"Textiles of Novgorod"
by Adam Nahlik

from Volume IV of "Works of the Novgorod Expedition" in
Материалы и исследования по археологии СССР, Нo. 123, 1963

Brief notes/translation by Sofya la Rus, Mka Lisa Kies

[Translator's Notes: I only translated the sections of this article that I was particularly interested in. If there is a section I skipped over that you are dying to see, let me know and maybe we can work something out .]

p. 230

Fabrics found in the Nerevskii End were of great variety including fabrics of simple, thick “tablecloths” up to those made of fine threads woven with a density of 75 warp threads per centimeter.

A. “Обычные ткани” refers to fabric prepared with “полоняным или саржевым переплетением”, i.e. linen or serge weaving, i.e. tabby/plain or twill weaves. The twills are done with 3 or 4 threads. These “ordinary” fabrics are prepared with not great density of threads per cm, not dyed, or dyed a brown-black color that, obviously, in many situations appears the action of soil acid.

B. Another type of fabric is “ткани ажурного переплетения”

C. “Специальные ткани” is fabric of twill weave with three threads with characteristic fine, even yarns and rather high density of warp in relation to weft, that distinguishes it from all other fabrics.

D. Dyed un-fulled fabric of plain, or more rarely, twill weaving.

E. Fulled and dyed fabric, so very well made, that often doesn’t allow one to define the weaving, which as a rule is plain weave, or more rarely, twill.

F. Dyed, weakly fulled fabric, rather strongly damaged, with the same weaving as the above - fabric of type D. This time of fabric is distinguished with the term “sukna”.

G. “Плетенки” – lit. wicker/weaving, basket-weave?

H. Knitted goods (done by needle weaving, i.e. naalbinding)

I. Separate/individual threads (this category includes braids in Table 2, see below).

And from Table 2 on p. 231 add:

    J. Striped fabrics
    K. Fabric “panama”
    L. Belts
    M. Fabrics under the designation “third selvedge”
    N. Selvedge in ridges
    O. Other fabrics.

p. 231

Woolen textile works from the Novgorod digs present a wide range of qualities/sorts. The most low quality of wool is found in “knitted” works. They use a coarse, thick, uneven wool – more irregular than in other fabrics.

Discussion of wool fiber types and sources… p 231-242

p. 242

“Yarn and spinning”

Discussion of means of collecting and processing wool (242-245)

p. 245

In archeological material of Novgorod can distinguish 2 methods of spinning: a) twisted by hand without a spindle; b) using a spindle. A third method, using a spinning wheel can be proposed in relation to fabric imported to Novgorod no earlier than the end of the 13th century, in that the distaff appears in Western Europe at just that time. However, the differences that could distinguish the use of the spindle from the distaff are elusive in the yarn.
For the first method of spinning in the early Middle Ages, we can determine that the yarn for knitted items was prepared by such a method, combed and twisted, as is known from ethnographic research. It’s heaviness, character of wool, and chaotic bunching shows how it was obtained by combing and twisting with the palm the waste wool received after “sifting” or the remains of the tow.
For spinning with a spindle, the matter is different. In the era of the Middle Ages, there were 2 methods of spinning with a spindle: spinning with a distaff, widely known in the archeological finds, and without it. This last method can be seen on a fresco of St. Sofia Cathedral in Kiev, in which is pictured a spinster, one hand twisting the spindle and the other holding the tow. The first method served for spinning combed and beaten wool, while the second was exclusively for beaten wool. [beaten meaning?]
The process of spinning takes the following form: spinner, with the fingers of one hand pulls out fiber from the tow, fastened to the distaff, while the other hand turns the spindle, which twists the thread. When thread is sufficiently twisted, she winds it on the spindle, and so that it doesn’t unwind, on the end of the spindle a loop is thrown. The spindle moved to the right or the left hand [?], depending on the direction of twist that the spinner wants to impart to the yarn. Therefore the yarn can have either a left or right twist. Of course, spinning without a distaff is harder than with a distaff, in that the spinner must hold the tow of wool in one hand.
Using one or the other type of twist of yarn gives the fabric different properties. Thus, in fabric with a twill weave in which the direction of the rows [weft] is opposite the direction of the twist of the threads of the warp, the diagonal design of the fabric is strengthened. If the direction of the twist of thread of the warp and of the rows coincides, the striped pattern becomes less obvious, and the fabric appears more smooth.
For the preparation of fulled fabrics, it is necessary that the weft and warp have different directions of twist. This creates the technical prerequisites necessary for fulling.

p. 246

In this way, the direction of twist of yard does not have a random character, but is determined ahead of time. The combination of twists in a fabric affects not only the technique of preparation, but also its quality. In the below table is illustrated a summary of this. Number IV marks fabric of low quality, III – middle quality, II – first quality, I – highest quality. [The chart indicates that Z/S warp/weft is widely utilized at all levels of quality, but most of all for III. Z/Z or S/S is also used for all levels, but is most common for IV. “Other” combinations are only for the lowest quality (IV > III).]

