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Saxon Clothing

Saxon Clothing
http://www.rosieandglenn.co.uk/TheLibrary/Costume/SpecificCostumes/SpecificCostumesmenu.htm#ES

Early (Pagan) Saxon - 410 to 650 AD - Grave 33, Eriswell (female)


A costume reconstruction inspired by the grave goods of
Burial No. 33 from the Eriswell cemetery, near Lakenheath,
Suffolk.
Long sleeved, thigh length side-slit
undergarment, in undyed decoratively
Undergarment woven linen with sleeves open at the
wrist and fastened with decorative
clasps.

Rectangular blue 2x2 twill wool 'Peplos'-


Peplos-type type dress, stitched into a tube;
Dress suspended from the shoulders by paired
brooches and'pouched' over a belt.

Rectangular wool cloak in herringbone


Cloak
twill.

Leg-coverings Possibly trousers, socks or bindings.

Clumsy footwear - flat-soled, round-toed


Footwear
and reaching to the ankle.

Hair and
Worn loose, plaited, with a cap or veil.
Headgear

Matched pair of annular brooches


supporting necklace and clasping the
Brooches dress.
Cruciform brooch clasping dress to
undergarment.

Belt Blue linen belt.

Clay bead necklace hung from paired


Jewellery
brooches.
Comment
This costume has been inspired by the grave-goods from
Grave 33 at Eriswell Saxon Cemetery, near Lakenheath, Fig 1. Early (Pagan) Saxon
Suffolk. Unfortunately, conditions in this country mean that costume, Grave 33, Eriswell, Suffolk
little or no textile remains are found associated with grave- © Rosie Wilkin 2004
goods, so I used other sources and references where
necessary to reconstruct this outfit as acurately as
possible.
I intend to wear this outfit when I visit the West Stow
Anglo-Saxon Village as a costumed interpreter.

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Saxon Clothing

Undergarment
This undergarment is made from a decoratively woven
linen. It is a tabby linen with a regular pattern of threads
brought to the top and over the others both in the warp
and weft. My fabric is a decorative weave as the sleeves
of the Thorsbjerg tunic were a different and more
decorative weave to the body. Decoartive weaves were
known to the Saxons and both wool and linen variations
are found preserved on metal items in graves
The form of the garment is based on the man's tunic
found at Thorsbjerg Mose, West Germany. This was a
round necked garment with long sleeves slit at the wrist;
roughly thigh-length with the body panels slit each side.

I have made this dress out of 6 panels - a front and back


panel, 2 sleeves and 2 underarm gussetts. Underarm
gussetts were not used in the original, but I have
included them for ease of movement. Each panel is
hemmed by folding over a small amount twice and using
a running stitch in linen thread of a matching colour. The
panels are then stitched together with the same thread
using an overcast stitch. (Running and overcast stitches
are evidenced from later finds at Viking York and
London.)
Some garments had a slit neck held
together by a central brooch; could
the strange bead found in Grave 33
be a toggle to fasten an open
neckline?
bead found
in Grave 33
The sleeves are held together with
wrist-clasps of which there is only evidence for women
wearing them. The general idea about wrist-clasps is that
they were stitched to a decorative band at the cuff of the
garment and held the two edges of the sleeve closed. My
cuffs are made from the same fabric as the dress, a blue
2x2 twill wool (2x2 twill wool is found very often
preserved on brooches.)

The wrist clasps found in Grave 33 are of spiral wire with


one formed into a hook and the other into a loop. My
wrist clasps are silver wire formed into a spiral with a
hook on one and a loop on the other.

The wrist clasps found in Grave 33

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Saxon Clothing

Peplos-type Dress
There is a variety of evidence to use for reconstructing this
garment which includes art, archaeology and anthropology
from other countries as, sadly, all we have left in this country
is the grave-goods and the occassional remains of textile on
metal items.

My 'peplos' is about the same size as one found at


Huldremose, Denmark - this was 2.64 metres in
circumference by 1.68m long and of 'woollen fabric'.
The Huldremose garment was reconstructed as a tube with
the top folded down to make a cape, clasped at the
shoulders and 'pouched' up over a belt.

