The article has been published in the Archaeological Textiles Review for the Lendbreen constructions. I love that the time needed to reconstruct the garments was included, as it is very important for providing context for the garments. (Yes, I also love that they used Villsau wool!)
I think that this could also be subtitled "My love-hate relationship with Herringbone cloth".
In my Textiles and Dress Class, I discuss what types of cloth are the most common in the Viking Age and talk bit about tracking down modern textiles that, even if not perfect, are good options for reenactment. Another item I touch on in that class is making good choices. We all love the rare graves, and unique items, but one kit made of 20 different unique pieces steps away from being a good historic representation of a time. An easy way to start building a better kit is in your cloth choices, and one can consider weave structure, threadcount, and color when making those choices.
For me personally, I lean towards the most common weaves (tabby and twill), whenever possible. I will add an element such as broken diamond twill to my kit for a very high status persona, but would not add broken diamond twill, herringbone cloth, a silk band, tablet weaving, and possements all to one costume because it would be showing too much that was rare in period all at once. My love-hate relationship with herringbone reflects the fact that I find the weave attracted, but I am often frustrated when it tends to be more readily available in the weights I want than the more historically common twill and tabby. (And this is additionally frustrating when the herringbone cloth is two tone, which is also something less common in period.)
I turned the data from Lise Bender Jørgense's book Prehistoric Scandinavian Textiles, as well as some additional works, into charts to help illustrate how common (or not) weaves were in various areas.
Denmark - 9th Century
Jørgensen's work on the textiles of Denmark covers graves, excluding Hedeby, and is nicely broken down into two centuries. One issue with this work that it only covers weave structure in the synopsis, and for me to break it down between linen and wool, I would have to reference back to collect that data. Further, some of the data here is provided by textile pseudomorphs, which only show us the weave structure and leave no cloth to analyze. It is likely that some amount (even a good amount, according to the author) of the tabby shown here is linen. It is also possible that some of the tabby weave represents a type of fine, open weave wool that was used for veils and mantles but that was also used as specific burial clothes or covers. It is also noted by the author that there are additional "fine silks" not covered in her work because they were detailed elsewhere.
For Denmark the charts are based on the total number of textiles/textile impressions.
Denmark - 10th Century
The notes above apply to this category also.
For Hedeby I had to reference the book Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby by Eva Andersson; Die Textilfunde aus der Siedlung und aus den Grabern von Haithabu by Inga Hägg; and VikingAge.org, as well as Jørgensen's work to obtain data for the chart.
Note that I only have the percentages for weave structure, not total number of fragments for Hedeby, and the percentages in Andersson's work are listed below. I believe it is, in part representative of the silk cloth, possaments or metal brocaded bands found in the graves. As mentioned previously, some of the fine tabbies might represent burial cloth.
It is also interesting to note that only one of the "other twills" is a herringbone weave, and the only herringbone sample from the settlement finds was from a legwrap. Also relative, the most common cloth from the settlement is 2/2 twill.
Sweden - Excluding Birka and Gotland
One of the nice things about Jørgensen's work is she does break out unusual segments of data, such as that from Gotland. This allows the reader to look at Sweden and Gotland (which tend to have very different types of grave goods) individually, rather than as a whole, which can skew the presentation.
Birka - Linen & Wool Cloth
For Birka I had two separate sets of data from which to work. One from the analysis in Jørgensen's book, and the other from Andersson. This first breaks it down into fiber types, as well as weave, but is based on number of graves, rather than number of textiles.
Birka - Textiles
This chart was based on a chart produced by Inga Hägg that covers the Birka textiles and that was reproduced in Andersson's work.
My only note here is that Jørgensen makes the comment that the Broken Diamond Twill is far more common in Western Norway, than in the South East.
For York I had to compile information from Anglo-Scandinavian Finds from Lloyds Bank, Pavement and Other sites by Arthur MacGregor and Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate by Penelope Walton. Some of the fragments might represent one piece of cloth, but the author's were not completely sure and hence they, and I, listed them separate.
To say that I completely love linen would be a gross understatement on my part. I find this cloth to be a god-send in the local humid summers. It allows me to, quite comfortably, wear multiple layers of garb (presenting a more period look), than I otherwise could. Also, if you are using a long-staple linen, the fabric has great longevity.