A little more analysis of this on p 246-7.

p. 247


Analysis of the textiles found in Novgorod gives an extremely rich material for studying the technique of preparation of fabrics in the Middle Ages.

“Fabrics of plain (tabby) weave”

Discussion of technical details follows.

Includes the special “rice-textured” weave and openwork “ажурные” weave apparently unique to Rus.

The openwork weave resembles a checked fabric, with the “white” squares actually openings in the fabric. See below.

p. 249

A special group of Novgorod fabrics is openwork production, the foundation of which is a fabric of plain weave. Openwork has small holes, rhythmically repeating along the length and width, the rhythm varying, but not chaotically. Fabrics of this type, met with everywhere in the excavations, connected to the period of the early Russian Middle Ages, alongside fabrics, completed in “branoj” technique, presented as examples of very high technical artistic achievement in Russian weaving at this time.
Already long ago these fabrics attracted to themselves the attention of soviet researcher B. K. Klejn, saying that openwork fabrics served as examples of a special technique, by which the openwork spaces were achieved in the process of weaving. Another point of view is held by M. N. Levinson-Nechaeva, who considered that “openwork” fabric comes about in situations, if during weaving, along with wool threads are included threads of plant fiber. A similar point of view is proposed by A. Eh. Zarinya, author of an interesting work on the history of weaving of the Latgals in the period of the early Middle Ages.
We fully share the opinions of M. N. Levinson-Nechaeva and A. Eh. Zarinya in that openwork appears in fabrics as a result of the destruction action of soil acid, appearing [word?] on plant fibers. Threads of warp and weft of such fabric are partly wool – partly linen, and when the plant fibers disintegrate, an openwork wool net appears, which is incorrectly interpreted and caused the creation of the term “openwork” fabric. It is necessary to remember that fabrics of this type, where some threads are wool and some linen, were made in Russia right up to the 19th and even 20th century.

Discussion of technical details/origins of types of so-called open-work fabrics… (p 250-253)

p. 253

Discussion of striped fabrics… (p 253-54)

p. 254

“Fabrics with twill weaving in four threads 2/2”

Discussion of above fabrics, including “ordinary” twill fabrics, fulled and dyed fabrics, dyed but non-fulled, and herringbones, and some with fringes. (p 254-258).

p. 258

“Woolen fabric of twill weave in three threads 2/1 and 1/2”

Discussion includes: a) “ordinary” twill fabrics; b) “special” diagonal twill fabrics; c) fabrics similar to the previous but making a block pattern in the weave; d) fulled fabrics with a closed surface, sometimes dyed; e) dyed fabrics without trace of fulling [сваливания] and also striped fabrics. (p 258-264)

p. 264

“Other textile items from Novgorod the Great”

In the Novgorod material, the greatest number of textile items not prepared on a loom, unquestionably are weavings [плетенки] of which there are 16 examples. In 14 cases, they have a plain or ribbed [репсовое] weaving. Only one fragment (N-55/10153) has other method of weaving. One weaving in distinction from all others was prepared on weaving tablets with four holes.

“Knitted items”

Knitted items are met in the Novgorod excavations 9 times. These items are found in the following layers: 28, 20, 16, 15, 14, 13, 11 and 4. They were made of very coarse and irregular thread, “wound” with the help of a weaving needle with a special method. The “needle” technique served for “knitting” warm, coarse mittens, and also insoles for shoes.
The technique for making mittens we can resurrect thanks to the research of M. Khal’d.
Knitted items from Novgorod have a technique of weaving identical to that defind by M. Khal’d as Type II. This is the simplest method of needle knitting. Preparing mittens with this method proceeded as follows. With the help of a thick blunt needle was woven a strip, consisting of mutually interwoven loops. When the band reached the length of the cuff (during the preparation of a mitten), the end of the strip was united with the beginning, giving a ring, and then the strip continues further, simultaneously uniting the edges with the preceding band.
Below, we write the technique of this weaving according to M. Khal’d. First make the beginning loops (Fig 29, 1). These are prepared with the fingers and taken into the left hand. Fig. 29, 2 shows the next step of weaving, when the thread is stretched by the needle on top in the direction of the palm through loop b. Then the thread is turned by the end of the needle to 90 degrees upward so that loop b remains the covered to the point needle, going through the middle of loop b under the section of the thread, designated by letter A. At this time the left thumb is put into loop b as shown in Fig. 29, 3, after which the needle passes parallel to thumb pointing to the base of the thumb. In this situation, the end of the thumb protrudes out of the loop for holding the thread on the needle (Fig. 29, 4). The large and index fingers of the right hand carefully pull the thread, until loop b embraces the needle below the eye. Drawing the needle through the loops superimposed on it occurs so that the loop on the left thumb, which arose from the thread and, which is equivalent to loop b, would remain. Fig. 29, 6 presents the next stitch. On the left thumb is loop b. The needle passes between the thumb and loop b. In finishing each band of the mitten each following row of loops is connected with the previous row.

