Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Diamond Twill Blues

Several years ago, I searched the Web intently for wool fabric woven in a diamond twill. A number of the fabrics found in the Birka graves were fine worsteds woven in such a weave, and it occurred to me that it would be a fine thing to make an apron dress out of the closest facsimile to such cloth as I could find.

The image accompanying this post is a scan--not a photograph, but an actual, full-color scan--of a fabric sample I received from a correspondent from one of my costume mailing lists who lives in the UK. She had obtained it for me from a local vendor who caters to reenactors interested in the Viking age and other early periods when such cloth was woven.

It is a beautiful piece in its way, and although I don't recall the price per meter I remember that it was rather expensive. That's to be expected, because there is little demand for diamond twills among members of the general population. But I was bitterly disappointed when I received it, all the same.

Why? Mostly because this sample is nothing like the diamond twills found in the wealthy graves at Birka and other Viking Age sites. The greatest dissimilarity is the thread count. I couldn't find a ruler marked in centimeters when I made the scan, but I remember from when I originally measured it that the thread count of this swatch of fabric is, at most, 4 or 5 threads in both warp and weft per centimeter. In contrast, virtually all of the diamond twills I have ever heard of from Viking era graves have thread counts that are more than *twice* as high. For example, in her essay on the Birka finds that was published in Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe, Agnes Geiger gives the following thread count figures for the "broken 2/2 lozenge twill or diamond twill" specimens found there:
The fine quality of these worsteds is best described by the tightness of threads per centimetre in the warp and weft being respectively 28/14, 32/12, 38/14 and 46/15 in the 4-end twills and 50/17, 52/14, and 60/17 in the 3-end specimens.
(emphasis mine). Lise Bender Jorgensen, in North European Textiles Until AD 1000, which catalogs early fabric finds from all of northern Europe, notes that 2 of the diamond twill specimens found in the Valsgarde graves had counts of 20/14 and 20/18 (Appendix B at page 160). But she also notes finds of other diamond twills in other northern European countries before and during the Viking Age, none of which were as coarse as 4 threads per centimeter.

Here's a picture, from Geijer's essay, of a diamond twill from Birka. Although I do not know the scale of the photograph, it is clearly a finer textile than my modern swatch.

On the bright side, since my last serious effort to locate some for costuming purposes, it appears that at least two vendors have succeeded in findings sources for diamond twill wool fabric with more period-plausible thread counts. Handelsgillet, a Swedish web business that sells useful products for reenactors, carries four different colors of diamond twill wool fabric. They don't give thread count figures for their fabric, but they do say that each of the diamond motifs is 15 mm wide. Assuming that the proportions of the diamond motifs are the same on their fabric as they are on the coarser swatch I have, that suggests that their fabric has a thread count of roughly 15 X 15 threads per centimeter--much more in line with the diamond twills found. That's a lot less absurd for reconstructing the luxury costumes of rich Vikings than the very coarse twill I originally found would be.

On the other hand, it's clear from the pictures on the Handelsgillet site that their fabric was woven of gray and white thread, just like my swatch, and overdyed--which still gives a different effect than the grave finds which appear to be all of one color of thread, such as the specimen from Birka shown in the picture above.

This site sells wool fabric, specifically diamond twill fabric, with a (stated) thread count of 14 threads per cm. Much better, and it appears that the fabric does not have the dark thread/light thread contrast, which I have not found in pictures of period twills. At 36 euros (about $50 USD) per meter for pure white fabric (and much more for dyed wool), it's very expensive, but given the limited market for such goods, that's not surprising. Perhaps I should save up for 2 meters of the white, and think about how I might dye, and later use, that fabric.


  1. I would go for the white one and dye it later with natural dyes.On the other hand that might not be that much cheapier, at least when I look at the prices of dyestuff here in the Netherlands.

    Did you check out these sites?

    I don't know the threadcount of their diamond twill fabrics but it might be worth looking into. As even their finest one is cheaper. Let me know if I can help.

  2. Thanks for this link, and for your overview of "new costume-related books 2009! So much to read, so little time..

  3. Thanks, Machteld. I put out the "new costume-related books" list because I've done a number of blog posts on new books this year, and figured it would be useful to have all of the books I've noted in one place. I'm planning to keep the list as a regular feature, and start a list of 2010 books after the first of the year.

