An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel: Thoughts and Challenges

Dress front

The time I invested in this project gave me a unique perspective on the amount of work our predecessors invested in a single piece of clothing. The whole of the project took over 200 hours from the spinning to the dyeing to the weaving and the sewing – and I took a significant short-cut using prepared wool and a spinning wheel. It is difficult to put into words how much respect I have for the women who had to make all of their garments from the sheep to the spindle to the loom by their own hands. The spinning is the most time-consuming part of any textile. While I spent only 100 hours spinning the yarn on my spinning wheel, I could easily have spent 300 hours or more using a spindle to spin, let alone preparing the fiber. The weaving took very little time when compared to the spinning and the sewing even less time. With the time spent in mind, I think I better understand how and why the cyrtel was cut so as not to waste any of the precious time invested in the creation of the fabric.

What would I change were I to do this over again?

I would do a better job at laying out the garment and fitting before I started spinning. As a result of inaccurate planning I had an extra three yards of fabric left over from this project. A mantle for me!

I would dye the warp with the Queen Anne’s Lace and the weft with madder. The madder is more expensive and harder to obtain. I would have had a better color result dyeing less fiber. I would also have soaked the madder for a longer period of time.

I would spin finer and set the warp at a minimum of 36 ends per inch. Fabrics in period were very fine indeed and I would like to reflect that.

I hope this project illustrates the time-consuming nature of textiles. From the spinning to the weaving to the sewing I invested over 200 hours. I had some benefits of technology (a spinning wheel) and used prepared wool, but in the end it is a product of my hands, my heart and my mind and that is what really connects me to the spinners and weavers from a long time ago.

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5 Replies to “An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel: Thoughts and Challenges”

  1. Hi! I’ve been doing my own bit of research on Norman and Saxon weaving and happened on your blog. The Cyrtel is amazing and I love that you documented your whole process. I do have a question though for my own research. Where did you happen to find the width limitations of their weaving? I’m trying to hunt down a reference! Thanks!


  2. Very interesting.
    I have spun a worsted singles warp from Romney and woolen weft from Rambouillet, all at ~2,800 ypp – all Z twist for a bolt of white twill. It is about 14 pounds in weight/ ~ 40,000 yd. This is part of a learning curve for a later, finer weaving project.

    Why did you spin and then dye – why not dye, then spin? Then, you could even color by blending on the drum carder.

    How did you warp the loom? Do you have a sectional beam or a sectional warping mill? Or was the dye bath enough to block the yarn? Did you have problems with the warp tangling as you wound on? (Perhaps the only thing I learned from the spinning for this project is that unblocked wool singles tangle, and the thoughts of long evenings of untangling skeins of singles is never far from my mind.)


    1. Dear Aaron. All good questions. I did not dye in the wool for this project as this was back in 2001 and personal drum carders were rare. The biggest reason was I wanted make sure I had enough yarn before I dyed. I suppose I could have dyed and extra pound. My current project (replicating the fabric from the Sutton Hoo ship burial) has me dyeing beforehand. I just finished dyeing the wool woad blue and will begin blending when they are dry.

      I used a warping mill back then. I did not have any issues with tangling. I wound my warp onto spinning wheel bobbins first, put them on a kate and warped from there. I enjoy working from unblocked singles. Judith MacKenzie says weaving with blocked yarn is as exciting as a boiled egg. The key is to put the yarn onto a bobbin while you are waiting to work with it. I have a bunch of cardboard bobbins – which I will need for my next project as I need to spin 6000 ypp.

      Good luck with your project!

  3. Thank you for sharing your project! It is wonderful to read about all the stages of making the kyrtle. I have thought of making a Viking apron dress from sheep to finished dress and wondered just how many hours it would take. Particularly with my being a novice at many of the skills. I think it may be too ambitious just yet.
    My hat is off to you!

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