One of the major problems with recreating the garments from the early Anglo-Saxon period is that there are no complete garments surviving from the period. We have to decipher the potential garments from the remnants left in the grave sites — most often from the brooches that held together different points of the garments, the buckles and metal fittings from the belts, and the dress accessories that might have hung from those belts. We count ourselves exceedingly fortunate if we find a scrap of fabric preserved under a shoulder brooch or a bit of trim or embroidery tucked under a sleeve clasp. More often, we discover impressions of fabric on metal pieces, and must interpret the weaving of the gown based on the found scrap.
The peplos itself is a simple tube, pinned at the shoulders with either annular or saucer brooches. (Some variations show only a single brooch on one shoulder, with the peplos draped under the opposite arm.) It is worn with a linen under-tunic with embroidery or a band of tablet weaving at the wrist, and wrist clasps to hold the sleeves (relatively) tight. There is evidence of belts being worn, with buckles being found in the waist area, along with knives and other dress accessories near the belt area, and woven patterns of fabric pressed into the metal fittings of the belt.
The tunic follows the peplos in Anglo-Saxon fashion, and is found in some graves to be two layers. The undertunic has tighter sleeves — held tighter by sleeve clasps — and some decorations at the wrist. The outer tunic has more decoration at the wrist, and decoration around the neckline. The neck slit is held closed by a brooch at the neck, and there is usually a veil, which became longer in later times. In design, the tunics are somewhat unisexual, with men’s tunics being somewhat shorter in length (knee-length or slightly longer) than women’s tunics (usually worn at ankle length).
The fabric found in Anglo-Saxon graves is usually a simple tabby weave, usually either of wool or linen. The yarn is usually Z-spun for the warp, and also Z-spun for the weft, though there are instances of S-spun in the weft. (Less than 5% of the tabby weaves are ZS woven.) There are also ZZ 2/2 twills (40% of the fabric finds) and some ZS 2/2 twills (14% of the finds). Some 2/1 twills are also seen, though this is not a natural weave for a warp-weighted loom and can be a challenge to identify, as the front and back may look like different weaves. It is more often seen woven by two-beam vertical looms.
The sleeve cuffs of tunics are often decorated with tablet weaving – usually simple corded bands of alternating ZS threads, some with warp-patterning, and normally fairly narrow. There are also bands of double-faced twill and 3/1 twill. Most importantly, there are many brocaded bands, usually with only the metallic brocaded thread surviving. The brocade pattern is still discernable in the kinks and bends made in the brocade weft by the no-longer-existent warp threads. With careful examination, these patterns can be re-charted and woven again.
The usual reconstruction of the tunic is one that uses the fabric as efficiently as possible. For the wider fabric available to us today, the layouts below are appropriate. For narrower fabric in period, the layout would probably have been much more linear, and the center-front and -back gores may well have been omitted as an unnecessary extravagance in fabric. All seams should be completely finished, especially if using linen, as they will ravel out with usage. (Consider flat-felled or French seams.)
(from ‘T-tunic’ – the period way — see below)
This layout is suitable for the outer tunic. Note the sleeves — pieces 9 and 10 on the pattern – spaced wider and somewhat shorter than below. This adds ease into the sleeve, making the tunic much easier to move around in.
E = =2(A_C)/3
(from ‘T-tunic’ – the period way — see below)
This layout is suitable for the under tunic. Note the sleeves — pieces 9 and 10 on the pattern – spaced longer and somewhat narrower than above. This produces sleeves that are closer to the arm.
E = = 2(A-C)/3
Northern European Textiles until AD 1000, by Lise Bender Jorgensen, 1992, Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press. 285 pp.
A catalog of 1200 textile finds throughout northern Europe — the majority of the finds that had been made up to 1987, and a survey and interpretation of those finds, showing the development of textile production in northern Europe for the 2500 years up to AD 1000. While there is no discussion of garments as such, there is an extensive discussion of the types of cloth and weaving styles that were common to the period, an invaluable source for anyone ambitious enough to try using period weaves in their garb.
Medieval Textiles of the British Isles AD 450-1100: An annotated bibliography, by Elizabeth Coatsworth and Gail R. Owen-Crocker, 2007, Oxford: Archaeopress, BAR British Series 445. xi + 201 pp.
A 29-page description of the textiles of medieval Britain, an 18-page illustrated glossary, and a 92-page thoroughly annotated bibliography of articles on medieval British textiles, and in some cases on textile production during medieval times. The 12+ page index is very useful for locating articles of interest.
“Textiles of the Saxon Period in the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology,” By Grace M. Crowfoot, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 1950, vol. 44: 26-32.
A survey of several small textile remains in the museum, most importantly (for our purposes) the remains of two woollen pieces of tablet weaving found on a pair of bronze Saxon wrist clasps. These are preserved clearly enough to allow Mrs. Crowfoot to recreate the pattern of the band, which is included in the article, along with photos and clear sketches of the clasps.
