Tag Archives: Viking textiles

Blue Skirts and Golden Belts: aa112403

In October 2003 I had the chance to visit the fascinating exhibit of ancient Finnish textiles, in Tampere, Finland.
The Sinihameet kultavyöt
exhibit featured both textile fragments found at various archaeological gravesites from the Viking Age in Finland, and modern recreations of those textiles.

Weavers and textile artists at Pirkanmaan Kasi ja Taideteollisuus Ry
and Opintotoiminnan Keskusliitto put together the exhibit, wove the fabrics and produced a book about these textiles.

sinihameet-kirja.jpg, 8648 bytes

Sinihameet kultavyöt
Suomalaisia muinaispukuja

Viking Age in Finland

Very few textiles have been found at archaeological sites, because textiles decompose fairly easily. Also cremation was an early practice. At the Finnish grave sites, partially preserved textiles have been found in the women’s graves, because the women wore jewellery and ornaments made of bronze. The bronze gases helped to preserve the textiles. Because the men’s graves had swords and tools made of iron, their clothing did not survive the dampness. The use of bronze ornamentation was unique to Finland and other Baltic regions’. In Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe, gold and silver were predominant.

At the archaeological site, the placement of the clothing and textiles were carefully recorded. From these, the purpose of the clothing could be determined. The textile fragments were analyzed for fibre content, yarn twist and sett. Where the fabric had deteriorated, the dust residue was analyzed to determine its content.

Viking Finnish dress

Finnish dress closeup

Most fabrics found at the gravesites sites were made of lambs wool. Few samples of linen fabrics survived, because linen and other vegetable fibres decompose more rapidly in the acidic environment. Although fabrics were classed as ‘linen’ or flax, they could also have been hemp (hamppu) or nettle (Nokkonen) as both of these plants also grew in the region. Specific fibre analysis has not been done to determine which type of vegetable or bast fibre was used.

Plied Yarns

”Yarns were spun with a Z twist. Some fabrics also used plied yarns with an S twist. The yarns would have been spun on a drop spindle (Värttinä). In some parts of Finland the single ply yarn was used only as weft, with the plied yarn being used as warp. In other parts, both warp and weft were a single ply.

Linen and Wool

Generally, the clothing consisted of a ‘linen’ undershirt with outer clothing woven of soft wool. Blankets or cloaks were also found that were made of coarser wool.

Warp-weighted Loom

The fabric itself would have been woven on a warp-weighted loom.
Where with today’s floor looms fabrics usually consist long and narrow warps, fabrics on a warp-weighted loom could have been quite wide, but short. Fabrics would have been woven to the length of the finished garment. While weaving, the edges were strengthened with woven bands using a thicker yarn.

Colourful Tablet Woven Bands

The clothing was trimmed with colourful woven bands, that were used as ties or belts. Although the fabrics at first glance looked brown, on closer study many of the band trims used red and blue yarns. Because yellows and greens tend to fade more easily, it was difficult to see whether these colours had also been present. By using chromatography analysis one could determine the dyeplants that were used. However, the expense of this type of analysis is prohibitive.

Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards
Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards

Please check my PaivatarYarn Shop on Etsy for my new tablet weaving cards.


Blue was the most used colour in many of the fabrics from the gravesites. Blue may have come from Dyers Woad, Värimorsinko (FI) Vejde (SE) Isatis tinctoria, but this is questioned by archaeologist Juri Peets because woad is not native to Finland and was exported from Southern Europe in 1000 A.D.

Blue from Mushrooms

With iron or tin mordants, yields greens and blues.
Hydnellum suaveolens, Tuoksuorakka
Sarcodon imbricatus,
Yields blues if it is old and its top has darkened.
Hapalopilus rutilans, Okrakaapa
With ammonia, yields strong, colourfast violet blue shades.
Cortinarius violaceus
Produces violet blue shades, and with an iron mordant, dark greys.


Red could have been dyed with madder (Rubia tinctoria) which was used in central Europe since 800 A.D. but it is unknown whether it was imported to Finland during the Iron Age. Red can also be produced from native plants such as:
Northern Bedstraw Galium boreale,
Hedge Bedstraw Galium album mollugo, Paimenmatara
Lady’s Bedstraw Galium verum,
Dyers Woodruff ‘Asperula tinctoria,

To produce reds from these plants much more of the dyestuff is needed for strong colours than with madder, approximately twice the weight of dyestuff to yarn. Because only small amounts of yarn were dyed – for the narrow bands, it is possible that the local plants were used. By varying the temperature and acidity of the dyebath, different shades of reds, oranges and violets could be produced.

