Monday, September 17, 2012

Types of Cloth available during the Migration Anglo Saxon Period- 5-6th Centuries.

Very few textiles have been recovered in the Anglo Saxon period particularly in settlement area's. Those that have been recovered are usually small pieces that are attached to metal objects as part of the finds in a cemetery (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:49). Textiles that are recovered are mostly from graves where a person is buried rather than from where a person may have been cremated Walton (Rogers, P. 2007:50-58). The presence of metal also increases the likelihood that textile finds will be recovered in a grave, due to the preservation of textiles on the back of the goods. All of this means that that there is a bias towards the sort of textiles that evidence is likely to be found for towards those of the wealthy women, because they wear jewellery and those who practise inhumation rather than cremation as a burial rite.

While textile find themselves can be quite rare the difficulty then becomes one of distinguishing between different types of fibres. While both protein/ animal based fibres and plant/ cellulose fibres have distinct differences under a microscope it is often difficult to tell between the different types of fibre because of degradation of the find (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:60). In addition once the fibre has been identified as either a plant or animal based fibre to then distinguish between the types of plant or animal fibre that has been found poses extra difficulties.

Types of fibres that have been found in Migration Period Anglo Saxon burials include;
  • Wool
  • Horse hair
  • Silk
  • Flax/ Linen
  • Nettle
  • Hemp
  • Cotton sewing thread, but not fabric has been identified on German sites during this period but not in Anglo Saxon England (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:60-62).

According to Walton Rogers, P. (2007:60) the number of wool and linen textiles found in grave sites is roughly equal. Out of 693 preserved textiles associated with metals 365 were of wool and 328 were of linen. This is not the sum total of all textiles finds from Anglo Saxon Britain but it does give an idea of spread of cloth. From this it can be understood that clothing made from either wool or from linen would be common in the Anglo Saxon migration period.

My Hordweard project is made from wool because of the ease of finding cloth of this type ready made and for the coat because of the availability of quantities of sheep wool that is available for spinning and weaving. To prepare flax for spinning into linen and to obtain enough quantity was not within the scope of my project at this stage.

Grading of Cloth
Textiles in the Migration Anglo Saxon period were less coarse than is often portrayed. Thread counts indicate that cloth of the style known as tabby had thread counts between 12 threads per cm and for 2/2 twill cloth had thread counts of between 8-14 threads per centimetre. Most commonly these thread counts were the same for both warp (the long threads set up on a loom going from one end of the cloth to another) and weft (the thread going across the loom and filling the gaps between the warp threads). Occasionally the warp threads had a slightly higher thread count than the weft threads (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:76).

My Anglo Saxon coat is woven in a tabby with a warp count of 4 and a weft count of 6 threads per centimetre. This is due to my ability, as this is my first large scale woven project and also to due to the capabilities of my loom.

The cloth that I will be using for the undergarments is a commercial cloth with thread counts of 12-16x12-16 threads.

Types of Weave
Anglo Saxon weaves are broken down into two different types of weaves tabby and twill and variations of each (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:67-77).

A tabby weave also known as a plain weave, is very strong especially when close set, this is because its over-one under-one structure produces the maximum internal friction in the cloth (Alderman, S. 2004:3).

Illustration 1: (Moller-Wiering, S. 2011:XV)

Twill is a fabric where either a warp end or a weft thread (pick) passes over or under two or more consecutive threads in a cloth creating what is known as a float. Where these floats sit creates the characteristic features of twill cloth (Alderman, S. 2004:25).

The cloth I am using for the my undergarments will be of wool in a tabby weave. The under-dress will be of a naturally pigmented wool in an off white colour. The over-dress will be of a wool dyed blue a colour that was starting to become more popular for fine fabrics towards the 6th and 7th centuries. Blue wool was found in a fine fabric with a 10-14 x 10 ZZ tabby in a sixth century Anglo Saxon grave (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:68).
Illustration 2: (Moller-Wiering, S. 2011:XV)

While my woven coat is of tabby a coat that I am making for the Hordweard as proof of concept will be of chevron twill with a 9x11 warp and weft.