I am the first to admit, however, that I use far, far more linen in period than my persona would have, and in far, far more colors. It is an exception that I make for events such as Pennsic, where it is almost a requirement for my comfort. I think most of us, in this area, tend to do that. What I want to discuss today though, is evidence for the use of linen in the Viking Age. Why? Because I have heard far too often very flat statements that Vikings rarely used linen, they never grew their own and sometimes narrower statements, that seem like they should have more of a foundation, such as "in Norway in the Viking Age no one used linen".
To start, Linen is a bast fiber spun from the flax plant. The first use of flax was in 7000BC in Turkey. (Ejstrud, 17) The first evidence of flax in Scandinavia is a seed from a Danish Iron Age find with the earliest piece of fabric being from the Roman Iron Age. Sweden has shows shows evidence of flax cultivation with similar dating to that of Denmark. (Ejstrud, et. al. 18; Viklund 509, 510)
There are other bast fibers as well, such as nettle and hemp, that were accessible to the Viking Age Norse. In archaeological finds it can even be difficult to differentiate between bast fibers. I have also noticed a trend, of late, where people are searching in desperation for hemp cloth to use for garments after the publishing of the article "Viking and Early Middle Ages Textiles Proven to be Made from Hemp". (https://www.nature.com/articles/srep02686 )
What I find interesting about that list bit, is that that particular study, while fascinating, used only 10 textiles, all of which were either decorative or home goods (two coverlets and the rest wall hangings). 6 are pretty solidly Viking Age, two others might be (skewing, by date, more to wards "might not"), and two are not. Only 4 of the tent total show use of hemp, and three of those show mixed use of flax and hemp. (Skoglund) I find that this is a fascinating piece of research, but it does not convince me that hemp would have been a top choice for garments.
This week I stumbled on a newer piece of research that thoroughly analyzed a number of textiles from Western Norway to fully determine whether the bast fibers involved were flax or hemp. In, "Identifying plant fibre textiles from Norwegian Merovingian Period and Viking Age graves", they look at ten samples, nine of which are considered to be from CLOTHING, and the last being from a purse. (https://www.academia.edu/34152492/Identifying_plant_fibre_textiles_from_Norwegian_Merovingian_Period_and_Viking_Age_graves_The_Late_Iron_Age_Collection_of_the_University_Museum_of_Bergen ) This piece, delightfully, helps to answer some of my questions.
9 of the 10 items were positively identified as flax and the final one was only able to be determined to be some type of bast fiber. (Lukešová) . I do hope that similar studies are carried out in a few other locations, to further confirm (or to counter) my thoughts that bast fiber garments worn by those of some social status (or at least wealthy enough to have a set of oval brooches, I will not deny that someone of lesser means might well have worked with native nettle or merely worn only layers of wool), were indeed flax rather than other alternatives. (See quote from conclusion below.)
There is evidence in some areas of Viking Age Scandinavia of pit houses, which are typically associated with weaving of linen or other bast fibers (the environment inside is more humid, making it ideal for weaving the difficult threads). Production tools and location for seeds and pollen finds can also be considered if one was trying to determine if flax and/or hemp is locally produced, but whether it was local or imported is less relevant at this moment to me than proof that, indeed, these garments were made of flax. (As a side note, Hägg, in her most recent work at Hedeby, mentions that she believes it is possible that the pleated underdresses were actually a Slavic imported item. That is a bit of research I would dearly love to see more information on!)
Even more interesting in this recent paper, was the information that two of the garments (both identified as "Women's clothing") were not the tabby weave most often associated with but lozenge twill. Of those, one dates to the Viking Age (the other is Merovingian Age) and is from Vinjum in Aurland. (Also interesting is that the paper labels this as a 10th Century find, as does Lise Bender Jørgensen, but Sørheim lists it as 850CE in her paper about the imported metal work.) Finds of linen in twill are rather rare, so this shoes that a diamond twill is a possibility, even if an archaeological rarity.
That of course let me on a chase for more information about twill weaves in linen, and I did turn up a couple of additional items. (Note that this is not a formal survey on my part, and I did not even take a crack at the Birka material for this, it was just a quick glance at Jørgensen's catalog of finds as well as Walton Roger's work at York.)
