Showering: Scadian Style


Showers are one of the lovely modern inventions the Society for Creative Anachronisms incorporates into medieval camping events. Roman bathhouses supplied soap and towels, but SCA showers do not.

So the members of the Society have come up with ways to make our bathing kits look period. I found a nice wooden bucket at a yard sale, and I keep my bath supplies in it for events. Baskets from thrift stores also work well. If you are concerned about displaying modern containers, a washcloth tucked over the mundane items can maintain the medieval image.

Some Society members prefer to grab their bathing supplies and throw a towel over their shoulder, but many would prefer not to put on and take off several layers of clothing.  A compromise has given rise to the bathing chiton, an interpretation of early Greek garments made from bath sheets. This is my bathing chiton, and I have pulled the front open to show that there are actual arm holes concealed behind the towel drape.


In my post about Forms of Greek Dress, I discuss how the dorian chiton is made from two pieces of fabric buttoned or sewn together. A Bathing Chiton is sewn at the shoulders and sides, with an extra bit of fabric over the chest. In the diagram below, the left image shows where you sew the seams, and the right image shows the location of the seams when you wear the garment.ShowerC

I have not yet seen a man wearing a Bathing Peplos, but the concept is the same.


Beginning Sewing and Leather Working

Before I explain how to create clothing and accessories from fabric and leather, I will explain what tools are required for each craft. There are entire industries built around selling tools and supplies for sewing and working leather, but most beginners’ projects require nothing more than a good pattern, careful planning, and time.

Here is a comparison of the tools needed to begin sewing fabric verses what is needed to begin working with leather.

Sewing Fabric Working Leather
Tools: fabric, scissors, needle, thread, pins, iron, chalk, ruler, graph paper, pencil Tools: leather, utility knife, cutting mat, needle, thread or cord, leather punches, rubber or wooden mallet, masking tape, metal ruler, graph paper, felt tip pen
What not to buy: a sewing machine. Learn how fabric, seams, and an iron are used to shape and form projects. What not to buy: a starter kit. Many of the included tools will not be used. Punches, cutting tools, and cord will be enough for most projects.
Materials: scrap fabric is easy to obtain. Sheets from Goodwill make excellent fabric mockups, which are called ‘muslins’. Materials: scrap leather is harder to find and more expensive than fabric. Leather jackets from Goodwill and stripping leather couches on the side of the road are inexpensive options.
Mistakes: easily corrected, but fraying is an issue. Multiple seams are needed to prevent fraying. Mistakes: harder to correct, but fraying is never an issue. One seam per edge is usually enough.
Teachers: someone in the local SCA group will know how to sew, and can explain the basics. Teachers: there might be someone who can teach leather working in the SCA group. If not, ask for lessons on the FaceBook groups, and be prepared to drive to an event or someone’s house.


Here are my basic sewing tools. I also have an ironing board. If you don’t have the space for a board or cannot afford one, laying a clean towel on top of a table will give you a reasonable ironing surface. The iron is critical because it presses seams, making projects look professional.



In contrast, these are my basic leather working tools. I find the metal triangular ruler extremely helpful for working leather because it lets me align and cut right angles. Note that my cutting mat is grey. You may find blue or green mats in sewing stores, but these are intended for fabric cutting and should not be used with a leather punch or a utility knife.

Don’t Rush Sewing!


One danger of sewing is rushing to finish a project. This can lead to all sorts of mistakes, from forgetting to press your seams with an iron to stabbing yourself with a needle. (Many crafters believe that a project isn’t “yours” until you’ve bled on it. My project goals include not having to use my First Aid kit.)

I’m going on a road trip in a few days, and I wanted to bring some projects to work on en route. One of the things on my to-make list is a Norse tunic to wear when I’m volunteering at Heralds’ Point. Most of my garb is blue with silver accents, but because author Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds wear all white, many Scadian Heralds do as well.

I have learned that the easiest way to construct a Norse T-tunic is to cut out the torso pieces, lay them flat, and complete the neck opening while the entire project is flat.


In order to keep the fabric of the neck from fraying, I sew a rectangular piece of cloth that comes down to a point around the neck. All of my other projects have a contrasting color of fabric at the neck and cuffs, but this project is all about white fabric, blue train, and blue stitching in contrast to the white.

Because this tunic doesn’t have a contrasting collar, I didn’t  bother to stitch the under layer neatly before I added the trim. I didn’t notice how  irregular it was until after I’d finished stitching the trim. I considered removing all the stitching and redoing this properly.

