Saturday, February 27, 2016

Norlund 78 Hood, the Finished Project

This is a project I started quite a while ago; it's been almost two years since I drafted the mockup (April of 2014).  I had to wait until I got around to making the Dungiven doublet first, because I was using the same fabric.  Anyways; this project is a slightly scaled recreation of the Norlund 78--Museum No. D10606--hood, from a Norse settlement in Greenland.  It is my entry into the Historical Sew Monthly (link to the right) Protection Challenge.

 The Find:

This garment I chose was one of a number found at Herjolfsnes, the Norse settlement in Greenland, as part of an archaeological excavation by Poul Norlund, starting in 1921.  From what I can tell in Woven Into the Earth--my main source of material--the body it was buried with decomposed to the point of uselessness, but it was found with what may have been a child sized shroud [WitE, pp. 215].  It is a vadmal sewn hood, with a liripipe, and extremely short cape.

My Goals:

Originally, my goals were fairly simple--make myself a hood as part of my ongoing practicing of scaling extant garments.  Shortly after starting, I added to this--I wanted to experiment with sewing with a period style of bone needle and wool thread, plus see how a bone seam smoother would effect the seams in a woolen.  It was intended to be as close to the original garment as I could, while still fitting me and being in a wool I could get my hands on (purchasing true vadmal is a bit beyond my finances).

Garment Description:

The 10606 hood--like almost every garment found at The Farm Under the Sand at Herjolfsnes--was sewn from vadmal, which was likely produced domestically.  This particular example is woven in a 2/2 twill, 9 and 12 threads per centimeter, Z and S spun (presumably, this is warp and weft, respectively).  While it is now stained a dark rusty brown by tannins, it was likely woven of light grey and white threads.  "Specially spun" wool sewing thread was used for all the seams.

In fit, the hood is nothing particularly special--the neck was probably made to be as close as it could, while still fitting over the head without fastenings.  There is a pair of shoulder gussets--one on each side; the points of which are approximately even with the chin of the garment.  It is, perhaps, unusual for the cape to be so small, but if worn under a cloak or another outer garment you wouldn't want a large cape--just enough to seal the neck (but that is all speculation).

To me, there were three interesting parts of the Norlund 78 hood; starting with the slight horn to the face opening, where the top seam curves up.  When I was doing my measurements, I found that the shoulder seam is slightly slanted forwards--I believe this helps better the fit.  The last point was how the liripipe was sewn on, with a slight "pointy back bit" extending from the hood, which I believe was whipped or similar on top of the liripipe (rather than the liripipe being sewn into the back seam).

My Materials:

I was forced to depart from the original almost immediately--my wool is similar in weave to the vadmal, but is already the rust brown of the buried garment.  However!, positive tests have been done to find tannin based dyes on several of the garments, including No. 63 (but not this hood), which was possibly to help even out the colour of already dark wools [WitE, pp. 90].  My wool, as you can see, came in something like that colour; it was a distinct factor in choosing this particular fabric from my stash.

In the case of the sewing thread, I was originally going to sew it in linen--in fact, one of the shoulder gores is sewn in linen thread (60/2, I believe)--then I decided to play with top stitching in self wool thread using the bone needle....and fell in love with the result.  So, the majority of the garment is sewn with thread pulled from the warp of the fabric.  My original choice of linen was due to not particularly wanting to self-sew the garment (not so soon after doing so with the Dungiven), and not having an appropriate wool thread available.

To touch on the technique of self sewing: Claims are that it is a period technique, at least on linen [Opus].  While I do not particularly doubt that, I am having some issues tracking down evidence of specific garments the technique was used on.  Anyways, self sewing is the technique of sewing with thread pulled from the warp of a scrap of the cloth--because the thread is from the cloth, the colour and weight blends perfectly with the fabric.  Exactly how difficult it is depends primarily on the quality of your fabric--it is not possible with many American linens, since it requires a fairly even thread; and I recommend doing a test piece first, before you attempt to sew a garment in the method.  In the case of this piece, I used self-sewing as a source of matched wool thread (as opposed to self-sewing being the goal)--I would have much rather used a nice, double ply wool thread....although, it does have the added advantage that the stitches won't shrink more than the wool cloth, should you wash it.

