing was found than the meager fragments described below I will classify it as minor in textile terms. Two women's graves containing textiles were excavated in 1949 in the former Viking market centre Kaupang in Vestfold. The graves were somewhat damaged from the construction work that led to their discovery, and finds might have been moved out of their original context. Anne Stine Ingstad reported on the graves in 1979.
Grave B, from around 800 AD, contained three "tortoise" brooches and twelve textile fragments. One fragment consisted of a coarse woollen tabby (8Z/8Z threads pr sq. cm), the other eleven all derived from chevron twill (18-20Z/10Z threads pr sq. cm).
The most interesting of the chevron twill fragments is a piece that is 4.5 cm x 5 cm. It has been turned over twice at one edge and stitched in place, creating a hem three layers of fabric thick. A tablet woven band (0.6-0.9 cm wide) has been stitched to the edge of the hem with casting stitches, using a woollen thread. A wool string made from twining several woollen threads together has been stitched along the other edge of the tablet woven band.
Stoffet har en fall, som er bøyet inn to ganger, slik at tøyet der ligger i tre lag. Borden er sydd til kanten av fallen med jevne kastesting utført i totrådet S-ullgarn. Bordens bredde er noe ujevn - 0,6 cm - 0,9 cm, og den består av 9 dobbelte S-tvunnete ulltråder, som utgjør renningen, innslaget er Z-spunnet. Borden er vevet i mønster, som det fremgår av fig. 2. Til den kanten som ikke er sydd fast til stoffet er der med kastesting utført i totrådet S-tvunnet ulltråd påsydd en fast og jevnt tvunnet ullsnor, som består av flere dobbelte S-tvunnete tråder.
Anne Stine Ingstad: To kvinnegraver med tekstiler fra Kaupang p 158-159
According to Ingstad this fragment is similar to the diamond twill fragment with tablet woven band found at Værnes. The Værnes fragment came from a smokkr as evidenced by traces of the same fabric being found inside the brooches, and Ingstad therefore concludes that the chevron fragments in grave B is likely to derive from a smokkr as well.
The tablet woven band would have run along either the top or the bottom of the garment. Ingstad believes that the woollen string sewn to the edge of the band indicate that the band and string was placed at the bottom of the smokkr. She cites that similar strings have been used to protect against wear in Norwegian and Danish folk costumes.
Grave C, from 850-900 AD, contained more jewellery and more textile fragments than grave B. A total of ca 41 woollen fragments were found:
Several of the fragments had a black crust on one side, indicating that a plant fibre fabric (probably linen) had been present in the grave.
According to Ingstad several loops were found inside the brooches at the time of excavation, but currently only one survives along with fragments of several others. Some of the loops were made from the diagonal twill, and Ingstad proposes that this twill was used in a smokkr.
Videre foreligger ca. 5 fragmenter av et diagonalkypertstoff med 16Z/10Z pr cm2. Noen av disse skriver seg fra hemper, som har vært brukt til å feste et seleskjørt til de ovale spennene. De heftet opprinnelig til nålefestet, og da de ble funnet, ble der observert flere hemper til hver spenne. Nå foreligger det bare en nesten fullstendig hempe og noen bruddstykker av samme.
Anne Stine Ingstad: To kvinnegraver med tekstiler fra Kaupang p 160
The lozenge twill with the most fragments (c) was of fine quality and might have been pleated. One of the fragments seemed to have 3-4 pleats that were 0.4 - 0.5 cm deep. Another fragment of the same twill lay in several layers with a small hole (like that made by a needle) passing through all the layers.
When looking at the equal armed brooch found at the chest, and the bracelets on the arm that had lain on the body Ingstad finds that the diagonal twill seems to have been worn outside the pleated lozenge twill. Based on the fact that several loops originally were found inside the brooches she theorizes that the pleated twill was from a second smokkr worn inside the smokkr made from the diagonal twill. She proposes that the inner smokkr was longer than the outer, showing of the pleats.
The rest of the fragments are identified as either from a cloak or from a headdress and are thus not relevant when trying to collect evidence of the smokkr. The linen was probably from an underdress (serk).
De fleste fragmentene - 25 - må skrive seg fra dette stoffet, til tross for noe vekslende trådtettet fra stykke til stykke. To av fragmentene er sterkt oppsplittet i smale fliker, og flere andre er bare strimler. Ett fragment synes å ligge i tre-fire 0.4-0.5 cm brede plisser. Av dette er det nærliggende å slutte at stoffet kan ha vært plissert, og at den sterke oppsplittingen muligens kan skyldes slitasje i kanten av foldene. Videre foreligger et fragment i flere lag, og tvers gjennom lagene er der et ganske lite sirkelrundt hull som etter en nål.
Av funnopplysningene går det frem at det til de ovale spennene har vært festet ett eller to seleskjørt ved hjelp av hemper. Det ene seleskjørtet har vært av det diagonalvevete kypertstoffet.
Det er trolig at hun under den diagonalvevete stakken har båret enda et seleskjørt, da det opprinnelig heftet flere hemper til nålefestet på hver spenne. Kan hende har dette vært av det fine c-stoffet i ringvend, som muligens har vært plissert. Dette har trolig vært sidere enn overstakken, slik at plisseene har kommet frem nedenfor den.
Anne Stine Ingstad: To kvinnegraver med tekstiler fra Kaupang p 161-162
In January 2001, a grave was found in South Yorkshire with grave goods typical of a female Scandinavian burial of the Viking Period.
The oval brooches in the grave are typologically the earliest of the four pairs recovered from a grave in England, and the first to be excavated under archaeological conditions. The design and condition of the brooches suggest a date for the burial at the end of the 9th century. Isotope analysis of teeth from the skeleton indicates an origin for the woman in either Norway or possibly north-eastern Scotland. Penelope Walton Rogers reported on the artifacts in the grave, including the textiles.
...on both brooches lies a complex of textile loops and cords which pass round the brooch pin. The loops are made from a fine linen tabby, 24/Z x 24/Z per cm. Each loop seems to have been constructed as a cut strip folded lengthways, with the raw edges turned in and pressed flat, to give a neatly made strap 4 mm wide. In places the straps have a blue tinge, but analysis by absorption spectrophotometry has shown this to be from corrosion rather than dye. The loops and the coarser inner garment are likely to have been a natural white.
On brooch AB one of the loops passes around the hinge and the other passes around the tip. Behind the strip at the hinge there is a bundle of four or five Z-spun yarns which seems to form a second loop, mirroring the path of the first. On brooch AC, there is again a loop at both ends of the pin, but here there is also a second layer of the same material behind the first, which may represent a second set of loops. A series of coarse threads are entangled with the hinge end of this pin and from this emerges a plied cord (Z2S), approximately a millimetre thick, which follows an irregular path towards the edge of the brooch.
Greg Speed and Penelope Walton Rogers: A Burial of a Viking Woman at Adwick-le-Street, p 76
The smokkr itself was not preserved. Walton Rogers believe that the bundle of cords at the left brooch (AB) served as a replacement for a loop, presumably as a running repair. She interprets the plied cord at the right brooch (AC) as a tool band for a knife that was found in the grave. Thus her conclusion is that there were two loops at the bottom of each brooch, and one at the top.
In 2011 Hana Lukešová describes a methodology for registering and interpreting the textile remains preserved in the many tortoise brooches stored by the museum. In her article she uses three graves from the west of Norway as examples when explaining her method. Unfortunately, the graves were excavated late in the 19th century or early in the 20th and the details are lacking. Also, some of the textile fragments were removed from the brooches in order to preserve them, without recordomg their original position. Lukešová positions them by using old photographs of the brooches with the textiles (where they exist) and the splotches made by the metal in shape of the different brooches.
Grave B 6228 at Veka and other finds in Voss, Hordaland
I have classified this grave among the minor finds, in spite of the size of the smokkr fragment, due to the lack of details in the report. The woman in this grave was wearing the traditional tortoise brooches, signalling the presence of a smokkr, and a smaller brooch.
There were several pieces of woollen diamond twill that Lukešová interprets as fragments of a smokkr. Along the top of the largest piece the fabric has been folded towards the inside, creating an edge of which 27 cm still remains.
Currently there are no loops connected to the fragment, but Lukešová reports that there are stitch holes that probably stem from the fastening of the loops. If so, the brooches would have been 19.5 cm apart. A similar fragment from the front of the smokkr was found in grave 597 at Birka, running from one brooch to another, although only 22 cm remains of this fragment.
Some of the diamond twill fragments have part of a selvedge. Lukešová believes that this selvedge ran along a side seam of the smokkr (thus indicating the existence of a side seam).
The right tortoise brooch had one loop at the top and two at the bottom, while the left had four loops at the top and two at the bottom. Lukešová doesn't mention any details regarding what materials the loops are made of, nor does she explain the number of loops.
The four loops at the top of the brooch sharply deviates from the tendency from Birka (according to Hägg) to have more loops at the bottom of the brooches than at the top. Perhaps the brooch should be worn with the needle pointing downwards instead? Lukešová does not explain why she uses the orientation she does for the brooches, except for mentioning that like other researchers she believes that the brooches were worn with the needle pointing upwards. Without access to the report made by the archaeologist excavating the grave, I cannot tell whether she just assumes that the brooches were worn this way in all the graves she reports on, or whether it is the positions that were recorded for this specific grave.
Funnet fra Veka inneholdt to ovale spenner samt en komplett tredjespenne (midtspenne). <...> Jeg mener det er rimelig å tro at det største stykket diamantkypert i dette funnet må tolkes som rester av en selekjole. Fragmentet har en bevart øvre fald med huller etter en søm på hver side, noe som jeg tolker som rester av en stroppesøm. Avstanden mellom nålene på begge spennene kunne måles til 19,5 cm, mens lengden på den bevarte kanten er 27 cm. <...> På andre fragmenter av det samme stoffet i funnet finnes det også en oppsetningskant. Denne oppsetningskanten har sannsynligvis dannet sidesømmen på en kjole.
Lukešová, Hana: Fragmenter av kvinnedrakter fra vikingtiden, p 156 - 159, illustration p 160, English text added by me.
Lukešová also mentions a grave find from Hyrt (grave B 4864) where two tortoise brooches were found, with one containing a single loop at the top, and the other containing two loops at the top and bottom. No traces of the smokkr itself remain.
Grave B9060 at Hopperstad in Vik, Sogn og Fjordane
Two tortoise brooches were found inside this grave, one with three loops at the top and one at the bottom, the other with three at the top and two at the bottom.
Lukešová's illustration shows that the distance between top and bottom is small enough that it is possible some of the loops started on the other side of the dividing line before deterioration in the grave.
She reports that there were two fragments of diamond twill inside one of the brooches, one with a horizontal warp, the other with a vertical warp. Because the direction of the warp differs she interprets this as two different garments.
The fragment closest to the body (diamond twill I) is from the upper edge of the garment, with a warp running vertically. There are clear stitch holes from where a loop once was fastened, and she believes that this is a smokkr.
The second fragment (diamond twill II) is also interpreted as a smokkr worn. The warp runs horizontally and the upper edge is a selvedge. There is a seam running parallel to the top of the garment, 2-2.5 cm from the selvedge. As this smokkr would have been worn farthest from the body, she speculates whether this seam was meant to fasten a decorative band.
Funnet fra Hopperstad inneholder to ovale spenner. Spenne I har tre øvre stropper og en nedre stropp. Spenne II har tre øvre stropper og to nedre stropper. På grunn av tydelige flekker på to fragmenter av diamantkypert var det mulig å plassere disse helt nøyaktig på innsiden av spenne II. Siden renningen på disse to fragmentene går i forskjellig retning betyr det at de må være rester av to ulike plagg (selekjoler).
Det ene fragmentet (diamantkypert I) har tilhørt plaggets øvre kant. Stykket har tydelige huller etter søm for en stropp. Retningen på renningen er vertikal. Dette er mest trolig rester av en selekjole.
Det andre fragment (diamantkypert II) har en jarekant som øvre kant (retningen på renningen er horisontal) og representerer sannsynligvis en ytterligere selekjole. Sømmen på dette stykket løper parallelt med den øvre kanten med en avstand på 2-2,5 cm. Dette kan være sømmen som festet pyntebåndene til kjolen.
Lukešová, Hana: Fragmenter av kvinnedrakter fra vikingtiden, p 161, illustration p 161, English text added by me.
Because all we have are fragments of the smokkr, it may be relevant to examine other garments for inspiration. Caution must be used when extrapolating from such finds as they may be radically different from the smokkr, but they may still be useful in demonstrating which tailoring techniques and patterns were known to the Vikings.
This is the closest we get to a "proto-smokkr" and is perhaps the most relevant peripheral find in regards to interpreting the construction of the smokkr.
The woollen peplos from Huldremose in Denmark dates from 210-30 BC. It has been woven in a single piece on tubular loom, and forms a tube without seams, 168 cm long and 264 cm round. It is similar in design to the ancient Greek peplos, but would have been too long for the wearer unless the top part was folded down, or it was hitched up at the waist with a belt.
Dresses like this might be seen as precursors to the Viking smokkr.
There are several theories regarding what type of garments was found in this grave, from a man's tunic to a woman's smokkr. Either way it can be helpful to know exactly how the disputed fragments looked when making up your mind as to which interpretation to believe.
In grave 735 a man and a woman (possibly holding a small child) had been buried close to each other. The bones had deteriorated to such a degree that only the teeth of the two adult skeletons remained. This provides a challenge when trying to sort out which of the textile fragments belonged to the man and which belonged to the woman.
