The wrap around coat- fragtment 11 from Haitabau

Some thoughts on how we “read the textile” and combine it with the few pictures we have…

The Wrap-around coat is probably one of the most iconic costumes from the late Iron Age and Viking age. It is depicted on the Danish gold foil amulets (guldgubber), on Bracteats on the helmets from Valsgarde and Sutton Hoo sometimes rather detailed.

vendel grav 14 hjælm

( vendel grave 14)

slå om jakke guldgubbe

(Goldfoil figure Denmark 5 Century AD)

plate_2_l ( Sutton Hoo Helmet 625 AD)


( The Pliezhausen brooch early 7 cent. AD)

And then there is the finds from Haitabau…

No less than 9 fragments are identified as being part of a wrap-around coat, they are very different in size, material and state. Some, like fragment 11 seems to be a piece with both layers preserved, some fragtments is just a small corner, but with a rim of fake fur!

I have chosen to focus on the pieces that, when you look at them all together, reveals a little more info on the wrap-around tunic. First thing first: when you study the fragments from Haitabau, it becomes clear that this is used-even worn out- textile. Some of the repairs are done poorly, and there are clear sings of secondary cuts and alterations. With that in mind lest take a look at fragment 11:

Fragtment 11:

Fragment 11 is mostly a large uncolored brown 2/2 twill that shows clear signs of repair. First, i´ll give you Inga Häggs interpretation, then my own.  But here are the facts:

  • The textile is 35 cm high, 37 cm long, 0,2 cm thick.
  • It has a rounded corner, and is cut diagonally across the weave ( bias-cut)
  • It consists of two layers
  • The seams are made with ordinary hem stiches


And that is pretty much what we can agree on…I must admit, this little piece was quite a puzzle, and the many repairs makes it even harder to understand.

First things first: the piece have one clear and without a doubt – edge, its what appears to be the lower part of the fragment, where a hemmed edge is preserved. The piece is cut diagonally from left to right (That’s Inga Häggs interpretation- mine is the other way around, but i´ll get back to that..) forming a rather sharp corner. The opposite corner is a rounded corner, apparently  a hemmed  slit, which could be between 15 to 30 cm deep.



The sharp diagonal cut has no clear egde, neither has the area around the slit or the upper half. So we have little -or no- idea how long the coat has been. Some basic mathematical principals can help us make a tentative estimate of the length, but since we have no information on the construction of the top, this could only be a well-qualified guess.

The layes:

one layer ( lets call this layer 1)is well preserved, its brown/uncolored wool, a 2/2 twill.  At the first glance it looks like it made in one piece- but it is at least 3 different parts sewn together ( 1a, 1b and 1c) they are all made out of the same fabric, so this seems to be intentionally and not repairs. Piece 1a is cut with the direction of the warp ( as you normally does it, 1b however is cut along the weft! Inga Hägg notice this, but not speculate more on it.

My interpretation: I think this is done with full intention and as part of a decorative feature. I see piece 1b as the decorative band running on the edge of the coat on the diagonal.  The placing of the warp and weft-cut fabric perpendicularly on each other gives a refined optic effect. it´s a way of creating the illusion of different fabrics and colors with one and the same piece of textile. The odd little square that seem added to shape a corner, actually explains a lot ( picture  – the added corner) When you fold the rectangular added piece, you are going to miss a small corner- but you can just add one on..


Inga Hägg notices that the hem here is done on the outside, -the wrong side is facing out- which is peculiar…. Indeed it is. And that’s why I’m pretty sure this interpretation is wrong.  She bases this interpertation on the textile on the other side- layer 2.

Layer 2

So let’s look at layer 2..layer 2 is actually 3 different types of textile, one 2/2 twill, the two others variations of tabby. They are all dyed. The stich work is highly irregular, large and in different color tread. Layer 2 is much more damaged; perhaps the different stich work is a sign of repairs? Inga Hägg believes this to be the lining of the coat, but i think we should also consider another interpretation- that this could be the outside of the coat.  On the Sutton Hoo helmet we see, that the jacket could be worn both ways- to left AND right. ( or maybe this is just an artistic representation- who knows?)

