[No: XLVII | November 3, 2015 | By Viveka Hansen]
A rich selection of excavated textile tools from Malmö gives a good comprehension of textile production in the Medieval period. This in the context of local spinning, weaving or plaiting studied from spindle whorls of various materials, loom-weights and more implements. Other unearthed finds are pins, needles, needle cases, thimbles and linen smoothers – needed for the sewing and taking care of locally-made as well as imported fabrics. This third historical essay related to the Medieval development of the coastal town Malmö, today in southernmost Sweden, aims to describe the former inhabitants’ daily lives through these preserved textile tools. A selection of five images will assist and be used as comparable sources.Even if the spinning-wheel was known already in the 14th century on the Continent, the spindle was still solely in use for spinning threads of wool or linen for several centuries longer in the Nordic area. Traces from the intense spinning activity can be studied via 48 spindle whorls found in Malmö and the closely situated area. These were foremost made of bone, unglazed or glazed pottery and in rare examples made from an imported stoneware quality. When the raw material of wool or flax was spun, the yarn could be twined if one needed a stronger thread, this was particularly important for the warp.
During the first three hundred years of the Medieval period, the use of the warp-weighted loom dominated the local production, and a substantial selection of excavated loom-weights are proof of the weaving of such fabrics in Malmö. Four examples from the town itself. In addition to forty fragmented pieces and one intact loom-weight located in the closely situated village of Oxie. Research by historian Eva Andersson also shows that these loom-weights were heavier than many other excavated examples in the Nordic area, which can possibly indicates that linen fabrics were produced on these looms. This theory is further strengthened, as linen smoothers of stone were unearthed close to these loom-weights. Among other fragmented evidence for weaving in the first half of the Medieval period in Malmö (the district of C.Mortensen, 6525:3), is also a wooden sword-like tool used for pressing the weft upwards during the weaving.The great advantage with the horizontal loom was that the weaver’s feet shifted the shed with the help of the treadles, while the hands shuttled the weft from one side to another. A much more effective and quicker way to produce cloth! At the same time as more complicated weaving techniques had greater potential and possibilities to develop into new variations, depending on the amount of heddles, treadles and how these were combined. Even research of contemporary handwritten documents give evidence for that this type of horizontal loom existed in the second half of the Medieval period in the Nordic area. However, to find looms or parts of these are very rare, and in Malmö as in many other locations there are no traces of these looms. First and foremost because these looms were made of wood, a material having poor chances of survival in most types of soil. Additionally, it is very likely that old or damaged looms, no longer in use, were seen as valuable firewood. It must also be emphasised that loom-weights have not been present in any excavations related to the 14th and 15th centuries in the town, strengthening the view that the warp-weighted loom at this time was replaced by the horizontal model.
On many of the preserved textile fragments, traces of stitching are visible. Most common are to see needle holes and sometimes pieces of sewing thread in connection to these. But from the district of St Gertrud more advanced work can be studied on two fine greyish brown silk fabrics (4560 11.4a-b). To strengthen and decorate, the seams have been made with the help of bias strips, back- and hemstitching. This combination of seams was common during the Medieval period in various European locations, among other places on Anglo-Scandinavian garments/fragments excavated in York. In the case of the Malmö finds as well as in other regions, the fabric commonly matched the used sewing thread – silk on silk, wool on woollen cloth and linen on linen qualities.
Approximately 100 needles have been unearthed from Medieval settlements in Malmö, most often made of bone. The reasons for the popularity of bone is believed to have origins in the fact that the material was easy to access, cheap, since long before this period traditionally used for needles and was not corroding. Most needles have a sharp point, twelve examples of this tool have been found in a concentrated area in nearby Oxie. A usage for these needles can have been to sew linen sails, as mentioned above linen cloth was probably woven in warp-weighted looms here. Similar finds of eight to nine centimetre long bone needles have also been unearthed in Malmö, together with two more ornate tools (6724:32&7). The use for these could have been needle-binding, due to a larger eye.
Twenty bronze- and seven iron needles, thinner and shorter than the bone models, have also been found in various excavations in Malmö and its close by area. These were often formed with smaller eyes, making the needles ideal for sewing fine seams in clothing or for decorative embroideries. Cases for needles have additionally been excavated at five occasions, one of the most beautiful in the area of Söderport (6724:38). This needle case is 5,7 cm long and has a diameter of 1,2 cm, a small polished item with a carved chequered pattern and a lid.
Medieval thimbles are very similar in appearance to modern models, the materials included bronze, brass, copper or more rarely in silver. Thimbles have been excavated from various settlements in Malmö, to a total of 35 numbers. Noticeable is that 14 of these (the majority of copper) were found in the area of Tranan, one likely reason for this is that tailors worked in this part of the town. Linen smoothers of stone was another tool used by the tailors, when smoothening the hems during their work. This tool was also an important tool in the home, for getting linen garments and maybe wool and silk as well smooth after washing. Seven tools of this kind have been found in Malmö and closely situated to Oxie, in the shape of a roundish rather flat stone with a diameter of seven to ten centimetres. However, the linen smoothers can be traced back to the Iron age and was in use through the whole Medieval period and even up to the early 19th century, when this tool was still common in farming families to assist the laundress in getting linen garment perfectly smooth.
Previous post in this series:
- Anonymous, Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung, Band 1. Nürnberg 1426–1549.
- Hansen, Viveka, ‘Förhistoriska och Medeltida Textilier i Malmö’, Elbogen pp. 73-144. 2001. (A large number of primary and secondary sources were studied for this article. For full Bibliography and a complete List of excavated textile fragments, tools etc; please see the Swedish article. Notice: that the numbering within brackets, are Malmö Museum’s catalogue numbers.)
- The Swedish History Museum, Stockholm (digital source).
PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:
– Hansen, Viveka, ‘The Textile Production – A Medieval Town’, TEXTILIS (November 3, 2015); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)