Making a New Scabbard- Part II

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In Part I, I covered how I stripped my old scabbard, prepared it for recycling and went about making a new core. all the way through to covering the scabbard with molten Beeswax.

This time, I will talk about the suspension system.

As I said in Part I, I have decided for a belt suspension, rather than a baldric- this was a personal preference, as over the years of using a baldric I found it was too difficult to keep it in place and not bang about as I moved, ran or fought. The use of baldrics is well attested, but as centuries go on, the belt suspension is seen less and less, until in High Middle Ages, we see (to my knowledge) only belt suspensions and no baldrics at all in Europe. My interpretation was based on finds from the Isle of Man- Cronk Moar and Ballateare specifically.

The Cronk Moar suspension did not include a strap-slide on the scabbard, instead the leather straps were wrapped around the scabbard, then stitched, tied or riveted together. I chose not to include a strap-slide for simplicity of make, but it would work just as well with a strap-slide and you would have more freedom in adjusting how your sword hangs down from the belt, whereas with the setup I chose, you are stuck with the angle and position you made and the only way to change this, is to remove the straps and add longer ones or cut them shorter.

All the straps I used here were recycled from my old scabbard- which is why I preserved them, when taking it apart in Part I. I began, by taking one leather strap and adding a plain D-buckle to it, then laying it over the scabbard in desired position near the top of the scabbard and deciding where I want the buckle and the Strap Distributor to be in relation to the scabbard. Having made the decision, I cut the strap to the required length.

Before I attached the leather straps to the Strap Distributor, I made sure all 3 strap-holders were attached to the Distributor Ring- as I would not be able to put them on the Ring, once leather straps were riveted on. On the photo above, you can see the steps- upper strap is only attached with rivets loosely, the one below is riveted on. Third strap would be attached by first putting the Plate onto the Distributor Ring, then clamping leather strap gently in the Plate, before nailing down the rivets.

Once first strap (the one with the Buckle on it) was riveted on to the Distributor Plate, I took the remaining length of my leather strap and also attached it to the Strap Distributor. Again, I had to decide where the strap would go on the scabbard- but I left this decision until later. This is because the second strap determines at what angle the Scabbard will hang from the belt and it is best not to guess where you want it to avoid disappointment or mistakes. Therefore, All I did was get a measure of leather strap I knew would be at least 2-3 inches too long then maximum I could need and cut it there. I can always cut a strap to a desired length, but I cannot add length back on!

To create an attachment to the scabbard, I took a shorter strap and joined the two together, while keeping it wrapped as tight as possible around the scabbard. I chose to rivet one side and stitch the other, but any combination of riveting and stitching will do, as long as straps are held fast and secure. Note– another method to join the leather straps together would be to make 2 slits in the leather at the point where you want it to join and cut the strap in 2, to creat a “serpent tongue” effect (you will need to leave the strap longer for this). You then thread the 2 thin straps through the slits, tighten it as much as possible, then tie securely and cut off loose ends.

Next, I attached the remainder of the leather strap to the Ring Distributor, to create a full Belt. At this stage, I did not do any adjustment, but just punched several holes in the strap, to be able to buckle it on. It was far too long, but that was ok. As before, I can always cut it shorter to any length I need.

Now that all the straps were attached to the Strap Distributor, I did a “dry run” and put the belt on and fastened it. Then, I could get and accurate measurement of the angle I wanted my sword to hang at- all I needed to do was mark the leather at the desired point and cut. Once I had the strap at exact length I wanted it, I wrapped it around the scabbard as tight as it would go and stitched together. I used Beeswax on all my stitching to prevent damage and fraying to the thread. Remember to choose suitable, strong thread made of linen and of suitable thickness, as your joints will be potentially under a lot of stress, when wearing the sword.

There was not much left to do now- I needed to cut the Belt to the right length, so that it would be only just long enough to go around my waist, with an allowance left for wearing multiple layers of clothing and/or chainmail. Once cut to the right size, I added a riveted-on Strap-End- but this is optional and you can just cut the end to a nice, neat point or oval instead, metal Strap-Ends are not in any way mandatory.

And that was that- scabbard re-made and done with new Facing and new Suspension system. I am looking forward to using this for years to come!

Making a New Scabbard- Part I

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In this 2-part Post, I am going to describe how I went about making (or rather, re-making) the scabbard for my Re-enactment sword (Sword Type W in Petersen’s typology). This scabbard has served me faithfully for some years and I have once already done some work on it, where I wrap a textile band on it for decoration (see here). I have had some issues with this scabbard though. These being: length (it was almost a foot longer than the sword itself, and constantly dragged around my ankles or hit them while running); suspension (a baldric, which was made for a much taller man than myself, therefore hanging too low) and the way it kept moving around when hung on my shoulder, especially when running. I decided to re-make this scabbard, and turn it into a belt-suspension one, as well as change the look and make of the scabbard itself.

Original scabbard, which had no metal fittings and was on a Baldric suspension. This all-leather design is based on a find from Ireland is absolutely fine for presenting an Irish, Hiberno-Norse or potentially Welsh and Cumbrian persona.

For my new scabbard, I chose to base my interpretation on finds from Cronk Moar and Ballateare, Isle of Man, graves dated to late 9th or early 10th century and combine it with influences and techniques from Carolingian Frankia. My scabbard will be covered in waxed linen instead of the more common leather (both ways are confirmed in archaeology and other sources, but leather eventually replaces textile completely) and bound in reinforcing (and decorative) textile bands, as well as tipped with tightly-woven bands instead of a metal chape (metal fitting for scabbards are comparatively rare and are thought to have been reserved for the very wealthiest/most influential people). The belt suspension will not be long enough to be used as a baldric (the original finds may have been either used as baldric or belts or both) and I will exclusively use it as a belt. My sword is Type W, a type dated to 1st half of the 10th century, which combined with technique and graves I base it on will make it a firmly 10th century item, Hiberno-Norse in origin. This sword and scabbard will be used for my Hiberno-Norse persona only and will not be suitable for any other impression.

I began by disassembling the old scabbard, preserving all the leather and straps that came with it- they will be needed later. I cut off the tip of the scabbard, to make it almost the same length as the sword, then worked the wood to taper it down to an elegant tip. When done, I put the scabbard core back together, and while I was at it, I reattached the lining, as it had detached itself in a few places.

Next, I re-attached the leather, which was cut to fit the shorter scabbard core- this was done with the aid of Leather Glue and clamps, with no sewing involved, since there would be a layer of textile on top and I did not see the necessity for additional work. Note, that there is no strap-slide here, due to the suspension system I chose. different suspensions may require strap-slides inserted into the scabbard core, to allow a belt to pass through. Alternatively, you could use Textile at this stage and cover the scabbard with Leather facing instead, in effect switching these materials around- this will create a more traditional and popular look of a leather-faced scabbard. Remember, as you put the core back together, to put the sword itself in as you leave it to dry. This is to make sure it is not clamped too tight and that you can slide the blade in and out.

Once the core and the leather dried up again, I removed the clamps and proceeded to attach linen cloth. I wrapped it around 3 times and each layer was glued down, To achieve proper adhesion and tension in the cloth, I glued down first part and waited until it dried, then proceeded to wrap the Linen around. Each time I wrapped it once, I would clamp it in place and allow the glue to dry. Make sure you do not fit the clamps on too tight, as they will leave impressions and imprints on the cloth, that you will not be able to get rid of- you only need them tight enough to hold the textile in place. Last layer of Linen had a false hem on it, which went all the way down the scabbard Spine. If you were using leather, you would glue it around and clamp it down, then, once it dried, you would need to sew the leather together at the Spine using a Saddle Stitch.

Along the back of the scabbard, a false seam was added, before the final layer was pressed down.

Top of the Scabbard was also covered with Textile, which I was careful to fold and wrap around the scabbard Mouth.

Now, that the Textile had been attached, it was time to add reinforcing (and decorating) bands. I chose to have a pattern of criss-crossing “Xs” on top of a large wrap-around for the Scabbard Tip, then 2 more bands on the upper part of the Scabbard. This look was modeled on the Stuttgart Psalter, but there is a number of patterns attested to in finds from 9th and 10th centuries which would have been appropriate.

I used a plain, undyed Linen band for this step, which I then folded in half and proceeded to wrap around the scabbard. I recommend several “dry runs” for practice, as getting this stage right can be quite tricky. The Scabbard Tip was wrapped as one step, then glued down, gently clamped and allowed to dry. The Criss-Cross pattern was next, where I wrapped the scabbard diagonally up, then back down- this was again glued down , gently clamped and left to dry. The horizontal lines in the pattern and the 2 at the upper part of the scabbard were done separately, as the last stage in similar manner to the previous stages.

This left me with just one step to have a finished Scabbard- I needed to cover it in a layer of Beeswax. This will serve to protect it from weather, moisture and dirt; it will darken the textile, reinforce it and help protect from damage; it will also make the seeping glue stains on the cloth no longer visible.

To soak the scabbard in Wax, I first melted it in a glass dish, over a bath of boiling water. Then, using a brush, I covered the entire scabbard generously. This stage used up approx 300g of Beeswax- usage will depend on size and material of the scabbard (cloth will generally soak up a lot more than leather).

Once the entire scabbard was covered, I used a Hot Air Gun to melt the Beeswax and let it soak into the Cloth. This did not take long at all and I needed to used the Heat Gun carefully, so as not to burn the Cloth or the Scabbard Core. The effect was immediate and striking!

Scabbard finished- but it does not have a suspension system on yet. In Part II, I will describe how I went about making a Belt Suspension for this scabbard and how it could be just as easily made into a baldrick if you so wish. See you in Part II!

