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TEXTILE PRODUCTION TERMS

Distaff

The term comes from the Old English distæf “stick that holds flax for spinning,” and describes a holder for raw material that is being spun into thread or yarn. It is associated, as its current use indicates, with women.

Drop Spindle

Since the spinning wheel did not enter northern Europe until around 1280, thread and yarn was made with a drop spindle, in which a weight (whorl) at the end of a stick twisted the raw fiber. Whorls were metal, stone and sometimes beads, but wooden weights might well be a modern derivation since period examples have not been found. In addition, the whorls seemed to have been at the bottom, although modern crafts drop spindles often have them at the top. They were still being used by people too poor to have a wheel until at least the eighteenth century.

Loom Weights

On warp-weighted looms, bundles of warp threads are tied to hanging weights called loom weights which keep the threads taut. They often looked like doughnuts and were made from clay or from stones.

Lucet

A two-pronged tool used in cordmaking or braiding which is believed to date back to the Viking age, although this is controversial. Later and modern crafts lucets are often wood, though devices of the Viking age that are interpreted as lucets were made of bone.

Niddy-Noddy

A niddy-noddy is a wooden tool used to make skeins from yarn. It consists of a central bar, with crossbars at each end. Niddy-noddies of the Viking Age were generally flat, although at some later point, the ends are at ninety degree angles.

Naalbinding

A process for creating fabric that in Danish literally means “binding with a needle” or “needle-binding,” it is also known as nälbinding, nålbinding and naalebinding. It predates both knitting and crochet and is done with one needle. It was warmer than knitting, and the Finns had a caustic saying that a man with knitted mittens had an unskilled wife (who was not good enough to do naalbinding).

Sprang

An ancient method of constructing fabric that has a natural elasticity. Its appearance is similar to netting when pulled open, but the intersections are not knotted. Unlike whole cloth, sprang is constructed entirely from warp threads.. Its uses were limited, and there are few good examples of its use. It was in use as late as the eighteenth century to make sashes for military officers, and the sashes doubled as litters for the wounded.

Swift

Swifts are tools, generally wooden, used to hold a hank of yarn while it is being wound off. It has an adjustable diameter so that it can hold hanks of many sizes, and rotates around a central rod.

Tablet- or Card-Weaving

This is a weaving technique where tablets or cards are used to create the shed through which the weft is passed. The method makes narrow flat strips for ties or trim. Tablet-woven cords are used to begin the end of a piece of woven fabric. The so-called loom was merely a frame to the warp under tension, and could as easily be a chair, a tree or the weaver’s waist; the tablets were themselves the loom. A band of card-weaving is used to start the warp for the vertical warp-weighted loom; the weft of the card-weaving becomes the warp threads for whole cloth.

Warp-Weighted Loom

The vertical warp-weighted loom was the most common loom for the Viking age, although horizontal looms were beginning to come into use at the end of the era. The warp-weighted loom was a simple and ancient loom that is upright in which the warp yarns hang from a bar between the uprights. The inkle loom was invented later and introduced to America only in the twentieth century.

Weft & Warp

The weft threads are horizontal threads on a loom through vertical warp threads are passed to make cloth.

Wool Combs

Combing is method to prepare a fiber for a spinning method. Combs were nails that arose and through which the fabric was pulled to arrange the fibers in a parallel fashion, to clean the fiber to an extent and to remove tangles and clumps (noils) as well as short fibers and stuff like vegetable matter. In the fourteenth century, wool combing was developed.

 

Many thanks to Julie Watkins, who reviewed and commented on this list.

A BUNCH OF “NO, I’M SORRY BUT…”s

“Viking” is a job description and not an ethnic descriptor. It entered English in the ninth century in the poem Widsith, but was not used very much and was not used during the rest of the Middle Ages. It started to be used in English only in the eighteenth century. The usual terms earlier were Danes—even when describing people from other lands than Denmark—Heathens or Northmen.  and was not generally used as a noun in Scandinavian writings before that time, being a part of “i-viking,” a verb meaning to go on a pirate/trade voyage. Pirates from other cultures, for example Muslim cultures, were known as Vikings in Scandinavian literature. In the Magnúsona Saga, for example, Snorri Sturluson relaters that near the Straits of Gibraltar, King Sigurth encounters a large number of Saracen corsairs (serkir Vikings).’

Histories are written by the winners it as I said, but it also written by the literate. The poor ideas that we have of the Norse raiders is from the writing of the people most assaulted: The clerics. This does not mean that the raiders were always peaceful and benevolent; they were thugs. However, everyone of the time was a thug, and there are plenty of examples of Christian atrocities that went without being complained about or even commented on by the Christian clerics.

