Weaving (Part 2) a Viking Twill from Birka Sweden

Weaving (Part 2) a Viking Twill from Birka Sweden

I had told you about my original foray into weaving with Overshot done totally wrong in a previous post.  My original goal of learning to weave was to create fragment #10 from the Viking digs at Birka Sweden.

Map showing general area of Sweden that Birka is located. 1 This Map helpfully shows where Birka Sweden is.

BIrka is on Bjorko, an inland past Stockholm.2 BIrka is on Bjorko, an inland inland past Stockholm.

Birka was a Viking trading town founded in the mid 700’s and was an important trade city for about 200 years.  The town was abandoned around 975AD with the speculation, while I was at university, was that the harbor had become unusable (Silted up or glacial rebound) and the town relocated elsewhere. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.  There had been a lot of archeological work done at Birka starting in the late 1800’s.  The Birka Graves provided important artifacts, of both of domestic and foreign origins.  “Grave Bj 582: Female Warrior” in particular has attracted a lot of interest and debate. There have been extensive (4800) textile fragments fines from Birka. Only a small portion of which have been studied.  including the broken lozenge twill fragment labeled #10 when I was originally investigating the fragments.

It was particularly fine and in a high thread count. Therefore, there was debate; “was it locally produced”(how could locals produce such fine cloth?), “was it imported, if so who made it” this was the prevailing thought at the time, I felt it was unfair to think local weavers could not possibly have make such fine fabric.  I thought it was one of the most fabulous fabrics I had ever seen and was determined to figure out how to make it. At the time I could not find a draft for an obscure historical textiles so would have to figure it out from a photo I had been given of the fragment.

Photo of Icelandic Variant Warp-weighted Loom  from Reykjavik National Museum. Shows shed rod supports, upper beam with laced on warp , loom weights and sword beater.3

Diagram of Icelandic Variant Warp-weighted Loom  from Reykjavik National Museum. Shows shed rod supports, upper beam with laced on warp , loom weights and sword beater.4  Photo and Diagram of Icelandic Variant Warp-weighted Loom  from Reykjavik National Museum. Shows shed rod supports, upper beam with laced on warp , loom weights and sword beater.

It was originally woven on a warp-weighted loom. Even this loom is fabulously amazing! Not only is it a vertical loom (there are only a few types of loom that are vertical) but it’s the only one I have found that beats the warp up into the shed. Yes! you wind the finished cloth onto the top beam and the warp hangs beneath and is waited by rocks! Cool! I get to meld my interest in textiles with my interest in geology. Well actually, I measured the inside of my first car, a Pony Hatchback, then scaled the loom to fit the space from the inside of the hatchback to the back of the driver’s seat and wound up with my ¾ size Icelandic warp weighted loom when compared to one of the museum looms. My original loom weights were actually plates from roman lamilar armor. They sounded like wind chimes as I wove, the metal plates tapping agents each other. They “Mysteriously Disappeared”, in the last move. (They were heavy and made a lot of noise when I used the loom.)

I had found a hardwood 4×4 or it might have been a bit bigger as part of a skid (that is also known as a pallet, made of wood that forklifts lift piles of stuff on top of.) I took it over to my parents’ house and explained what I wanted to do trim off some edges, and dill holes down the length of the remaining edge side then lace a starting cord onto it through the holes. Dad looked a bit confused but said he would think about it and come back next weekend and we could finish figuring it out. (I had really been looking forward to getting to use the Drill press, maybe the table saw and of course the power sander!!!)

I arrived and was presented with the completed top beam notched, drilled and sanded ready to measure and make uprights. Oh well, I eventually bot my own drill press and table saw. We discussed the uprights and shed rods supports and got the whole loom done to the 3/4th scale I needed to fit in my little car.