Sources for textile-covered scabbards– mid-9th century account of Notker Bambulus, who describes the scabbard of Charlemagne as being covered with waxed linen over a layer of hide. This is combined with pictorial evidence from various Frankish and Saxon Psalters, showing colourings on scabbards that were not possible to obtain by dyeing of leather, but use of waxed textile explains this. As time goes on, this technique is used less and less frequently, until we come to about 11th century, by which time, to my knowledge, all scabbards are covered with Leather only, textile going underneath. (Notker Bambulus; Gesta Caroli Magni; written for Charles the Fat circa 830-833, Stuttgart Psalter; 9th century, Finds from England- Cumwhitton Grave 4 and Cumwhitton Grave 6, where textile binding was found over a leather cover)

If you want to make a leather scabbard instead: swap around the stages as described in paragraphs above, so cover the wooden core with textile first, then leather. Leather will need to be sewn together at the end, so tight fit is important, especially around the tip. Again, I recommend some practice runs first.

Reinforcing Bands: they do not need to go on top of the scabbard and can just as easily be put under the leather, which would then be wet-moulded to the shape. Both techniques are just as valid in my opinion, but in later ages, the wet-moulding was the dominant, if not the only, technique used.

Strap-Slide: you may want to include a strap-slide in your scabbard, instead of attaching the belt/strap to the core itself. If using s strap-slide, this will need to be put on the Wooden core, before any other layer is added, then each subsequent layer will need to be incised appropriately, to allow a belt or a strap to pas through the Strap Slide.

Wooden Core: as I already had a Core from my original scabbard, I did not need to make a whole new one (phew!). If you need to make one yourself, green wood is best to work with. Willow, Poplar, Pine, Spruce appear but there were many other tree species used. You will need a piece that is long enough for the scabbard and some spare and thick enough to “contain” your sword if it were cut in half. You will need to cut the piece in half length-wise, to have 2 round halves, then use Hand Plane, Draw-Knife, Chisel with a curved edge and/or curved Draw-Knife. With these tools it should be reasonably easy to carve the green, fresh wood on both halved to create a space for the sword. Remember that fur or textile lining is also needed, so make sure there is space for that too. Then you will need to work on the outside of the Core, to make it desired shape, thickness and length- when ready, glue it and clamp together, with sword inside, to ensure it fits “just so”. Happy Carving!

Applying Wax: as mentioned above, it seems quite possible, that instead of melting the wax on the scabbard to allow it to soak into the leather or textile, a layer would have been added on top to created a thick, waxy coat- especially with white “virgin” Beeswax applied over white linen, this could create a striking effect of a milky-white scabbard, which would have looked very attractive.

Kit Improvement- Repairing a Leaking Water Bottle

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I recommend that all Re-enactors have at least one authentic water bottle to take to events- you never know when you may not be able to use a cup… Mine has developed a leak, after a few years of usage (and a few knocks…). The items are not exactly cheap, plus wastage is never a good idea, so instead of getting a new one, I repaired the one I had. It was time for some TLC!

Before any work is done- the leather bottle also had a musky, stale smell inside so needed a good deep clean!
First step was to thoroughly rinse the bottle inside with vinegar, to clean it and kill anything that might have made it’s home there. I used 1/2 a cup of vinegar and rinsed the flask for about 5 minutes. Vinegar is great for killing bacteria and mould, but it is also safe for consumption and does not damage the leather or the was inside. Afterwards, a good rinse with clean water will be needed to remove the vinegar smell.

The bottle is made of leather, put together with twine and then sealed with Beeswax. In order to repair the leak and recondition the bottle, more Beeswax will be needed. Here’s how to go about the repair:

Note, that between steps 5 and 6, the bottle was once again inserted into the over, to melt the Wax I just brushed onto it and let it soak into the leather. Keep the bottle long enough to allow excess Wax to soak in, but not so long, that it starts to drip out- you want a solid layer of wax covering all seams and joints afterall. I watched the bottle until the wax went glossy and started to soak in, then removed it from the oven. While still warm, I poured liquid Beeswax inside, to cover the seams and seal it from the inside. I was quite generous and kept sloshing the wax around, taking special care of seams, until I could see a solid coat of Wax inside and was sure that the original leak was sealed.

Excess Wax that did not melt can be gently scraped off with a knife where needed, once the bottle cooled down but remains warm and pliable to touch. Same can be done around the mouth of the bottle. When done, you can polish it with a cloth, to give uniform, clean appearance (and remove accidental fingerprints!)
Bottle finished, cleaned off excess Wax and polished, Tested, to ensure there were no leaks.

And that’s that- a little bit of kit maintenance for this time. Note, that the bottle I used was fully authentic, made with leather and Wax only. Some bottles have a metal container, that is only covered with leather, these may behave differently when subjected to heat. Not all bottles need re-applying the wax on the outside, it will depend on the level of wear and tear. If you add a smaller, thinner coat of Wax to your bottle, it may not need scraping at all and just require a little polish- again, this depends on how much damage it sustained over time or how severe your leak is.

Hope this proved useful, in case you ever had issues with your own bottles or were unsure how to handle a leak!

Simplest Tunic I Ever Made

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So I made a new linen tunic for my early-medieval reenactment- yes, another one!

This one was made with a very specific purpose in mind- to be for my low-status Anglo-Saxon persona, that of a Collier (maker of charcoal). I have decided it needs to be plain, be suitable to work in dirty conditions and often high temperatures, with lots of smoke, steam and a lot of physical movement involved (well, for the beginning and end part of the process anyway, as making charcoal involves huge stretches of just watching stuff slowly smoulder…) and easy to maintain.

So, I have made the simplest, fastest tunic I have ever managed- no pattern (yes, I did not work from a drawn-out pattern, it was all “planned in my head”), no gussets, not even a measuring tape. All I used were: Fabric, Scissors, Thread and Needle. It was fast to make, fits well with a generous, plain look and meets all my criteria. So how did I go about it? Keep on reading below:

Step 1- Choosing the Fabric:

For this step, I simply decided what should the tunic be made of. It is supposed to be a working garment, seldom covered with any outer layer, unless there is cold or foul weather. I went for medium-weight linen, which will not be as comfortable to wear, or as soft to handle (and will crease a lot more as well) but will suffice as the one and only layer I wear while working over my charcoal pit. For more comfortable, nicely draping clothing or items worn under other layers of clothing, I recommend light-weight or shirting linen.

How I measured cloth- from my elbow to the tip of the fist, 1″ elbow length”. Note the natural, undyed fabric and heavier, thicker weave.

I have, very deliberately chosen width of fabric to be 70cm- historically, household looms were only as wide as one person could comfortably stretch their arms- modern standardised 140cm and 150cm fabric widths were uncommon and most likely reserved for specialised production, not housemade items. When using household looms, we would expect fabric width to be anything from 30cm to maybe 80cm- individual pieces would be woven to the required width, so as not to waste yarn and time. I went for 70cm, as I wanted my garment to have a wide, generous fit for my size and no need for gussets. A smaller person may only need 50cm, while larger would need to add more pieces or use gussets.

I bought 4m worth of fabric and went to work with it.

Step 2- Making the Tunic Pieces:

My tunic consisted of 3 pieces- 1 to go over my head and 2 sleeves- that’s it! As I said, I used no gussets. I did not use a measuring tape either- instead I measured the length needed with my elbow! From elbow to tip of my fist gave me an approximate “elbow length” of cloth- used 3 “elbow lengths” of fabric to cover my front and 3 to cover my back. I measured 6 “elbow lenghts” on my 70cm wide 4m long piece of fabric and then cut where the tip of my fist fell on the 6th time- the fabric already was the width I needed, so that was that! The rest of the fabric was used for my 2 sleeves, where I cut it in half and then wrapped one end of a sleeve around my wrist. I wanted to have enough room to comfortably slide my hand in and out- once I had the right fit, I did a little cut to mark my measurement on the fabric. I then did the same with the top of my arm, where I wrapped the fabric around so that I had loose, comfortable fit and made a little cut where needed. There was very little fabric cut off, and if you were working from a piece 60cm wide or less, you would not even need to cut it at all, you could make a sleeve straight out of it and simply sew it on a little tighter at the wrist. Simplicity itself!

Step 3- Head Opening:

It was time to make a neck-hole for my tunic- I took my long piece and folded it in half length-wise, to find the middle. The I did the same again, but width-wise, so that I had a measure of where the centre of my neck-hole was. All I needed to do now, was to cut an opening, while the piece of fabric was folded lenght-wise. I started small and continued trying to put the piece over my head, until it just about fit. Once I could squeeze the fabric on top of my shoulders, I had my neck-hole big enough and could put the tunic together.

Step 4- Putting the Tunic Together.

This step was , again, super simple. I took my sleeves and folded them in half length-wise. This mark was where I needed to attach it to the corresponding fold on my main Tunic piece. Having done that, I sew the sleeves on all the way around, and then I sewed the sleeves themselves up, all the way up to the wrist.

Now, onto the main body- for the torso, I chose to do a little “fitting” in the shape of the tunic, so that it had a waist-line of sorts. First couple of inches that covered the chest, I sewed up at “full width”, so that I had a wide fit at the top of the torso. Then I started to fold the seam of the fabric more and more, so that it tapered- until it reached my waist, where I started to fold it less and less, until I was again sewing it at full width. This created a little “boat” shape of left-over seams, that I cut out.

This is purely optional and you can just sew the tunic straight down, without any tapering or folding, so that you have an even easier job, but no waist-line in the garment.

When I sewed the tunic up to where the middle of my thighs were, I left a split in it, to allow for extra movement and spreading my legs wide. This is the only spot where gussets might be needed, but it depends on your size as a person and width of your fabric. Gussets can be made from left-over fabric from your sleeves or cut from the main body of the fabric (in which case, purchase a longer piece of fabric of course) if necessary.

Step 5- Hemming:

Last step was to hem the tunic- neck-hole, sleeves, side splits and bottom hem. Each hem I did was exactly the same- fold about 1-1.5cm of the fabric, then fold it again, then sew up with a running stitch. I used a brown-coloured linen thread for this. Care needs to be taken with the neck-hole, as it can be tricky to hem (being a roughly circular hole and all that), take your time, fold little by little and keep the folds consistent. If you are unsure of your skills, why not practice on some throw-away fabric first, to get the knack of it?

