Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Recreating the Egtved Skirt

A day or two ago, I rediscovered the Facebook page of the Friends of Archaeological Textiles Review, which I recommend to historical costume buffs, particularly those interested in early period costume.  There is pure gold in some of the URLs posted on that Facebook page.

The most interesting item I have discovered on the Friends of ATR page so far is the video that appears to the left.  This video shows Professor Ida Demant, an archaeologist at Sagnlandet Lejre in Denmark, making a reproduction of the Egtved skirt, and explaining what she is doing, in English, while she is working.  The basic technique is to make a tablet-woven belt, leaving long weft loops, and twisting the loops together to make the thick fringe.  The video concludes with a few seconds of footage showing a young woman modeling the finished product for an outdoor audience.

To watch Professor Demant make this skirt is to acquire a new appreciation for the skills of textile workers in ancient times.  I commend it to anyone interested in the making of textiles as well as to persons interested in Bronze Age costume.


  1. I haven't heard of that skirt before. It's an interesting technique, and seems similar to what I've heard of for making the warp for warp-weighted looms (use a tablet-woven band with long weft loops).

    However, she isn't doing tablet-weaving. It looks like a string heddle to me. I do like the cord around which the loops are secured, as well as the post for fixing the size of the loops.

    I was a bit surprised the fringe wasn't braided, but twisted. She is using 3 fringe loops per shed, and twisting in pairs of loops. That means that there will be three fringe per two sheds, with one fringe split between sheds. Based on my skill-set, I'd be tempted to look at fingerloop braiding the fringe rather than twisting it. Of course, if it is wool, that can be a bit messy.

    It wasn't fully clear to me how big the skirt was. Is it designed to be wrapped many times around the waist? The skirt she was making seemed quite long, longer than the waistline of the model at the end of the video.

  2. Hi, Buddha! Welcome.

    You may be right about the string heddle. I have no experience with weaving other than basic tablet weaving, and I find complex setups hard to understand just from looking at them.

    I believe string skirts of this type were designed to lap around the body more than once. A similar type of skirt could still be found in Balkan folk costume as late as 1991; Elizabeth Barber describes one, and her reaction to it, in "Prehistoric Weaving".

    And though fingerloop braided fringe might be more stable, it requires more time and care. The twisting methods Prof. Demant shows are probably faster. I'd need to look closer at the original to see whether the twisting method/s seemed to be consistent with the origina.

  3. For me, the lack of tablets sort of indicated that it wasn't tablet weaving.

    The age of the original skirt predates most of what I know of weaving, and of textile work in general. It seemed to me that her goal of reconstruction was to show that this was possible with basic rope-making techniques, which would have been antecedent skills at the time. Her fringe is structurally identical to either a 2-ply yarn, or a 2-strand rope. I don't know exactly what the yarn she is using is (is it a single? is it plied? I didn't look closely enough), but nothing she was doing to make the fringe was more sophisticated than rope- or yarn-making.

    Given the historical age, and the limits of techniques she is using, it makes sense that she's not using tablets for the weaving.

    Other sources I've found about the skirt indicate that the bottom is finished with a cord chained through the loops, which serves to keep it from tangling into knots. I would have liked to have seen that in her reproduction. I think it would also help with the issue of the skirt falling open (especially when the acrobats depicted in period statuary wearing the skirt did inversion).

    1. You're right about the lack of tablets. (Duh, me.) When I first watched it, I thought the band had been already woven and she was inserting the fringe loops as supplemental wefts. but it's clear that the fringe wefts are part of creating the band itself.

      I also think you're right that the point of Demant's demonstration was to show that the belt, sophisticated as it looks, could be worked with "basic rope making techniques."

      I have read that the bottom of the fringes were secured, and that's likely true of Demant's reproduction except she doesn't show it. It would be great to see a from-beginning-to-end reconstruction video (with fast-forwarding or cuts during the repetitive parts).

    2. I did find a blog from 2009 of someone weaving a string skirt inspired by this find (she talks about having to decide between "SCA re-creation" and "museum reconstruction". She did go with a tablet-woven band, rather than the string heddle technique Demant used. She also used double-twisted yarn for the weft/loops, so it would naturally twine into cords rather than doing the twisting-and-plying that Demant is doing.

      I suspect that a time-lapse beginning-to-end reconstruction would be mostly repetitive, as is a lot of textile work. The key aspects I'd focus on are (a) how the band at the top is woven, (b) how the fringes are made, (c) how the fringes are twisted, and (c) how the fringes are secured. That, and a clock to show how long it takes. Demant's video captured most of that, but she didn't show the warping of the band, nor the securing of the fringes, nor the time for the whole piece. So of course those are the parts I want to know more about. There's enough information there that I probably could duplicate it, but not necessarily using purely period techniques (even Demant used something close to a modern Inkle loom to hold the work).

    3. Interesting description of what the blogger you found did to recreate a string skirt. Thank you.

      I agree that a straight time-lapse would be repetitive, but one that showed only the beginning of every stage (e.g., setting up the work, starting to insert the wefts, twisting the fringe, securing the fringe at the bottom) would be even more useful than the video Demant made.

    4. FYI, the blog in question is at

  4. Wow, what a cool video! Very informative.

  5. Although the video did not show it, there is a variation on the second method that controls the twist in the last step and produces very tight, defined rope. The two card created by the spinning stick are held apart like a v with the point at the waistband and the final twist is allowed to start at that point and work toward the hands? If the first twist is firm enough! The good gives a firmly defined rope and allows the same end finish as in the researcher's preferred example. Thanks for finding this! Beth S

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by!

      I like the idea you're describing, but I'm having a hard time seeing how that method would create twists that would stay twisted. Can you explain (or point me at a URL or other source that explains it)?