The grave contained large amounts of silver and gold tablet woven bands, silver thread embroideries and the largest pieces of silk twill that has been found in Birka. Because of the lack of skeletons it is unclear which textile fragments belonged to the man and the woman respectively.
Piece nr 1 (figure 735:5 bottom right) consists of a tablet woven band between two fragments of silk twill.
The fabric along one edge of the piece has been folded towards the inside, and there are traces of wool on the fold. The direction of the weave in the silk twill indicates that the folded edge was either at the top or the bottom of the piece. The shape of the piece combined with the traces of wool lead both Geijer and Hägg to conclude that the fold ran along the bottom of the piece and was probably stitched to a woollen cloth.
Stycke 1 (735:5) består av ett brickband, B18, mellan två sidenkypertstycken. Den nedre kanten har en enkelt vikning mot avvigan, och på vikningen finns lämninger av ett ylletyg, vid vilket stycket kan ha varit fastsytt.
Att döma av vävens riktning i sidenkypertdelarna bör stycket ha suttit med vikkanten uppåt eller nedåt i dräkten. Vikkanten med yllerester samt styckets disposisjon talar kanskje snarast för att det skulle ha suttit som 735:5 visar, med den vikta kanten nedåt.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p 74, illustrations p 128
Geijer suggests a reconstruction where piece 1 is placed with the
folded edge of the silk twill along the waist area of the person wearing
the garment. The lower part of the garment would consist of wool
stitched to the silk. She proposes that piece 1 was connected to another
piece (nr 2, figure 735:5, right side).
Piece nr 2 consists of three separate pieces of silk twill, A, B and C (735:4 b). Between fragment A and B runs a tablet woven band (735:4 a, band 3) identical to the tablet woven band in piece 1. Along the edge of fragment B there is another tablet woven band (735:4 a, band 1). Additionally there is a tablet woven band running diagonally along the top of piece 2 (735:4 a, band 2). A gore of silk twill (fragment C) fills the space between fragment B and the band, but does not continue across the vertical bands. The three bands (1-3) seem to have been part of the construction and shaping of the garment.
The four tablet woven bands (735:4 a, band 4-7) that run horizontally across the piece seem to have had a mainly decorative function.
These bands lie on the outside of the silk twill, and crosses on top of the vertical bands. The decorative effect has been strengthened by varying the stitching so that every other band has been fastened with the same type of stitches. Thus half of the bands have been fastened by small, invisible stitches, the other half by blanket stitching.
Three of the horizontal bands are sufficiently preserved that the ends of the bands still remains. They have been folded and stitched in place on the silk twill (piece A) at one end. The other ends (that meet the vertical band 1) have also been folded and are kept in place by a seam.
Här är brickbandet B18 hopfogat med ett annat, vertikalt gående band, som hör till ett annat stycke, nr 2. Detta stycke (735:4 a-b) består av tre sidenkypertdelar, A-C, og sju brickband, 1-7. Sidenkypertdelarnas fogning framgår av 735:4 a, som återger avigsidan: de två större delarna A och B ramar in det vertikalt placerade brickbandet nr 3. Över hela det hopfogade stycket AB ligger på rätsidan fyra brickbandstränsar, 4-7, varav tre med ursprunglig avslutning i båda ändar. Åt ena hållet är bandändarna nedvikta och fastsydda mot sidentygets rätsida, åt det andra hållet möter bandändarna i rät vinkel et annat, vertikalt placerat band, nr 1, vid vilket de vikts ned och fästs med en söm.
Den tredje sidenkypertdelen på detta stycke, del C (735:4 b), fungerar som en kil mellan det snedfogade brickbandet överst, nr 2, och övriga delar. Kilen måste ha upphört vid det vertikala band 3, eftersom stycke A på andra sidan om detta band fortsätter upp över det horisontala band 4.
Det är ovisst, om band 2 fortsatt över band 3 på detta ställe. Det är emmellertid tydligt, att brickbanden 2 och 3 har haft konstruktiva funktioner i samband med hela styckets kilning och fogning (ev. gäller detsamma även band 1). De fyra horisontelt påsydda tränsbanden har främst dekorativ funktion. Som Geijer påpekat förstärktes den dekorativa effekten genom den teknik, med vilken banden applicerats på stycket: vartannat infattat med langettsöm, vartannat diskret fäst med osynlig söm.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p 74-75
Lastly there is another piece from the same garment, piece nr 3 (figure 735:5, left side). This piece lacks the vertical bands and upper gore, but has more of the horizontal decorative bands left intact than piece nr 2. It is clear that piece 2 and 3 is designed to sit on opposite sides of the chest of the wearer.
The horizontal bands have been folded and stitched down on the silk twill at one end. The other ends of the bands are torn. The bands have been adjusted in order to follow the shape of the body, so the band in the middle of the chest is longer than the one at the waist. This seems to have been a garment that was fitted to the body of the wearer (735:6).
The distance between the pieces are unknown, but it would at least have covered ca 30 cm of the chest (piece 2: 15 cm + piece 3: 16,5 cm). The height of the garment is even harder to calculate. The suggested reconstruction has a height of ca 32 cm. The neck and shoulder part of the garment is unknown.
Detta stycke har flera av de dekorativa tvärtränsarna bevarade än föregående men ingen likartad kostruktiv fogningsdetalj. Hela stycke 3 motsvarar ur funktionell synspunkt delen A på stycke 2 (735:4 b). De ursprungliga bandavslutningar, som finns kvar, är liksom där invikta åt ena hållet och nedsydda mot rätsiden.
Det är tydligt, att stycke 2 och 3 inte suttit på samma bröstkorgshalva utan att de är parstycken. På nr 3 bör tvärtränsarna liksom hos parstycket 2 ha varit avslutade invid et vertikalt placerat brickband (jfr 735:4 a, band 1) på den sida, där brickbanden saknar avslutning. Själva sidentyget bör ha varit hopfogat i sidled med et annat stycke, som korrensponderar mot del B hos parstycket 2, jfr 735:5.
De nedfållade tränsarna på stycke 3 slutar inte på en rak linje över varandra, vilkat tydligt framgår, om man med ögat följer de vertikala trådarna i väven. De mellersta tränsarna slutar längre ut på kyperttyget. Brickbanden har härmed anpassats efter bröstkorgens välvning (jfr punkt-strecklinjerna på 735:5). Denna detalj, som går ut på at avpassa plagget efter kroppens former, bör ses i samband med kilskarvningen av stycke nr 2, genom vilken vidden i tyget ökades mot kroppens mitt.
När man altså adderar detaljerna hos de här beskrivna styckena 1, 2 och 3, vilka obestridligen hör til samma plagg, får man den bild, som demonstreras på 735:5-6. Stycke nr 3 bör ha legat på höger sida av bröstet med de invikta og nedsydda bandändarna mot kroppsmitten, medan stycke nr 2 låg på vänster sida med kilskarven avsmalnande ut mot sidan. De inbördes avstånden mellan styckena är givetvis ganska ungefärliga. Tillsammans måste de emellertid ha täckt bröstet med ca 30 cm på bredden (stycke 2: 15 cm + stycke 3: 16,5 cm). Den sammanlagda höjden är svårare att beräkna; enligt den här föreslagna rekonstruktionen kan den ha varit ca 32 cm. Hur axelparti och halsöppning varit utformade är oklart.
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p 74-75, illustrations p 128
Geijer interpret the fragments of metal tablet woven bands and silk from female graves to be decoration of the smokkr. In the case of grave 735 however, she believes that all these fragments belonged to the man's clothing, based on where they were placed in the grave. Inga Hägg disagrees. According to her, all that can be inferred from Stolpe's original drawing of the grave is that the largest textile fragment covered the chest of one of the adults but that it is in no way certain which of them it was. They were buried so close to each other that their clothing may have intermingled during deterioration.
The tortoise brooches was found laying upright on their edges, a strong indication that the woman had not been placed on her back in the grave, but rather had been buried beside the man in a sitting or half crouched position (possibly with their knees touching). According to the drawing of the grave, one of the brooches lay with its inside towards the largest textile fragment (piece 3). Hägg comments that this could be interpreted in two different ways; either the textile fragment is from a garment that the woman wore beneath her smokkr, or the brooch has been turned around in the grave during decomposition and lies on the man's chest, on top of the remains of a garment worn by him. Neither the grave drawing nor the layering of the fragments gives a clear indication of which alternative is correct. She therefore turns to the fragments themselves.
There are additional tablet woven bands in the grave. According to Hägg these appears to have been part of a fragment that looked similar to piece 2 or 3, but with richer and broader tablet woven bands, probably a separate garment of the same type, but of a larger size. She sees no reason that the man should be wearing two garments of the same type, and so concludes that Geijer was mistaken when deciding that all the decorated fragments were from a man's garment. Hägg believes that the woman and man were wearing similar garments - probably tunics. The smaller garment (piece 1, 2 and 3) with the slimmer bands was worn by the woman, while the one with richer bands and possibly also the silver embroideries belonged to the man.
Hägg believes that the garments are two out of several that were decorated with silk and metal tablet woven bands, and that all these tunics were imported to Birka from the Kiev-Byzantinium area. She (argues that in addition to importing the tunics themselves, the Birka Vikings adopted the custom of using these garments as signifiers of rank within the royal court, from Kiev.
Thor Ewing on the other hand, believes that the fragments described
above come from a smokkr. His theory is discussed in the chapter on the
shape of the smokkr further down in the article.
That is the end of the hard evidence, and we're entering the land of interpretations. No complete smokkr has been found, although the archaeological evidence contains some larger fragments. This means that when we want to reconstruct the garment we must combine the archaeological evidence with other (and less reliable) sources, like poetry or illustrations.
When looking at the Birka evidence, Agnes Geijer chose to base her interpretation of the smokkr solely on the loops and whatever fragments that were attached to them. She concluded that the smokkr was usually made from linen. Inga Hägg takes a less conservative approach to the same evidence, and identifies several unattached pieces of woollen cloth as smokkr fragments, based on their layer in the grave, and their placement under the brooches. She concludes that the smokkr could be made from either linen or wool. Her conclusion is supported by the linen smokkr found at Pskov and the woollen smokkrs found at Haithabu, Køstrup and several of the minor finds.
There is not enough evidence to tell whether linen or wool were the preferred fabric used in the smokkr. Although more than hundred graves in Birka contained fragments of the smokkr, Inga Hägg only lists 33 of them as containing remains from the body of the dress itself. Given that wool is more easily preserved than linen it is not surprising that the proportion of wool versus linen in these graves is 25 vs 8. In reality, linen might have been more common than these numbers suggests.
There is no clear chronological division of the linen and woollen smokkrs of Birka, linen smokkrs appear both in early graves from the 9th century and the later graves from the 10th century. Hägg also believes that the choice is unlikely to be a matter of status, because the grave goods that follow the two types of smokkrs are of comparatively the same value. Perhaps both were used interchangeably, with linen smokkrs in summer and woollen smokkrs in winter? Or perhaps it was a matter of taste? All we know for sure is that both types existed during the Viking Age.
From the archaeological evidence we know that the smokkr, however it may have looked, was fastened to the "tortoise" brooches with fabric loops. It isn't the first time fabric loops appear in Nordic clothing, but although one loop has been found attached to a man's garment from the Migration period they seem to fall out of use in the Iron Age. Thus the sudden appearance of loops on the smokkr isn't just a continuation of an existing clothing tradition.
The majority of the woollen smokkr fragments from Birka are fine twills (usually broken lozenge twill), although there are some fragments of repped woollen cloth and other tabby weaves as well. According to Geijer the fine cloth was imported, probably from Syria. These fabrics were tightly woven and would not easily admit the 4-5 mm thick iron needles of the "tortoise" brooches without tearing threads.
Hägg and Geijer believe that the reason behind the introduction of the loops was a desire to avoid piercing the expensive imported cloth. This may explain why the majority of the smokkr loops appears to have been made of the tougher and presumably cheaper linen cloth, instead of using the imported smokkr fabric.
The same principle can be observed for the woollen loops at Sandanger. In this grave there were two smokkrs, one of diamond twill, the other of diagonal twill, but the loops of both smokkrs were made from the (presumably simpler) diagonal twill. At the same time, the opposite is the case for the Køstrup find. Here two of the loops were made from the smokkr fabric, and one had a layer of smokkr fabric outside a linen core. It was only the last loop that was made of another, rougher cloth (possibly because there were no smokkr fabric left).
Hägg suggests that the inspiration for the loops may stem from the loops and buttons in the Oriental garments imported to Birka. The loops seem to have been made by folding fabric strips and either whipstitching them along the sides (Birka grave 835) or along the middle of the strap (Birka grave 465). Some loops had an inner core of a stronger fabric. This is the case for several of the silk loops where the silk is covering a linen core, and for the Køstrup find. The width of the straps may have varied; the straps at Adwick-le-street were 4mm, while the Køstrup loops and the loop from the Pskov seems to be 1-1.5 cm wide.
Some loops may have been made of twined string instead of fabric. The bundle of yarns found in a brooch at Adwick-le-street is believed to be a temporary repair, but the fragments of string inside two brooches at Værnes are interpreted by Blindheim as smokkr loops. She wrote her report before a lot of the newer material became available however, so an alternative explanation could be that the strings are part of the smokkr decoration, like in Birka graves 511, 973, 1083, 1084, or at Køstrup, and that the smokkr was fastened by linen loops that have deteriorated (except one).