Vikings did not have horned helmets. Horned helmets for Vikings—rather than earlier cultures—were first conjectured in the 1820s by the Swedish artist, Gustav Malmström, in illustrations for an edition of Frithiof’s Saga. The concept was popularized in 1869 by Carl Emil Doepler for Richard Wagner’s operatic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Earlier, horned helmets are seen in artwork, but they were worn by priests in religious ceremonies, were never used in battle and by the Viking Age seems to have no longer been seen.

Vikings did not wear furry loin cloths, black leather biker outfits or go bare-chested. In fact, the men  wore the same sort of clothing seen in most other European cultures of the time, differing only in the length of tunics.

Though modern thought often refers caustically to Anglo-Saxon obscenities, there is no indication that the Englisc had obscene curse words. They did have swear words, but in which they swear using religious terms such as God’s blood and I swear by Christ’s wounds.

Despite finding weapons in female graves, there is little indication— outside of fiction and fantasy of the time—that women fought. There is no doubt that women were taught to use weapons and that women were expected to help defend the home, but they did not go out on raid with weapons in hands for a number of reasons. The fact that weapons were found in graves means about as much that they were warriors as finding an adult key in a girl-child’s grave means that she was mistress of the house.

The only physical evidence of Norse occupation in North America has been found in L’anse aux Meadows and Sutherland, a farther north site. The Kensington Stone, the Heavener Stone, the Gulfport Tower and the Vinland map have all been proven almost conclusively to be the products of later times, either the results of forgery or of mis-interpretation.

The Norse were not a dirty people. Each Norse person carried a comb—like most other people of the time. This was not exclusively to look better but to help comb out lice and other bugs, but the Norse took a bath every Saturday night, and the original meaning of Scandinavian words for Saturday was laurdag: Washing Day. The results were apparent, for Anglo-Saxon girls were known to find the Norse boys more pleasant to date than home-grown ones. In fact, John of Wallingford, prior of St. Fridswides, who complained bitterly that the Norse men of the Danelaw were unChristianly clean, noted that the Norse bathed so completely just to put the moves on the Anglo-Saxon females. Gwyn Jones notes:

“It is reported in the chronicle attributed to John of Wallingford that the Danes, thanks to their habit of combing their hair every day, of bathing every Saturday and regularly changing their clothes, were able to undermine the virtue of married women and even seduce the daughters of nobles to be their mistresses.”

Norse men were not all big and blond. Analysis of bones from cemeteries of the Viking age indicate that Vikings and Englisc were about the same height as an average person nowadays, neither exceptionally tall nor exceptionally short. There were exceptions, to be certain, but these are specifically pointed out so that they were probably extraordinary then as now. Although blond hair was valued, it was not universal among the Norse, and there are many accounts of men bleaching their hair.

 

RUINING THE ILLUSION

Living History is an illusion, and it is our duty to make the illusion as well as we can. We are not living in the past. We are trying to make onlookers regard us as if we are! We are attempting to recreate a totally different culture as completely and as accurately as we can.

We are dealing here with male costume for recreating the culture of Northern Europe in the Viking Age; that covers roughly the years 800–1100 ce. To a great extent, essential kit depend on the accuracy regulations that you subscribe to. Here, I adhere to the regulations mandated by Regia Anglorum (different societies have different interpretations, different strictness and, in the case of one society, no regulations at all. I shall assume that anyone reading this has an interest in the more strict side of the coin).

Let us divide the soft kit into three categories:

First is the material. Quite simply, that means that no garments will be made of cotton nor of any man-made material such as nylon or polyester. The materials to be used are wool, flax (linen, hemp or nettle) or silk. Silk was very expensive and should only be used for posh, uncommon kit. Only royalty or high ecclesiasticals had garments entirely of silk; even the wealthier folk would only use silk for trim. Linen was not nearly as expensive, but it was expensive and had to be processed in an expensive, time-consuming method. However, because some people are allergic to wool to one extent or another, the fact that garments touching the skin are linen is well within the limits of safety and compromise, even if the garment made of linen is not for the class that might have routinely used it. Wool, inexpensive and plentiful, easily manufactured and available, is the preferred material.

Second is the design. Books such as Þor Ewing’s Viking Clothing and Gale R. Owen-Crocker’s Dress in Anglo-Saxon England deal with the styles that were available. It is interesting to note that styles were largely the same across different cultures, but they did change slowly with time, and they did change in little details from one area to another. Whether or not you assume an impression, you should take care to establish costume for a certain era and a certain location and not merely wear a coat from one era and trousers from another and carry jewelry and objects from another. While this is bad and should be avoided, it is not as bad as just making up things whole sale (or copying from Victorian illustrations and such films as Lee Major’s Norseman or The History Channel’s Vikings). It is called the practical application of research, and it centers upon Research!

