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The use of chevron and herringbone twills in Europe, 700-1200 AD


Definition of the terms

The weaves that will described in this work fall into two categories and are derived from the twill weave, which is the only weave that has a diagonal pattern (Hoffmann 1964: 183-4; Jørgensen 1986: Fig. 3). The first category is the so-called chevron or pointed twill, which is created by reversing the direction of the row in the opposite direction, which creates points in the motif. In English, the chevron twill is also called zigzag twill, in German it is called Spitzenköper, in Danish spidskiper. Depending on the orientation, it is possible to talk about vertical (warp) chevron twill or horizontal (weft) chevron twill.

The second, slightly different weave – i.e. broken chevron twill (in Danish brudt kiper, in Polish łamany splot skośny) – is created not only by reversing the direction of the row in the opposite direction, but also by shifting the pattern repeat. The visual difference from chevron twill is that the motif does not form points. As in the case of chevron twill, we can talk about vertical and horizontal variants. An established term is also herringbone pattern in English, Fischgrat in German, jodełka in Polish, sildebensmønster in Danish. Although in the lay public the term herringbone pattern has been applied somewhat imprecisely to the chevron twills, there can be no doubt that these are related weaves that should be understood as one inhomogeneous group when making judgments. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that chevron twill is close to lozenge twill (gåseøje in Danish), which is its extension, while broken chevron twill is analogously related to broken diamond twill (krystalkiper in Danish). If a fragment of a very damaged or only printed weave was found, it is therefore difficult to determine the original weaving precisely.

We do not include a visually similar weave in this group, the so-called ribbed twill (in German Rippenköper, in Danish ribbekiper), which, however, may have a certain connection to this group.

From left: chevron twill, broken chevron twill, lozenge twill, broken diamond twill.
Source: Jørgensen 1986: Fig. 3.

Left: vertical chevron twill. Right: horizontal chevron twill.
Source: Hoffmann 1964: Fig. 90

Geographical distribution

As far as it seems, the mentioned weaves do not appear in the whole of Europe in the monitored period and the occurrence is concentrated in some regions. For example, in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, none of the weaves is mentioned in the list of Czech and Slovak textiles of 6th-12th century, which is dated to 1997 (Březinová 1997; Kostelníková 1973), and they do not even appear in more recent finds (e.g. Březinová 2010; 2012; 2014; Březinová – Přichystalová 2014; Husár 2008). This leads to the conclusion that they did not belong to the dominant weaves in the given territory or that they were not practiced at all. This logic can also be applied to other countries where no specimens have been found.


The situation on the territory of modern Denmark could be called unsatisfactory. Although all Danish textiles were published in 1986, the author of the book mixes broken chevron and diamond twills together (Jørgensen 1986: 317-9). It is evident that chevron twills do not occur on the territory of Denmark. From the 9th century, Jørgensen knows 10 finds of the aforementioned weave, of which 7 are imprints on metal jewelry. In 1991, thanks to the finds from Ribe, the list was expanded to 11 imprints and at least one fragmentary textile find (Jørgensen 1991: 62-3). From the 10th century, Jørgensen is aware of 9 finds, including three imprints. On a closer look, it seems that broken chevron twills make up the smaller half of this category – only a textile fragment from Ribe (Jørgensen 1991: 63) and two imprints from graves from Lillevang, Bornholm are sure (Jørgensen 1986: 219).


In the literature, Finland is considered to be one of the countries where both discussed weaves are found, but specific finds are usually not cited (Hoffmann 1964: 174). During the search, we found a total of three graves containing chevron twill and one grave with broken chevron twill. Chevron twill is known from graves from Masku (Vahter 1952), Kekomäki (Lehtosalo-Hilander 1984: 8, Fig. 4) and grave 348 from Luistari (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2000: 197). Broken chevron twill was discovered in the fantastic grave 27 from Kirkkomäki (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007).


Chevron and broken chevron twills are undoubtedly the most numerous in the territory of today’s Germany. The richest region is the Frisian coast, represented by the locations Elisenhof and Hessens. We know of at least 4 finds of chevron twills (Hundt 1981: 15-6) and 125 broken chevron twills (Hundt 1981: 18) from Elisenhof. From the locality of Hessens, whose textiles can be dated to the 7th-8th century (Jørgensen – Walton 1986: 178), there are at least another 28 finds of broken chevron twills (Siegmüller 2010: 188; Tidow – Schmid 1979). The broken chevron twills from the grave from Sievern (Hundt 1980) and Niens (Jørgensen – Walton 1986: 178; Tidow 1988: 200-1) also belong to the same period.

