Clothing Guide – Materials
What to Use and What to Avoid
Woollen fabrics, linen, silk, bast fibre and leather were the materials available in early mediaeval times. All cloth was expensive; even if home produced it would have taken hours to drop spin, dye and weave the yarn. Because of this, clothes would have been taken care of - hems would not be left to fray and patches would have been used where necessary. The quantity of fabric and the fullness of the garment would depend on the rank of the owner. Wealthy people would have used cloth freely to exhibit their wealth.
Silk was very expensive - in AD990 2ozs of silver would buy 1oz of silk – so only the very rich could afford it. Cotton seems to have been known from the Middle East but was not used, and would have remained a curiosity in a society geared for linen production.
Thin leathers in natural colours seem to sometimes have been used for lining clothes etc. Leather does not appear to have been used for tunics or trousers, although specialist craftsmen such as blacksmiths or bronze casters may have used a leather apron. Leather would also be used for footwear, belts, pouches, etc.
What to Avoid
Black leather or fabric of any description must be avoided. Whilst there are written references to the colour black, it was not the dense, dark colour we now call black. The black of the time seems to have been what we would now call dark brown or dark grey. The only way of producing a dense fade proof black was by multiple dippings in expensive, imported dyestuffs – it is therefore a colour reserved only for the wealthy.
Any man-made fabric unless mixed with a natural fibre, and then ONLY if it closely resembles the real thing. Some wool and polyester or linen and polyester mixes do not have the tell-tale shine, but always check in daylight to be sure. Because sparks from open fires may land on your clothes, please be sure man made fibres will not burn.
Fur is the old view of 'Dark Age' costume. Furry leggings are not shown in any illustration, or supported by any contemporary archaeological evidence. They are myth not fact. Fur would have been used for blankets, as a lining material, or as a trimming, but not as a covering for jackets or cloaks. However, the Vikings did weave a shaggy woollen cloth which was sometimes used for cloaks and blankets. This should not be confused with sheepskin. Man made 'fur' should never be used!
Please remember that all colours were obtained by using natural materials. Some dyestuffs were only available as expensive imports, and some colours could only be produced by over dyeing, which would make the finished cloth costly in time and/or materials.
Go to part 7 of this guide for more about colours.