Monday, October 31, 2011

Spinning and Wool Preparation

Once the fleece has come off the sheep it needs to be prepared. During the 6th Century Anglo Saxon period this was probably done by using an upright comb. At this stage there is no archaeological evidence for exactly how this was done during the early Anglo Saxon period (Walton Roger, P. 2007:15). However it is known that the Roman's used an upright woolcomb fixed to a table or stand or just held as can be seen in the photographs on this site

Once the fleece was combed it could be used for spinning. Wool spinning was done using a spindle and whorl. There are lots of examples of Anglo Saxon spindle whorls. They are one of the most common of grave finds and always associated with women (Walton Roger, P. 2007:.23). To get an idea of the size of a spindle whorl go to this pdf gives 1:1 drawings of grave finds used for spinning and weaving during the Anglo Saxon period.

Spindle whorls have been found in Anglo Saxon graves made from a wide variety of materials such as bone, clay, lead and antler (Crowfoot, E. and Hawkes, S. C 1967:69, 75, 79, 80) crystal and glass ( The most commonly found spindle whorl, as can be seen by the embedded movie are lead. This is not because this was the most commonly used material as this short piece incorrectly observes but because these are the easiest for us to find because they can be found through metal detection, for that reason this clip focuses on them.

Spindle whorls are classified according to their shape and when they were used. A good overview of the shape of spindle whorls can be found in Walton Rogers book (2007:25). The spindle whorls I use for some of my spinning are based on the A1, B2 and B3 categories which were all common during the 5th and 6th centuries. They have a spindle shaft made out of Mulberry. I have used Mulberry because it was available during the Anglo Saxon period as can be seen by its use in medicine during that period (Delacourt, J. 1914:On the Mulberry Tree). It is extremely rare for spindle shafts to be found, this is thought to be because they were made out of wood and so decompose easily leaving just the whorl as part of the grave finds (Walton Roger, P. 2007:23). 

Replica Spindle whorls showing shapes that were common during the Anglo Saxon 5th and 6th Centuries.

Replica Spindle whorls showing shapes that were common during the Anglo Saxon 5th and 6th Centuries. The whorls were made by Flamming Gargoyle Pottery

It seemed reasonable to assume that any wood that came to hand could be used as a spindle. So when making my spindles to be used for SCA events and for spinning the fibre for my tablet woven bands I have used a wood that was commonly available during the 5th to 6th century Anglo Saxon period.

Completed drop spindles. Using Mulberry wood for the spindle shafts.

Although spinning wheels were not introduced until 1287 (McNabb, W.J. 20045) I have utilised a spinning wheel for this project. For the smaller amount of spinning that will be used for the tablet woven bands I have used a drop spindle. This is because I can do a finer thread using a spindle and because I need a lot less thread to make the tablet woven bands. However for the majority of the outfit that I am creating I need a large amount of thread. With my non-cloth making commitments I simply do not have the time required to make all of that thread using a drop spindle.

Spinning the bulk of my thread on the modern spinning wheel.

  1. Crowfoot, E and Hawkes, S. C. 1967. 'Early Anglo-Saxon Gold Braids' Medieval Archaeology, 11 (1967), pp. 42-86.
  2. Delacourt, J. (Ed) 1914. Medicinea De Quadrupedibus (accessed 1/11/2011)
  3. Kornbluth Photography 2011.
  4. McNabb, W. J. 2004 'Spinning and Spinning Wheels: A Brief History of Machines for Making Thread and Yarn' (accessed 1/11/2011)
  5. Walton Rogers, P. 2007. 'Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England: AD 450-700'. council for British Archaeology, York, UK.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Choice of Wool

The choice of wool for this particular project was based upon three things, research, availability and my ability to easily spin the quantities that I would need for this project.

Wool was very plentiful in Anglo Saxon England, it is identified as the main fibre in clothing in almost half of all textiles in the 5-7th century period in which I am researching (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:61). Sheep also seem to have been roughly 50-60% of all domesticated animals kept by the Anglo Saxon people in this early period (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:10)

Exactly what sort of sheep were being used during this period is not known. What is known is the colour of the sheep and the staple length of the wool. The varieties of colour include black, brown, grey, roan and white wool (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:12). The type of fleece was what is known today as a generalised medium wool. 
Colours of wool available during the 5th - 6th Century in Anglo Saxon England

Although it can be very difficult to examine pigmentation in wool from Archaeological remains there are many examples of pigmented wool from the Anglo Saxon period. By far the most common pigmentation is due to the colour of the wool itself rather than from a dye process (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:10).

