How to make a Viking tunic- the lazy man’s way

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This time, I am going to publish a type of post I have not done in a long while. It has been so long since I posted about making a garment… I thought I’d share my latest experience on making a Dark Age tunic.

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The tunic is suitable for Viking, Saxon, Norman, Slavic or Celtic setting. The basic design, as most of you will know, is so ubiquitous, that it can easily be used for practically all Dark Age cultures in Europe.

There are of course a lot of guides and patterns available online already, not to mention ready-made items available to buy from a variety of suppliers. You are all probably familiar with the most basic patterns, where you essentially sew a few rectangles together, put a hole for a head in and add side gussets.

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So how is this design different? Well, instead of using a traditional pattern, I have developed one of my own, to ensure better fit- almost tailored if you like. Since I am not very good at making patterns, or garment design, I had to come up with a very simplistic way of creating a pattern that would fit me well, instead of just sort of hanging loose like a sack with armholes and a head opening put in.

In the end, what I had done, was to take an old throw-away shirt and cut it into separate pieces- front, back and both sleeves. Since the shirt fit well, I knew that the final garment also would. Once the sacrificial shirt was cut up, I was ready to modify the cut-out pattern, to make it actually authentic.

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I have made the garment longer, so that it comes down to just a little above the knee. I have made an authentic neck-line and added side gussets (tunic is a side-split type) and gussets under the arms. Once finished, the tunic would still look authentic and be perfectly usable, whilst fitting a little better and allowing a better range of movement.

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Once I had my pattern drawn out and cut out, I set about putting the garment together. First, front and back pieces were sewn together, and a head opening made. To make sure I did everything correctly, I tried on the garment at each stage of production. Sleeves were added on as a second stage, But I did not sew them up all the way. Instead, i have left a fair bit loose near the arm, so that I could put a gusset in. I have also left hemming until last.

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Next stage was putting in the arm gussets and sewing the sides together, but only a little bit. Most of the length of the side split on the tunic was taken up by the side gusset, and only a few centimeters space was left between where the side gusset ended and the arm one begun.

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Side gussets were sewn in last- all left to do after was to hem the tunic in, finish the neck line and add optional decoration. On my garment, I have added some Saxon-style embroidery near the neck, so that tunic will form a part of my Saxon outfit. Though it could technically be used with other outfits too, if needs be, it would look odd if I did so.  If you are making your first tunic, or need one for more that one type of outfit, best to steer clear of decoration, which gives the cultural context away. On the side note, may I add, that embroidery takes time. A LOT of time. Even that little bit I did took few good hours to complete, from drawing on a pattern with a pencil, to putting in the last stitch.

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So there we have it- a Saxon tunic, with a bit of embroidery and a good, flattering fit, made easy by using a sacrificial shirt instead of copying often complicated sewing patterns. It is a bit of a cheat, but it looks right, make me look good and it was the quickest way to make a tunic from scratch I have tried so far, apart from the most basic “sack with sleeves” type of design. Now the only question is, when will I get to wear it? Time to think of a show to go to as a Saxon warrior…

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