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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.



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.



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…


Hand Axe- a closer look


As you may remember, I have written a post some months ago, presenting the virtues of a hand axe and trying to raise its profile a little in comparison to the sword. In this post, rather than introduce the weapon, I will present a more comprehensive guide to the various techniques and tricks available to an axeman. The more experienced warriors will probably not learn anything new, but I would welcome your comments and opinions, while the beginners will ( I hope!) learn some interesting and useful stuff to help them become more proficient!


Axe In The Shieldwall

In my opinion, axes rule in the shieldwall, pure and simple. Yes,  a sword is faster and has far larger cutting edge- but in the confines of a shieldwall, it is difficult to use these traits to their full advantage. With an axe, you need less space to use it effectively, have the same range, and you can shorten or lengthen your weapon, depending on how close-quarters you get. An axeman is comfortable to get extremely close to his opponent, which is especially useful if your line is making a decisive push forward, something that swordsmen and especially spearmen cannot handle this well.



An axe is perfect for hooking shield and weapons in the enemy line. Simply hook an opponent’s shield down, hold it there for just a few seconds and wait for someone to put in that killing shot into the exposed body- this trick works best in tandem with a spearman, who can strike at an exposed body part the moment an axeman makes an opening. This makes axe-spear the deadliest weapon combination to face on the field, with much more versatility than just a pair of swords or even sword-spear, spear-spear combinations.

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In the same way you pull away shields, you may hook weapons, to keep the enemy occupied or to try to disarm them. Remember never to hook limbs, as this is dangerous, especially around knees, and to always pull down, when disarming or using a circular parry, to avoid a weapon flying through the air..


Axes are also ideal for defending against spears- due to their top-heavy balance and larger contact area, they are superb for knocking spears down, or to the side. A good axeman can defend against a spearman for ages, preventing him from making any kills, and making it easier for his own line.

In Single Combat

When fighting as an individual, an axeman must remember the limitations of his weapon- ie. he will always be slower than a swordsman of same ability and will almost always be outfenced by one. He will also have control over his weapon and have only a small cutting edge to make kills with.

But the answer to these limitation, is not to play the swordsman’s game- instead enforce your own rules of engagement.

By far, the most popular trick is this: you rush forward, fending off incoming blows with your shield. Once you are very close to your opponent (one, maybe two feet) you shorten your axe’s haft and then pull your opponents shield out of their way- strike for their chest as soon as it becomes exposed by pushing your axe into it. Performed with confidence and fluidity, this move wins axemen most of their fights- but it is also a widely known trick and your opponent will expect it, making it harder to pull off.



My personal favourite trick, is to attack the opponent’s weapon instead of their body, and attempt to take control of it. As soon as your opponent presents his weapon forward, strike for it, and try to hook your axe around it. Once you have your axe hooked on the opponent’s weapon, use a circular parry to move it out of your way, and step forward at the same time. Release your weapon, and use your shield to cover the enemy’s weapon, while you yourself strike for the exposed side/shoulder. This trick requires speed- to hook the weapon and move it out to one side, before the enemy can react- as well as good footwork, to ensure that when you step forward, you maintain your balance and you land exactly where you need to be in relation to your opponent. It is a more complicated technique and requires practice, but is very effective and may even result in your opponent loosing their grip on their weapon, and becoming disarmed.



Another vital technique to use, is feints- even though the axe is not as fast as a sword, feints can be performed with just as much success, but the technique needs a little adjusting. I find it easier to follow through with my initial attack, and allow my opponent to block it. Once I have made contact with the shield, or the weapon, then I put another shot, this time to a different body part, in the same instant. This technique relies on your opponent to over-commit to his defense, so the initial shot must be really “sold” to them. With enough speed and practice you should be able to make your next (“the real”) attack to connect with the body. As with most feints, this works best with a high-low feint: strike high, for the shoulder, and once the enemy has committed to defense and the blow has connected, with all speed you strike low, trying to get underneath the shield or past their weapon. This relies a lot on you being able to convincingly put in big, scary shots, forcing the opponent to commit fully to their defense.

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Shieldwork, is yet another very important element of using the axe effectively. I find, that with an axe, a flexible stance and active (even aggressive) shieldwork are required. What do I mean by it? Well, normally, a warrior will keep their shield static, only moving it as little as necessary, to parry incoming blows. I tend to move mine a lot instead, but always with a purpose in mind. I will actively put my shield in the way of an opponent’s weapon, almost “punching” into the blow, or follow their weapon around, wherever it goes. If I can, I will make sure that their weapon makes contact with my shield, so that I can feel where it is, and “glue” my shield to their weapon, to render it effectively useless. Often, I will try to hook my opponent’s shield away using my own, or to block their field of vision with it.