“Early Anglo-Saxon Gold Braids,” By Elisabeth Crowfoot and Sonia Chadwick Hawkes, Medieval Archaeology, 1967, vol. 11: 42-86.
An examination and catalog of many early Anglo-Saxon gold brocaded strips, usually with only the gold brocading thread surviving. The brocade patterns are preserved in the indentations of the gold strips, and give us an excellent representation of the preferred patterns for decorative bands of the period. Many of the patterns are published in the article and are easily graphed and recreated from the illustrations. The 20-page catalog of gold-brocaded braids from Anglo-Saxon graves provide references to the original publications of the finds for each grave. (Also note this addenda and corrigenda.)
Early Anglo – Saxon Belt Buckles (late 5th to early 8th centuries AD): their Classification and Context by Sonja Marzinzik, 2003 ( BAR British Series 357). Oxford: BAR Publishing. 511 pp.
Belt buckles have long been recognized as an integral part of the costume of early medieval men and women. As items of dress, buckles and belt suites were subject to regional diversity as well as changes in fashion. This work investigates the classification and development of Anglo-Saxon belt buckles from the late fifth to the early eighth centuries. The book explores the way different classes of dress accessories were used in Anglo-Saxon society in particular, to create and maintain social relations. A chapter reviews the literature on belt buckles. The core of this book is a typology for early Anglo-Saxon belt buckles. Each type is described with regard to its characteristics, chronology and comparative pieces. Costume is then considered, including any evidence for leather belts and clothing and contemporary depictions of belts and buckles.
‘T-tunic’ – the period way by Lady Muireann ingen Eoghain ua Maoil Mheaghna, web site updated on 9th June, 1999, saved 16 November, 2017.
As noted by the author at the top of the article: “(In the article I talk about an Anglo-Saxon type tunic. While the geometric approach to tunics is probably appropriate in the context of Anglo-Saxon garments, I should note that the centre gores front and back probably are not.)” This is the source of the layout diagrams I include here. I agree with the assessment, but will continue to use the center front and back gores, as they produce a more economical use of the fabric, while adding to the ease of movement in the garb – something to be valued when chasing after Royalty.
Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, Revised and Enlarged Edition, by Gail R. Owen-Crocker, 2004, Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, xix + 400 pp.
A thorough and well-illustrated book, covering the subject from the fifth and sixth centuries all the way to the eleventh century. Covers both men’s and women’s clothing, including accessories, in great detail. Also discusses textile production and the significance of dress.
Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England: AD 450-700, by Penelope Walton Rogers, 2007, York: Council for British Archaeology, CBA Research Report 145. xx + 289 pp.
An excellent source for reconstructing the clothing of a place and time when we have no pictorial resources and no surviving garments. This volume covers both how clothing was made, but also how cloth production was an integral part of most women’s lives. By interpreting the remnants of costumes in burials (often just the metallic pieces, with textile imprints), regional, social and gender differences have been revealed. Very well illustrated, and worth tracking down if at all possible.
Other Research Articles That May be of Interest:
Anglo-Saxon Costume: a Study of Secular, Civilian Clothing and Jewellery Fashions
(1976) Anglo-Saxon Costume: a Study of Secular, Civilian Clothing and Jewellery Fashions(October), p. xv + 865 pp., 42 pl., url
Anglo-Saxon Textiles in the Mayer / Faussett Collection
(2001) Anglo-Saxon Textiles in the Mayer / Faussett Collection, Medieval Archaeology 45(1), p. 1-14, url
Aspects of Gender and Craft Production in Early Anglo-Saxon England, with Particular Reference to the Kingdom of Kent
(2002) Aspects of Gender and Craft Production in Early Anglo-Saxon England, with Particular Reference to the Kingdom of Kent, p. 399 + 144 pp., url
Image and Performance, Agency and Ideology: Human Figurative Representation in Anglo-Saxon Funerary Art, AD 400–750
(2014) Image and Performance, Agency and Ideology: Human Figurative Representation in Anglo-Saxon Funerary Art, AD 400–750, url
Late Saxon textiles from the City of London
(1984) Late Saxon textiles from the City of London, Medieval Archaeology 28(1), p. 46-76
Part 1 Women's costume accessories
(2014) Part 1 Women's costume accessories, Costume in the Early Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Saltwood, Kent, p. 37-71, doi:10.5284/1008823
Textiles of the Saxon Period in the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
(1950) Textiles of the Saxon Period in the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society XLIV(December 1960), p. 26-32
Tyttel’s Halh: the Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Tittleshall, Norfolk
(2013) Tyttel’s Halh: the Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Tittleshall, Norfolk, East Anglian Archaeology, p. xii + 127 pp., pdf