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
4. Function and use of textiles

4.2 Needlework

126 Fragments have remains of hems, seams or other types of stitching. This makes it possible to identify a number of different seam and hem types (fig. 26 and catalogue) and ascertain the general quality of sewing in the dataset.

A study of the complete garments makes it possible to discern the order in which sewing was carried out. In hats, the edges of the different pieces were secured first to prevent further fraying and these pieces were then sewn together.


Fig. 26 Types of seams and hems present among the textiles from the settlements.


Fig. 27 Decorative stitches. A. Raised plait stitch present on the hat from Oostrum, the pillbox cap from Leens and the headdress from Dokkum.B. Heavy chain stitch, present on a textile from Leens (object nr. GM1927/VI.2/1).C. Plait stitch used to secure the seam allowance on the inside of the headdress from Dokkum.D. Decorative stitch present on the cap from Rasquert (after Zimmerman in press).

Most seams and hems show rather coarse sewing. The most popular stitch used by far is the whipstitch, which was often applied in big stitches more than 1 cm apart. Often sewing occurred using a 2zS plied yarn of 1 to 2 mm thickness or double threads, creating a strong join. Some of the textiles show more subtle needlework, as described above. In those cases thin sewing threads and smaller stitches were used. Several decorative stitches have been observed (fig. 27). An example of a heavy chain stitch (fig. 27b) was present on a fine diamond twill from Leens (20 x 15 threads/cm). [26] Two fabrics showed lines of running stitches that seem to have been decorative as well as functional.[27] The hats from Oostrum and Leens, as well as the headdress and garment from Dokkum and the garment from Middelburg, were especially carefully sewn. Both the inside and outside of the hats were sewn using decorative stitches (fig. 27c). Moreover, the use of the same type of decorative stitching (fig. 27a) on the outside of the hats in a contrasting coloured yarn gives the impression of standardisation in making these hats. Somewhat simpler versions of this stitch have also been observed on a pillow cover from the ship burial of Sutton Hoo (Mound 1) in Suffolk, in York and presumably also on a cushion from the tenth-century princely burial at Bjerringhøy (Mammen) in Denmark (Crowfoot 1983; Walton Rogers 2007, 101; Coatsworth 2005, 6). All these embroidered textiles may be considered as being of Anglo-Saxon origin (Coatsworth 2005, 24). The use of decorative stitching is self-evidently more than simply functional and may have been an indicator of wealth or status. The Dutch garments sewn using this technique were clearly of a superior status, as opposed to the majority of the textiles, and were therefore probably valued for their colour, decoration and craftsmanship.

Wear and repair is a common aspect of the textiles from the settlements, indicating that textiles in general (not only the fine textiles) were considered valuable objects. Pieces were added onto the original fabric in 65 cases. Textiles were used, repaired and reused for different purposes until they were completely worn out. Often only a seam or a worn out and patched area remains, suggesting that the remaining pieces of the garment were cut off and reused.

Repairs were in most cases sewn firmly, but often very roughly, leaving frayed edges visible. There seems to be no relation between the quality of the fabric and the way repairs were carried out. The hat from Aalsum, in contrast, which is probably the coarsest woven and sewn hat, was repaired in a very careful manner using small stitches and (probably) red sewing-thread. This may indicate that the wearers of the garments were possibly not the same persons as the people making them.