I have chosen to keep the irregular neck. It is not only a useful reference point for my progression as a historical seamstress, but a way of showing newer sewers what not to do. The complexity of Scadian garments can be daunting to newcomers. I’m keeping this as a reminder that nobody becomes an expert without a few mistakes.

Sewing a Viking Cloak

VikingCloakThe first thing I entered in an Arts and Sciences competition was my möttull, a semicircular cloak. At the time I was fencing, and had seen other Carolingian fencers wearing short, wrist-length cloaks.

I prefer a circular or semicircular cloak to a square or rectangular cloak because a cloak with corners will have an uneven distribution of fabric weight at those corners.

Thor Ewing’s  Viking Clothing book mentions a reference to a semicircular cloak in the Kormáks saga, and suggests this cloak  design might have been introduced in the Viking age. This type of cloak was pinned at the shoulder.

This cloak was the first time I tried using embroidery floss for the running stitch that edges the garment. It’s such a simple thing, but I’m always touched when people compliment me on it.

VikingDrawingThe hardest part of making this cloak was remembering that the hood would not attach at the center of the neck opening. It felt very strange to me to have fabric extend past the edge of the hood. At Pennsic, I was surprised at how useful it was to choose to cover or free my right arm. If it was cold, I tucked the extra fabric around my body. When the day warmed, I could uncover my right arm and carry things or easily pull my  latest hand sewing project out of my bag.

I scanned this illustration from page 106 of Viking Clothing. It shows a figure from the Oseberg Tapestry wearing a wrapped, hooded cloak that exposes the right shoulder.

The Bog Dress: An Early Sewing Project

CAM00229One of the first things I made for Pennsic was a Bog Dress. The garment is named after the dress recovered from a peat bog. I used Alfrun’s Bog Dress pattern. I really appreciated her attention to details. Her suggestion for sewing the pleats by hand before doing the overstitching was invaluable.

This dress was one of the first pieces I sewed for the SCA, and it has a number of problems that I have learned from.


The biggest issue with this dress is how the arm opening isn’t the same length in the front and back flaps. I overcompensated for the back panel needing to fold over the shoulder. In the next iteration of the dress, I’ll try it on, make sure I can move both arms comfortably, and then cut the back panel to match the front panel’s length.




I love the way the side seams look, but they were a pain to sew. The next time I make this dress, I’ll sew the front and back panels together first, and then hem all the edges.

One of the marks of a true craftsman is that we will always see more flaws in our work than anyone else. I could rip out seams and make this dress much better. Instead, I choose to leave it as it is. This dress has become part of the record of my sewing in the SCA. I want to keep it, wear it, and show newcomers that nobody starts out making perfect garb!


Personalizing a Feast Gear Chest

Feasts in the Society of Creative Anachronisms are delicious, but require attendees to provide their own cup, plate, bowl, and silverware. I’d forgotten to pack my feast gear a few months ago, and decided it was time for me to make a chest for carrying my gear. I also bring loaner gear for newcomers or people who forgot theirs.


I started with an unfinished chest from Jo-Anne. These run about $40, but if you sign up for their mailing list, they give a 50% discount on one item. In addition the chest, you will need a stain and sealer, or a product that does both. (Any hardware store will can supply this.) I also used acrylic paint to add my Heraldic Badge to the chest, and some scrap leather to replace the handles and finish the top of the chest.


The first step was carefully removing all the nails and hardware. I chose to use tiny silver stud nails to replace the originals because I wanted a silver-and-black color scheme.

Once the hardware was gone, I painted my Badge onto the top of the chest. Many Society members use boxes from Jo-Anne’s and Michael’s, so adding something to your chest to identify it as yours helps avoid confusion. (If you’re not much of an artist, using an unusually colored stain is helpful; not many people stain their wooden boxes green, blue, red, or purple.) Be sure any paint is dry before you stain the chest.



I stained the inside and outside of my chest over the course of several days. Check the label on your stain and sealer to see how long you should leave your project alone to dry.



Once the stain was dry, I added strips of leather around the outer edge and hammered it into place. It’s much easier to work with the box when it’s in separate pieces, so I recommend putting the hinges on last.



Here’s the completed chest. I replaced the bronze clasp with an antler toggle to make it look more Viking. I also replaced the metal handles with strips of black suede. I drilled small holes in the sides of the box and sewed the handles in place with sinew. Exchanging the small metal handles for larger leather straps made the chest easier to carry.

One thing I learned the hard way was not to replace the metal hinges with leather ones. The leather hings wiggled all over the place, made the chest impossible to close, and no matter how many knots I made in the cord, they kept wiggling loose. I didn’t like the original metal hinges, and replaced them with black cast iron ones from the local hardware store.