A year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor: March

Welcome readers and all-round wonderful people to the amazing and fun hobby that is being a Viking reenactor. Thank you for returning to read the next instalment of A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor for our group Vikings of Middle England. In case you have forgotten since February’s Edition, we are a Viking re-enactment, living history and combat group based in Leicester, UK!

The time is March, the spring flowers are starting to bloom, and you join us at an exciting time of year! With our first two shows of the season coming up, preparations for them are well underway.

If you have not yet managed to join us in person to see what we are all about, coming to one of our events is a great introduction. Wander around our living history camp. Strike a coin or two. Head over to the merchants table to examine the riches before you. Watch the intricacies of material fibre being woven before your eyes. Perhaps enjoy the glint from our silversmith stall. Or even just wander around and perhaps discover something new.

Join us on the battlefield for weapons demonstrations and examples of combat techniques. Smell the wood of the shields as they take a hammering and hear the clang of our weapons clashing in hopefully the bright sunshine. (Real fire not guaranteed).

A busy merchants stall at our event in Boston Lincolnshire, 2018.

In the background there is a lot that needs to be done to pull off a successful Viking reenactment event. It starts months back to plan the events calendar, reaching out to contacts within historical circles to find out if a mutual collaboration can be arranged. For some, these organically fall into place, others often need an element of negotiation be it as to expenses, date and the expectation of both parties as to what type of event to put on. Especially if it is a new booking and the organisers want to hire us as their event entertainment. (By the way if you are reading this and you would like us to play a part in your event please send your enquiry to

When these events have been fixed in place a site visit is organised. This looks at suitability of the area allocated to us for both the living history camp and the combat arena if required. If it is an outside venue, water availability for consumption is a consideration as well as the delicate matter of (ahem) latrines.

On confirming the event our committee (group leaders for membership, events, authenticity, combat and treasury) need to communicate to the group all the details through social media postings and our weekly training and meetup sessions, giving members all the info needed to maximise attendance on the day.

Calligraphy practise by Viking re-enactors at Leicester Guildhall, March 2024

Another essential task for this time of year is the annual van check! I would be remiss to speak about life as a Viking reenacter without dedicating some time to an unsung member of our group. That is to say our van, that carries all the clubs equipment to and from the events and, you might say is as well travelled as any recorded Viking.

The stages for this are:

  • Check no birds or animals are currently nesting in the engine – it has happened believe it or not.
  • Take said van for its MOT and service.
  • On successfully passing the latter, start loading up for the events season ahead of us.

The loading usually is quite a social event with many hands making the job easier. We all go through the club’s kit assessing its suitability for the season ahead. Setting aside items that are in need of repairs, checking to see if anything has gotten miss placed. At a show, if the gods were displeased with our performance and rained down on us as we were packing away, that can very easily happen!

In instances like this it is quite literally a race against time to get everything packed down and stored in the dry. 1) so that the van is not overloaded weight-wise and, 2) our tents are likely to survive until the next show without the fabric weakening and going into holes.

Carrying out this annual check means our kit lasts longer and problem areas are identified before becoming major issues: come rain or shine we are well prepared for a successful event season.

After the show itself, a well-earned trip to a on route home takeaway is in order. Followed by arriving at home unpacking and for most of us a long hot shower. You may think that would be the end of it but the actuality is some of our events are paid events. This means that we need to follow up to ensure we will be paid in a timely manner which is where our treasurer comes into his own. Then repeat all over again at the next show.

a day in the life of a viking reenactors - stopping at services on the way home for a well earned burger!

Thank you once again readers for joining us for this March edition see you on Saturday 20th April at the St George’s Day Festival Leicester.


A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor: February

Welcome readers and all-round wonderful people to the amazing and fun hobby that is being a reenactor. Thank you for returning to read the next instalment of A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor for our group Vikings of Middle England. In case you have forgotten since January’s edition, we are a Viking re-enactment, living history and combat group based in Leicester, UK!

This month, as we all have grown accustomed to being somewhat more active as a group, we all begin to tackle the many projects related to the success of the group in all aspects of living history.

Living History

Our Viking encampment at Cromford Mills in 2023

For the uninitiated, living history means experiencing a taste of life as the Vikings could have lived. As closely as we can at events, we remove many of the modern-day trappings we all are accustomed to in our daily lives. All whilst trying to be historically accurate and present an authentic impression of the Viking-age. This covers the following aspects:

  • Clothing and personal belonging.
  • Tools used to practice different crafts.
  • Daily activities undertaken.
  • Everyday equipment, utilities and living quarters.
  • Facts about local, regional and other points of interest from the Viking diaspora.

Note: To answer a question I hear you forming. Although we spend the odd few nights in tents over the year as part of the events we offer, we all do have homes, mobile devices and modern luxuries. Our lives are not based 24/7 in Viking camps! (although some wish they could!)

A joyous part of our group is seeing collaboration. Various members have wide ranging interests. We all have a different origin in our approach to the portrayal, and contribute to our living history.

Our collective knowledge comes from group discussions and workshops. Individual research on specific topics shared back to the group forum, general fact-checking and cross-referencing of historical texts, and reviews of published works by Academic experts. In this context, the available projects members can contribute to is vast. Whether it’s something simple like making a new cloak, more complex like setting up a new or expanded Living History display, or learning a new skill such as woodworking, there is always someone willing to help and be your sounding board.


At our weekly sessions, Hrefna and Beigan have made savvy choices with the finishing off of their cloaks. Both of them have chosen the same colour and type of lightly felted wool. The difference lies with the contrasting-colour hand spun wool thread that each of them has chosen to finish off the edges. To do this they have rolled the cloak edges over and are doing a simple blanket stitch to add an adornment. It serves a functional purpose too – stopping the edges from fraying.

Don’t forget underwear!

þorunn (pictured above) is hand-sewing an undyed linen serk, a must have to wear under your thicker woollen kyrtle. This layering helps moderate your temperature whilst provides a comforting layer between your skin and the wool!

Boredom is not a complaint you ever hear us making! It opens up a creative part of the mind linked to muscle memory and learning through doing.

How about carving?

Our own Hermish (pictured above), coin master and Muster Caller Extraordinaire is this year embarking on a project to make a bag for his daughter who occasionally joins us on our weekend camps. She has seen people toting (pardon the pun) wooden bag handles. Some examples of these finds can be viewed here if you are interested. He intends to get some suitable wood and have a go at hand carving a set to go on a bag for her.

A walk in nature.

Later in the year, we will develop an interesting project that has stemmed from an interaction with a member of the public. They asked Lofthaena about the difference between the oak galls we use and the oak galls they had found themselves. Leading to finding the period correct oak galls for our Calligraphy display. We use oak galls for making ink for writing texts on parchment. Various species of wasp larvae cause galls to form on the underside of twigs and branches of oak trees. These galls are unsightly bumps, but when picked at the right time of the year and processed correctly, then added to the correct solution of water and iron oxide, turn the water dark brown and far more ink-like in colour and consistency than previously.

Hunting for wasps

Research so far discovered several types of oak gall wasp. Wasps have larvae that hatch and fall from the trees at different types of the year. Our challenge will be finding the ones belonging to the native species, the most likely candidate is oak apple gall wasps (Biorhiza pallida).

On the practical side, this project this will involve a woodland walk over surrounding regional areas to spot likely areas to find them. Then one of our favourite past times – experimental archaeology. Trying out what gets the best results and identifying future learnings to develop it’s potential. Look out for the November edition of a year in the life of a Viking reenactor where we check back to find out what happened with these projects!

Thank you readers for joining me on February’s a year in the life of a viking reenactor journey. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you want to meet us in person we will be at the Braunstone West Social Centre, on 14-2-24 from 7:45-10.15pm for our living history night where discussion will be on Viking Artefacts. Have you got a favourite Viking artefact?

CategoriesClothingDaily Living and PastimesRe-enactment

How to Make Viking Clothes

This is a quick start guide on how to make Viking clothes. The guide covers the basic patterns and hand-sewing techniques needed to make clothing for most people who lived in north-western Europe in the Viking-age. This is a starting point for simple first impressions in Viking reenactment, or accurate costume for TV and film, cosplay etc.

The typical person in the Viking-age was a subsistence farmer, apprentice or labourer, and this guide reflects that reality. For a more generalised view of Viking-age clothing, see our article on Viking Clothing and Jewellery.

Table of Contents

Hand Sewing Techniques

Even the poor­est peo­ple in the Viking–Age so­ci­eties of North­ern Eu­rope were good tai­lors — they had to be. Most peo­ple lived in rural communities, and even if they lived in an urban area, they might not have the money or surplus goods to trade for com­pleted gar­ments. Be­cause of this, I sug­gest plenty of practice at seam­ing and fitting. We’re not going for a ‘rustic’ look, but a quality garment. Old tea tow­els and bed­sheets are good to prac­tice on.

A picture of Viking-age shears or scissors discovered at the excavations in York.
Iron shears from Viking–Age York
© York Archaeological Trust for Excavation and Research


Viking age people had access to most of the same tools to make clothes as today, albeit somewhat cruder. Delicate fish-bone needles have been found along side chunkier iron and copper-alloy needles; scissors or shears retain the same long straight edges as today, but are made from iron; wooden, bone and copper-alloy pins came in all sorts of sizes; and there’s evidence of woollen and linen thread, alongside silk and metallic foil used in decorative bands and expensive accessories.