Vinjum in Aurland:
Fragments, 2.8X2cm. Diamond twill with a repeat of 20/10. Z/Z spun, 38/26 threads per cm. She lists it as probably linen. (Jørgensen)
Denmark: Søllested, Denmark (Item 97 in the book): Linen in broken twill or possible diamond twill; Z/Z; 30/13 threads per cm. (I am unsure of the gender of this grave, but there are no brooches in the grave.) (Jørgensen)
Sweden: Vivallen, Tännäs s., Härjedalen, SHM 15052: 4 Grave 4 (Item 35 under Viking Age Sweden): 1) 2/1 twill, Z/Z, 20/10 threads per cm, plant fibre (Jørgensen)
Sweden: Mossegårde, Fiilene s., Vi.istergiitland. SHM 15333 (Item 65):
1) 1/2 Gooseeye, Z/Z repeat of 18/12, thread count of 32/13 per cm, probably linen; 3) 1/2 Gooseeye Z/Z; plant fibre (Jørgensen)
Further, Penelope Walton Rogers' work from York records:
If the linen tabbies may be considered largely domestically produced, the origin of the linen textiles in other weaves is not so clear. Simple 2/2 twill in linen, or probably linen, of which there are four examples at 16-22 Coppergate (1273, 1332, 1403 and 1462), is Fig. 150 Padded pleat, 1462, in carbonised 2/2 twill. Not to scale extremely rare elsewhere, although there may be some examples from Spong Hill in Norfolk (Crowfoot and Jones 1984, 22, 24). Similarly only a small number of 2/2 broken diamond twills in linen are known from Anglo-Saxon sites, from Barrington, Cambridgeshire (G. Crowfoot 1951, 30-32), Finglesham, Kent (E. Crowfoot 1958, 17, 36-7), Sutton Hoo (E. Crowfoot 1983,460) and Spong Hill (Crowfoot and Jones 1984, 24), with counts of 16-18Z x 16-18Z, 22-24Z x 18S, 21-22Z x 15-17Z and 16Z x 16Z respectively, all with varying pattern units.
So what does this mean for me? It is, indeed, possible to use a very occasional linen twill garment in a high status kit. Would I choose to make the entire kit from twill and diamond twill linen? No, but a single garment could be possible.
And one more note about linen, because this item also comes up regularly and I mentioned before that I use linen in far more colors than would have been available historically. We know that linen could be dyed blue, as it turns up in archaeology. Woad and Indigo coat the fiber shaft in a manner differently than others dyes, such as madder, where dye does not take up well and often results in a pale shade that is not light fast. I have personally gotten some pretty light yellows on linen with weld and Queen Anne's Lace, and a lovely soft coral with madder, but I do not know that I could say that the Viking Age Norse would have desired such subtle colors.
In my research on Stripes and Plaids, I did make note of several Viking Age examples of colored linen and those are noted below (again, this is not a formal nor complete survey):
My Personal Plans
I plan to continue to use linen, rather than other bast fibers, for under garments and underdresses, and even occasionally headcoverings, in my more accurate kit. I might eventually incorporate a piece or two of twill linen as well, and my focus, in terms of color, will continue to be bleached, natural and blue linens over all. (For the bulk of my non-demo, non-teaching events, however, I will continue to use the spectrum of colors in my currently linen garments, but explaining, as I do now, the reasons behind my choices when discussing my garments.)
Bender Jørgensen, Lise. Prehistoric Scandinavian Textiles, (Det Kongelige Nordiske oldskriftselskab), 1986.
Ejstrud, Bo, Andresen, Stina, Appel, Amanda, Gjerlevsen, Sara and Thomsen, Birgit. “Experiments with flax at the Ribe Viking Centre” (Ribe Viking Centre & University of Southern Denmark), 2001.
Lukešová, Hana, Adrià Salvador Palau and Bodil Holst. "Identifying plant fibre textiles from Norwegian Merovingian Period and Viking Age graves." Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 2017.
Skoglund, G., Nockert, M, and Holst, B. “Viking and Early Middle Ages Northern Scandinavian Textiles Proven to be made with Hemp.” Scientific Reports, 2013.
