April 28, 2011

From Flax to Linen Report from Ribe Viking Centre

I read the Ribe Viking Centre's From Flax to Linen Report, found here http://ribevc.net.dynamicweb.dk/Files/Filer/Forskningsrapporter/Flaxreport.pdf.  The descriptions of Viking-age spindles and whorls was interesting, as were the many measurements they took of experiments and the inferences the researchers made.  For example, one-seventh of a flax field should be allowed to mature and set seed in order to replant the same size field the next year.

The report contained some parts of flax processing I had not read about before, such as flax dried in shallow pits lined with heated stones before breaking.  In experiments, flax dried in a pit was much more thoroughly broken by a flax break than flax dried in the sun.

I enjoyed the stories in the report about tourist reactions, for example their fascination with the flax field in bloom, and how "interested tourists distracted the scutcher to the point of negligence."  You can tell reading the report how often the need for workers to interpret the process for visitors conflicted with the need of the experimenters to take measurements, especially for timed tasks.

If you do nothing else, go to page 59 and look in figure 39 at the beautiful golden line flax dressed on the distaff.  As the report says, the flax "looks remarkably like a blond wig on a broom handle."  Figure 42 on page 61 is also amazing, though the camera doesn't catch the same sheen on the fibre as in figure 39.

On page 66, there is a diagram of a warp-weighted loom.  I cannot reconcile the closeup view of the cloth where it is sewn to the cloth beam with what I've read previously about this type of loom.  There doesn't seem to be any sort of band woven in advance off the loom to create a top selvedge and give something besides individual warp threads to sew onto the cloth beam.  Does not make sense the way it is depicted.  Unless I missed something, the text says nothing about the manner in which the warp is attached to the cloth beam, merely that it is attached by sewing.

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