What you’ll need:

  • Sewing needles
  • Scissors or shears
  • Dress-making pins
  • Measuring tape
  • Tailors chalk or fabric marker (for drawing out patterns or making adjustments). You might also want to test your patterns on paper – something Viking-age people didn’t have access to, but useful if you don’t want to cut into expensive fabric straightaway, or want to reuse patterns later.
  • Thread: a good rule of thumb is to use linen thread on linen fabric and woollen thread on wool (and silk on silk etc.) One option is to pull threads from your fabric for truly invisible stitches. When you are practising, use a thread of a contrasting colour to the cloth.

Run your thread through a beeswax block to stiffen the thread, pre­vent knots and to help wa­ter­proofing.

Stitches to Master

These are stitches discovered in archaeological excavations that show how viking clothes were made. They will serve as the base for seaming, felling, and hemming. Fully explaining them is beyond the scope of this article, but there are many comprehensive hand-sewing tutorials online.

Illustration of a running-stitch, a common technique used to make viking clothes.

Running Stitch

Running-stitch is a simple and common technique where you pass the needle in and out in a single line. It’s important to use as small a stitch as possible as it’s easy to pull them out.

Back Stitch

Back-stitch is a strong stitch best used on seams that experience a lot of pulling, such as side seams. The back stitch goes back along the line, making a short loop that is difficult to pull out.

An illustration of a whip stitch used in making viking clothes

Whip Stitch

Also called Overcast or Oversewing, whip-stitch is used to close two edges of fabric, either in seam treatments, felling or hemming. The technique makes a loop of diagonal stitches.

An illustration of a blanket stitch used to finish viking clothes

Blanket Stitch

Blanket or Buttonhole-stitch is used to finish raw or cut edges. It’s similar to the whip stitch, but you catch a loop (like making a knot) to lay the thread along the edge, protecting it from fraying. The closer together the ‘L’ shaped stitch, the more secure the cut edge will be.

Seams and Seam Treatments

The simplest seam when making Viking clothes is just two pieces of fabric layered together and sewn with a running- or back-stitch (called a butted– or bound seam). When it’s turned inside out and pressed, the seem will look smart on the outside, with stitching and excess fabric hidden on the inside of the garment. But, the raw or cut edge of the fabric is likely to unravel or fray during use, especially if using linen, or wool that has a loose weave. To combat this, we use a seam treatment. Make sure you leave enough excess seam allowance when you cut your fabric to be able to do these techniques.

An illustration of a 'stand up seam'

Stand-up Seam

The stand-up seam is a common seam treatment and one of the easiest to make. Sew your seam together using a running or back stitch (as the explained above), then fold the cut edges inward towards the seam (press with an iron if it helps). On the join of the fold, use a whip stitch to catch all 4-layers and secure it. On thicker fabric, it may feel too bulky, so you could instead use a blanket stitch to secure the cut edge.

An illustration of a felled seam.

Felled Seam

A felled or spread-seam starts with a butted seam as explained above, but rather that folding the edge in as with a stand-up seam, we spread the edges away from the seam and whip-stitch the raw edges on one side, or both sides (optionally folding the edge in on itself). This makes the inside of the seam very comfortable, but you will have stitching visible on the outside, so be as neat as you can, using small stitches.

An illustration of a lapped seam, as seen at viking excavations at Hedeby/Haithabu

Lapped Seam

Lapped seams are similar to modern ‘flat-felled’ seams. You lay the edges over each other then either: whip-stitch the raw edges or; fold the edges under and lap them together, then whip-stitch the fold. It should look the same on the inside and outside of the garment.


The hem is where you treat an unjoined edge. Viking-age hems are almost always folded inward and then whip-stitched. On lighter material, such as fine linens or silk, the edge can be rolled in. On bulkier material, hems may have just been blanket-stitched. Occasionally we see the use of herringbone stitch on either the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side of the fabric.

Illustration of a rolled hem, whip-stitched.

Herringbone Stitch

Herringbone-stitch is like a double-row of back-stitch. This type of stitch has been found on Viking-age fabrics and may have been used on the inside or outside of the garment in a decorative way, especially on hems in the place of a simple whip-stitch.

Viking Clothing – What You Need

Through the ex­am­i­na­tion of archaeological fragments, art, lit­er­a­ture, and ac­counts from the pre and post Viking–Age, we can de­ter­mine that there are a few dis­tinct gar­ments, depending on whether you dress as male or female.

Shirt or Serk/Skyrta

The serk or skyrta, we as­sume, is an under–gar­ment. For male dress (skyrta), it appears to be just longer than waist-length, while the female version is a gown (serk) that is just slightly-shorter than ankle-length. They’re both shorter that the kyr­tle, an over-garment, and are prob­a­bly close fitting at the neck and wrist to allow the larger kyrtle to be comfortably worn over it.

There is evidence for both woollen and linen under-garments. A linen shirt from Viborg is made from two layers, with a tight neck-hole finished with a tie, and tapered to fit at the sleeves. A woollen shirt from Skjoldehamn in the north of Norway has multiple gussets and a stand up collar, and another from Guddal shows similar construction.

The neckline on the female serk may be pleated

Tunic or Kyrtle

The Kyrtle is a woollen outer-garment with a large skirt – it’s length is below the knee for men, and to the ankle for women. It could be hitched up at the waist with a belt. The sleeves, while still tapered to fit, can be slightly bag­gier so they can be rolled up.

It’s not clear from ar­chae­ol­ogy how Viking-Age peo­ple lay­ered cloth­ing exactly, but fragments ad­hered to the un­der­side of metal brooches and buck­les on the top­most layer sometimes have multiple fabrics. This indicates that, at least at the time of burial, people wore an under and outer layer.


An­other part of the un­der­wear is the breeches and hose, or trousers. Again, much of our knowl­edge comes from pre and post Viking–Age finds, such as the Thors­berg trousers and Dät­gen breeches, but there is some con­tem­po­rary archae­ol­ogy. There’s a frag­ment of woollen hose found in Hedeby, and fragments of an elab­o­rately dec­o­rated pair of woollen trousers from Skjold­e­hamn.

Woollen leg wraps may have been worn to protect the trousers or the bare calf while working in the fields, and there are several fragments of coarse cloth that are candidates for belong to this garment, along with fasteners.


Along with the main clothing, there is evidence for headwear such as caps, hats and religious garb such as wimples. There are complete mittens made from wool for cold hands, and one of the most in­ter­est­ing and com­plete finds from York is a woollen sock wo­ven us­ing a tech­nique called Naal­bind­ing. On top of that, any cold or wet weather is best survived with a large shawl or cloak, and sturdy leather shoes.

Male Costume

Serk: wool or linen, mid-thigh length.
Kyrtle: wool, knee-length when hitched up with a belt.
Trousers: wool, ankle-length.
Leg Wraps: wool, enough to wrap your calves.
Belt: leather with a iron or copper-alloy buckel.
Hat: wool.
Cloak: wool, fixed with a copper-alloy pin.
Shoes: leather turnshoes.

Hrafn and Snorri wearing typical viking-age clothing.

Female Costume

Serk: wool or linen, above the ankle.
Kyrtle: wool, ankle-length.
Hose (optional): wool, fitted to your feet and to come above the knee.
Leg Wraps (optional): wool, enough to wrap your calves
Belt (optional): wool braid, leather depending on impression, though this seems to be rare.
Cap or Wimple: wool or linen for the cap, linen for wimple.
Cloak or Mantle: wool, fixed with a pin.

For more elaborate dress, specifically for Scandinavian female impressions, check out this great article on the Smokkr, a woollen over-garment fixed with beautiful oval brooches.

Making a Viking Kyrtle or Over-Tunic

As discussed above, the Kyrtle is the main outer-garment of the Viking-age person. It is made from a medium to thick wool, perfect for inclement weather protection, and to last as long as possible.

Textiles and Colours

Viking-age fabrics are commonly found woven in a Plain or Tabby Weave, or in a Twill Weave, usually 2/2 twill or 2/1 twill. To judge the fineness of a fabric, we use a measurement called sett. The sett is how many warp and weft threads there are per square centimetre (or inch, depending on where you are in the world). For wool, we also describe its hairiness. Hairy fabric has short curly fibres that are often coarse and scratchy, finer fabric has longer fibres that feel soft. For your kyrtle look for a medium-hairy fabric with a sett between 10 and 14 (ie. 10 to 14 threads per cm in both directions).


Period fleece was prepared for spinning in a process called ‘combing,’ where the selected fleece is drawn through the teeth of large iron combs. This produces a ‘worsted’ yarn that is made of mainly long, straight fibres, giving a soft texture. Later medieval, and modern wool yarns are often made by ‘carding’ the fleece, which produces a ‘woollen’ yarn that is made of short, curly fibres, giving a ‘hairy’ texture.

There were plenty of ‘hairy’ textiles from the Viking-age, probably made by adding more teeth to the combs for speed of processing, but modern people don’t often like wearing it close to the skin! It can be hard to tell the difference via a photograph, so always try and handle the fabric to see if it is soft or hairy, or look at the product description carefully (or ask the manufacturer) before buying. Fulled fabrics are not common in the Viking-age, so avoid buying them (if you can’t see the weave, it’s probably fulled or felted).

