Sewing a Heraldic Viking Maiden Dress

Heraldic Dress The shield atop my blog displays my arms, Azure, a winged ounce rampant within an orle argent. I wanted to display my arms in everyday Scadien life, so I set out to make a Viking maiden’s dress to wear to Court and Feasts.

I am often asked why I don’t wear the typical Viking Apron Dress with Turtle Broaches. While researchers are not sure about the significance of the broaches, they are never found in the graves of children or young teens, but only in the graves of older women. This leads me to believe that  Turtle Broaches were the Viking equivalent of the modern wedding ring–they would certainly make feeding babies easier!

This is why my Heraldic Dress is an ankle-length tunic. I also took a Step From Period Practice by incorporating my orle border into the dress’ hems and neckline. A typical Viking tunic or dress would have a contrasting colored band at the neck and hems. I used blue thread that contrasts against the grey in a simple running stitch.CAM00156

If I had to do this project over again, I would make my winged cat smaller. It’s over 30″ tall, and because it’s so big it sometimes gets lost in the folds of my dress. This picture shows it next to my shield cover. If you’re planning on making a large applique for a dress or tunic, I encourage you to keep it less than 24″ on a side!CAM00042

I cut my cat out of the same linen I made the bands from, and in retrospect I realize that was a mistake. I attached the grey cat to the blue fabric with iron-on interfacing, and then went over every line with embroidery floss using a pillow stitch. I spent almost three weeks doing almost nothing by embroidery. The photo to the left is an early work-in-progress photo, with the lines that would become blue marked in chalk.

The next time I decide to do applique, I’ll use wool, which doesn’t fray and can be tacked down with a blanket stitch!

Finally, you may have noticed that my Arms look similar to the new East Kingdom Order of the Silver Tyger badge. I had to grant my entire Kingdom Permission to Conflict with my Arms! (I’m wondering how long it will be before some nice older knight pulls me aside and tells me my arms will never pass.)

Solving Problems with Design: A LARP Vest


I’m an avid member of the Society of Creative Anachronisms,  but I was a Live Action Role Player (LARPer) for a decade and a half before I changed hobbies. This vest is both the most beautiful and the most complicated piece of fabric engineering that I have created. The Tree of Life embroidery alone took a month.

CAM00306 I refer to this piece as engineering, because it’s not simply a costume. I needed to have a lot of pockets to hold my notebook, components, tags, and props. I’d originally carried a shoulder bag, but it didn’t have enough pockets or enough volume. The front of this vest has four separate flat pockets, and two larger cargo pockets on the sides.


The large cargo pockets measured 12″ deep, 7″ wide, and about 1.5″ wide. I could easily fit 40 bean bag “packets” into each of the two side pockets. At some point in a large battle, I would be scrambling to transfer packets from the left pocket, where I held my bow, to the right pocket, where I grabbed my packet ammo. Friends sometimes snagged packets out of my pockets in a pinch.


All of these pockets were extremely useful, but I feel the real genius of the project was making the vest adjustable. LARPs run in the spring, summer, and fall, and temperatures will vary from 40 to  90 degrees. I needed a single costume item that I could wear over minimal summer clothing, but would still work layered over an undershirt, overshirt, and chainmail, while still being able to throw a cloak over the whole ensemble. To that end, I put velcro strips in the belt, both to be adjustable and so I could quickly change my under-layers. The top half of the vest is lined protect the embroidery.

How to Paint Heraldry on a Shield

A friend mentioned being frustrated that the last time he’d painted his device on his shield, he didn’t like the result. I asked how he’d translated the design from an 8.5 x 11″ page onto his shield, and he said he’d just eyeballed it.

LucasShieldOne of the advantages to being friends with an Art Herald is that we know lots of ways to make shield painting easier. The easiest thing to do is bring the heraldic paperwork to a copy shop and have them enlarge the image for you, but large print-outs are expensive. I asked him to measure his shield and send me the dimensions and a copy of his submission paperwork. His arms are  “Argent, on a pile sable a Maltese cross argent, a bordure counterchanged, overall a label gules” and his shield is 24 x 36″.

ShieldI pulled out my graph paper and drew a 24 x 36″ shield design using a scale of one square equaling one inch. I instructed him to measure the dimensions carefully, and to use masking tape to mark the lines of the pile, bordure, cross and overall. Masking tape is quite literally made to mark lines of paint because it masks the places you don’t want to paint.

To translate from Heraldic descriptions, the bordure is the black edge of the shield. The pile is the black downward pointing arrow, and the label gules is the red dovetailed charge.

TracingOnce I had the dimensions of the outer edges of the shield, I pulled up his paperwork on my computer monitor and fiddled with its size in Photo Viewer until I had the onscreen image more or less syncing up with the graph paper. Then I very carefully noted where the points of the Maltese Cross and Overall Label were. If you use this method to pull images off your computer and onto paper, be very careful of your screen! Use a felt tip pen or a washable marker. I changed the location of the Maltese Cross slightly; I moved it an inch lower so it would be distinct from the Label. (Making every element distinct is a very important part of Heraldry: it’s the medieval form of Identify Friend or Foe.)


On a separate piece of graph paper, I drew the Maltese Cross at full scale, 8 x 8″. I could see how large it would need to be from my scale drawing, so translating it to full size was straightforward.

Because my friend lives many hours away, I scanned this image and sent it to him as a PDF for printing.


It was easy to put an 8 x 8″ cross on an 8.5 x 11″ paper, but the 24 x 3″ Overall Label was just not going to fit. If I’d been working alongside him, I would have taped several pieces of graph paper together and just drawn the Label to scale. To address this issue, I drew two pieces of the Label and told him to print that page twice, tape together, and then cut the Label out to use as a template.

I can’t solve every Heraldic Design Challenge with graph paper, but as I showed in my post on Applying Graphic Design to Heraldry: Aggressive vs. Passive Elements , graph paper makes designing solutions easier!