Nerd Heaven: Thorsbjerg Trouser Edition

As implied in the title, I am in Nerd Heaven right now. In fact, I’m so excited that I nearly forgot to eat lunch and I just realized that I still haven’t made my bed! (Ask Günther: that’s a big deal.)

First of all, I should probably give my excitement some context. You see, despite the fact that my primary obsession in the SCA is all things 14th Century (pre-1330, thank you, very much!), I’ve poured a lot of energy in my SCA career into researching, making, and teaching about Thorsbjerg trousers. My Thorsbjerg trousers class was the first class I ever taught at Clothier’s (where I’ve taught it twice), and I’ve taken the class to Lilies and Gulf Wars as well. My interest and my sharing of that interest has resulted in me doing a google search, years after I debuted my class, to find out if there is any new information on the trousers and discovering that my handout and the images therein have become common sources for other reenactors. While it was really gratifying to have my work utilized as a source, it also gave me a new level of responsibility because, if my work is going to be used as a source and pictures of my lord’s undies pasted all over the internet (read the handout, you’ll understand),then it is incumbent upon me to endeavor to keep that work up-to-date and as accurate as possible.

You see, one of the beauties and the challenges of academic study both professionally and in the SCA is that, as research continues, our understanding expands. A person who became a Laurel for 14th Century clothing 20 years ago could find themselves completely revamping their kit because our knowledge about period garments has increased and fabrics that would have been used in period are more easily accessible. The important thing is to keep an open mind and be willing to put your ego aside and re-examine your theories, which is actually something we talked about a great deal in the round table discussions about Judges and Entrants in Arts and Sciences competitions I moderated.

I try very hard to practice what I preach, so when I started reassessing my theories in regards to the Thorsbjerg Trousers, I decided to reexamine my previous dismissal of a proposal that the seat piece at the back of the trousers was a square as opposed to a trapezoid (my method).

First of all, it was a brief reassessment. You see, the trousers get their shape, comfort, and flexibility from the fact that they’re sewn bias edge to straight edge, throughout the garment. If you insert a square seat panel, disturbing this line, you’re going to run into awkwardness and, as I’ve seen, droopy drawers.

Don’t get me wrong: there are early period trousers with square seats such as the Marx Etzel, another pair of trousers found in the Thorsbjerg mose that wasn’t as well preserved, and the Damendorf trousers shown below.

Damendorf trousers

However, unlike the Thorsbjerg Trousers, these trousers would be sewn straight edge to straight edge, except for the crutch and the addition of gussets along the bottom of the seat.

Secondly, the reasons for determining that the seat was square were based upon old black and white photos in which the garment is not laying flat and the images are difficult to discern.

Also, the sketches of the backside from which Shelagh Lewins (the premiere source on patterning these trousers from your own measurments), I, and countless others have drawn our inspiration were done by the archaeologist, Margrethe Hald, PhD, who wrote “Ancient Danish Textiles From Bogs And Burials: A Comparative Study Of Costume And Iron Age Textiles (Publications Of The National Museum. Archaeological Historical Series) .” One can assume she would have had access to the physical trousers and her sketch shows a trapezoid seat panel.

Hald Pattern

Finally, however, just to be 100% certain that my theory is correct before I put it in my pipe and had a cup of tea, I decided to email the Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen and ask them about the seat panel of the Thorsbjerg trousers. Just as the black and white photos of the trousers don’t prove that the seat was a square, the same distortion doesn’t completely disprove the theory. (Albeit, Margrethe Hald’s interpretation could very well serve as a deciding factor.)

I was secretly hoping they would send me an up-to-date, hi-def, digital photo of the backside of the trousers, but their response was adequately satisfying. They sent me this picture and apologized for the notes being German.


As you can see, there is a ten centimeter difference between the top side of the seat panel and the bottom side, making the seat a trapezoid, not a square.

Now, my next endeavor will be to translate the notes on the right.

In the mean time, this discovery has renewed my interest in making Thorsbjerg trousers for Günther. He’s wanted a new pair for a long time while I’ve been trying to push him towards a pure 14th Century kit, but… Footed trousers do look like hosen and no one should be lifting up his cotes to check except for me anyway. 😉

Published by MyLadyMother

I'm a wife, mother, writer, clothier, and singer. I spend my time home-making and raising my children in a Christian, home-schooled environment, while also being active in the Society of Creative Anachronism. Let the balancing-act begin!

4 thoughts on “Nerd Heaven: Thorsbjerg Trouser Edition

  1. Note: I remeasured Günther for his new pair and, if he lost four inches around the thigh, he could wear the extant trousers at his natural waist with an inch to spare. That said, using the difference between Günther’s thigh and the trouser’s thigh, that could allow for a “give” of 4″-4.5″ around the waist, which would then be cinched with a rope-belt or drawstring.


  2. I was curious about the watermark on the image the museum sent you so I did some reverse searching and it looks like it originally made by a man named Hafdi:

    The producer of the layout and notes doesn’t appear to have any association with the museum where the trousers are held (that I can find), which made me curious about what the notes say. They appear to be instructions for making up in a size medium/large, including some notes about making a mockup and fitting to the wearer and that the measurement don’t include seam allowances. These are, frankly, odd things for a museum to note. The measurements don’t exactly match those listed for the extant trousers in Life in the Limes: Studies of the people and objects of the Roman frontiers ( or Katrin Kania’s paper “Die Hose von Thorsberg- ein Meisterwerk eisenzeitlicher Schneiderkunst.”

    You may want to ask with the museum that houses the trousers directly (Archäologisches Landesmuseum instead of Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen) that this is their work/produced under their supervision or if they can verify that these measurement are of the extant garment, and not just some individual’s suggestions on making up.



    1. Thank you! I’ve emailed the museum and am waiting for a reply.

      However, while Hafdi’s credibility may be questionable, I do maintain that Margrethe Hald, who was an archaeologist and who sketched the pattern with a trapezoid seat, should be considered a reliable source until proven otherwise. 🙂


    2. I finally received a reply from the Archaeologisches Landesmuseen of Schleswig and received the same email from the same, helpful person who emailed me from the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseen last week. (Which is frankly what I expected since it was clear when I sent the email that the museums are functioning on the same domain.)

      Clearly the museum likes Hafdi’s pattern, but I’ve edited my post of the portion pertaining to what I mistakenly thought the pattern said about the bog man’s size. When I began, I felt fairly confident in the Margrethe Hald pattern because she was an archaeologist and I still do. I was just hoping for a little extra confirmation so that I could feel that I’ve covered my bases, and I have.

      Maybe my bugging them will prompt new photos of the backside of the trousers to be released into public domain. 🙂


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