Types of Weave

Tabby Weave or Plain Weave is the simplest type of woven fabric. The warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads cross at right angles, aligned so they form a simple criss-cross pattern.

In twill weaves, the weft is staggered to the right or the left, creating a diagonal effect. For a 2/2 Twill Weave the weft goes under two warp threads, then over two.

In 2/1 Twill Weave the weft goes under two warp threads, then over one the weft goes under two warp threads, then over one

Most woollen fabrics, especially those intended for hard days of manual labour were probably undyed. Undyed colours range from bleached grey­ish white to a muddy green–brown.

Undyed wool colours

However, access to gardens with dyestuffs, or trade through urban centres meant that other colours were available. Wool takes dye pigments very well, and if a person had access to a lot of dyestuff, or a mordant to help fix the pigments to the fibres, colours could be quite vibrant. Madder and woad based dyes were the most abundant, giving a brick read and light/mid blue respectively. Other plants like tansy and weld give yellowish-green colours. More rarely, certain lichens give a pale purple/lilac colour.

Kyrtle Pattern

This pattern is based on interpretations of fragments found at Hedeby, and shares similarities with other finds, such as Skjoldehamn and Guddal, and medieval garments from Greenland. The period silhouette in art indicates a wide skirt, achieved by added 2 or more triangular inserts (gores).

The Hedeby fragments suggest an inset sleeve, contouring to the shoulder, and tapered at the wrist. One set of fragments from Hedeby also shows a pieced arm, perhaps to extend an otherwise tight fit.

Some interpretations suggest that the body of most early-medieval tunics are are ‘poncho cut.’ in other words, it’s made from one long piece of fabric and folded in half before cutting the neck hole.

To add a fuller skirt, you can add more gores. An interpretation from Hedeby has a separate skirt sewn to the body at the waist, in which case it can be made from many pieces.


Measure whist wearing a thickish layer as this is outerwear. Add an extra 3-5cm for seam allowance. Medium sized people need about 2m x 1.5m of fabric.

  1. Length: For men, from the shoulder, over the breast to the knee. For women, from the shoulder, over the breast to the ankle.
  2. Arm length: From the point of the shoulder, over a bent elbow (teapot!), to the wrist.
  3. Bicep: Around the thickest part.
  4. Wrist: Around the thickest part of the hand.
  5. Chest: Arm-pit to arm-pit over the breast.
  6. Shoulder to Arm-Pit: From the point of your shoulder to under your arm-pit.
  7. Gores: For men: waist, from the hip to the knee. For women: waist, over the hip to the ankle. The pattern above uses 2 gores in the sides for a simple Viking-age silhouette, but you can add 4 (or more), in the sides, front and back for a fuller skirt if you wish.
  8. Neck: All around the lower part of the neck, then half the measurement.
  9. Waist (Optional): You can make a more fitted garment by measuring your waist, wrap the tape around you, and halve it (allowing for seams).

When cutting fabric, keep the bottom blade of your shears on the cutting surface. This will allow them to glide smoothly through the fabric. If you can, use clamps or weights to help the fabric move less when cutting or measuring. If you are cutting two or more layers at once, think about getting a rotary cutter.


There are many necklines shown in period art work, and a few remain from the surviving fragments. The simplest neckline is a circle, just big enough to fit your head once hemmed. A nice variation of this is a circle just about the size of your neck with a split down front (keyhole), or offset to the side, where you can attach a thong, or use a bead as a fastener.

The ‘boat shape’ is common in art work, where the neckline is cut along the fold of the material and rounded off on the front and back to make it comfortable. The Kragelund tunic (left) has the boat shape over the front and back instead, giving it a distinct look.

The Skjoldeham tunic has a large ‘V’ neck, with decoration lining the cut.


Sewing the kirtle is straightforward. Start by sewing the sleeves into the arm holes, then stitch from the under arm to the waist. Use back stitch for this. Sew up the sleeves, then add the gores. Finish off by hemming the sleeves, skirt and neck, and felling the seams.

Making a Viking Shirt

The shirt pattern is a simple rectangle design, but otherwise follows the same measurement/construction method as the Kyrtle. The main difference between the male and female pattern is the overall length, and the need to add gussets for the longer female serk. For men, it should be above the knee, for women, it can be longer. In both cases it is shorter than the kyrtle. Additionally, skyrta/serks are fairly well fitting underwear, especially around the neck.

Textile and Colours

The shirt is best made from linen, although if you find softer, long-fibred wool, it’s not a supper itchy experience, and it’s that much more authentic for lower-status folk.

Use a medium weight, undyed tabby (plain weave) linen, or light weight tabby wool. Get one with a sett of 15-20 threads per cm for linen. Most linens would have been undyed in the Viking-age. Flax fibres do not hold much pigment, so without expensive mordants as fixatives, the colour appears washed out, or quickly fades. As the garment sits close to the skin, it will get very apparent sweat marks without thorough washing, which will also fade the colour.

Shirt Pattern

This is a hugely simplified ver­sion of the Vi­borg shirt without the lining, and is also similar to the T-tunic of antiquity. You can ei­ther cut two wide rec­tan­gles, or fold the fab­ric over and cut just the neck hole like a pon­cho. Insert square gus­sets un­der the arms for ex­tra space. The sleeves ta­per to the wrist, be­ing quite close fitting. For a female variant, add in triangular side gores to fill out the skirt (see the kyrtle pattern above) use a circular neckline and use pleats/gathers to fit the neck-hole nice and tight – there’s fragments of pleated material from Hedeby, Pskov and Birka that suggests this was a style used.

A Note on the Viborg Short

The Viborg shirt is a much more complicated garment than the simple pattern above. it is made of two layers of linen in the body, sewn together with a running stitch. The arms are made from two pieces, rather than one tube. The skirt is made of two pieces, one wider than the other to form an overlap, but it doesn’t have side gussets. The double layered body means that the neck hole consists of two flaps that are tied through a loop on each side.


Measurements are taken the same was as the Kyrtle above: around the chest, under the armpits, this will give you the width. Keep this garment more or less square, and slightly wider than the shoulder. Remember to leave allowances for seams, and refitting! Optionally, you can add in pieces to make a wider skirt, or add in a standing collar (best on wool shirts): this type of construction is seen on the Skjoldeham shirt.

Medium sized people need about 1.75m x 1.5m of fabric.


Sewing the serk is broadly the same as the kyrtle, but if you use square gussets, attach them to the sleeves first, then set the sleeve in. For the longer serk or gown worn by women, you can include gussets in the sides for a fuller skirt.

Making Viking Trousers or Breeches

Besides the Skjoldehamn trousers, fragments of legwear from Hedeby and earlier Iron-Age footed-breeches indicate possible methods of construction.

The legs, however long, are cut as tubes with a single seam — either inside or outside. Trousers have a large seat, and some bagginess for the behind. A separate waist belt is attached and folded over to incorporate a drawstring, or additional loops are sewn on to accommodate a belt.

Textiles and Colours

As with the kyrtle, choose a medium-hairy woollen fabric of around 10-14 threads per cm. Twill woven wool works best as the fabric stretches well in the bias. Again, colours are best plain, or using the simple dyes available to early-medieval people.

Trousers Pattern

This pattern is based on a find from Migration Period Germany (Thorsberg) which are form fitting and comfortable, with durable seam placement.


Add a 3-5cm seam allowance to each measurement.

  1. Length: Waist to ankle, measuring down the side of your body. These should sit high on your waist, not low slung on your hips.
  2. Hips: The widest part around your hips.
  3. Waist: Around your waist, over your belly button.
  4. Seat: From your belly button, between your legs, to your waistline on your back.
  5. Thigh: Measure loosely the widest part of the circumference of your thigh.
  6. Knee: Measure loosely the circumference of a bent knee.
  7. Ankle: Measure loosely the circumference of your ankle (we will cut a split to get your foot in).
  8. Seat Length: Measure from your waist at the back, to below your buttocks.
  9. Crotch Length: Measure from your waist at the front, under your legs to below your buttocks.

Also, measure ankle to knee, ankle to thigh, thigh to waist.

Trousers are basically two tubes (legs) attached to two rectangular gussets (a large square for the bottom, narrow rectangle for the crotch). The Waist band is sewn on separately and can either be made as a tube for a drawstring, or you can sew on 6-8 belt loops.

Short breeches should fall just be­low the knee, long trousers should be fitted at the an­kle. There is a small cut to al­low the foot through, which is re-en­forced with a blan­ket stitch.

Medium sized people need about 1.5m x 1.5m of fabric.


Sewing the trousers can be a little more complex than the tunic or shirt, so take your time, and use pins or tack-stitches to get the right shape. Try them on a lot!

  1. Pin the legs together along the curved edge from ankle to thigh, leaving 10cm at the bottom for the ankle slit. The garment will not sit perfectly flat or even at the ankle – this is ok, you’ll hem the ankle and tidy up later.
  2. Tack stitch (long running stitch) the seam and try the leg on to make sure it fits, adjust where needed, then back stitch the seam. Repeat for the other leg (remember to mirror the fold as you’ll get two of the same legs!)
  3. Pin the seat into the legs – start at the top and work down the curve from hip to thigh/crotch. You will not keep it perfectly square – this is good, you want a lot of stretch.
  4. Pin in the crotch – it will connect to the seat, and the remaining parts of the legs. The leg seams will fall to the sides.
  5. Tack together and fit, adjust as you need, then back stitch together.
  6. If you find they are too tight in the thighs, add in triangular gores to the inside of the legs.


