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

5 Craft specialisation in textiles

Only a few textiles found in settlements in the Netherlands are made using special skills, tools or requiring much time. It has been possible to distinguish the general way in which the textiles were produced and used in these settlements by analysing the different steps in the production process. Fibres were, in most cases, selected for spinning without careful sorting. The resulting yarns and fabrics were often coarser than expected, although a considerable regularity of spinning and weaving was observed. This distribution may be caused by an overrepresentation of household textiles, but it may also reflect the time available for making the textiles. These fabrics are likely to have been produced at a household level where the producer did not have time to take considerable care often resulting in a rather coarse product.

The examples of fine craftsmanship indicate that not all textile production took place at this level. Considerable quantities of fine spinning, weaving, and needlework have been observed, indicating that the higher quality work did not often end up as refuse in the settlements and may very well be present in larger numbers in the cemeteries. These products, like the finer fabrics, the fine needlework on the hats, the fabrics with a raised nap from Middelburg, as well as the veil-like garment and piled weaves may be considered as the work of textile specialists. Having recognized a certain degree of specialisation in the production of the textiles, the following step is to look into the way this specialised production functioned within society. Applying Olausson’s model for craft specialisation it may be possible to differentiate between these specialists. During the Early Middle Ages the tethered and workshop types (types 3 and 4) are most likely to be represented. Unfortunately, there is only a small dataset of specialized products to deal with and these finds have characteristics of either levels of specialisation. The veil-like tabby from Leens can be assigned to both types, whereas the hats clearly show craftsmanship (type 3), but also standardisation (type 4) and (in a few cases) errors. The fact that these products are not only found in the Netherlands but also in other countries suggests either a large area of production or a considerable network of trade, which points to production organised in workshops rather that at a patron related level. The regularly woven but rather coarse twills found in abundance in the settlements may be interpreted as household production but they also show the efficient and standardized production characteristic of workshop industry.

The research problems described in the introduction to this article need further elaboration. More research needs to be conducted into the means and social organisation of textile production in the Netherlands, including an analysis of textile tools, raw materials and their distribution in and between a number of settlements. Furthermore, an analysis of several well-documented cemeteries should be conducted, addressing questions relating to the chronological development of textiles and their use as clothing among different groups in Early Medieval society.