The loops that have been found attached to smokkr fragments are open from the part that lie around needle until the base at the edge of the smokkr, except for the front loops in Birka grave 835. These were sewn closed with the exception of a couple of cm at the end.
How long were the loops? Starting with the front loops we immediately run into one of the many disagreements of the different archaeologists. Agnes Geijer bases her theory on Birka grave 1084, where a loop was found connected to the edge of the smokkr. The top of the loop is missing, but the part that remains is roughly 3 cm long. Geijer suggests that the loop was torn near the edge of the brooch and that the preserved part once was shown in its entirety below the brooch. Thus according to her reconstruction the front loop was roughly 6.6 cm long.
Inga Hägg looks at the same evidence, but interprets it differently. She believes that the remains are the part of the smokkr and loop that were inside the brooch, and points out that the smokkr fragment has a slightly rounded edge, as if it decomposed along the edge of the brooch.
She acknowledges that the Birka material has several linen loops that is torn at the edge of the brooch and probably used to continue beyond the brooch (e.g. the loop in grave 465), but Hägg believes that these loops are not part of the smokkr.
Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing p 27
Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, p 134
Her argument is that when one compares the total number of loops found at respectively the top and bottom of the brooches in Birka, there are significantly more loops at the bottom.
There is more metal surrounding the needle in the lower part of the brooch, which increases the chances of conserving nearby fabric, but if this was the sole explanation the top and bottom loops should have the same fabric distribution. This is not the case.
Out of 22 graves with one or more silk loop, only one is found at the top of a brooch, indicating that the silk loops had a very specific function to fulfil on the front of the garment. Combined with the fact that remains of silk bands have been found attached to different tools, it seems likely that these silk loops were used to hang tools from the brooches. Hägg believes that some of the long linen loops found at the bottom of the brooches had the same function.
She concludes by saying that whenever the number of loops at the bottom of the brooch exceeds two, there is reason to believe that the remaining bands could have been used to carry tools. Such bands would have continued out from the brooch and down the front of the smokkr, but would not have been part of the smokkr.
One exception to the rule of the majority of the loops being at the bottom of the brooch is Veka where there are four loops at the top of one brooch and only two at the bottom. Due to Lukešová not reporting on the material(s) the loops are made of, one cannot tell whether these are more or less likely to be tool bands.
According to Hägg's interpretation of the Birka material, including grave 1084, the front loop of the smokkr would have been short enough to be completely covered by the brooch along with 2-3 cm of the top of the smokkr.
The brooch wear marks on the smokkr fragment from Birka grave 597 and on the lined fragment in Birka grave 464 support her theory that the front edge of the smokkr reached into the brooches. The two fully intact loops, still stitched to smokkr fragments that were found at Sandanger could have given more conclusive evidence, but Holm-Olsen doesn't report their length. One of the front loops from Køstrup, x569, is torn at a length of 3.9 cm. This loop might have been longer than normal however, in order to allow for the tablet woven band being stitched to the loops instead of the smokkr.
Birka isn't the only place where tool-bands have appeared. At Køstrup the archaeologists found a blue linen band that was believed to be a band for carrying tools. In Adwick-le-Street a plied cord found in the right brooch is also identified as a tool-band.
Having discussed the bottom loops it is time to look at the loops at the top of the brooches. In all the material these seem to have been torn either at the upper edge of the brooch or inside it. This means that we have very little idea as to how long they were. Presumably they passed over the shoulder and were fastened to the smokkr at the back.
According to Hägg remains from the back of the smokkr have never been found directly under the brooches. She therefore believes that the back of the smokkr probably reached no higher than up to the shoulder blades of the person wearing it. While her conclusion might hold true, I find the argument a bit puzzling. Wouldn't the body need to decompose first, before the brooch could come in touch with the cloth at the back? And couldn't the explanation of why remains of the back of the smokkr never appear under the brooches be that it decomposed along with the body before the brooch could preserve it? (Not being an archaeologist, my knowledge of decomposing bodies is somewhat limited...)
Shelagh Lewins, a UK reenactor, suggests a different interpretation of the length of the back loops. All we know is that the loops at least reached to the end of the brooch (to my knowledge no fabric has been found attached to the top loops). Her experience with the long loops used in most reconstructions is that they make the brooches pull down and the back of the dress ride up. As an alternative she has made a reconstruction using short loops both for the back and the front of the smokkr, leading to a more peplos-like look. This interpretation probably works better for the less formfitting reconstructions, like Birka, than the more tailored looks of Haithabu (see below for more on the shape of the smokkr).
Finally there might have been cases where the brooch did pierce the fabric of the smokkr. In her report on the Værnes find and various other minor finds, Charlotte Blindheim refers to two finds that are described as having one loop, and one end of the smokkr pinned directly to the brooch. Given the shape of the human body it is likely that the loop would have been running across the shoulders, and that it would be the front of the smokkr that was pinned to the brooch.
Unfortunately Blindheim hasn't had physical access to the finds, and the descriptions are from the 1890s, before Geijer significantly improved the techniques of textile analysis by her work on Birka. Thus there is a definite possibility that the evidence might have been misinterpreted. Blindheim expresses an intention to check these finds later, but I haven't so far been able to find a report of her doing so (which doesn't mean that it doesn't exist).
Although the fragments that survive from the smokkr are larger than what remains of the serk, the archaeological evidence is not sufficient to tell us exactly what the garment looked like. What we know is that it was held up by loops of fabric fastened by "tortoise" brooches, it reached at least to the hip and could be at least partially lined. The larger pieces found at Birka, Haithabu and Køstrup also gives some information about the shape of the smokkr.
It is highly likely that the shape of the smokkr varied according to time and place, so the smokkr worn by a 9th century woman in Birka would have looked different from the smokkr worn by a woman in 10th century Haithabu. Thus we can't just simply glue together the pieces from different finds (unless we want to create a Frankensmokkr :-), but we can with some caution draw on the different finds when chasing the underlying shape of the smokkr.
This is where the archaeologists part ways and end up with very different reconstructions. Partly this is due to some of them not having access to later finds when they made their theories, but it is also due to different interpretations of the same evidence.
The main puzzle that arises from the Birka material is how to explain the multiple loops that is found within the brooches. Although evidence for multiple loops are found elsewhere as well (e.g. Adwick-le-Street, Sandanger, Kaupang, Veka and Hopperstad), Birka has the largest variety of loop combinations. The first reconstruction is advanced by Agnes Geijer.
None of the numerous smokkr pieces found at Birka show traces of having been shaped by cutting. There are large number of fragments of folded and hemmed edges. The edges have been folded on the grain, that is, with warp threads running vertically on the piece and the same is true for the lining whenever it is present. From this evidence Geijer concludes (and Hägg agrees) that the Birka smokkr wasn't cut and shaped to fit the body. Instead the fabric was used almost unaltered after leaving the loom, the only modifications being:
When deciding on the shape of the smokkr Geijer drew on other dresses worn in the Baltic area, especially the hurstut dress. (Inga Hägg: Kvinnodräkten i Birka, illustration p 53)
She believed that the smokkr was constructed as a rectangle of linen wrapped around one side of the body, held up by short loops at the front and longer loops running over the shoulders to the back. Geijer postulated one set of loops per shoulder for each rectangle, unlike the hurstut dress which has a fastening only on one of the shoulders.
The multiple loops found at the top and bottom of the majority of the brooches could be explained by the smokkrs usually being worn in overlapping pairs, so that instead of showing the serk, the open side of the overdress revealed the inner smokkr.
As the inner loops in a brooch often are made from a rougher weave than the outer loops, she assumed that the inner smokkr usually were made from rougher linen than the outer. She believed the remains of the smokkrs in grave 563 to be from such an overlapping pair, with a decorated smokkr made from dark blue linen, outside an inner smokkr of white linen.
Inga Hägg points out that unlike for the hurstut dress, the loops of the smokkr must have been placed at least some centimetres from the corners of the rectangle, as no loops at Birka have been found sewn directly to a corner. At the same time the upper edge of the smokkr remains horizontal across the width of a brooch, evidence that the sides of the smokkr were held close to the body instead of being allowed to hang freely. Hägg suggests that for the overlapping open linen smokkrs this was probably achieved by wearing a belt made of textile materials.
While Hägg seems to share Geijer's belief that the pair of linen smokkrs could be reconstructed as overlapping rectangles, she argues that the woollen smokkr had a different shape.
The surviving fragments from the body of the woollen smokkr often come from within only one of the two "tortoise" brooches within a grave. This makes it necessary to examine whether the woollen smokkr was asymmetrical in form, like e.g. the hurstut dress. In order to find out Hägg checked the number of loops in brooch I and II in all the graves where fragments from the body of the smokkr appear in only one brooch. She found variations from grave to grave, but not in a consistent pattern. Also, the graves with the best preserved material show almost total correspondence between the loops in brooch I and II. Thus Hägg concludes that the smokkr was symmetrical.
The upper edge of the woollen smokkr remains horizontal across the width of a brooch (just like the linen smokkr), indicating that the sides of the smokkr were held close to the body. In addition surviving fragments from woollen smokkrs lie in a single layer around the body, instead of the double layer one should expect from a pair of overlapping wraparound woollen smokkrs. Based on this, Inga Hägg proposes that the woollen smokkr consisted of a front piece and a back piece sewn together at the sides. (I must admit that I cannot see why the lack of two woollen smokks on top of each other at Birka is an argument for an open smokkr. If so, the smokkrs at Hopperstad would have to be open in the side for no better reason than that there are two loollen smokkrs, one worn outside the other.
More importantly Hägg points out that a smokkr formed as a closed tube would be a natural continuation of the woollen peplos that seems to have been in use during the Iron Age (as evidenced by the Huldremose find).
Some of the graves with woollen smokkrs also show traces of linen cloth and have a double set of loops inside the brooches, indicating that they may have had a separate linen smokkr of some sort worn inside of the woollen smokkr. Grave 464 on the other hand, is a clear example of a lined smokkr, where both the linen and wool cloth are sewn together and supported by a single loop.
Hägg notes that the decorative braided and tablet woven bands found in some of the Birka graves are sometimes found in the chest area, and that the brooches occasionally has sat upon a woollen garment. She interprets this as evidence for a decorated women's tunic worn beneath the smokkr, of which Birka grave 735 is an example.
In 1981 Flemming Bau reinterprets the Birka material yet again. His starting point is the different figurines and picture stones showing Viking female figures. He states that the serk is usually reconstructed as a long, train-like garment. According to him though, the figures d and e (both from the 8th century) are the only ones that support the theory of a trailing serk, and he interprets the trailing dress or train in the other figures as several different garments.
Interpretation by Bau:
Flemming Bau: Seler og slæb i vikingetid,
In figure d and g unbroken lines run from the front of the woman to the back of the train, except for a small triangle in the front where the undergarment is visible. Figure e has a train and a hanging length of cloth in the front. The trains in f, h and i appears to have been fastened at the shoulders. Figure f has some kind of undergarment (shown at the sides) and a hanging length of cloth worn at the front. In the case of h and i there is a garment worn beneath the train, and a shorter length of cloth hanging down in front. This short "apron" seems to also be present in c, and a longer version appears on j.
Der er tydeligt slæb på alle figurer, bortset fra f, men det er tilsynelatende forskjellige klædningsstykker, der danner slæbet. d og g viser ubrudte linier fra kvindens front og bagud i et slæb. Kun en lille trekant af den underliggende klædning lades synlig foran. Uden på disse to klædningsstykker bæres en slags trøje eller lignende. Ved figur e afbrydes de bagudrettede linier i slæbet med en hængende bane stof foran.
Ved figurerne f, h og i hænger slæbet ned fra skulderpartiet og ikke fra kvindens forside, som ved de tidligere omtalte figurer. Sølvfiguren f viser tydeligt et skulderslæb, foran hænger en stofbane og en underliggende klædning skimtes. På figur h og i ses et slæb, der spesielt for i's vedkommende tydeligt bliver båret uden på en anden klædning med mønsterborter. På begge, og tilsynelatende også på c, hænger et klædningsstykke ned foran, men ikke så langt ned som slæbet. Endeligt ses foran på guldspillebrikken j et hængende klædningsstykke.
Flemming Bau: Seler og slæb i vikingetid, Birka's kvindedragt i nyt lys, p 14-15
Bau takes f, h and i as evidence that there could be a separable train fastened at the shoulders, since the back in at least one of these figures (f) extends higher than what would be the case for the traditional interpretation of a smokkr with long back loops.
He argues that the trains in these figures are longer than the front cloths, and so they should not be interpreted as parts of the same garment. Instead the front cloth is a separable apron which is fastened on the woman's chest (d, g). While no fragments have been identified as part of a train in the Birka material, the figurines show lines running down the back that may indicate that the train was pleated.
Having introduced these two new garments in addition to the smokkr, Bau sets out to reinterpret the meaning of the number of loops found in the Birka graves (after the tool bands have been excluded).
Inga Hägg introduced two combinations of smokkr loops:
Most graves haven't got a full (and identical) set of loops in both brooches because of the deterioration of the fabric after the burial. Hägg thus attributes graves with asymmetrical loop numbers (e.g. a brooch with 2 loops at the bottom and 1 at the top) to poor preservation conditions.
Bau introduces two additional combinations of loops:
The introduction of these combinations means that the total number of missing loops that have to be explained by poor preservation conditions decreases significantly, because an asymmetrical number doesn't necessarily mean that loops are missing.