I briefly considered spinning my own wool thread, on the drop spindle I made (I learned a couple things there, too), but discarded the idea--partly out of frustration, but mostly because I /still/ did not have appropriate fleece, so it would not have been any better than using the commercial white or coloured wool thread I have.  While I did not have a close deadline, I did want to get a start on the project.  Thinking about it afterwards, it probably would have been perfectly acceptable to do my stab stitching in a fine red wool thread as decoration; you don't see it on the original garment, but red (blue, and purple dyed as well) wool threads were found at Herjolfsnes [WitE, pp89-90]


The hood is basically rectangular, with bits removed (although, I could make the argument that most clothing is basically rectangles, with bits removed...); a wedge from under the chin, and a curve from the back to shape it to the head.  Several dimensions were given, including the height, hem, liripipe, and the height of the shoulder gussets.  In addition, the liripipe was pieced slightly.


Drafting (Drafting the Norlund 78):

I then began measuring the sole image I had of D10606, in Woven into the Earth. This was problematic, since the image was not of a flattened garment.

My base measurement was the overall height of the hood, since I had an accurate measurement of it from WitE (400mm). Process?:

I began by measuring the height in the image, and dividing that into the height of the extant to determine my scale, which was 3.77|1. I decided that the original measures would likely fit me correctly by measuring the 16 inches from the center of my head, and down to where the hem was; which was where it belonged, and would not have to change the measures even more. Next was to measure every other portion of the image as best as I could. In the process of this, I noted the grain line at the shoulder slit was off--meaning the gore slit actually slanted forwards towards the chin, and was offset at the base by 21mm. Medieval Garments Reconstructed does not show this in their pattern--one of the reasons the book is not a favourite of mine. There is a slight slant towards the chin (about 15mm) on the face of the hood, as well (which removes some unnecessary material from under the chin).
I used the bottom of the two sets of pattern notes above, since that has the full complement of measurements. 
To figure out the width at the bottom, since it was not measurable, I used the top seam measure (444mm), minus the mini-liripipe measure (now 406mm), minus the offset of the bottom front from top, assuming it were squared, (offset being 45.5mm).  This brought the total bottom hem down to 360mm (which, with the 109mm wide gore, brings us within range of the target (based on the original measurement) of 475mm over the half).  Unfortunately, this does not include any seam allowances.  So I added in a scant 8mm (based on the turn of the hem), times two, to the width, giving a bottom hem--before the gore is inset--of 376mm.  This is not including the exterior seam allowances (which will be the same 7-8mm)--those will be added in after drafting out the pattern.  The bottom of the gore slit will be off-center to the back by 7mm then slanted forward by the 21mm I measured.


For the seams, I almost entirely used a stab stitch. This is partly due to choice--it is pretty much my favourite stitch for hand sewing seams--I feel it gives a neater result and is stronger than a running stitch; and partly due to necessity, once I switched to the bone needle.  The bulk of the seam allowances were also sewn down with a stab stitch, due mainly to the needle choice (which will be discussed in detail below).  The exceptions are the hems at face and cape--a close overcast stitch is specified, backed up with two rows of stab stitch in order to stiffen the hem and allow it to stay open.

In addition, the seams all got "ironed" with a bone seam smoother--to interesting results.
A hem.


Not exactly a complicated garment.  I started off with the liripipe, in order to get those pieces out of the way (so they wouldn't get lost), moved on to the shoulder gussets, figuring that it would be much easier to insert them before the two sides were sewn together.

The top and front seams were sewn next, in no particular order--it didn't actually matter.  However, after that it was time to sew the liripipe in its "special" way.  Based on the image I have of the original garment, I turned the edges of the mini-tail on the hood under, and whipped them to the top side of the liripipe, keeping the seam of the liripipe and the top seam of the hood in line.  The remaining edge of the liripipe was inset into the back seam.

