An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel (I)

Very little direct evidence of women’s costume in Anglo-Saxon England survives from the period. Most of what we know of the garment shape and style is derived from scant illumination evidence and from the three female figures in the Bayeux Tapestry with some conjecture from Continental sources. Fabric patterns and styles have survived in some archaeological sites and grave goods. This garment is my best, educated guess as to a basic cyrtel or sleeved over-garment typical to an Anglo-Saxon upper class woman (thegn) living around the era of the Conquest of England (1066). A cyrtel was the basic dress worn by women during this period. It would have been worn over an undergarment whose sleeves may have peeked from beneath the looser sleeve of the cyrtel. The gown was ankle length, without a train. The sleeves could be long and full, like Countess Judith of Flanders, or close to the wrist like those of Aelfgyva from the Bayuex Tapestry. The images suggest that the garment was fitted at the waist (indicate by the placket at Judith’s waist and the folds of fabric on Aelfgyva – the latter may be artistic license). In recreating this garment, the drape is of utmost importance – the evidence suggests that the fabric was heavy enough fall in loose folds against the person and not cling or fly away from the person.

In recreating this garment, I spun the wool to a sett found in archaeological finds, dyed the wool with dyes that would have been available to a women of the period – choosing a color combination that was possible, though not necessarily found in the archaeological record and wove the fabric using a broken lozenge twill that, judging by the quantity of found textiles from the period, was favored by the Anglo-Saxons. I cut and sewed the dress modeled from a found gament that provides a similar drape, and hand-sewed it using hand-spun thread and stitches that have been documented to the this era.

My hope is that in using the techniques and materials found in the period I will have created a cyrtel that is exemplary of the period. And, through this documentation, I have put into perspective the amount of time and effort that was needed to create even a simple garment.

Next: Spinning

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