Cut and Construction of the Finnish Eura Underdress

Photo from National Museum of Finland, Helsinki, Finland

Eura is a region in the southwest of Finland with extensive archaeological remains dating from 500AD – 1200AD.  To date over 1,300 graves have been found in the Luistari Burial Ground, the largest Iron Age burial in Finland.

 Even with the large number of graves found, textile evidence is rare due to decay.  We do not have any full extant garments, so the overall cut and construction are a speculation based on small fragments preserved under metallic objects.  

Based on archeological evidence it is thought that the common woman’s clothing consisted of a long sleave undergarment made using rectangular construction and with a V-neck.  Over this a rectangular panel overdress, secured at the shoulders with broaches, and a decorated apron was worn.  Both the peplos and the apron have been found with tablet woven bands.  Aprons and shawls/capes are also often decorated with intricate designs made of metal coils.

In the case of the Eura underdress, the largest single piece of cloth was found under a large metal bracelet.  From that researchers have determined that the underdress was made from a woolen cloth, dyed blue mostly likely from indigo.  

A long and loose garment extending to the ground and often with long narrow sleeves was common in both Western European and Byzantine dress during the Iron Age.  In addition to the small extant fabric fragments found in Finland, a leather tunic found in a Danish bog provides more insight into the likely shape of the under garment.  The leather bog tunic has sleeves that cover from the wrist to the neck so that there are no shoulder seams, and the body is formed of a front, a back, and two side pieces. 

Ancient Finnish Costumes

Given the lack of extant garments and the regionality of Iron Age peoples, the predominant fashions would likely be visually similar throughout Finland but the actual cut of the garments may differ between settlements.  The foremost Ancient Finnish textile archeologist, Pirkko-Liisa Lehtosalo-Hilander, has identified the below variations in regional dress.

Her drawing below shows some of the variants of underdress construction.  The great thing about rectangular construction is that it can be adjusted as needed depending on the dimensions of your fabric and the size of garment needed.  

Diagram, engineering drawing

Description automatically generated

Let’s start with the measurements needed…

  1.  Bust ______________________
  2. Bust to Hem ________________
  3. Bust to Shoulder _____________
  4. Shoulder to Wrist ____________
  5. Hand Circumference __________

Let’s look at how those translate to the dress…

A couple notes on the measurements

  • Make sure to add seam allowance
  • Use the side gores to add the ease needed
  • The body panels can be straight or angled for a wider hem, depending on your fabric
  • Tuck your measuring tape under your bra strap for an easy way to get your Shoulder to Wrist measurement
  • Make sure you take your Shoulder to Wrist measurement with a bent elbow
  • For longer (slouchy at the wrist) sleeves add a couple inches to measurement D but keep the cuff (E) measurement the same 

Now that we have all the measurements and know what they correspond to, we need to plan our cutting.  This is VERY dependent on the width of your fabric and the size of your garment but since it is all straight lines it is pretty easy to mark out and adjust as needed.

Here is a diagram of the measurements used on a “standard” cutting layout.  Note the dotted line, if your fabric is wide enough you can fold it in half lengthwise and cut both body and sleeve panels at the same time. 

Now that we have cut our fabric, let’s look at how it all goes together.  

  1. Hem the neckline (measurement C)
  2. Find mid-point of each body panel (1/2 A)
  3. Sew sleeves to body panels, starting at the mid-point (remember, the hemmed edge is really the neckline so the sleeve is turned 90o to the body now)
  4. Sew the side gores to the sleeve/body assembly
  5. Hem cuffs and bottom

Here is a view of how it all goes together. You turn the sleeve 90o to the cutting layout for construction and the angle of the sleeve cut creates the V-neck.

A couple notes on finishing.

  • The depth of the V-neck can be brought up by securing with a small penannular broach or by hand sewing the hemmed edges
  • You will likely need to trim the bottom before hemming to remove any points

Sources

Euras’ Prehistory, The Information Centre of. “Prehistoric Eura.” Prehistoric Eura – From the Stone Age to the Crusade Period

Hovi, Satu. “The Making of Female Viking Dress.” Katajahovi, 2017, www.katajahovi.org/en/making-of-female-finn-viking-dress.html

Lehtosalo-Hilander, Pirkko-Liisa. Ancient Finnish Costumes. Finnish Archaelogical Society, 1984

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