Lothene Experimental Archaeology

Lothene's Craft Activities

In Early Medieval times, thread was made on a drop spindle. Wool or linen (rarely silk) was first cleaned and combed so as to line up the fibres. It was then pulled out into a narrow strand which was twisted up by dropping and spinning the spindle. In order to make multiple plies of thread several spindles were needed. Single threads were spun with a twist in one direction, and then these were spun together onto a new spindle using an opposite twist. Several miles of thread are required to make even a simple tunic.

The textile industry generally seems to have been women's work, and a source of independent income for them, but there are records of men, even Earls, spinning thread for domestic use.

Basic early medieval clothing patterns

spinning thread
tablet weaving

Tablet weaving was used to make borders for cloth and also such things as belts and straps. In normal weaving, two sets of warp threads are used. In tablet weaving rotating cards are used to allow four or more sets. Skilled tablet weavers can produce complex patterns, and even writing. The frame is used to keep the weaving tension even, but it is not necessary. One end of the weaving can be tied to a belt and the other to, for example, a door post.

More on tablet woven braid

Sprang is a method of making a flexible fabric. It was widely used for garments such as stockings and hairnets until knitting replaced it. A single thread is wound up and down as a warp and is then plaited together in various patterns without using a weft thread. This produces two pieces of fabric which grow towards each other from opposite ends of the loom. If this is continued until they meet the resulting item is symmetrical about the centre. Otherwise two mirror image items (e.g. a pair of stockings) result.

More on sprang fabric.

Sprang weaving on a frame

The Saxons were famous for their intricate embroidery. The Vikings tended to use more simple geometric patterns. The Bayeux tapestry is the best known surviving example of Saxon style embroidery, although it was commisioned by a Norman. The Oseberg ship tapestry is an example of Viking embroidery.

More on embroidery

This pouch is made from a single piece of leather which is gathered up and tied with a thong. A flap covers the opening. The belt is also leather and has a semi-circular bronze buckle and a bronze tag at the end.

More on leather working

The beads are "mille fiori" made by twisting strands of different coloured glass together. Both men and women wore jewellery such as necklaces, rings and brooches. Necklaces were usually an assortment of beads and pendants. The brooches were used to fasten tunics and cloaks.

More on jewellery

leather pouch and glass beads
cauldron over open fire

A cauldron over an open fire can be used to produce quite an elaborate meal. Metal and pottery containers could stand in the boiling water to cook their contents, and cloth bags of vegetables could be cooked separately in the water. Items could also be steamed above the cauldron. Flat griddles and grills could also be used over an open fire.

Heat is regulated by raising or lowering the cauldron above the fire. A bed of embers, rather than direct flame gives a good source of heat. A fire pit can be shaped so as to have one area where the fire is burning and another area to which embers are raked for use in cooking.

The interior of the turf oven is made of stones. A single large, flat stone is laid across the top. The oven is then insulated with turf. The top stone may be covered, or alternatively may be left clear for use as a hot plate. A fire is lit in the oven and is then removed to allow the oven to be used when it has reached the right temperature.
Ovens in buildings work in a similar way. They are built into a wall and heated with a fire which is then removed before the oven is used. In this case the wall rather than turf acts as the insulation. Many medieval castles have the remains of ovens in their kitchens.
turf oven

Other arts and crafts practiced by members of Lothene include wood block printing, calligraphy, illumination, metal jewllery making, naalbinding, woodwork, dancing, music, mail making, blacksmithing and pottery.

A Short History of Porridge
A Short History of Marmalade
Viking Games and Entertainment

Useful Links

Early Medieval Textiles in Scotland and Ireland
The textiles in the Oseberg ship
Basic early medieval clothing patterns
Spinning with a drop spindle - History and Instructions
Basic Tablet Weaving and Tablet Weaving show how to make decorative borders, bag straps, belts etc. See also Making Authentic Tablets and Lothene's tablet woven braid page
The Basic Naalbinding and Practical Naalbinding sites demonstrate a Scandinavian needle knitting technique for making socks and mittens, an examples of which was also found in 10th-11th Century York.
Sprang - Early Medieval technique for making flat pieces or tubes of stretch fabric such as for mittens or stocking legs. See also Lothene's sprang fabric page.
Fingerloop Braiding
Warp-Weighted Loom
Leather working
Early medieval jewellery
The Vikings' Basic Kit Guide includes information on clothing, fabrics, colours and decorations suitable for early medieval re-enactment costume.
Evolution of the Kilt an essay on early Scottish costume
Some archaeological finds and information from Viking Age York (Jorvik)
The Volunteers in Technical Assistance site provides information for Third World development, including a series of publications on the implementation of low technology food production, crafts and sanitation which are useful background reading.
How to Make Mead


"The Viking" - Bertil Almgren and other authors - Nordbok - 91 7442 003 8
"The Viking Achievement" - P.G.Foote, D.M.Wilson - Sidgwick and Jackson - 0-283-35499-2
"Anglo Saxon England" - Martin Welch - English Heritage - 0-7134-6566-2
"Women in the Viking Age" - Judith Jesch - Boydell Press - 0 85115 278 3
"A Handbook of Anglo Saxon Food" - Ann Hagen - Anglo Saxon Books - 0-9516209-8-3
"Textiles in Northern Archaeology" - NESAT III Textile Symposium in York -1 873132 05 0
"The Mystery of the Bayeux Tapestry" - David J Bernstein - Weidenfeld & Nicolson - 0-297-78928-7
"Viking Age Archaeology in Britain and Ireland" - Richard Hall - Shire Archaeology - 0 7478 0063 4
"A Feast of Scotland" - Janet Warren - Lomond Books - 1 85051 112 8
"Traditional Scottish Dyes and How to Make Them" - Jean Fraser - Canongate Publishing - 0 86241 108 4
"Medieval Calligraphy" - Marc Drogin - Dover - 0-486-26142-5
"Banquetting Stuffe" - edited by C. Anne Wilson - Edinburgh University Press - 0-7486-0282-8
"The Techniques of Sprang: Plaiting on Stretched Threads" - Peter Collingwood - Lyon Press - 1558219676
"The Techniques of Tablet Weaving" - Peter Collingwood - Random House - 1566590558
"Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate" - Penelope Walton Rogers - Dorset Press - 1 872414 76 1
"Textiles, Cordage and Raw Fibre from 16-22 Coppergate" - Penelope Walton - Dorset Press - 0 906780 79 9
"Archaeological Textiles" - NESAT V Textile Symposium in Neumunster

Lothene Experimental Archaeology Group are available for displays, talks and educational visits - contact us for details
If you are interested in Scottish history, research, medieval crafts, swordfighting contact us to enquire about joining Lothene. We currently have members in Lothian, Fife and the Borders.







16th Century

18th Century