Finally is the basic necessity—a tunic. You can have no footwear. You can have no trousers. You can certainly have no hat, gloves or belt. But there is a medieval Scandinavian law that forbade men to expose their chests in public (unlike women, although that was probably to allow breast-feeding and not for any prurient interest). The Tiberius and Julius work calendars show men working in the heat of the field, bare-headed and wearing a long-sleeved tunic. But trouserless to keep cool. The reticence to show a male naked chest continued to some extent into the early twentieth century. Men’s swim suits concealed the chest until the third decade and later. In early Tarzan films, Tarzan wore something across his chest (in silent films, it was Jane who was topless in some instances!).

Let us assume that you have more than the bare necessities. You have an adequate, if not posh soft kit: an undertunic, a tunic, trousers, a belt (and knife; as Eleanor said of a slightly later era in “Lion in Winter:” “Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians!” I think the term “barbarian” is too much modern chauvinism, but you never find me today without a knife!). And shoes.

Let us further assume that the garments are on the extreme side of accuracy. There are three ways to ruin the illusion can be ruined:

The inclusion of oop jewelry and body modifications, such as a watch, male earrings, other modern jewelry and visible body jewelry and tattoos of any sort.

Footwear that is not accurate, that has been external modified for convenience and comfort. The shoes should be turn-soled, no higher than just above the ankles and have no buckles or buttons. There are plenty of surviving shoes from the Viking Age. There is a very good developmental chart in Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. There are some reenactors who stress that having an improper set of shoes is the crowning part of a wonderful impression, and substituting sneakers, boots and even welted facsimiles of period shoes is an easy way to make everything worthless!

And finally, there are spectacles. Anyone wearing spex while portraying a Norseman—even an otherwise impeccable portrayal—is just doing a fantasy LARP and flushing any historical integrity that they might have down the toilet. Wear contacts if necessary; go without spectacles if you can replace them with contacts. You might not see details, but most people can operate without the aid. Experiment, and go without spectacles at other times as well. A friend has long talked about writing an article on her own experiences going without spectacles in period kit, and I still hope that she will write it!

Living History is an illusion, and it is our duty to make the illusion as well as we can. What can ruin that illusion for you?

MEETING AT THE MARKET VII

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears. When the victim of the thievery, Rædwulf the smith, learns that the Norseman is near, he sends out a manhunt to find him. Afterwards, as they search, Beornræd goes to visit the minster and runs into the girl, who is hiding, and Rædwulf’s knife falls at her feet…

Surprised, Beornræd stared at the knife in his hand. Then he looked at the girl he still held onto and said, “Wh-what…”

“Do not tell anyone,” she pleaded. “I was going to sell it for food…I will…”

“An innocent man stands accused,” said Beornræd. He stared at the girl.

She teared and looked down. “I am an orphan.” the girl cried, “with no money, with no home, with…”

“Become a nun,” he said. “If they will take you.” And he was immediately sorrowful that he had been so smitten with her. “Now…come with me!”

He pressed his way through the crowds, dragging her behind him. “Make way! Make way!” he cried as he pulled her toward Rædwulf’s stall. People got out of the way, and the curious followed. And at the smith’s stall, he hesitated. There he say the red-faced Rædwulf standing with Eadmund, and armed men held spears at the throats of disarmed and bound Ármóðr, Fróði and two other Norsemen. They looked solemn and angry.

Rædwulf was crying, “…and the Danes who are attacking our shores to the south will be given a distinc5t warning tha…”

“Hold!” cried Beornræd ass he walked up to them. He pulled the girl around and flung her to the ground in front of Rædwulf.

“What is this…?”

Beornræd cast the seax into the dirt at Rædwulf’s feet. “Here is who stole your seax,” he said. “The Norsemen are innocent!”

Rædwulf paused and stooped to pick up the knife. Then he stared at the girl. “Did you steal this?” She said nothing, but she nodded sadly. The fur left Rædwulf’s face, and he turned to Ármóðr. “My apologies…my apologies to you.” He waved his arms. “Let them go!”

Ármóðr said nothing but reached out to grasp Beornræd’s shoulder. Then he nodded his head and led his mates and Beornræd off without a backwards glance.

Wærburh stared as the procession approached. “What is going on here?” she asked.