Textiles preserved on the backs of buckles and girdle


attachments suggest woollen fabric for the 'peplos', either in
2x2 twill or commoner tabby weave; 2x1 twill is more rare.
My fabric is a fine 2x2 twill wool in a colour that could be
obtained from
Tablet-woven braids, plaits and fringes have also been found
on the brooches fastening the dress.
I have stitched the two edges of the 'peplos' together with a
'flat-fell' seam. (Again this type of seam is evidenced from
later finds at Viking York and London.) The thread I have
used is a modern wool in a similar colour.

Cloak
Preserved textiles are found on the fronts as well as on the back
of brooches and whilst the majority of the frontal remains are
tabby woven linen and possibly from shrouds or veils; some are of
a twill coarser than that on the back of the brooch. This coarser
twill could have been from a cloak.
The brooch often found centrally, could be used as a fastener
for a cloak and in one case this was proved where the brooch was
found outside and over a string of beads indicating that it could
not have fastened an undergarment or secured the gown to it.
My cloak is of a coarser weave to the 'peplos' and is woven in
herringbone twill in two colours - pale red and grey - both
available to the Saxons. The single cruciform brooch now fastens
the cloak centrally.
Linguistic evidence suggests that a cloak was simply a large
piece of fabric, suitable to be wrapped round the body. The size of
mine is about 3 metres long by 1.5 metres wide, hemmed and
folded in half.

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Saxon Clothing

Leg-coverings
Trousers may have been worn as evidenced by one sculpture; or socks or bindings. Linguistic
evidence gives us clues about several garments which may have been worn on the legs,
including the leg-bindings evidenced in later manuscripts and worn by men.
I have chosen not to add leg-coverings to my reconstruction.

Footwear
There is no evidence remaining in this country of footwear, but we can deduce from later
evidence that shoes must have been flat-soled, round-toed and ankle-high.
Literature gives us many names for different types of shoe, which helps.

 scoh - probably an ankle boot


 hemming and rifeling - raw hide shoes
 socc - a bag-like foot covering
 crinc - a thonged sandal

I have chosen to use a type of lower shoe or slipper possibly called swiftlere. This is made in 3
sections - 2 sides which stitch up the back and front and the sole to which the sides are stitched.
My shoes also have a lining of dark brown wool stitched in for comfort.

From later centuries 'lace-tags' are found which may have finished the ends of shoe laces. My
shoes have a decorative thonging around the top, but this could have been extended and used
to tie the shoe to my foot if the opening was too big.

Hair and Headgear


Hair-styles come from sculptures and show hair worn loose or
tied back. Plaits may have been secured with small rings which
are ocassionally found at the back of the head. Hair-care
seemed to be important due to the number of combs found
associated with burials.
A cap may have been worn over the hair or braids and are
evidenced by finds from the Iron Age and later Viking Age.
Veils and headscarves may also have been worn. The
Huldremose headscarf was 137 cm long by 49 cm wide and
had fringed ends. Sculptures also show women with unbound
hair draped by a loose veil. If a loose veil or scarf was worn it
would need to be secured somehow; pins and clips are
ocassionally found near the skull in female graves.

My reconstruction shows the hair tied up with a tablet-woven


band - the wool is quite stretchy and so confines the hair
reasonably well. Over the hair I have put a veil in naturally
coloured linen with a hem stitched in blue linen thread. The veil
is 134 cm long by 34 cm wide.
The tabby-woven linen fragments found on the fronts of
brooches may derive from veils.

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Saxon Clothing

Brooches
These annular brooches, which consist of a ring
of wire or flattened metal with a pin passing over
the face, are copies of a pair found in the
cemetery at West Stow. They are 4.5 cm outer
diameter, with the ring being 0.9 cm wide. The
pin is 6.4 cm long by 0.3 cm diameter.
Unfortunately the West Stow burials were not
recorded in context and so we don't know what
else was found with them. These brooches are
not quite the same style as the brooches found
with Grave 33, which were much plainer, but as
annular brooches
I am wearing this outfit at West Stow I thought it
would be nice to include pieces which came
directly from there.
The cruciform brooch is particularly popular in
Anglian areas and varies from simple
specimens to elaborate versions over 17 cm
long. Mine is a simple one, 9.4 cm long by 4.4
cm at the widest point and very similar to the
brooch found in Grave 33 (photographed at an
angle). They are thought to have been worn with
the square part downwards, either to fasten the
'peplos'-type dress to the undergarment or to
fasten a cloak. Wearing the 'peplos'-type dress
in the way I do, I find it very helpful to use the
central brooch to hold up the fold that inevitably
brooches found with Grave 33 gathers at the front of my neck!