After finishing up the seams, I whipstitched the hems and used the two rows of stab stitching to stiffen the openings.  This, honestly, was a serious pain--because I was self sewing, the thread was almost invisible.  Even with the large stitches I was using (specifically so I could see them) I had a hard time lining up my stitches.  In the end, I said "forget it" and just made the stitches even (and lined them up whenever I could see a stitch in row one).

Conclusions (and what I learned):

Now for the fun part--what I learned.  As said, the actual construction wasn't particularly complicated; neither was the drafting (although, at the time I made the mockup, I had less experience in it).  However!, my experiments with the bone needle and seam smoother were quite interesting.

The bone needle is a touch over 2.5 inches long, and quite thick compared to modern and steel needles (for obvious reasons).  Looking at my notes from when I made them [see postscript], it is well within all the ranges for the dimensions on period (admittedly earlier, since I was looking at Birka finds) bone needles--and actually is towards the smaller end (however, those dimensions include needles which were likely for naalbinding and such).  When stitching with the bone needle, I found a few interesting things--for one, it was much easier for me to grasp than a steel needle after a few hours of sewing.  But, more importantly, when you are sewing in wool thread with it, it leaves a larger hole--much larger than the thread....which means less wear on the thread, and less thread breakage.  Oddly, the results were the opposite when I tried using linen thread with the bone needle--the slightly sharp edges to the eye of the needle wear through the linen.  However, because of the thickness of the needle, you are limited in your stitches--a stab stitch is actually the easiest; backstitch can be done, but takes longer.  Running stitch is pretty much right out.  Whip stitch is possible--obviously, since I did it--but is tricky, and a pain.  In addition, I found that it is easier to stitch the seam towards you, rather than away.

I don't know if you can see it in enough detail, but this is the hem--the right side has been smoothed, the left has not.
And the bone seam smoother: I got some quite interesting results here, too.  In "ironing" the seam, it not only flattened the seam, but--especially if I breathed on the fabric to slightly moisten it, and pressed rather hard--fulled the seam.  Including the sewing thread.  You can imagine what this may do to the durability of the garment (I suspect that since the stitches are essentially one with the fabric, they cannot get caught, and if a stitch happens to break, it shouldn't unravel--but I haven't yet tested this).  The seam smoother I used is plain--just a fairly smooth hunk of bone.
Left side with the seam smoothed, right plain.  As you can see, the stitches disappeared.
In addition to the experiment I was running with the bone needle and seam smoother, I worked on my spinning (or more accurately drop spindle) a bit; I modified my homemade drop spindle (made with hand-carved soapstone, and birch) to turn it into a top weight, plus adding a hook for the thread--works much better than the notch I previously had).  Lastly--and I don't know how much of an effect this had on the finished product--I made sure to pay attention to which way the twilling of the fabric ran on the original, and did my best to match it when I cut. I mostly succeeded there, except on the blasted liripipe (no matter which way I turned it, I couldn't get it to run the right way).

What I would do Differently:

Honestly?  Not much--this project came out about like I wanted.  The only exceptions are that I didn't fell the lengthwise seams on the liripipe (mostly laziness, I admit).  I also would have preferred to use a different thread for the stab stitching, so that I would be able to actually see it and make my stitches neater.

Historical Accuracy:

Pretty darn close.  Material choice is reasonable, the thread is within allowance--it is wool, even if not spun specifically for sewing.  The pattern and seams are all period correct for the finds.  Even better, I actually used period sewing tools this time, rather than modern needles.  Maybe I got as close to 98-99%, finally?  The main point where I consider myself off is in the size of the stab stitches on the hems--they should have been much finer (the whip stitching probably should have been as well).

The hood took almost exactly 17 hours to make, not including however much time it took to draft the mockup originally.
Which means this project is worth around 210$ US (figuring around 15$ a yard wool), at 12$ an hour.