“He is innocent,” said Beornræd. “The girl stole the seax…”

“His testimony freed us,” said Ármóðr. He paused, looked at Beornræd and said, “Know this, that you are now under my protection. You have done me a good turn, and you will find me always willing to give you a good turn.”

Beornhelm smiled at his son. “You did a good thing.”

And Ármóðr said, “We will secure you lodging for the night. You need not travel in the dark and face those robbers who might come forth on darkened roads.”

Beornræd glanced at his mother and father, and they smiled. He said, “My thanks…”

“And we will visit the pubs and listen to storytellers sing of your actions.” He paused and smiled. “And if they do not…then I will compose a song for you myself!”

the end

 

MEETING AT THE MARKET VI

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears. When the victim of the thievery, Rædwulf the smith, declares the Norseman is the villain and sends out a men to find him. As the search begins, Beornræd goes to visit the minster.

The minster was close to the market, but that was not to say that Beornræd could reach it easily or quickly. Not merely because of the market or even the crowd of people in it, but because there were so many things to see. Beornræd was not often allowed to wander, and he too advantage of his freedom from the family stall to look at the merchandise, to stop and handle it, to exchange greetings with people whom he knew but seldom saw. Some were from farms and even villages some distance away, and others were kept as busy on their farms as he was on his father’s.

Vegetables and grains did not interest him. Breads were boring, and his mother made better fabric than anything he saw in the stalls. But the handicrafts, the carved spoons of wood and horn, the turned bowls and the ceramic cups. They all interested him, and he took his time handling and examining them. But at last, he reached the edge of the market and walked on to the minster.

Few buildings in the village were made of stone, but the church was one of them. It was not as if Beornræd had never seen it before, but the sight of the tall stony bell tower always caused him to pause reverently. He had run through the market, but as he got close to the minster, he slowed and stood motionless before the building.

Then he went inside. The building was deserted. Even Father Særic, the paroche preost, was not around. But for what he needed to do, a priest was not necessary. Beornræd walked up the center aisle and knelt before the altar, a slab of Roman stone, inscribed now with crosses, and covered with a pure white altar cloth, with a triptych set up at the rear, in front of chalice and pyx. Within, a relic was secreted, a bone of St. Mark, in whose name the minster was named. In front of the altar, Beornræd crossed himself and looked up at the cross which rose before the arched window behind the altar. Then realizing that his father expected him back soon, he knelt on the steps before the altar.

Aloud, he prayed. “And to us sinners who are your servants, grant confidence in the multitude of your mercies, and some lot and part with your holy apostles and martyrs…”

There was a noise to one side of the chapel that interrupted him. Beornræd looked and saw a flash of blue. Not Father Særic or someone else from the church. Curiosity forced him to stand and to move. The blue figure, hiding in the shadows, moved out, and Beornræd caught the figure by the wrist.

And the face of the young girl who had so haunted his mind looked at him, eyes wide in fear. Not letting go of her wrist, he grinned and said, “Hold. What are you afraid of…”

And the seax dropped onto the floor. Beornræd stooped and picked it up. He immediately saw the maker’s mark.

R.

—to be continued

 

MEETING AT THE MARKET V

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—Sixteen-year-old Beornræd’s family has a stall at the market, selling grain and textiles, and they are doing brisk work. Business has been good, and Beornræd encountered a young girl who is still in his thoughts. The family has also encountered a Norseman, who buys fabric to trade, but when a thievery is discovered several booths away, the Norseman disappears.

Beornræd was kept away by the crowd about Rædwulf’s stall. It was not that Rædwulf was so popular, but he was the only smith hereabouts, and his neighbors were more concerned with his happiness than if he was just another smith, and they are important enough!

He asked the man to his left, “What is missing? What was stolen?”

The man glanced at him. “A seax I hear.”

Another said, “It is terrible that one cannot trust his neighbors.”

“Aye. Everyone at the market is known and…”

Beornhelm said, “There was a Norseman.”

They looked at him. “What?”

“There was a Norseman, a stranger, going through the market. He stopped at…”

And Rædwulf was suddenly by him. “I recall him.”

“He was a trader, trying to find goods he could buy for Birka.”

“So said he,” said Rædwulf. “Where is he now?”

Beornræd said, “I know not, but he could not have gone far.” He paused. “Why, do you think…”

Rædwulf said, “He is a stranger.” He turned to the crowd of people. “Hwæt! Spread out and find the Norseman. Ælfwig, go fetch Eadmund. If we find this Norseman, I want a fine levied against him and have him exiled from this land!” He folded his arms and breathed heavily, saying almost under his breath, “I will deal with him…” Then he caught sight of Beornræd standing there, and he stared at him as if he had never seen him before and said angrily, “Get out of my sight, boy! Run down that lawless Norseman and bring him to me!”

