Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2-1 (May 2010)Chrystel R. Brandenburgh: Early medieval textile remains from settlements in the Netherlands. An evaluation of textile production
4. Function and use of textiles

4.1 The function of the textiles

Several pieces of garments could be recognized, among which were hats, mittens and parts of sleeves. Gussets were also present, indicating the presence of tunic-like garments. These garments must be considered in detail, because they illustrate a broad variety of sewing techniques and may relate to the function of the textiles.

Six hats are known from Early Medieval settlements. These hats are all woven in diamond twills in a range of qualities.

The hat from Aalsum[17] (fig. 15) is made out of scraps of four different fabrics, with a thread-count of approximately 10 x 8 threads/cm. It is roughly sewn with whipstitches (fig. 25 1a) and running stitches (fig. 25 6c), using 1-2 mm thick plied sewing thread. The hem at the back was edged with blanket stitches (fig. 25 4a), while the hem at the front was folded back and attached with small whipstitches. The hat has undergone high quality repairs using small (5 mm) stitches and thin (0.7 mm) red thread.


Fig. 15 Hat found in Aalsum (object nr. FM 33-373) (collection Fries Museum).


Fig 16 Hat found in Leens (object nr. GM1939/IV:13/1) (collection Groninger Museum). (Photo: J. Stoel, courtesy of Groninger Museum).


Fig. 17 Pillbox cap found in Leens (object nr. b1930/12.34/1) (collection Groninger Museum).

The settlement at Leens has yielded two hats. Well known is the hat illustrated in figure 16.[18] This hat was constructed from three pieces of different fabrics with thread-counts ranging from 8 x 7 to 12 x 9. The crown is attached to the sides with 5 mm wide (whip) stitches. Seam allowances are secured on the inside with 5 mm wide stitches. The hem is folded twice and coarsely secured with whipstitches more than 1 cm apart. The thread is a double z-twisted thread (Zimmerman, 2009). Another hat of Leens is present in the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities (fig. 17).[19] This so-called pillbox cap bears great resemblance to examples from the twelfth to the fifteenth century found in Greenland (Østergård 2004, 219-220). The hat was constructed from several pieces of the same diamond twill (thread-count 13 x 12) woven with fine threads but with many faults in the diamond pattern. It seems that the edges of the different parts of the hat were firstly folded double and secured with blanket stitches to prevent fraying. Subsequently, the parts were sewn together using a decorative stitch (fig. 27a). The hem of the hat is decoratively stitched through with a row of running stitches. The hat is damaged but shows no trace of repair (Brandenburgh in prep.).


Fig. 18 Decorative stitch applied to the hat from Leens.

The hat from Oostrum was made out of what was originally white wool dyed to a pale red shade (fig. 3).[20] The fabric is of good quality (0.5-0.7 mm threads, 14 x 12 threads/cm) and the hat was sewn with great care, using the same decorative stitch as the pillbox-cap from Leens (fig. 18 & 27a). This decorative stitch was probably of a deeper red colour, making it a contrasting and attractive decoration. The hem of the hat was secured with very small running stitches that are hardly visible from the outside. The hat was heavily used and repaired in many places. These repairs seem to be the result of one action because the same technique and same type of thread were used for all the repairs. The repairs are firm but rough, although the repairer tried to use fabric of equal quality to the original.


Fig. 19 Cap found in Rasquert (object nr. GM1928/VIII:1) (collection Groninger Museum). (Photo: M. de Leeuw, courtesy of Groninger Museum).

The cap from Rasquert (fig. 19) is made out of a fine diamond twill (17 x 9 threads/cm).[21] The crown and peak are attached with decorative stitches in s-twisted red yarn (fig. 27d). The seam was sewn with simple whipstitches and a decorative effect was obtained by drawing two threads through these whipstitches (Zimmerman 2009).

The headdress from Dokkum is made out of a rectangular piece of cloth with two side panels (fig. 5) woven in a diamond twill (14 x 11 threads/cm). The sewing was carried out with great care. Seam allowances were first secured with either blanket stitches or raised chain stitches. The seams were afterwards sewn using the same decorative stitch as in the hats from Leens and

Oostrum. Dye analyses have shown that the headdress was dyed a deep brown whereas the sewing thread was probably not dyed. This decorative band would have contrasted with the fabric, like in the Oostrum hat described above. It is not altogether clear how the headdress was worn. It would be similar to those from Early Medieval Dublin and York (Wincott Heckett 2003, Walton 1989) if the decorative stitches faced front (fig. 20) (Brandenburgh in prep.).