Aaaaaaaand… That was that! Tunic done- and as I said, no chalk, no safety pins, no pattern, not even a measuring tape… And because there were no long gussets, stitching time was reduced a lot as well, making it the fastest hand-stitched tunic I have ever managed to make. Is it High-Status? No. Is it high-fashion? Definately no! Is it suitable for manual labourer/tradesman? Yes! Is it simple to make? Hell yes! Is it acceptable for low-status persona? Of course! If made of fine, shirting linen, I would argue even higher status people would wear this as an under-garment, why not? Now for some final considerations…

Final Thoughts:

  • Why not use standard width cloth and cut a pattern out? This was my attempt to be as close as possible to actual techniques used at the time when putting a garment together. A mistake we make today when making historical clothing is to assume, that to make something “fit” better, we need to cut it to shape and take fabric away, until we have a nice, snug fit. We cut pieces too large and then keep cutting, until we have the shape/size we want. In early middle-ages such an attitude would not have been allowed (such a waste of fabric!) instead, to make items “fit”, fabric would be added– so you would start with either a standard measure or the smallest size/width you think you will need, then keep adding fabric to it, if the fit was too small. Most garments were shaped very loosely and had a generous, wide fit that was adjusted with belts, straps and so on. Only the rich and the fabulous would have tight, figure-hugging garments that signified both status, fashion and professional, bespoke make. This is where we end up with arm/side gussets, splits, or narrow pieces of fabric put together to create one wide one, often with a decorative fake fold hiding the place where the two pieces were joined together. In other words, for the simple Folk on the lower levels of social stratum, clothes would not be made “to fit” by tailoring and cutting them to size, or by putting together a complex pattern, but rather by having big, wide clothing that is adjusted with belts, straps, legs, pins, brooches and so on.
  • But hold on, all this talk about “loose shape” and “generous fit”, yet Roman writers tell how Germanic clothing “was tight and showed off all the limbs”? How can this be accurate? Well, allow me to illuminate. This is all about perspective. In the Roman-Greco world, clothing was made extremely loose and generally did not follow the shape of the body (see Peplos dress, Roman Toga or Greek and Roman sleeveless tunics) and one would not be able to easily determine the shape or size of a person’s limbs by looking at garments alone (for the most part). In comparison, “Barbarian” dress, with Trousers, sleeves with fashionably tight wrists and discernible human form contained in a garment did indeed seem “tightly fitting”. But by our modern standards, their clothing was rather loose, not tailored to a person’s individual shape and definately not figure-hugging. And yes, this is a huge oversimplification, but there is only so much I can explain, without writing a semi-academic article on the matter (which is not to say I will not at some future time…).
  • In my garment I deliberately made sleeves shorter– the persona I made this for is a Collier and works in very dirty conditions. Shorter sleeves allow to keep the cuffs and the sleeves themselves less dirty and requiring less cleaning. Often the sleeve would be folded up past the elbow while working anyway. All this is to save time and costs of frequent washing, wear and tear and replacing sleeves. This is not based on any evidence in sources (which seem curiously silent on every-day dress of an Anglo-Saxon Collier, or any other Tradesman for that matter) but is my interpretation of available evidence (including ethnography, as archaeological evidence for complete garments and patterns is, well, severely limited and fragmented). My interpretation puts together pictorial evidence, archaeologically and ethnographically confirmed methods of clothing production and some practical aspects to take into consideration in certain jobs and circumstances. Normally, sleeves should be at least long enough to touch the bottom of your Thumb (with arm outstretched to the front of the body), and many recommend that the sleeves go past your Knuckles and then be pulled up to the wrist.
  • You do not need to create a waist-line. I did this purely out of aesthetic preference, but you could just as easily simply have sewn up the garment all the way down to the hip. All that would happen is you would have a super-loose fitting tunic, that then get belted anyway, so in truth, who would even notice?
  • Working with different Fabric Widths. My choice of 70cm wide Fabric was purely based on my own size as a person and knowing what would fit me with enough room to spare. If you had different width of Fabric to work with, you would either put pieces together or cut them in halfs or in thirds. For example- 140cm wide piece can be cut in half to 70cm, 40cm piece can be used in the same way I did, but under your arm, you sew the 40cm piece up to the bottom of your sleeve and only then join all three pieces together- in effect your Main Body of the Tunic now has 3 pieces of fabric, one long going over your head and 2 shorter ones attached under your arms, creating same wide, generous fit. If working with, say 60cm wide fabric, you could make Main Body from one long piece, then cut a 2-3 elbow lengths of cloth and cut this into 30cm wide strips and again attach below the arm to the bottom of the sleeve. You get the idea!
  • Why not use measuring tape, chalk, safety pins etc.? Well, they did not have any of these back in the Viking times… A measuring stick (yard-stick?) or a string with knots at regular intervals is the closest we get to a measuring tape and I have no idea if pieces of chalk (or charcoal, or anything else) were used to make mars on cloth. I wanted to get as close as I could to someone at home, in the Viking Age making a garment for themselves or their family member, using what is available to hand. And- strictly speaking, you don’t even need scissors, all the cuts I made can be made with a sharp knife (as not every household had cloth-cutting scissors, it was more of a specialist item).
  • Why no gussets? There are a few reasons for that, one being simplicity and speed of manufacture. Another one is that they were not necessary, especially if we are working with cloth that is 70cm wide or more, the strip of cloth has enough width when sewn together, that no gussets will should be needed. If using strips of different size, 30 or 40cm wide, again you don’t use gussets, instead you add more strips of the cloth, using one additional strip under each arm, creating a wide piece of clothing that should not require gussets. Gussets (especially triangular ones) could be seen as a sign of status and higher wealth, because they need scissors to cut cloth in this shape (implying a professional dress-maker not your regular housewife) and show greater tailoring and more “shapely” fit that was associated with bespoke items, status and high fashion. As a curiosity, did you now that in Medieval Germany , Law prohibited Peasants from ever using Triangular gussets? Just one of many little snippets that validate this point.

And that is that for this post- I hope you got something out of it and I will be back soon with more entries- take care!

Making a new Reenactment shield- PART 2

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Welcome the the second part of my shield-making journal, where we will go over my finishing stages of shield making, having finished the shield “blank” and added Facing and Backing to it. If you have not read the First part of this post, I strongly suggest you read it HERE. At the end there is a section for my reflections, final thoughts and some general explanations.

Now, without further ado, let me get on with my next steps.

While the shield was curing and drying, I got to work on the Handle. I have recycled an old handle from my previous shield, but I re-shaped it a little, to make it more conformable to hold and shed some more weight. Handle does not have to be wood and can be made of metal, though wood is recommended and certainly far more prevalent. It will also make for a more comfortable grip and is generally easier to work with without specialist tools

Some Reenactors choose, when cutting out the Boss hole, to leave it as two half-circles with a “handle” in the middle, instead of cutting out the entire circle. Then they either add a handle on top of this cut-out or wrap it with Cloth or Leather. I would say that this is incorrect, and this method should not be used-for 3 reasons:

-The original shields were made out of planks and never had a connecting piece through the middle of the Boss hole, this would have been almost impossible to achieve with plank construction and looks wrong and out of period, especially when there is no actual handle added on top this left-out middle section

-The shield will handle very differently and be more difficult to maneuver, it will also not benefit from additional reinforcement of a handle backing the construction- again, unless you add a handle to go on top of this left-over, at which point why even leave it there… Also, the point where your left-over “handle” connects to the shield will be weak and require reinforcement, again begging the question why have it in the first place

-You may not be able to fit your hand comfortable in the Boss hole, especially if you have a smaller Boss, large hands or thick armoured gloves/gauntlets. Even if you can fit your hand in, you may find it awkward and/or uncomfortable. In other words, just cut the whole circle out and add the Handle later!

My Handle was shaped so as to taper towards the edges and be as thin as possible, without loosing strength. The type of wood does not really matter here and I will leave it up to personal preference. Notice, that I have shaped my Handle to be quite prominently raised in the middle- this was deliberate to allow me to fit my hand comfortable in the Boss hole and to let me operate my shield better. With this raised construction, I can rest my thumb on the handle when holding the shield and apply pressure through it, allowing me more finesse and control over the movements, even when wearing thick gloves for reenactment combat (I can control the shield with small movements of my wrist and resist pressure better, especially when shield is outstretched or held at an angle).

As you can see, the Handle is rough in appearance, without decoration and without much polish, this includes a Hemp rope used as a strap to carry it on my back/shoulders, instead of more comfortable and better looking leather. This is because I intend this shield to become part of my Low Status kit, representing something done quickly, cheaply and perhaps even put together in the Field while on campaign. I will eventually, make a better-looking, decorated and finely finished shield for a High Status persona, which will represent fine quality item purchased from a craftsman of good repute.

When making the Handle, I drilled 2 holes through it near the ends and, at the bottom side, I made grooves, stretching out in both directions away from the drilled hole, The grooves only need to be deep enough to fit a thick wire and it is best to make them slightly too small at first, as you can always take off more material, but it is very difficult to add it back! Make sure to make the Grooves at least 4-5 cm long.

Now, for the wire- I have bought 2 plain circular buckles, and some relatively thick Copper Wire. I twisted the Wire to ensure better stiffness and more durability, the passed it through 1 of the Buckles. I then made a loop out of the twisted Wire and pushed it through the pre-drilled holes. Finally, I bent the ends of the Wire into the Grooves I made before and cut it a little if it did not fit the length. This created a loop to tie my rope to, held to the Handle by Wire loops, that will be held down firmly and securely once the Handle is fitted to the shield.

You can choose different fittings for this stage, like leather strap instead of Rope, D-shaped buckle instead of a Circular or no buckle at all, instead riveting the strap directly to the handle. You may also choose not to have a strap for carrying at all, or not to attach it to the Handle and instead doing so directly to the Shield- this is up to you, but I made this choice as it looks good, is convenient and structurally strong.