Beornræd nodded and, saying, “Yes, sir,” turned and walked away very rapidly. He shook his head and smiled to himself. When Beornræd returned to the stall, his father was busy with a customer. When the customer was gone, Beornhelm looked at his son and asked, “What was stolen?”

“A seax. Rædwulf now has people out searching for Ármóðr. Since Ármóðr is a stranger, we feel that he is the thief.”

Beornhelm sighed. “Rædwulf might be a decent smith but he is sometimes a real wanhoga. An honest trader who will spend good silver on a cartload of fabric but will steal one small seax? I rather doubt it.” He shook his head.

Another customer came by, and Beornhelm smiled his merchant smile and turned to help him.

It was by then about mid-day, and the bells of the minster rang sext. Beornhelm waited for his father to stop talking with the customer, then said, “Da, may I go to the minster and say a prayer for Grand-da’s soul?” Wærburh’s father had died last winter.

Beornhelm nodded. “Business is slowing down, so certainly. Just be back as soon as you can, because I expect business to speed back up this afternoon.”

With a nod, Beornræd smiled and ran off toward the church.

—to be continued

 

MEETING AT THE MARKET IIII

At the 2015 Market at the Square in Urbana, Illinois, Micel Folcland manned a table once a month. We released a new installment every month, at our appearance at the Market, in this continuing serial set in the Danelaw of the early eleventh century. We tried to keep the installments as related to common everyday life in the Anglo-Scandinavian culture of the, and we tried to deal with matters of history and culture that were largely unknown and that would provoke question and thought. We were glad to answer any questions that might be posed, and we still are!

WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE—The family of sixteen-year-old Beornræd has set up their stall at the market, where they will sell grain and textiles. Beornræd has encountered a young girl, but she has moved on. They are doing a brisk business, talked when they notice a Norseman approaching.

Brunstan saw the Norseman first, and he urgently said, “Da,” and pointed. His tone was not of fear but of fascination. Beornhelm followed his son’s outstretched arm. Although they lived in the Danelaw, most Norsemen in the area by this time have been assimilated into the Englisc culture. The Norseman walking toward them, however, obviously had not.

He was tall, muscular, with long brown hair ane carefully trimmed beard. What he wore was close to what they wore—tunic, trousers, boots—but there were small differences. The tunic was not as long as what they wore. The trousers were not as fitting. And he was alone, not one of the here that were causing trouble with their invasions to the south.

As the family watched, he walked straight toward their stall in rolling steps that had been borne of an experience from ships. He stopped in front of the stall and bowed slightly, saying in an accented English, “Beornhelm?” Beornhelm nodded. “I am Ármóðr Halfdansson. I have been told of your wife’s weaving?”

Beornhelm led the Norseman to where te fabric was folded and stacked. Ármóðr stooped to examine it more closely, keenly looking at it and holding it carefully in his fingers, and he rubbed. “Good, good,” he said. He straightened up and said to Beornhelm, “I am a trader, from the ship Glærfreki, newly arrived from Jótland. Several mates and I have been looking for goods we can take back to Jótland. I think I have found some!” He smiled, and Wærburh said, “It is my weaving, sir.”

“How much do you have?” Wærburh named an amount and then a price. Ármóðr gave a smaller sum, and so they debated back and forth for a time, until they agreed. Then they shook hands, and Ármóðr brought forth his pouch. He counted out several coins.

Beornhelm took the coins and looked at them. They were old dirhams, brought at some point from Arab lands and once the purest silver available. He brought out a small iron scale and carefully balanced the coin with his weights. “Too much,” he said.

“You are honest,” said Ármóðr. He took a coin and, pulling out his seax, cut it in two, handing one half back to Beornhelm. Beornhelm added it to the scale and, with a smile, nodded. “That will do it.”

“Good.” He looked back and saw a mate pushing a small cart. “Fróði! Here!”

Fróði pushed the cart up, and Ármóðr snapped an order. Fróði started to pile the fabric that Beornræd and Brunstan brought forward onto the cart.

Beornhelm and Ármóðr stood together, watching, and Ármóðr said, “We will be back. If those in Birka or Hedeby like this fabric as much as we think they will, we will be in the market for more. Can you supply it?”

“We can, indeed. We…”

There was a cry from Rædwulf’s booth. He cried, “Someone has stolen some goods!”

Beornhelm frowned. A bad incident at a market that was known to be friendly and honest. “See what is gone,” he snapped at Beornræd. Then he turned to Ármóðr and Fróði, but the Norsemen were gone.

—to be continued

 

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