Parry-riposte is also very useful trick, where you parry a blow with a shield, and momentarily take control of the weapon, by forcefully pushing it, or skilfully rolling it, out of your way and to the side. At the same time, strike your opponent back, into the opening you have just created.

The above techniques are more advanced, and require very good footwork, flexible stance and fast reactions, as well as experience. A good idea is to practice slowly, at half-speed at first and gradually speed things up, as you become more confident using these techniques.


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Another trick, while simple, is rather brutal: simply batter the opponent into submission, launching attack after attack, left, right and centre. Keep your defence solid and keep on attacking, never giving them a moment’s rest. Advance forward and push on, and do not give the enemy a second’s respite. As a result, less experienced, or more timid warriors ( as well as those more used to “fencing matches” and “tappy shots”) will often make a mistake, either by loosing their balance, panicking or even becoming tired and slowing their reactions down. This technique requires aggression, control (be aggressive, but always safe and always pull your blows), stamina and good defense. More experienced or more naturally aggressive warriors will not fall for this trick, so judge your opponent wisely.


These are a majority of available techniques and tricks, but not an exhaustive list. Warriors with more years under their belts than myself will surely have something to add and improve!

Also, the techniques shown above would all be used by actual warriors on the battlefields of the Viking Age (they would not of course pull blows or be concerned with safety rules!). I hope this was an interesting and informative post- feel free to put your comments and add further to the topic!

The Training


So, I thought in this post, I would write a little about how the training looks for a viking re-enactor. I am a member of a re-enactment group based in Staffordshire, called “Y DDraig”. We meet most Mondays for combat training, as the biggest (and most spectacular) part of our hobby is the fighting, and to fight well, one must train hard!

Let me start by sharing a few photos taken at one of our sessions:100_7500 100_7506 As you can see, we are traning (mostly) in our civilian clothes, wearing only the necessary protective gear, for convenince. The protective equipment includes: thick gloves (mandatory, unless you fancy broken fingers), a helmet (also mandatory, broken teeth and cracked skulls are no fun), and optionally, a shield, armguards, kneed pads etc.- anything to prevent injury. Many of us train in their authentic costume and armour (well as much of it as we can be bothered with), either becasue we just like it, or to get used to wearing it in the field, or both.

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One on one combat is an essential part of training- this is where we work on footwork, basic and advanced attacks and parries, and, most importantly, try get get the better of one another! Learning the movements and various fighting tricks, as well as practising our speed and reflexes, takes up most of our time at trainings. Even walking must be practiced, as without good footwork a warrior will never win a fight- balance and swift movement are everything.

In the photos you can see me (wearing white tunic and a coloured hood) fighting two members of the group, one a tutor, teaching new me some new techniques and moves (above) and the other, a fellow warrior in a competetive fight, where we use the stuff we learned before in practice (below).



And, of course we also train to fight as a group, in formation. We will split into tow sides and hone our skill as a group, fighting in a line, against an enemy and trying to overcome them. This is even more important tham individual combat, as when we attend events and battles, we always fight as a group, and without knowing how to do it we can never win, no matter how great we are individually. We learn manouvers, teamwork, commands and what to watch out for in the shield wall, and we learn how to fight as a single, effective unit:



All this hard training, has one purpose of course- so that when we attend a show, or a battle, we can be the winning side! No one likes to spend the entire battle as a corpse, staring at the clouds, so learning how to stay alive is essential. We we also must know how to make kills, so that our side may prevail in the battle. And, obviously, we must learn how to fight safely, avoiding injury to ourselves and any other warriors on the field, or indeed, the public.

Now, the public events is where our hobby really shines! Everyone in full authentic kit, no modern stuff allowed, spending a day or two (or three if we are lucky) as Vikings! And, of course the more fights the better! After all this is what we came here for! The thrill of battle an dthe fight to come is something truly amazing, and for me the adrenaline rush, the noise, the nerves and the experience of fighting for your life (well, not quite, but as close to it as me can make it) is something I absolutely love! There is no better feeling, than fighting in the thick of battle, parrying blows, making kills and facing your opponents. Whether you live or die, does not matter, as long as you have fun- and the more you train the more fun you will have!

Here aresome photos for you to see what such event looks like and why training is so important! And hopefully, you will get a feeling of what it feels like to be “in the shield wall”:

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So much for the description of training, and how important it is to train and fight well. Next time: a very special post, about making your own padded armour!