This guide outlines the basic patterns and construction techniques of Viking–Age men's clothing, whether that be a Saxon or Viking persona. This is the starting point for all new members in the levy looking to put male kit together for their ﬁrst promotion. This costume is typical of most men in the Viking–Age — that of Anglo–Saxon or Scandinavian freedmen, labourers, subsistence farmers, or apprentices. For a more generalised view of Viking-age clothing, see our article here.
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Even the poorest people in the Viking–Age societies of Northern Europe were good tailors — they had to be, most people lived far away from urban areas, and even then they might not have the money or goods to trade for completed garments. Because of this, I suggest plenty of practice at seaming, and ﬁtting. Old tea towels and bedsheets are good to practice on.
Tools of the trade
- Thread — wool for wool, linen for linen. Avoid cotton thread
- Scissors or shears
- Dress-making pins
- Tailors chalk, or fabric marker (for drawing patterns or making adjustments) or use
- Pattern paper - creating a pattern on paper means you can reuse patterns, and any changes you make can be drafted for the next time you decide to make a garment
- Beeswax — run thread through a beeswax block to stiffen the thread, prevent knots and be extra waterproof
Tip. When cutting fabric, keep the bottom blade of your shears on the cutting surface. This will allow them to glide smoothly through the fabric. If you can, use clamps or weights to help the fabric move less when cutting or measuring. If you are cutting two or more layers at once, think about getting a rotary cutter.
Basic Stitches to Master
- Running Stitch
- Back Stitch
- Whip Stitch
- Blanket Stitch
Term: A tack stitch or basting stitch is a very quick and loose/long form of running stitch to piece together a garment for fitting.
Run the needle right to left, in–out–in–out. If you use running stitch for seams, you will need to roll/fold the seam and use a whip stitch for re-inforcement (discussed later).
You go back over your own stitches so that the stitches are smaller on one side than the other. Bring the needle up at A, back through the same hole of B, then up at C, then back down through D/A. This is very strong, and prevents the thread from pulling out. Use for seams.
Also known as overcast stitch, use this on the edges of fabric (eg. unhemmed, or seam overﬂow) to reinforce and stop fraying.
Also known as buttonhole stitch, this is similar to whip stitch in that it’s for ﬁnishing a raw edge, but it catches the loop of thread resulting in an L or J shape along the edge of the fabric.
Certain seams will need more re-enforcement that others. The shoulder seams, and underarm gussets will need extra security, so use back stitch there. Side seams can be done with a tight running stitch (aim for 8-10 stitches per inch on light fabrics, 5 minimum on others). Some seams will want to be folded and re-enforced with a whip stitch, especially on linen which is prone to fraying.
A seam, ﬁxed with a running stitch, then reinforced with a whip stitch.
Fold the two sides of fabric in towards each other. Run the stitch (running or back) along the inside portion, being sure to catch all 4 layers of fabric. Once done, whip stitch the top of the join.
there are other seams you can use that exist in Viking–Age archaeology, but this is the simplest. Jennifer Baker’s article is a great resource for seaming ideas.
It’s not clear from archaeology how Viking-Age people layered clothing, as most ﬁnds are fragmentary, adhered to the underside of metal brooches and buckles on the topmost layer.
However, through the examination of literature, and accounts from the pre and post Viking–Age, we can determine that there are two distinct male garments: the shirt, and the kirtle. The shirt, we assume, is an under–garment. It’s shorter that the kirtle — just below the waist — and is probably close ﬁtting.
One of the only known extant ﬁnds of a Viking–Age shirt is from Viborg in Denmark. It’s a made from many small pieces of linen fabric, with a drawstring neckline and sleeves that are tight at the wrist.
We can extrapolate a simpler pattern from the Viborg shirt by looking at a fragment of a child’s linen smock from York. It had two sleeves, a side and part of an under arm gusset.
Another part of the underwear is the breeches & hose, or trousers. Again, much of our knowledge comes from pre and post Viking–Age ﬁnds, such as the Thorsberg trousers and Dätgen breeches, but there is some contemporary arachaeology. There’s a fragment of woollen hose found in Hedeby, Germany, and an elaborately decorated pair of woollen leggings from Skjoldehamn, Norway.
One of the most interesting and complete ﬁnds from York is a woollen sock woven using a technique called Naalbinding. The knotted construction makes them extremely hard weaving, and quite waterproof.