Chevron twill is also recorded in Haithabu, where it was found in a total of seven cases – H39A-C, H49B, H55B, H55C, H76, S26 and K VI/ 30 (Hägg 1984: 249; 2015). In the case of the H39A-C fragment, the chevron twill is marginally used and is combined with other weaves. The finds are distributed over the entire course of 9th-11th century. One potential find of broken chevron twill from the 11th century comes from Schleswig (Tidow 1988: 203; 1995: 372).

Great Britain

The weaves examined were found at the Milk Street site in London and York. As far as London is concerned, a total of seven broken chevron twill fragments have been discovered and two other finds of broken diamond weave have the motif extended to include broken chevron twill (Pritchard 1984: 53-7). At least 12 similar fragments of broken chevron twills were found in Anglo-Scandinavian York (Lester-Makin 2019: 192-3; Walton 1989: 324-329, 346).


The number of finds from Ireland is not extensive. The most specimens come from Viking Age Dublin and count at least 19 pieces (Pritchard 1992: 101; 2020: 118-19). One of them is a 23 mm wide band made of horizontal chevron twill (inv. no. E190:3225), the other is a 72 mm wide band made up of vertical chevron twill (inv. no. E172:12064). A fragment of chevron twill is also known from the site of Rathtinaun (inv. no. E21:622/623) (Heckett 2013: 171). A broken chevron twill imprint is found inside an oval brooch from Islandbridge (Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: 494). The available review literature suggests the validity of the presented list (Fitzgerald 2000).

Lithuania and Latvia

In the Curonian territories of Lithuania, broken chevron twill is among the more frequently found weaves and was found in at least seven graves (Genčai I 39, Girkaliai 41, Palanga 90, 92, 140, 269, Pryšmančiai 9) (Griciuvienė 2016: 228). The find from the Tira Bog, Latvia can also probably be attributed to the Curonian tribe (Žeiere 2008: 138).

From the territory of today’s Latvia, broken chevron twills are also known among the Livonian (Zariņa 1988: 18-9), Latgalian and Selonian tribes (Zariņa 1970: 32-3; 1990; 1999: 28). Broken chevron twill was used in the territory of these tribes in different periods: the deposit from Tira Bog can be dated to the 9th century (Žeiere 2008: 138), the Livonian finds date back to the 10th-13th century with a culmination in the 11th-12th century (Zariņa 1988: 18-9) and the Latgalian and Selonian broken chevron twills can be dated to the 12th-13th century (Zariņa 1999: 28). Specific numbers cannot be determined from the literature – the best researched are Livonian textiles, of which at least 42 specimens are known (Zariņa 1988: 18-9). From published conclusions, it appears that Latgalian textiles may be similarly numerous. Unfortunately, there is no updated revision.


The discussed weaves from the early medieval Netherlands are among the well-researched. Brandenburgh, who merges chevron and broken chevron twills into the same category, finds a total of five finds and three candidates (Brandenburgh 2016: 114, 270-294). Two of them are undoubtedly chevron twills (Miedema 1980). Certain finds come from Dokkum, Dorestad, Rasquert and Westeremden.


Despite earlier publication (Jørgensen 1986: 321), the Norwegian corpus needs to be revised, as the existing literature does not distinguish much between broken diamond and broken chevron twills, lozenge and chevron twills. In general, both chevron and broken chevron twills are found in Norway, but they are among the unusual weaves that appear only in coastal areas, which is interpreted as a possibility that these textiles were imported (Ingstad 1980). Regarding chevron twills, the most promising finds come from Oseberg (Christensen – Myhre – Ingstad 1992: 203; Christensen – Nockert 2006: 203) and grave B from Kaupang (Ingstad 1979; 1999). The broken chevron twill is known to us from at least three graves – Svingeseter (B6483), Vinjum (B7731) and Huseby (T15312) (Jørgensen 1986: 265, 267, 270).


