A late 14th century woman's gown from Uvdal in Norway
Made in 2007

This costume was made as a part of my Mater's test in the medieval society Nordrike's Tailor's Guild. In this test the applicant, who's already a journeyman in the guild, must make three complete costumes. Since Nordrike as a group covers the years 600-1600 one of the things tested is the knowledge of more than one historic period, thus they must be from from different times/regions, so that attempting master shows his/her knowledge of more than one era. Both sexes must also be represented. One of the costumes must be totally hand sewn and no visible machine stitching is allowed on the other costumes. In one of the costumes the body-covering garment: cotte, kirtle, whatever you call it, must be based on a preserved garment.

This costume meets both the requirement that it should be totally hand sewn and that one of the garments should be based on a preserved garment. In fact the whole costume is based on one find of a woman's complete costume, from grave 31 in the Uvdal stave Church in Norway.

The find is only published in the doctoral dissertation of Marianne Vedeler: Klaer og formspråk i norsk middelalder, from 2007. I have used not only her presentation of the find, but also her interpretation of it's cut and look. It is not possible to remove the different layers of clothing from the very well preserved body without damaging them, so Vedeler has done a demanding detective work where she, among other methods, has used CT-scanning to study all layers.
   A reconstruction of the costume in the grave is made more difficult by the fact that this type of gown with gathered pleating over the body, of which there are more examples from Uvdal and from Herjolfsnes, is not seen in period artwork.[1] This does, on the other hand, makes it even more interesting to reconstruct, since there are at least three larger archaeological finds, but no pictures of it.

In Vedeler's dissertation there is a drawing of her interpretation of the gown. It has (curiously enough) been drawn on a typical female body from 13th century art, that is: without breasts and very tall and slender. The drawing can be seen in this Norwegian article. That drawing is of course under copy right, so I have drawn my own; instead showing the gown on a natural, proportional body. This can be seen to the right.

In addition to the gown the buried woman wore a linen shift with traces of madder, hose, mittens and a hood. Apparently she didn't wear an under tunic/cotte, as was common in the Middle Ages, all layers are, however, preserved and there's no trace of such a garment.

The shift
The shift was made from very coarse linen: 8-9 threads/cm. There were also traces of madder and tannins in the fabric, which suggests that it was dyed a reddish (or pink, or peach, or pale orange...) colour.[2] I couldn't find that coarse linen, mine has c. 12 threads/cm, but it's till much coarser than anything I would have chosen normally. But, with the help of Felicitas Schwarzbergin who has done some natural dyeing, I did dye it with madder.

The linen was first washed in the machine, on hot, so that it shrunk. Then it was washed with sodium carbonate. This is done to remove the lignin from the fibre. The lignin is what makes the fibre shiny and also what makes it hard to dye. I used 150 gram of sodium carbonate with approx. 6 litres of water and 1 kg fabric (dry weight). It was kept just below boiling temperature for an hour and one could see how the water turned brownish from the dissolved lignin. Then the fabric was rinsed and put in a strong bath of green tea. Green tea contains more tannins than black tea. In medievalrecipess oak apple gall would have been used, but they're somewhat hard to get hold of and more expensive, so I used tea instead; the tannins are the same. The fabric was left in this bath over night. At the same time 1,5 kg of madder was soaked, and also left over night, to better release the dye.

The next day I removed the fabric and wringed the excess "tea" out if it before putting it in a strong mordant bath of 250 grams of alum to c. 5 litres of water. The fabric was left there for five hours. After soaking up as much mordant as it could I rinsed the fabric by washing it on the gentle cycle in the machine (without detergent). Finally Felicitas and I took the mushy madder and put it in a large plastic tub, on top of an old nylon net curtain. The curtain was used to make a big bag to keep the madder contained, loose pieces of madder can get stuck to the fabric and spot it with stronger red. I filled up with c 35 litres of water and then put the fabric in, weighing it down with large drinking glasses.
It's Felicitas and my daughter Maja on the photo.


The last photo shows howtheh fabric looked after five minutes in the bath. After one week it was a dark coral orange when you looked at it in the tub. That colour didn't stay when the fabric was taken up and rinsed however; instead it turned out to be a nice, soft pink colour.
   Since I hadn't been at home constantly, stirring the fabric, but instead been at work, the colour got a little uneven and blotchy. It almost looks like it's tie-dyed. If I had bought linen dyed with modern methods I would have avoided this, but, on the other hand, I wouldn't have learned the things I know now about have linen dyed with tannins and madder looks. Since this was the dyeing method used on the find it was a valuable experiment.


The linen is darker on this photo than in reality,
as can be seen on the photo to the right.

The hose
The degree of preservation is much less at the feet than at chest. There are, however, remnants of wool fabric at the feet, which can be either hose or leg-wrappings. In grave 33 there were rests of a pair of red hose, which inspired me to make red hose. I used the pattern from Textiles and clothing 1150-1450. Medieval finds from excavations in London:4, which is based on a 14th century find.[2]. The fabric is a thin worsted wool that was a remnant from a cotte I made for Maja.

   The hose looks a little baggy in the photos, buts that's because I'm not wearing any garters, when I do they fit much more tightly.