[I would recommend going to Phiala’s String Page to learn naalbinding, and compare with the above directions.]

Knitted items appear in archeological material of Europe from the beginning of our era (i.e. the Common Era, A.D.) and are found until the beginning of the 15th cent., in some countries production continues until the present day.
In Gotland in the excavations of A. Moreh were found mittens related to the beginning of the Common Era. In Sweden in Lunde were discovered mittens datred to 1400. In Finland items of this type are known in medieval excavation. Mittens with needle weaving are often met with in excavations of Denmark. Items of this type were found also in tombs of monks in Catholic churches in Toulouse, Florence and Spiry (?). In the territory of Scandinavia, this technique continues until now. From the most close analogues, it is necessary to bring attention to items from excavation of Beloozero, and also early medieval Gdansk.
Among items prepared with a needle (possibly a hook), relates a weaving found in Novgorod in level 24/25 – H-53/9581. [?]

p. 266

“Dyeing Textile Works”

As was stated, 14 pieces of fabric from the Novgorod excavations were subjected to analysis with the goal of determining their dye…

Table 10

Item	Number	Color	Dye	Type of Item
1	N-58/2800	Brown	Ehlagovaya acid	Knitted item
2	N-58/2854	Dark brown	“ “	Thick threads of weft w/o warp
3	N-58/2837	Black	“ “ in iron mordant	“special” fabric
4	N-55/10159	Brown	Chrysin	Sukno ½
5	N-55/10189	“	“	Openwork fabric
6	N-55/4699?	“	“	Threads
7	N-55/10187	Light brown	emodin in iron mordant	Fabric w/ small ridges along warp
8	N-55/10185	Brown	emodin	--
9	N-55/10126	“	“	“special” fabric
10	N-55/10165	Green	indigo with unknown yellow dye	Green sukno w/ border
11	N-55/10150	Brown-purple	Lak-dej	Red sukno 2/2
12	N-55/10138	Brown	Madder in clay-iron mordant	Brown sukno
13	N-55/10147	Brown-red	The same	Red sukno
14	N-55/pXIII, kk 860?	Dark purple/crimson	Kermes with tonin	Purple sukno
Fabrics 1-3. Ehlagovaya acid [elegiac acid?] serves for getting colors from brown to black depending on the mordant with which it is applied. Ehlagovaya acid is widely distributed in the plant world. For us most interestingly presence of it in bark and wood of oak, in fruit of pomegranate and in “noble” chestnut. Besides this, ehlagovaya acid is found in benzoarovykh stones [bezoars] formed in stomachs of animals, when these animals eat the bark of plants containing golitanin [gallotannins?] or ehlagotin [ellagitannins].

[There are many forms of tannin, including elegiac acid, gallic acid (gallotannin), ellagic acid (ellagitannins), etc., which is presumably being discussed here.]

Elagovaya acid is obtained from bark of oak by means of extraction with hot water or diluted alcohol. Ehlagovaya acid is a mordant dye [can serve as its own mordant]. On woolen fibers, mordanted with chromium salts, it gives a yellow-olive green; in an iron mordant – a black coloring. But mordant of iron chloride gives fabric a black-blue shade.
We can assert that ehlagovaya acid in ehlagovoj mordant appeared in textile production in Rus in the early Middle Ages. This assertion comes from the fact that knitted and coarse fabrics can be considered products of local crafts (N-58/2860 and N-58/2851). Dark coloring of these fabrics and their brown shade is explained by the influence of the environment in which the fabrics stayed in the earth. It is known that soil acid colors in a brown color. But entirely probably that the dark color of this fabric was created by the presence of a compound of iron in chrome mordant.
This concerns fabric N-58/2837, a “special” type of fabric of square pattern (may propose that this was imported fabric), here was applied ehlagovaya acid in iron mordant. Especially notice the durability of color of that time. In contemporary dyeing production, black color achieved with help of ehlagovaya acid in iron mordant is considered non-durable in color [a fugitive color].
Fabrics numbered 4-6 show presence of dye called chrysin [a flavone] obtained from buds of various strains of poplar (Topulus italica, Topulus nigra, Topulus pyramidalis). [Should be Populus spp.] Chrysin in clay mordant colors wool in a yellow color. Based on presence of chrysin in openwork fabric (N-55/10189) it is possible to propose that this dye was used in Rus in the period of the early Middle Ages. The brown coloring of these fabrics comes from the addition of the action of soil acid.
Fabrics 7-9 preserve a dye called emodin. This dye appears in the juice of alder (Alnus glutinosa). Emodin gives coloring from light to dark brown. The shade depends most of all on the quantity of oxygen in the juice gathered in a hollow branch. And mordant has significance: for example, iron mordant gives dark brown color.