A smokkr has the same number of loops independent of whether it is closed or it has an opening somewhere. Thus the combination of the closed smokkr reconstructed by Inga Hägg and a separable apron or train could explain the various number of loops found at Birka. Bau rejects the closed smokkr though. He argues that while the figurines show no evidence of a smokkr with a side opening, as envisioned by Agnes Geijer, it is entirely possible that it was open in the front. He also refers to the work of several etnographic researchers that has illustrated some folk costumes from the 1700s that seems to have an opening in the front.
According to Bau, some of the tools hanging from the brooches must have been touching the serk directly since they show traces of linen from the serk, without an intervening layer of cloth from the smokkr. An open-fronted smokkr, with or without an apron that could slide aside in the grave, would explain how these knives and scissors came in contact with the serk.
In addition, there are the decorated garments like the one found in grave 735, which Hägg interprets as a tunic that had been worn underneath the smokkr (she probably arrives at this conclusion because one of the "tortoise" brooches lay on top of one of the decorated fragments). Bau argues that if the smokkr was closed it would almost completely cover the highly decorated front of this tunic. An open-fronted smokkr on the other hand, worn without an apron, would show off the tunic underneath.
The open-fronted smokkr would also separate from the serk and apron when the woman was walking, creating a triangle as seen in some of the figurines (d, g).
Illustration from Flemming Bau: Seler og slæb i vikingetid, Birka's kvindedragt i nyt lys, p 25
One of Hägg's arguments for a closed smokkr is that the uppermost edge on all the smokkr fragments lies in a straight line along the width of the "tortoise" brooches. According to Bau only 10 graves have fragments with the edge running horizontally across the width of the brooch (and several of these are somewhat ambiguous) so Hägg's conclusion is built on very limited evidence. If the loop is fastened fairly close to the corner (as may be the case in grave 464), the smokkr isn't required to be closed in order to avoid a large "flapping" piece of fabric, and the cloth would still run straight across the brooches.
With this in mind he concludes that the large fragment running from brooch to brooch (Birka grave 597) was part of a separable apron. The fragment was found folded on top of one brooch, something which would happen more easily with a separable apron than the front of a closed smokkr.
Lastly, he argues that if a closed smokkr existed, it would fix the brooches and loops in place more firmly than the open-fronted smokkr. Thus the findings of brooches that have been turned upside down in the grave during deterioration and the loops that have been pulled out of position support his theory of an open-fronted smokkr.
He concludes that the smokkr was open in the front, and with this in mind he reinterprets the two loop combinations introduced by Inga Hägg. He believes that one loop above and below should be interpreted as an open smokkr (without an apron), and that two loops above and below would be an open smokkr plus a separable apron and train.
Illustration from Flemming Bau: Seler og slæb i vikingetid, Birka's kvindedragt i nyt lys, p 25
He argues that the back loops of the smokkr probably ran slantwise over the shoulders, like in modern dungarees, something at least one other researcher (Thor Ewing) agrees with.
Inga Hägg comments on Bau's interpretation on her website. She points out that Bau's interpretation is strongly influenced by the figurines of valkyries and other female entities in Viking art. The problem with this is that none of these figurines are clearly shown wearing a smokkr with "tortoise" brooches, and their clothing may be interpreted in several different ways.
While Bau's work as an illustrator has resulted in his interpretation being spread widely through his clear and colourful pictures, Hägg is unequivocal in her rejection of the proposal of an open fronted smokkr.
She states that roughly 25 graves in Birka contain significant fragments from the front of the woollen smokkr, including the fragment that runs from one brooch to another (Birka grave 597) - which she obviously does not believe is a part of a separable apron.
She also refers to the Haithabu fragment (a find that was reported on after Bau's analysis) and "a host of other Scandinavian finds" that reaffirms that the smokkr did cover the front, and was closed around the body.
En omfattande spridning i handböcker och populärlitteratur fick den danske grafikern Flemming Baus färgstarka bilder av kjolen under 1980-talet och framöver (t.ex. Hvass, Jernalderen 1980 och Burenhult, Arkeologi i Norden 1999). Hans rekonstruktion var starkt påverkad av ett antal vikingatida framställningar av valkyrior och andra kvinnliga väsen i dräkter som kan tolkas på olika sätt, dock i inget fall visar de en hängselkjol med spännbucklor.
Förslaget om en öppning framtill kan avskrivas direkt. I Birka har ansenliga fragment från yllekjolens framsida bevarats i bortåt 25 av gravarna, ofta fixerade i ärg och rost under de ovala spännbucklorna. I ett fall har ett sammanlagt 22 cm brett stycke bevarats, därav 12-13 cm från partiet upptill på bröstet mellan de båda ovalspännena.
I Hedeby, Birkas handelspartner i det dåtida Danmark, har man funnit ett 30 x 23 cm stort stycke från sidan och ryggen till en yllekjol med vertikala fogsömmar och intagningar. Detta och en rad andra skandinaviska fynd stämmer med den tidigare för Birka vunna bilden, nämligen att yllekjolen täckt bröstet framtill och att det var slutet runtom i kroppens längdriktning.
Inga Hägg's website: http://ingahagg.cybersite.se/text_108109.html (visited 5th July 2010)
In his book Viking clothing, Thor Ewing also expresses his disagreement with Bau's interpretation.
He accepts that an open smokkr could show off the tunic underneath, but since the decorated tunics seem to be fairly rare, the majority of open fronted smokkrs would just expose the woman's underwear at precisely the areas one should expect to find covered. It would also be hopelessly impractical to wear without an apron, because the dress would tend to swing to the sides.
In addition Ewing argues that there is no evidence for an open-fronted garment worn without an apron in the ethnographical comparative material Bau presents (and if the apron was always present, it removes the whole point of the open smokkr because the apron covers the tunic underneath). Instead he cites Birka grave 597 and the Køstrup and Haithabu finds as evidence that the smokkr was closed.
He further argues that there is no need for Bau's open smokkr to explain the linen left on the metal implements hanging from the brooches. If a linen smokkr or a linen apron or forecloth was present, or the implement simply hung inside the smokkr, it would easily have come in contact with linen. (Also, when I look at Bau's drawing of the positions of the scissors and knives it seems to me that in several of the graves, the implements may easily have come in contact with linen from the sleeves of the serk.)
|Tool||scissors chain||scissors knife||scissors||scissors||scissors||scissors|
|517||597||703 B||791||834 B||838||943||978||980||1062||1084||1159|
|scissors||scissors||scissors or knife||scissors||chainlinks||scissors||scissors||scissors?||keys||scissors||scissors?||scissors|
Flemming Bau: Seler og slæb i vikingetid, Birka's kvindedragt i nyt lys, illustrations p 26, 27. Text translated and red colour added for emphasis.
Finally Ewing refers to the description of the farmer wife in the poem Rígsþula:
Sat þar kona... sveigr var á höfði, smokkr var á bringu, dúkr var á halsi, dvergar á öxlum.
There sat a woman... a sveigr was on her head, a 'smock' on her chest, a cloth was at her neck, 'dwarf' brooches at her shoulders.
- Rígsþula, translation by Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing p.37
In the poem the dress that is held up by the brooches appears to be referred to as smokkr. The word is related to the verb smjùga (to creep through) and seems to reference the way the garment is put on, where the wearer creeps through the dress until arms and head emerges on the other side, another indication that the smokkr was a closed garment.
Ewing concludes that there were clearly possible variations in the style of the smokkr, just as there were in the style of the brooches; the Birka smokkr front seems to be unpleated (unlike the Køstrup find), and the various number of straps attached to the brooches suggest various combinations of garments. However, the assumption should be that the basic garment worn with the "tortoise" brooches was a closed dress of one form or another, and that these brooches would not have been worn without such a dress.
He shares Bau's scepticism towards Hägg's proposal of a highly decorated tunic worn underneath the smokkr, but introduces another explanation for this evidence. One of the arguments Hägg raises against Geijer's suggestion that the silver tablet woven bands and silk bands were smokkr decoration, is that the silver bands are also found in positions that would not have been covered by the smokkr. Ewing points out that this is true, but the bands seem to be found in two distinct areas, either near the shoulders or below the arms. When they are found in both positions (Birka graves 965 and 950) they differ in type from one area to another. Ewing takes this as evidence that the bands probably decorate two separate garments.
He proposes that the bands from the lower area could be decorating the smokkr, or a similar garment (i.e. another smokkr) suspended on top of it. If the closed smokkrs could be worn in pairs, one on top of the other, it would explain the presence of two loops at the top and bottom of the brooches in many of the Birka graves. In the case of some of these graves Inga Hägg has already raised the possibility that the traces of linen inside the woollen smokkr might derive from an inner linen smokkr instead of simply a lining. A short outer smokkr would give an opportunity for showing off fine fabric and decorative braiding at less expense than the longer main smokkr.
Based on his arguments above, Ewing interprets the decorations from Birka grave 735 to from a short smokkr instead of a tunic. He states that the bands appear to mirror the line of the Køstrup smokkr, down to having a gap in the middle between the decorations that could conceivably have been pleated.
Looking at the evidence from grave 735 I can see Ewing's point. If the decorated silk twill fragments belong to a short smokkr, it would explain why one of the fragments lay beneath one of the "tortoise" brooches in the grave. The silk twill may have been mounted on a woollen smokkr as decoration. Alternatively, the top of the smokkr was made of silk twill which had been lengthened from the waist and down with woollen fabric. I find it unlikely that the gap in the middle between the decorative bands was pleated though, as the rest of the garment seems to have been painstakingly shaped to follow the body.
The interpretation of the decorated garment as a smokkr raises some questions however. Independent of whether it is a tunic or a smokkr, I find it challenging to reconcile the shaped tailoring of the pieces in grave 735, including gores and use of tablet woven bands as a structural part of the garment, with Hägg's and Geijer's belief in an unshaped smokkr. If these tailoring techniques were in use by the Vikings of Birka, why would the smokkr be an exception? Could it be that the Birka smokkrs were shaped somewhat as well, and that the lack of evidence for this is merely because so few and small fragments have been found?
Of course, if the garments in 735 were imported as Hägg believe, they may not reflect the domestic tailoring tradition in Birka. The smokkr seem to be unique for the Vikings, and so an imported garment is more likely to have been a tunic than a smokkr. Imported garments would not have been designed with the smokkr in mind (or vice versa), so it wouldn't be that strange if the decoration on an imported tunic ended up being partly covered beneath a domestic smokkr. The tunics could conceivably be worn on top of a underdress in wool or linen in normal occasions, and only end up under the smokkr at burials or other occasions where a Viking woman wanted to wear every costly garment in her possession at the same time. Also, while the garment might have been imported as a tunic, it might not have remained one. Ewing's theory regarding a decorated smokkr in grave 735 could still fit the evidence if the man is wearing a tunic and the woman is wearing a smokkr onto which the decorated front of a similar tunic has been appliquéd. After all, the piecing of silk and tablet woven bands create a shaped piece of cloth that could fit into the chest area of several garments.
Even if we disregard grave 735 altogether, there is still evidence that suggests the existence of double smokkrs, both at Birka and other places. Hägg raises the possibility of inner smokkrs at Birka and the finds at Værnes, Sandanger (grave B 10720) and Hopperstad all provide evidence for two smokkrs being worn on top of each other. Finally, Ingstad interprets the evidence from Kaupang (grave C) to indicate that a short smokkr was worn outside of a long pleated smokkr.
Although Ewing has concluded that the smokkr was closed, he agrees with Bau that an separable apron or train probably was worn occasionally. The possible combinations of smokkr, apron and train could conceivably explain all the variations in number of loops inside the brooches. Still, Ewing maintains that the inclusion of a double set of smokkrs presents an additional possibility, especially in the cases where there are two loops at both the top and bottom of the brooches.
Unlike the material from Birka, the Haithabu smokkr appears to have been tailored to fit the body, and thus would in all probability have been a closed garment.
The smokkr was made from several pieces of cloth sewn together, as shown by the traces of seams running along the sides of the two existing fragments. Although we cannot construct the entire pattern from the surviving fragments, Hägg observes that the narrow cut and the dart indicate that the garment fit closely to the upper part of the body, and then flared out over the hips.
She theorizes that the smokkr may have been made from four parts, although this is necessarily guesswork as there is no evidence. Because of the narrow cut she believes there might have been an opening or slit, possibly closed by lacing, to allow the wearer to put the smokkr on. (My own experience is that it isn't necessary with an opening unless you want to make the smokkr skin-tight, but this might be different for people with another body shape than mine.)
She thinks that the widest point of the dart was placed at the waist, and that the worn hole and the felted area indicate that a belt had been worn with the smokkr. As far as I know, this is the only evidence that Viking women may have worn belts together with their smokkr. Belt straps of metal is extremely rare in connection with female Viking graves, so it is likely that whatever belt was worn was made of textile material.
The hole at the top, probably caused by wear, may have been used as a temporary mechanism to attach a strap, e.g. by passing it through the hole and tying it. In "Livet i Birka" she theorizes that the Haithabu fragment, while originally part of an upper class smokkr, would have been passed on to a servant or slave when it showed traces of wear. This second wearer of the garment would not have owned brooches, but would simply have tied strap to the front of the smokkr.
|Reconstruction at the Historical museum in Oslo|
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.
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.
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.