St. John’s Wort Hypericum perforatum,
The stems and flower buds of the St. John’s Wort can produce orange/reds. To get stronger colour soak the stems & buds in alcohol for a few hours before placing in a dyebath. Reds from Mushrooms The Dermocybe family of mushrooms produces oranges and reds. Additon of an iron mordant gives darker shades and almost black. With older mushrooms, longer cooking times or the addition of ammonia can give lilac shades. Low heat or the addition of acid or vinegar gives warm reds.
Dictyophora cinnabarina

Cortinarius semisanguineous

By studying the archaeological records, fabric remains, and descriptions recorded in books such as Kalevala, weavers designed the clothing, using modern yarns that were available to them.
Pictures of the Dress.
This site is in Finnish, but click on the images, for detailed views of the cloth.

The she stepped to the shed-hill
stepped inside the shed
opened the best chest
slammed the bright lid back
and she found six golden belts
and seven blue skirts
and she put them on
she decks her body.


She set the gold on her brows
the silver upon her hair
the blue silks upon her eyes
the red threads upon her head.

Kalevala # 4

Finnish Viking age dress

Tablet Woven Finishes
How to weave a tablet woven braid onto handwoven fabric.

Kalevala Books

The Kalevala: Or Poems of the Kaleva District
Kalevala translation by Professor Francis Peabody Magoun

The Key to the Kalevala
UK:Key to the Kalevala

The Songs of Power: A Finnish Tale of Magic, Retold from the Kalevala (Ancient Fantasy)
For ages 10 and up: songs of the many adventures of favorite heroes: the mighty, magical men and women of ancient days.
UK:Songs of Power

The Cosmic Kalevala Book One: The Saga of Lost Earths

..More Books of the Kalevala..
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Viking Textiles: aa042197

It is commonly thought that Viking clothing was rough “sack-cloth”. Not so. Viking textiles influenced and were influenced by the many countries in which they travelled. Viking Cloths have described as layers of simple but well fitted garments, using wool, linen, horsehair and dog hair.

Vikings used fibers and yarns that were readily available in their area. In England and Sweden they had access to linen. Silk was also used in the ninth century. In Scandinavia, very fine cloth with counts of 14×11 and 24×12 threads per cm. have been found. Viking fabrics were often made of worsted wool in twill patterns. It can be assumed that Vikings produced fine fulled cloth as fulling mills dating to the later Viking period are found in Britain.

Fabrics were woven on warp-weighted looms. These looms consisted of a roller beam on top of a heavy frame and shafts of heddles that raise and lower the warp threads. The warp was attached to the roller beam and held under tension by weights consisting of soapstone or Icelandic volcanic stones with natural holes. Stones were attached to the bundles of warp threads. As the cloth was woven, it was rolled up onto the beam. It was difficult to produce even edges in weaving because the weighted warp hung freely. The warp-weighted loom later was replaced by the more efficient horizontal loom, that had a shedding mechanism operated by foot pedals (similar to today’s floor looms).
warp weighted loom

Wool was spun using a drop spindle made of wood or bone, and weighted with a whorl of bone, wood, clay, stone or metal. After spinning, the yarn was dyed using natural dyestuffs. The more wealthy Viking could afford brighter and more colourful dyes. Black dye was produced by making a mixture of cochineal (red), woad (blue) and weld (yellow). White was obtained by bleaching the yarn with wood ash.

Tablet weaving was also popular during Viking times. The tablets are made of flat squares of wood or bone with holes in each corner. These are threaded with the warp with the warp yarn and held in the hands. By turning the cards forwards or backwards by half or quarter turns, the warp threads are raised or lowered. Gold wire and colourful threads were used in the weft, producing intricate patterns.

Tablet Woven Madder Root Belt
Tablet Woven Madder Root Belt

Look for plant dyed tablet woven belts in my Etsy Shop.
The Middle Ages in Finland were influenced by the Vikings and ancient outfits. Threads were spindle spun. A typical dress required 30 kilometres of single-ply thread. Strong colours were preferred. Birch leaves were used for yellow. Red came from the roots of northern bedstraw. Blue from dyer’s woad, and green’s from blood-coloured cortinarius and juniper berries. It is possible that mushroom dyes may also have been used for dyeing their clothing.
Naalbinding Hats
Naalbinding Hats Mittens

Blue Skirts Golden Belts
Finland’s Viking Age Textiles

Viking Ships
A visit to the Viking Museum, includes photos of Viking ships and warp-weighted looms.

Viking Museum at Borg

Female Viking Dress is reconstructed from remains found at Birka.


Nalbinding Pattern for an Iphone bag

Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards
Paivatar Tablet Weaving Cards

Please check my PaivatarYarn Shop on Etsy for my new tablet weaving cards.

Tablet Woven Pattern
Card Woven Edging
Fungi Dyes

Nalbinding Books
Nalbinding – What in the World Is That?
Nålbindning – The easiest clearest ever guide!
Nalbinding Made Easy
Viking: Dress Clothing Garment

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