I had been very lucky and purchased the Marta Hoffman book, The Warp-Weighted Loom, in 1990. So had the information she had on the different types of warp-weighted looms. I had chosen the Icelandic variant partly because of the lack of needing a card-woven starting border.

the Warp-Weighted Loom by Marta Hoffmann. This is a Fabulous tome of wisdom that I have been looking for a second copy of for decades…literately… decades. The orange cover shows two Greek woman weaving on an upright weighted loom.5 the Warp-Weighted Loom by Marta Hoffmann. This is a Fabulous tome of wisdom that I have been looking for a second copy of for decades…literately… decades. The orange cover shows two Greek woman weaving on an upright weighted loom.

Marta wrote the book in 1964, studying the archeological fines and looking for people who ether remembered the looms in use or had used them. The book has a number of examples of weavers preparing the warp, set up and weave on this type of loom.  Sadly this book has been out of print for a long time now. I have Very much wanted to get a copy for the guild library since my own copy is in a sad state and some what annotated. (Don’t hate me, the notes are in pencil!!!) but the library budget can not afford it. I keep looking for a light orange book in every thrift store used book section!! I live in hope.

I made a photocopy of the photograph of the fragment and blew it up as large as I could clearly. Next I selected a section that was a twill run and started counting threads, (under, under, over…) to create the  draw down and continue to create the rest of the draft.  From there I assigned each thread to a harness watching for the tread to repeat later in the pattern. Then worked out the tie up for each line and number the treads to figure out the sheds needed to weave the fragment. It worked out to require 3 shed rods and the natural shed on my Icelandic warp weighted loom, so this could be woven on a 4 harness floor loom. I am not sure where my original draft has disappeared to, but there are now various drafts on line labeled broken lozenge twill.

one of my four harness table looms set up to weave at a demo (Carp fair I recognize the tractors) with the broken lozenge twill draft on a paper beside it. The blue and gray blanket in the background is the same pattern.6 one of my four harness table looms set up to weave at a demo (Carp fair I recognize the tractors) with the broken lozenge twill draft on a paper beside it. The blue and gray blanket in the background is the same pattern.

working out from the draw down to find the threading and the treadling. (Weaving draft in black and white, the gray boxes indicate the treadle with the second number being the other harness the treadle engages)7 working out from the draw down to find the threading and the treadling. (Weaving draft in black and white, the gray boxes indicate the treadle with the second number being the other harness the treadle engages)

When I compare it to the ones I see on line, I suspect I had a photo of what has now been decided as the back of the fabric. Since I seem to have subtle changed in the treadling and threading part of the draft but still have the same draw-down.

on line example of broken lozenge twill8 on line example of broken lozenge twill

I have use this draft many times with both cotton and wool. I think the first time i time I wove the pattern was on my rather ancient Clement loom. It is a jack style loom (the harness move up as you push on a treadle (peddle)) and is a direct tie-up style, so there is one treadle per harness. This is a great way to learn how the threads are exchanged to create the structure of a weave. I wove it using grey wool with an accent of blue hand died South American wool (maybe coriadale?) I discovered it was less tightly spun than I would have liked, but it was the exact colour I wanted, unfortunately it broke frequently, so I got lots of practice fixing warp threads.

the grey blanket with the weakly spun blue warp stripe sitting on a chair with my apron in front of the display tables and behind the tip of my road bug spinning wheel. At the Richmond Fair.9 the grey blanket with the weakly spun blue warp stripe sitting on a chair with my apron in front of the display tables and behind the tip of my road bug spinning wheel. At the Richmond Fair.

the carp fair display the gray blanket with blue stripe in the center with other weaving around it. We have used emergency painters drop cloth plastic to make walls for the tent since it was raining.10 the carp fair display the gray blanket with blue stripe in the center with other weaving around it. We have used emergency painters drop cloth plastic to make walls for the tent since it was raining.     

A different Richmond Fair demo, the gray and blue blanket draped over my folding chair; you can now see the rest of my small travel wheel. Yes, that is a woolly winder on a road bug!11 A different Richmond Fair demo, the gray and blue blanket draped over my folding chair; you can now see the rest of my small travel wheel. Yes, that is a woolly winder on a road bug!