  1. Turn the trousers the proper way out (as if you are wearing them). On the outside, place your waistband so the edge of the waistband and top edge of the trousers meet (the widest part is at the back, the join is at the front – especially important if you use a drawstring!) Back stitch just below the edge, to the waistband is like a flap all around the waist.
  2. Now fold the waistband up and over the edge and to the inside of the trousers. Roll the edge (so it is on the inside) and whip stitch it on.
  3. Whip stitch the belt loops equally around the waist.

Making Viking Legwraps

Legwraps, some­times called winingas or putees, are cloth strips that protect the lower leg. They need to be at least 2m long and are 10-20cm wide, whether they are woven as a single item, or cut and hemmed. A twill or herringbone wool is the best fabric as will be stretchier while you move around. Alternatively, a smaller tablet-woven band could be used.

Legwarps can be fasted with hooked tags, common throughout the Viking world, or tied with a band or thong. Project Forlog has a great page on the use of hooked-tags as clothes fasteners.

Cloaks and Shawls

illustration of a man in a cloak.

A ba­sic cloak is a sim­ple rec­tan­gle of thick wool. The fab­ric is tabby wo­ven or a sim­ple twill. The edges are finished with a blan­ket stitch, or if woven as a single piece, finished plain or with twisted warp-ends. In terms of size, the length should be about the same as the wingspan of your outstretched arms, and wide enough to wrap around your torso.

Period artwork shows men pin the cloak on their right shoulder. Use a copper-alloy brooch or pin.

a ringed pin
A ringed pin from Got­land in the British Mu­seum

Icons of female figures show a sort of shawl, where the rectangular or square-woven cloth is wrapped around the body and fastened at the front. It might look something like this:

Making a Jorvik Cap

Thorunn in a cap

Most women’s caps found in the Viking age are a simple rectangle of cloth folded over and sewn on one side. Caps can be made from wool, linen or silk. The Jorvik cap is made of silk, and the hems are rolled. The rear corner has a line of stitches that follows the contour of the head.

Cap Pattern

The cap is a simple rectangular head covering with a tie under the chin. You can make it out of wool or linen. Cut a rectangle to the following dimensions:

  1. Length: From your chin, to your right ear, over the crown of your head, down to your left ear and to your chin. (approx 60cm for medium sized head)
  2. Width: From your forehead to the back of your skull, then half it. (approx 20cm for medium sized head)


  1. Fold in half
  2. There are two methods to round the corner:
    1. Pictured: Sew an arc from the middle of the fold to the back edge and continue to sew the back seam. Cut off the excess and treat the seam.
    2. Sew the back edge, then pull the top in. Whip stitch the outside to create the curve.
  3. Finish the back seam and hem the open edges
  4. Optional: Add a tie — a loop of braid, or folded strips of linen.

Wimple Pattern

Alternatively, Christian women wear a wimple, a formal head scarf, in period artwork. The wimple is a a long semi-circle of cloth.

  1. Length: is the length of out stretched arms
  2. Width: at it’s thickest point is 1/4 to 1/3 the length. eg. If length is 100cm, with would be 25cm or 33cm.

You can use a bone, wooden or copper-alloy pin to secure, or use a tablet-woven band (sometimes called a fillet).

Loffy in a wimple

Making a Viking Hat

Several hats are present in the archaeological record or the Viking-Age. The two simplest to make are a 4-panel hat based on a find from Birka, Sewden, and a ‘pillbox’ hat from Leens, Netherlands. Other headgear also exists, such as hoods.

4-Panel Hat Pattern

4-panel hat diagram

To make the hat, first measure your head circumference from around your forehead, tops of ears and back. Divide by 4 to get the short edge size of the panel. Now measure from ear to ear and half the measurement for the height of the panel from the short edge to the point. Draw the long edges in towards the point. (Remember to add a few centimetres for seam allowance to each side.)

Sew all 4 pieces together, and hem the bottom edge.

Pillbox Hat Pattern

pillbox hat diagram

To make the hat, first measure your head circumference from around your forehead, tops of ears and back. This is the circumference of the circular crown panel, and the length of the rectangular headband panel. The height of the rectangular headband panel is about 11cm (not including seam allowance).

The Leens example is made of 3 pieces, with two semi-circles stitched together to form the crown. It is attached to the headband with a whip stitch. Th eseams are decorated on the outside with a herringbone stitch, and the hem is decorated with a visible running stitch, also on the outside.


The accessories listed here are personal items that finish off a costume. These are key items for the fit of clothing — usually functional as well as decorative, and some essential for any work or trade.


Shoes from the Viking-age are made of leather and are usually of the turnshoe construction. The upper is cut as one piece then stitched to the sole inside out around a last — it is then turned the right way out so that the stitching is on the inside.

Turnshoe diagram
Based on examples found in York. A single piece for the foot and ankle is sewn to a separate sole in most cases. There are variations with slightly taller uppers and 3 toggles, and those with shallow uppers that look like slippers.

Knife and Sheath

A knife is of course a great utility. Made of iron, sometimes with a hard steel edge, the knife or seax could be anywhere from a couple of inches to the size of a machete. These smaller knives aren’t adapted for warfare. They are tools that are used around the house, or out in the fields and woods.

The handle would be of wood, some set with bone, sometimes with copper-alloy or iron fittings. Housing the knife is a leather sheath. Wet leather wrapped around the knife forms the sheath, where we cut to shape and stitch one seam. In some cases metal fittings protect the stitching.


Men wore a gir­dle around the waist, usu­ally of leather. The strap is about 1/​2 inch to 1 inch in width and tied (with split ends) or buck­led. Belts are often made with two thin layers stitched together. Buck­les are made from bone, iron, lead-alloy or cop­per-al­loy. Buck­les are sometimes ac­com­pa­nied by a strap-end which pro­tects the leather and pro­vides ex­tra dec­o­ra­tion. Many metal items in the Viking–age were stamped with a ring and dot mo­tif, or scored with ‘dogs teeth’ markings.


The best preserved sock is from York and made from wool with a technique called nalbinding. The knot­ted con­struc­tion makes them ex­tremely hard wear­ing, and quite wa­ter­proof. Then there’s simple sewn socks using normal woollen textiles, found at Skjoldeham in Norway.


Spindle whorls are a common find in archaeological excavations, indicating the importance of spinning yarn from fleece at home. Spindles are made from bone, wood and clay and mounted on a wooden rod, the fleece is drawn into thin strands as it’s spun. Women spent a good portion of the year spinning yarn from fleece, so this is an essential item for female impressions.

For more information about textiles and clothing of the Viking-age, check out our article. We also have a summary of Viking Children’s clothing. Now ensconced on this blog, this page will be easier to edit and we intend to add pages covering other garments, such as the apron-dress or smokkr, the Klappenrock jacked, caftans and more.

Further Reading

This guide is for new reenactors starting out, and those putting together simple costumes of early-medieval/Viking-age people, rather than an academic work. How­ever, if you are in­ter­ested in finding out more about Viking–Age cloth­ing and ac­cou­trements, please find a se­lec­tion of books and on­line ar­ti­cles below.


A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor: January

Welcome readers and all-round wonderful people to the amazing and fun hobby that is being a reenactor. I’d like to share with you tales from a year in the life of a Viking reenactor. The group I am part of, as you probably gathered if you have navigated to this webpage, is Vikings of Middle England (VME). A Viking period living history and combat group.

I invite you to join me on a journey through a year of re-enactment with our group. Along the way I’ll share our highs and lows, we’ll encounter some of the group’s characters, and feel like part of the kindred.

So with a high energy introduction to kick start 2024 lets jump into action! Anybody already feeling a little bored with the new year promises made around fitness or doing something new like joining a new social group etc., etc? Then read on.

Viking warriors charge! A Vikings of Middle England demonstration at Elvaston Castle Country Park in 2022

Where Vikings meet

Vikings of Middle England meet on a weekly basis, Wednesday nights 7:45-10.15pm at the Braunstone West Social Centre a great venue for our activities, the added benefit of being close to 3 bus routes, as well as free on site car parking, a rarity in Leicester!

This weekly session is our regular catch up with members who contribute to the living history part of our group as well as those who participate in our unique theatrical style of combat. I should probably say here – yes our weapons may be blunted but they are still very real, made of wood and steel. It’s quite a treat to hear the clash of swords in person and watch our skilled warriors practicing their techniques.

Combat sessions start with a brief warm up which helps us avoid injuries, and we can nicely warm up the vocal chords if we are so inclined. Particular focus is given to the shoulder muscles given when we fight we use a combination of weapons and a shield. This can be Seax, Axe, Sword or 1-handed spear (Javelin). The exception to this is those who use a longer spear, which is used as a 2 handed weapon, so no shield.

Combat Training

In our group the first weapon you start with is the Seax or small knife. We can train in all of the weapons but we have to master the basics first to use them safely – another reason for a weekly session.