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. He suggests that the linen on top of the brooch is from a duvet or a cloak of some kind.
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.
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, I am uncertain as to how much width they would have provided in practice.
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 find has the largest fragment of a pleated smokkr that has been found so far, but it is not the only one. Pleating is also known from the smokkr fragments in grave C at Kaupang (4-5 mm deep pleats), and there is pleated woollen fragments (2-3 mm deep pleats) in grave B 5625 at Vangsnes that may belong to a smokkr. Unfortunately, these fragments are too small to shed further light on the shape of such a smokkr.
Illustration by Charlotte Rimstad: Vikinger i Uld og Guld, cover page
The decoration of the Køstrup smokkr was done in a manner unique to this find. According to Lønborg the tablet woven band was fastened to the loops, but not the smokkr. 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.
In addition to this somewhat complex arrangement, Charlotte Rimstad points out that the string where the beads were (most likely) hung was found at the top of the brooches.
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.
Reconstructions of the find tend to ignore the way the original decoration was made, and go for a simpler arrangement with a band stitched to the top of the smokkr. (Also, the pleats are too large and fills a larger area than what fits the evidence). This gives quite a different impression than the original smokkr would have done.
|Køge museum, photograph by Hilde Thunem||National museum of Denmark, photograph by Hilde Thunem||Trelleborg museum, photograph by Hilde Thunem|
Although Vikings sometimes travelled to Russia, it isn't a given that the remains in the Pskov grave are from a Viking smokkr. It was found together with "tortoise" brooches though, and the preserved linen loop also seems to indicate a smokkr, or something very similar.
Zubkova, Orfinskaya and Mikhailov use the smokkr interpretations of Agnes Geijer and Inga Hägg when interpreting the Pskov evidence, and call the resulting garment a sarafan (a Slavic garment that may be akin to the smokkr).
According to their interpretation the sarafan or smokkr was made from fine blue linen tabby. The large silk fragment was sewn onto the linen as decoration. The part made out of three silk strips was worn in the front, while the single silk strip at each side of it served as trim for the side and back of the garment. Finally, it was not possible to conclude whether the 4,5 cm wide reddish-violet samite strips was used to decorate the hem of the smokkr or underdress.
The smokkr loops were made from the same blue linen as the smokkr. Unfortunately, with the exception of two loops on the central piece, it is very unclear from the report exactly how many loops there were. The archaeologists note that there are "remains of threads and traces of sewn on straps" on one side strip (V) 20 and 25 cm from where the strip is fastened to the central piece. They further state that the general symmetry of the large silk fragment suggests "the presence of the identical straps on its second narrow lateral strip" (IV). This might be read as an assumption that both side strips had more than one loop.
To make matters worse, the report doesn't say how many loops were found inside each brooch. Also, the archaeologists question the presence of an extra apron or train (which would mean more loops).
Moreover, detailed examination of the inner parts of the brooches with the traces of a pair of straps on the pins have led us to question the presence of either a pinafore or a train as proposed in F. Bau's reconstructions.
Elena S. Zubkova, Olga V. Orfinskaya and Kirill A. Mikhailov: Studies of the Textiles from the 2006 Excavation in Pskov, p 298
At the same time, their reconstruction show only four loops, two at the front and two at the back of the smokkr. Nor have they included a separate apron or train.
The thing that strikes me as most peculiar with the Pskov smokkr is its dimensions. Provided that the scale in the photograph is correct, the part of the fragment that covers the front of the smokkr is roughly 1 m long. Unfortunately, we cannot see the traces of the loops in the photograph, which means that their position has to be estimated from the drawing (which is less precise). Here the front loops are roughly 10 cm from each side of the central piece, leaving about 80 cm between the loops. (That is a Viking Age lady of truly heroic proportions!)
Using the placement of all the silk strips in relation to the Bahram Gur pattern, we can estimate the maximum length of the less preserved strips (IV and V). If almost the entire Bahram Gur cloth was used as decoration, the smokkr would have had a circumference of roughly 2 m. Even if it wasn't, and the back loops were placed at a shorter distance from each other than the front loops (like on a dungaree skirt), the smokkr would have been very wide in front.
Zubkova, Orfinskaya and Mikhailov do not mention this issue in their
report. However, before it was published, the authors temporarily
published a preliminary report. It contained
two illustrations of alternative ways of wearing such a smokkr; either
by letting the front fall in a large fold on the chest, or by folding
the front in an accordion fold. As there was no discussion of either, we
do not know which of them the authors found to be most likely, or why
they chose to omit them in their final report.
In 2008 a new interpretation of the smokkr was proposed by Annika Larsson. Her theory is mainly based on the Pskov find, but due to Pskov being situated on a trading route from Birka towards the east, she argues that the Pskov fragments are also relevant when interpreting the Birka evidence. Her reconstruction appears to combine elements of the Pskov find with elements from Birka.
As mentioned above, the large silk fragment believed to have decorated the top of the Pskov smokkr has a central "flap" (made of three silk strips) that is higher than the rest of the fragment. According to Larsson, if this is placed on the front of the smokkr, as Zubkova, Orfinskaya and Mikhailov suggest, the upper edge will be level with the throat. This would require the tortoise brooches to be placed on top of the shoulders, which is unlikely. She also states that the width of the flap would leave it in folds down towards the stomach, something that would hide the string of beads that were hung between the brooches. (There is no mention of beads in the Pskov report - perhaps Larsson is thinking of Birka, where several of the graves contained beads?)
Instead Larsson proposes that the flap was placed at the back of the smokkr, reaching the neck of the woman wearing it. She proposes that it was pleated, decreasing the width into something reasonable at the top of the smokkr while leaving plenty of width at the bottom of the garment.
This is an interesting way of dealing with the extreme width of the Pskov smokkr. However, if the silk was pleated, shouldn't there be traces left of the pleats, or at least the stitches used to fasten them? (The stitch holes mentioned in the Pskov report are all tied to the presence of smokkr loops.) It is of course possible that they have deteriorated with time, but the lack of clear evidence weakens the theory of pleating somewhat.
Also, Annika Larsson's interpretation places the largest and most decorative part of the silk fragment at the back of the smokkr, where it may be hidden by hair, shawls or cloaks. This seems counterintuitive to me, even when keeping in mind that Vikings had a different approach to fashion than modern people.
... samt en näst intill komplett överdel från et hängselkjolsliknande plagg. Slåande är att det inte handlar om någon tubliknande konstruktion, såsom tidigare hävdats, utan ett mycket brett plagg som inte alls varit lika högt fram og bak. Det skiljer faktisk så mycket som 30 centimeter mellan fram og bak, och man kan till och med skönja spår av en utrrigning i vardera sidan för armarna. De bevarade detalarna visar ett plagg helt utan sidsöm. <...>
Tolkningen är att plagget burits på det sätt som vi traditionelt brukar visa. Men här finns et stort problem - nämligen att det förmodade framstycket på det bevarade fyndet är hela 1 meter brett! Då det fästes i spännbucklorna bildas en drapering av tyg över magen som mera påminner om ett antikt ideal. Det är tiltalande tanke, men till detta skal läggas ett antal halsband som utgår från samma spännen, och som helt skulle försvinna in bland tygerna och antagligen inte synas alls. För att armringningen på plagget ska fylla någon funktion innebär det dessutom at det förmodade framstyckets överkant hamnar högt upp i strupen. Det gör att några spännbucklor i realiteten inte får plats på framsidan av kroppen - möjligen mitt uppe på axlarna.
Det hela är altså en orimlig tanke när den prövas i verkligheten, hur trevlig den än kan tyckas vara på en tecknad bild. Jag tror därfor inte det är framstycket vi har att gjöra med - utan ryggstycket. Placerat i nacken som vilket annat plagg som helst, med det 1 meter breda tyget i lagda veck, bildas nämligen ett släp som motsvaras av ett antal bevarade vikingatida kvinnofigurers klädsel.
Annika Larsson: Förbjöd kyrkan den vikingatida kvinnodräkten?, p 6, photo Uppsala universitet
Larsson refers to the small valkyrie figurines and states that they show that the smokkr is open in the front (while she doesn't give any further reasoning for this, I assume that she is building on Flemming Bau's interpretation). Her interpretation of the Pskov evidence is of a garment that looks like the trains worn by some of these figurines. She suggests that decorative chains or strings with beads were strung across the frontal opening to keep the smokkr from slipping off the shoulders.
When she places the flap at the back of the smokkr, the rest of the trim ends up at waist-height, leading her to place each brooch on top of the breasts (instead of the usual position just below the clavicle). According to her, Hjalmar Stolpe's illustrations of the Birka graves show the brooches in this position, and Ibn Fadlan's account of how the Rus women wear a box on each breast supports this. She states that the traditional explanation that the brooches have ended up lower as the corpse rotted is a prudish interpretation.
Redan en blick på Hjalmar Stolpes gravplaner frän 1800-talets utgrävninger i Birka, skvallrar om att de bägge ovala spännbucklorna som följt med de döda kvinnorna i graven, antagligen suttit mitt på värdera bröstet. Mot detta anför de traditionella tolkningsföreträdarna att spännbucklorna har fallit ned når liket ruttnat, och att det aktuella läget därför inte speglar spännenas ursprungliga plats, som anses ha varit under nyckelbenen. Detta förefaller vara en rett pryd tolkning.
Att spännbucklorna skulle ha suttit på brösten styrks också av en samtida arabisk källa, som berätter at de vikingatida kvinnor hade dosor av järn, silver, koppar eller guld, fastsatt på brösten, där en kniv var fästad. Alltefter rikedom bar hon också många halsbånd. Detta nedtecknades av Ibn Fadlan, en muslimsk resenär, då han år 921 mötte nordbor vid floden Volga under deras handelsresor österut. Beskrivningen är samtida med Birka, och den stämmer överrens med gravfynden.
Annika Larsson: Förbjöd kyrkan den vikingatida kvinnodräkten?, p 5
Inga Hägg is to put it mildly, somewhat critical towards this interpretation. Her arguments against Bau's open fronted smokkr are equally applicable to Larsson's interpretation. Hägg also notes other discrepancies between the Birka evidence and Larsson's reconstruction.
|Hägg's comments regarding the Birka evidence||My comments regarding the Pskov evidence|
A smokkr open in the front:
The evidence argues against a frontal opening. Several graves contain fragments of the front of the smokkr. One of these (597) even has a 22 cm long piece of the front of a smokkr, including the 12-13 cm of fabric that ran between the brooches.
A smokkr open in the front:
The remains of the smokkr at Pskov were found inside a box inside the grave and thus give no information regarding where on the body it was worn.
While the upper part of the smokkr hasn't been preserved in its entirety, it doesn't automatically follow that there must have been an opening somewhere.
The majority of graves in Birka and the rest of Scandinavia have brooches placed near the clavicles or high upon the chest. The grave finds Larsson refers to are a strict minority, and the position of the brooches near the breasts in these graves has been explained earlier. The decomposition of the body will have caused some of the brooches to move lower, helped by the fact that several of the bodies were buried in a sitting or crouching position.
The brooches at Pskov were found inside a box inside the grave and thus give no information on which position they were worn in.
There is no evidence for the use of tablet woven bands as straps in the entire Scandinavian archaeological material. Larsson refers to Agnes Geijer's description of the Birka finds, but what Geijer actually reports is that the tablet woven bands ran horizontally under the brooches, not vertically over the shoulders as straps.
There is no evidence for tablet woven bands in the Pskov find. The smokkr loops appear to have been made from the same blue linen as the rest of the smokkr.
Although the metallic tablet woven bands decorating the clothing of the women at Birka almost always were made from silver thread, the reconstruction uses golden bands. No bands have been found in a position lower than the hip at Birka, but the reconstruction still positions bands at the lower edges of the garments.
There is no evidence for tablet woven bands in the Pskov find, metallic or otherwise. The distinctive pattern of three strips of silk used at the top of the smokkr isn't visible in the photographs as they have been placed at the back of the smokkr.
Tunic and serk:
The decorated tunic has been placed inside the linen serk in direct opposition to the layering of the Birka graves.
Tunic and serk:
The Pskov find shows evidence for a blue linen serk with purple silk cuffs and possibly purple silk bands fastened to the lower edge of the dress.
This has little in common with the two garments shown in the reconstruction, but perhaps the layers beneath the smokkr were not based on the Pskov evidence.
Skull fragments from Birka have metallic tablet woven bands that were sewn on to some kind of headdress, unlike the single band wrapped around the head worn in the reconstruction.
There is no evidence for a headdress in the Pskov find
To summarize, Inga Hägg is not terribly impressed with the quality of the research underlying Annika Larsson's work. She demonstrates that Larsson has ignored significant parts of the existing research when making her reconstruction of the smokkr.
Hägg maintains that the smokkr was a closed garment, referring to the traces of smokkr fronts from the Birka material and to the clear evidence from Haithabu and other Scandinavian finds. The 27 cm long fragment of a smokkr front from Veka also supports Hägg's conclusion (although it was still in storage when Hägg wrote it, and so cannot have been included in her "other Scandinavian finds").
Lastly, there exists a suggested reconstruction where the smokkr consists of two separate hanging panels, worn over an underdress. The origin of this particular reconstruction is a bit unclear. I can't find any traces of it in the archaeological reports, instead it seems to originate with the illustrations by David Mallot in "Vikings in England" (1981). Since none of the archaeologists mentions it, I suspect that it could be the result of Mallot misinterpreting the evidence (the original archaeological reports in German and Scandinavian aren't all that accessible).