cruciform brooch

brooch found in Grave 33

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Saxon Clothing

Belt
The evidence for belts comes from preserved leather and textile, in situ buckles and the
discovery of items at the waist or hip which had obviously been suspended somehow.
Numerous fragments of leather are found attached to buckles, strap ends and items which had
been hung from the belt. Tablet-woven braid is also found attached to objects and strap ends.
From the buckle plates we can determine the leather belt could be between 2 mm and 4.5 mm
thick. Presumably the width of the belt would match the width of the buckle plate or strap end.
Buckles are relatively common finds in graves and show belts were worn at the waist or hip.
Where buckles are not found sometimes beads (which may have been used as a toggle) or a
ring has been found through which a fabric belt could be knotted.
As no belt equipment or fastener was found in Grave 33, I have made a simple fabric belt for
this reconstruction. My belt is a tabby woven linen dyed with Woad to match the dress (wool and
linen take colours differently). It is simply a strip of fabric doubled over with the edge stitched in a
matching linen thread.
Could the strange bead found in Grave 33 have been a belt toggle?

Jewellery
A string of beads is a common feature of graves
where other brooches are found as the beads are
usually strung across the front of the body and
suspended from the shoulder brooches. The central
brooch could be fastened over the beads to keep
them in place.
Glass and paste are the most common type of bead,
with amber next; amethyst, crystal, jet and stone are
beads found in Grave 33 rarer. The beads found in Grave 33, I think are amber,
but very discoloured by being in the soil so long.
I have made up

a simple necklace from a selection of


glazed and unglazed fired clay beads

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Saxon Clothing

Middle Saxon - 650 to 850 AD - Middle Saxon Woman


A simple costume,in natural colours, accentuated with jewellery.

Ankle-length undyed linen (U) with


Under- wrist-length close-fitting sleeves
dress and round slit neck which fastens
with hooks and eyes.

Ankle-length yellow linen (D) with


Dress elbow length sleeves and round
neck.

Brown wool 'conical' open-fronted


Cloak
(C) with hood..

Flat-soled leather 'turn-shoes', with


Shoes central seam and decorative
thonging.

Possibly tied back or braided,


Hair
visible at forehead and temples.

Head- Rectangular narrow yellow linen (H)


covering stitched with blue linen thread.

Yellow linen narrow (B) with 'tree of


Belt
life' embroidered detail.

Iron penannular brooch. Wooden


needle case. Wooden comb. Iron
shears in a leather case. Circular
Accessories leather drawstring pouch. Knife
with a wooden handle in a leather
sheath. Brass disc brooch. Bead
necklace. Brass arm-ring.

Comment:

During the 6th century there was an influx of


Christian missionaries to this country. The result was
a marked change in attitudes to clothing in the
following centuries. The 'tube' dress was discarded
and sleeved garments became common. Head-wear
was also introduced. The fashion for hanging items
off the belt is still very much in evidence.
The individual depicted here is of reasonable status
- not high ranking, but not poor either. This is
indicated by the colour of her clothing, jewellery and
decoration.

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Saxon Clothing

Under-dress
This under-dress is based on the simple 'T' shape. It is actually made of fine cotton, but the
weave is quite loose so looks like fine linen. The sleeves reach to the wrist and are just wide
enough for the hand to pass through. The hems are folded over twice and stitched with running
stitch in undyed linen thread. The neck is round with a slit, meaning that the neck-opening can
be very close-fitting (to keep out draughts). The slit is closed with 2 pairs of hooks and eyes. I
have faced the neck opening, which is a bit naughty as I should have treated it the same as the
other hems.

