Textiles and Tales

At the end of this summer, I received an invitation from Dr Linda Doran (School of Irish, Celtic Studies and Folklore, UCD)https://twitter.com/lindadoran4?lang=en) to design and present a textile workshop for her module on Vikings in the Celtic World. The brief was to bring medieval textile technology into the classroom and use it to offer another layer of interpretation to the literary sources.

Two sources were chosen, ‘The Woof Of War’ from the Burnt Njal Saga (full poem here:http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/darra.htm) and ‘The Banner of Sigurd, Earl of Orkney’. (http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/historicalfigures/earlsigurd/index.html). In the previous tutorial, Linda had interpreted the symbolism involved in these two sources. for her students and how it was my task to outline the textile technical terms in the Woof of War, asking questions such as ‘Are these terms still in use today?’ ‘Would it be possible to use heads as loom weights?’  It was about disentangling fact from fiction and asking questions about embodied knowledge.

The second source was the banner of Sigurd and this source formed the basis of our active hands-on textile workshop. The banner featured a raven and I used small cardboard squares warped with red threads with a raven template like a tapestry frame for the students to recreate a sense of making a banner.

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Seventy frames in total. Although the lines in the source stated that “it was a finely made banner, very cleverly embroidered”  it was more efficient and cost-effective to adopt the tapestry cardboard style.  Although, the two styles are closely aligned and this was explained to the students. Using needles and wool for the next part of the tutorial, all heads and fingers engaged with the task of replication Earl Sigurd magic raven banner.


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At the end of the tutorial, the students took away their work and for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to work in this inter-disciplinary fashion. I wish to thank Dr Doran and my supervisors, Prof Aidan O’Sullivan and Dr Brendan O’Neill for allowing me the time to engage with this style of teaching and of course, thank you to all those wonderful banner makers, the students of Vikings in the Celtic World.


Shoppin’ for whorls!!!

A spindle whorl is a perforated weight that sits on a spindle shaft to facilitate the twisting of fibres into yarn.  The weight of the whorl acts on the fibres in two ways by stretching them under its weight and when set spinning the weight increases the amount of energy (twisting load) delivered into the fibres which affect the character of the finished yarn.

Small spindles are used for thin threads because they rotate faster and heavy spindles are used for plying yarn (Woodland 1990, Andersson, 2003).  The average pre-spinning wheel households would have possessed a variety of spindle whorls suitable for producing the types of yarn needed for clothing and household textiles.  Stone, ceramic, wooden and bone were among the main raw materials used in the manufacture of whorls excavated from secure Viking contexts.  All have different properties such as weight, durability and spin characteristics. Coppergate, York is one such secure context and the comprehensive report by Penelope Walton Rogers (1997) on the stone spindle whorls of York provides an insight into the use and manufacture of whorls of this period.

Before we examined the manufacture and use of whorls, we need to establish what makes a whorl, a whorl and not a bead, amulet or ordinary weight.  The main feature of a whorl is its central hole which accommodates the spindle shaft, the shafts are tapered so as to hold the whorl in a fixed position at a given distance from either the top or the bottom of the spindle shaft.  It has been established that whorls of this period generally have a hole diameter of no less than 9mm and no more than 11mm.  These holes are always neatly drilled no matter how crude or roughly shaped the whorl.  This is the case across the range of material used in whorl manufacture and suggests some sort of drill was used to make the holes. Whorl tend to range in weight from 10 to 30 grams for textile spinning. The whorl can be placed at either the top or bottom of the spindle, this will affect the tension in the yarn the general rule of thumb is:

  • Bottom – low speed –loose.
  • Top –high speed- tight.