Despite its unclear origin, this reconstruction is the one that tends to appear in many of the coffee-table Viking books. Because it is so widespread, I decided to include it here along with my thoughts regarding to which degree it fits the existing evidence. You will have to make your own judgement of course.
Caution is required whenever we try to judge what the Vikings found practical, but to the modern mind this reconstruction is a fairly impractical garment. The back panel has a tendency to bunch up around the neck because of the pull of the brooches in front. The panels also give little protection against wind and cold, which for me personally is a significant drawback as I live in Norway.
When examining the archaeological facts it could be argued that the two panels might possibly fit the Birka evidence in the instances with a single loop above and below in each brooch. The numerous instances with multiple loops above or below in the brooches are harder to explain though, without resorting to some kind of additional garment worn with the panels.
To my knowledge there are no contemporary clothing traditions (like e.g. the hurstut dress or the peplos from Huldremose) that supports this reconstruction. The two-panel interpretation is also in direct opposition to the evidence uncovered in Køstrup and Haithabu.
The top of the smokkr was finished by folding 4-5 mm of its edge towards the inside and stitching it in place, or by folding it twice as evidenced by the finds from e.g Vangsnes and Sandanger.
It could be decorated in various ways; folding a silk band over the top like a bias tape (e.g Birka 464), laying a string on top of the edge (e.g Birka 973) or along it, sewing a decorative woven band along the top of the smokkr (e.g.Birka 1090) or fastening it with blanket stitches to the edge of the smokkr (e.g Værnes). It is possible that linen smokkrs had their decoration placed roughly half a centimetre down from the edge in order to cover the stitches that kept the hemming in place (e.g Birka 563). Finally, the Køstrup smokkr diverges from all the other finds in that the tablet woven band and decorative strings have been fastened to the loops instead of the top of the smokkr.
So how long did the decorations tend to be? Did they only cover part of the top of the smokkr? While most smokkr fragments are too small to give us an answer, the silk decoration in the Pskov find appears to have run along the entire top of the smokkr. However, one sample is not enough to know what (if any) common practice might have existed. On one hand decoration might have been expensive and used sparingly, on the other hand tablet woven bands or other decoration might be used to protect the edge of the garment against wear (a theory advanced by Anne Stine Ingstad when interpreting the Kaupang finds). It might even be something as simple as a matter of taste. Unless we find significantly more samples we will never know.
It is also possible that the smokkr was decorated along the bottom edge. A fragment of a tablet woven band and woollen string from Kaupang may have been stitched to the bottom of the smokkr in order to protect against wear. And while we do not know whether the reddish-violet silk strips from Pskov decorated the hem of the smokkr or of the underdress, their presence demonstrates the existence of a decorated hem.
As Hägg states, the female figures on the figurines and picture stones aren't usually shown clearly wearing "tortoise" brooches. Thus we can't be certain that they are wearing smokkrs. Nevertheless, the silver figurine from Tuna (see photograph) has decorative bands running along the lower part of her apron/dress/tunic, supporting the theory that the bottom edge of female attire could be decorated.
Silk strips could be appliquéd on the smokkr as decoration as demonstrated by the Pskov find. The Pskov smokkr with its entire front flap covered by silk strips also shows that there could be a significant amount of decoration at the top of the smokkr. And although the question remains of whether the garment in Birka grave 735 is a tunic or a smokkr, the heavily decorated front shows that several tablet woven bands were occasionally combined on a single garment.
The find at Haithabu demonstrates another decoration technique. Long vertical darts run along the back (and possibly the front) of the smokkr. Unlike modern clothes where the ridges of darts would be hidden inside the garment, the Haithabu fragments not only have them on the outside, but actively draw attention to them by the addition of a thin decorative braid on top of the ridge. The evidence also shows that the Vikings did not solely decorate the front of the smokkr.
Stitching could be used as decoration in and of itself like in grave 735 where half of the decorative bands are stitched in place using blanket stitch. To my knowledge no evidence of actual embroidering on the smokkr has been found so far, but the archaeological evidence is as stated earlier very limited.
According to Ewing, the smokkr could also be decorated by beads being sewn on to it.
Some graves from Birka (632, 843A, 791 and 825) had a perfect circle of beads on the woman's breast, which must have been stitched in place on one of her garments. These bead circlets occur in graves with oval brooches as well as those without, so they were probably simply sewn onto whatever garment was most convenient. As well as bead circles, there are also bead squares and bead ovals. Sometimes, a group of beads have been sewn in a tight group around a central brooch.
Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p. 65, illustration p. 66
Linen is very difficult to dye when you don't have access to modern chemical dyes, so it is not surprising that most of the linen loops and linen smokkrs fragments appear to be undyed. The exceptions are Birka grave 563 and Pskov where there is evidence of blue linen smokkrs. In addition, there are fragments of linen that may have once been dyed red in grave 762 in Birka. They stem from a linen underdress, but they demonstrate the possible existence of red linen fabric.
Wool is fairly easy to dye using natural substances and many of the fragments of woollen cloth that has been excavated show traces of colour. Both the Køstrup smokkr and some of the Birka fragments were made of blue (or dark blue) wool. There is also evidence of brown smokkrs. Inga Hägg reports that some of the smokkr fragments from Birka were dark brown, and the two fragments from Haithabu were dyed brown.
Not all smokkrs was made of fabric in a single colour, as shown by the smokkr fragments with blue and reddish brown stripes found in grave 1090 in Birka. The question is could other patterned fabric also have been used in the smokkr? The main grave in Værnes contained a tiny woollen fragment woven in a two colour plaid pattern, and the graves 27/1963 and 159/1960 in Haithabu contain fragments of linen plaid in blue and white, and blue and red, respectively. None of these fragments belonged to a smokkr, but they do demonstrate that plaid were known and used among the Vikings.
The problems when trying to identify what kind of colours the smokkr may have had are manifold. First of all, identifying the colour of the archaeological evidence is challenging, partly because it is difficult to separate colour originating from dye from rust or other discolouration, and partly because plant dyes decays in the ground. Secondly the archaeological evidence can only take us so far. The fragments are just too few to give a correct picture. Although the existing smokkr fragments are either blue or brown, I find it unlikely that every Viking woman through the ages wore variations of just those two colours in her smokkr.
Collecting and summarizing the different studies by textile archaeologists in regards to which dyes were likely to be known and used by the Vikings is a separate research project though, and not one I have had time to do (yet). On the other hand, Carolyn Priest-Dorman have done a thorough work on this in her article on colours in the Viking Age.
This is almost impossible to discover purely by archaeology, because the metal artefacts that preserves fragments of clothing seldom are placed at the lower edges of the dress. We know that the smokkr was at least hip-length, since there is at least one grave in Birka with fragments from the smokkr attached to a chain and knife hanging down to the hip of the body, and the Haithabu fragments would also have reached that far.
Turning to the pictorial evidence, most of the figurines and picture stones are hard to interpret in regards to a) if they are wearing a smokkr and b) if so, what exactly on the figures represents it.
|Female figure from Oseberg tapestry. Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p. 38||Picture stone from Läbro, Sweden. Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p. 37.||Anglo Scandinavian carving from Pickhill in England, Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p. 45.|
Unlike many of the figurines and picture stones, the Oseberg tapestries show women wearing something that might be a "tortoise" brooch. They wear floor length garments, but their sleeves have the same colour and pattern as the trailing trains, indicating that this is a dress or underdress, not a smokkr. The smokkr could be hidden under the "cloak" that runs from their shoulders, but if so, it is short enough to leave the underdress visible beneath.
The Läbro stone shows a woman wearing some kind of an overdress on top of a long underdress. If the overdress is a smokkr, the carving indicates that the smokkr would have been short enough to show the underdress beneath it. Another possible interpretation could be that this is two smokkrs worn on top of each other (e.g. like Kaupang grave C) with a pleated inner smokkr worn under a shorter outer smokkr.
Due to her shawl, it is not possible to tell if the silver figurine from Tuna (above) is supposed to be wearing "tortoise" brooches. As Hägg already has pointed out, this means that we can't know for certain wether she is wearing a smokkr or some kind of other garments. If she is wearing a smokkr, however, it appears to be floor length, combined with a short apron in front and a long, pleated train in the back.
On the oposite end of the scale, Ewing refers to an Anglo Scandinavian carving from Pickhill in England that seems to show a woman wearing a very short suspended dress with a pair of brooches.
In summary, the pictorial evidence doesn't give any clear conclusion as to the length of the smokkr. Due to the lack of a Viking Age "smokkr control committee" traveling around and ensuring that everybody's smokkrs were exactly the same length, we can safely say that some variation existed. We just don't know how much.
If smokkrs occasionally were worn in pairs, the length might have varied depending on whether the smokkr in question was meant to be worn alone (or with a separable apron or train), or if it was designed to be worn on top of another.
It might also have been a matter of local custom, taste or temperature. Unless more evidence surfaces from the lower parts of the smokkr, which is highly unlikely, we will never know.
This is the smokkr pattern suggested by Agnes Geijer.
The long loops run from the back, over the shoulders and are fastened by the brooches. This smokkr is open at one side, and two such dresses could be worn together, one around either side of the body.
(Illustration from Thor Ewing: Viking Clothing, p. 27)
We only know how one piece of the Haithabu smokkr looked. Thus there are several possible ways to interpret this smokkr, among them Hägg's speculation that it might have been made from four pieces.
Monica Cellio suggests an interpretation where the haithabu piece would have covered only one sixth of the circumference of the top of the smokkr. By adding gores to the smokkr she increases the flare further.
She doesn't mention which pieces should be placed on the front, back and sides of the smokkr, but if Hägg's interpretation should be believed, the original fragment (lower row of Cellio's pattern overview) was at the back of the smokkr. The geometrical shapes in the pattern allows for efficient use of fabric and little waste.
Vigdis Vestfirzka (SCA) has published a slight variation of Cellio's pattern that allows for easier layout if your fabric isn't the same on both sides. The pattern requires the "Haithabu pieces" to each cover 1/3 of the circumference of the body, while the original fragment was fairly narrow (16 cm). The detailed measuring instructions may still make this a good pattern for beginners.
Another variation of Cellio's pattern, by Diane S. Dooley, uses one additional body piece, and one gore.
The reconstruction by Peter Beatson and Christobel Ferguson suggests significantly fewer pieces when reconstructing the Haithabu smokkr.
Unlike Hägg, who places the Haithabu fragment at the back of the smokkr, Beatson and Ferguson puts it on the right and left sides.
This changes the interpretation of the worn out spot near the top of the original fragment. Hägg believed that the spot was where a loop was attached, but in the Beatson and Ferguson reconstruction it seems more likely to be where the arm and body rubbed together. (The same pattern is also suggested by Carolyn Priest-Dorman).
The next reconstruction is presented by Historiska världar, a project run by the Museum of National Antiquities.
They say their reconstruction is of a 10th century smokkr, but doesn't set a specific geographic place. I have sorted them under the Haithabu reconstructions, since the smokkr they are presenting is tailored. While the pattern they suggest doesn't contain a piece shaped exactly like the Haithabu fragment, they do refer to the Haithabu find as evidence that the smokkr could be shaped.
Comment by Carolyn Priest Dorman in Norsefolk
"They've done the full-length side gores (which lead to the fitted look). I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to finally see a museum using this interpretation, although it's still a modification of the original which has one straight-grain edge on the side gores. It's based on the 10th century Hedeby stuff, though, not on anything from Birka."
Lastly, the pattern presented by Nille Glæsel as part of her report on Viking Clothing to the Viking museum in Lofoten, Norway provides yet another interpretation of the Haithabu smokkr.
She suggests a simple three-piece smokkr with no gores. Two of the pieces follow the same shape as the original Haithabu fragment. In addition, Glæsel suggests that the smokkr could have been shorter in front than in the back, just like the trailing dresses on the Oseberg tapestry.
The three-piece smokkr without gores is also used in the reconstruction at the Historical museum in Olso,
although their smokkr seems to have an even length in front and back.
There seems to be fewer reconstruction patterns of the Køstrup smokkr than the Haithabu smokkr.
Shelagh Lewins have made a reconstruction where she uses short loops for both the front and the back of the smokkr. 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.
She does not try to reconstruct the complicated arrangement with the decorative strings and a tablet woven band. Instead, her reconstruction is similar to the one made by the different museums in that the tablet woven band is sewn directly to the top of the smokkr. She has also pleated the entire front instead of just a part of it.
The reconstruction she suggests is building 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.
Fortunately, more has been preserved of the smokkr, than of e.g. the serk. However, the smokkr fragments are still too small to give us a definitive picture of how the garment was constructed. And as shown above, even the experts can't agree on a most likely interpretation.
As a consequence, those of us that don't want to glue fragments of fabric to our bodies and call it a reconstruction (not a very attractive prospect :-) must guess when we create our clothing. Of course, I build upon the existing evidence and interpretations of it in my search for an actual wearable garment, but I refuse to delude myself into believing that my end result is anything else than guesswork.
Below are a set of assumptions I make before even beginning to reconstruct a specific smokkr.
The tortoise brooches were an integral part of the smokkr.
The tortoise brooches first appear at the beginning of the Viking Age. They are markedly different in shape, and thus function, than their predecessors; the "bow brooches" (designed to gather loose folds of fabric) and "saucer brooches" (fastened directly at the edges of the garment). Their domed shape makes them well suited to hold numerous fabric loops while lying flat against the body.