Sørheim, H. "Three Prominent Norwegian Ladies with British Connections." Acta Archaeologica 82. (2011)
Walton Rogers, P. "Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fiber from 16-22 Coppergate,” The Archaeology of York Volume 17: The Small Finds. 1989.
Viklund, Karin. “Flax in Sweden: the archaeobotanical, archaeological and historical evidence.” Veget Hist Archaeobot, 2011.
I have wonderful friends who gifted me with a copy of Bundled Up in Blue last fall. It is a great museum exhibit book that covers many details of a Viking grave find in Iceland. I was very happy last night to see the dress information now available online. You can find it here!
Those who have taken my Viking Age textiles classes know that I love to talk about scale. Things like how tiny plaids were or how tiny the diamonds in diamond twill were. The cloth used by high status individuals was quite fine. It is, however, very hard to find broken diamond twill at all, let alone in a fine cloth.
Well, someone is stepping up to the plate and offering some BEAUTIFUL fabric to reenactors. You can go directly to the Facebook post from this link, and I included images below. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=401269506889989&id=100010208285904
I have friends who joke about me counting threads in cloth. I can readily laugh with them about it because textiles are a passion for me. In part, because the historic construction of cloth fascinates me, but in part also because this is one of the few facets of Viking costume for which we have a definitive model. Most of us who recreate these ancient bits of clothing know that we do so with great limitations regarding what patterning, cut and construction was used (particularly when it comes to women's dress). There is always a great deal of guesswork involved on part of the costumer.
The cloth itself, however, we have thousands of examples of. We know what this cloth looked like, we can see, even today, the texture and quality of textiles that the early Norse women crafted. My patterning of garments is largely guesswork, but the cloth itself I can at least analyze and try to attempt to find textiles that bear similar visual qualities, including thread count. Of course, one can bring up the argument that there are still faults with this (such as wrong breed of sheep or improper width of yarn leading to a more dense or loose cloth than that of a specific period example). I still believe that studying the fabric yields us a wealth of information about dress in the past and can help us better reach the goal of more faithfully reproducing it.
One of the hardest things that I had to overcome (and I have mentioned this in past entries), is that notion that the Viking Era Norse were barbarians, that their craft was crude and clumsy. While that might be true in some areas, the wealth of extant textiles does not bear this out. There were fabrics, of wool, that had thread counts in excess of 150 threads per inch in the warp. That cloth was exceptionally fine, even by today's standard. A person of some status, who wore metal brooches and a string of beads, certainly did not garb herself in cloth as coarse as burlap.
Breaking those stereotypes should not stop with the fabric. Another example (again, something that I have discussed at length in this forum, in online groups and in my classes) is that other elements could, perhaps, reflect the same sort of refinement and quality as did the cloth.
Long have I pondered how the large, open, and often poorly wrought (I have too many examples of this on my own costume) Herringbone Stitch has made itself so prevalent in Viking costume.
I think part of this, has to do with some modern mentality of equating over-embellished design elements with wealth and status. We love to see miles of trim or stitching on costume, and see it as a perfected work, rather than one that is over-wrought. Interesting, I think, given that one of the staples of a modern woman's wardrobe is the rather understated, but always elegant, "Little Black Dress". Simplicity can often speak volumes in the modern wardrobe, but we often bypass that concept in costuming because it, like the concept of fine wool fabric, does not fit with our own internal visualization of the past.
To look again at the scant evidence for the Herringbone stitch, see below:
Breaking the Myth
So where did we go wrong with this?
I think the first fault lies in our own taste. In our own desire to make something "rustic" that fits in with our own misconceptions of the capabilities of these people, we opt for things that fit in with this ideal, but also that are simple enough for anyone to add to their attire. We also have this concept that "more stuff" means higher status.
The second issue is with the evidence, or rather, our misinterpretation of it. One of the most circulated articles online is one entitled "Viking Embroidery" by Mistress Thora Sharptooth. She has been a powerful inspiration in the SCA for digging deeper into Viking costume and textiles. She has a series of works posted on-line that I think most of us would give credit as the best aids we had when starting out. In her embroidery work there is a paragraph concerning the ornamentation of seams.