After the warm up are a series of group activities where we recap previously taught skills. How to survive a 2 person verses 1 person fight, activities to target endurance and general confidence, etc. As well as the physical focus, these exercises teach tactical thinking, evasive manoeuvres, situational awareness and builds the ability to work together. This all enables us, year after year, to put on breathtaking shows which make our audiences laugh, cheer AND when a real battlefield villain makes an appearance, boo and hiss as well. Look out for these tales in the July edition of a year in the life of a re-enactor.

Leading the first combat session of the year on 17-1-24 is Throst our Stallari (You may also be familiar with more modern terms used for this role: leader, captain, sensei etc., etc.). Throst was kind enough to share some thoughts with me about combat for 2024.

“Some members are in the middle of training with a new weapon and several have discussed starting training in something different. Our combatants have a personal training guide which showcases a variety of areas to try out. Working through weapons is usually a solid starting point but there are also resources to lead a new game or try something you may not get the chance to do elsewhere. Our combatants work towards combined goals and have a shared knowledge ethos. Questions are always being asked so we can always help each other develop and improve.”

Throst, our Chief Training Officer

At the end of the 2 hour session, we have worked on our cardio, muscle strength, and incorporated footwork and balance, ensuring our fights don’t start or finish in a dangerous position. As well as a generous use of our voices as we cheer and encourage our fighters. Guaranteed, buckets of sweat have been shed and we have had a wonderfully fun workout we will feel the next day but still be talking about weeks later.

Next time in A Year in the Life of a Viking Re-Enactor

If you are still reading this my thanks to you. In February’s edition of A Year in the Life of a Viking Reenactor: you will be meeting some of our members and finding out about particular living history projects they will be undertaking over the course of the year. How they developed the idea from a research and personal point of interest. Do you have a passion project that you want to make this year?

~ Kori

CategoriesBooks and PapersGeneral HistoryLists

10 Books about Vikings and Saxons for your Christmas Lists (2023)

It’s almost Christmas, the only time of year it’s socially acceptable to hibernate under a pile of blankets with a stack of books and mountains of mince pies. And there’s been some amazing books about Vikings and Saxons this year. So, in what has become a yearly tradition, here’s 10 books about Vikings to put on your Christmas list for 2023. So wrap yourself in a blanket, pour yourself a festive tipple, and enjoy!

“The Bone Chests” by Cat Jarman

The Bone Chests: Unlocking the Secrets of the Anglo-Saxons by Cat Jarman. Jarman’s book River Kings was our first recommendation back in 2021, and this is just as well written and intriguing. Instead of the mystery of Viking Leaders, here Cat explores ancient chests that survived the violence of the civil war to reveal their forgotten tales. It’s another phenomenal read that weaves the latest science and technology into a narrative about the people buried within the chests, and the keepers who sought to protect them over the centuries.

“Fury of the Vikings” by Dominic Sandbrook

Adventures in Time: Fury of The Vikings by Dominic Sandbrook. Here’s one for the Kids! A fantastic series of historical thrillers that tell the stories of the Viking Age: the gods and monsters, Viking raiders and adventurers, kings and warlords, and much more. It’s the kind of volume that I wish I had as a kid. A book about Vikings that captures the conflicting spirit of the age, of violence and dread, courage and romance. There’s not many non-fiction books that do this so well, or so well packaged for younger readers.

“Battle for the Island Kingdom” by Don Hollway

Battle for the Island Kingdom: England’s Destiny 1000–1066 by Don Hollway. Making it onto the list for two years in a row following The Last Viking in 2022. Switching from a focus on Harald Hardrada, Hollway instead turns his attention to the complex political landscape of England in the 11th Century, the invasions, machinations and betrayals that paved the way for the armies of Hardrada and William of Normandy to land in 1066. It’s just good stuff!

“A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain” by Tom Horne

A Viking Market Kingdom in Ireland and Britain: Trade Networks and the Importation of a Southern Scandinavian Silver Bullion Economy by Tom Horne. A part of Routledge’s Archaeologies of the Viking World series, this a fantastic book for even amateur historians like us. Horne manages to explain the various theories of how Vikings moved their goods around their disparate and lengthy trade networks, and shows the importance of the York and Dublin trade hubs in the wider world, and why the Southern-Danish elite went to so much trouble for it. Also check out the author’s appearances on the Vikingology podcast!

“The Deorhord” by Hana Videen

The Deorhord: An Old English Bestiary by Hana Videen. Another author on last year’s list that have released a book just in time for Christmas! Wordhord was a superb look at the lost, forgotten and ever changing words of the English language. It helped the reader understand the lens from which early English speakers viewed and categorised the world – this does book does much the same but with a focus on the creatures, both real and imagined, that made up the old English world.

“Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Ruling the World” by Louie Stowell

Loki: A Bad God’s Guide to Ruling the World by Louie Stowell. The most import book about Viking gods ever written. At least according to my (nearly) 6-year old who absolutely loves this book. It asks the important questions like “what would happen if Odin made Loki pose as a mortal child and sent him to school?” Loki himself tells the story, with the help of his mostly aggravated diary. Tales of trying to be popular, beating Thor at football, and being the star in the play. But watch out for cursed jewellery.

“Vikings of the Steppe” by Csete Katona

Vikings of the Steppe: Scandinavians, Rus’, and the Turkic World (c. 750–1050) by Csete Katona. A late contender for my “best book for Viking nerds” award in 2023! Vikings of the Steppe serves as a tremendous introduction to the history of the Vikings that journeyed east. As with other titles in this series, the book brings together the latest scholarship on the subject,. But more than that, the book aims to bridge the gaps in our current understanding of how the Vikings influenced the cultures they met, and how those encounters in turn changed them.

“Bede and the Theory of Everything” by Michelle P. Brown

Bede and the Theory of Everything by Michelle P. Brown. The story of the early English people is tied irrevocably to Bede and his writing. And while he was also being one of the most important scholars of the early middle ages in Europe, he never left his native Northumbria. Michelle Brown explores new finds regarding his scholarly work, while diving deeply into his life and work. It’s definitely one for the enthusiast, but it’s great value, covering his early life in Monkwearmouth to his legacy as the Venerable Bede in great detail.

“The Weaver and the Witch Queen” by Genevieve Gornichec

The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec. Genevieve Gornichec once again makes our list with Norse-inspired fiction with this incredible adventure. The author pits oaths of loyalty against the need for power and useful alliances. Gornichec manages to pull the same trick she did the The Witch’s Heart in that she manages to distill the historical (or mythological) norse mentality into her work without making the actions of the characters totally alien. Yet, there will be times when your jaw will be on the floor from those actions. Brilliant.

“Beowulf” by Tom Shippey and Leonard Neidorf

Beowulf: Translation and Commentary by Tom Shippey and Leonard Neidorf. This book is a timely reminder that a) Beowulf is great and b) Anglo-Saxons aren’t the dour, boring, incompetent blowhards depicted in modern television series, but warrior-poets and absolute lads. This latest translation and commentary is fantastic with the translation itself being accessible, while keeping the tone and language infused with early medieval history.

Make sure to check out last years recommendations too!


Repton Festival Review

A little reel of our living history activity at Repton Festival last weekend!

We presented a load of crafts at the weekend and made use of the fantastic clear skies! Our carpenters Beigan and Bjarni made planks and wood-nails for clinker-construction, while our blacksmith Yngvar made ships nails and roves to rivet them together. Solveig the Viking (aka Lucy the Tudor), Hrefna and Ðorunn spun and weaved, and did nalbinding.

Throst made a “Traveller’s Porridge” based on “An Early Meal” by Daniel Serra, while Loðinn talked brewing. Members of the public worked hard grinding barley into flour.

Steinar, Kenelm and Snorri showed off arms and armour, Hrothgar talked about trade and showed off goods from around the Viking world. Kael cast jewellery, Hermish helped members of the public strike their own Viking coin, and Lofthaena made paint from red ochre and egg yolk. And there’s probably more we’ve forgotten!

Also at Repton Festival we did 5 combat displays (check out one on Facebook here), including weapons demonstrations, historical and for entertainment! We talked about the phases of a battle, how men were organised, our thoughts on “shield walls” and how dane axes could be used in a battle.

It was a fantastic weekend, and only a small portion of what we can do. Check out our upcoming events, and follow us on Facebook to keep up to date. If you’re local to the East Midlands, feel free to come to our weekly meeting and see what we do.

CategoriesClothingDaily Living and PastimesMaterial Culture

Viking Clothing and Jewellery

Textiles were an essential part of living in the Viking-Age. Every Viking household would need to be able to spin fleece, weave cloth and sew together their own clothing. There were no clothes stores as we have today, and even the very rich made the the most of ‘homespun.’ This article explores what the Vikings wore, and what clothes were worn by who.

This content was written to compliment Key Stage 2 history topic ‘The Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England to the time of Edward the Confessor.’

What do we know about Viking Clothes?

Textiles seldom survive in the earth when buried for a 1000 years. Archaeologists find small fragments of textiles though, sometimes adhered to metal items like brooches or buckles. Rarely, complete or almost complete garments are found where the soil is favourable to the longevity of the fibres, such as in bogs. These fragments help us piece together what the clothes looked like, what they were made of and how fine they were. Occasionally we can even find out what colour they were dyed.