While I was busy fiddling with the Handle, the shield has dried properly and it was time to fit the Boss. My Boss had 6 pre-drilled holes, 2 of which would be used to hold the Handle in place as well. I attached it by using modern-day nuts and bolts, that I will masquerade as thick rivets. This is because a) I seem to lack the skills to properly bend authentic Rivets, they always end up loose and rattling around. Tutorials anyone? b) pre-drilled holes in my Boss as slightly to large for the authentic Rivets, again making them not secure. This is a potential trap of buying a Boss with pre-drilled holes, and if you buy one without them you can drill holes of a size that suits your needs. If you have the skill etc. for it, I recommend using authentic Rivets, which would pass through the holes in your Boss, through the shield and then be bent over, until they sit tight and secure, with points pointing away from the Boss and towards the shield edge. This makes a much better looking and more historically accurate shield.

To fit the Boss, I passed my Bolts through the pre-drilled holes in both the Boss and the Shield (I have drilled the holes in the shield in marked-out places as you can see in Part 1 of this post). I then screwed on some square Nuts, until they sat somewhat tight. Only once I did the sides of the Boss, I attached the Handle and again passed the Bolts though holes that were pre-drilled in the Handle, the Boss and the Shield. While fitting the Boss, I made sure I folded and excess Cloth backing under it, so there was no exposed plywood visible at the edges. Finally, I screwed the Nuts on tight, until I could feel them slightly bite into the shield itself. Trust me, you do not want a loose, improperly-fitted Boss, as it will not only be less secure as a protection, but rattling and moving Rivets or Nuts will wear out your shield and make you replace it sooner than you need to.

Now, I repeated the same process at both ends of my shield Handle, screwing them tightly in place. Finally, I used a Hacksaw to cut off the ends of the Bolts, leaving only enough excess to rivet over the Nuts. I was now ready to rivet the Bolts over and for that you will need an anvil or a substitute (metal vice, sledgehammer head, large flat axe head, cut-off piece of railway track- anything flat, metal and solid enough to bang stuff on top of it). Use a ball-point hammer to create the riveting and while striking use plenty of patience and measured force. Ensure that your rivet sits flat and firm against your Anvil (or anvil substitute) and strike from the centre out, only “folding” the edges down and over toward the end. The idea is to hammer to metal Bolt into a mushroom shape, using the direction of your strikes to direct where the metal should extend to. Continue riveting, until the mushroom is complete and sits tightly against the Nut, covering it. If you are using authentic Rivets (a better and more fitting idea and I will keep trying until I learn how to do it properly. Surely, it cannot be that hard!) instead of this you will need to bend them over, like one sometimes does with a nail that was too long for its job and needs to be folded down. Again, as you bend and fold down the Rivet, make sure it sits tight and cannot move (easier said that done).

Now that we have the Boss and the Handle fitted, we are almost there- time to put on the shield Rim. As mentioned in Part 1, I used ready rolls of Rawhide, 7cm wide. This was so that the Rim had tidy, even appearance and to spare me the need to cut and trim materials like Dog Chew. These rolls are cheap enough and easy to find on the Internet, so measure out how many you need (anyone remember how to calculate the circumference of a circle?), add some spare length just in case and get ordering. The Rawhide will need to sit in water for a while, so a bucket or similar will be needed. Once it is soft and pliable, take it out, strip by strip, and attach to the shield. You can either clamp it down first, then leave to dry, or nail/stitch it down while wet. I chose to nail the Rawhide to the Shield, using carpet tacks (small, narrow nails used to put carpets in place, they usually come in black and look almost hand-forged). You can use similar type of small nail or rivet or you can punch/drill holes through the Rim and stitch the Rawhide to it. I will explain in my Final Thoughts section, why I chose to nail the Rim down and why I went with Rawhide instead of Leather (see the Y U NO STITCH!? part of my Final Thoughts).

As you attach the Rim, make sure it is evenly spread on both sides of the Shield, that it is stretched tight and has no folds or bends. It can be tricky, but it is necessary as once dried, the Rawhide will retain any of these folds and this will compromise your shield’s integrity as well as make it easy to hook with axes or spears. If necessary, help yourself with clamps in addition to nails, to make sure the Rim is flat against your shield all over.

Almost there! Time to paint the shield- I will not go into details of designs, methods etc. as it would take too long, but I will list some essentials:

There are two options- most Groups and Societies have pre-approved designs they paint on their shields to identify themselves. If your Group has one, use it- no point inventing the wheel all over again! Your second option is a design of your own- if that is your choice, there are some things to keep in mind. Steer clear from fanciful patterns and do not use depictions of animals or people (unless using original authentic artistic forms, such as the “Gripping Beast” etc.). Only use patterns and designs attested to in archaeology or sources (Carolingian and Ottonian Psalters and Bibles are a good one). Never, ever, use Gloss paint- only Matt shades. Make sure paint is suitable for Exteriors, does not have any “Special Effects” (Hammered, Cracked, Streaky, Glow in the Dark and so on) and does not flake. If unsure, experiment first. Do not put Runic or other inscriptions on your shield, and do not use Helm of Awe or similar patterns as they are Christian Folk Magic staves, not Viking symbols. Never use Neon colours, drawings of any kind or modern-day designs. Remember to make sure ttat your design suits the region and the time period you are using it for.

For the painting of my Shield, I used the colour scheme of my Reenactment Group (taken from Notitia Dignitatum, 5th century Roman document listing, among other things, military titles, units of the Roman Army, their colours and insignia) which is a White background with Red circle running around the Boss and the Rim. And that was that- the new shield is finally ready!

Final Thoughts:

  • Rawhide Rim– I used Rawhide instead of Leather, as it is tougher, does not require any maintenance (leather will deteriorate eventually without any treatment) and has very useful shrinkage properties. As wet Rawhide dries, it slightly shrinks, further binding the shield together. It holds the shield together tightly and even if for some reason the stitching or nails used to put it in place are damaged, it tends to hold its shape until you can repair it, instead of coming off loose. Rawhide is incredibly strong and difficult to cut through or damage, even with excessive amounts of blunt force that the shield receives in reenactment combat.
  • Y U NO STITCH?! As far as methods by which Rim was attached to the shield, consensus seems to be that both nails and stitching were used, but nails/rivets were usually reserved for metal mounts and rims. When analysing holes around the Rim, it was found they were not drilled, but rather punched through, as if with a nail- this may seem to support the nail hypothesis, but it actually does not. Instead, it is an indicative, that shield makers did not want to drill holes around the Rim, as it affected the wood grain and its resistance. Likely, holes were made by punching even if Rim was going to be stitched on. Stitching is tricky on a Rawhide Rim, unless you work fast, before it dries off, or if you keep watering it to keep the moisture in. Stitching Leather down is easier (as it is more pliable), but it is a time-consuming process, a lot slower than using nails or tacks and requiring additional tools and equipment (tiny awl or drill bit, small hole-punch or nail, linen twine, Wax or Tar to reinforce the Twine and so on). I decided not to stitch, due to time, cost and the fact I did not have the time I needed. I do however want to make my next shield with a stitched-on Rim and I recommend you try this on as well. Don’t fret if you don’t feel like you can make it this way though- it is a learning curve and we all arrive at different point at a different pace. In Reenactment context practicality, cost and ease of make often take precedence and allowances are needed for levels of resource, time and skill an individual has on hand.
  • Design- Handle, size, thickness and how it affected the shield– The overall aim for this project was to make a new shield, that would be larger, thinner and more durable than my previous one. It is my aim to make a better shield each time and I will aim to make a better one still the next time I get around to it. The design was to be used across both Saxon and Viking armies and includes a standard “flat” design, despite the fact that we think n most shield from 9th century onwards were actually Domed (convex in appearance). The reason why so few Domed shields are made is because they are hard to make and very few people have the skill for it- this may hopefully change in the future (not to mention how strongly a Flat shield image is embedded in our minds)… The handle was designed to hold the shield together and provide a strong point for pivoting, holding and maneuvering the shield, including the use of a thumb, when holding it in an extended position. The size is large enough to cover most target areas sufficiently (even more so, when held extended out) but not to interfere with tight Shieldwall formation. When making it, allowances were made for how Reenectment combat differs from actual combat: blunt force instead of sharp, penetrating weapons, generally stronger, heavier blows to the shield (because weapon generally cannot get stuck in the shield, which in real combat was a major concern), need to make the shield last more than 1-2 battles and training in between them (no one wants to make a new shield every 2 months) and (let’s face it) deficiencies in skill and knowledge, when compared to professional shield-makers of yore who knew exactly what to use and how to make a shield that would be a perfectly tuned tool for its job. Overall, I am very satisfied with how the Shield turned out and it has already seen training combat and a few major reenactment battles- it handles just as I wanted, it is strong, resillient and allows for good control, as well as prolonged periods of combat without tiring the arm.
  • Plywood vs Planks– Plywood is yet another allowance we make as Reenactors, due to availability, cost and level of skill involved in sourcing accurate planks, made of the type of material that will withstand the needs of reenactment combat (for example, while Pine of Spruce were perfectly good for actual combat and were confirmed to be used, these softer woods would not normally stand up to the different rigours our style of combat presents). To find (for example) Poplar or Willow planks, in the right size, then cut them, shape them, glue them together, perhaps even thin them down if they are more than 8mm thick- you get the jist. For many of us, especially those living in urban areas, or who have no access to a garage/yard/back garden, this task becomes increasingly difficult. Add to that a full-time job, a busy family, life events… How much is too much? Whereas to go to a timber merchant and get a piece or two of Plywood, which can also sometimes be order to cut in exact specification you need, well that makes the business manageable to just about anyone. Inclusivity is important, this also gets down to money, time, space and other resources a Reenactor has available. Plywood also has the advantage of producing reliably consistent results. It will do the job and last 2-3 maybe even 4-5 years, without need to worry if you used the right wood or the right glue, how to cut and shape the planks, how to dry and cure it properly, where to store it while drying etc. When using Planks, all these factors need to be considered and every step needs to be done right, or the shield will fall apart in your first fight. Making a Plywood “blank” does not require specialist skill and the hardest job is now attaching the Boss, Handle and Rim, instead of an uphill struggle to just get a shield “blank” together. Plank shields definitely are a goal for everyone to aim for and something to aspire to, but I would never force anyone to make one and I would feel reluctant to attempt it myself without long and thorough preparation and a good amount of learning and practice.
  • Why only use Parchment on 1 side of the Shield? There were 2 reasons for that. Firstly, the cost. I could not source Parchment affordable enough to do 2 sides of the Shield, unless I put off the project for a couple of months, which I was not willing to do. Once I get my pay rise, this will no longer be an issue! Secondly, not all shields had Rawhide/Leather on both sides and some used none at all (but this was a very rare situation). Note, that using Leather was also possible and we have examples of just that, as well as Cloth alone. I decided against leather due to weight and the fact it is more prone to being cut or damaged- but either option will be accepted as authentic to the period. When making another shield (which I will in the next year or so as a High Status shield), I will make an effort to use Rawhide Parchment on both sides and only use 1 layer of cloth as Facing (or maybe even not use any cloth at all).
  • There will be another one! Yes, in the next 12 months I will aim to make another shield (I always have 2 on the go, in case one breaks). I want to make a High Status shield, suitable for someone who is rich and influential- with a finely worked handle, good leather shoulder-strap, finely stitched-on Rim and a Boss attached using authentic Rivets (this time I will buy a Boss without pre-drilled holes and drill my own, with correct size for the Rivets). When done, I can use my fine shield for display to the Public and to fight with as a High Status persona and revert to my other shield when portraying Low-Status person and when it is not intended for public display but only to use on battlefield. Life Goals!