The presence of these characteristic brooches in a grave currently serves as a confirmation that the deceased was of Scandinavian origin or descent and was wearing a smokkr. As far as I know, there is no evidence that such brooches were ever used to fasten other garments. Combined with their specialized shape, this is an indication that they were designed specifically with the smokkr in mind.
But was the smokkr designed for them, or could it be worn without brooches? So far all smokkr fragments have been found together with tortoise brooches, with the sole exception of the fragments from Haithabu harbour (and the only thing we can conclude from that is that nobody in their right mind uses their jewellery for ship's caulking).
Unfortunately, as long as the tortoise brooches are the signifier of a smokkr, we may not be able to recognize a smokkr without them. (That is, provided that it exists in the first place, and have survived without the aid of the preservative metal salts.) Inga Hägg does speculate that the Haithabu smokkr could have been worn without brooches for a period of time (used by a servant or slave who tied a strap through the hole in the front), but even if this was the case, it would be a secondary use of the garment, and not its original function.
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we cannot prove that the smokkr was never worn without brooches. However, the numerous graves containing smokkr fragments and brooches strongly indicate that it was usual to wear the garment together with brooches. It is thus likely that the brooches were an integral part of the smokkr, and that the garment needed their practical function, in addition to their role as status symbols of some kind.
Viking women wore their tortoise brooches on the upper area of the chest.
According to Inga Hägg, the majority of the tortoise brooches are found in the upper area of the chest. There are a few exceptions, with the brooches on top of the breasts, but these are mainly graves where the deceased woman was buried in a sitting position. Hägg explains the lower placement of these brooches by proposing that they slipped downwards as the flesh beneath them deteriorated. Annika Larsson disagrees and calls Hägg's interpretation prudish. She believes that the usual position of the tortoise brooches was on top of the breasts (but does not mention the graves with brooches on the upper chest).
I am a firm believer in Hägg's placement of the brooches, as I see no plausible explanation as to how the majority of the brooches would have crept upward in the grave. (Also, wearing a metal bra would be impractical and uncomfortable, but that is another matter.)
More than two loops inside each brooch was a usual and widespread phenomenon.
Usually, trying to extrapolate what was usual in the Viking Age is a good way to make a statistician cry :-) However, the Birka evidence is more extensive than most. According to Hägg a total of 70 of the 105 Birka graves containing smokkr fragments have more than one loop at the top or bottom of the brooches. Clearly, whatever these loops were holding up, it was widespread within Birka.
Birka imported cloth and garments from Slavic areas and even as far as from Syria, if Agnes Geijer is to be believed. However, more than two loops per brooch also appear in western Norway (Veka, Hopperstad and Sandanger) and in England (Adwick-le-Street), demonstrating that this is not solely a Birka phenomenon, nor can be attributed to the eastern influence on Birka clothing. Thus, I assume that whatever caused the appearance of more than two loops was either an integral part of the basic smokkr or an accessory often worn together with it (at least when being buried). This is important because the attempt to explain the numerous loops is at the root of the various Birka smokkr interpretations.
All smokkrs had the same underlying shape.
While the tortoise brooches vary in their artwork (this is used in order to date them), their basic shape and function stay the same during the entire Viking age. They always stay in the same position, indicating that the smokkr did the same, and that it kept needing the brooches in that exact position.
I believe this is a strong indication that the general function and shape of the garment worn with the brooches remained constant. This assumption is further strengthened by the phenomenon of more than two loops per brooch appearing in several places, indicating a similar construction of the smokkr in different geographic areas and time periods.
Although Hägg believes that the woollen smokkr was a closed tube, she allows that Geijer could be right in reconstructing the linen smokkrs as overlapping rectangles. To me, however, it seems unlikely that a garment with sufficient resilience to stay around for more than 300 years was constructed differently depending on whether it was made from linen or wool (especially within the same settlement,). No one suggests that e.g. the patterns of Viking tunics or trousers are completely different depending on their cloth, so why should this be the case for the smokkr?
In conclusion, I believe that there are good reasons to assume that the general shape of the smokkr remained constant, not only within the settlement at Birka, but also throughout the Viking Age.
The underlying shape of the smokkr was a closed tube of some kind, held up by fabric loops that were connected to the tortoise brooches.
When chasing the general shape of the smokkr, we cannot simply glue
together all the existing fragments (unless we want to create a
Frankensmokkr :-). However, combining the existing evidence can help us
exclude some of the possible reconstructions.
The two smokkr fragments from Haithabu harbour are perhaps the most significant pieces in regards to discovering the underlying shape of the smokkr. They are part of a wedge-shaped piece that once was stitched to other pieces along both sides. The top of the fragment was only 16 cm long, and its slimness as well as its shape (wider at the bottom than the top and) indicates that this was a tailored garment, probably with several panels. The tailoring makes it unlikely that it was left open, whether at the side or the front. In other words, the Haithabu fragments strongly indicate that the smokkr was forming a closed tube around the body.
Further evaluation of the suggestion of an open front
Flemming Bau is the first to suggest that the Birka smokkr may have been open in the front. To be fair to Bau, the report on the Haithabu smokkr was not available at the time. However, even if we totally disregard the Haithabu fragments, there are significant challenges with his interpretation.
He introduces the open front mainly in order to reconcile Inga Hägg's findings of a heavily decorated tunic beneath the smokkr, with his argument that such a tunic would not have been hidden. However, if the pattern of loops are supposed to explain open-fronted smokkrs (sometimes with separable aprons and trains), why are brooches with numerous loops also found in western Norway, a place where there is little reason to expect a Birka-style imported tunic requiring the smokkr to be open at the front?
More importantly, while the large pieces of the smokkr front at Birka (grave 597) and Veka could conceivably be explained as separate aprons, the Køstrup smokkr was clearly closed at the front. We don't know what the orientation of the Pskov smokkr top was, but unlike Annika Larsson, I find it reasonable to assume that the part with the most silk (the "flap") was worn on the front. If so, that makes another smokkr with a closed front.
Combining the evidence from Haithabu, Køstrup, and to a certain degree Veka, Birka and Pskov, I conclude that the smokkr was not open in the front.
I do however agree with Bau that the presence of a highly decorated tunic beneath a less decorated smokkr requires some explanation. At the very least, these tunics represented significant wealth. In addition, Hägg states that similar tunics were used in the royal court in Kiev. According to her, the Birka tunics were probably imported from the Kiev-Byzantium area and were used as signifiers of rank by the Birka Vikings. In other words, not the kind of thing you would ordinarily hide away.
Ewing tries to solve the dilemma by suggesting that the lower part of the decorations were not part of a tunic, but was sewn directly onto the smokkr. One problem with that theory is that the similarity with the Kiev tunics strongly indicates that the decoration at least originally belonged to a tunic. It is possible that the few Viking women who received such a tunic cut it into large pieces which were then appliquéd onto their smokkrs and dresses for maximum visibility. As seen in the Pskov find, the Vikings were perfectly willing to cut and reuse pieces without regard for the original purpose or pattern of the cloth. However, Ewing's theory would also require Hägg to be mistaken when placing the upper and lower parts of the decorations on the same layer on the body.
I propose that an alternative explanation is that the tunic actually was worn under the smokkr (as Hägg's stratigraphy suggests), even if it meant that some of the decoration was covered. Being imported, the tunic would not have been designed with the smokkr in mind and could have had decorations in areas where a domestic tunic might not. Perhaps the tunic was normally worn together with a dress or skirt and only combined with the smokkr at burials, where custom might have dictated that the deceased should wear every costly garment in her possession? Either way, a frontal opening is not needed for an explanation of the evidence related to the tunics, and bearing in mind the evidence for a closed front presented above, my conclusion remains the same.
Further evaluation of the suggestion of a side opening
The main challenge with using archaeological evidence to prove or disprove a side opening is that it requires both sides of the smokkr to be preserved. Because the brooches are worn at the front of the body, the sides are seldom preserved at all and there are, as far as I know, no finds where both sides remain. Nor has anyone found fragments that clearly belong to the vertical edge of a side opening (which would have proved its existence).
The closest we get to proof in favour of a side opening is grave 464 at Birka, where two fragments of the upper hem of the smokkr are pieced together, making a larger fragment that ends in a vertical fold roughly 4 cm from the edge of one brooch. Unfortunately, it is not possible to tell whether this is indeed the upper corner of a side opening, or whether it is simply one side of a vertical seam that connects two pieces of a closed smokkr.
According to Hägg this is the only such piece found at Birka, which makes me favour an interpretation of it as part of a vertical seam. If there were side openings only a few centimetres away from the brooches, there should (in my opinion) be more corners in existence. (All it would take is to get the "flap" folded forwards over the top of the brooch during deterioration.)
The rest of the Birka evidence is even more ambiguous. There are several graves where sufficient fabric remains inside one of the brooches to judge the line of the upper hem. In all of them Inga Hägg found that the hem appeared to lie horizontally across the width of the brooch, indicating that it continued horizontally to either side.
Unfortunately, this doesn't help us differentiate between a closed smokkr and one with a side opening. If the smokkr was closed (and sufficiently fitted) it would have a straight upper hem along the front of the body, which would fit the evidence of a straight hem within the brooches. However, a smokkr with a side opening just 4-6 cm from the brooch could produce the same effect (the fabric sticking out from the brooch wouldn't be heavy enough to cause the hem inside the brooch to sag). Even if the side opening was further away, it would not necessarily affect the hem within the brooches, provided the wearer used a belt to keep the sides close to the body.
Fortunately, some of the finds outside of Birka provide a bit more information. The upper hem of one side of the Pskov smokkr has been preserved, clearly demonstrating that this side was closed. The large dimensions of the smokkr also argue against an opening. However, as the upper hem on the other side is torn roughly 24 cm from the front loop, we can't prove the absence of an opening.
The pleating on the front of the Køstrup smokkr makes it somewhat heavier than a straight front. It might hang or move unevenly if it has an open side, which could be taken as an argument for a closed smokkr (although we don't know if this would have mattered to a Viking woman.) The smokkr also has a partly preserved side, which has been torn 10-11 cm from the front loop. Even more interestingly, there is a side seam on this part of the smokkr. This is an indication that the smokkr was closed (why sew two pieces together if you were going to keep one side open?), but just as for the Pskov smokkr, we can't really know.
Finally, there is the most compelling archaeological evidence against a side opening, namely the Haithabu smokkr. As mentioned above, this is a garment constructed out of several pieces and tailored to fit the body. It is very unlikely that such a garment was then left open at one side.
However, before concluding on the possibility of a side opening in the smokkr, I wish to look at what the reasoning behind the proposal was in the first place. It originates with Agnes Geijer, who is examining the Birka textiles (and naturally has no knowledge of the finds made after she publishes her report).
Geijer bases her reconstruction on the "ancient" Baltic clothing documented by Manninen in 1927, in order to explain the numerous loops found in the brooches. Keeping in mind how few and small the pieces she managed to identify as smokkr fragments were, I understand why she felt the need for something other than pure guesswork to use as a starting point.
Ideally one should only draw upon the evidence from the Viking Age when interpreting the clothing. Since this is not possible, at least not for the smokkr, the alternative is to also consider the garments preceding or following the smokkr. However, my understanding is that changes in shape and function tend to accelerate as more advanced tailoring techniques become available. Thus I find it more relevant to look back 800-1200 years, at the Huldremose dress (210-30 BC) and the tradition of wearing a pair of brooches at the shoulders that came before the smokkr, instead of looking forward 850-1100 years to the Hurstut dress.
In addition, I am very sceptical to the the assumption that there are "pure" folk costumes that have kept their identity from before the medieval period. The Norwegian folk costumes were created or altered as part of the romantic nationalism movement in the 18th century. The situation may be different in the Baltic area, but if so I will need to be convinced that this is the case :-)
Finally, one of the reasons that Geijer chooses the Baltic area (which is outside of Scandinavia) is the eastern influence found in some of the Birka garments. However, as previously mentioned, the phenomenon of numerous loops is not limited to Birka. And while one may argue that the Birka inhabitants were inspired by their Baltic neighbours, the argument becomes less convincing in regards to the Vikings in western Norway. The Huldremose peplos on the other hand, is found within the Scandinavian area.
In conclusion, I prefer the Huldremose dress instead of the Baltic dresses as a starting point for the reconstruction of the smokkr. In addition, while the archaeological evidence doesn't disprove the existence of a side opening, it (especially the Køstrup and Haithabu finds) does indicate a closed smokkr. Also, while I understand the need to explain the numerous loops found in the brooches, I don't see that one needs to introduce a side opening to do so.
Thus, my conclusion remains that the smokkr was closed at the sides as well as the front.
Although all smokkrs were a closed tube, their detailed appearance varied somewhat depending on the time and place they were worn.
Even if they might have shared an underlying shape, it is likely that the appearance of the individual smokkr depended on the place it was worn, the time period and the status (and possibly the taste) of the wearer. Unfortunately, it is difficult to say how much variation there was.
For example, Inga Hägg envisions the Birka and Haithabu smokkrs as quite different from each other, proposing that the Birka smokkr was a simple tube, while the Haithabu smokkr was tailored to fit the body. However, to my knowledge, the Birka evidence doesn't disprove tailoring. None of the existing smokkr fragments show traces of having been shaped by cutting, but since most of them were from the immediate vicinity of the brooches, this isn't really conclusive for the whole of the garment. Thus, in theory the variation between the Birka and Haithabu smokkrs may have been much less than suggested by Hägg (although she may have evidence I am not familiar with, like the cut of other Birka garments, that supports her assumption).