We can also get an idea about what clothes looked like from art work. Painted manuscripts, engravings, carvings and embroideries can give clues to the fit and finish of a garment. Some people in the Viking-Age also wrote about what they wore in stories such as the Viking Sagas. We can find out information from wills and legal documents where precious clothing has been passed down after a death in the family. However, we have to be careful when looking at art or in literature as the artists and authors could be exaggerating or making things up to impress their audience, or they may be telling a story a long time after the event.

What were Viking clothes made from?

People of the Viking Age wore simple, well-fitted clothes. In the cold climates of Northern Europe, clothes were usually made out of wool. Fleece was spun and woven at home or bought from a weaver in budding market-towns. Many people kept livestock such as sheep and traded their fleeces. White sheep were the most prized as their fleeces could be dyed with natural pigments extracted from plants, herbs and mosses, such as madder, woad and lichen. Some dyes were very expensive but make bright colours. Crushed Kermes insects could produce a deep crimson for example, but access would be restricted to the wealthiest people.

Clothes could also be made from linen grown and then woven from the fibres of flax, and occasionally hemp. Linen is a hard-wearing but quite soft fabric. It’s best used for under-clothes, bedding, or as a lining to a more elaborate garment. Most linens would have been plain and undyed (as it’s much more difficult to get colour fastness with linen than wool), but perhaps bleached with wood ash (lye) and boiling water.

Silk textiles have also been found from the Viking-Age. Silk would have been a precious commodity. It was almost as expensive gram for gram as silver as it was imported from the east, usually via the powerful Byzantine Empire. One of the most common uses of silk was for decoration in braid or trim. Silk garments such as head coverings have been discovered, as well as fragments that possibly belonged to coats. Silks have been discovered woven with intricate patterns, and with brocade textures.

Who made clothes?

The women of a household were responsible for spinning the yarn from fibres, weaving the fabric (perhaps on a ‘warp-weighted loom’) and then sewing the garment. Most families would make their own clothes in this way. Spindle whorls are a common find in archaeological excavations, indicating the importance of spinning yarn from fleece at home. Spindles are made from bone, wood and clay. They’re mounted on a wooden rod and the fleece is drawn into thin strands as it’s spun.

Once the yarn is made, it can be dyed straight away, or woven into fabric on a loom. Yarn is secured in two directions: warp and weft. The weft thread is woven under and over the warp thread with a shuttle, and the yarn is then beaten to keep it straight and neat. For large fabrics like sail-cloth, beaters were sword-sized pieces of iron! Sewing needles look very similar to the kind you can buy today, but they were often much thicker and made of materials such as fish bones, iron or copper.

While home dying may have occurred, the amount of dyestuff required to get a solid colour may have been too costly for most folk to dye a whole garment, but they may have dyed yarns used in decorative braid. Most dyed garments were probably ‘washed out’ with pale earthy shades. In larger urban centres such as Jorvik (modern-day York), dying would have been a professional occupation. Yarns would be dyed with a variety of natural dyes and fixed with expensive mordants. Madder, which produces red and woad which produces blue was reasonably common in Anglo-Scandinavian dye-works.

What were other uses for textiles?

In addition to making decorative braids (with techniques such as tablet weaving), and embroideries, Viking-Age people also made domestic items. Textiles were used for sacking for grain and other commodities, and sails for ships. Linen can been used to transport food, herbs and spices in small bags and pouches. Waxed linen can be used to cover storage jars.

Leather and Skins

Leather was also an important material in the Viking-Age since it was both tough and, if properly treated, fairly waterproof. It was used for all sorts of everyday items such as shoes, belts and pouches, scabbards for swords and knives, and possibly clothing. Leather items, and evidence of leather workshops, have been found in the excavations of a number of Viking-Age towns. Animal skin and fur may have been used to line garments such as hats to provide an extra comfortable layer. Animal-fibre pelts has been found in graves in Cumbria ands associated with clothing.

It may also have been used as a cheaper and lighter alternative to metal armour. Soaking leather in hot melted beeswax and then drying it makes the leather extremely hard, and able to resist glancing blows from weapons. Although there is no firm evidence for the use of this sort of leather armour by the Vikings, the technique was used both before and after this period, and some archaeologists and historians now think it likely that the Vikings used it as well.

Leather items were often plain and functional, but they could also be highly decorated. An attractive raised effect could be obtained by carving a design into wet leather with a sharp knife, then working round the knife marks with punches. Among other uses, animal hides could be used to write on (parchment), or to strengthen shields (rawhide).

Male Viking Clothing

Male clothing consisted of a simple knee-length woollen dress called a kyrtle. This garment would be brought in at the waist with a leather belt. The belt could be used to hang useful items such as a knife or pouch. Men wore a pair of short woollen breeches (shorts) worn with hoses (leggings), or longer trousers that were tightly fitted at the calf and ankle so they could be worn with leg wraps. Leg wraps, or winingas, would protect the bottom of the trousers whilst travelling or working in the fields.

Shoes and ankle boots have also been discovered. They’re often made from one piece of leather with a separate sole stitched on (turnshoes), and fastened with a toggle. In cold weather, a long, thick woollen cloak or mantle would be worn, fastened with a pin or brooch. Unlike today’s clothes, a hood was a separate item — again made in wool. These would be very tight around the head so that they wouldn’t blow down in the wind. In the summer, it is possible people wore smaller hats of wool, or even a wide-brimmed hat made of straw.

Richer people would wear similar clothes, but they may have been dyed a bright colour and made of finer fabrics with complex weaving patterns. Some kyrtles would have panels or gores in the skirt to make it much wider, showing off the extra fabric and colours that they could afford. In art, the king and his advisors are depicted wearing long gowns of bright colours, decorated with braid or embroidery at the sleeves and hems.

Jewellery made from copper-alloy, silver and occasionally gold was also worn. Pendants, elaborate belt fittings, bracelets, twisted-wire arm rings and finger-rings have all been discovered. Poorer people seem to have copied the fashions of the rich using less expensive materials. Clay, wood and bone rather than precious metals and stones.

Female Viking Clothing

Female clothing included a close-fitting, long woollen gown that would hang to the ankles. Unlike male clothing, it is rare to find evidence of a belt, so it is suggested that either women simply didn’t wear one, that it may have been a simple woven band, or that they wore a shoulder bag. Just like their male contemporaries, leather shoes were worn, as was head gear.

A simple head scarf, hood or wimple made of linen seemed to be common, especially amongst Christian women. Occasionally, the wimple would be fastened with a fillet — a woven band — or with pins. There are several finds of silk hoods, especially in Dublin, which alludes to the importance of this item of clothing. It’s quite likely that women wore their hair long, or in braids. There’s also some evidence of married women tying their hair into a knot, anchored with a pin.

Apron Dress, Hangerok, Smokkr

Some Scandinavian women wore a unique dress called a ‘smokkr’, ‘hangerok’ or apron dress. There is much discussion between academics about what this garment looked like. Was it a decorative overdress? Or was it an important accessory like an apron? What is clear is that two oval brooches were fixed at the shoulders, where hung a string which could hang useful items such as a chatelaine set (often with a tooth pick, tweezers and ear spoon), knife or shears. Richer finds see glass beads and silver pendants.

Pagan grave finds in Scandinavia see a plethora of jewellery and accessories, far more so than in male graves. Glass beads, amber and other precious stones and silver all appear in one form or another. In one grave in Birka (Sweden) there was 136 beads, mostly on one necklace!

It is likely that women wore similar travel cloaks as men. But, there are depictions in art of large cowls which may have been worn as an alternative. Like male clothing, wool was the predominate fabric, but richer people would show off their wealth with silks and colours made from expensive dyestuffs.

Viking Kids Clothing

Viking children’s clothing was probably just smaller versions of adult clothing.
Check out our article about making Viking clothing for kids here!

Tablet Weaving: one way of decorating Viking Clothing

Tablet weaving is one of the oldest known weaving techniques, traceable back to at least the early Iron Age. The woven braid produced was used to decorate clothing as a trim, or to cover seams. It’s also possible that braid was used as belts or girdles for women.

The tablets are small flat squares, usually made of wood but bone and metal tablets have also been found. They have a hole in each corner through which yarn — wool, linen or silk — known as the warp is threaded.

The tablets are held in the hand similar to a pack of cards, laying parallel to the warp threads, and are then turned backward or forward by half or quarter turns. This action twists the four threads on each ‘tablet’ into a single strand, which is then held in place by the weft thread. The weft thread is then passed between the warp as it turns. By varying what colour the warp yarn is and the directions in which the tablets are turned, intricate warp patterns can be created. These patterns are called ‘threaded in’ patterns.

We don’t know exactly how the Vikings kept the warp threads under tension, but they may have fastened them to a frame. One such frame was found in the Oseburg ship burial.


A technique called ‘brocading’ could further be used to enhance tablet weaving. This was achieved by using a second weft thread, which runs over some or all of the warp threads, creating a pattern on the surface of the braid. Brocaded tablet-weaves were usually of silk, using gold or silver foil for the brocaded pattern. This type of tablet-weave was very expensive. It was used to decorate expensive garments worn by the rich.

Viking clothing: A blue broken diamond weave fabric edged with a  silver and silk brocade tablet woven band.

A further method of tablet weaving that could be used was the double face technique. With this method the cards are threaded with only two colours. This method is used to produce lettering and patterns which are the same on each side, but with the colours reversed.

