Pile Weaving

“Scrap of shaggy pile vaðmál, in which coarse locks of wool, röggvar, are woven into the fabric. Pile-woven”

cloaks,  röggvarfeldir, were an export commidity in the early Middle Ages, 11th or 12th century.”

I the viking age pile weaving was quite common. – Shaggy garments.

In Hedeby I saw a lot of pile in many different length. Some were used as border on clothing. I saw at least one blouse with 2 cm long pile all over. There was also many loose pieces typical 10-30 cm x 10 – 20 cm  in size and impossible to say what it original was a part of.

At Island pile weave rug’s were legal currency in early middle age 11-1200 AD.

The name of them in Island were “RÖGGVARVEFNAÐUR ” or “röggvarfeldur “

In Lofoten in north Norway there are almost living tradition of pile woven rugs. They were life saving  for the fishermen in there open boats until 1950. It was much more practise with pile woven rock’s than sheep shin with fur. Imaging to be out in minus 10 and then a shore came over the boat and sucked all the sheep skin. They would never be able to dry. – And if they did they would be completely stiff! A pile woven rug would dry much easier and be useful when they were dry again. And wool have that fantastic quality that it keeps warn even vet.

I ones heard a funny story: In Lofoten there was a very rich fishing.  20 000 fishermen arrived every February to join  catching “The Gold from the sea”.

Of cause there were not room enough for all those, so many took there boat’s on land, turned them around and slept under the boat two and two fishermen together to keep warn. In the morning they have to use there knife to cut there beard free from the other fisherman .

In the spring , when the cod fishing was over, they tied there rocks behind the boat to free the rocks from all the louse!

Boat rug from Trøndelag Norway 18th c.

Elsa E. Guðjónsson is expert on textiles from Island has written a marvellous articles about the subject: Forn röggvarvefnaður . 1962.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“The pile tufts were wavy and rather lustrous. Close examination showed that the yarn in the pile was completely untwisted. Locks of tog from several fleeces measured were from 16 to 28 cm.

The length of the pile on the large piece varied — some ends were worn or broken,— but others which appeared undamaged measured from 6 to 9 cm.

By measuring in several places the two ends from the same knot and the length that went into the knot it was found that the strands used for the pile were from 15 to 19 cm in length.

Description of the large piece. The size of the large piece was 35X17 cm  There was a 24 cm long selvage on the side opposite the seam. Both warp and weft were of single yarns. The warp consisted of tightly z-spun comparatively fine but uneven yarn. The weft was slightly s-spun coarse but rather uneven yarn. The weave was a 2X2 twill with a thread count of about 9X4 per cm. For every four rows of weft there was one row of pile knots which were inserted at an interval of about twenty threads. The knots were not placed in a regular pattern from one row to the next, although in a few places three or four knots would be so inserted as to form a straight row along the warp.

The method of inserting the pile — different from any other pile knots to which reference was found — appeared to be as follows (Fig. 5 ): The lock or strand was placed in the shed, probably from the right side, usually under six threads (sometimes under four or eight); the left end was then carried back over two threads and passed under these again from right to left below the previous insertion, producing a loop on the face of the fabric between the two pile ends. The loop, probably because of the wiriness of the fibres, was not pulled tight, this taking up from 1 to 2 cm of the length of the strand. The two ends of the lock protruded about evenly on the right side; on the back of the fabric there was no sign of the knots.

The old Icelandic lawbook, Grágás, gave definite specifications concerning the vararfeldir as to the size and quality commanding a certain price (two aurar): their length was to be four þumalálnir (204.8 cm) their width two þumalálnir (102.4 cm) and they were to have thirteen locks across the mantle. Grdgás stated further that if feldir were of a better quality judgement was to be used in pricing them in each instance. In Grágás reference was also made to individually priced mantles called hafnarfcldir used as legal tender in Iceland and probably an export article as well.

In the old Icelandic literature pile mantles are described as being of various colors (grey, blue and red), various lengths, with pile on both sides (black and white), striped or decorated with bands or braid.

St. John the Baptist in shaggy mantle.