    I also blogged about "Things from the Town," the new book on material culture finds at Kaupang. It includes costume-related information, but isn't a costume-related book per se. Do you think I should add it to the list?

  4. Did you check out these sites?

    No, I hadn't known about these sites, Marije. Thanks for the links!

    The Naturtuche site has a good, zoomable photograph of their diamond twill with a ruler marked in centimeters along side, so I was able to count the threads pretty well. It seems to be about 14/14--as good as the sites I discussed, but for only about 2/3rd the price! And they will mail you swatches, too; I need to check them out.

    The Wollstoff site's photo was hard to make out, particularly since I'm not sure of the size of the coin they added to give scale, but I'd bet it is about the same thread count. (For all I know, both sites may use the same fabric supplier.) But I may as well check out the site that will send me swatches first.

  5. A 1 eurocoin is 2,3 cm long or 7/8 inch. I would compare shippingcosts as well as they can be very different from each other, even with companies from the same country.

  6. Thanks.

    The Wollstoff diamond twill seems to fit about two and a half diamonds into the diameter of a one Euro coin. That suggests that this fabric has about the same thread count as the Naturtuche fabric. The photo at gives a better idea of what the weave of the fabric looks like.

    But there's something off about the weave of the Wollstoff stuff--it doesn't look like a true diamond twill to me. Maybe I can get a swatch from Wollstoff and find out.

  7. Hello,

    I own a sample from naturtuche and a little piece of the "diamond twill" from wollstoff.
    I took a quick look at them and they both seem to be what is called in german a "Diamantköper".
    But there seems to be some confusion with the translation. Diamond twill would be called in German Rautenköper which means Lonzenge twill, the one where the lines do meet at the edges. Broken diamond twill would translate to Diamantköper, the edges do not meet.

    If you have a look at this site: you will see what I mean.

    I hope I could help you a bit and apologise if my english is confusing.

  8. Hi, Sanne! Thanks for your comment; your English is just fine.

    I know about the difference between broken diamond twill and diamond twill. But there are some modern weaves that have a kind of diamond pattern without being like either type of twill, and that's what the Wollstoff picture reminds me of. However, you've seen the real thing, so I guess the picture was just misleading.

  9. I will take a closer look at both. At first glance they did look like broken diamond, but the middle part was a little bit odd. I could do one of these "little black an white squares"-drawings (don't know the english word for it) so you could see if it fits your wishes. :)

  10. Sanne, that would be wonderful! You really don't have to go to all that trouble on my account! Though if you do I will appreciate it greatly. Thanks so much.

  11. I finished the drawings. You got me pretty hooked there. I was so curious what kind of twill they are exactly, I did start right away, but after the first one my eyes needed a little break.

    Link to the one from Wollstoff, which is a fancy mix of plainweave and a broken diamond twill:

    And the one from Naturtuche which is also a mix but this time of plain weave, diamond and broken diamond twill! Wow try to get more weaving techniques in a simple pattern like a diamond:

    I didn´t know which direction is warp and which is weft with the Naturtuche one, cause my sample is so tiny.

    With the Wollstoff one. I did the pattern for the linnen-wool blend, but it should be the same as the pure wool (which I do not have...).

  12. Thanks so much for the diagrams. Neither of them quite looks like the diamond or broken diamond twills diagrammed on this page:

    I think what makes them look "wrong" to me is that the outermost edge of the diamond is twice as thick as the others. That's what I thought I saw in the Wollstoff picture, and your observation confirms that it's because the weave is a little different than in the period examples.

    On the other hand, it's a lot closer to diamond twill than, say, a herringbone weave would be!

  13. I know a site that sells 13/10 and 15/14 diamond twills in a large variety of colors at something like $28 USD. Nice wools in other weaves, wool/silk blends and silk fabric too.
    The company is situated in Moscow, Russia.

  14. I had found the Russian site before, but when I last saw it, it didn't have such a lovely array of fabric, including so many diamond twills! I particularly like T45, T08, T09, and T17. But all of them look beautiful; much more colorful than the products of other vendors.

    I should look into shipping costs and whether they will ship to the US. Thanks for the URL.

  15. I almost forgot to mention T34 (the grass green one)!