Herjolfsnes no.38

Pattern drawing based on Nörlund

A long-sleeved dress made from a "four-shaft twill (i.e. 2/2 twill) of medium stoutness" with a black warp and a brown weft (although these may not be their original colors). The garment was used to cover the body of a small woman [140-147 cm. (4'6"-4'8"), aged 25-30, based on analysis of her bones], who may or may not have been the owner of the dress. Norlund's hypothesis that the garment belonged to a woman of roughly this size, based on the size and shape of the garment itself, is supported by Robin Netherton's study and mock-up of the garment based on the proportions recorded by Norlund.

It is cut as a front piece, and a back piece, each having two separate center gores (although the back gore was really a single piece with a false seam running down the center). There are four side gores on each side (although again the rear gores on each side are actually a single piece separated by a false seam, with a real seam only at the top. The sleeves are long, with an opening at the wrist, with a triangular gore set into the armpit.

Among the more interesting features are the side gores, which narrow down from the upper edge to the waist, then expand to the hips. In each of the front side-gores, on a level with the lower part of the sleeve, is a pocket-slit, edged with a thin, plaited cord [6-ply]. The sleeves, which are pieced with a narrow band of material at the wrists, [possible a border that has not totally survived], has an edging of the same cord, as well as along the wrist openings. The bottom of the dress has been edged in embroidery to represent similar cods. At the neck, the edge has just been turned under with a row of backstitches and the raw edge overcast. The seams joining together the side gores are ornamented at the waist with a row of backstitches. The armhole is rather large, the sleeve narrows quickly.

The body of the dress is closely fitted, with the waist size being 94 cm (37"), while the hemline is about 3.2 meters in circumference (10'6") (This is my estimate since Nörlund has it at 6.8 meters in circumference (22'4"]). The neck opening is 76 cm in circumference (29.9").

These, and many of the other Herjolfsnes garments have been re-examined by Else Ostergaard in her "Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds in Norse Greenland" (forthcoming), and hopefully I will be able to make corrections to this material at that time.

Based on the measurements above and observations made by Robin Netherton, and work done with mock-ups, this item is clearly not a "cote-hardi" of any kind, it is not closely fitted.   Netherton also stipulates that Norlund's drawings are not consistent with his written measurements and are most likely inaccurate, and so should be used cautiously. She adds that later authors' re-interpretations of those drawings appear to be increasingly removed in accuracy from the original. (That observation, I should note, also applies to the drawing above.)

Maggie Forest made a separate examination of the materials of H33, H38, H39, H43, H45, H61, H65 and had the following to say:

The fabric is invariably 2/2 twill. The threads are less than a mm thick, the fabric wasn't fulled. The result is a slightly open weave, which would have held warmth like a modern knitted sweater. The gap between each thread would be about 1/3-1/2 mm - noticeable. The warp is spun with kemp hairs included for strength, the weft is just the soft under coat, and so the fabrics have a distinctive almost tweed-like appearance. The open weave and the twill weave would have made these fabrics drape like dreams. Despite the fact that they weren't terribly tight-fitted (although I have a thought on that too) they would have looked it, because the fabric would have clung quite closely.

The seams are just amazingly fine. They're done from the same thread as the fabric is woven from, and stitches are frequently only about 1mm long. There are places where Nörlund states that there is no hem, only a fold-over, but in fact there is a seam there, it's just so fine you need to look under the microscope. Leaning back, you can just see a shadow line from the seams, but the stitches are minute.

[The Greenlanders] used a stitch now known as priksom for a top stitch.  It is a running stitch, but it goes through the fabric diagonally and ends up looking totally like a modern machine seam, with each stitch butting close to the next..

The tablet woven edge that is extant in the London material also appears in the Greenland material. A couple of the hoods have a quite wide edge, about 1.5 cm wide, done in this way, which gives a really distinctive looking edge with wide stitches on the back. Very tidy.

[Forest agrees with Robin Netherton's assertion that the Nörlund's pattern diagrams are flawed.]  They really look nothing like it. This may be because he drew the diagrams before the first conservation, but for example, there really aren't those curves in the 39 gown.

The false seams were not used to add additional fit - they are even all the way through the garment.

This page was last modified 11 June 2003

Some Sources:

Go to Tunic Page; Herjolsnes Site Page

Some Clothing of the Middle Ages -- Kyrtles/Cotes/Tunics/Gowns -- Herjolfsnes 38, by I. Marc Carlson, Copyright 1996 This code is given for the free exchange of information, provided the Author's Name is included in all future revisions, and no money change hands-