These are made to the same pattern as the tunic only longer.
It is evident that in a lot of illustrations two dresses are worn, as sometimes tighter/longer
sleeves are visible under wide sleeves and sometimes a second hem is visible at ankle-length
under a shorter hem.
As with the tunic, extra gussets are added to the skirt to give fullness and freedom of
movement, and at the under-arm.
The long sleeves can also be extended and then pushed back like the tunic sleeves (the
illustrations show the same lines at the wrist as illustrations of men in tunics). Towards the end of
the period straight sleeves begin to get wider at the wrist.
The neckline of the dresses is very often obscured by the voluminous head-covering, but
where they are visible are the same as on the mens tunics, i.e. round or round with a slit

Dress
The dress is also a simple 'T' shape, with wide elbow-length sleeves. This is made in a 'linen
look' fabric, which I believe is polycotton. The hems are turned over twice and again just running
stitched, with a yellow thread. The skirt has extra panels stitched in the sides for ease of
movement. These panels are a bit short really, they should start about hip level, but I didn't have
very much fabric left and had to make do with what I'd got. The neck of this garment is round and
wide enough to go over my head.
Dresses are commonly made of wool in this period and could be highly coloured and
decorated.
Update 06/07/03 - I have had to add larger gussets in the sides of this dress as my bust has
expanded. These are in a very slightly darker shade of fabric than the original.

Cloak
The cloak is shaped to fit the shoulders and provided with a hood.
I have cheated a bit with this cloak. I used a commercially available pattern (Very Easy Very
Vogue - Misses Cape no.7110). Although it is slightly too full, it is a very near match to the
hooded cloaks of the early period. If I was to make another one, all I would do is just make the
panels narrower all round. The fabric is a fluffy wool with a good nap, which means that it is more
waterproof. I made the hood double for warmth. The seams I stitched on the machine and then
re-stitched them by hand with a decorative thread. The hems are simply blanket stitched.

Shoes
In this early period shoes were rather flappy and loose, with no distinction between left and
right feet.

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Saxon Clothing

Hair
The hair is generally left loose and long, though could be braided
or pony tailed.

Head-covering
Women that took up Christianity were now beginning to cover their
heads, in imitation of the Virgin Mary. However, head-coverings
were still, to some degree, personal preference and could be worn
or not. This one is a long rectangle of naturally coloured linen with
and turned under hem stitched with blue thread in running stitch.

Belt
The dress is held in by a plain cord belt
from which the personal items are hung.
The dress is then 'pouched over this
hidden belt and the embroidered belt is
worn over the top. The design is called the
'Tree of LIfe' and is taken from 'The Book
of Kells' a Christian manuscript written
sometime between the 6th and 10th
centuries, and thought to be inspired by St. Columba and his monks. The embroidred belt is two
strips of the same fabric as the dress stitched together.

Accessories
Personal Items
The earlier tradition of
carrying personal items
on the body is still
evident, in that several
items are attached to the
belt.
Needle Case - made
of wood with a leather
loop to attach to the belt
Comb - made of wood
with a small hole drilled
in the corner for a
leather thong to hang it from. Combs were more commonly made of bone or antler and could be
very decorative items.
Shears - iron shears in a leather sheath, very similar to sheep shears, which have been in use
for centuries.
Pouch - leather drawstring pouch, made as a circle with holes cut round the edge for the thong.
Knife - small iron knife with a wooden handle in a leather sheath. Knives like these were multi-
purpose items, used for cutting up meat, vegetables, eating with, etc.

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Saxon Clothing

Jewellery
Small brooch - small brass brooch used to
fasten the under-dress, with decorative
openwork design

Necklace - made up of glass beads and glass


pendant beads, most likely a Frankish fashion
copied from Byzantine women.

Penannular Brooch - This large iron brooch is


so called because it doesn't form a full circle
like the annular brooches do.

Arm-ring - simple arm-ring made of twisted


bronze wire.

Jewellery

Arm-ring

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Saxon Clothing

Christian Nobility -8th Century


A simple costume,in royal colours, accentuated with
embroidery.
Ankle-length undyed linen (U) with wrist-
Under-
length close-fitting sleeves and round slit
dress
neck, fastened with hooks and eyes.

Calf-length green wool (D) with long sleeves


and round neck. Gores added at sides for
Dress width in purple wool, hems stitched with
purple wool thread. Contemporary designs
embroidered on sleeves.

Blue wool 'conical' open-fronted (C) with


hood, clasped with bead and leather loop
Cloak
decorative stitching in blue wool on all
edges.

Flat-soled leather 'turn-shoes', with central


Shoes
seam and decorative thonging.