The Challenge: Protection. It's a plain, practical hood...the whole point is protection from the sun, rain, etc.
Material: 100% Wool
Pattern: My Own
Year:Mid-134th Century
Notions: None.
How historically accurate is it?: 98.5%? My best yet.
Hours to complete: 17 hours.
First worn: Not yet. Honestly, probably won't be worn much, since I don't care for how much hoods obstruct my vision.
Total cost: 7-8$--around 1/2 yard of 15$ yard wool.

Bibliography:  Consists pretty much solely of:
Ostergard, Else. Woven into the Earth.  Aarhus University Press (2004).  ISBN: 978-87-7288-935-1

Opus Anglicanum.  Self-Stitching Linen. WordPress (5-29-2011).  [Accessed: 2-27-16]

Other posts in this series: Norlund 78 Drafting, Norlund 78 Mockup. More in detail on my scaling/drafting theory.

p.s.  For the curious my notes on the needle sizes are as follows.  I did not note down the source webpage--both related links are now broken.

4-13-14; The ranges of needle sizes from Birka (278 found) were 30-210mm (concentrating between 70-110mm), 2.5-15mm wide (concentrating between 3.5-5mm), with an eye size between 0.5-9mm (3mm mean).

© John Frey, 2016. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.


  1. Fab as ever. Your experiments with the bone seam smoother are very interesting! A similar tool is used to this day in bookbinding to provide very smooth, neat folds in paper and to smooth down and polish pasted-down pieces of paper. The bone tool is a particular shape (e.g.

    As for the sewing, I thought you might like to know that bone needles are rather anachronistic by the 14th C (although, of course, the situation at Herjolfsnes may well have been very archaic compared to the rest of Europe). By that timepoint, brass needles were very commonly used and iron needles were coming in (although due to their comparative propensities to rust, we only ever find iron needles as a rusted lump within a non-ferrous needlecase and have to extrapolate their form from the brass ones). You can get nice brass and iron reproduction needles at a variety of places in the UK (don't know about the USA/Canada), though be careful to check they are tempered as unscrupulous sellers sell untempered ones. The best bone needles I've ever found are by

    Re. the spinning, you may want to check out our medieval spinning group on FaceBook at 'The Evangelical Church of Distaff Spinning'. We've been experimenting with the medieval style of spinning and many people have found it both easier and far better for rapid, easy production of thread suitable for more medieval-typical uses such as sewing and weaving thread.

    1. You see a similar tool in leather working as well.

      Likely true--the period of the garment compared to the needle was secondary to the cloth; as said in my notes, it was based on Birka needles (I had made a number of them as West Kingdom largess, and kept one for myself). All WitE says is that metallic needles were not found, because they disintegrated (probably true) but they must have been used because of the fineness of the stitches (1.5 to 5mm); I was perfectly able to get stitches that long even with that thick of a bone needle.
      Although, I'm wondering--how easy is it to sew fairly heavy wool, with 0.9mm(ish) wool thread and a fine metal needle? I'm thinking specifically of just threading the blasted thing (which was the worst part of self-sewing the Dungiven), and the friction of the thread being pulled through a much smaller hole.

      Thanks--I'll check it out. I'm not really a spinner, but I have friends who would be extremely interested in that group.

    2. Edit: Who would be extremely interested in that group, and have already found it. Lol.

    3. I was thinking of the London finds (though I'd have to go and dig out the correct reference as I've not looked at that book for a while). As for how easy it is to get that size stitches, well, watch this space (ok, perhaps not too closely as I'm very slow!). I've (once I finally finish a few other projects) got a Herjolfsnes dress in the works and will be trying to do proper seams. I have a variety of reproduction needles that I can try out. My thread is a fine wool thread manufactured for weaving - stronger than a self-thread but still nowhere near as strong as modern cotton/synthetic sewing threads.

    4. Regarding needles? Just checked Crowfoot's Textiles and Clothing, and I'm not seeing much (if anything) about the needles of the period, beyond the one photo of a rather small needle. If you mean the Coppergate small finds book, I would have to dig up the PDF to check.

      I'm looking forwards to (eventually) seeing your results there!

  2. Wonderful preventing means from the good and bad weather! :) Keep it posted! I like your resourceful ideas!