Shirt and Tunic

The following garments are described in the pattern booklet Shirt and Tunic. In the booklet you can find quite a lot of information on sources, but there is not enough room for the level of detail that some of us want, so you will find those details here instead. See Bibliography for the total bibliography. For resellers see Links.


I have as usual mostly used archaeological finds and when it comes to shirts and tunics we actually have a number of whole finds, both before and at the end of the Viking age, which give us a lot of information. To complete this we also have finds of details from Haithabu and Birka. Pictures and figurines can help us regarding the lengths of the tunics.

Simple Shirt/Tunic

difficulty level 1

Sewn according to personal measurements and thereby fits both men and women. The width of the gores can be adjusted if wanted as can the length. E.g. the tunic can be lengthened so it reaches the ground for a woman’s tunic. Different combinations of necklines and gore or slits are possible.

The simple shirt or tunic is based on a number of finds of relatively complete tunics in northern Europe. This has obviously been a very common model of tunic which with variations and under some development has been used from Roman Iron age (Thorsbjerg picture and Lendbreen picture) and at least until the 1300s (Bocksten picture). The first indications of gores are found in Haithabu in the 900s (picture).

Materials: The Roman Iron age and Migration age tunics are made of wool in diamond twill (picture, picture), but during the Viking age this seems to have been replaced by a somewhat fulled wool in tabby or diagonal twill (Hägg 1986, 69), while the worsted wool in diamond twill seems to be reserved for trousers and women’s clothing. Also during the Viking age, the first known shirts and tunics made of linen show up (Hägg 1986, 68-69, Fentz).

  1. The square neckline with a side slit is based on the tunic from Bernuthsfeld (picture). That find also has a thin standing collar which I have omitted here.
  2. The round neckline with a front slit is based on the Moselund tunic (picture).
  3. The long sleeve is found on all known tunics from the Iron age and Middle ages: Thorsbjerg (picture), Lendbreen (picture), Bernuthsfeld (picture), Viborg (picture), Kragelund (picture), Skjoldehamn (picture and picture).
  4. The little sleeve gusset is based on the finds in Viborg and Skjoldehamn. In the finds before the Viking age the sleeve gusset is missing so an alternative reconstruction can be to do without it. This might be more correct for the early Viking age, but is less practical.
  5. The approximate length, from the middle of the thighs down to under the knees, fits with all above finds and with pictures from the period (see e.g. picture). It might have varied over time but we don’t have enough evidence to be able to see how.
  6. Gores up to the waist are found in Kragelund and Skjoldehamn. In Skjoldehamn the shirt has two gores and the tunic has four.
  7. The pointed neckline is based on the find from Kragelund.
  8. Slits at the sides instead of gores are found in Bernuthsfeld and Viborg.
  9. The straight sleeve and absence of a shoulder seam is typical for this type of tunic and is found in most of the finds.

Tunic with Fitted Sleeves

difficulty level 2

Both women’s and men’s sizes. The pattern might need to be adjusted to personal measurement. The lengths and the widths of the gores may be adjusted, especially the length of the woman’s tunic/dress. The neckline is also uncertain and can be changed to one belonging to the last pattern.

The tunic with fitted sleeves is a different and younger tunic model compared to the simple tunic. Remains of fitted sleeves and armholes are found for the first time in Haithabu from the 900s (picture, picture) and the first complete tunic of this type is the Moselund tunic from the 1100s (picture).

We don’t know if the remains from Haithabu belonged to men’s or women’s tunics, so I have made patterns for both. We do know that both women and men wore closed tunics in Birka (Hägg 1986, 63-65, 69), but not for which model. Except for the materials (see below) we don’t know if they were different and in that case in which way.

Materials: In Haithabu the tunic remains are made of wool in tabby (Hägg 1984b, 42-50). In Birka there are men’s tunics in linen and wool, but the weave is undetermined (Hägg 1986, 69). Women’s tunics in Birka were typically made of worsted in diamond twill, but linen is also found. The remains of tunics found in Birka have been preserved because they were in contact with metal or were made of silk (see e.g. picture). The metal was in almost all cases tablet woven braids with brocading drawn silver thread (Hägg 1986, 63-35, 69). There have probably been a large number of tunics without these embellishments which have not been preserved. If the Birka tunics were cut according to this model or the following with a waist seam can not be determined.

