So, decorative topstitching in a contrasting color is all the rage in Norse apron dresses lately. I’ve been confidently assured that there is support for this in period. But I’ve never really gotten my basic question answered:
Where is the evidence of this type of topstitching?
And is there ANY evidence for contrasting colors? (Yeah, I know that lack of evidence doesn’t constitute proof it didn’t happen, but is there any actual evidence?)
The group opinion on the FB Viking Clothing page (which is focused hard-core on authenticity, and has many people from Europe with the ability to access documents and analysis easily available in the US) is that the level of decorative seam treatments common among US reenactors can NOT be supported by evidence.
Regarding use of herringbone as seam treatment – I have looked at every material/book/paper that I have and have yet to find a case where Herringbone is used in definitively Viking garment as a visible, decorative stitch.
It is used on the inside of a hem from one of the Hedeby pieces.
Walton Rogers references a herringbone stitch used on a scrap from the site at Pavement (in a similar manner as the Hedeby fragment.)
The York pouch is listed in the Coppergate materials as employing a “catch stitch” on the inside, which is typically another term for a herringbone stitch. However, the diagram that goes with it, actually shows another, much less decorative, version of a blind stitch, and not a stitch that is related to herringbone.
A variant of the herringbone stitch was used on the Mammen cushion cover (which might have been imported, and was not a garment.) It is key to remember that if using this as an example that the stitch employed there is a more complex relative of Herringbone, and it leaves none of the ground cloth under it visible. Indeed, it appears as though a braid laid on the surface. Also important to point out is the fact that it is only 2-3mm wide (something very, very different than what you see used by reenactors.)
There is some decorative stitching the Skoldenhamn ensemble. However, it may not even be Norse, but instead Saami, and the garment itself has been carbon dated post Viking Age.
I am leery about using the technique based solely on those examples..– Jenn Culler aka Mistress Álfrún ketta, from Aethelmarc
What is most important to take away from this is the understanding that current reenactor fashion for decorated seam treatments in Norse garb does NOT have the support of common use in the historical period. IF you wish to be authentic in your presentation, I would avoid them.
Now I will admit that there are many beautiful examples of decorated Norse garments wandering around the SCA. I think they look really nice, and flatter the wearer. If you wish to decorate your garments this way, feel free. We are not the Society for Compulsive Authenticity, coming around to pry the embroidery needle out of your hands. My personal pursuit of authenticity comes in fits and starts, and is my OWN journey. Authenticity should never be a stick to beat others with. I just wish to share the current analysis on the topic, so you can make an informed decision for yourself.