Mittens are present in two sites, Dorestad and Aalsum (figs. 21 & 22).[22] In both cases coarse thick fabrics have been used, made of thin warp thick weft threads and woven with only a few threads per centimetre. The Dorestad mitten seems to have been primarily felted, which would have greatly enhanced its practicality. Both mittens were sewn very roughly with threads up to 2 mm in width.


Fig. 20 Reconstruction of how the headdress from Dokkum might have been worn (object nr. a1913/11.223D) (collection National Museum of Antiquities Leiden).


Fig. 21 Mitten found in Dorestad (object nr. WD375.3.1) (collection National Museum of Antiquities Leiden).

Three pieces of fabric have been sewn into a tubular shape, presumably a sleeve of a tunic or similar garment.[23] The sleeve from Leens is woven in a plain 2/2 twill with 8 x 5 threads/cm. The narrow part of the sleeve has a diameter of 24 cm with a length of 21 cm remaining. The hem and seam are sewn with 1.5 mm thick plied yarn (Schlabow 1976). Several parts of sleeves were found in Middelburg (fig. 23). One is woven in diamond twill with 12 x 12 threads/cm. The diameter at the hem is 22 cm with a remaining length of 35 cm. The sewing uses irregular whipstitches and single and plied yarn. Another garment fragment consists of a sleeve and two side panels with a gusset sewn between (fig. 24). This garment was made out of a fine diamond twill with 21 x 12 threads/cm. The remaining length of the sleeve is 20 cm with a diameter of 26 cm. The sewing was done with fine running stitches using plied yarn (Leene 1964).


Fig. 22 Mitten from Aalsum (object nr. FM 33-374) (collection Fries Museum).


Fig. 23 Fragment of a sleeve found in Middelburg (object nr. 00049-1) (collection Stichting Cultureel Erfgoed Zeeland; Photo: H. Hendrikse). Scale divided into 5 cms.


Fig. 24 Remnants of a garment found in Middelburg: a fragment of a sleeve and several fragments, including a gusset, sewn together (object nr. 00049-2) (collection Stichting Cultureel Erfgoed Zeeland; Photo: H. Hendrikse). Scale divided into 5 cms.

Among the many textiles found in Dokkum one more is worth discussion. A large fragment 55 cm in length consisting of two rectangular pieces with a gusset (27 cm length) sewn between them (fig. 25).[24] Again the fabric is a diamond twill of approximately 12 x 12 threads/cm. Both rectangular pieces have selvedges, making a strong seam at the side of the body where the gusset is sewn in. The sewing is done using small stitches with a rather thin thread. Considerable wear and tear had occurred, making it necessary to repair the garment just above the gusset. The bottom of the garment is hemmed.

Some fabrics were certainly not used for clothing. Two examples have been found in association with feathers.[25] These textiles were probably used as mattresses or cushions. They were made in a plain 2/2 twill with 5-7 threads/cm. One fragment was woven with z-spun threads in both warp and weft, the other in spin pattern. In addition to these two pieces many more textiles presumably served as household-textiles at a certain moment in its life cycle, soft finishings like curtains, wall hangings, coverlets and cushions were present in every house. Other textiles may have functioned as sail cloth. In Scandinavia, and probably also in the Netherlands, sail cloth was produced in large quantities. It was an important part of textile production and sail cloths were used as a form of currency and means of taxation. Archaeological evidence of woollen sail cloth has pointed out that in later times they were made in a 2/1 twill with 8-9 highly twisted z-spun warp yarns and 4-6 low twisted s-spun weft yarns per cm. The resulting fabric was impregnated with a resinous material making it stiff and reducing airflow (Cooke et al. 2002). Fabrics of similar thread counts, thin warp threads and thick weft threads are present in the Dutch textile record and since they are too coarse to be clothing material, they most likely were used as sail cloths.