Further Reading about Viking Clothing and Jewellery

Articles on this site are predominately aimed at children and teachers reading for their Key Stage 2 ‘the Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England to the time of Edward the Confessor’ syllabus. However, we aim to make sure our articles are accurate and up to date. Below is a list of reading for any budding expert on the subject. If there are any queries about, or possible corrections, for any of our articles please contact


Bender Jørgensen, L (1993). North European Textiles until AD 1000
Cameron, E. Carlisle, I. Mould Q (1997). Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York
Ewing, T (2006). Viking Clothing
Heckett, E (2003). Viking Age Head-Coverings From Dublin
Larsson, A (2008) Viking Age Textiles in Brink, S eds (2008) The Viking World
Ostergaard, E (2004). Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds in Norse Greenland
Owen-Crocker, G (2010). Dress in Anglo Saxon England
Oye, I (2009). Textile-production Equipment in Skre, D eds (2009) Things from the Town: Artefacts and Inhabitants in Viking-Age Kaupang
Rabiega, K (2019). Viking Dress Code: Textile and leather clothing in Scandinavia
Walton-Rogers, P (1997). Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate
Walton-Rogers, P (1997). Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate


CategoriesClothingDaily Living and PastimesMaterial CultureRe-enactment

Viking Kids Clothes

Part of the fun of belonging to a community of Viking Reenactors is bringing the family along! That means making our 5-year old Viking kids clothes. In fact, we’re up to his third Viking costume. We know precious little about children’s’ clothing in the Viking Age, so really we are just scaling down the little we really know about adult viking clothing!

Excavated remains of textile fragments belonging to garments are staggeringly rare, so it’s hard to drawn solid conclusions about the tailoring. But, we do have significant hints from places like Skjoldeham, Guddal, and Hedeby, where pieced fragments show the general shape and seam treatments. Some things we can glean from contemporary artwork – manuscripts, jewellery etc.

We wanted to approach “Hikke’s” Viking kids clothes in the same way we approach Viking adult clothing, so we read the last costume works (such as Viking Dress Code by Kamil Rabiega), chose the materials carefully, and hand sewed all of his clothes.


Hikke’s first costume was when he was just a few months old. A friend, and member of the group, made a simple t-tunic of linen, and a woollen outer garment based on the shirt from Skjoldeham, Norway, complete with decorative front-neck panel and collar. It’s worth mentioning here that throughout history, children (male and female) wore simple shifts or gowns, with no legwear. This is likely also the case in the Viking-age. Before a child is toilet trained, there may have been a ‘napkin’ worn to collect waste. Again, there’s no evidence in the Viking-age, but we have to collect the poo somehow! 😬 For pragmatic reasons, we did make some wool trousers to cover his modern nappie.

A year later, and growing at pace, he still mostly fit into the woollen clothes as we left significant seam allowed and large hems, but the shirt needed to be replaced. So into the stockpile of clothing hand-me-downs we went! In the hot summer we found a simple linen kyrtle in club kit. It’s a wide-skirted and knee-length tunic. This silhouette is seen in many early medieval manuscripts (on adult figures).


The next year was the pandemic, so with an 18 month break, he needed an entirely new outfit! This time we went for a simple woolen kyrtle and again raided the club-kit for a shabby looking linen undershirt.

The bonus of being in an established group that it has had many families over the years. That means there is an abundance of Viking kids clothing! (Though some would be gently retired from excessive wear, or just because they were made with a different understanding of Viking clothing).

We made legwear, also in wool, based on the cut of the Thorsberg trousers. This cut is very practical, with a large crotch and butt panel, and gussets in the legs. These proved to be remarkably hard wearing, coming through the hardest of pre-schooler trials! We also started to accessorise. We made a hood, again based on a find from Skjoldeham, Norway, and bought a superb belt buckle (which I’ll talk about later).


In 2023, Hikke has once again had a growth spurt so we made him a whole new set of viking kids clothes. This one was a little more well thought out, now that he has properly proportioned limbs. 😅

We made a linen undershirt in a t-tunic style, and a Kyrtle made of a 2/2 twill wool with a bead neck-fastener. We also made with mittens from the same material. The Kyrtle and tunic are patterned with a simple poncho-cut with the neck hole cut into the length of fabric. Sleeves and side gores are then added in. This is a simple cut that creates the look of the silhouette seen in period artwork. Gores are seen from extant garments and fragments.

The Kyrtle doesn’t have the close fitting tailoring (rounded shoulders, separate skirt etc.,) or front and rear gores seen on other period garments. This is mainly for practical reasons. He still needs to be able to grow into it for the rest of the year! The Kytrle is completely hand-sewn using period stitches and seam treatments. Parts are sewn with thread made from the same yarn as the fabric itself!

Once again, we made leg wear. A pair of Thorsberg-style trousers (of course!) and breeches or ‘braes’ – shorts basically. But Hikki often goes around without anything underneath!


The mittens are patterned from a couple of finds. That of the child’s mittens from Heynes, Iceland. These were kept together with a sewn-on lace that could be threaded through their sleeves to stop them from losing them. Second was a mitten from the Lendbreen glacier in Norway and the cut of the pattern is based on it.

The bead is based on the blue bead of the man in grave 511 at Repton. It was worn on a necklace with another bead and a Thor’s Hammer. In this case we’ve used the bead for a neck fastening. It’s a simplified version of the silver-bead fastener and braided loop on the shirt from Skjoldehamn, Norway. The bead was made by Tillerman Beads.

The antler buckle which we bought last year is based on a find at the excavations of Fishamble Street in Dublin (NM E190:6273). It’s decorated with ring and dot incision and the tongue is held in with a metal pin. It was made by Gear and Graith.

Making Viking kids clothes isn’t a daunting task, and with help from a family oriented group, it’s easy to keep your children involved. (Even if sometimes they just need some peace and quiet in a tent with a tablet!) If you are looking for a new family adventure, want to get started in re-enactment, then check out our website for more information, catch us at our weekly training in Leicester, or drop us an email at!

CategoriesBooks and PapersGeneral HistoryLists

10 Books about Vikings and Saxons for your Christmas Lists (2022)

In the spirit of the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood, or Jólabókaflóð, and our efforts last year, here’s another list of 10 books about Vikings and Saxons to fill you full of Christmas cheer!

In no particular order, here are our favourite books about Vikings and the Early Middle Ages that will be a great addition to your 2023 reading list. So, grab a horn of mead, sit next to a warm hearth, and enjoy!

1. The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

In last year’s list we strayed away from Norse-inspired fiction. Instead, we battered the romantic heart with facts, figures and research. It’s all important stuff, but so is inspiration, joy and storytelling. So this is a strong contender – a yarn spun from the rich tapestry of Norse mythology. It asks “what will happen if you fall in love with Loki?” The answer comes from the perspective of Angrboda, recast from villainous mother of monsters to devoted mother, lover and friend.

2. Men of Terror by William R. Short and Reynir A Óskarson

We did a whole review on this book this year. It’s a good attempt at trying to get to the heart and head of the real Viking warriors who fought in terrible battles. It explores the culture and mindset of a far more alien and brutal life than a modern person can fathom. Does it succeed? It requires more thought and evaluation, but it’s a fantastic start.

3. Wild: Tales from Early Medieval Britain by Amy Jeffs

This book is incredible, and one of my favourite books of the year. Part fiction inspired by Early Medieval poetry, part exploration of the sources. If I were to imagine a family of Vikings or Saxons huddled around their hearth-fire at Christmas; or a monk deep in contemplation about their place in the universe, I would see them telling these stories. Wild explores our ancestors’ connection to the wild places – the forests, seas and fens – and through the analysis and reflection of the sources we get a taste of their reality.

4. Fodder & Drincan: Anglo-Saxon Culinary History by Emma Kay

Our list wouldn’t be complete without a book about food! And this one is excellent. The book offers a thorough review of the latest thinking about what Early Medieval people in britain ate: from what they grew to how they used it. While survival was the top priority in an age where famine was common, it explores the many culinary possibilities, based on literary and physical evidence that remains. It may be aimed more at the academic reader, but it’s also accessible for the person with casual interest.

5. The Hunger of the Gods (Book Two of the Bloodsworn Saga) by John Gwynne

Following up on last year’s The Shadow of the Gods the Bloodsworn saga continues in beautifully written Norse-mythology-inspired fiction. The series doesn’t as overtly reimagine actual Viking sagas, or add fantasy elements to otherwise historical fiction, but create a whole new world in stunning definition. It’s action packed, heartfelt and epic!

6. The Word Hord: Daily Life in Old English by Hana Videen

Word Hord – literally treasure of words – definitely lives up to its name. It’s a fun romp through the origins of the English language, from how multitudes of languages smushed themselves together to give us something similar, but not similar enough to really ‘get’ as modern English speakers (and readers) today. And it’s often quite amusing, and sad. We get to see this rich gamut of words that we have forgotten, or have replaced. It’s a bit like ranging through a dense forest and finding a forgotten monument, still standing tall.