Making a new Reenactment shield- PART 1

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It was time to make a new shield for myself, after the current one has seen a little too much action- on top of being on the heavy side and proving unwieldy. I have been inspired by Dimicator and Thegns of Mercia and their endeavors to recreate authentic shields, based on latest archaeological finds, wide range of sources and huge amount of historical combat experience. I recommend you check the links below, where you will find hugely interesting discussions about making and using of authentic dark-age shields. Thegns of Mercia Viking Shield Project and associated Paper written by Anthony C. Lewis; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP7xP0j_Fn8&list=PL_hVs5MjWFV1IwpWIBswZr1pRq-qcpMIA (Playlist on making of an authentic Viking shield by the Dimicator); Dimicator Patreon Page

Finished product

I have decided to make a shield that was slightly larger than my previous one, but lighter and easier to handle. I also decided to experiment with using Rawhide Parchment, to help make the shield more durable, resistant and (hopefully) able to last me several fighting seasons instead of previous 2-3, that have I managed out of my old shields.

In this post, I will describe first stages of making my shield: choosing my materials, necessary tools, creating a shield “blank”and putting together of the different layers. In PART 2, I am going to cover putting on the Boss and the Handle, adding the shield Rim, riveting and painting, a summary of all steps, as well as my thoughts on differences between actual combat shields and shields intended for reenactment.

Time for first stage of the project- the choice and sourcing of materials. For reenactment shields, the most common base is external-grade plywood, due to its availability, durability and easy of use. It is entirely possible to use authentic linden or willow planks, but it is (as Thegns of Mercia can attest) very difficult to source planks of correct thickness (no more than 9mm). Usually, reenactors will use plywood between 9-12mm thick, but increasingly thinner one is being used. Ready-made shield “blanks” are also sold, of various sizes, and usually these ready products are the heaviest/thickest. I have decided against this and aimed for 6mm thickness in order to reduce weight as much as possible, without making the shield too weak, something that is consistent with recent trends in reenactment across Europe (you will see fighters, especially the better ones make thinner, lighter shields, more akin to actual ones).

I had problems finding suitable plywood within reasonable distance, so I settled on 4 sheets of 3mm thick plywood, that I had stuck together. This was because my chosen shield diameter (84cm) was too wide and a 45min drive to a shop where correct width was available did not seem all that appealing. If you can find plywood of suitable width, I suggest you go for it, as my choice added an extra step in the process you can otherwise avoid. I will add, that having two layers of plywood stuck by glue, was also a deliberate choice. My reasoning was, that a layer of strong glue in the middle will strengthen the shield as well.

I have deliberately used a “stronger than wood” type of glue, which is actually period-authentic. Glues used in the making of actual shields produced joints stronger than the wood itself and the makers clearly trusted them to hold planks together. Archaeological record does show that each time wood failed, it failed on the plank itself, never on the joint- this was also demonstrated by modern practical tests. Like the shield-makers of yore, trust your glue (it is entirely possible to make your own authentic cartilage glue or cheese, but the process was far too long and “aromatic” for my liking, hence modern wood-glue alternative)!

My other materials were:

3 sheets of Rawhide Parchment- enough to cover 1 side of the shield. Due to cost of this material, I decided against having it on both sides of the shield, but you can of course make your own decision in that regard. I used Goat hide parchment, which is consistent with archaeology, but cow/calf would have been fine too (and cover a larger area);

A few rolls of Rawhide for the shield Rim– I decided against leather due to Rawhide’s toughness and its shrinking properties, that help to “bind” the shield more strongly as the material shrinks around the shield as it dries. It is also more resistant to cutting, blunt force and unlike leather does not require any maintenance at all;

Good amount of strong cloth (optional, you can use just Rawhide Parchment) , for shield Facing. I have decided to put cloth on both sides of my shield, but if I had Parchment on both, I would only have covered the front with cloth. Cloth will serve to better bind the shield together, improve resistance due to additional layers and provide a basis for later painting;

A Metal Boss, large enough to fit my hand and a protective glove;

A wooden handle, length of rope, some copper wire and two brass rings (more on handle fittings later);

A Good Amount of strong Wood Glue (not your regular craft PVA!) and some Wallpaper Adhesive;

Carpets Tacks (or similar small, narrow nails that look roughly like they were forged)- note that I chose to nail down my Rim, instead of stitching it to the shield and I will explain later why I made that choice;

Rivets, nails, threaded nuts and bolts or similar, to attach the Boss and the Handle;

Paint for the shield’s face.

As for necessary tools (and other things), you will need: a handsaw (jigsaw is also recommended, if you have access to one); a hacksaw (for metal); a drill and a set of bits, a hammer; a ball-point hammer (for riveting); measuring tape; snacks (many!); a pencil or a pen; suitable paint brushes; pliers; different sized spanners; a large bucket (or even better, a baby bath or similar); large amount of clamps and ratchets (the more the better); some heavy, flat objects for weighing the shield down while drying; a sharp knife, preferably Stanley-type one; a mug for tea and coffee (essential!); something you can use as an anvil for riveting (even a large old hammer or axe-head will do), a flat implement for spreading Glue, sandpaper a set of Files suitable for wood and metal.

Now, on to the making itself! Firstly, I glued together my 2 layers of plywood, using a moderate amount of Glue, just enough to create a thin, even layer. I have then clamped the plywood layers together and weighted them down with an assortment of heavy objects from my back-garden. This then took 24 hours to fully dry.

On my completed sheet of Plywood, I marked out the shield’s diameter. To do this, I found the centre of the rectangle and from it, I drew a circle of an appropriate Radius. Using a handsaw, I then cut the circle out (using a jigsaw will significantly speed this process up, if you have one or can borrow it from someone). Having done that, I then proceeded to cut the central hole out. I took my metal Boss and measured the size of the inside hole (which must be smaller than the diameter of the Boss itself and leave sufficient space between rivet-holes and the edge of the shield.). Then, I marked out the hole on my plywood blank and again cut it out, suing a drill and a handsaw. If you have access to a jigsaw, use it as it will be a lot easier! (NOTE: depending on where you live, you may be able buy, say from a timber specialist merchant, a sheet of plywood already cut as a circle and maybe even with a central hole. This option is worth exploring for those with bigger budget or less confident in their DIY skills). Finally, I used a file and some sandpaper to smooth out the edges on the inside and outside.

marking out the diameter on a glued-together Plywood sheet 6mm thick
Marking the Rivet-Holes

Now, I have a finished shield blank. The next stage, is to cover it with Rawhide Parchment, and then add Cloth facing and backing. To begin with, I had to soak my Parchment in water. I did this in a baby bath, but a large bucket would have done the job too. You will need an hour or more for the Parchment to soak through and through, depending on its thickness and what animal it came from. Note, that Parchment will usually come in shape of a whole hide, so will need some cutting and adjusting later on. With the soaked parchment and the shield laid flat on a raised surface, I first did a “dry run” of how the Parchment will be laid out; there were some areas where the sheets overlapped and this was absolutely fine- indeed, it will serve to offer stronger surface, once dried.

Rawhide Parchment soaking in water
It is absolutely essential ,to ensure there are no air pockets and that every part of the Parchment is glued down and stretched as taught as possible

Once I knew, where the Parchment will go, I added a layer of wood glue and spread it evenly across the shield, then proceeded to lay out the parchment. I carefully smoothed it out and ensured there were no air pockets left at all (they would undermine the shield’s integrity and appearance). Where the sheets of Parchment overlapped, I added a thin layer of glue, to ensure they stuck together properly. I stretched the Parchment all around the shield and used as many clamps as I had available, to put it in place. It took a while adjusting them and I had to move the clamps a lot to find the most optimal position- it was essential that the Parchment is stretched taught and even across the shield and that there were no air pockets, bulges or folds of any kind.

Initial stages of clamping and weighing the shield blank down. More weight and many, many more clamps were added.

