Recreating Ancient Textiles

We here at BeWeave It love stories about ancient textiles. It’s always so interesting as weavers to learn how cloth was made through the years. More often than not, we tend to find out that our ancestors were far more complex and clever than we’d been giving them credit for. Now, three years ago the oldest cloth ever found in Norway was discovered on a glacier that had melted enough to reveal what had been hidden by ice for centuries. (We wrote about it in this BeWeave It from 2013.) In that amount of time textile historians and scientists have been able to learn quite a bit about the cloth and how it was made. 

Part of the way we learn about ancient textiles such as this tunic is by recreating it. Skilled textile historians at the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo and the Norwegian Mountain Museum are making two such reconstructions so they can first of all learn about the cloth and also so they can safely display the reproduction to the public while the original stays safe.

So, what about the tunic? A surprise was that it was made from soft, fine underhair rather than the more utilitarian outer layer of a sheep’s wool. To recreate the yarn used in the tunic, wool from Norwegian wild sheep will be harvested, the overhair must then be removed, and then a portion will be spun on a hand spindle. Due to the amount of time and effort it would take to hand spin all the yarn for the tunic, it would be very expensive so it will be partially mechanically spun as well.

In the original tunic two colors were woven in diamond twill (a favorite of weavers still today) so two shades of natural wool will be used to emulate this pattern. How did the weavers get the diamond twill pattern? They used warp-weighted looms like the ones we wrote about here.

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