7. The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Battle for the North Sea Empire by Tore Skeie

(At last, a book about Vikings and Saxons!) This is the kind of popular history book I like. One that forges a direct, compelling narrative with an appropriate amount of drama, but with a clear sense of the evidence. Not many popular history books do this well – they are either too much story, or end up being a lightly re-edited thesis. Skeie understands this tension well, weaving between these two strands expertly. This is his first book in English, and it has me hankering to learn Norwegian to read the rest…

8. Daily Life in Anglo-Saxon England by Sally Crawford

I read the first edition of this book over 10 years ago, and it was an essential read for Viking-age enthusiasts to really understand the daily life of Early Medieval people in Britain. Well there’s now a second edition, and it’s been updated with 10 years of further research and new interpretations. Besides the new material and interdisciplinary approaches, it’s also laid out better with a proper table of contents and index, so it’ll be a great reference in the living history community, for instance.

Viking King Harald Hardrada

9. The Last Viking: The True Story of King Harald Hardrada by Don Holloway.

If we’re going to talk about Books about Vikings and Saxons, we should start with the most famous of all Vikings! This nearly landed on last year’s list. It was between this and Never Greater Slaughter for an honorable mention. Anyway, this book is another great page turner. it explores the extraordinary, and extraordinarily violent life of ‘the last Viking’ Harald Hardrada. From his exile after surviving the Battle of Stiklestad, to his exploits as a mercenary with the legendary Varangian Guard, to his accession to the throne of Norway. It’s a great tale, well told. One for the Christmas stocking!

10. Winters in the World: A Journey through the Anglo-Saxon Year by Eleanor Parker

The last entry on the list is about something we all experience: time. It navigates the calendar from the perspective of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors. How they viewed the seasons, the festivals and their lives are woven into the poetry of the time. Parker brings it all to life, allowing us to connect to the minds of the people who experienced it. And that’s amongst the best kind of book for living history enthusiasts like us.

Books about Vikings and Saxons – Honorable Mention

Vikings from hedeby? All the things are in here!

Unearthing Hedeby, edited by Kurt Schietzel. This is not a book for casual interest. It’s a hardcore archaeology book. Actually, it’s an absolute beast – a 648 page hardback that weighs somewhere in the region of a Volkswagen polo. But, it’s a newly released English translation of the book ‘Spurensuche Haithabu.’ Which means for the first time I get to gawp at all the technical information about thousands of Viking-age objects found at hedeby in my native tongue. (I may have ‘whooped’ when it turned up last week…)

Basilisks and Beowulf: Monsters in the Anglo-Saxon World by Tim Flight. It’s been on my wishlist since last year and I still haven’t gotten around to reading it. Perhaps someone who has read it can give me a review!?

Check out next year’s list here!

CategoriesMaterial CultureTrade and Economy

Coins and Trade in the Viking Age Britain

One of our most popular displays at our viking reenactment events is our coin-strike, where you can make your own replica Viking coins. But what was money to an early-medieval person? What did they buy with it, and who did they pay?

A Bullion Economy

Before coinage was introduced, people often traded using the value of the material or goods they wanted to sell or buy. The value of a good milking cow, or an amount of butter or grain may have been their point of reference when bartering. However, if you wanted to trade your cow for some grain, but couldn’t find anyone who wanted a cow, then you’d need something else. In the Viking-age, valuable precious metals, usually silver but occasionally gold, could be used as a third unit of payment.

Unlike today’s money which represents an agreed face-value, coinage in the Viking-age was itself valuable. Silver coinage from far flung places such as Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey) could easily be used in places such as Dublin, Ireland, or in York, England. In fact, several Viking hoards in Britain have been found containing Islamic Dirhams, English Pennies and Frankish Deniers amongst other currencies made from precious metal.

Coins weren’t the only valuable silver trade good however. Many hoards contain silver bands of ‘hack silver’ where slivers of metal were cut from a bracelet to make the silver-weight value of a trade, and there are many examples of ingots – trade weighted bars – in Viking hoards. Similarly, silver and gold jewellery fragments have found to be deliberately broken for this reason, as have coins which are sometimes cut into halves, or quarters.

Silver was very valuable, so it’s unlikely that it was used to buy mundane things where a barter culture better served. A single coin of silver would be too much to buy a single loaf of bread for example – change would be an issue! It’s more likely that silver currency would be used for large purchases of animals, grain, weapons and land. And for paying taxes to the King, or tribute to a warlord for protection.

Silver Viking arm rings based on examples from hoards in the north of England, stamped with simple patterns
Arm rings decorated with punched designs

The primary precious metal found in Viking hoards is silver. Many items, particularly coins, bare marks of testing processes used by traders. Without the aid of modern science traders relied on knowing the feel of good silver, just in case an opportunistic criminal tried to counterfeit them. Cuts into the edge of coins called ‘nicks,’ and ‘pecks’ onto the surface of the coin test to see if the coin is merely gilded (plated) over a base metal such as lead. Bending the coin would also show if it was made from silver as it is considerably harder to do so than if the coin was made of an alloy of lead or tin.

Coins and the Law

One way the kingdoms of Europe tried to control money, and it’s silver-purity, was by licencing coin making to only a few mints. In Britain during the time of Alfred the Great there were few mints, mainly located in large population centres, or places of royal power like Winchester. The Vikings were getting in on the action too – the Scandinavian ruled city of Jorvik (York) were minting their own Viking coins in the 10th Century.

By the time Alfred’s grandson Athelstan became ‘Rex Totius Brittanae’ (King of all Britain) in 927AD there were numerous mints around the country, usually in fortified towns called burhs. There were eight mints in London alone! By the reign of Aethelred II (978 AD) there were around 90 mints in England. This shows just how the Wessex power base had spread into what became England and how much wealth was being generated in trade with the Viking settlers that had raided and stayed over the last hundred years, and with traders from the other parts of Europe. For matters concerning payments to the crown, this line of Anglo-Saxon kings had enough power to refuse foreign currency in internal affairs.

Viking coin dies from York (Jorvik)
Coin dies – each face is punched with a design in reverse
Making Coins: Ingots were heated up and beaten into thin sheets with a hammer. Coins were cut from it with tin snips, or perhaps with a specially made chisel (though none survive for us to know for definite). The coin dies were made of iron with the pattern punched into it. The coin is placed between the two dies and the pressure exerted by hammer blow causes enough friction to melt the silver for enough time to dip into the punched pattern and create a relief effect.

As well as showing the extent of kingly or national power, especially in the control of wealth generation and taxation, coins can show how money travelled. Certainly in the case of Islamic coins found in Britain and Scandinavia, they show how the trade routes through Russia and Eastern Europe reached Britain and Ireland, especially in the tenth century when Viking power was building.

The English silver penny was introduced around 765 AD and persisted until the 13th century. During the late 9th century, until the mid-late 10th century there was a round half-penny, but after currency reform by King Edgar in 973 AD people were required to cut the coin in half or quarters (usually following the design of a cross on the reverse). During King Edgar’s reign, the number of mints stabilised and the die patterns were controlled centrally at a master die cutting workshop. The last Viking coins minted at York disappeared with Eric Bloodaxe and Scandinavian rule in 954.

Minting official coins was heavily regulated. Coin dies were issued to the mints, and often replaced with new designs to stay current and project the power of the king. ater there were five such workshops. The Domesday Book mentions that owners of a Mint would have to travel to London and pay a Monetagium (tax), as well as buy new dies quando moneta vertebatur (‘when the coinage was changed’). And there were severe punishments for forgery, and clipping (stealing excess silver by reducing the size of a coin). A law by King Athelstan in the early 10th Century prescribes mutilation as punishment for this crime: the hand being cut off.

Some coins, such as those minted at York, (Viking kings Ragnald, Sihtric and Eric Bloodaxe etc.) show how the Vikings were embracing Christianity. Several Viking coins bare the symbol of St. Peter who was the patron saint of York Minster. Some even bear the inscription ‘SCIPE TRIIO’ which is abbreviated Latin for Sancti Petrus Moneta, Saint Peter’s Money. Included on the face of a few issues of ‘St. Peter’s Money’ is also the hammer of Thor, the Viking God of Thunder. Linking St. Peter to such a popular god in the Scandinavian pantheon was a sensible move in the conversion and assimilation of Vikings into Christian Europe.

Further Reading about Viking Coins and Trade

  • Ager, B & Williams, G (2010). Objects in Focus: The Vale of York Hoard
  • Graham-Campbell, J (2011). The Cuerdale Hoard and Related Viking-age Silver and Gold from Britain and Ireland in the British Museum
  • Graham-Campbell, J. Sindbæk, S.M. & Williams, G eds (2011). Silver Economies, Monetisation & Society in Scandinavia, AD 800-1100
  • Graham-Campbell, J & Williams, G eds (2006). Silver Economy in the Viking Age
  • Grierson, P (1986). Domesday Book, the Geld de Moneta and Monetagium: a Forgotten Minting Reform
  • Gullbekk, S.H. (2008). Coinage and Monetary Economies in Brink, S eds (2008) The Viking World
  • Mainman, A.J & Rogers, N.S.H (2000). Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Finds from Anglo-Scandinavian York
  • Malmer, B (1972). King Canute’s Coinage in the Northern Countries
  • Naismith, R (2005). Islamic Coins from Early Medieval England
  • Skre, D (2009). Means of Exchange: Dealing with Silver in the Viking Age
  • Williams, G (2008). Shire Archaeology: Early Anglo-Saxon Coins