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Inspiration #18, A Woman From Birka


(…) and there was the wife o’er her fair arms wondering,
smoothing her linen, stretching her sleeves.
A high-peaked coif and a breast-brooch wore she,
trailing robes and a blue-tinged sark.
Her brow was brighter, her breast was fairer,
her throat was whiter than driven snow.“

Song of Rígsþula, 28–29; 10th century.

In the eighteenth part of inspiration series, I’d like to introduce my friend, Slovak reenactor Natália Barboriaková. It took me a while to talk her into making an inspiration, but eventually, she agreed and provided me with some photos of her interesting costume and a commentary on it.

Natália has been tablet-weaving for several years, but she has been regularly participating in historical festivals since 2015. She is a co-founder of the Nornir – early medieval crafts online store, for which she sews clothes and makes tablet-woven ribbons. She also deals with natural dyeing and any textile processing in general.

Her current costume, represents a rich woman from Birka, set in the 2nd half of the 10th century. The basis of the costume is a linen T-cut underdress (serkr). Natália currently has two of these, one bleached and one in a natural colour. The white dress is fastened with a bronze replica of a coin-shaped brooch found in grave Bj 967, which is Borre-style disc brooch Type II.

Coin-shaped brooch of the type II from the grave Bj 967.

A woollen apron (smokkr) is worn over the underdress. Natalia wears two different aprons. The first, light, is made of woollen herringbone fabric and is decorated with a silk tablet-woven strap with a silk weft in a pattern B6 (according to Agnes Geijer) based on a find from grave Bj 965. The second apron, made of orange-black woollen herringbone fabric, is decorated with a red silk ribbon. The aprons are fastened with bronze replicas of oval brooches – P 51 type, which were found in several graves in Birka (specifically the subtype P 51 C3, which was found in grave Bj 961). Natália notes that all fragments of the preserved aprons have double loops placed on opposite sides of the apron (see this document).

Oval brooches of the type P 51 C3 from the grave Bj 961.
Examples of herringbone and diamond twills found in Birka.

A light brown overdress sewn from woollen herringbone fabric, which is decorated with a replica of Oseberk brocade, is also worn over the underdress. Natália wears a red woollen caftan over her overdress, fastened with a bronze replica of a trefoil brooch (Z 2.1 shape, type K 6a, according to Birgit Maixner) found in Bj 480 grave. Natália adds that the original caftans were made of diamond-twill fabrics, and wants to fix this detail.

The costume includes leather shoes based on the Haithabu finds, as no shoes were known in Birka when the constume was created. A brown-red woollen hood, lined with linen fabric; a simple bag to be replaced with a handbag with handles based on Birka findings; a shawl (slæðr) made as shown in this document and silk caps (faldr) in three different colours (red, beige, blue), decorated with sewn-on silk tablet-woven straps. Natália also experiments with period hairstyles and wears knots that are depicted on stones and metal statues.

The pendant from the grave Bj 1062.

Other jewellery includes a necklace, which consists of silver pendants based on finds from Birka (Bj 1062), Denmark and Gniezno and glass beads from Birka and other areas. Beads can also be seen among oval brooches in combination with silver and bronze beads. Other jewellery are earrings made based on findings from Novgorod.

The fabrics are not hand-woven or naturally dyed, and Natália wants to change this in the future. I know Natalia very well and I know that she approaches historic reconstruction very responsibly. So responsibly, that she carries archaeological materials with her while shopping and compares the originals with the offered goods. She is extremely modest and is always willing to advise. She is constantly upgrading her costume and is planning to make a new costume next year, this time a Novgorod one.

The gallery is below, the authors of the photos are: Veronika Tabáková (1st-9th photo), Andrej Slávik (10th-11th photo), Tomáš Vlasatý (12th photo), Peter Janičina (13th photo), Jan Fibiger (14th photo) and Natália Barboriaková (photo 15–18):

Thanks to Natalia Barboriaková for her time and for answering all my questions. The Forlǫg project wishes Natália many successes and interesting moments in her future reenacting career. Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.

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