Oseberg whorls blog

The shape of the whorl can also affect the spin characteristics of the spindle: for example, globular whorls like the Oseberg type where all the weight is close to the spindle shaft, they tend to spin fast and tight and produce a fine yarn.  Whereas a cup-shaped whorl where the weight is concentrated around the rim will spin slow and produce a thicker yarn. Various methods have been employed in the construction of whorls.  Different construction processes leave behind different tool marks which allow for the identification of the construction method.  Methods employed such manual paring, rasping or abrading to mechanical with the whorl being turned on a lathe. Many of the whorls of this period seem to be homemade and with geological characteristics dictating the method of shaping a stone whorl.  Soft stone such as chalk is easily pared down with a knife, there is also evidence of rasping with a tool similar to a file, as well as abrading against another stone. The most readily recognised production method is that of using a knife to pare the stone, as this method leaves tell-tale sharp “irregular facets”.  This type of whorl also tends to be the most highly decorated, suggesting a personal connection with the object perhaps a gift or love token specially made for someone. Mechanically created whorls, those turned on a lathe have a characteristic “smooth profile and fine encircling lines” which is all but impossible to achieve when working freehand. Whorls made by abrading tend to have rounded facets and a smooth surface.  Whereas the ones formed using a rasp display linear striation indicative of the tool’s teeth scoring the surface of the stone.

Whorls featured in many female burials across Scandinavia as well as trade and settlement sites, so question one asked: In the context of the female burials, were the whorls just a reminder of the industry of spinning or did they have more symbolic meanings?  Is the same true of the scales and weights found in female graves in Scandinavia, does this mean that women traded solely or did the scales and weights represent her family activity?

Bettina Arnold and Nancy Wicker, authors of Gender and the Archaeology of Death (2001) write that 22% of the Birka female burials had balance scales and weights in their graves.  The primary source of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan who encountered a party of Viking traders on the upper reaches of the Volga River reported of the trade in glass beads amongst the men for their women.

Did women trade amongst themselves for items such as whorls?

Or did whorls form part of the wider trading network?

In order to attempt answers, we looked towards the trading hub of Hedeby


A significant trading settlement in the Danish/German borderland from the 8th to the 11th century.  Located in a similar geographical position to Islandbridge (Dublin)/Woodstown (Waterford)

  • Standardization of the size and shape of almost a thousand ceramic whorls at Hedeby suggests that these were being mass-produced.
  • A possible ‘yes, to whorls being part of the wider trading network’.


The Birka archaeological site is located on Björkö Island in Lake Mälar and was occupied in the 9th and 10th centuries.  Hovgården is situated on the neighbouring island of Adelsö and together, they make up an archaeological complex which illustrates the elaborate trading networks of Viking-Age Europe and their influence on the subsequent history of Scandinavia.

  • Half of the 429 whorls found in the Birka area were of stone, soapstone. Evidence pointed towards probable importation from Norway (Andersson 2003).
  • There were definite differences in shape among Birka whorls of different materials. Stone whorls were usually discoid or flat-convex. Conical and biconical whorls were usually ceramic.
  • The whorls from Birka ranged from 4-100 g, with most falling in the 5-29 g range with stone whorls tend to be heavier because of the greater density of stone (Andersson 1998, 2003).
  • The diameters of whorls of all types ranged from 25-45 mm (1-2 inches).  Whorls of this diameter are common because they spin well.  The height of stone whorls is 5-20 mm, with a 7-12 mm hole.

In relation to examining an answer to our questions, the pattern that emerges from Birka is not as clear-cut towards mass-production. It tends to point back in favour of domestic use or as tools of the individual industry i.e.: small-scale trade among women themselves, evidence for a possible answer to the question regarding ‘did women trade amongst themselves’.


Another trading settlement of Viking life in the ninth century and its 1970s excavations brought to light, several whorl types.

  • Among them were 92 stone spindle whorls with a quarter manufactured by a lathe.
  • This evidence tends to support the existence of an individual industry as opposed to a collective industry of whorl construction for the wider trading network.
  • The most common shape for a whorl at York, especially in soapstone, was plano-convex (contact-lens shape). Other whorl shapes such as discoid, sub-conical, globular, and bi-conical, cylindrical and doughnut. All these shapes represented several progression in shape preference over time and Walton (1997) noted that the globular whorl as found at Oseberg and pictured below, was relatively uncommon.spindle

Walton Rogers, Penelope. Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate. The Archaeology of York, vol. 17, 11. York: Council for British Archaeology, 1997.

The evidence from all three sites in the ninth and tenth-century points towards the manufacture of spindle whorls, in the majority, to serve the individual industry. Evidence from Hedeby supports a move towards the collective manufacture but the Birka and York evidence supported a regional organised trade amongst women as further evidenced by the finds of scales and weights at the Birka burials.



