Broken Diamond Twill

I am weaving broken diamond twill this time – iconic weave of the Anglo Saxon and Viking periods.  The loom is warped up with Shetland wool again with a sett of 12 ends per inch, but this time with black warp threaded in a 2/2 broken point twill.  The first sample is woven with the same weight of combed Shetland in the weft.  In the second I have used a soft carded wool/mohair blend for contrast.

This is described as a ‘broken’ diamond because the symmetry of the diamond is off-set by one thread in each repeat.  This particular weave is based on the design of one of four textile fragments found in Sutton Hoo, the 7th century ship burial of an Anglo Saxon king near Woodbridge in Suffolk, England.

2 broken diamond twills

Thank you to the Medieval Textile Study Group for the draft for this Broken Diamond Twill at:  http://www.medievaltextiles.org/samples2003web.pdf

According to Elizabeth Barber in her wonderful book Prehistoric Textiles, the earliest example of a twill of any kind comes from a burial in Alishar in Turkey, dating from the late 4th millennium BCE.  It is another thousand years before we see another scrap of twill in the form of an impression on pottery in the settlement of Ochamchira, on the Black Sea coast.  And after that it is not until the Hallstatt salt mines of the early 1st millennium BCE that archaeologists found twill again in a large number of fragments of cloth. (Of the 117 pieces of cloth uncovered in this site, 75 of them were twills.)  This shortage of finds is probably not so much due to the rarity of the cloth, but to the fact that wool and linen – the two main textiles of this early period – were very likely to decompose in the ground.  Only in exceptional circumstances have they been preserved.

Broken diamond twill first seems to have appeared in an archaeological excavation in Gerum, Sweden, and has been dated to the Bronze Age.  Another example comes from the Iron Age burial at Huldremose in Denmark.  Both of these are believed to have been an imported luxury from Syria, which was a celebrated centre for weaving in this era.  (So you’d think there would be examples of this in the archaeology in Syria, but no textiles at all have survived in this region due to the dry climate.)

Gale Owen Crocker, in her book  Dress in Anglo Saxon England, describes the discovery of this weave in archaeology.  After these 2 isolated examples, diamond twill is not seen again until the early Roman era, in a settlement in Mainz, Germany, and then in a number of Roman frontier forts.  (But unlike the earlier examples, Roman weavers consistently preferred a symmetrical diamond twill, without the offset.)  This was also seen in a few Roman sculptures where a diamond shape has been etched on the clothing, suggesting that this was familiar design.  Its popularity increased in Northern Europe during the period of Roman occupation, in fact the diamond twill was apparently the predominant type of textile found in the Vindolanda fort at Hadrian’s Wall.

The fragments of cloth in the Sutton Hoo burials are some of the earliest and best examples of broken diamond twill in the Anglo Saxon period.  Other examples were also uncovered in fragments of clothing found in York and in London.

But it is during the Viking era that the finest example of broken diamond twill are seen in the remarkable Birka cloth.  This was named for the elite Viking graves around the town of Birka in Sweden where it was first discovered, although it has since been found in elite graves throughout Scandinavia and Viking Britain.  This was a luxury cloth, made with imported silk and the most delicately spun wools.  There seems to be some consensus now among academics that the coarser copies of these designs were locally woven, but that the very finest examples continued to be imported from Syria.  Agnes Geijer, who documented the textile finds from Birka in 1938, described the incredible thread count of these broken 2/2 diamond twills as being 48, 50 and even 60 threads per centimetre!

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