Everyday Norse: making a historybounding version of Herjolfsnes 39

So, I was supposed to be going to Medeltisveckans on Gotland in Sweden this August.  But I’m not.  And that’s OK (well, the not going.  Not how it happened.  That wasn’t OK.  And I’m dealing with that).

But the good news is, I’m going to be doing something even better.  You’ll hear about that soon…

But, I spent 4 months planning for Medeltisveckans, which obviously means sewing!  Medieval sewing.

My big worry about Medeltisveckans is that by all accounts is usually hot.  So I needed to plan a capsule wardrobe of >1 suitcase worth of Medieval clothes that I wouldn’t overheat in, and that would be as light as possible (because, luggage allowances).

My solution?  My yellow 1370s dress, and one of the short sleeved dresses from the famous Herjolfsnes finds in wool, with the option to wear it with or without pin on sleeves and alone or over the yellow 1370s dress – so many different options, and the looseness of the Herjolfsnes dress would make it cool and breezy in the heat.

So, I patterned up Herjolfsnes 39 from Medieval Garments Reconstructed (it’s on page 58, and featured on the front cover)

Herjolfsnes 39

I decided I’d make a wearable mock up in linen to test the pattern before cutting in to my precious, this-is-going-to-take-every-scrap wool.  I wouldn’t wear the linen dress as a historical garment, but it could make a fun everyday dress, for a different kind of historybounding.

Herjolfsnes 39

Because this is meant to be an everyday dress, I did it all by machine, including figuring out a fun way to do the inset godets by machine

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Here’s the dress at finished-except-sleeves point:

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

The pattern fit me extremely well exactly as I’d drafted it, except for the sleeves.  They were extremely weird.  Did not fit.  I can understand historical sleeves that don’t fit our modern standards of attractiveness, but these ones were just uncomfortable and did not provide a good range of movement.  Bulgy extra fabric in all the wrong places, and not enough in the right places.

The archeological notes on the dress say the woman who wore it may have had a hunch back, so perhaps that accounts for the sleeves.  Perhaps the drafter for the original garment was bad at it?  Perhaps they were installed badly at some point after their excavation?  I know at least one of the garments patterned in Medieval Garments Reconstructed has the sleeves put on backwards, possibly repeating a mistake that was made when the garments were ‘conserved’ and re-sewn in the mid-20th century.

Whatever the case, the sleeves required a total re-draft.  With help from Miss Fiss:

Herjolfsnes 39

It took a few tries, but I got there!

I kept the original sleeve length for the linen dress, but I may cut them shorter for a more flattering look.  They do end at an odd length.

Herjolfsnes 39

I just had time to get a couple of wears out of the dress before winter closed in in New Zealand, and I loved it.  So swishy!

Also, I added pockets.

Herjolfsnes 39

I got tons of compliments too – who knew that marigold yellow linen sacks would be so popular!

It was so comfy I wore it for a walk in Zealandia.

Enjoy this ridiculous series of photos of me loosing my sunglasses:

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

(and apologies for the wet spot – braids just after washing your hair!)

And then enjoy some of the other pretties we saw in Zealandia that day:

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39

Herjolfsnes 39


  1. nofixedstars says

    lovely! the colour suits you and is striking against the scenery. i rather like the 3/4 length sleeves myself, and i think it’s a very pretty maxi-dress option for anywhere wearing.

    i don’t know how we would get anything done without our feline helpers/supervisors… 😉

  2. What a summery color! I bet it is cool, and has the added benefit of some sun protection from the high neck and longer sleeves.

    • Christina Kinsey says

      Lovely dress . I can see it with a statement necklace for everyday wear too.
      Did Miss Fliss add some fur I wonder ? She is such a sweetheart

  3. Well, it may not be the most flattering length of sleeves by modern standards in this width of sleeve, but I find it’s a very practical one for any kind of work where you can expect to get your hands dirty. Which probably explains its presence in the original. 🙂

    It’s a fun sack!

  4. Lynne says

    Well, I would call that a great success! I’d wear that. Love the drape, love the way it comes out slightly above the waist. How odd about the sleeves. What you have done looks perfectly fine, but I had to laugh about a pattern being based on sleeves put in back to front in a previous restoration! Big oops.
    You really suit that lovely rich yellow!

  5. Johanna Nybelius says

    So sad to hear that you planned to go to Medeltidsveckan, I would have loved to meet you there! I will be there instead of Stockholm. 🙁

    • Awww, boo! I would have loved to have met you too! The people I would have met there were was what I was most excited about for the festival

  6. Stéphanie says

    The dress and the colour are just stunning on you. I love the red shoes! I agree with previous commenters that the 3/4 length sleeves are practical for offering more sun protection while staying out of the way of one’s hands and wrists.

  7. Sorry to hear about Medeltidsveckan. If you manage to go again, maybe go on a Battle of Visby year (it’s every three years and coincides with Medeltidsveckan). Loads of 14th C reenactors (including hopefully myself) go to that one and it is utterly fantastic. There’s plenty of workshops too, and it’s quite do-able as a long-distance traveller if you stay in the town rather than camping. (Of course, camping is very awesome too, but it’s a logistical nightmare if you have to fly in and don’t have a local to stay with.)

    The dress looks fantastic and so bright and cheery too!

    Though I’m curious – which dress in Medieval Garments Reconstructed has the sleeves in backwards? (I curate the Herjolfsnes Errors Repository, which records reader-identified errors in that pair of books, so would love to add it (with attribution!). See here: )

    • Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to go again. I’ve cut down on flying except for family, so it was exceptional circumstances that meant I had a reason to be in Europe.

      We had tickets bought and everything booked – accomodation in town and ferry and everything. But given why it was cancelled, I’m somewhat less enthusiastic about the whole thing. 🙁

      I’m not the person who discovered the backwards thing – it was mentioned in the Vi som syr medeltidskläder FB group, and then I checked the pattern. I thought it was a sleeve, but now I’m questioning whether it was stockings. Unfortunately this was back in Dec/Jan, and I was borrowing a friend’s copy of the book while waiting for mine, and put a note (on a separate piece of paper, not in her actual book) about it in her book, but forgot to put one in my copy when it arrived. I know there’s also an active debate about whether the lower sleeve pattern of H63 is backwards in the book, but some think it is and some think it isn’t.

      I’m sorry I’m not more helpful or precise! I’ve not been a good researcher on this one

  8. Mme. Homebody says

    Such a beautiful and practical dress in an amazing color! And thank you for the kitty pic (how does she manage to exactly coordinate with your fabric so often? 🙂

    Those three-quarter-length sleeves have me shopping for linen again. Love to see re-creation of clothes ordinary working people would have worn as well as the elite stuff. That dress is entirely suitable for a day of feeding the stock and doing household chores, a quick stroll in the forest at sunset, then a bit of singing before bed.

  9. Sara McDermott says

    I love the Middle Ages, and it’s lovely to see a well-made commoner’s dress.

    It’s lovelier still to see Miss Felicity still assisting with your work!

  10. Subie says

    I just stumbled on to your Facebook page while searching for Album de Travestis images, a special interest of mine, and landed here. What a fabulous summer frock! Kudos for being able to wear that color (& as someone else mentioned, the red shoes rocked it to perfection!)

    I’d love to have a chat about your Travestis prints, will reach out soon.

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