Andersson, Eva. 1998. Textile production in late Iron Age Scania – a methodological approach. NESAT 6.

Andersson, Eva. 2003. Tools for Textile Production from Birka and Hedeby. Birka Studies 8. Excavations in the Black Earth 1990-1995. Stockholm.

Walton Rogers, P. 2000. Stone spindle whorls. Pp. 2530-2533 in: A.J. Mainman and N.S.H. Rogers. Craft Industry and Everyday Life: Finds from Anglo-Scandinavian York. Vol 17: The Small Finds, Fasc. 14. York Archaeological Trust.

Woodland, Margery. 1990. Spindle-whorls: Object and Economy in Medieval Winchester. Oxford University Press.


























































On Wednesday 19th September, the official announcement and welcome occurred:

“Welcome to all new @IrishResearch scholars and fellows!”


Among the 75 awardees for University College Dublin, I read my name with pride and delight. I want to take this opportunity to say “Many, many thanks to many, many people” who supported, encouraged, and with much loyalty believed in my ability. Throughout my fifty-four years, I have worked hard and always tried to reach my best version of me, at times this was successful, at times not but I never stopped trying. To those who doubted or underestimated my resolute ability to achieve, give your hands, and jump on board with the majority on the Kearney PhD train. You will enjoy the journey!!!!

Dolores Kearney IRC Scholar

The title for my research work is “Weaving stories: Reconstructing the manufacture, uses and discarding of textiles and cloth in Early Medieval Ireland and beyond, AD 500-11oo”.

I have a Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/Textilesinarchaeology/

A Twitter account which will detail the activities of the UCD Experimental Textile Archaeology Group:https://twitter.com/UCDExperimentex and of course, on here, I will add updates.

Once again, many thanks to everyone xxx

The stockings of Texel

On Saturday the 7th of July in my blog entry from the recent summer school on textiles, I mentioned the third presentation of the day was a blueprint for citizen science and experimental textile archaeology.  Now, that I have more time I want to write up that presentation entitled:

Reconstructing the 17th-century silk stockings from the Texel shipwreck.  The advantages and challenges of a citizen science project-Chrystel Brandenburgh.

The star of the Texel shipwreck excavation was this dress.

Texel stockings

However, the focus of the reconstruction project was this pair of unworn silk stockings.

More informal details on the dress may be read at a blog post from TRC Leiden (Textile Research Centre): https://www.trc-leiden.nl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=453%3Ajean-kerrs-dress-found-off-the-coast-of-texel&catid=75%3Atextile-moments&Itemid=256&lang=en

So, why were the stockings the focus of a reconstruction project?

The main objectives was to gain knowledge into the production and usage of the silk stocking in the 17th century using history and experimental archaeology.

The research questions for the project:

  1. How were the stockings made?
  2. How were the stockings used?
  3. Were the stockings custom made?
  4. Were the stockings made to a one size fits all pattern?

The project was designed, of course, to answer the research questions but it was also designed to create knowledge, to share knowledge and to learn by doing through citizen science/citizen experimental archaeology.

The Project Design

  • Research and documentation (questionnaires and workshops)
  • Test swatches production through workshops
  • Testing techniques
  • Knitting full reconstructions through workshops
  • Experimental research-How did the reconstructed stockings fit, how did the stockings perform in shoes over time?


Funding and participants

In order to address the two issues above, the project co-ordinators took to social media and its global connectivity in virtual time. The call was put out for twenty knitters and over a hundred responded but these volunteers needed to be organised in real time and as we know real time takes time. It was a challenge to organise the project from time frames, requirements,  collecting data, to monetary challenges.  For example, the scientific analysis was required to understand the silk structure of the stockings, was it reeled or spun silk?  and the degumming of the silk was required in order to dye, and what of the knitting direction aka pattern that also needed analysis so the 100 knitters could learn how to knit like it was 1699!!!

Crowd funding through social media was utilised alongside sponsorship was also used to fund the cost of materials and for the organisation of workshops.

Workshop One

This workshop gathered about 25 global knitters together where instructions were given on how to knit 5 x 5 cm swatches using three types of silk with needles (1 mm and 0.7 mm). The estimation was that each knitter would produce three swatches and this amount of swatches acted as a template for future costing of complete pairs of stockings (ten pairs required), The end result was a production output of 160 swatches with each swatch taking five hours with various knitting techniques, directions and questionnaires to fill out for any issues that may arise. The platform of Ravelry was used to track the participants progress outside of the workshop.