The same argument can be made for the Køstrup find. While it might have been a wide tube reminiscent of the Huldremose peplos, as suggested by Shelagh Lewins, the tiny pleating doesn't exclude a semi-tailored garment reminiscent of the Haithabu smokkr. On the other hand, while its proportions leave a lot of questions, the remnants of the smokkr at Pskov clearly indicate that not all smokkrs were tailored.
In conclusion, depending on how you look at the evidence, it can support an assumption of either large or small variations in the smokkr. With this in mind, I will use smokkr fragments from nearby areas when interpreting a find unless there is clear evidence for that specific find having a different shape.
The numerous loops within the brooches can be explained by tool bands, an extra smokkr and sometimes possibly separate aprons or trains.
No interpretation of the smokkr is complete without explaining why more than two loops inside each brooch appears to be a normal and widespread phenomenon. Hägg makes a convincing argument for why some of the loops (especially the silk ones) probably were used to fasten tools like scissors or knives. While not all of the extra loops can be tool bands, this explanation would account for why there tend to be more loops in the lower part of the brooches (the front of the smokkr), than in the upper part (the back).
In the cases where there are two loops at the bottom and two loops at the top of a brooch, one possible explanation is that the deceased wore two smokkrs, one outside of the other. This is the explanation Inga Hägg proposes when examining Birka graves with more loops than can be explained by a single smokkr and tool bands. The same conclusion is drawn by Anne Stine Ingstad when she interprets grave C at Kaupang to have contained a long pleated smokkr worn inside a shorter smokkr made of diagonal twill. The Kaupang find is a bit ambiguous, as only one of the "several loops" Ingstad states were present when the grave was found still remains.
A somewhat better preserved grave is grave B10720 at Sandanger, where almost all the loops are found still sewn to fragments of the garments they originally were attached to. Here, there are two different fragments, one of diagonal twill and one of diamond twill, each with a loop of diagonal twill. Together with a loose loop of diagonal twill, this is a fairly strong indication of there being two separate garments suspended from the brooches. There is also a third fragment, of an undisclosed weave and with a thin loop. This is obviously not a tool band, but whether it is a third garment suspended from the brooches, or a separate garment (like a kaftan) that happened to be preserved with the brooches is hard to say from the current evidence.
Lastly, the grave at Hopperstad have two different diamond twill fragments with the characteristics of a smokkr (selvedge or hemmed at the top, positioned a few centimetres up in the brooch, with the top edge running horizontally along the width of the brooch). Like Sandanger, this is a clear indication that there were two separate garments suspended from the brooches. Unfortunately, the fragments are too small for us to be certain of whether this was two smokkrs or a smokkr and something else (with the same characteristics as a smokkr).
In summary, Sandanger and Hopperstad can, along with Kaupang and some of the Birka graves, be explained by two smokkrs being worn. An alternative explanation, at least for some of them is that one of the garments is a separate apron, and/or a separate train as suggested by Flemming Bau. After all, the smokkr doesn't have to be open in the front in order to have such accessories.
There is no clear archaeological evidence for such an apron or train, and some of the arguments against a smokkr with a side opening apply equally to these accessories (e.g. why haven't the corners of the apron been found?). At the same time, it could help explaining the sheer variety in the number of loops that are found, if you could have a separate apron or train in addition to one or two smokkrs.
I remain very sceptical of the way Bau uses the figurines to explain the smokkr, especially because only one of the figurines can be clearly identified as wearing tortoise brooches. However, I can certainly imagine several benefits to both a decorative apron (showing status without having to buy enough fancy fabric for an entire new smokkr) and a practical one (protecting your smokkr from dirt). And the existence of a separable train would give the wearer a similar silhouette to the figurines without having to wear it daily. Of course, that is my modern practicality speaking...
In conclusion, I have a fairly firm (well, as firm as anything pertaining to the smokkr can be) belief in two smokkrs being worn at times and a very uncertain relationship with the separable aprons and trains. If I ever get more time, I might try scouring Anglo Saxon, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic sources in search for the existence of a separable apron or train, preferably pinned to brooches at shoulders or chest. In the meantime, I will have to live with the uncertainty.
When talking about reconstructions different people mean different things. Is it a reconstruction only if the same measurements have been used, or can you adapt it to fit your own body better? What about using different fabric? Or a different dye? Must it be worn and torn in the same places as the original to be a proper reconstruction? Use the same stitches?
All the practical issues aside, there is a larger one concerning how we reenactors and history nerds look as a group. If we all strive to our outmost to only copy exactly what is found, we will each of us be as historically correct as possible. Put us together however, and we will give the impression that the Vikings all wore uniforms. With that in mind, I study the evidence in order to understand the range of alternatives I have to play with, and then create my own garments inspired by the finds.
My point of departure is the two smokkr fragments found in Haithabu harbour. However, while they give us quite a bit of information, they are far from a complete garment...
The first choices were relatively simple, namely fabric, colour and length. I decided on a woollen tabby, like in the find, but chose to diverge in regards to colour. Instead of the brown, walnut-dyed cloth from the find I chose a red, industrially dyed (although it looks madder-like), tabby.
The archaeology indicates 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, with somewhat longer length in the back than in the front (inspired by the trailing dresses from Oseberg).
Shape of the smokkr: As detailed above, I believe that the smokkr was a closed garment. The Haithabu fragments suggest that this smokkr was tailored to fit the body. However, we don't know how many pieces were used to create it, or where the fragments we have found would have been placed on the body.
Inga Hägg suggests that the two fragments are part of a wedge-shaped piece that probably came from the back of the smokkr. According to her, the smokkr could have been made from four such pieces. As the upper edge of the fragment is 16 cm, this would give a very slim smokkr with a circumference of only 64 cm at the top. Alternatively, there could have been more (and different) pieces than Hägg suggests. (Another puzzle is the wear marks across the middle of the fragment. If it was caused by a belt, it was in a fairly high position: only 15 cm below the top.)
When creating my Haithabu inspired smokkr, I decided to keep the shape of the wedge shaped piece, but to increase the dimensions sufficiently to allow me to have two such pieces in the back, combined with one larger shaped piece in the front (as in the pattern by Nille Glæsel). One can argue that the use of three pieces (instead of four, or two) is not seen in other surviving Viking garments. On the other hand, few Viking garments are preserved to such a degree that we can be sure of their symmetry.
In addition to the pieces already mentioned, I added two gores at the waist (one at each side). We know that the inhabitants of Haithabu used gores, as shown in some of the tunic fragments found in the harbour, and I wanted the extra width.
I did not do any extensive fitting and shaping of the smokkr to fit it further to my body. Thus the final garment is fitted, but not tight. I have no need of lacing (as Hägg suggests) in order to put it on and there is even room for a five-months-pregnant belly inside it.
Loops: The majority of loops in the reports I have had access to are made from linen, although woollen loops also appear quite often, and then always with a woollen smokkr. On the other hand, deciding what was the "normal" way of doing things when the finds are still so few is dubious, to say the least, especially when the largest number of loops is from one geographic area (Birka).
I have chosen to use linen loops this time. This is partly because if the loop on the Haithabu smokkr was made of linen it would explain why there is currently no loop attached to the fragments (linen did not survive in the harbour). I also wanted to remind myself that although woollen loops create more of a contrast and appears to be more popular in e.g. the museum reconstructions I have seen, the evidence suggests that linen loops are an equally viable alternative.
My loops were created in the same manner as the ones in grave 835 from Birka, by folding a linen strip as illustrated and whipstiching it along the side. The width is roughly 1 cm, which is in accordance with the loops from Køstrup and Pskov (two of the loop sets where I have the measurements).
Decoration: The original Haithabu fragments have a shallow dart (2-5 mm wide) with a braid running on top of it, a feature that appears to be purely decorative (the dart is too shallow to be part of shaping the garment). I wanted to keep this feature for my smokkr, both because it is part of the specific find I am using for inspiration, and because it is a good demonstration that the Vikings used decoration differently than we would on a modern garment.
Due to the front piece(s) not being found, we have no idea of what, if any, decoration appeared there. I have decided to use darts there as well, one on each side of the frontal piece. On the original fragments, the darts started 7 cm beneath the top, although the braid ran all the way to the upper edge of the smokkr. I decided to let the front darts start 11 cm beneath the top, so the darts begin on the lower half of my breasts.
I will eventually be adding a braid to the top of each dart, but with tendinitis in both hands I cannot make them myself. While waiting for someone that can do braid making for me, I have added a tablet woven band to the top of the smokkr. (It is possible that I will take it off when I get the braids in place as there is such a thing as "too much" :-P.) There was no tablet woven band on the Haithabu find, but grave 1090 from Birka, the Værnes find and grave C from Kaupang demonstrates that woven bands of different kinds could be used in various positions on the smokkr.
Lining: Several of the Birka smokkrs appears to have been lined, usually with linen. No linen survived in the Haithabu harbour, so if there was a lining on the Haithabu fragments, it is gone, along with whatever stitches that fastened it to the wool. Although there is no definitive evidence for lining at Haithabu, I decided I wanted to try it out, and lined the upper part of my smokkr (thus using Geijer's idea of partial lining) with a fine linen tabby.
Even-more-than-usually-subjective-musings ahead! I have found this
smokkr fairly practical to wear. It is warm (which is an issue when you
are living in Trondheim) and doesn't snag on things when I am working,
or swing forward over a fire. I wore it in early and middle stages of
pregnancy, if not in the last I-have-swallowed-a-beach-ball months.
Breastfeeding did not present much difficulty. I just sat down, opened
the brooches and pulled the dress down towards my stomach. Yes, this
depends on body shape and tightness of dress, but I at least have found
that I don't need an opening in the front or side in order to do this.
I have been fascinated with the smokkr from grave ACQ in Køstrup in Denmark since I first heard of it. During the summer 2012 I finally got to visit the museum where the actual fragments are stored and 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.
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.)
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.
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 above 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 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 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.
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. 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).
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.
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 :-)
Ewing, Thor: Viking Clothing 2006, ISBN 978-0752435879. Buy from Amazon
Hägg, Inga: Birkas orientaliska praktplagg, Fornvännen 78, Stockholm, 1983. (PDF)
Hägg, Inga: Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu. Berichte über die ausgrabungen in Haithabu, Bericht 20. Neumünster: Karl Wachholz Verlag, 1984, ISBN 3 529 1920 8. Shelagh Lewins has made available an English summary of pages 38-42 and 168-170 at http://www.shelaghlewins.com/reenactment/hedeby_apron/hedeby_apron.htm.
Hägg, Inga: Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Gräbern von Haithabu. Berichte über die ausgrabungen in Haithabu, Bericht 29. Neumünster: Karl Wachholz Verlag, 1991. ISSN 0525-5791/ISSN 3 529-01929 1. Buy from Wachholtz Verlag
Hägg, Inga: Vikingatidens kvinnodrakt: Livet i Birka, Historiska Nyheter Nr 61, Statens historiska museum och Riksantikvarieämbetet, 1996 ISSN 0280-4115. (PDF 1,3 MB)
Hägg, Inga: Populärvetenskap - en
Fragmenter av kvinnedrakter fra vikingtiden - Metode for
identifikasjon av gamle tekstilfunn, Viking LXXIV, Tidsskrift for
norrøn arkeologi, Norsk arkeologisk selskap, Oslo 2011
Priest-Dorman, Carolyn: Colors,
Dyestuffs, and Mordants of the Viking Age: An Introduction
Rimstad, Charlotte: Vikinger i Uld og
Guld, Om de danske vikingetidsdragter baseret på tekstilfunn i
grave, Speciale, Forhistorisk Arkæologi, Københavns
Speed, Greg and Walton Rogers, Penelope: A Burial of a Viking Woman at Adwick-le-Street, South Yorkshire ( PDF 38 MB)
Zubkova, Elena S, Orfinskaya, Olga V and
Mikhailov, Kirill A: Studies of the Textiles from the 2006 Excavation
in Pskov, North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles X,
Oxbow Books, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84217-370-1. Buy
Before the article was published in NESAT X, the authors temporarily published a preliminary article in russian. Peter Beatson made a summary of the russian article at http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/sarafan/sarafan.htm, Lisa Kies has made a translation of the article (with all the original photographs) at http://www.strangelove.net/~kieser/Russia/PskovTranslation.html respectively.
Beatson, Peter and Ferguson,
Christobel: Reconstructing a Viking Hanging Dress from
Cellio, Monica: The Viking
Apron-Dress: A New Reconstruction
Dooley, Diane S. (known as Nastassiia Ivanova Medvedeva in the SCA):
Norse Apron Dresses - One Interpretation
Glæsel, Nille: Vikingtidens
http://www.lofotr.no/pdf/Rapporter/Lofotr%2005.08.pdf p 10-13
and Viking - Dress, Clothing, Klær, Garment, Forlaget Nille Glæsel, 2010, ISBN 978-82-998323-0-4. Buy from Nille Glæsel
Historiska världer: Vikingatida kvinne - hängselkjol
Lewins, Shelagh: A Reconstructed Viking
Priest-Dorman, Carolyn: Aprondress pattern
Vestfirzka, Vigdis (SCA name):
Vigdís' Viking Apron Dress
Photograph of Pskov silk fragment
http://usadba-psk.narod.ru/hangerok.html (visited 23rd February 2014)