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history pragmatic historian

Bog Coat / Bog Bodies

Bog Coat

The Textile Center of Minnesota recently offered a class on how to construct a bog coat. As a fiber artist, I’m curious about elemental forms of clothing construction, particularly jackets and pants made from basic shapes with very little cutting or sewing involved. When I saw the class offering, the bog coat piqued my interest and I looked it up online.

I found several websites sharing the bog coat pattern. Using one piece of rectangular fabric, a couple of cuts and seams form the arms and you’ve got a coat. You don’t get much more elemental in making a piece of clothing. It is now on my To Do list to make a bog coat (or several).

Bog coat pattern from Threads magazine

Blog jacket pattern from Alpacas Magazine

Back to the Bog by Shirley Adams

Bog Bodies

What is intriguing about the bog coat pattern is that most websites sharing it mention that the coat dates back to the Bronze Age, with an example having been found buried with the body of a man in a bog. That fact is interesting enough that I wanted to know more, so I tried to track down additional information on this supposed archaeological find.

I was unsuccessful in finding any specific sources tying the bog coat to a particular bog burial of a man. But I did find more information on bog bodies, including photographs of people exhumed from peat bogs in Denmark, England, and other parts of northern Europe.

Because of the nature of bogs, with their coldness and wetness and lack of oxygen, bodies that are buried in bogs are well-preserved, such that you can see the features on these people’s faces. They date between the Iron Age and Bronze Age. Many of the bog bodies that have been found have suffered horrifying deaths, with evidence of overkill. Multiple methods of execution were used on them. (Although archaeologists are rethinking that. It’s pretty difficult to tell what damage was done before death and what occurred after.)

But Where Did the Bog Coat Come From?

The Smithsonian has a marvelously detailed article on bog bodies, including photos. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer my question about where the bog coat came from. Another article from History Extra of the BBC indicates that most bog people were buried naked, so that makes me wonder whether a bog coat was ever discovered with a bog body. If not, where did the coat come from?

Knowing where the bog coat came from and its approximate date would allow textile artists to figure out where it fits within the long line of textile inventions. Sure, making a coat out of a bunch of complex pieces of fabric speaks to the evolution of clothing construction, but most of these later changes in construction are minor tweaks to established patterns.

Whoever figured out how to make a coat from a single piece of fabric (or hide) with very little in the way of cutting or sewing at the beginning of the evolutionary chain of clothing construction was a genius. It’s akin to inventing the wheel or figuring out how to start a fire.

Imagining where these original sparks of ingenuity came from for our most basic inventions makes me perpetually curious.

8 thoughts on “Bog Coat / Bog Bodies”

  1. Hi Mary, I was interested to come across your post on this. I ‘ve just made a dress based on the bog coat cutting concept as part of zero waste patterncutting research (I’m a patternmaker). Like you, I haven’t found much evidence from the Bronze Age, but there’s a book called Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials by Danish expert Margarethe Hald. I haven’t read it. It’s in English. It cost megabucks on Amazon however there’s a very short review here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/004049683793690651?journalCode=ytex20 You might be able to borrow a copy and see what she says. Also, Cut My Cote by Dorothy K Burnham speaks about the cut possibly being derived from animal skins, with short cloth jackets among Danish Bronze Age finds. All the best for making your bog coat!

  2. Hi, Liz – Thank you so much for the information on Margarethe Hald. I see she first published her book loooooong before the age of the internet. As a museum person, I know full well not every source can be found online, but I sure am going to start there when people make a claim about the source of something historical like bog coats. šŸ™‚ The beauty of being online is that helpful people, like you!, can jump in and provide sources they are aware of that exist elsewhere.

    I wonder if my library system can get a hold of Hald’s book or Burnahm’s book.

    I’m curious about your dress, especially the zero waste concept. How did it work out for you? Was there zero waste by the time you were finished?

  3. Hi Mary, very sorry I didn’t check back to read your reply. I’ve since done more experiments with this cutting concept including incorporating hoods or collars, all zero waste. Such a simple, versatile cut! If you’ll send me an email I’ll tell you more about it.
    Burnham’s book is easy to buy on Amazon, not too expensive, and totally worth it!

    1. Hi, Liz – Yes, I am curious about how to make these coats with zero waste. Not only do I want to know for my own edification, I’m also working on a presentation for a preservation conference. I want to create a Grand Unified Theory of Preservation that isn’t simply about preserving buildings (the typical focus of the conference) but about all the manufactured items in our environment, plus the environment itself.

      I will be in touch via email in the coming week.


  4. Hope you found Cut My Cote — I was just looking up the Bog Coat in my copy and wondering if there were any other resources on it online. I’ve had a nice rayon wrap I’ve been wanting to make into a topper of some sort and this seemed like a simple, no-leftovers way to do it. Here’s one you didn’t list: http://www.thequiltercommunity.com/Wc8f1c1a1f8b9e.htm

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