I wove another piece at a demo with Philosopher’s wool. It is an Ontario cooperative of wool producers who spun and died there wool without the use of harsh chemicals. While weaving it I got lots of complements on the pattern, “it  was so novel and original!” I did explain that it was the height of fashion for a 10c Viking woman. What is old is new again.

Philosophers Wool in blue and grey, in broken Lozenge Twill, the basket has its overshot in slub-cotton  and a needle felted basket dragon with hand died silk wings.12 Philosophers Wool in blue and grey, in broken Lozenge Twill, the basket has its overshot in slub-cotton  and a needle felted basket dragon with hand died silk wings.

I have taken these to various demos over the years. You may remember seeing them in displays at various demos I have shown you. We have used the larger shawl size to demonstrate the thermal value of wool. It has warmed myself and various others of the demo team as well as the general public who were wondering by the demo and looked particularly chilly.

Fellow weaver and guild member, trying to warm up (Carp fair)13 Fellow weaver and guild member, trying to warm up (Carp fair)

Another Weaver/ Spinner guild member demonstrating the thermal value of wool (trying to keep warm) (Carp fair)14 Another Weaver/ Spinner guild member demonstrating the thermal value of wool (trying to keep warm) (Carp fair)

I have set up the table looms I use for demos with a long cotton warp of lozenge twill and sometime Broken lozenge twill and let the public try out ether following the pattern or making up their own. It has been fun to see what had developed.

feels like miles of demo weaving, this warp took a few years of demoing to finish. You can see the various changes in patterns and changes in enthusiasm of beat.15 feels like miles of demo weaving, this warp took a few years of demoing to finish. You can see the various changes in patterns and changes in enthusiasm of beat.

If you too are having trouble finding a copy of the Marta Hoffman book you may want to look for the more recent book on warp weighted looms. ( I know you are all going to put down your felting needles, just for a moment, and rush out to the workshop to make your own Icelandic variant warp weighted looms!! But, maybe only half size so it’s more transportable)

a new book on warp-weighted looms by Kljasteinavefstadurinn Oppstadveven ( i have found a copy of this for the local guild library but they haven’t had the budget to pay me for it yet.)16 a new book on warp-weighted looms by Kljasteinavefstadurinn Oppstadveven ( i have found a copy of this for the local guild library but they haven’t had the budget to pay me for it yet.)

I want to leave you with one more reason to consider weaving.  This is one of my two harness table looms, its warped with worsted wool. I am doing test weaving for an Icelandic bed covering that has inserted locks of Icelandic tog (the course outer layer of the dual coated Icelandic sheep). It is said to trap the warm air from your body and keep you toasty while you sleep.

sample of Icelandic blanket, on a two harness table loom with wooden shuttle. The cloth looks furry. This was at the makers fair Demo at the Aberdeen pavilion in Ottawasample of Icelandic blanket, on a two harness table loom with wooden shuttle. The cloth looks furry. This was at the makers fair Demo at the Aberdeen pavilion in Ottawa17-18 sample of Icelandic blanket, on a two harness table loom with wooden shuttle. The cloth looks furry. This was at the makers fair Demo at the Aberdeen pavilion in Ottawa

I am trying multiple ways of laying in the staples of wool (Tog). From the archeology, there are multiple ways to add the fiber. The warp is white with two blue stripes.  The weft is white wool in the shuttle and white grey and charcoal tog inserted every few rows woven.

I hope you have enjoyed the wonder into weaving and I promise I will get back to felting tomorrow. I have to finish my notes for the “Needle Felted Thing” Workshop this coming Saturday! I will tell you more about that another time.

Let me know if you bump into a milk crate of lamilar armor that was just perfect as loom weights!