The wool that I decided to use for this project is a Corriedale Fleece. Corriedale is a modern sheep which have a medium fine wool which is roughly similar to the medium wool that would have been available during the Anglo Saxon period it is also readily available in Australia and easy to spin. The Corriedale fleece would be very different from an Anglo Saxon fleece in that it is a modern high yield wool ( In contrast sheep during the Anglo Saxon period would have been bread for milking, fleece and meat. Sheep during the 5th- 6th Centuries they would have been small and may have gone though a moult rather than being sheared although this is uncertain as sheep shearing and sheep needing sheering may well have been introduced with the Roman's (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:15).

Not only does Corriedale fleece give a similar fibre to that used during the early Anglo Saxon period it is also readily available in Australia and can be purchased in a variety of natural pigments based on the colour of the sheep. Those pigments are similar to the known pigments available during the 5th to 6th Centuries in Anglo Saxon Britain. For example brown, roan, white, grey and black.

The fleece I selected is a dark brown. This was a common colour during the Anglo Saxon period and easily available now. I selected it because it is a nice colour that is easily obtainable and will not stain and show dirt like a white wool would. The fleece that I am using was purchased from Petlins Spinning and Weaving Supplies I bought this fleece already carded which significantly reduced the time it would take me to prepare the fibre for spinning. I made this decision for two reasons, speed and also because if I bought a random fleece that needed carding I would not be able to get a consistent fleece. By buying the fleece carded and ready to spin I was buying a product Petlins has readily available during the year so if I needed to get more fleece at any stage I would be able to match the fleece that I already had.

The dark brown carded medium fleece I am using for this project.

In contrast about fortnight after I bought the wool from Petlins I found a whole fleece in a roan/brown in my garage. It is also a medium fleece but unfortunately I would be totally unable to match it. So if I used that fleece for my project and did not have enough the difference between that and another fleece would be distinct.
Unexpected Roan fleece found lurking in my garage, after I had started spinning. 

Walton Roger, P. 2007 'Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England: AD 450-700'. council for British Archaeology, York, UK.

Corriedale 2011. (Accessed 31/10/2011)

Petlins Spinning and Weaving Supplies Rhodes, Australia

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Transitional Anglo Saxon Period

This is to give a bit of background about the Anglo Saxon period that I am studying as the cultural basis for the Kent Coat and undergarment that I am attempting to make.

From the fourth to sixth Century AD England and Europe were in a state of flux or transition. The Roman Empire was collapsing and this had a huge effect on the movement of people and through this movement the movement of crafts and knowledge (Taylor, T. 2006:143).

In Briton the Roman army was pulling out of Briton as Rome tried to consolidate its own forces on the Continent. This left a power vacuum and the need to provide for the many people who had been employed under Roman rule but were not necessarily being pulled back to the Continent because they were native Briton's (Campbell, J. 1991:20).

The exact sequence of events is very confused. Gildas is the only example of extant writing from the period but he was writing based on hearsay from the Continent and not from actual experience in Briton. His writing certainly confuses events and when they happen, as can be seen by his comments about the Roman's being pulled back to Britain to fight Boadicea, an event that was known to happen around AD 60-61 not in the 500's as Gildas seems to believe (Gildas 2(16)).

Bede gives a much more precise account of what was happening in Briton during the transitional phase. His account explains that as soon as the Roman army started to withdraw from Briton the Picts and the Scotts began to harry the native Britons from the North. This lead to a call to Rome to come back and help the Britons (Bede 1990:60). However although Bede gives a lot of dates these do not necessarily correspond to the archaeological evidence suggesting that Bede is not always accurate particularly about events happening the 5th and 6th centuries (Campbell, J. 1991:34).

According to Gildas (2(6)) the Romans did send a legion back to Briton to help out but as soon as the Roman legion left the country again experienced difficulties and was again under attack. This resulted in another appeal to Rome which went unanswered. By this stage the Roman Empire was in dire straights of its own. The Roman Empire was split between two main capitals Rome and Constantinople. Constantinople was in the middle of a plague and both cities as well as other surrounding cities were falling into disrepair (Bede 1990:62). As a result no help was forthcoming for the Britons.