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Dr Brandenberg presenting the Texel experimental archaeology project

Workshop Two

This workshop of knitters involved further lectures, demonstrations of various knitting techniques, problem solving and knitting. Assignments were allocated for the stocking knitting, ten pairs and, again, with questionnaires that would act as the citizen science record. This project is still ongoing and currently, TRC at Leiden are writing a detailed publication and planning a conference.

A visual round-up of the Texel silk stocking presentation






Thank you


Day Eleven-The last day at KU Summer School, Textiles and Fashion in Theory and Practice through 3,000 years.

Last night, we visited the Designmuseum (https://designmuseum.dk/) and the task there was to decode the representation of fashion through two displays “Fashion and fabric” and “Danish Design Now”. Then, this morning we discussed what was the general narrative, identify the target audience, what was, both, the strengths and weaknesses of the exhibits and “what seems to happen to fashion when it is “musealised” and becomes part of our public heritage management? This term, generally, means placing lives (from the recent and distant past), the activities of those lives and associated material culture into a freeze frame (museum).

One example, the late Alexander Mc Queen and Savage Beauty exhibition (Costume Institue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, US) 2011https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2011/alexander-mcqueen and at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2015 http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-alexander-mcqueen-savage-beauty/about-the-exhibition/

McQueen designed as a craftsman, he knew the lines of his craft so well and to quote him…

rules and MC Q

He had learnt the tradition of making clothes, he used it to underpin his own talented craftsmanship and he experimented by cutting cloth beyond the measure in order to present material in a myriad of curated McQueen themes.  The retrospective Savage Minds exhibition presented a freeze frame of his creative life, its activities and its material culture.

A mc Q


Continuing with the theme of fashion and museums, the class listened to the history of fashion in museums.  We, as a group, listened and observed and grasp what a difficult concept for museums to curate…………fashion, a work always in progress not linear but cyclical

Linear Hangars Circular hangars

Our final session took us into the land of Google with Louise Rytter (Content editor for Google Arts and Culture’s We Wear Culture Project) (https://artsandculture.google.com/)

An interesting platform and tool with many opportunities to observe and learn but it is a tool and that is all it is.

Why do I say this?

Well,  a scenario was recounted to us that two reality garments were laid out in a room surrounded by tools of virtual reality technology and no-one touch the real garments, sad!!!! I utilise technology constantly, I want to and I choose to, however, I do not want the V&A, the Victoria and Albert Museum to become the G&A Museum, the Google Arts Museum.  I want to use both reality and virtual reality and what I object to is the subtle manipulation of choice that is already in our daily lives. Are we in danger of being musealised as we live or as it happened already…………….think, Instragram ready!!!!

I want to finish tonight by thanking my fellow students for the great support and advice and the super laughter. To the staff at the Centre for Textile Research, Saxo Insitute, Copenhagen thank you all for invaluable words of guidance, encouragement, informative lectures, and readings, I learnt so much.

I want to extend an invitation to you all to visit the Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture, University College Dublin.


The very best of luck with all presentations and the exam in August.





Fashioning culture and identity

Day Ten-Lecture morning with Marie Riegels Melchior on “Danish Fashion: History, Design. Identity”

A lecture with the theme of translating fashion into Danish. A practice-based study of fashion that has levels of analysis wrapped around a cultural process that fostered a belonging to a nation with a vocabulary of fashion. Using that prism, Danish fashion in the 1950s commenced a move away from a monocentric towards a polycentric model. The 1960s saw the rise of the ‘Teenager’ with their own money and the desire to express a new, different representation of themselves and from that phenomena, the boutiques and lifestyle brands developed. One, in particular, was the ‘B-age’ a design concept from a dynamic couple, the Brandts with the underlying influences from London, think, Mary Quant and the Biba store.


The 1970s as a decade in Danish fashion history seen state acknowledgement and support in the development of the Danish fashion export trade. At this time, economic and competitive challenges threaten the Danish fashion and it was not until the 80s that new strategies were implemented to re-negotiate the position of the fashion industry at home and abroad. From the 1990s onwards, the dualism of fashion in Denmark dressed changes such as the branding of the industry in the wider fashion world.

