MATERIALS OF THE VIKING AGE Part II
Leather & Fur
Leather and fur were not used in most clothing as it was in earlier times. Shoes were mainly made of leather, and there is probability that leather was used in trousers (some translations of Æfric note leather pants, and there is Ragnar Shaggy Britches). Leather should not be dyed, since there is a controversy about whether dyes were used, and black leather should especially be avoided. Suede was invented in the nineteenth century, and obviously chrome finished leather is totally inappropriate.
Brain-tanned leather is appropriate, but the most available type is vegetable-tanned, unfinished leather.
The width and uses of different sizes of leather vary greatly. The Tandy Leather Factory prints a good guide for choosing thickness and types of leather.
Fur, which is stereotypically used by popular media to indicate macho barbarism, was not used; most types of fur seem to be used for cold-weather gear, with the fur inside for greater warmth, and fur was probably used mostly as blankets and rugs.
An Age of Wood
It might be convenient to note that people of the time only used wood that was available in the area, the truth is that wood was sometimes imported from elsewhere for use (including North America, since Norse contact seems to have continued even after colonization failed). A good guide for what woods were used may be found in my book, Age of Wood, while an abbreviated list may be found elsewhere on this blog. Woods of American derivation may be used but only if the style is similar to that which was found in the area during the Viking Age.
Metals That Are Appropriate
Many of today’s common elements such as aluminum, bismuth, chromium, nickel, platinum, zinc and zirconium were all invented or discovered after the Viking Age—at least in Europe—and are not appropriate. Their use should be avoided. In the Viking Age, the seven ancient metals were copper, gold, iron, lead, mercury, silver and tin Alloys such as bronze (copper and tin), brass (copper, tin and other elements) and pewter (tin with lead and other elements) were commonly used and are all legitimate. Even steel was known, being iron infused with carbon (commonly known as cal), though the heat of the furnaces were not high enough to form high-quality steel. But steel was expensive and used sparingly. For example, the cutting edge of steel was often sandwiched between two pieces of more common iron to make the axe more affordable, and cast iron was not developed until the fifteenth century and not commercially feasible until the eighteenth.
The metals were often of a lesser quality than we know today, though just looking at them is not usually affected. However, certain types of metal that are commonly available today but which do look different should not be used. For example, stainless steel is a high-carbon steel that was not developed until the late nineteenth century (chromium was not discovered until the early part of the century), and results were too brittle to be practical. It was not commercially practical until the twentieth.
Galvanization, the introduction of zinc to steel in an effort to inhibit its corrosion, was not developed until the nineteenth century either, when it was applied electrically and also known as Faradism. In many cases, galvanized metal may be used, but the zinc must be removed, generally by melting it off in a fire.
Period pewter had a high lead content, and pewter that is available today contain other, safer elements. Its use, since it looks and responds like the high-lead pewter, is not discouraged. In fact, lead pewter is actually discouraged, as is the use of actual lead, which we know is poisonous and toxic. It is not introduced into the body by touch per sé although it can be ingestion, if the lead is placed into the mouth by fingers that have been coated with lead dust, by inhaling lead dust in the air and especially by smoking if there is any lead dust around.
The colors, paints and dyes, were more limited than those available today.
Hazel Uzzell has set down paint hues that were available in the period, and a list of and notes on these colors are available. Modern equivalents have been set forth. Acrylic paints were, of course, unavailable, and most paints of the time were oil based or milk paints, and milk paints give a very durable and aesthetically pleasing result. A list of milk paints, if unavailable in your area, may be found on-line from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint company.
Regia Anglorum has done extensive testing for natural dyestuffs that might have been available for folks in Northern Europe of the Viking Age, and the results of the Regia Anglorum Natural Dye Project have been published, and a listing of modern thread equivalents which may be used for recreation purposes is also available. The latter article also contains notes on what color might be worn by what social class.