Arabella De Mere

Silk and Metallic Thread Brocaded Band

This piece is a brocaded band created in a similar style to the grave findings at Birka dating from the 9th and 10th centuries.  The primary excavation at Birka was done in the 1870’s by Hjalmar Stolpe, but at that time the textiles were not regarded as important.  Analysis of the bands was done in 1938 by Agnes Geijer and again by Inga Hägg in 1974 and 1986, which is where most of our current information comes from (Thunem, 2014).  Though many textiles were found, many examples were incomplete and the silk in many of the bands has decomposed and the brocaded metal weft is all that remains to show the pattern (Peters, 2002).  The specific bands I drew inspiration from are from Birka Bands B-21 and B-6, which share a similar design to Birka Band B-22, shown below.

Birka Band B-22, Stockholm Historik Museum. Photo by Louise Ström from her personal collection.

Birka Band B-22, Stockholm Historik Museum. Photo by Louise Ström from her personal collection.

Electron microscope scan of 13th c. metallic thread - Spies, p61

Electron microscope scan of 13th c. metallic thread – Spies, p61

Metallic brocaded bands have been used in various ways throughout period.  Some of these uses include being at the cuffs of the sleeve on underdresses as trim in the major cultures of the time, whereas Viking men and women would wear this kind of trim on the chest, arms, and garment seams (Priest-Dorman, 1994).  It is believed that bands were also whip-stitched to the front loops of the smokkr or apron dress, and were run between the two tortoise broaches but were not attached to the smokkr itself (Thunem, 2014).  They have also been used as fillets (head bands) by women of three major cultures of the time (Frankish, Saxon, Viking) (Priest-Dorman, 1994).    These pieces would have been very expensive and used to show wealth and status.  This will be a fillet for my daughter, and is currently a work-in-progress.

I attempted to keep materials as similar as possible to originals – red silk (60/2) thread for the ground weave and weft; real silver metal thread which is hammered thin and wrapped around a fiber core that I imported from Denmark (see Figure 2). This was used for the brocade weft.  As stated by Master Guntram, “aside from lesser differences such as the exact composition of the metal, these threads are precisely what medieval tabletweavers would have used.” (Gartz, 2004)

The band was woven using a wooden box loom with 21 wooden tablets threaded with an alternating S/Z pattern.



Most surviving brocaded samples from Birka are approximately 1 cm in width, with some narrower samples and some as wide as 1.7 cm.  My band is approximately 8mm wide, which would be appropriate to the time period.

The Birka-6 pattern shows several motifs that were common at the Birka site, as Priest-Dorman notes.  These include broken combs, crosses in saltire, and S-patterning, along with other commonly found motifs at the site such as strapwork, swastikas, chevrons, and a modification of the Tree of Life pattern (Priest-Dorman, 1994).

This is the first time that I have worked with silk thread and also the first time working with the metal brocade weft thread.  I researched the Birka findings and how intricate the designs are, and now have a greater appreciation for how fine the work was in the brocade, as most patterns were under a half inch wide.  Weaving the band to a length of seven inches required over 14 hours of weaving, discounting the time required to warp the loom.

What I would change:  the sources I used that described the pattern had a transcription error, and this was only discovered after the first run of the pattern.  I then mirrored and corrected the pattern to be more consistent with what I believe the original would have been.

Changes made:  there was a transcription error in the documentation from the original pattern as mentioned above, and regarding modern sensitivities, the swastika pattern which is often seen in this culture was changed to a stylized diamond while leaving the pattern as authentic as possible.  Borders were added to both bands, increasing the number of tablets from 15 to 21 for B-6 and from 17 to 21 for B-21.

This is only my second brocaded project, and as this is a novice effort on my part and with the error in pattern transcription, this project seems suitable for this event – and I hope that it shows that mistakes can be made and remedied without spoiling the fun and interest of a project.



Peters, Cathy Ostrom.  The Silk Road Textiles at Birka: An Examination of the Tabletwoven Bands. 2002.  Electronic.

Priest-Dorman, Carolyn.  Metallic Trims for Some Early Period Personae.  1994.  Electronic.

Thunem, Hilde.  Viking Women: Aprondress.  2014.  Electronic.

Gartz, Eckhard.  A Practical Examination of Wefts used in Medieval Brocaded Tabletweaving.  2004.  Electronic.

Spies, Nancy. Ecclesiastical Pomp and Aristocratic Circumstance: A Thousand Years of Brocaded Tabletwoven Bands. 2000.  Print.

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