The queen’s red dress (1)

The older of the two women interred in the Oseberg ship was wearing a red dress. She appears to have been important in her community, and, for the purposes of this project, I’m calling her a queen. The first little sample I’m making is a fragment of what might have been the cuff end of the sleeve of her dress. I’ve based the design on one of the Oseberg silk fabrics:

The drawing of the dress is done on watercolour paper and coloured with pencils and watercolour, then cut out so that I can position it somewhere on the finished page. It’s basically the shape of a Viking dress, though it appears to be doubtful that they would have decorated the hem in that way – but then this is a purely imaginative project, so I’m telling myself I can do what I like. It’s only for my amusement, so it doesn’t really matter too much if I go a bit rogue. 

Those little triangles on the design looked like patchwork to me. Scholarly opinion seems to state that the Vikings didn’t do patchwork, given that none has ever been found. This doesn’t seem logical to me. If fabrics were difficult to produce, and some were expensive, it seems obvious (to me, at least) that any Viking woman would sew small bits of fabric together to make something bigger rather than waste them. It’s true that the cutting pattern for dresses generated very little waste (it’s a bit like cutting out kimono, more or less a series of rectangles) but there’s always something left over, in my experience. Anyway, there’s my first major departure from accepted Viking technique. Pretty impressive, really, since I haven’t even started yet. Going back to the design, I thought I’d have a go. I wasn’t sure this would work, given that the triangles are about half a centimetre on their right-angled sides:

(Normal-sized glass-headed pin for scale). The fabrics are fine silk dupion and batik Pima cotton. It took a while, and a bit of concentration, but – well, of course it worked:

And now I’m having a rummage through a little pile of red.

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12 Responses to The queen’s red dress (1)

  1. Fny says:

    I’ll be curious to see the finished result!

  2. Chloe says:

    Beautiful work, Karen! I completely agree with you that just because none has been found doesn’t mean patchwork didn’t exist and anyway it’s refreshing to not feel confined by someone else’s rules. It’s fascinating watching you bring these old fabrics to life.

    • Karen says:

      Thank you, Chloe. I do enjoy breaking a few rules. I’m convinced that one day they will find Viking patchwork though!

  3. Definitely wonderful to watch the progress. And I am in awe for the tiny triangles!

    • Karen says:

      Thank you! I used to do a lot of miniature work (12th scale) but find it much harder these days. I can’t even thread a needle without my reading glasses.

  4. It’s only a step from adding a mending patch to reinforce something to thinking “Ooh, I could easily make that prettier!”. And I can just as easily imagine someone splicing together two bits of patterned silk to make a longer piece and liking the effect…

  5. christicarterphotography says:

    Have I said it already? I am sooooooo glad you are back to stitching AND blogging!!
    I’m following your project(s) with great admiration & enthusiasm!

    • Karen says:

      And I’m equally glad you were patient enough to wait for me! I’m really looking forward to getting going on this one. Thanks for being here, Christi 🙂

  6. Amanda says:

    That dinky patchwork is right up your street.

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