Kit: Making Cloth

Most Anglo-Saxon and Viking women would have known how to spin and weave cloth to produce clothes for themselves and their families. In fact, loom weights are one of the most common archaeological finds from settlements of this period.

Making cloth involved three distinct processes. Firstly, raw wool or flax fibres were cleaned and prepared. Wool needed to have grass, droppings and other obvious foreign objects removed by hand before the fibres were aligned by combing them with a wool comb or teasel heads. Once cleaned and prepared, flax or wool was spun into thread using a drop spindle; the spinning wheel came much later. Finally, spun threads were woven into cloth using either a warp-weighted or a two beam loom (both vertical).

In the case of a warp-weighted loom, the warp consisted of separate threads, tensioned by tying the ends in hanks to loom weights, and the weft was threaded across on a shuttle. The weft was made up of a continuous thread with breaks only for colour changes. Whilst two-beam looms could also be threaded with separate warps, for small pieces of fabric (i.e. those no longer than the frame of the loom itself) a continuous warp could be employed. The advantage of using this method when possible was that it was faster to thread a loom by winding than by tying and it meant that a selvedge was formed on all sides of the cloth making it less far prone to unravelling. The limit on the width of fabric that could be produced on either of these loom types - probably less than two metres - is likely to have had a significant influence on the fashions of the period, as it limited how patterns could be cut.

We hope to include more information on cloth production in the future. For the moment, please use the links below for more details.

See also: Dyeing



Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby by Eva Andersson
"The graves of Birka have yielded Sweden's largest assemblage of Viking Age textiles and textile tools, providing a unique opportunity for understanding both Viking costume and its creation. This well-illustrated study examines some of the 2500 tools and recreates their use in creating yarn, dress and sails. Sections examine textile techniques, raw materials, dyeing, spinning and weaving, and the nature of textile production in and outside the home. Andersson considers the types of tools found at Birka and Hedeby, including spindle whorls, loomweights and needles, their distribution and the wider picture of texile production across Viking Scandinavia." (Excavations in the Black Earth 1990-1995, Birka Studies 8, 2003) Available from Oxbow Books)

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