I have mentioned this before but just for clarification the threads in an Anglo Saxon Migration period weave are not plied this makes it easier to weave a finer cloth but makes the threads, known as singles, harder to handle while weaving as the strength of a non-plied yarn, especially in wool, is much less than the strength of a plied yarn.

According to Walton Rogers, P. (2007:70) the single most common cloth found in Anglo Saxon graves was of twill with the threads spun with a Z twist for both the warp and the weft. Most of these examples are from the Migration period. Their thread counts range from 6x5 to 20x18 threads per centimetre. The majority of these fabrics are of wools that are naturally pigmented with either brown or black with dye found on only five of over 900 examples of twill cloth. This indicates that dyed fabrics were extremely rare and that large area's of cloth during the Migration period were almost certainly coloured based upon the natural pigmentation of the fibres available.

While pigmentation was rare it was slightly more common, although not extremely common to use a variety of different pigmented fibres to create stripes and patterns in the fabric (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:70-75).

The coat that I will be making as proof of concept uses natural pigments in dark brown and mid brown to create texture and some patterning in the fabric.

Finish of the Fabric
Fulling of fabric is the process of cleaning the fabric and felting it slightly so that it holds together and so that it becomes more weather proof (Barber, W. J. W. 1990:220-221). While it is difficult to tell if Migration Period Anglo Saxon cloth has been fulled the evidence seems to suggest that if fulling did occur that it was minimal.

Having said that the evidence for the knowledge of fulling prior to the Anglo Saxon period is extensive and it is difficult to see why knowledge of this skill, one that would help to weather proof clothing during cold wet winters in England would have entirely disappeared.

During the earlier Roman period fulling was a large scale industrial activity undertaken in workshops. The process was began with individuals standing in large tub's treading cloth underfoot to loosen dirt and to allow the cleansing agents to penetrate the fabric. The cheapest cleansing agent was stale urine which was often collected from passers by in the streets. Once the woollen cloth was
cleansed it was hung out to dry. From there the nap could be raised using teasel or by hand (Wild, J. P. 1970:82-85). While there may be limited knowledge of fulling during the Anglo Saxon period at least five of the ZZ twill fabrics from the Anglo Saxon Migration period show evidence of a finish that includes raising of the nap. This tends to indicate that fulling of some sort was occasionally undertaken during this period (Walton Rogers, P. 2007:70).

Other evidence for possible fulling in the Anglo Saxon period is the use of the Anglo-Saxon word wealcan meaning to roll or toss about coming from the process of fulling wool (Barber, W. J. W. 1990:216). The work walk descends from this origin. While this suggests that fulling was used at some stage during the Anglo Saxon period it does not necessarily mean that fulling was undertaken during the Migration period.

While our knowledge of how much cloth may or may not have been fulled during the Migration period is limited it is reasonable to suppose that at least a minimal degree of fulling was done. I will be slightly fulling my coat once the weaving process is finished purely so that the cloth holds together. Handwoven fabric can unravel substantially once cut. To prevent the disintegration of my handwoven fabric I intend to slightly full it before cutting. This will also add to the weather proofing of my coat and help to minimise shrinkage. I will be fulling at an amount that would happen naturally due to wear and tear of cloth being used as a coat for day to day purposes. The twill I will be using for my proof of concept coat is also fulled to a similar amount, all threads can be seen individually but the fibres interlock slightly due to the fulling process.

Alderman, S. 2004 'Mastering Weave Structures: Transforming Ideas into Great Cloth'. Interweave Press LLC, Loveland, Colorado, USA.

Barber, W. J. W. 1990. 'Prehistoric Textiles' Princeton University Press, West Sussex, UK.

Mรถller-Wiering, S. 2011. 'War and Worship: Textiles from 3rd to 4th century AD Weapon Deposits in Denmark and Northern Germany'. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK.

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

Wild, J. P. 1970 'Textile Manufacture in the Northern Roman Provinces' Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

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