Broken chevron twill is well processed in Polish lands (Cybulska – Maik 2014). We know a total of 43 finds from four sites – 11 finds from Santok, 13 finds from Wolin, 5 finds from Opole and 14 finds from Gdańsk (of which 10 pieces come from the 13th century). From a more recent monograph, it seems that chevron twills did not occur on the territory of Poland in the Early Middle Ages (Maik 2021: Fig. 3).


As far as we know, chevron twills and broken chevron twills do not commonly appear in Old Rus sites, as evidenced by their absence in sites such as Gnězdovo (Orfinskaja 2018) or Pskov (Zubkova – Orfinskaja 2015). The only examples from the core area of Kievan Rus come from Novgorod, in which a total of four fragments of broken chevron twill were found, one of which is from the Late Middle Ages. Two fragments date from the 10th century and one from the 11th century (Nahlik 1964: 64-72; 1965: 19-28).

Broken chevron twills were far more popular among the Finno-Ugric population in the territory of today’s northwestern Russia. An example can be at least sixty fragments from four graves from the site of Zalachtovje (Залахтовье) (Chvoščinskaja 2004: 111; Kvhoschchinskaia 1992) and at least fifteen fragments from eight graves near Ladoga Lake from the sites of Chelmuzi (Челмужи), Gajgovo (Гайгово), Kurgino (Кургино), Ojať (Оят), Zaozerye (Заозерье) (Davidan 1989; Kočkurkina – Orfinskaja 2014). The same applies to the Finno-Ugric peoples along the Volga, from which we know at least one find from the site of Pleškovo (Плешково) (Stepanova 2017: 146) and an unspecified number of finds from Podbolotěvskii cemetery (Подболотьевский могильник) and the Kryukovo-Kuzhnovsky cemetery (Крюково-Кужновский могильник) (Efimova 1966: 134).


The Swedish material deserves a more thorough review, as the existing literature does not differentiate between broken diamond and broken chevron twill, lozenge and chevron twill. Interchangeability is justified and understandable for some badly damaged fragments, but Jørgensen treats these weaves as relatives and places them in the same categories. She states that 17 pieces were woven with broken diamond or broken chevron twill in Sweden outside of Birka, and in Birka these weaves appear in 41 graves (Jørgensen 1986: 90, 97). Lonzenge or chevron twills appears in two finds outside of Birka in Sweden, in nine graves in Birka (Jørgensen 1986: 90, 97, 128). On closer inspection, we are unable to find other Swedish examples of chevron twill than the textiles from graves Bj 465B and Bj 602 in Birka (Geijer 1938: 26). In three other finds (Bj 466, Bj 521 and Bj 711A), the lozenge weave is extended by a chevron twill motif (Geijer 1938: 28). The most informative find probably comes from the Grötlingbo Roes 27/66 grave on Gotland, where large pieces of broken chevron twill are preserved in association with paired bear-head brooches (Pettersson 1968).


There can be no doubt that dominant material to make chevron and broken chevron twills is wool. It may of course be noted that plant fibers are more susceptible to damage and much more willing to perish, yet we have thousands of flax fragments at our disposal, and the almost complete absence of examined weaves does not seem to be accidental. In the following section, we will briefly comment on the technical properties of the collected textiles.


With some exceptions, chevron twills always appear in a four-shed (2/2) design. The only exception known to us are two three-shed (2/1) finds from Elisenhof (Hundt 1981: 15). Both Z/S and Z/Z twist appear; the Z/Z bend, apart from the find from Kaupang (Ingstad 1979: 158), was commonly used by Finno-Ugric people near Ladoga Lake (Davidan 1989; Chvoščinskaja 2004: 111; Kočkurkina – Orfinskaja 2014). The loosest recorded density is 6/3 threads per cm (Brandenburgh 2016: 272), the densest 40/15 threads per cm (Geijer 1938: 26).

With one exception – a three-shed (2/1) piece from London (Pritchard 1984: 53-7) – all known broken chevron twills are four-shed (2/2). As a rule, they occur with a Z/S twist, but Z/Z is not uncommon either (Cybulska – Maik 2014; Hundt 1981: 18; Jørgensen 1986: 267, 270; Nahlik 1964: 64-72; 1965: 19-28) and exceptionally also S/Z (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007). The loosest recorded density is 8/6 threads per cm (Walton 1989: 324; Zariņa 1999: 28), the densest 40/20 threads per cm (Pritchard 2020: 115).