Remember to fold the Parchment over the shield’s edge and clamp it in place that way. This is because, as it dries, the Parchment shrinks slightly. As it shrinks, it will tightly bind the shield together, adding much needed structural integrity. Parchment will also strengthen the edge itself, which is bound to receive a lot of impact and needs to be resilient. With clamps in place, I again used a collection of heavy objects to weigh the shield down and left it to dry. It took approx. 8 hours, before I was ready to remove the weights from the shield (if you can, leave them for longer, it will help ensure that the shield does not warp or bend, as the Parchment shrinks)- the shield will need at least 24 hours in a dry place to cure properly. Once dry, use a sharp knife to cut off any excess Parchment, that could not be clamped down properly. Remember to also cut out hole in the middle, where the Boss will go.

It was time to repeat the step- this time with Cloth. I started with the Backing and essentially repeated the process I used for the Parchment. The only difference was, that I used Wallpaper Adhesive instead of Wood Glue as it was still strong enough, but a lot more cost-effective for a step that was not so critical to the shield’s integrity. It is important, not to use too much glue and to carefully scrape off any excess that seeps through the cloth- it will add unnecessary weight and unsightly bulges, if you leave too much on. Again, shield needs to be clamped down, overlapping the Edges and left to dry. Wallpaper adhesive takes longer to dry, so you may need up to 48 hours for it to cure properly (Note– at this stage, I had removed weights from the shield sooner than I should have, before it was fully cured, which caused it to warp slightly and give it a concave appearance. Barely noticeable, but still there.)

Again, a lot more clamps and some weight was added, before the shield was left to cure. This was repeated for the Backing and Facing.

For the shield’s Facing, I used 2 layers of Cloth instead of one. This was because I wanted additional resilience and an additional layer of Glue and Cloth would help me achieve it, whilst adding minimal weight. Once all the Cloth and Glue layers cured properly I again cut off any excess left over. In the middle hole, instead of cutting the cloth out altogether, I cut into triangles, which would later be folded under the Boss. This would cover the plywood edges of the Boss-hole and make for a more visually appealing finish, as well as protecting my hand from any wood Splinters.

Cured shield with Facing and Backing done- note, that due to how tightly the Cloth was glued on, you can see the outlines of the Rawhide sheets and even clamp impressions-. This is to be expected, as is some amount of spare Cloth hanging over the edge- leave it on, it will be “folded” under the shield’s Rim, to help keep it together.

Some considerations and general thoughts for PART 1:

  • The use of Rawhide Parchment. As well as allowing me to reduce the thickness of the shield, it is a material that has some stretch and flexibility, allowing the shield to disperse any incoming blows and preventing plywood from splitting. It is a very resistant material, that is very hard to tear apart or puncture without the use of sharp weapons. Rawhide, rather than leather is used here because it is lighter, more water-resistant and generally harder, as well as having useful shrinkage properties. As far as we know from sources and archaeological records, both materials were used (Parchment was likely used more often) and if you wish, you can substitute Parchment for vegetable-tanned leather.
  • In retrospective, I would only have used 1 layer of Cloth as Facing, to make shield even lighter and I noticed that in combat the “top” layer of cloth gets damaged and ripped off the shield easily with harder blows, causing me to re-attach it. Therefore I recommend only 1 layer of Cloth.
  • Overall Thickness- reenactors tend to recommend that newbies and those in need of new shields make shields heavier than they need to be, partially because of the “received wisdom” phenomenon. This is stretching back to times when reenactors fought with a lot less finesse and a lot more force, especially when hitting shields. Fighting techniques have evolved, skills have advanced and combatants are generally a lot better at judging measure and force, instead of just going in “full strength”. Using what essentially is a Plywood table-top is no longer necessary, because we no longer fight in the same way we did in the 1990’s. The focus is now on manipulating opponent’s shields, finding gaps and forcing openings, instead of brute strength forcing its way through. This is why we see a lot of shields below 9mm overall thickness, something I did on this occasion as well.
  • Shield Diameter- it is important not to make the shield to big or too small. Generally, I would say do not make a shield any bigger than 90cm diameter, as it will be easy for opponent to manipulate/force open/hook and difficult to fit into a tight shieldwall formation (you will find it very hard to both fit into a gap and to retreat from a shieldwall) It will also be harder to raise/move the shield and it will generally get in the way. Make sure it is suitable for your size as a person as well, you should be able to hold and operate the shield comfortable for a prolonged period of time, in various positions. It should cover you sufficiently if you are tall and broad, but also if you are a physically smaller person do not make a shield that covers you from shins to chin, as it will feel and look “wrong”. I would say that a Viking-Age shield (Saxon, Viking, Welsh, Ottonian or Carolingian) should be at least 61cm in diameter, but no greater than 90cm, while Irish shields can start at 50cm up to 80cm in diameter (they tend to increase a in average size after the Viking incursions of the 9th century). I will exclude Pictish or Scots shields, as they tended to be different in shape and not the Germanic centre-grip round type we see. Carolingian and Ottonian shields (and later period Saxon) were convex “domed” type shields and had different bosses (sometimes none!)- better to do your own research if you want to know the specifics, but you can still follow the general principles outlined here. Note, that the sizes here are for 8th-10th century period and there is strong evidence for smaller shields earlier on (approx 50-70cm diameter) in Saxon Britain, while Germanic Iron Age shields seem to have remained consistent in size since Migration Period and range from 70 to 104cm (largest size I came across) in diameter. Also, there is strong evidence Vikings have adopted Domed shields themselves, certainly by 10th century, a fact that Reenacting scene is yet to acknowledge and represent in any meaningful scale.

That is it for this Post- in PART 2, you will see, how I went about finishing the shield, including adding the Boss, the Handle and the Rim.

Kit Improvements- making a new Viking Belt

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After a long hiatus, reenactment is back in full swing- and preparations are under way for a massive celebration of the Vikings’ (UK’s largest reenactment society, of which I am a proud member) 50th Anniversary, a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event, where we will celebrate our passion and hobby for a full week, with a record-breaking Battle of a Thousand Spears to culminate the festivities.

To that end, I need to make a few kit improvements- first project to tackle has been long-overdue improvement to my trusty old belt.

Why did i need to improve my belt?

There are two reasons for this- first, is the belt’s length. It was too long and fell into a category of accepted “reenactorisms”- repeated myths and tropes that have little to know research or sources behind them but permeate the world of reenactors. Generally speaking, belts used by most reenactors are too long and appear to be, with very few exceptions, ubiquitously tied with a “knot” that creates dangling end, sometimes going all the way down to a person’s knees. This is done with very little thought or research and is is simply a repetition of what one seen other people doing- I will talk more about this problem later in the article.

Second reason for change was that it was made out of Stamped leather (old purchase, from times before I knew better!)- a sort of decoration that was not used in the Viking Age, mostly because the leather used for belts was too thin to be stamped. Stamped leather belts have recently been banned altogether in our Society, which is a welcome direction form the Authenticity Team. Therefore- a change was needed.

My old belt, next to a strap of veg-tanned leather I purchased for this project. Note the Stamped decoration on the belt, which is not authentic and has now been banned by the Vikings UK.
Another side-by-side, with buckle and strap-end visible

First steps- removal of Fittings

My first step was to remove old fittings from my belt. Since there were in perfect condition and fitted my character (fittings are specifically Hiberno-Norse in provenance, with Strap end based on a Dublin find). I did not want to spend money on getting new ones- so off to work it was.

Using a junior Hacksaw, I have gently cut through the rivets, that held the Buckle in place. The rivets on the Strap-end were Copper and therefore softer, so I was able to cut them with pincers instead.

Second Stage- preparing the new belt

Now, I needed to attach the Buckle to my new belt and then cut it to an appropriate length.

I have purchased suitable Copper rivets and carefully measured out where they would go on the belt. Using a leather punch, I made two holes for the rivets. Notice a little cut in the middle of the strap- this is to accommodate the shape of the Buckle. You may need to make similar adjustments, based on the particular buckle you have. Remember to always measure and fit everything carefully and take as much time as you need to prepare. You want the leather to fit snugly into the Buckle, look presentable and not obstruct its movement.

This is why it is important not to cut the Belt until you have securely fitted the Buckle, as you may end up having to cut it if you make mistakes.

With the Rivets in place, they now needed to be cut- that is because they were too long and if I tried to rivet them down, they would bend and look unsightly as well as feel loose and maybe even damage the leather.

Riveting

It was now time to rivet down the copper rivets in place. To do that I needed a ball-point hammer and a sturdy, flat, metal surface to do the riveting on- like an anvil. You can use anything that resembles an anvil or even buy one – they come in various sizes and shapes. Alternatively, you can use a big metal Vice ,a sledgehammer head, a large axe-head, an old piece of Rail track, or any other large, flat and sturdy metal object that can be secured in place.

Using ball-point hammer can be a little tricky, so I recommend you do some practice first, if you never did it before. Riveting is delicate work and patience is far more important then strength.

When using a ball-point hammer, use little force, simple lift and drop the hammer, start hitting from the middle of the rivet. Once the head is somewhat flattened, start working around it, trying to gently “push” the metal out and down, going round and round in a circle. I recommend striking in a very slightly “forward” motion, as if to drag the metal out to where you want it to end up. Be gentle, patient and take your time. Make sure your rivet is held flat and upwards at all times and that it does not move around as you work on it. Work from the centre to the edges and make sure that you work evenly all around the rivet.

Practice makes perfect and so, as I said before, I recommend you try a few rivets first, maybe use a bottom of a tin can or small metal sheet to rivet through a few times, to give you an idea of how it works.

