Thursday, January 31, 2019

Slickstone on the Cheap

Whalebone plaque, probably used for
linen smoothing.  Found in 1991
in the Scar boat grave on Sanday, Orkney,
Scotland.  Photo by Orkney Museum
(found on Wikimedia Commons).
Glass linen smoother, unknown date
64 mm wide, 39 mm thick, 242.12 g.
Trustees of the British Museum
(Wikimedia Commons)
Costumers interested in Viking Age Scandinavia are well-aware that the artifacts discovered by archaeologists include "ironing boards"--flat plates of wood or bone used for flattening cloth, and "slickstones"--rounded, flat-bottomed pieces of glass about 3 inches (75 mm) in diameter.  The cloth would be placed on the board, and vigorously rubbed with the slickstone.

According to Maria at In deme jare Cristi, linen that has been properly washed and dried will become not only flat, but will acquiring a pleasing shininess if rubbed with a slickstone in this manner.  (The link includes detailed instructions as to how to wash linen properly.  The process involves presoaking new linen fabric in cool water, washing it in water that is warm at best, and then hanging it up to dry.)

After reading what Maria said about the effectiveness of a slickstone in improving the appearance of linen, I was eager to try the process out.  I have several boards (plain, but usable) that would serve as smoothing boards, but where could I get a slickstone?  I don't have enough money to buy the necessary equipment to work glass!

Then it occurred to me that I do know how to get a glass object of the right shape--they are used in aquariums and as game pieces.  The problem is that the rocks used for these purposes are usually about the size of my thumbnail--much smaller than historical slickstones and too small to easily hold and rub against fabric.  Were larger glass rocks even commercially available? 

My glass rock, seen from above.
My glass rock, seen from the side.
Some Internet searching confirmed that the answer to my question turns out to be "yes!"  I found a company on line called Wholesalers USA, Inc., ( that sells glass stones for various kinds of home decoration and crafts in sizes up to 60 mm.  Moreover, for 50 cents USD they will sell you a single stone as a sample!  I ordered one of the 60 mm (2.36 inch) stones, and it came today--pictures of it appear with this post.  It weighs 83 grams, and as the picture shows, it's a lot flatter than the slickstone finds.  Still, my hands are small, and its not too difficult for me to grab it by the sides and rub things with it.

I can't wait to try my modern slickstone out, but to try it out properly I need to get some new linen and wash it in the proper way first.  When I have tried it out, I will write about what I discover.

EDIT:  I have ordered some linen for my experiment.  It is reddish with a tattersall plaid, or grid of squares, in white.  A similar fabric was found in grave 27/1963 at Hedeby, except the background was white and the grid was blue.  However, each square in the grid of the Hedeby find was 4 mm wide, as compared to the 19mm (about 3/4ths of an inch) in the fabric I bought.  However, my fabric was cheap ($4.99 US per yard) and it was the last 2 yards available from the Etsy vendor I purchased it from.  The checked material at Hedeby is believed to have come from an underdress, so I will use my fabric to make an underdress also.

EDIT: (2/6/2019)  My linen arrived on Monday!  It's beautiful, so beautiful that it's hard to imagine making it more beautiful.  Pursuant to Maria's tutorial, soaking it in the bathtub (so it can lie as flat and unfolded as possible) is next.

EDIT: (2/8/2019)  I think I've found my project for the March Historical Sew Monthly; the underdress that I'm going to make from the linen prepared with my new slickstone!


  1. Cool! It'll be really interesting to see how it goes.

    1. Thanks! I'm looking forward to it! Now to figure out what I'd like to make that won't require a fortune in linen. :-)

  2. I have a vintage glass map-weight from an office clean up that sounds like it would work well for this.

    1. That sounds great! It wasn't an option for me, though. If you try to use it for smoothing linen, please let me know how it works for you!