In the case of both of these weaves, the theory that it was a Frisian production that was distributed to the insular and Scandinavian areas is repeatedly proposed (e.g. Ingstad 1980). Considering the frequency of specimens in Scandinavia, their distribution along the coast, as well as the strong tradition in the Frisian region, this theory cannot be ruled out. At the same time, however, it is necessary to admit local productions, for example in Latvia, Poland (Cybulska – Maik 2014) or Russia (Nahlik 1964: 64-72; 1965: 19-28).

A certain part of the textiles of these weaves bears traces of dyeing. A brown pigment theoretically indicating walnut dyeing is known from fragment S26 from Haithabu (Hägg 2015: 49) and at least six finds from Elisenhof (Hundt 1980: 40-1). The most popular dye was blue, which was achieved with woad and which we know from finds from the graves of Genčai I 39 (Griciuvienė 2016: 228), Luistari 348 (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2000: 197), Kirkkomäki 27 (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007) and textiles from Latvia (Zariņa 1999: 28), London (Pritchard 1984: 53) and York (Walton 1989: 324). Some other finds from Dublin, London and York are dyed purple using lichen (Pritchard 1984: 53; 2020: 119; Walton 1989: 324). One of the London textiles shows two different dyes, so it is likely that the weft and warp were dyed contrastingly to achieve a better colour effect (Pritchard 1984: 58). Textiles from Ladoga Lake graves were apparently also dyed (Kočkurkina – Orfinskaja 2014).

Density diagram of four-shed (2/2) broken chevron twills with Z/S twists from Elisenhof.
Source: Jørgensen 1986: Fig. 190.

Linen, hemp, nettle

As it was said above, chevron or broken chevron twills made from vegetable fibers are almost not found. A total of 5 inhomogeneous finds deviate from this rule. Four of them come from Anglo-Scandinavian York (Walton 1989: 346). The first of these is a three-shed (2/1) chevron twill with a Z/Z twist and a weaving density of 11-13/9-12 threads per cm. The other three are four-shed (2/2) broken chevron twill with a Z/Z twist and a weave density of 10-14/7-14 threads per cm. The remaining find is a fragment of four-shed (2/2) broken chevron twill with a S/S twist and a density of 24/18 threads per cm from the grave from Sievern (Hundt 1980: 157). According to the literature, none of these finds are coloured. Broken diamond or lozenge twills appears with a higher frequency in linen, although they are not quite usual (e.g. Lukešová – Palau – Holst 2017: 283).


So far, our search of the mentioned weaves in silk has not yielded any positive results from the territory of Europe. The most relevant find is the Tang Dynasty (618–907) silk found in Astana (Feng – Ma 1998: 269).

Method of application

It is likely that more than half of the collected textiles are represented by indeterminable fragments of unknown function. Nevertheless, a relatively numerous set of finds has been preserved to this day, which allows for interpretation and which can be used to propose the function of even those indeterminable fragments. One can agree with the opinion that these are weaves with a special use (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007: 5) and that they were deliberately chosen for such purposes where their practical dimension (greater elasticity) and aesthetic value stood out (Hägg 2015: 170).

Wraps and bands

The most typical products made of chevron and broken chevron twills are clearly the various bands and wraps woven in the width of the product. The leg wraps in particular seem to be made almost exclusively from these materials. There are at least 40 finds in our list. Seventeen of them (2× from chevron, 13× from broken chevron twill) come from Elisenhof and have a width of 72-102 mm (Hundt 1981). Around ten broken chevron twill wraps with a width of 100-140 mm come from the territory of Latvia, and examples can be finds from the Tira Bog (Žeiere 2008: 138) or from Salaspils Vējstūri (Žeiere 2017: 99). At least four fragments from London can be understood as wraps, with the only complete-width find measuring 86 mm (Pritchard 1984: 55). Three fragments of wraps with a width of 85-90 mm are known from Haithabu (Hägg 2015: 49). We record three wraps in graves 58, 96 and 207 from Zalachtovje (Chvoščinskaja 2004: 111; Zubkova – Rammo 2014), while one of the wraps was up to 160 mm wide (Kvhoschchinskaia 1992). The wider band from Dublin (72 mm) is probably a wrap (Pritchard 1992: 101). At least one piece from York is a possible wrap over 70 mm wide (Walton 1989: 340). Wraps were also preserved in grave 27 in Kirkkomäki, Finland (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007) and the presence of wraps can be assumed in grave Luistari 348, where a piece of textile for feet garters was preserved (Lehtosalo-Hilander 2000: 197).