From Sumerian days ío about 600 A. D. Pile weaving apparently dates back to Sumerian days in Mesapotamia (ab. 3000 B.C.)  A shaggy woollen clo.ik with sewn pile from ab. 1800 to 1500 B. C. was found in Denmark.  Western European pile weaving from about 600 to 1200. References were found to remnants of woollen pile woven fabrics found at Valsgarde in Sweden from ab. 750 (Fig. 13), at Kildonan on the Isle of Eigg west of Scotland from ab. 850—900 (Fig. 14), at Jurby on the Isle of Man from ab. 900. Besides, remnants of woollen pile fabrics, where the method of inserting the pile is undetermined, were found at Birka in Sweden from ab. 950, and a piece of shaggy curly woollen fabric, according to tradition of Irish origin (the „mantle of St. Brigid”) is kept in a relic in a church in Bruges; it is either pile woven or napped.  Written sources indicated that shaggy mantles had been in use in north western Euvope during the Viking age. The Frisians were the main traders from ab. 600 to 900; sources from the 8th c. mention among Frisian textiles rough hairy fabrics, villosa, as well as viltosa mantles. During the time of the Frisian trade the Irish produced and exported to the continent a hairy mantle, the cocula. A source from ab. 1070 mentions woollen garments, faldones, which the Saxons sold to the Prussians in return for marten skins; it has been suggested that the faldones rather than being of Saxon, Frisian or Flemish production were Icelandic vararfeldir. From the late 12th c. reference was found to shaggy cloaks, phálinga, being used in Ireland.

King Edward dying on a pile rug at the Battle of Hastings 1066 AD
St.John the baptist in shaggy mantle 12th c.

Findings in Hedeby:

Pile weaving from Hedeby 9th c.
Pile weaving from Hedeby 9th c.
Pile weaving from Hedeby 9th c. On a diagonal closed coat.

There were very many pieces like these in the archives. Most of them were impossible to determine which garment they came from. But the one in the upper right corner looks like it is a cut  on a sleeve or a border on a mantle or coat. The pile woven piece are ap 4 cm wide.

The picture in the down left corner is the lower part of a coat with diagonal closing and has pile border edge.

There are also pile woven piece’s found in Denmark, Norway and Sweden (Birka 736,0750,0955) and several of these are dyed red, yellow or blue 🙂

My work with pile weaving

When I was textile communicator at the Viking Museum Lofotr I use Elsa E. Guðjónsson to make a boat rug, pile woven.

Boat-rug in Lofoten by Nille

It was a time consuming work, but as always also were nice to work with the wool from the “villsau”. These sheep’s are quite similar to the viking sheep’s.  They have to layer  of wool. The “tog” is the worsted wool you see immediately  at the sheep. Long shiny hair. The undercoat wool is fluffy and short. It is the tog I need for the pile. The undercoat wool I add to the weft non spun. Then the rug gets wet this undercoat wool is felting and make the rug more dens and warm.

“Villsau”. Breed like the viking’s.

First step was to separate the tog from the undercoat wool

Separating the wool. Tog and undercoat wool.

And then sett up the warp weighted loom for for plain or for twill. – Se how to build a warp weighted loom in another articles.

I have made a warp in plain for pile weave for the borders on a coat with diagonal closing as the on in Hedeby, It is not possible to see if the original has tablet woven edges, but I have done that to make a stronger edge on my coat.

Pile weaving on the warp weighted loom. The tog is dyed with madder root

The technique. It’s not a knot really, just a “turn around 1 or two warp thread’s. The pile coming out are in the finding’s 2-18 cm, and there are typical 10-20 warp thread’s between.

Pile insert 1
Pile insert 2
Pile insert 3

Now I will weave 150 cm and cut it in 2 or 3 depending of how wide I want the border. Then sew it on the coat……

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Pile Weaving

  1. I just started researching how to do this and I was wondering about how you insert the fel of the wool into the weaving? I’m pretty new to weaving (much more experienced with other fiber pursuits) and I had a hard time visualizing how you accomplished that. But I loved this article and cannot wait to warp my loom to try this!

  2. This website and the products are lovely. I keep watching your videos over and over. I have been given a fleece from an alpaca that went 3 years without shearing so the staple length is 10cm or more. I found human hair combs with 15cm wires for natural African-American hair styles and I plan to put three of them back to back to make a comb for the alpaca and sheep locks (togs). I watch your videos for inspiration and a reminder of my heritage, as well as instructions for the techniques. Thank you so much.

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