Sewing a Finnish Iron age dress (works also for the Medieval era)
Finally, after spending time on the shoes, socks and the legwraps, I finally got to tackle the garments. The basic layer of a Finnish woman’s iron age costume is the wool underdress. There aren’t really finds to accurately replicate the dress, so all the wool underdresses are estimations from what was worn elsewhere in Europe. I chose this simple rectangular dress that also works for the Medieval era. The same dress shortened would make a nice tunic for a man.
Making the pattern for the Iron age dress
There are several medieval and Iron age dress and tunic patterns available online and in many books. Here is one tutorial in Finnish. There is an European size 40 pattern in the book Löydöstä muinaispuvuksi by Mervi Pasanen and Jenni Sahramaa that I used as a starting point (The book will be available in English after it has been translated and I can highly recommend it.). The tunic pattern was still way too big for me so I couldn’t use it the way it was.
Here is the basic pattern for the tunic. The best layout on fabric depends on the width of your fabric and your size. To determine the size, I measured around my bust (88 cm) and divided the measurement by 2. Adding 3 cm for the seam allowances gave me the width of the front and back pieces. The length was approximately from my shoulder to my ankle.
After comparing the armhole sizes and sleeve widths on the garments I own. I guestimated the size of the sleeve rectangles, 33 cm wide plus 3 cm for the seam allowances. I measured the length of the sleeve from my shoulder to my wrist and added a few centimetres for the seam allowances, the hem, and just for sure. I narrowed the sleeves down so that the wrist edge was 22 cm plus 3 cm for the seams. I cut two 10 cm times 10 cm underarm squares and then two gores from the rest of the fabric. The gore size was determined by the amount of fabric I had.
I made a mock-up and learned that the gores should start at the bottom of the armhole square or about an inch lower. If you start at the waist, there won’t be enough room for your hips and you’ll get fabric pooling over your bum like this:
Luckily, this was a mock-up so I could fix the fitting problems. I cut bigger triangles and started the gores higher.
I then proceeded to make this dress out of unbleached linen. The wool dress needs a shift or it will be scratchy. I can also wear the linen dress during hot weather. Here is the detail of the neckline from the inside. I sewed the whole dress by hand using linen thread.
The wool dress
I bought 2 metres of medium wool twill in madder red from the Historical Fabric store. I then washed the fabric carefully in order to shrink it before cutting. I also got some wool embroidery thread in order to use it for the sewing. However, this amount was only enough for a few seams. Finally, I used the same wool yarn I have been using for my weaving: Veera by Wetterhoff (yeah… I should probably talk more about the weaving at some point…).
Here is the video that I made during this project:
The finished Iron age dress
Here is the finished Iron age dress. Well… to be honest, I haven’t still finished all the seams but it doesn’t really matter as the wool won’t fray. I ended up shortening the sleeves later. During the iron age, women sometimes wore sleeves that were too long, just to show that they had wealth. The extra length was gathered up with bracelets. I found these sleeves still a bit cumbersome and decided to chop off the extra length.
This dress is still not really ready as it needs some decorative tablet woven bands. Of course, an iron age woman wouldn’t have worn a dress like this, without a belt and an apron. And she wouldn’t have worn earrings or glasses. But what an iron age Finnish woman would have really liked, is this necklace I made out of glass beads and replicas of Byzantine coins. We also have evidence of a late iron age Finnish woman buried with a bun very similar to what I decided to wear with this dress.
My project thus continues with lots and lots of weaving and construction of the rest of the garments. At this point, I have the apron finished but I still have a lot of tablet woven bands to make. I dyed some wool to make a peplos overdress and I managed to get a very nice burgundy red colour.
Thank you for reading! More historical costuming is coming soon! Please subscribe to the blog and to my YouTube channel. Happy sewing!
Your productiveness – if that’s a word, Amazes me! I would wear this dress today as you demonstrate in wool and linen! I love it!
I really enjoy seeing your journey into folk and historical costuming. Very inspiring.
Best low waste design I have seen. And by cutting low neckline for both front and back, then trimming top off back, I can add side dart shaping I need on front for my G cup boobs.
great work, i tried to handstitch a wool dress years ago. it took so long, that the moths got to it first…
Oh no! I have never had moths but I’ll be devastated if they ever get to my wool garments. I once bough this lovely wool fabric from the fleamarket and noticed moth holes at home. The fabric went immediately to the balcony and I never dared to bring it indoors after that. Too bad, it was a lovely fabric!