Wraps from Salaspils Vējstūri. Source: Žeiere 2017: 99.

A specialty of Latgalian and Selonian people were hand wraps, which are 100-170 cm long, 40-70 mm wide and have a bronze ornament (Zariņa 1994: 135). Broken chevron twills were also used to make them (Zariņa 1970: 32-3).

We also have a group of narrower bands, for example in Opole (Cybulska – Maik 2014: Fig. 7) or in Kekomäki (Lehtosalo-Hilander 1984: Fig. 4). It can be assumed that these bands had multiple uses, such as belts, headbands or clothing hems (Kočkurkina – Orfinskaja 2014). Among other things, this is indicated by the fact that they are very similar to classic tablet weavings that are often decorated with a twig motif – see finds, for example, from the Irish Lagore (Hencken – Price – Start 1950: 217), from the Ladoga region (Kočkurkina – Orfinskaja 2014: Рис. 55), from Latvia (Zariņa 1988: 12-3) or Gotland (Nockert – Ræder Knudsen 1996).

The band from Opole. Source: Cybulska – Maik 2014: Fig. 7.


The elasticity of the material could obviously also be used for trousers or their more stressed parts. Fragment H39A-B from Haithabu, which consists partly of chevron twill, is interpreted as the remains of long narrow trousers (Hägg 1984: 249). The broken chevron twill fragment E-38 from Elisenhof is interpreted as a child’s trouser with a foot part (Hundt 1981: 49, 99). The same is the case with a piece of broken chevron twill from Sievern, which is understood to be a remnant of a trouser foot part or wrap (Hundt 1980: 157).

Torso garments

We currently have only limited evidence of the use of monitored weaves on sleeve garments from the defined period. The most interesting is the sleeve cuff of an unknown garment from York (Lester-Makin 2019: 192-3). Fragment H76 from Haithabu is interpreted as a caftan lining (Hägg 2015: 54). Apart from these scarce finds, chevron and broken chevron twill were more often used in representative aprons (smokkr) of Old Norse women; this is evidenced by finds from grave B in Kaupang (Ingstad 1979; 1999), textiles from graves Bj 465B and Bj 602 (Hägg 1974: 42-3, 44-5) and rich fragments from grave Grötlingbo Roes 27/66 (Pettersson 1968).

In Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse areas, these weaves do not appear to have been widely used to make cloaks, shawls and other similar outer garments. The only possible evidence is a chevron twill from grave K VI/30 at Haithabu, which was found on oval brooches (Hägg 2015: 84). Even in the Baltic-Finnic environment, this is not the usual weave for the production of shawls; Zariņa states that Latvian women’s shawls and other textiles woven with copper alloy were made of broken chevron twill (Zariņa 1970: 32-3; Zariņa 1988: 18), but Žeiere later denies this information, saying that all Balto-Finnic shawls are made of diagonal twill (Žiere 2017: 123), which also applies to Finland (Appelgren-Kivalo 1907). However, a cloak or a shawl made of chevron twill is known from an unspecified grave from Zalachtovje (Chvoščinskaja 2004: 111).

Diagram of the upper edge of the apron from the grave Kaupang B. Source: Ingstad 1979: Fig. 2.


Chevron and broken chevron twills were used for the production of Balto-Finnic headdresses, which apparently had the form of a wide band that was fastened at the nape of the neck. Evidence is found in graves 208 from Zalachtovje (Chvoščinskaja 2004: 111), Kirkkomäki 27 (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007) and Masku (Vahter 1952). For women’s headdresses in the Scandinavian world, these weaves are so far unknown (Heckett 2003).

Reconstruction of the headdress from the grave Kirkkomäki 27.
Source: Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007: Fig. 6.


An atypical fingerless glove made from a square of fabric from Dorestad is made from chevron twill (Miedema 1980).

The simple two-piece glove from Dorestad. Source: Miedema 1980: Pl. 24, Fig. 174.