Fitting the Belt to size

Now, I could focus on how long my belt should be- as I said at the beginning, most reenactors have their belts far too long. I have done some research into the matter and there are 2 articles online that cover this topic in fantastic detail: https://sagy.vikingove.cz/en/the-length-of-early-medieval-belts/ and https://www.sippe-guntursson.de/en-length-of-belts-in-birka-and-the-dangling-strap-end.html

These articles should give you an in-depth view of Belts in the Viking Age, but let me summarize main points below:

Belts were generally only as long as needed. In archaeological finds, the length between the Buckle and the Strap end was between 5-25cm in most cases, with very few examples being longer (these are usually elaborate Eastern-Style belts and not to be used anywhere West of present-day Ukraine and possibly Hungary). The super-long belts with strap-ends dangling between one’s knees is a reenactorism and should be avoided. The “knot” we see so many reenactors use is also of dubious authenticity and there were other methods to secure the end of one’s belt. Having the end simple loose without securing it, using a Slider, puncturing two holes or tucking the belt directly itself, without a knot are all valid ways confirmed by archaeology. I have copied a couple of images below, for you to get an idea what can be used instead of the “reenactor’s knot”.

My choice of styling is shown in the first picture, with the finished Belt- 2 holes punctured simultaneously, with strap-end hanging loosely at an angle (see start of the article and towards the end for a picture). When using this method, both the Buckle and Strap-end are on full display. Considering that we have finds of very elaborate Buckles and buckle-plates, which are partially or completely covered when using “reenactor’s knot”, this method of wearing is a logical choice to show off one’s wealth and status.

Slider on a Birka belt, grave no 748; after Arbman 1943: 138, Abb. 83.
Strap end flipped back and tucked directly behind the belt- this will require having the strap-end decoration face “backwards” when belt is not worn; after Shrublands Quarry, Watson 2006: Fig. 6.

That is not to say that “Knot” is not authentic- it was used, especially in Merovingian and Carolingian France and in later Medieval times, but always with a much shorter belts than used by most modern-day reenactors.

I have decided that my belt will have more loose length than most finds, because I want to use 1 belt to wear with additional clothing, armour etc. Allowance for weight changes is also made, but very minimal. From the archaeologically confirmed scale of sizes, I chose the long end of the spectrum, as a safety measure. Belt can always be made shorter, but cannot be made longer!

Adding the Strap-End

Having decided on the size of my belt, it was time to fit the last piece- the Strap-end decoration.

Just as with the Buckle, I have pre-measured where the Rivets would go, then went on to cut them to size and rivet them down, followed by a thorough polish.

The Final Product

The Belt was now finished- made with correct leather, authentic fittings based on my character’s location and timeline (9-10th Century Irish Sea basin) and of an appropriate length.

Belt worn with loose end- at a comfortable fit, there is approx. 15-20cm of “loose” strap left, down to 10cm left when wearing additional layers or armour.
My chosen style of wearing- 2 holes are punctured at the Buckle, leaving the end loose. Notice, that both the Buckle and the Strap-end are fully visible, allowing to show them off properly.

Final Thoughts

I am very pleased with my new Belt- as well as wearing it differently and. I believe, more correctly than most.

But why do these “reenactorisms” of belt length and style of wearing persist? As for length, there are a few answers. For one, the Traders and Suppliers- it is far easier and far more practical, to make “one-size fits all” type of Belt, than it is to make Custom-sized Belts for each customer or to make huge variety of Belt sizes and hope they will sell. Since reenactors vary in size from “stick-thin”, through “Built like a Brick out-house” to “so fat, they outweigh the Needs of the Many”, it follows that the longer the belt, the more people will be able to wear it. Having many different sizes on offer comes with a lot of work, a lot of display space and, inevitable, a lot of unsold stock. While making Belts to measure takes time, effort and is often not practical at a Show or a Market. So, we have super-long belts that fit everyone, even if for most of us it means having a piece of leather all the way down to our knees.

This create a situation, where supply of long belts results in everyone wearing overly-long belts. Thus the practical necessity of Trade becomes accepted “truth” of authenticity, if no one stop to think about it, research the matter or question the “received wisdom”. Another answer is the (incorrect) assumption, that more material, means more wealth- so individuals trying to portray wealth and status will go for very long, dangly belts. While generally true for Clothing and Cloaks, this does not apply to Belts- we have no evidence at all, that wealthy Vikings wore their belts longer than anyone else. It is a case of taking one generally accepted idea and applying it to another sphere, without research or pause for thought. Again, through repetition, “received wisdom” and visual reinforcement of this notion, it has become generally accepted, even though it is incorrect.

As for the “reenactor’s knot” being so widely used, this comes down to issue of belt length (is is the easiest way to manage a very long belt), repetition of “received wisdom”, lack of research (why look into something that I was already told by another reenactor) and simple convenience. The “knot” is easy to do, looks ok and is confirmed from sources, although not for all belt types and not in all regions. Is is also adopted from Medieval and later periods, which are better attested to, than the Dark Ages. Again, I want to emphasize that I do not wish to see this style banned- merely that other styles are consider and that usually, the “knot” is the least appropriate way of wearing one’s belt, especially when it is of a correct length.

With that it is time to finish- it is good to post again and you can look forward to more content soon, as well as updating some of my older Posts (I learn and develop all the time, so a lot of what I wrote before is a little “out of date” after all these years!).

Making an Axe Sheath

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Hello to You all, from a UK-wide lockdown, following the COVID-19 pandemic. The reenactment season has been put on hold, with pretty much every show, meeting and training session cancelled at least until June. Life, however, goes on and I have not been idle- well, not completely at least.

There are several projects in the pipeline, I have received some cooking gear, including a fetching small cauldron from Wieland Forge, which will be ideal for cooking my morning porridge in, once season picks up. I have made a new linen hood, for the summer days when sun is high and the head needs covering. I am still working on a few things, but for now I will present a finished project- a sheath I have made for my combat axe.

Sheaths for axes are attested both in archaeology and in other sources and were used to protect the blade from the elements, to prevent any accidental damage to belts, fittings etc. from an exposed sharp blade and (as far as I know) also to prevent hasty use of an axe in anger, similar to Peace Straps sometimes fitted to sword scabbards. Many a death was potentially prevented, by finding that the axe you intended to use has got a fidgety sheath that you need to take off it first.

Below are some examples of the type of sheath I am talking about. There is also a post on a patreon site of the Dimicator, which has an excellent illustration of a sheath made for a Dane Axe.

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axe sheaths

Having decided upon making my own axe sheath, it was time to get some materials. I have started by re-using some leather thong I had left over after disposing of my arm guards. I have stopped using arm guards a while ago, because, as my technique improved and experience grew, I have learned not to put my forearm in harm’s way and to position myself so that I do not get him on forearms. I also try not to “parry” with them, as it makes for a poor fighting technique, especially from an observer’s point of view. Technically it’s fine in our sport, as forearms are not a hit zone, but I think it’s better not to put a body-part in the way of a blow!

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So, I have decided to cut up my old leather arm guards and re-use the material on another project (more on that later). The thong- this will be used on my axe sheath.

Next, I needed a suitable piece of wood, which would be cut to size and shape, then made into a sheath. We have two ways of making a sheath- putting two pieces of wood together, or using one piece with the middle of it taken out. I have decided on the latter, since I am not great (yet!) at carving out wood.  First, I drew out a pattern I wanted to get, covering the axe blade and a bit of the head, roughly following the shape of the blade.

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I have used a drill to remove the middle of my piece of wood (yes, a drill, get over it, you’re welcome to buy and send me a set of authentic chisels and drill bits if it bothers you that much!). Then, a bit of sandpaper to smooth out the edges, after checking for fit.

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Once I was sure the sheath actually fit the axe, it was time to do some shaping and finer work. Using a knife, I refined the shaped and worked away at the wood, until it was the desired shape. Note, that the piece of wood is somewhat thicker than the historical descriptions I included earlier- this was deliberate, to allow for rigours of reenacting and repeated use, transport etc. without the need to replace the sheath every few months.

To finish off I used some sandpaper on my sheath, to remove any rough edges, pencil marks and other imperfections. Then, using a drill I made two holes for the leather thong to pass through.

Finally, it was time to check the final fit- just right! All it needs now is a coat of linseed oil to seal and preserve the wood.

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Authentically they would not use linseed oil (we do not even have any proof of it’s extraction for the Viking Age), but some other treatment was likely, perhaps simple grease, maybe paint or some other oil? The methods of authentic wood preservation are a topic for a PHD thesis in their own right and not something I will cover in this post. All that is left is, if I want to, to add some carved decoration on the sheath. In the future I might make another one, with a finer shape, perhaps an exact copy of a find. For now, I am happy with this one I made. Time to move on to other unfinished pieces…

 

 

Decorating my Viking Sword Scabbard

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Time for a little inspiration- some time ago, I saw a very inspiring video from the Dimicator, also known as Roland Warzecha. He is a reenactor, swordsman, martial arts instructor and a researcher. If you are not familiar with his work, I thoroughly recommend for you to have a look at his Facebook, YouTube channel and Patreon page.

So, the video I saw, talked about making a new scabbard, which featured a textile cover instead of leather and also textile bands wrapped around the bottom half of the scabbard, instead of a sword chape.

Various metal sword chapes will be a familiar sight to any reenactor and are very popular as means to decorate and protect a scabbard:

(images taken from jellingdragon.com, etzy.co.uk and kultofathena.com)

Whilst very attractive and practical as well, these chapes are seldom found in archaeological record, especially when you compare the number of chapes found to number of sword finds. Many researchers agree, that sword chapes, especially before the 11th century were not a common sight, perhaps only the domain of the rich.

And yet, there is a very practical question to be answered- how was the scabbard decorated and protected? As any reenactor will tell you, leather scabbards tend to get a lot of wear and tear, through rubbing against other surfaces (especially armour and other weapons), resting them on the ground with the point being subsequently worn or through battle damage. Using a sword chape is one way to prevent such damage. But there must have been other ways to help to prevent the damage and also to add some decoration to the scabbard. That, my friends, is where the Dimicator video comes in.

It is argued, that textile bands would be used to bind the bottom of the scabbards and then wound around it, in an X like pattern, to provide decoration and additional protection from wear and tear. Alternatively, leather could also have been used to a similar end, but textile is the material I decided to go with, as it is cheaper, easier to work with and provides more opportunities for decoration. To illustrate my point, have a look at a few manuscript illustrations from Carolingian era (and one from Crusades era), where this details of scabbard decoration is best visible:

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Seeing this inspired me to improve my own scabbard, which was beginning to show evidence of the wear and tear damage so typical of reenactment use.