Within the wider world yet on a different fashion stage, our afternoon lecture examined the motives for the wearing of historical military jackets in the rock world.  According to Jennifer Craik (2005), this action is one that is ‘radically transgressive’.  A comment which refers to the action of taking the military jacket which was specifically designed to function in a particular manner and subverting its original function and demeaning the respect, pride and dignity that exists in the jacket. Is this a fair comment? In order to offer an explanation, we need to think, firstly, of the rock military jackets, faux or original.

The original military

Let us look to the tailored, braid fronted, original, dress jacket, it was cut in an extremely flattering style to the male form and remained in use long after wartime had ended but in its intended dress circle, that of the military.  However, in 1960s London, a boutique called, I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, opened with a stock of antique military uniforms and thus began this fashion among rock musicians like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger for wearing military jackets for their performance but did they demean the jackets and steal from the fabric that pride and dignity of military life. I would argue that they did not instead, they added to the biography of the military jacket by adding a layer with less bloody consequences.


The faux military jackets

The second type of military jackets, the faux, worn by The Beatles on the cover of their Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album appeared more as a 1960s shiny colourful nod to the Victorian fashion of bandstand concerts. The Beatles used the faux jackets as visual hooks both in the style form, colours and fabric,  They were a group did not do the looking rather, they were looked at and the same applies to the usage of the original military jackets on stage.

Who is Karl Lagerfeld? A hard-working designer of fashion or a fashionable, talented actor that has continued to lead the iconic House of Chanel over the years with success. It is a known fact that Lagerfeld embroiders the truth and on other days, he is economical with the truth. After today’s lively lecture and discussion, Lagerfeld appears in my eyes as a human palimpsest, one image today, another image on the next day but still with traces of the original on his persona.

KLTKarl 4Karl 7Karl last The Ages of Karl Lagerfeld




Strike a pose…………fashion!!!

Day Nine-Fashion, culture and identity.

What is fashion?  What is design? How is individual and collective identities shaped by fashion, past, present and into the future?

Throughout this morning, these questions appeared and I felt like I was sitting on a carousel of fashionable theories looking at fashion from a totally new angle. Asking myself, “How do I know what I know about fashion?”

I see it across a myriad of platforms, in images and words, through the window of shops and across the World Wide Web.  I know its form and function and I use it every single day but do I know it?  Not really as I sat on the aforementioned fashion carousel and listened to the history of fashion studies with its several approaches but I also thought about my own early engagement with fashion, when I attended the school of the Early Madonna Period.

Madonna 3   madonna 1  madonna 2

Yes, I wanted her style, I copied her style, anything and everything in cloth was worn with imagination, lace as bracelets, underwear as outerwear, leggings under skirts, and fashion was an arena of creativity and imagination for me. Was I fashionable? In the early 80s, yes, I was but how about my identity, because I copied Madonna, as did countless other young women of my age, did that mean, I had Madonna’s identity? No, instead what I had was a dialogue with Madonna’s style, I copied in my own way.  I made clothing choices based on what I had to hand and a framework provided by Madonna. I am going to call this a practice-based approach in cataloguing the history of my fashion and we, the early period Madonna girls, performed with her in the song and dance known as the dual action of individualism and conformity. The threads of fashion drew us together and held us there in the early years of the 1980s.

Fashion was not enough for Madonna as the decade of the 80s played out, she struck a pose, a vogue in the same attitude as the French court of the Sun King, Louis XIV and in her 1990 video for MTV, and she did pay homage to that courtly fashion underpinned by absolutism. The court of Louis played itself out as a way of life from dress to gesture but while the court appeared centralised and appeared to be the market leaders in fashion (to borrow a modern expression), the reality was that non-western societies progressed in clothing changes at the same time too (http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/models-and-stereotypes/gabriele-mentges-european-fashion-1450-1950). More details at this link.

As I wrote yesterday with regard to colour, society needs to open its eyes and minds to that colour on the marble and to the fact that nobody holds the monopoly on global fashion history.

Tomorrow, we examine Danish fashion, its history, design, Identity with Karl Lagerfeld wearing rock military style and Madonna might drop in!!!!