I have an absolutely super Personal Assistant, Sarah Martin, who comes from Melbourne, Australia. She is great at her job, a nice friendly person, and completely normal. So I was slightly surprised when I asked her what she had been doing last weekend. She laughed and explained that her English boyfriend, John, loves dressing up as a Viking and fighting with poles and swords. He spends several weekends a year demonstrating how the Vikings lived – at English Heritage historic sites around the UK. Sarah soon found the truth of the adage “if you can’t beat them, join them” and she has been getting into Viking reenactment in a big way. I love this picture of Sarah with her sister in law Jenni who cradles her dear little boy, Ayden Jennings. He looks happy in his snug woollen jacket and mustard hat.
The organisation that Sarah and John (and his entire family from the sounds of it) are part of is called Vikingsonline. If you want to see them in action there are lots of activities suitable for all the family. I have met “Romans” and “Tudors” who work at museums, castles and stately homes – it is a good way to for children and adults to learn about history (which is how I came to understand a bit more about the codpiece, as it is happens), but not a Viking before. So I was able to quiz Sarah specifically about the clothes and she offered to bring in a bagful. Would you like to have a look?
First she showed me John’s outfits, which make a wide use of gussets. The T shaped tunic has gussets at the side to allow freedom of movement. The woollen trousers also have a gusses at the crotch and are tied with a hand-made braid. The arm protectors were rather beautiful with decoration and real fur inside for warmth and protection. Living a life largely outside and with no heating except for open fires, the Vikings kept warm with thick woollen clothes, fur and leather.
Here is Sarah in my office showing one of the hand-made woollen tunics, made with a simple slit neck, a facing, and edged with a homemade braid. The tunic is worn over a plain linen blouse (seen in the top picture) and trousers. I was surprised to hear that women wore trousers in the Viking age, but again Sarah laughed. “Oh no I dress as a man. It’s alot warmer and more comfortable.” So not only a Viking re-enacter, but also a cross-dressing one.
She showed me some of her accessories. Modern Vikings are committed to getting the details right and the standards are carefully set to ensure that people watching their shows really do get a sense of how the Vikings dressed. There are a number of craft skills being practiced today in term of leather and metal work as well as textiles, stitching and weaving. The handmade shoes really appealed to me with their soft, foot shaped upper and robust leather sole. Sarah told me drinking from a horn takes some getting used to.
Here is one of the group demonstrating how wool braids would have been woven on a simple loom. These belts and trimmings, along with the metal jewellery give the simple T shaped garments some individuality and colour.
For people who find weaving and leather work a bit tame there is always fighting. “The weapons are authentic, although obviously they are blunted. So the main attraction for many people is the fighting – the audience likes to watch and we enjoy the combat,” says Sarah. She explains that the rough leather trimming on the shields is made from raw hide (which is also used to make dog chews if you are interested).