However- I think, that is just as possible that the worn, repaired and colored textile is on the outside of the garment- the irregular stich work could even be the remains of embroidery or where a decorative band used to be. Note that the seam on the layer 2 is hemmed facing inward layer 1.

When the coat became beyond repair, it was discarded.

So, what do we really know about the wrap around coat?

  • it could have a lining
  • it could wrap from left to right-or the other way around
  • it could be in several different colors and fabrics sewn together.

let’s take a look at how this coat could have looked. Since the wrap-around is a very long-lasting design, the sleeves could be either a simple square “add-on sleeve” or the tailored fit-in sleeve. In the same way, we don´t have any info on how fitted the coat is, and the long lasting design probably changes a lot during time and place. With all these reservations, here goes:

Idea number 1  : Inga Häggs suggestion

wraparound coat_ingahagg

The coat has a brown outer layer and a plant dyed lining. She believes that there might have been a decorative band or something in the bottom, since the lining appears to be longer than the outer layer. It is wrapped from left to right

Idea number 2 :My suggestion


I think that the plant dyed lining could be the outer side because:

  • It is more worn and repaired
  • It has the hemming stiches on the colored part is facing in- against – the natural brown fabric
  • It would be one the first and only examples of an entire coat (dress or pants or..) with the hemming facing outside.
  • The most common way to depict the coat shows it wrapped from the right to the left.

The added rectangular piece it folded so it would have the same thickness as the doubled layer fabric- maybe it is cover by the colored piece- maybe it isn´t.

Anyway, they are two different, but equally likely interpretations of the wrap around coat.

I have made a suggestion of possible Wrap-around Coat”- this is however just one layer- next i´ll try to make the two-layer typer. This is wool, 2/2 twill and tabby, Madder roots and walnut leaves









” Does this not feel real to you?”

I read this really interesting post (on a recommendable blog, by the way) about costume and re-enactment. The debate is simple “ This issue relates to whether visitors in costume should be allowed entry to museums that currently ban them”- but it is much more that that- it is about the whole idea of ” Authentic costumes”..what is real, what is ”Farb” what is definitely not okay?

well, my oh my, is this a dangerous topic. This digs right into the hearth of all heated debates every re-enactor had ever had ever. But why? Why is the ”costume so important? Well first of all, today re-enactment in synonymous with” dressing the part”- that is what sets it apart from experimental archaeology, that is usually done in your everyday workwear- so the costume becomes vital for the feeling of authenticity- it becomes what defines whether or not this is a costume party or a historical event. For the re-enactors themselves there is a strong emotional feeling of authenticity if they have the assumption that their costume is close to a prehistoric reality – or so you should believe. Because it is not always the fact-what feels real, becomes real. And a lot of the time the idea of what is “Viking age” does not always corresponds with how Viking age (or any other period) clothing looked or feel like- you could wear a detailed reconstruction and still not feel very authentic, it the costume is very far away from the way modern mass media have taught you that Viking age should look like. For a lot of re-enactors, it is also a question of aesthetics- you wish to look “good”, but the idea of what is “good” in the prehistoric time could be very far away from your own idea.

For instance- a lot of Viking reenactors likes green clothing, since we have an idea of green being a colour that is somehow “natural” and more “real” than pink, purple or blue- even though it is much easier to make these colours ( a lot of plant gives a light pink on untreated wool) and pure green is really hard to make. So a light babypink shirt wouldn´t feel very “Viking” while a deep bottlegreen wold.

So- it is easy to understand why the costume becomes a battleground- there is a big difference between what feels authentic and what is authentic. And here is where the hammer hits the nail: re-enactment is often about a feeling of presence of the prehistoric past – that the past becomes real to you- “ like being there”- and if the costume fails to give you that feeling, then it is unauthentic no matter how many archaeological sources it is based upon.

So what we should debate is not the grade of “authenticity” in our outfits, but how our modern perception of beauty, our ideas about the past and even our personal aesthetics prevent us from making outfits that are closer to the archaeological finds, simply because they are to alien to our idea of how a Viking costume should look

Or as the answer Frank Underwood in “ House of cards” season 2 gets when he confronts a civil war re-enactor about who he “really is” – “ Does this not feel real to you”?