  1. The neckline with a front slit is based on the Moselund find. We don’t know how the neckline looked elsewhere so it might be just as correct to switch it to someone of the other necklines described with the Simple Shirt/Tunic
  2. The shape of the sleeve is based on a find in Haithabu (Hägg 1984b, 53-59). That sleeve is even more complicated, which might be caused by mending it. Here I have followed that theory and made a simpler reconstruction. There is also a sleeve of this type on the Moselund find.
  3. The sleeve is long as in all other reconstructions here. See point 3, Simple Shirt/Tunic.
  4. Gores are found both on the Moselund find and on a find of the lower part of a tunic in Haithabu (picture, Hägg 1984b, 42-43, 45-47).
  5. The man’s tunic reaches at least down to the knees according to the find above, but might have been longer.
  6. The woman’s tunic is at least as long as the man’s. Here I have made a reconstruction reaching to the ground based on this being the length of women’s garments on almost all pictures, but it might have been shorter.

Tunic with Waist Seam

difficulty level 3

Both men’s and women’s sizes based on the same basic pattern as the last model. The pattern might need to be adjusted to personal measurements. The length and the width of the gores can be adjusted, especially the length of the woman’s tunic/dress. The extra front piece can be excluded.

In Birka and Haithabu find of some tunic remains show a strong influence from oriental caftans. These tunics probably looked like the reconstruction here, but they might also have looked even more like the oriental caftans (see coming pattern booklet for Outdoor Garments), but pulled over the head instead of buttoned.

Materials: See Tunic with Fitted Sleeves.

  1. The shape of the sleeve is the same as in the last reconstruction.
  2. The extra front piece is based on a find from Haithabu (picture, Hägg 1984b, 42-44). It covers the area were most of the tablet woven braids are found in Birka (Hägg 1986, 63-65, 69) which indicates that a similar construction might have been used there.
  3. The shape of the neckline is unknown on this type of tunic so I have chosen a version which is found elsewhere (Moselund) is simple and works well together with the extra front piece.
  4. That the sleeve was long on this model is strengthened by finds from Birka (Hägg 1986, 69) consisting of remains of tablet woven braids round the wrist and along the sleeve.
  5. That the tunic has a waist seam is an interpretation of silver embroidery along the waist on a tunic in Birka (Hägg 1986, 69) and of finds in Haithabu of the upper and lower parts of tunics (see points 2 above and 7 below).
  6. The panels and gores on the lower part of the tunic are based on finds in Haithabu (picture, Hägg 1984b, 42-43, 45-47).
  7. For the length, see the discussion regarding the last reconstruction.
  8. See point 7 above.

Woman’s Coat from Birka

difficulty level 1-2

Two versions based on the same models as in Simple Shirt/Tunic and Tunic with Fitted Sleeves. The difficulty level is based which one of these that is chosen. Length and width of gores can be adjusted.

The reconstruction of the woman’s coat from Birka is a classical reconstruction based on the finds from women’s graves in Birka. There are large similarities, but also differences between these finds and finds from caftans in the men’s graves. One interpretation is that the women in Birka were inspired by the imported men’s caftans and made something similar of a fabric that was fashionable in the north. Almost all coats in women’s graves are made of worsted in diamond twill, a fabric which probably was woven in western Norway (Bender Jorgensen, 173-176). It is of course possible that the shape of the women’s coats was even more similar to the oriental caftans, but at least the neckline and the buttoning were changed. Another possible origin of the women’s coats is the open tunic or coat worn in the Frankish kingdom (Desrosiers, Rast-Eicher 2012, 6) and in Kent in England (Walton Rogers 2007, 190-193) already during the Vendel period. In Scandinavia we only have a picture, a guldgubbe, indicating that a similar garment was found here too (Walton Rogers 2007, 192) and we know nothing of its cut.

Materials: Women’s coats were almost always made of worsted in diamond twill, but specimens made of linen have also been found (Hägg 1986, 65). The women could also have blingbling on their coats, but almost never posaments or tablet woven braids as the men, but typically strips of silk (Hägg 1984a, 206).

  1. The width and depth of the neckline is based on a number of finds in Birka where the edge of the coat fabric goes diagonally over the tortoise brooches (Hägg 1974, 69-82).
  2. The little seam which is necessary for the neckline to lie flat and look good, comes from one of the tortoise brooches in Birka (Hägg 1974, 69)
  3. The small silk loops in the front are based on a large amount of finds from Birka where disc shaped, trefoil, equal armed and similar brooches have been found in this position with remains of silk loops on the back. In a few cases you can also see that the loops have been stretched to each side (Hägg 1974, 69-82).
  4. The sleeve is long as for all other reconstructions here. See point 3, Simple Shirt/Tunic.
  5. The length is unknown. It might have been both longer and shorter.
  6. The shape of the sleeve is unknown so I have chosen to give you two alternatives here. Both the simple and fitted sleeves are quite possible based on the sources we have.

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