For the shirt, use a medium weight, undyed Tabby (plain weave) linen. Get one with a sett of 15-20 threads per cm.
Undyed linen colours range from bleached greyish white to a muddy green–brown.
The Sett is how finely the yarn of the warp and weft threads are woven together.
For the breeches or leggings, use a semi-ﬁne, or ﬁne-medium wool. Again, stick to natural colours: white ﬂeeces were popular, as were light brown and dark brown. Sometimes, a light wool and dark wool were used together to add a two tone effect to the weave. Be on the lookout for a 2/1 or 2/2 twill or herringbone (chevron) weave.
The weaves look very distinctive. 2/1 and 2/2 twills have diagonal lines, while herringbone has alternating bands of diagonals. There are many kinds of twill used in the Viking–Age.
This is a hugely simpliﬁed version of the Viborg shirt. You can either cut two rectangles, or fold the fabric over and cut just the neck hole like a poncho. The square gussets can be inserted under the arms for extra space. The sleeves taper to the wrist, being quite close ﬁtting. The bottom hem should sit just below the groin. Cut the neck hole quite small, and make a short front opening. This can be pinned, or laced.
Measurements: Around the chest, under the armpits, this will give you the width. Keep this garment more or less square. For sleeves, armpit to centre of the palm of you hand for length, then take measurements for the bicep and wrist. Remember to leave allowances for seams, and refitting!
If you fancy a go at the more elaborate Viborg shirt, take a look at this article from which the pattern is based.
Besides the Skjoldehamn ankle–breeches, there are fragments from Hedeby and earlier Iron–Age footed–breeches that indicate possible methods of construction.
The legs of the breeches, however long, are cut as tubes with a single seam — either inside or outside. The breeches have a large seat, and some bagginess for the behind. A separate waist belt is folded over to incorporate a drawstring.
Short breeches should fall just below the knee, long breeches should be ﬁtted at the ankle. There is a small cut to allow the foot through, which is re-enforced with a blanket stitch.
There is actually very little evidence for socks besides the single ﬁnd from York and wool socks from Skjoldehamn. The former is a naalbinding sock with a madder-dyed trim, the latter are woollen rectangles sewn up under the heel. They may have been a rare item; perhaps leg wraps were extended to wrap around the feet, or shoes were lined. Sadly, the archaeological record doesn’t say much, so use your discretion — it’s OK to do without!
Some simple decoration can be added to the seams of the breeches. A common form of decoration is using a visible stitch in a contrasting colour. Several examples of a Herringbone Stitch have been found doing just this.
You could also sew a small 3-ply braid onto the edge for added protection and colour.
Stick with common madder and woad based dyes - giving a brick red, or light blue.
Outer–wear for most people of the Viking–Age was made of wool. Wool is a good thermal insulator, so helps in both the winter and the summer, although it’s easy to assume that layers would be discarded in hot weather. Wealthier people were known to wear linen as the outer layer — Saxon burials from before the period show this, but those clothes could also be funeral dress so it’s hard to tell.
The ‘kirtle’ or over–tunic is a knee-length garment with a full skirt. It could be hitched up at the waist with a belt, and sleeves are slightly baggier and can be rolled up. The neck lines of these outer garments seem to have a wider neck that the shirt, but we have very little information — most extant ﬁnds of tunics are either fragments, or pre or post Viking–Age. Thankfully, there are some illustrations of everyday dress in contemporary art work.
British Library, MS. Cotton Tiberius B. v Part 1, fol. 5r
The cloak was an important item, particularly in the gift-giving culture of the Vikings. As well as being another layer of thick wool for warmth, they make great blankets. Similarly, there are phases throughout the Viking–Age where head wear comes in and out of fashion. Hats, caps and hoods are known in archaeology.
For outer–garments use wool, but try to get medium or hairy wools. Again, like the wool textiles for the breeches, search for 2/1, 2/2 and Herringbone (chevron) twills. There is also evidence for diamond twill fabric at York, and in earlier ﬁnds such as the Thorsberg tunic. There are wool tabbies present in archaeology, but they are all quite loosely woven, perhaps for blankets or sacks, so avoid.
Diamond twill weave in contrasting warp & weft colours.
The tunic should be knee length and with a full skirt. This can be achieved by cutting the skirt width into the pattern, or by adding triangular gores into the sides and optionally, the front. Alternatively, forget the gores and have a split in the side (don’t have a split in the front). The arms are a bit baggier, but should still taper to the wrist. optionally, you can inset the sleeves at the shoulder for a better ﬁt. The shoulder seams are optional — you can fold the fabric over like a poncho and just cut the neck hole.
