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A costume reconstruction inspired by the grave goods of Burial No. 33 from the Eriswell cemetery, near Lakenheath, Suffolk.
Undergarment

Long sleeved, thigh length side-slit undergarment, in undyed decoratively woven linen with sleeves open at the wrist and fastened with decorative clasps.

Peplos-type Dress
Rectangular blue 2x2 twill wool 'Peplos'-type dress, stitched into a tube; suspended from the shoulders by paired brooches and'pouched' over a belt.
Cloak

Rectangular wool cloak in herringbone twill.

Leg-coverings

Possibly trousers, socks or bindings.

Footwear

Clumsy footwear - flat-soled, round-toed and reaching to the ankle.

Hair and Headgear

Worn loose, plaited, with a cap or veil.

Brooches

Matched pair of annular brooches supporting necklace and clasping the dress.
Cruciform brooch clasping dress to undergarment.

Belt
Blue linen belt.
Jewellery
Clay bead necklace hung from paired brooches.
Comment

   This costume has been inspired by the grave-goods from Grave 33 at Eriswell Saxon Cemetery, near Lakenheath, Suffolk. Unfortunately, conditions in this country mean that little or no textile remains are found associated with grave-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.

 
Fig 1. Early (Pagan) Saxon costume, Grave 33, Eriswell, Suffolk © Rosie Wilkin 2004
Black text - items in the picture; Red text italic - items not made; Pink text - items not visible; Green text - items made but not in the picture; Blue text - correct item, which is different from the one in the picture.
 

Notes
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Undergarment
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   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 (see the fabrics page for more details on weaves).
   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?
   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.

   
Peplos-type Dress
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   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 Woad (see the colours page for more detail on dyes). 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.

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
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   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. (See the Late Saxon Shoes page for details.)
   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
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   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. (See the Brooches and Pins page for details.)
   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.


Brooches
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   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 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 gathers at the front of my neck!

 
Belt
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   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
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   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 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.

 

© Rosie Wilkin 2004
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