Production of brooches

Inside the oval and other shaped brooches, there are often textile imprints, which are the result of a sophisticated manufacturing process, during which a textile is placed inside the mold, on which the counterpart of the mold is built (Söderberg 2018). The use of fabric ensures the smoothness of the space inside the mold and the thinness of the final product. The way in which the fabrics were chosen to make the brooches is not entirely clear, but as the weaves vary, it is not impossible that recycled fabrics were used. We know imprints of chevron and broken chevron twills from Islandbridge (Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: 494), Ribe (Jørgensen 1991: 62-3) and Lillevang (Jørgensen 1986: 317-9). A remnant of one of the discussed weaves is also found on the back of an equal-arm brooch from Skåne (Strömberg 1961: Taf. 72) – either it is an imprint created during production, or it is a corroded textile originating from a woman’s outer garment such as a coat or a shawl.

The use of textiles in the creation of an oval brooch model. Source: Söderberg 2018: Fig. 31.

Gender affiliation

At the same time, it is desirable to seek an answer to the question of whether there is a tendency to see chevron and broken chevron twills being used dominantly for the production of men’s or women’s clothing. It is a tricky problem that is significantly affected by the fact that textiles are primarily preserved corroded on iron and bronze objects or ceramics (Březinová 1997: 168). Ultimately, women’s graves possess a greater number of jewellery, and therefore textiles including chevron and broken chevron twills are more often found in them – examples can be Oseberg, which is the grave of two women (Holck 2006), or the find from Pleškovo, which is also a female grave (Stepanova 2017: 146).

Weaves seem to be universal and have found application in the clothing of both sexes. Far more decisive is the relationship of these weaves to the shapes and functions of the clothes. A good example is the aforementioned bands, where higher elasticity was desirable. Leg wraps are considered primarily men’s clothing in the literature, which is certainly not the case in all situations, as evidenced, among others, by Kirkkomäki grave 27 (Kirjavainen – Riikonen 2007; Owen-Crocker 2010: 189-190, 226, 257-9). As far as we know, arm wraps appear only in male graves so far. Narrower bands have certainly found a function in both women’s and men’s clothing.

Older and younger usage

Chevron and broken chevron twills first appeared in European material in the Early Iron Age, and their earliest evidence comes from the Hallstatt salt mine (Hundt 1981: 16-17). Their dramatic spread across Europe took place during the Roman era and during the Migration period, when they first appear in the territory of, for example, today’s Netherlands (Leene 1973), Germany (Möller-Wiering 2011: 124-5), Norway (Christensen – Nockert 2006: 203), Poland (Maik 2012) and Sweden (Nockert 1991: 68). In the 5th-7th century they are also extremely popular and are used to make cloaks (Schlabow 1976: Abb. 96), tunics (Hägg 2015: 104; Schlabow 1976: Abb. 156), peplos (Owen-Crocker 2010: 61) and hoods (Gabra-Sanders 2001).

After the 11th century, chevron and broken chevron twills disappear from these traditional regions and are rarely found in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. They are missing, for example, in the rich Greenlandic finds (Østergård 2004). In the 13th century they can occasionally be found in Gdańsk (see Cybulska – Maik 2014) or in Latvia (Zariņa 1999: 28) and the youngest find from the 15th century comes from Novgorod (Nahlik 1964: 64-72; 1965: 19-28). The reason for their sudden decline can be linked to the fact that these weaves were strongly associated with warp-weighted vertical looms with four movable sheds – as soon as these were replaced by treadle horizontal looms, production changed (Pritchard 1980/84: 351). In modern times, both weaves have seen a revival, especially the broken chevron twill, which is often used to make trousers, jackets, uniforms, caps and similar garments.

The hood from Orkney. Source: Gabra-Sanders 2001: Fig. 12.1-2.


Western and Northern Europe, where they were used together with diamond and lozenge twills, can be identified as the long-term focal point of chevron and broken chevron twills in the Early Middle Ages. In the period of 8th-11th century, a number of textiles from these regions are so similar that they may have a single production center (Ingstad 1979). Among Baltic and Finno-Ugric tribes and Western Slavs in today’s Poland, there is no strong connection to diamond and lozenge twills, which are often absent (see e.g. Davidan 1989; Zariņa 1988). Therefore, it is suggested that textiles in these countries were produced locally (Zariņa 1988: 18; Cybulska – Maik 2014). Chevron and broken chevron twills (as well as diamond and lozenge twills) are rooted in the technical layout of the vertical loom and the method of weaving on it. With its abandonment and replacement by the horizontal loom, chevron and broken chevron twills disappear from material culture.

