sml logo Dark Ages Re-Creation Company sml logo
+ Crafts
+ Beads
+ Iron Experiments
+ Photo Indexes
- Textiles
    Loom Construction
    Weaving Exp. 1
    Weaving Exp. 2
    Weaving Exp. 3
    Weaving tools
    Make a shirt?
    Colour Wheel
    Greenland Gown

An Interpretation of Herjolfsnæs Gown D50801

Nina Bates, Nov 2007
The greenland dress

This is a gown made from hand spun, hand woven fabric, based on the Herjolfsnaes D10581, from Greenland.  It was woven in a tabby weave at a sett of 16. The weave is a balanced weave, being 16/16 warp/weft threads per inch or 6.5/6.5 per cm. I chose a tabby weave over a twill due to the actual quantity of fibre available to me.

The fleece used to spin the yarn was mainly Shetland wool although a little bit of Icelandic was added to stretch the fibre quantity at the end. The wool was spun using a Z twist.  Although many textile finds show that tabby was often spun in a Z/S twist for spin patterning, I didn't have enough wool to evenly divide for the warp and weft. I knew I would be using every last scrap of yarn spun so using a Z/Z twist would allow that. There are examples of Z/Z spun woven fabrics throughout Northern  Europe, Scandinavia and Greenland.

Horizontal, treadle looms were in use from the 11th-12th centuries in most parts of Europe.  I used a 4 shaft jack loom to weave the fabric.  The Norse Greenlanders would have used a warp weighted loom.  My warp weighted loom currently doesn't have an easily used brake, making it a two person job to wind the woven fabric on the top beam. Added to that were kitchen renovations requiring  me to take the warp weighted loom down for a time.  Since I really wanted to finish this project in a timely fashion, I used the modern loom.

Double strength gelatin was used to size the wool skeins before winding the warp.This was so I could block the skeins to reduce or eliminate any kinking and coiling due to using singles.  I had been advised to put extra twist into my singles to give them more strength for weaving.  This resulting in some tracking in the fabric, due to excess energy from the singles.  The fabric was not fulled, although it was wet finished.

The pattern was drafted onto paper, using the diagrams of the original garment as inspiration and direction. The original garment measurements were not used.  My goal for this project was for a well fitting, attractive gown.  My own measurements were used for the pattern drafting, keeping the shapes of the original gown pieces in mind.

Machine stitching was used to stitch the cutting lines of each piece, to help eliminate fraying.As well, an untimely injury made it necessary to do a few of the long side seams by machine to avoid excess pain and stress of said injury.  The rest of the gown was sewn by hand, using stitches found on the Norse Greenland garments and other textile finds of the same historical period.

The spinning of this wool was very enjoyable.  A larger project such as a gown in twill would require me to be more industrious with the time spent spinning.  I had been cautioned against weaving with singles by many people due to the fact that singles are weaker than plied threads.  In the end, the only problem I had with weaving with singles was while dressing or warping the loom.  It was in this process that the inherent weakness of the singles was a bit of a problem until I slowed the process down. The actual weaving with singles was not really any different than weaving with plied threads.

I learned a lot with this project and would certainly attempt it again. My spinning speed and consistency has improved.My weaving skills are much improved. I was very happy with my selvedge edges as well as the evenness of the weaving.  The part I found the most difficult was not the spinning, weaving or even cutting the fabric.  It was throwing out that first handful of tiny scraps not useable for anything else.

Time and detail synopsis for Gray Woolen Gown

Spinning 60 hours aprox
Washing skeins 4 hours
Sizing skeins 4 hours
Warping/dressing the loom 30 hours
Weaving 45 hours
Wet finishing fabric 1 hour
Pattern drafting (from nothing to finished/fitted pattern) 20 hours
Cutting fabric 4 hours
sewing 18 hours plus
Total hours 200 hours (Approx.)