12 thoughts on “Weaving (Part 2) a Viking Twill from Birka Sweden

  1. What a great post Jan. This is the aspect of weaving that I find most interesting – the research, calculations, and setting up the loom.
    I love the broken lozenge twill design, very effective, and obviously lovely and warm. I once found one of those stones with holes in that were used as loom weights. though that seems to have gone the way of the Roman lamilar armour pieces.
    Good to see the basket dragon in there too – we need a close up of those silk wings some time.
    Ann

    1. Thanks Ann! i still think weaving is like magic (but so is felting and spinning!) i would love to find a loom weight! some of the ones along the cost line i understand my be for nets and fishing. but still truly cool! dont loose all hope i still hope one day to fined a milk crate of little rectangles of mettle with a hole drilled in the top sitting in the drive way. ether that or a Roman who would like to be releaved of his armor!! i can see i can do a post about wings sometime and get you some close up shots.

  2. I am not a weaver Jan but the beauty of your pieces has me excited! The patterns are very beautiful and intricate. I can nearly feel the warmth of the cloth here. Dublin was a big viking town and many artifacts were discovered back in the 70s. They are now housed in our museum. I must pay particular attention to the textiles next time I visit.
    Hélène

    1. OH Helene!! To live in the same place as a museum full of viking artifacts!!! The Museums around Ottawa while realy good have a sivear lack of Vikings!!!! we have had a cuple travleing exhibits so i should not complain too much.
      i have vaige memorys of studdying viking traid goods (incudeing from Dublin) and the artistic styles on them suggesting selling to non-vikings byers. My poor 4th year Medival history proffessor had to ask for help from another professore at the main camups of U of Toronto to mark that one. i was an art student, i had very odd history essays incuding diagrams, charts, tables and illustrations, all pre computer. well there were computers i am not THAT old, i just didnt have one or access to one. Please let us know if you find textiles or fiber tools, combs, looms, sword beeters!!!

  3. Great post Jan, I have enjoyed the warmth of that blanket myself. It is beautiful and very warm. It would be fun to get a warp waited loom set up and give it a try. The weaving was usually done by more than one person wasn’t it?

    1. Your right Ann, if the loom was more than a comfortable width to pass the bundle of yarn there is a proper name for that bundle of weft threads and i have lost the nown it will be back later im sure. then 2 weavers would pass it back and forth as the changed sheads and beat. by changing the lenghth of the top beam you could weave wider widths. there were a lot of spesifications on weaving widths if you were selling the cloth. Cloth had Value.
      if you would like to borrow mine we can arrange it but that may slow you down from setting up your studio and getting the tapestry loom up and running!!

  4. Thanks for another interesting post Jan! I love the look of the icelandic tog being woven into a blanket. Very nice idea to keep warm and toasty and imagine how fun it would look on your bed 😉

    1. Thanks Ruth! i hope to make a blanket it would be wonderfly warm. i still have not been brave enuff to try to use the treadles on any of the looms in the guild. i am not sure my back will apresiate that so i may be having to get realy devious and set up the warp weighted loom or figure out my large (i think its a 7′ ) triangular loom. its weaving plain weave i may be able to fiure out a suplemental warp/weft or just insert the tog as i weave. i should realy try a sample…. brain distracted. i will get back to felting soon i promis!

    1. thanks both of you! i agree this is such a cool textile all harry on one side and you can have patterns becouse of the difernt colours of the tog on the other. i think i will do light at one end and dark at the other but i may get more creative. i have the 45″ counter ballance loom down stairs but its traped behind stuff in the corner. there is a 36″ loom in the living room but it has fiber stacked on it and i would need two pannels on that one at least..i probubly should not consider weaving it on the inkle loom…. at 3″ strips!!! there are the table looms (15 inch width) and the little 22 inch that is wating to be set up… i have a few options. i will have to see what the back thinks of weaving i am just too chiken to ask it.

  5. A wonderful read, I so enjoyed it. I do not know anything about weaving, but I can appreciate the skill, and the detective work in discovering the patterns and looms used in history. Thank you.

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