Three Icelandic Mittens.
By Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir/ Rebecca Lucas.
As usual, my curiousity was spurred by a single sentence. In this case, the comment by Margarethe Hald (buried in a chapter on naalbinding), that there was a Viking Age mitten made from 'woven cloth' in Iceland (1980; 302-3).
How could I pass over such a tantalizing footnote? Especially given the attention that naalbinded and knitted mittens receive, here was a much more humble item made of fabric. I had to investigate further!
The Garðar Mitten
Pálmi Pálsson wrote about a mitten (Museum accession ID Þjms. 1940), discovered in 1881, from the Garðar site in Akranes, Iceland (1895; 30). The mitten appears to have been found within the original structure, built during the landnám period -- ca. 874-930 CE. -- by Jörundur the Christian who gave Garðar its' original name of Jörundarholt. (Lehmann-Filhés 1896; 29)
What remains of the mitten is 28cm long and 11 cm wide (Pálsson, 1895; 35) and left-handed, although it is believed it was originally longer and worn over the sleeve, as the wrist is quite wide and there is no hem or selvedge remaining (Lehmann-Filhés 1896; 30). A thumb and gore were inset into the mitten, the latter adding extra width to the cuff (ibid.). In 2005, Christina Krupp travelled to Reykjavík and the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). She described this mitten as having a seperate front and back, and an inset thumb (Krupp, 2005).
The fabric of the mitten is overall a red-brown coloured vaðmál, and woven in a 2/2 twill with approximately 7.2 warp threads per cm, but only 4 weft threads (Guðjónsson, 1962; 21). The weft, therefore, is very thick (Lehmann-Filhés 1896; 29) but with very little twist with s-spun thread in a golden hue (Guðjónsson, 1962; 21). The warp is finer (Lehmann-Filhés 1896; 29), but darker brown in colour and tightly z-spun (Guðjónsson, 1962; 21).
It appears that the inside of the mitten was originally lined with a woollen pile (Guðjónsson, 1962; 68)-- almost like a fake fur -- of unspun or weakly z-spun red-brown wool firmly attached to the fabric (Guðjónsson, 1962; 22) 'through sewing' (Guðjónsson, 1962; 68), before being trimmed to create a short, hairy surface (Guðjónsson, 1962; 22).
Left: Drawing of Akranes mitten (Lehmann-Filhés, 1896).
Centre: Photograph of Akranes mitten (Pálsson, 1895).
Right: Colour photograph of the Akranes mitten by dolbex, licensed under Creative Commons.
The Heynes Mittens
Another two fabric mittens, belonging to a child, were discovered in Heynes, Iceland, by Halldór Kristjánsson in 1960 (Museum accession ID Þjms. 1960:77) (Guðjónsson, 1962; 16). Made from a coarse vaðmál, with 7-9 warp threads, and 4-5 weft threads per centimetre, they were connected together by a braided band that was sewn to each mitten (Guðjónsson, 1994; 206). They are considered to date from before the 12th century (Sverrisdóttir, 2004; 194), most likely the 10th century (Guðjónsson, 1994; 206). Guðjónsson theorises that the mittens were made from recycled fabric, that originally had another purpose (1962; 30). This is because the mittens differ in their construction, like they were pieced from scraps.
The right-handed mitten is cut in one piece, while the left-handed mitten is in two pieces (Sverrisdóttir, 2004; 194) that were then "sewn together all around the sides" (Krupp, 2005). For both mittens, however, the thumbs are cut from two pieces of fabric (Sverrisdóttir, 2004; 194).
From photographs (Guðjónsson, 1994; 207, Sverrisdóttir, 2004; 194) and observations at the National Museum of Iceland (Krupp, 2005), the hole for the thumb was vertically cut, parallel to the nearby side seam, and the thumb piece inserted on a diagonal. Photographs of the left-hand mitten show this thumb piece pointing inwards, towards the palm.
Left: Drawing of the childrens' mittens from Heynes. After Guðjónsson (1962; 19).
Centre: Colour photograph of the Heynes mittens by dolbex, licensed under Creative Commons.
Right: Theoretical pattern pieces of Heynes mitten. Based on description and photograph of Sverrisdóttir (2004; 194).
Other Fabric Mittens
Roughly contemporary to the three Icelandic mittens mentioned, are two mittens from the Netherlands, reported in Brandenburgh (2010).
The first, from Dorestad, has been dated to the 600-900 CE, while the second from Aalsum dates from 700-900 CE. Both mittens fabrics have been described as having a thin warp and a thick weft, whipstitched together, with the Aalsum mitten in a 2/2 twill with 3 threads of dark warp and 2 threads of lighter weft per centimetre. The Dorestad mitten was a fulled 2/2 herringbone twill, with only 6/3 threads per cm and is uniformly dark brown. For photographs of these two mittens, see Brandenburgh (2010) and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (2011).
Thank-you to Þjóðminjasafn Íslands for pointing out articles I had missed, Christina Krupp for permission to use her comments, Eithni ingen Talorgain for tracking down a copy of Hlutavelta tímans, and dolbex for allowing her photograph to be licensed for use!
- Brandenburgh, C.R. 2010. Early medieval textile remains from settlements in the Netherlands. An evaluation of textile production. Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 2(1); 41-79.
Available online: http://dpc.uba.uva.nl/jalc/02/nr01/a02
- Guðjónsson, E.E. 1994. Barnavettlingar frá Heynesi in Gersemar og þarfaþing (Reykjavík: Þjóðminjasafn Íslands); 206-207.
- Guðjónsson, E.E. 1962. Forn röggvarvefnaður Árbók Hins Íslenzka Fornleifafélags 59; 12-71.
Available online via the National and University Library of Iceland
- Hald, M. .1980. Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark) ISBN: 87-480-0312-3
- Krupp, C. 2005 "Icelandic Socks and Mittens: Sewn from Cloth!" Norsefolk 2 Mailing List, February 15 2005.
- Lehmann-Filhés, M. 1896, Zwei Isländische Handschuhe Zeitschrift für Ethnologie; 29-30.
Online, and with English translation here: http://medieval-baltic.us/lehmann-filhes-palsson.html
- Pálsson, P. 1895. Um myndir af gripum í forngripasafninu Árbók Hins Íslenzka Fornleifafélags10; 30-35.
Online here: http://medieval-baltic.us/lehmann-filhes-palsson.html
- Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. 2011. "Want van textiel, met diverse naden.", March 6 2011.
- Sverrisdóttir, Á. 2004. "Tóskapur, ullarvinna í bændasamfélaginu" Hlutavelta tímans (Reykjavík: Þjóðminjasafn Íslands); 194-203.