One additional type of embroidery that seems to have been practiced even before the Viking Age was the ornamentation of seams. This practice occurred in an earlier related context, on a seam from a seventh-century pillow cover from the Sutton Hoo textiles (Crowfoot, 422), possibly indicating a tradition of some antiquity in north Europe. In the ninth century, one of the Oseberg garment seams is oversewn in some sort of loop stitch with a thread used double (Ingstad, 92). In similar fashion, some of the ninth- and tenth-century Hedeby and Birka finds display corded or braided thread appliqué over the seams (Hägg 1984, 169). The tenth-century Mammen grave contained a wool cushion with embroidery over a seam (Hald, 282). The stitches used on the Sutton Hoo and Mammen finds are similar: both yield a thick, wide strip with a plaited appearance. But whereas the stitch used on the Sutton Hoo pillow was a complex interlaced variant of Vandyke stitch (see the figure on the left below, redrawn from Crowfoot), the stitch used on the Mammen cushion was simpler, a closely-worked variant of herringbone (see the figure on the right below, redrawn from Hald).
I feel the need to further elaborate on the statements contained in this measure, and help to provide context (as it is researching these items that helped me to better trace the origins of the myth).
Putting the evidence into context is of paramount importance. Understanding something being referenced in that article is not necessarily proof that all of our notions of "seam embellishments" are documentable. It is absolutely not documentation that a standard Herringbone, or catch stitch, was ever used in such a manner either.
Looking deeper at the sources and meanings of each item is valuable as we move beyond beginner and progress on a journey as a costumer who is attempting to recreate the past.
My own opinion is that seams were likely not embellished. Not only due to lack of archaeological proof, but because of the time it would take to craft something that would make reuse of a textile less likely. It would be hard to take in that garment if it were so embellished. I often also see people citing that it "reinforces" the seams. Why then would you need to reinforce the seam of an aprondress (a garment that Hagg describes as only "slightly fitted"), when you are not taking time to sew that stitch around an armhole of a dress, or down the seam in the back of the sleeve at the elbow. Both of those areas are far more likely to break from stress than a side seam of a slightly fitted dress. Why not instead use these complex stitches (and the stitch from Mammen is indeed time consuming) on a functional textile such as the cushion cover that you will not need to alter, and that might possibly need the strength from the applied needlework?
And finally, I need to mention Scale, because I think a lack of understanding regarding scale is one of the main contributors to the reenactorism of "decorative herringbone". As I mentioned above, the only thing close to the reenactor's use of herringbone is the Mammen cushion cover. It is important to view that piece in proper perspective.
What we typically see of this find is the diagram in the lower right corner. This usually appears on our screen at a size of about a half an inch wide. The weave of the needlework for the diagram is open, to better show how the stitches interlace. What many people have not seen, is the actual photos of the cushion, which I have included here. Note that the stitch is tightly worked, with no negative space visible to the eye. In fact, it looks at first like applied braid. And perhaps the most important thing here is to consider the scale of the piece. That line of braid is a mere 3mm wide.
I think the single biggest perpetrator of the "herringbone seam embellishment" myth is a misunderstanding of that diagram (or rather, lack of understanding about its context). If indeed you were to opt to use this type of stitching, I think the only credible way to do so would be to apply it in the same manner of the original. While I personally do not think it would have been used over a dress seam, I can at least understand where the tradition stands historically and it reads as something that might be plausible for the Viking age.
(A I have woven a couple of the Dublin headcoverings before, as mentioned in a previous post here (http://awanderingelf.weebly.com/blog-my-journey/dublin-scarf-finished ). I did those on a rigid heddle loom with two heddles and currently have one of the narrow scarves warped up on a table loom in an even more fine wool yarn.
But I have been trying to puzzle a few things out about the loops at the ends of the fringed items, and how the spacing was kept with out a tablet woven starting border. (Spacing by hand would not be difficult with a thicker yarn, but with a very fine yarn it could be a continual pain for the weaver.) String heddles some times help spacing, but sometimes they also can botch it up.
In Viking Age Headcoverings from Dublin, Elizabeth Wincott Heckett suggests that the headcoverings might have been woven on a two beam loom similar to the one found at Oseberg (which is also thought to be a sprang loom and possible the item that the famous Oseberg tapestries were woven on). Loom is pictured to the left.