For the neckline, use a round cut rather than square (which is an 11th century fashion suitable for our late–Saxon portrayals). You can ‘keyhole’ it with a slit at the front in the center and use a thong or pin to keep the it closed. Some examples of necklines are quite wide, coming from the neck to the collar bone. A short v-neck is also acceptable, with a rounded back.
Use the same fabric (and colour) for all the parts: sleeves, gores and gussets.
The Kragelund tunic has a distinctive v-neck.
Stick with natural wool colours — light-brown to dark-brown. If you pick a dyed fabric, try to ﬁnd one with a washed–out colour, like a onion skin colour, or brick red.
A basic cloak is simply a rectangle of heavy–hairy wool. The fabric can be tabby woven or a simple twill like herringbone. The edges should be raw, or ﬁxed with a blanket stitch.
British Library, MS. Cotton Tiberius B. v Part 1, fol. 5r
The cloak is clasped at the shoulder (right shoulder, unless you’re left handed!). Alternatively, it can be a semi-circle with the curved side at the bottom when it is pinned.
The clasp can be a simple affair — leather thonging, or a pin. The pin can be made from wood, bone or metal. One of the most popular types of pins in the Viking–Age, was the ringed pin. Again, these can be made from bone, iron or copper-alloy.
A ringed pin from Gotland in the British Museum
There a few other designs of pins — annular, penannular and ansate, and a number of brooches. For a simple kit, stick with a pin.
Most male hats in archaeology point to a simple woolen cap — there’s paneled hats from Birka, pillbox caps from the Netherlands, naalbinding caps from Germany and potentially sun hats which are seen in artwork.
Left to right: 4–panel hat pattern, pillbox hat pattern, possible straw sun hat from the 11th century.
As with the breeches, you can add decorative stitches in a contrasting colour to the seams, and thin braid on the edges of the neck and cuffs.
Double herringbone stitch over brown wool felt.
Here's a great article about stitches in general.
The accessories listed here are personal items that ﬁnish off a costume. these are key items for the ﬁt of clothing — usually functional as well as decorative, and some essential for any work or trade.
Shoes from the Viking–Age are made of leather and are usually of the ‘turn shoe’ construction. The top part is cut as one piece then stitched to the sole inside out around a last — it is then turned the right way out so that the stitching is on the inside.
Illustration of a turn shoe
Stitching the sole
Reproduction of a turn shoe with V-back heel riser, based on a ﬁnd from York.
Here's a good article about Anglo-Scandinavian shoe patterns.
Men wore a girdle around the waist, usually of leather but possibly rope or cloth. The strap is about 1/2 inch to 1 inch in width and tied (with split ends) or buckled. Buckles can be made from bone, iron, pewter or copper-alloy for this kit. Buckles are usually accompanied by a strap end which protects the leather and provides extra decorations. Many metal items in the Viking–Age were stamped with a ring and dot motif.
A selection of iron buckles and strap ends.
Knife & Sheath
A knife is of course a great utility. Made of iron, sometimes with a hard steel edge, the knife or seax could be anywhere from a couple of inches to the size of a machete. These aren’t adapted for warfare, but tools that are used around the house, or out in the ﬁelds and woods.
The handle would be of wood, or bone, sometimes with copper-alloy or iron ﬁttings. Housing the knife is a leather sheath. The sheath is made my wrapping the (wet) leather around the knife, cutting to shape and stitching one seam. In some cases the stitching is protected and reinforced by a metal ﬁtting.
Leg wraps are cloth strips that wrap around the calf and fasten just below the knee. They function as support and also to protect the trousers from wear. The cloth strips should be 2–3 inches thick and around 12 feet long and made of wool in a simple twill weave. They are wrapped around the calf starting at the ankle (or around the foot) and tie around the back of the knee with thonging, cloth or with a hooked tag made from iron or copper-alloy.
The wraps, sometimes called winingas or putees, could be woven as a single piece or as a cut off from other fabric and joined together.
For this portrayal, a single necklace with a pendant will sufﬁce, and perhaps a bangle of copper-alloy. There are many ﬁnds of crosses, hammers, spears and axes as pendants made from iron and copper alloy, and some of bone. Use woollen yarn or leather for the necklace.