October – The narrow Oseberg band in silk

So far in my adventure with tablet weaving I have used only wool yarns. There are so many of them available that trying each and every kind and deciding what it is (not) good for is quite an engaging activity. I was also told by more experienced weavers that working with silk is not that easy as the thread is usally way more ‘slippery’ than wool. The silk yarn I used for this band felt more like soft (but still strong and durable) linen thread and was very easy to work with. There was not much choice in colours so I stayed with brown and light green.

Interested in how different silk yarns are made and how they differ? See this website, I learnt a lot from it.

Where did Vikings get their silk from?

Silk was first developed in China. In the Viking Age it was a valuable good traded along the Silk Road. In this article by ScienceNordic, it is said that the Vikings imported silk from the Byzantine Empire and Persia. For example, the silk pieces (there were over 100 of them!) found in the Oseberg ship burial (850 AD) may have been bought from Persia rather than looted from monasteries in Ireland and England, as it had been previosuly assumed. The evidence for this is that some patterns found on the Oseberg silk textiles are typical for Persian weaving. What is also interesting is that, most likely, the Norsemen had access only to medium and low quality silk. The reason for this is that top quality silk in Byzantium, as well as in Persia, was a luxury and there were severe restrictions on its production and trade. Some kinds of silk were not for sale at all – they were reserved for diplomatic gifts.

Silk tablet woven bands

While the silk textiles might have been imported, the tablet woven bands were most likely made locally from imported silk thread.  There are numerous examples of silk and woolen tablet woven bands brocaded with silver or gold wire thread found in Birka. Modern reenactors have reworked most of these motifs into thread-in patterns. I am a fan of those, you can see my take on Birka motifs in the Gallery. Yet this time I decided to make one of the few original threaded-in patterns, namely the narrow silk band found in the Oseberg ship. The original band is only 5 mm wide! Although it has a very simple design, untypical of the rich Viking era grave textiles, the fact that it was woven with silk makes it a valuable, high status ornament.

How about a silk headband 0.7 cm wide?

In my recreation of the Oseberg band  I turned to Shelagh Lewis’ invaluable overview where she discusses the pattern, as well as another possible variation of it. I used nine cards – five for the pattern and four for the edges. All cards move forward until the warps is so twisted that you need to change the direction, that is move the cards backward. The pattern is simple but nevertheless, it takes quite a while to weave such a tiny band. The width of my band is 7 mm, perhaps the closest I can get to the original using the type of silk I currently have access to. The weft (so the invisible thread) is brown linen and the warp is green and brown silk. It is the tiniest band I have ever woven 🙂 I thought it would look good as a headband so I left some thread at the end and made it into braids.

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