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Regia Anglorum – New Members' Handbook


Decoration on Clothing

During the period decoration on clothing was an important display of wealth. There were a number of ways to decorate clothing: the addition of decorative bands; the use of bands to start the weaving at the head of the loom at the selvedges and when the fabric was completed, or by embroidery.

Saxon women were famous throughout Europe for their embroidery skills. They were probably employed to do the work on the Bayeux Tapestry (considered to be a very low quality piece compared with other smaller surviving examples). Many of the most beautiful pieces were commissioned by the Church and did not survive the Dissolution of the monasteries at the time of Henry VIII. Most were destroyed to recover the large amounts of gold used as thread. One of the few remaining pieces is the Stole of St. Cuthbert from Durham Cathedral which was overlooked, being buried in Cuthbert's coffin. This same skill would also have been used to decorate clothing in its most simple or complex forms. The skill was not exclusive to the Saxons; Decoration has been found at the upper hem of the Viking hangeroc and on the underdress.

One of the chief methods of producing the bands we can be certain of, is tablet weaving. There have been finds of tablets of wood, bone, and metal as well as pieces of band made with tablets. The only find of a tablet loom was in the Oseberg ship burial. With this were 52 tablets threaded up and ready to use. In all there have been more than 100 separate finds of tablet woven band from our period. One of the most complex examples is the maniple of St. Ulrich, found in his grave in southern Germany. It is 72cm long and 6.5cm wide, and required 134 tablets mostly threaded with two white and two red threads each. These were turned to give complex interlacing designs of diagonal stripes, which showed between gold brocaded areas. At one end the structure is changed to double-faced 3/1 broken twill so that the Hand of God can be depicted in white outlined in red, with the words DEXTERA DEI in solid red. The fingernails of the hand are greatly emphasised and show it to be a left hand.

Other non-tablet woven bands have been found. Exactly how these were woven is not clear, but they could have been produced in any one of several ways. These include inkle weaving, using a small rigid heddle loom, using a backstrap loom, or on a small vertical loom. It is probable that all these methods were employed in our period. However, no evidence of these small looms have been found.