Viking Textiles Talk with Penny Hemingway

We have welcomed Penny Hemingway to our guild before when she gave a wonderful talk on the history of The Great Wheel, along with a fabulous demonstration. It was always our intention to invite her back and we were lucky to have her attend on the 20th April to talk about Viking Textiles.

We were so surprised and extremely delighted that she and her partner turned up in full Viking costume! What better way to celebrate textiles than to actually wear them! not just any old costumes either – beautifully made, hand stitched and accurate representations of Viking garb!


Penny was able to tell us the origins of the original pieces from which the costumes were copied. I particularly liked the socks – and would love a pair -made using Nalbinding.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nalbinging is an ancient craft which just uses a needle and your fingers….and yarn of course…..and I must learn how to do this! If you would like to know more about it then do visit Penny’s blog by clicking below:

Penny’s blog on Nalbinding

Our talk took us through the history of Viking textiles with references to York’s archaeology and a display of fascinating photographs of finds.

Viking Sock found in York

It was usually the women who were responsible for spinning yarn from fibres, weaving the fabric (perhaps on a ‘warp-weighted loom’) and then sewing the garment. Most families would make their own clothes in this way. Spindle whorls are a common find in archaeological excavations. viking-0062Many are made from bone, wood or clay. They’d be mounted on a wooden rod and the fleece would be drawn into thin strands as it was spun.spinning_sketch

Once the yarn was made, it could be dyed straight away, or woven into fabric on a loom.  Sewing needles look very similar to the kind you can buy today, but they were often much thicker and made of materials such as fish bones, iron or copper.

The amount of dyestuff required to get a solid colour may have been too costly for many in Viking times. Most dyed garments were probably ‘washed out’ with pale earthy shades. In larger urban centres such as Jorvik, dying would have been a professional occupation, and yarns would be dyed with a variety of natural dyes, fixed with expensive mordants.


Men often wore a simple knee-length woollen top called a kyrtle. This garment would be brought in at the waist with a leather belt that could hang useful items such as a knife. Men might have worn a pair of short woollen breeches worn with hoses, or longer trousers, almost certainly tightly fitted at the calf and ankle so they could be worn with leg wraps or ‘winingas’ that would protect the bottom of the trousers. Shoes or ankle boots of leather may have been worn, often made from one piece with a sole stitched on, and fastened with a toggle made of bone or wood. When travelling, or in the winter, a long, thick woollen cloak or mantle would be worn, fastened with a pin or brooch. Any hood worn would be very tight around the head so that they wouldn’t blow down in the wind. In the summer, it is possible people wore smaller hats of wool, or even a wide-brimmed hat made of straw.


The women wore a long woollen gown that would hang to the ankles. Unlike male clothing, it is rare to find evidence of a belt, and it is suggested that either women simply didn’t wear one, or that it may have been a simple woven band.  It’s quite likely that women wore their hair long, or in braids; there’s also some evidence of married women tying their hair into a knot, anchored with a pin.

Some Scandinavian women wore a unique dress called a ‘hangerok’ or suspended dress.  Though there is much discussion about this garment it may well have been like an apron. What is clear is that it was suspended with two brooches at the shoulders where hung a string which could hang useful items such as a chatelaine set (often with a tooth pick, tweezers and ear spoon), knife or shears.

For a detailed discussion of these garments you can take a look at this website:

Hurstwic Viking Garments Explanation

Jorvik Museum is a rich source of examples of Viking costumes and well worth a visit.

This info-sheet gives us an idea about weaving, spinning and tablet weaving to be found in the museum. Click to open the PDF

Textiles at Jorvick Museum

As always, the guild had a fabulous day and would like to thank Penny for such an informative talk, and for bringing so many wonderful artefacts for us to see.

We would love to have Penny back again…….I wonder what delights she will bring next time!

Thanks Knitting Genie – we loved the talk!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close