An apron was an essential part of an Iron Age Finnish woman’s dress. It wasn’t worn just to protect one’s dress from dirt but it also offered protection against evil. No woman would have gone out without an apron. The best aprons were made out of expensive, dyed wool fabric and decorated with bronze spiral ornaments. The more bronze a woman could afford the more prosperous she looked and this was important.
Here is the video I made for my YouTube channel:
I’m not any expert in Finnish Iron Age garments, so take my writings with a pinch of salt. I warmly recommend the book Löydöstä muinaispuvuksi by Mervi Pasanen and Jenni Sahramaa. The last thing I heard is that it is coming out in English later this spring.
The fabric for my apron
The fabric for the aprons was generally 2 by 2 woven twill. During the Iron Age, the women wove their fabrics to shape using vertical looms. The long edges would have had tubular selvages, similar to those I wove to my leg wraps. This time I, however, didn’t weave my fabric and thus had to settle for making narrow hems for the long edges.
When using those afore mentioned vertical looms the women would have started the fabric by weaving the warp to a starting tablet woven band. Then they would have woven the fabric and finished the far edge with another tablet woven fabric. The latter can be distinguished from the first one as the ends of the warp form a fringe to the wrong side of the fabric.
To mimic this technique, I made tablet-woven bands to both short ends.
The spiral decorations on the Iron Age Apron
The use of spiral decorations has probably originated somewhere in Baltic countries. At least the spiral decorations found in Baltic countries are more elaborate than what has been found in Finland. As Finns have always traded with Estonia and other Baltic countries, it is probable that fashions travelled with people and other traded goods such as furs, beads, metals, and amber.
I settled for using brass instead of bronze as the bronze wire was harder to get. Using a drill and an old repurposed knitting needle I twisted my wire into tight spirals.
These spirals were then cut into the right lengths. The spiral fans at the corners of the apron did double duty. Not only were they decorative but they also took care of the warp ends from the tablet woven band at the hem.
I cut more spirals into approximately 2 cm lengths and strung them to a woolen cord that I made out of the same blue wool yarn I used for the tablet weaving. This long cord was then sewn securely to the edges of the apron. I moved my needle through each and every spiral bead and then used the yarn to knot the cord between the beads to the edge of the apron.
The most fun part was making applique ornaments for the Iron Age apron hem. I opened the spirals between my thumbnails (Yeah, my thumbnails are that strong, no I didn’t break them, yes, my thumbs felt weird afterward) and made room in order to slot two spiral tubes together like legos. This way one can make complicated ornaments but I settled for some simple ones.
The finished apron
This apron doesn’t have anything to tie it on with. Instead, the top of the apron is folded over a belt that is then tied around the back and fastened over the folded apron. Now I only need a proper belt for this fine garment. The belt I wore on the video wasn’t actually a belt but a tablet woven band that I later sewed on to decorate the hem, cuffs, and neckline of my dress.
I mentioned that the fine spiral decoration was done in the Baltic countries by their women. Well, similarly the Finnish women put their energy into their fine tablet weaving. This means that I can’t settle for any belt! For the last month and a half, I have been patiently weaving a complicated band design based on a genuine grave find. After six weeks the band is finally getting pretty long but I still have some weaving to do!
I hope you liked this post and see you soon!