Recently while cleaning I discovered a now unused stand that held wooden TV trays. I have repurposed it as a sprang frame/two beam loom, and figured I would play around with weaving a headcovering vertically.
I am more than pleased that my theories seem to be working out!
To get the warp yarn to space fairly evenly with little fiddling, I oped to wrap the warp around the beam an extra pass before stretching it down to the next beam. I did half my test warp in this manner, and half with two wraps between each vertical warp yarn. (A weaving comb would work to space for a thicker warp, but you would have to have an exceptionally fine comb for this and take care with it to not damage the fine warp yarn.)
In practice, it does very well at setting the spacing AND the additional wraps will allow me extra yarn at the ends to twist the fringe that will have the little looped ends that so many extant examples have. I absolutely cannot wait to try weaving some items on this loom now!
I will add string heddles and a heddle rod when I warp a full width piece (tonight I used a bone folder as both a pick up stick and weaving sword). I am quite excited and look forward to more work like this.
If you are interested in the headcoverings from Dublin, or Viking Era weaving in general, I cannot recommend Heckett's book enough. It is an amazing resource and has very, very detailed information about each item (thread counts, thread sizes, color, etc.). http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/viking-age-headcoverings-from-dublin.html
I have wanted for some time now to work up a class on Viking Era women's clothing, but stalled because I was not sure of how I wanted to approach the subject matter. A whole class could be devoted to interpretations of the aprondress, for example. There are quite a few people who teach excellent beginners courses on layers, colors and getting the right look, as there are others who are teaching "next steps" classes (I took a fantastic one at Pennsic last year).
The class I will be offering soon will be a bit more specific and a bit more research oriented. I hope to give a better understanding of the investment that textiles were in period and use that to give one a better perspective on how to use them. Having an understanding of the daily lives of these women, and how valuable textiles were at the time, will give a better foundation for our projects.
Part of the class will cover what period fabrics looked like and how to try to determine which modern substitutions would be best. Also covered will be examples of details and embellishments for garments that are based on extant items. The themes that will be covered for each item are Provenance, Perspective, Plausibility, Practicality and Proportion. As always, there will be a lot of tactile samples of items to be passed around to help illustrate textiles, ideas and techniques.
The official listing for Pennsic is:
Deeper Look at Textiles & Trim of Viking Age Dress
By looking deeper at both the textiles and the details from extant items, this class aims to help individuals make informed choices for crafting their garments. Tactile examples will clarify the weaves and weight of period fabrics and there will also be discussion of possible modern substitutions. Additionally, practical details for finishing or embellishing garments will also be explored and their history investigated. The goal of this class is to help the individual understand how daily life during the Viking Age could affect how textiles were crafted and worn.
I plan to teach twice at Pennsic and hopefully once at War Practice. Also on the agenda (hopefully) will be Atlantia University and AEthelemarc AEcademy (both this fall).
(Note, this class is geared towards women's garments because I will often be using aprodresses as examples for various things, but a great deal of the class can be applied to any garments from the period!)
I have made some updates to my Viking Textiles - A Deeper Look at Plaids, Stripes and Checks article. Added in a bit more information I got about several pieces, as well as some possible weaving drafts of those for which I did not have images.
Additionally, there is now a downloadable PDF at the end of the document that can be printed out to give a a rough sense of the scale for these plaids (since all monitors will show items differently, and many of the photos from the academic works are enlarged already).
I saw a wonderful article yesterday from Hakai Magazine on Viking woolen sails that is definitely worth sharing. http://www.hakaimagazine.com/article-long/no-wool-no-vikings
I dance, race cars, play video games and am on a fantastic journey to recreate the past via costume, textiles, dance and food.
Blogroll of SCA & Costume Bloggers
Below is a collection of some of my favorite places online to look for SCA and historic costuming information.
More Amie Sparrow - 16th Century German Costuming
Gianetta Veronese - SCA and Costuming Blog
Grazia Morgano - 16th Century A&S
Mistress Sahra -Dress From Medieval Turku
Loose Threads: Cathy's Costume Blog
Mistress Mathilde Bourrette - By My Measure: 14th and 15th Century Costuming
More than Cod: Exploring Medieval Norway