In individual locations in the monitored period, chevron and broken chevron twills make up no more than a quarter of all textiles. Broken chevron twill in Elisenhof constitutes 24% of all known textiles (Hundt 1981). In the locality of Hessens, broken chevron twill makes up 16% of all finds (Siegmüller 2010: 188). In Livonian graves of 10th-13th century, broken chevron twill makes up around 16% of the total (Zariņa 1988: 19). In Wolin, broken chevron twill is so numerous that it amounts to 12.5% (Cybulska – Maik 2014: 317). Lozenge and chevron twills together represent only about 5% of all textiles at Haithabu (Hägg 1984: 103). Chevron and broken chevron twills represent 2% in the Netherlands (Brandenburgh 2016: 117), which also corresponds to the data from Gdańsk (Cybulska – Maik 2014: 317). Broken chevron and diamond twills from Denmark together make up 2% of the total and are six times less numerous than four-shed twills (Rimstad 1998: Fig. 9). In Opole, broken chevron twill only accounts for 1% (Cybulska – Maik 2014: 317). In Novgorod, broken chevron twills make up less than 1% of all 450 textiles (Nahlik 1964: 64-72; 1965: 19-28). In all locations, classic 2/2 diagonal twill outnumber these weaves.

Chevron and broken chevron appear almost exclusively in wool. This guarantees higher elasticity, which predisposes them to use on various bands, wraps and hems. They were used for aprons, peplos-like garments, some scarf-like head coverings and gloves. Use on more stressed parts of the pants cannot be ruled out. Therefore, it cannot be said that these weaves are dominantly male or female.

A note for reenactors

This article has a huge impact on Early Middle Ages reenactors who often uncritically choose weaves close to “herringbone” or “diamonds” for reasons of aesthetics and stock capacities. Knowing the huge difference between living reality and archaeological knowledge, after this revision we can recommend the use of “herringbone” only for wool products, namely on wraps and similar bands. All other uses are relatively rare and debatable for the purposes of reconstruction that should be based on typical objects. Four-shed diagonal twill is definitely one of the most versatile early medieval weaves of woolen textiles, which should be reflected in the reenactment. We do not recommend using “herringbone” for linen textiles. When using herringbone twill, we recommend using a density of at least 8-10/6-8 threads per cm. Do not forget that rich costumes should be distinguished by fine textiles with a high thread count per cm. Chevron twills are not suitable for the reconstruction of Western Slavic gear.

Recommended use of chevron and broken chevron twills in reenactment.

We also have to comment on the colour design of the “herringbone” used by the reenactors. In the reenactment of the Early Middle Ages, the fashion for two-colour weaves, where the motif is more visible, became established. For historical textiles, this differentiation of warp and weft colours is not standard, and we can only record it exceptionally in London and several other sites. Textiles were apparently usually more uniform in colour. Reenactors apparently unknowingly prefer the colour combination of the current “herringbone” textiles, which came into fashion in a two-tone design in the 19th century in connection with clothing for sports, riding, hunting and hiking.

Schemes of four-shed twills – the most common weaves of woolen textiles of the Early Middle Ages. Source: Schlabow 1976: Abb. 155-6.

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2 Responses

  1. This is an excelent article and well overdue. One point I would like to bring up is the popularity of the colour blue. On the face of it, the suggestion is made that blue dyed wool was the most popular colour for wool, and to some extent purple (a very rich dye, and a colour obtainable, amongst other methods, by mixing ‘blue’ and ‘red’ dyes) . In my opinion, we have to put this into perspective, as many of the wool fragments were found in association with burials. It may be that ‘blue’ and associated dyes were in turn associated with the burial of the dead, thereby skewing the frequency of blue and purple fragments.
    By ‘tradtion’ blue and purple are colours associated with the Norse God Odin, whilst blue is by ‘tradition’ associated with the Virgin Mary.
    It may be that the number of these blue / purple fragments are a reflection of the burial rite rather than textiles in common useage.

  2. Hi Tomas,
    I’m awestruck by this article and really enjoyed reading it.
    So much new and valuable information can be extracted from it.

    I’ll definitely consult it for any further sewing project.

    Best regards

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