Hair Left loose or tied back.

Square fine linen veil with hand rolled hems,


Veil and
stitched in undyed linen thread and tablet-
Fillet
woven fillet in four colours.

Purple wool (B) with simple embroidery in


Belt
yellow and green wool.

Ring and bead necklace with bone cross.


Accessories
Small bronze disc brooch.

Comment:

Following on from the Conversion period, as the Christian


faith becomes more widespread, head-coverings begin to
dominate and the fashion for hanging things from the belt
diminishes.
This is a very rich outfit for the time as it uses a lot of the
expensive purple dye, and the time consuming embroidery is
done in silk.
Fig 1. Christian Princess ©
Rosie Wilkin 2003
.

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Saxon Clothing

Under-dress
This under-dress is based on the simple 'T' shape. It is actually made of fine cotton, but the
weave is quite loose so looks like fine linen. The sleeves reach to the wrist and are just wide
enough for the hand to pass through. The hems are folded over twice and stitched with running
stitch in undyed linen thread. The neck is round with a slit, meaning that the neck-opening can
be very close-fitting (to keep out draughts). The slit is closed with 2 pairs of hooks and eyes. I
have faced the neck opening, which is a bit naughty as I should have treated it the same as the
other hems.

Dress
The dress is also a simple 'T' shape, with long
sleeves and extra 'gores' in the sides. The sleeves
are the same width from the shoulder to the wrist,
but have an underarm gusset inserted for ease of
movement. The gores or extra triangles of fabric at
the sides are just that, from armpit to hem. The neck
is round and all the hems are stitched with purple
wool thread diagonally.
The fabric for this dress is a sort of speckly pale
green wool. This would have been acheived by using
edges a mix of green and undyed wool, whilst it was woven
- probably a very time consuming operation adding
to the value of the garment.
The edges are simply turned under and secured using overcast stitch in purple wool - Lilac is a
bit of a funny colour in this period - some people think it was expensive others say it was cheap.
My own experiences of hand-dying with natural dyes are that it could come about fairly often.
The common sources are whelks and lichen. Interestingly the whelks are thought to have been
farmed off the Norfolk coast (and a very many were needed to dye a very little cloth - hence why
this colour was generally restricted to the monarchy and the church).

This is the embroidery on the cuffs, one half of the


design in Fig 2. The colours in mine are conjectural,
but would have been available to the Anglo-Saxons in
this period.

Fig 2. Two-dog border from Lindisfarne (c. 8th century) taken from the Celtic Design book
'Animal Patterns' by Aidan Meehan.

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Saxon Clothing

Cloak
The cloak is shaped to fit the shoulders and provided with a hood.
I bought this one back in 1993. It is made of 5 parts - 2 parts for the main body of the cloak, 1
for the yolk and 2 sides to the hood. The fabric is a fluffy wool with a good nap, which means that
it is more waterproof. The seams I over-stitched by hand with a wool thread. The hems are
simply blanket stitched.

Shoes
In this early period shoes were rather flappy and loose, with no distinction between left and
right feet. The shoes I wear with this outfit are my Eye Slippers

Hair
The hair is generally left loose and long, though could be braided or pony tailed.

Veil and Fillet


Women that took up Christianity were now
beginning to cover their heads, in imitation of the
Virgin Mary. However, head-coverings were still, to
some degree, personal preference and could be
worn or not. This one is a square of fine linen (I
think it might actually be muslin), with a hand rolled
hem over-stitched with undyed crotchet thread.
The fillet or head-band is tablet-woven using
green, orange and blue wool. Tablet-weaving was
very popular in the early period and it's use
continued through the Dark-Ages.
Fillet

Belt
The dress is held in by a very decorative and
expensive purple wool belt. This is worn by placing
the centre of the belt on the waist at the front,
croosing over at the back and fastening in front with
a hook. The decoration is in green and yellow wool
(stem stitch).

Accessories
wool belt No longer are personal items hung from the belt -
this is now considered a pagan fashion.
A small round disc brooch is worn at the neck to fasten the under-dress.
The elaborate necklace is a form of 'ring and bead' necklace, thought to be a Frankish (French)
fashion copied from the Byzantine courts. The beads are suspended on or across wire rings and
a small bone cross is worn as a pendant.

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