Total yardage spun 8700 yards
Weave Structure Tabby
EPI (ends per inch) 16
PPI (picks per inch) 16-17
Warp length 11.5 yards
Finished width 22.5 inches
Finished yardage 9 ¾ yards

Thread used for sewing 2 ply Normandy linen  40/2  natural colour
  Off white cotton/polyester thread for machine stitching

Hardest part of the project Throwing out the first handful of scraps
Lessons learned Over estimate amount of yardage needed with hand spun
Over estimate amount of raw fibre needed
Put slightly less twist in the threads to prevent tracking
Would I do this again? Definitely! It was quality time playing with fibre and more fibre.  Then playing with it again and again.
What would I do differently Keep better track of yardage while spinning and spin more than my calculations suggest.
When I pulled a muscle, I ended up doing a few long seams by machine due to pain with hand sewing. On this particular fabric, it made a very secure and good seam. I would, on a future project, not be unwilling to consider machine sewing for the long seams if it could make the seams more secure. After all that work, I don't want a seam to unravel!
I might try spinning wool sewing thread as in the originals. Wool thread would likely full into the fabric and create a much stronger bond that using linen thread. Of course this would be much more difficult to remove should one make a mistake.

The Original Gown - Herjolfsnaes # 39 - Museum No. D10581 Please see the following references for images.  Front of original gown[1]; Back of original gown[2]

Photo and diagram based on Nörlund from Maggie Forest and Marc Carlson

web image

Herjolfsnaes 39 D10581 Details

Carbon dating of Original Garment C14-dated to 1413-1449 [3]
Estimated date for garment 1434[6]
Weave Structure 2/2 Twill
Thread count per cm (warp/weft) 10/14
Colour Brownish warp dyed with tannin, undyed weft

For stitches used on garments from Greenland see [7]. For stitches found on textiles from excavations in London see[8]

Pictures of the fabric production

thumbnail thumbnail thumbnail thumbnail
Beginning of the weaving on a 4 shaft jack loom Close up of fabric while on loom Halfway through and the selvedge edges are still fairly even Gratuitous cat picture because he liked my wool fabric as much as I did

Table of an assortment of  Tabby Textile Find Details from Greenland as found in Woven Into the Earth -

Identification No. Spin type
Thread Count per cm
warp / weft
Weave Structure Colour
D12556#2 z/s 6/4 tabby grayish
KNK985x1019 z/s 6/5 tabby red-brown
D11920.353g z/s 6/5 tabby light
KNK4x808 2z1s/ 2z1s   tabby gray-brown
KNK4x851 z/s 7/4 tabby brown
KNK4x925 z/s 6/5 tabby brown
KNK4x1055 z/s 7/5 tabby light gray brown
KNK4x1071 z/s 9/6 tabby gray brown
D12410 z/s 9/9 tabby grayish
D12411 - 5 z/s 5/8 tabby brown
D12787.2260,4 z/s 5/5 tabby red-brown
KNK991x577 z/z 20/18 tabby charred clump
1950x740 z/s 4/5 tabby (open weave) dark brown
1950x924 z/s 4/4 tabby red brown
1950x1337 z/s 6/5 tabby brownish
1950x1606 z/s 5/6 tabby light brown
1950x1607 z/s 1.5/2.0 tabby dark warp, light weft
1950x1872 z/s .9/1.5 tabby lighter
1950x1977 z/s 4/4 tabby brown
1950x2204 z/s 5/6 tabby black warp, brown weft
1950x2217 z/s 6/5 tabby red brown
1950x2519 z/s 6/3 tabby dark warp light weft
D10612 z/s 6-9/13 tabby light brown
D10621 z/s 10/10 Tabby brownish

Interesting to Note -

Other fibres besides wool which were spun and woven have been identified as goat hair, unidentified hair, reindeer hair, bear, snow hare and dog.  Seal hair has also been found.  Different coloured warp and weft threads are not infrequent. Checks, stripes, shag pile weaves, tablet weaving and braiding are also accounted for.  Goat hair is identified as the fibre in many of the threads.

Bibliography and sources

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, Kay Staniland, Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450, Museum of London, London 1992

Hoffman, Marta, The Warp-Weighted Loom, The Norwegian Research Council for Science and the Humanities, Oslo, 1964

Østergård, Else, Woven into the Earth, Textiles from Norse Greenland, Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, Denmark, 2004

Østergård, Else, "The Greenlandic Vaðmal", in Northern Archaeological Textiles, NESAT VII, edited by Frances Pritchard and John Peter Wild,  Oxbow books, Oxford, 2005

Other Sources

Carlson, Marc, Some Clothing of the Middle Ages Historical Clothing from Archaeological Finds, 1996-. Text html and digital images. Marc Carlson.