So, without further ado, lets get into the nitty-gritty of how I went about decorating my Viking scabbard!

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My trusty scabbard, in it’s original state- note that at the very bottom, damage already starts to appear, as well as minor scratches at the sides. Time to get some textile on!

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I used left-over wool fabric, from another project. I cut a long strip of wool into thin bands, approximately 2cm wide. You may want to do the same, or cut linen fabric instead, or perhaps get a woven wool or linen band for better aesthetics. To put them on, I will need glue, a small nail/carpet tack and a measuring tape.

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First, I would  my textile band tight around the bottom of the scabbard. To hold it in place, I nailed it to the tip of the scabbard with a single small carpet tack ( a nail would also do), rest is held together by glue and good old friction.

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I used a measuring tape as a guide for my criss-crossing bands, to ensure they are equally spaced out. It would be equally good to make them bigger, the higher up the scabbard they go, as this is also something we see on contemporary illustrations. I recommend a “dry run” for this, before having a go with glue etc., as it can take some practice to get the design and the technique right.

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As I kept building up my pattern, I had to join separate bands of wool together, as I did not have a single one that was long enough. Best to try to get a band to end when making a straight line, as opposed to an “X”, then tuck the loosed end into the back. You can take another band and tuck that one in as well, before proceeding with another “X”. Remember to use glue as you go along and to always do at least one practice run.

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For better protection, I wound two bands on top of each other. If I were using a woven band, such as a tablet woven braid, I would only need one band, as they are naturally thicker and more resistant. I also need to mention, that cut bands tend to fray at the edges, so if you are feeling like putting extra effort in for best look, you might want to cut thicker bands and hem them in, to prevent fraying.

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My pattern is almost finished, now I need to let it dry out and then I can get on with impregnating the fabric.

 

 

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To impregnate the fabric I stuck on my scabbard, I used beeswax. I heated the bar just a little and kept rubbing the half-molten wax into the wool, applying it liberally. Then I took out a heat gun (a hair dryer would also do, or a bonfire/BBQ if you are feeling authentic). Stick the scabbard near the heat source and keep it there just long enough for the wax to melt and sink into the fabric. That will keep it from getting wet, make it stick down better and provide better protection form any damage.

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And here we go! A finished product. This will make my scabbard stand out a bit as well as provide extra protection. In the future, I might go over this again (budget permitting!) or perhaps just start a new scabbard project… But I am very happy with the look and the additional protection for my precious sword and it’s scabbard. I hope you have enjoyed my latest kit project and I hope I encouraged some of you to experiment and do some research into this yourself. Until next time!

How to make a Viking Coat (Hiberno-Norse style)

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Recently, after a few good seasons, I have decided to make a new coat for myself, seeing as the old one was getting on a bit. Being my first go, it did not fir that well, it was getting a bit tatty, torn and generally had a lot of wear and tear. Time for an upgrade!

You should all be familiar with the cloak, which is together with the hood the most ubiquitous form of outerwear to protect oneself from the elements. I also own a cloak myself, a large 2-layered one that serves as a blanket as well as a cloak. You might also be familiar with the “Kaftan” style coats that are seen in the Eastern setting, mostly on Rus Vikings, Slavs and some Steppe peoples. Something of the kind can be seen below (taken from an online shop gambeson.pl):

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A “Wrap around” warrior coat is also sometimes seen, usually on very early kits, often associated with Anglo-Saxon setting or the Migration period, though it was also known in Scandinavia and other places:

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The coat I am making, however, is somewhat more obscure.

The group I am a member of and the character I portray belong to the Hiberno-Norse setting, sometimes referred to as Norse-Gaels or the Gall-Gaidheil. I am talking about the Norse who settled in the Irish Sea basin, the Orkneys, Hebrides, Ireland and Isle of Man and their descendants. It is a very specific setting of the Vikings both in time and in cultural context. Much like the Rus vikings, the Hiberno-Norse had their own style of dress, their own decorations and their own very distinctive flavour. Mostly the descendants of the Norse who first started settling in the area in the late 9th century, the Gall-Gaidheil retained a lot of their Viking heritage, while quickly adopting many local customs and cultural traits, including language and dress.

This is where the coat I have made enters the scene.  Before I begin, I must however make a disclaimer: WARNING- THE GARMENT RECONSTRUCTED HERE IS A HIGHLY SPECULATIVE ONE AND LITTLE EVIDENCE FOR IT IS TO BE FOUND. AS WELL AS PICTORIAL, ANECDOTAL AND LITERARY EVIDENCE, I HAVE USED EDUCATED GUESSES AND SOME CONJECTURE. NO PHYSICAL FIND I AM AWARE OF REPRESENTS THIS EXACT GARMENT. IT IS ACCEPTED BY MOST THAT IT IS AN AUTHENTIC PIECE OF CLOTHING BUT THIS IS OPEN TO DISCUSSION. So much for disclaimers. Now, that you have been warned, lets get on with the coat itself. Have a look at examples of the type of coat I am talking about below:

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The type of coat I am referring to is open at the front, with pins, brooches, toggles or hooks used for fastening. It comes down to just below the hips, sometimes down to the knees. It has a distinctly curved bottom edge, making it longest at the back and shortest at the front. It is often decorated with tablet woven braid and is lined, usually with linen, but wool can be used as well, to create an extra warm coat. It is relatively close-fitting.

We call this coat a “rowing coat”- because it is ideal for use on board of a ship, where it does not get in the way like a cloak would and covers one better that a wrap-around coat. In this post however, I am going to refer to it as “the Ionar coat”, which is a traditional Gaelic/Irish type of coat, worn from early medieval times right up until early modern times. Though it is obviously very different, traditional Ionar coat served as inspiration for our “rowing coat”:

220px-Gaelic_clothing_Ireland Traditional Irish dress was combined with images we have from runestones found on the Isle of Man, where depicted several times are figures wearing coats or robes, that appear opened at the front and curved at the bottom:

 

Added, some literary evidence ( “Early Gaelic Dress An Introduction, by Scott Barrett, 2006” and “From Dál Riata to the Gall-Gaidheil” by Kruse, A & Jennings, 2009 are two sources I have used for this post) and here we go- a very plausible interpretation of a coat, adapted from local garments to serve as durable and practical outerwear.

And so, here we go- the Ionar coat, also known as Hiberno-Norse rowing coat. A distinctly Western garment from the Irish Sea region, worn by Norse-Gaels and others in the region.

Now, on to the practical bit- How did I make this coat? Let’s have a look at the finished product first:

The old coat, complete with a missing toggle:20190627_130042

And the new one:

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First step was obviously to arrive at a pattern. Due to lack of physical evidence some conjecture is necessary, but I tried to keep it to a minimum. The basic design is very similar to a generic Viking tunic, bar a few modifications. This being an outer garment, it had to be more accommodating as well, as underneath it would be two other garments, an undertunic and a tunic.

To modify the tunic design, I used a modern-day coat I knew fit me well. All I did was take a few measurements and applied them to a tunic pattern, to make it more coat-like.

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First to be made, were front and back pieces. I made them identical, and just long enough to cover my backside, plus extra for seams and hems. The idea is, that when you sit down, you sit on the coat, keeping you warm, but without the coat getting in your way- do not make it longer than down to the knees. The only difference between front and back pieces is, that front piece will be split into two:

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As well as front and back pieces, I have done two side pieces. Normally, I would use gussets, but in order for the coat to allow sufficient mobility and to be able to fit other garments underneath it, I opted for side pieces instead, going under the arms. Strictly speaking this should be a gusset, but I found it too difficult to do, without looking like I am having wings attached to my sleeves! The side pieces will be sewn under the arms:

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Assembled pieces, first just the outer layer of wool, then together with the linen lining:

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Next step, was to sew the ready pieces together, ready for the sleeves to be put in:

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Also at this stage, I have done the curved bottom of the garment, first marking it out, then cutting and sewing it up. Properly done, this should be taken care of at pattern-drawing stage, but with my level of ability, I was more comfortable doing it this way:

Then time to sew up all the edges, save for where the sleeves will go. At this stage, I also did the neckline.

Now, on to the sleeves! The measurements were a bit tricky (again, professionally this would have been done at pattern stage, but I have always been useless at drawing patterns…) but I got them done after several attempts. The sleeves are snug fit at the cuffs and wide at the arm, as should all Viking garments be. First, I attached the sleeves to the main coat, then I have sewn them up. I did however adjust the sleeves at the fitting stage, as at first the fit was awkward. Instead of simply sewing up straight sleeve together, I used safety pins to find just the right way for the seam to fit around my arm. First, I had sewn in the sleeve into the armhole, the put my arm through it. I let the fabric drape around my arm naturally, the lifted it up to shoulder height. With some safety pins, I had pinned the fabric in the shape that fit me just so, and then I cut off the excess.  Then, all it took was to stitch the sleeves up and hem in the cuffs.

Now, the garment is nearly done. All edges done, it is time to apply decoration. In this instance, it was tablet woven braid- some wool and some linen, done all around the edges, the neck and the cuffs:

Braid attached, it was time for fastening. I have decided for clothing hooks instead of toggles- the hooks are a raven design from Birka, but this same design is found all over the Viking world on banners, coins (see York coin finds) etc.- it was important for me to choose a ubiquitous design and to avoid anything Eastern or Rus in provenance. It is very easy to pick items that are geographically inappropriate so some research is necessary. And no, just because something was found in Birka, Eastern Sweden, does not make it appropriate for the entire Viking-settled world ;-).

 

And that, my friends, was the last step! Now, the garment is ready and I am looking forward to wearing it. I hope this piece has inspired you to try your hand at Hiberno-Norse costume and maybe some of you will become more interested in Western style kit. I hope this guide was helpful- if you have any comments, do share!

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