It is likely that the sort of problems that Briton was experiencing were not just from invasions from the Picts and Scotts. As Rome pulled out of Briton the people that were leaving were the leaders and decision makers. This was leaving a power vacuum in Britain with native Briton soldiers being left behind with no way of being paid and no direction about how to protect important cities and trade routes within Briton itself. This lead to a break down in communication and in movement within Briton (Campbell 1991:20)

According to Bede the result of this unrest meant that a group of Germanic tribes, were invited over to Briton by a King called Vortigen to help defend the Britons (Bede 199162). Exactly who Vortigen was is unknown and archaeological evidence suggests that the gradual influx of Angles, Saxon's and Jutes plus many other Germanic tribes probably occurred over a considerable period of time and under a number of different agreements probably made by a variety of different authorities (Campbell 1991:34).

The Archaeological evidence does back up some of Bede's story and certainly shows an influx of distinct Germanic groups (Campbell 1991:30). Bede claims that the Saxon's arrived in the East, South and West, Angles in Mercia and Northumberland and Jutes in Kent and on the Isle of Wight. (Bede 1990:63) While there are distinct groups in those three area's it is probable that there were more than three different groups from three Germanic tribes that immigrated over an extended period of time. (Campbell 1991:30).

Bede claims that the Angles and Saxons, once they had entered Briton, helped keep the Northern Barbarians in check for a short period of time and were paid for this service. However eventually the payment that they were offered was not enough and they rebelled and asked for more (Bede 1990:63). This unrest resulted in the Anglo Saxons more or less becoming dominant and integrating with the Britons over a number of decades.

Kent shows a very different style of migration to the other area's in Briton at the time (Campbell 1991:44) There are a large number of high status graves in Kent compared to other parts of Briton.
There appears to have been very strong links between the Merovingians, a Frankish group and the people of Kent. This culminated in the marriage of Berta or Bertha the daughter of King Charibert of the Franks and his wife Ingoberg (Cawley, C. 2001:CLOTAIRE I 511-561, CHARIBERT 561-567, GONTRAN 561-592).

This has resulted in the a series of graves in Kent that is unmatched elsewhere in Britain. These graves are heavily influenced by Frankish and Jutish fashions and there seems to been a level of high quality goods that were actually being produced in Kent rather than imported from Germanic craftsmen (Campbell 1992: 44).

The invasion, migration period of the Anglo Saxon's and Jutes seems to have taken a number of decades. During this time there are graves that show a mix of both Roman styles in clothing and personal items. For example at Wasperton in Warwickshire there is a transition grave site that revealed individuals wearing Roman footwear but having Anglo Saxon personal items from around the middle of the 5th century (Taylor, T. 2006: 143).

It is this period that I am looking at for the clothing that I am working on for the Hordewearde. I am specifically looking at the clothing worn in the area of Kent from relatively high status graves.

The above overview of the cultural changes that were taking part during the period that I am working with is very limited. It does not cover any of the religious influences that contributed to many of the changes at the time. This includes the original Roman introduction of Christianity which then seems to have been almost totally superseded by the pagan beliefs of the Angles, Saxon's and Jutes when they originally started to migrate to Briton. When Berta arrived in Kent she bought back the Christian religion in Kent so Kent seems to have been Christian for a lot longer than other parts of Briton. (Campbell 1992:22). For more information see the books and links below.

This information is solely to give a very rough overview of some of the many and conflicting cultural changes that influenced fashion in Kent between the middle of the 5th and 6th Centuries. 

  1. Campbell, J (Ed) (Campell, J.) 1991. The Lost Centuries: 400-600. Penguin Books
  2. Cawley, C. 2011. FRANKS, merovingian kings. (accessed 26/10/2011)
  3. Taylor T. (ed) 2006. What Happened When. The Time Team, Random House Australia, Milsons Pt NSW. Channel 4 Books.
  4. Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Translation Stanley, P.L and Rev Latham, R. E. 1990. Bede (c. 673- 735).
  5. On The Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae) by Gildas Translation by J.A. Giles. (1848) The Works of Gildas surnamed "Sapiens", or The Wise. Gildas was contemporary to (c. 494 or 516 – c. 570)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,