MATERIALS OF THE VIKING AGE Part I
While it is true that the peoples of this time generally resorted to whatever was easily available— as we noted earlier, and in addition they tended not to waste anything—there are a few rules of thumb that you should keep in mind when accumulating materials for a project.
Materials That Postdated the Time
These are generally artificial materials, which include nylon and other plastics. The earliest such substance—rayon—was not invented until 1855 and was not commercially viable for another 75 years. Rayon was originally known as Viscose and was not truly an artificial, being made from wooden cellulose, but was man-made. A true artificial fabric, nylon, was not devised until 1939. Why these should be avoided should be very self evident!
There are two main exceptions. The first is artificial sinew lacing, since real sinew is so scarce and not always available. Please note that I am not saying that this is the best, just that it is sometimes necessary when you want to use sinew lacing!
The second are blends of natural and artificial fabrics that look and behave like a natural fabric. However, they will never react totally like natural fibers, and this should be done only when natural fabrics are not available.
It should be noted that artificial fabrics will melt in extreme heat, so they should certainly not be used in clothing that will b worn around an open fire. Threads should be natural fabrics, and while some people will okay the use of cotton, other threads are readily available and should be used if at all possible.
Materials That Were Expensive in Period
Or not easily obtainable. For example, cotton was readily available in Constantinople and other Mediterranean cities. However, it seems never to have been imported into northern Europe and would probably have been more expensive than silk. Some commentators have noted that it was not unique in the way that silk is, and folk of the era and area had ready access to local goods that served much better for less expense, such as wool, flax, hemp and nettle.
Silk was imported and not duplicated by a local fabric, but it was very expensive (about 25 times more expensive than readily available wool). Unless you were very wealthy, you did not make garments entirely out of silk, and silk would be used only as trim.
Silk noil is also known by the misnomer of raw silk and should be avoided even though sellers describe it in glowing terms. It is, according to the Fiber Encyclopedia “the short fiber left over from combing wool or spinning silk and used as a decorative additive for many spinning projects, like rovings and yarns.” It dates in Europe from no earlier than the fourteenth century, perhaps the seventeenth century and, according to some sources, even later. Certainly not appropriate for the construction of clothing of the Viking Age.
Linen is Appropriate
Linen is a durable fabric woven from thread made from the long, strong bast fibers that form in the outer portions of several plants. Linen cloth comes in a variety of weights and weaves, from thick to quite thin and becomes softer with repeated washings. Although it is now almost exclusively seen as the product of the flax plant, in period, it was made from several plants, including flax, hemp and nettle. Because the bast fiber degenerates, it is difficult to tell the difference.
Flax linen is today primarily available and is certainly period. However, in period, “Linen was commonly available, but its use was restricted to upper, wealthier classes.”
Wool Was Inexpensive and Plentiful
Wool is a fabric woven from the threads made from sheep wool. England has always been famed for its sheep, and because of its plentitude, it was inexpensive and high quality. Wool is a very versatile fabric, breathing so that it is not overly hot or suffocating, warm when necessary (even when wet) and forgiving. It should never be dried, since it has a tendency to full, and some folk say that it should never been washed, only brushed. Many persons are allergic to wool—or rather to the lanolin—and cannot or hesitate to wear; use linen instead or as a barrier between it and your skin.
There are a number of weaves that were used to produce wool fabric in our period. The different appropriate weaves include Diamond, Broken Diamond, Herringbone, Cross, Diagonal, Tabby and Honeycombe. Elisabeth Da’Born Art and Textiles has an incomplete photographic record of the different weaves on Facebook.
—To Be Continued