The pleated gown
The gown in the grave was made from undyed grey-brown wool. Because I couldn't get hold of any of that I chose to make the gown from a dyed grey-brown wool. It's a medium thin tabby, while the original, like so many other medieval textile finds, was a twill.[3] I have not found any infomration about what type of thread was used, so I chose linen thread. This (or some other vegetable fibre) was used in the Bocksten bog man's costume; and when waxed it is very strong, a necessary requirement for all those gathering stitches.
    The gown has a peculiar cut: It has a "bodice", which is cut in one with the sleeves, and a finely pleated "skirt". It has a v-neck, and along the neck there is a 4-5 cm wide strip of the same fabric, which continues past the tip of the v-neck, then sewed together. According to Marianne Vedeler this shows that it is not only a decorative band around the neck openign and suggests that it may have continuedopeninge way down to the lower hem, as can be seen on my drawing above.
   The preserved parts of the front pieces of the "skirt" are pleated with 4-5 mm deep standing pleats. The back piece(s) are harder to discern, but CT-scanning indicates that they were pleated in the same way, something that can be seen also on the gown in Uvdal grave 33.[4]. I have chosen to use that construction. The gathered pleats do not continue below the waist, on the find the pleated part is 13 cm long. Since I have in all probability a larger bust then the young girl wearing the gown and also have a very long torso I made the pleated part 22 cm long, including seam allowances at the top. It can not be seen if the original gown had gores at the sides, but I've chosen to insert gores to increase the width at the hem.



Above you can see a gathered front piece and the back piece with it's 22 rows of gathering stitches, before gathering.

On this photo the bodice is a little longer
than on the finished garment.

I have begun to lock the gathered pleats by sewing
over them with back stitches. This is a common technique
in folk costumes from both Sweden and Norway,
but can also be seen on the gown from grave 33.[5]
After the pleats are locked the gathering threads are pulled out.
Here all the pieces have been pleated and locked and I am now trying to figure out how high up on the bodice they should be placed. First, however, my dress dummy the Grand Sophy, needed some help so that she looks more like me. Becuse she has normal, slightly sloping shouldeBecauseile mine are perfectly straight.
In the end I, after trying it on several times, made the bodice c. 4 cm shorter in the sides and back and a cut away a little more at the centre front.

When the dress was finished I noticed two things. Firstly that I was allergic to something in the fabric and secondly that it made me look really huge! This gown does not in any way conform to either modern or the most common aesthetic ideals of the late 14th century. Instead of showing off the figure this gown gives the impression of a pleated tent. It is impossible to know if this is due to some mistake on my side or if this was the desired impression, since this type of gown isn't depicted anywhere. Since the find has no opening and closure it must at it's narrowest point be wide enough for the bust, something that determinates the look of the whole gown. The wodeterminesrave was, however, young and possibly she did not (yet) have a large difference between bust and waist measurement; this is definitely a type of gown that looks better on a woman with a small bust. The other preserved gowns with gathered pleats of this type seem to have been worn by children or a small adult.[6]


To make the pleats more even and also more permanent, and hopefully get rid of whatever in the fabric that made my eyes itch, I washed the gown by hand in warm water with some soap. The weight of the wet gown pulled the pleats downwards and made them straighter and neater. This is what can be seen on the first photo above.
   The gown was made ankle length on purpose, since for example the women's gowns from Herjolfsnes (on Greenland) reached either to the ankle or even shorter.[7]

The hood
The hood in grave 31 was made from blue-green wool, and so is mine.[8] From the photos I've seen from the find I can't make out how long the liripipe was, but since longer ones are more common towards the end of the 14th century I made mine pretty long.
    My hood also has a rather small shoulder piece, since both art and the Herjolfsnes finds show that the shoulder piece was smaller at the end of the century than around the middle. In addition to the finds from Herjolfsnes and Bocksten there are finds of hoods from 14th century London. These are of the open, buttoned type, but have in common with some of the Herjolfsnes hoods that they have gores inserted at the shoulders and not in the front like in the Bocksten hood.[9]. That's how I made my hood.
   The opening for the face is made narrow to make the hood stay on the head and not be dragged back by the weight of the liripipe which has happend with all my other hoods.

The mittens
The mittens were not knit or made with knotless netting (naalbinding), but sewn from madder red wool. My mittens are also a red easily achieved with madder, but not dyed with madder. I did dye some fulled wool in the same dye bath as the linen and did get a beautiful orange-red.
    I was going to use a pattern from the Norwegian re-enactment group Kongshirden 1308's web site, where there is a whole page devoted to preserved medieval mittens and gloves. They are either made in knotless netting or made from leather and there is a pattern for a mitten from leather, which I thought I could use for a mitten made from fabric.
   It may be so, but I must have made some kind of mistake, because the mittens got way too small for my hands. And no, I wasn't smart and tried it in some other fabric first. So I had to start form the beginning, except that I had run out of fabric. My friend Anna gave me some remnants from her stash and I made a very simple pattern, basically drawing from my hand and with the thumb in one with the hand. The modern thumb placement, "under" the hand, is apparently later than the middle ages. The mittens are sewn with linen thread and the seam allowance are narrow and split and sewn down on each side, to reduce bulkiness inside the mitten where it might irritate.


[1] Vedeler, Marianne: Klaer og formspråk i norsk middelalder, Oslo 2007, pp 229
[2] Vedeler 2007, p 150
[3] Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard & Kay Staniland: Textiles and clothing 1150-1450. Medieval finds from excavations in London:4, Woodbridge, Suffolk 1992 & 2001, p 188, fig. 168
[4] Vedeler 2007, p 120
[5] Vedeler 2007, pp 126
[6] Nylén, Anna-Maja: Folkdräkter ur Nordiska Museets samlingar, Stockholm 1971, p 35; Vedeler 2007, p 136
[7] Vedeler 2007, pp 128, Östergård, Else:Som syet til jorden (Woven in to the earth on english, the pages may be wrong however), Aarhus 2003, pp 185
[8] Östergård 2003, p 142
[9] Vedeler 2007, p 325
[10]Östergård 2003, pp 207-216, Crowfoot, Pritchard & Staniland 1992 & 2001, pp 190
Back to the Costume gallery Home


This page, with all it's text and images are copyright Eva I Andersson. Respect that and cite your sources.