Forest, Maggie , A comparative study of extant garments relevant to East Denmark in the mid-to-late 14th cenutry,


I would be totally neglectful if I didn't acknowledge the following people for their help with this endeavor.

A huge thank you to Mistress Eleanor Fairchild for allowing me to use her studio and equipment to iron, measure, mark and draft. Again, thanks go to her for the flat pattern drafting lessons, help with fitting the pattern and marking the hem.  Her generousity with her time and her openess with her studio and resources is most appreciated.

Two of my sons deserve recognition for several hours work helping me to skein yarns when I found over half of the skeins too large for my yarn swift.

My whole family deserve thanks for ignoring the rather large bags of unwashed wool, bags of roving, more bags of  spun skeins, washed skeins dripping from looms and trees inside and outside the house and the various amounts of disarray caused by such a large project.

Glossary of Terms

EPI – Ends per inch – The number of warp threads used in each in of the warp

Herjolfsnæs – community that  Herjolf Bårdson settled on what is now known as Greenland

Icelandic-Icelandic sheep – An old breed of sheep which was developed in Iceland.  They are extremely hardy and have a double coat.  The outer coat or Tog is quite harsh and hairlike while the Thel is soft and fine.They are supposed to be one of the purest original breeds in modern day sheep.

Jack Loom -A modern loom which operates on the principal of the treadles pulling a mechanism which lifts the shafts.  A beater bar pushes the strand of wool into place.  This is a horizontal process with the threads coming from the back and the woven fabric being rolled onto a beam on the front of the loom.

PPI – Picks per inch – The number of weft threads found in each inch of woven fabric.  This can also be a factor of how tightly the warp is tensioned and the differential in size between the warp and weft threads

Shetland – Shetland sheep – An old breed of sheep having been developed on the Shetland islands.  Known to still have a rooing (shedding) factor.  They are small, robust, multi-coloured sheep.  While the wool has been bred finer than it was and often no longer has a true double coat, it is often considered one of the breeds which maintains similar charachteristics to early medieval sheep.

Sizing – a substance applied to the warp threads to prevent wool from sticking to itself and to help strengthen the warp while weaving

Tabby – weave structure with weft threads going over one warp thread and under the next. The next row would alternate the under and over procedure.  A tabby weave is a fairly strong weave.  Also called plain weave.

Twill -  going over 1 or more and then under 1 or more, but not over 1, under 1. This will create a diagonal weave often found on jeans and suits. It is has more stretch than a tabby weave and due to few intersections between warp and weft, will createa  fabric with a very nice flowing drape.

Warp Weighted loom – An early loom with the heddles being attached to heddle bars rather than shafts.  Manual manipulation of the heddle bars gives required weaving pattern.A weaving sword is required to beat the threads up into place.  This is a vertical process with the fabric being wound up on the top beam with the unwoven threads hanging down, weighted in some way.

Warp –threads running lengthwise on the fabric or from front to back of loom

Weft – threads running left to right, or horizontally on the fabric.

Z – Z twist in the way the yarn was spun – to Z twist you spin the spindle clockwise

S – S twist in the way the yarn was spun – to S twist you spin the spindle counter-clockwise

Z/S – Z twist in the warp threads, S twist in the Weft threads. The first letter denotes warp and the second letter denotes weft

2z1s/2z1s – plied threads used, in this case 2 z twisted theads and 1 s twisted thread plied together for both the warp and the weft

[1] Østergård, 2004, pg 163

[2] Ibid, pg 165

[3] Forest

[4] Carlson

[5] Østergård, 2004, pg.253

[6] Ibid, pg.232

[7] Ibid, pg. 98 and 99

[8] Crowfoot, 1992, pg. 156 and 157

      Updated: August 26 2017 16:07:28.
Text © Nina Bates, 2017
Copyright details
Contact us