[Emodin is an anthroquinone dye. Other such dyes include madder, cochineal and possibly buckthorn and yellow dock. In addition to emodin, alder has good tannins.]

Only fabric No. 10 (N-55/10165) finds the presence of indigo dye, which in this case appears as a compound with an unkown yellow dye. Thanks to this combination, the fabric had a green coloring. Indigo dye is obtained from a plant called Indigofera curil [aka I. tinctoria?], which from ancient times was raised in India and Persia [Baghdad was a primary trading center for this dye]. Arabs brought the cultivation of the indigo plant to Africa, Sicily, and Spain, but also in 12th cent. indigo was brought into Europe by way of Genoa and Venice from the east. In 14-15th cent. deep blue-colored indigo spread to Germany and Flanders.

[What about woad? (вайда in Russian) Nahlik does not discuss woad, Isatis tinctoria, at all in this 1963 paper. However, more recent works on Russian and northern European indigo dyeing indicate that in early medieval period, woad was a more likely source of indigo dye. It is extremely difficult to distinguish the source of indigo dye through chemical analysis of remains on archeological fabrics. One clue proposed is that woad-dyed fabrics can often have a green tint, because the woad plant has yellow flavin components. This last point is very interesting considering the green color of the fabric that Nahlik analyzed above.]

Indigo dye was a rather complex operation if you consider that indigo does not dissolve in water. Therefore the method of dying with indigo is based on the principle of chemical reduction of the dye until so-called white indigo, wich dissolved in an alkaline environment. Alkaline solution of reduced indigo was called “kub” (after the vessel in which it was prepared). [It is interesting to note that кубный is dark blue in Russian.] Fabric, saturated with the kub solution, was exposed to the action of water and air, which caused the oxidation of the white indigo on the fibers back to indigo. For changing indigo to kub is used a mixture from bran and flour, molasses, wine, bread, urine or lime, which results in fermentation [couching?] producing a reduction of hydrogen.
In the Novgorod finds, it follows to turn attention to the character and dating of fabrics that were analyzed. The present sample (N-55/10165) has on its edge 6 yellow threads, as shown on items of Western European craft manufacture. It is important also that this fabric dates to the 13th cent. Which allows to shift the date of receiving indigo in norther Europe from the 14-15th cent, to the 13th cent.
The sample shown under No 11 (N-55/10150), was dyed in a purple-black color (the brown shade appeared following the action of soil acid) with dyed called “lak-dej.”
Lak-dej is a dye related to cochineal. In the opinion of one author, it is gotten from insect Cuccus laccae drinking from plant Ficus indicus of Indian, Persian or Ceylonese (Sri Lanka) origin. In other works, it is defined as the product of plants Laurencee, Perseacee, and Gascaria madogascariensis Targ Tozz. Dye lak-dej is obtained by a complex chemical operation. Laccaic acid appears in dyeing compounds in lak-dej, which depending on mordant gives various colors of dyes. In clay mordant, laccaic acid colors wool a scarlet color, in tin mordant – a purple color, in pure laccaic acid wool is colored a copper-red color. The appearance of the dye lak-dej in Novgorod fabrics is a very interesting fact in the history of the dyeing industry in Europe, in that it allows attributing its use to the 13th cent.
Fabric under No 12 and 13 (N-55/10138 and N-55/10147) found in course of analysis the presence of the dye madder in a clay-iron mordant. Madder is a plant of the group Rubicae (Rubia tinctorum) and in ancient times produced for coloring a red color; in Europe it was already known in the time of Charlemagne. Especially it had a wide cultivation in the 13th cent. in France and Germany, and also in the East, from its delivery in Italy. Red dye obtained from dried out and ground plant root, the basis for the coloring compound is alizarin. It appears as a mordant dye, secured on the fibers with the help of clay-lime mordant. Adding iron salts, give a red-violet shade.
Madder was well known to the Slavs: this is shown by the fact that its name came into Slavic mythology.
The last of the fabrics on the table (niv. number N-55/p. XII ka. 860) was dyed in red color with dye obtained from kermes and “tonin.” [tannin?] Dye of kermes was obtained from the gnat Coccus illicis, living on oaks. Dye with kermes was known already in the ancient period. In the Middle Ages, the Arabs brought the art of raising the gnat Coccus illicis from Persia to Western Europe. Kermes was also known to Ukrainians and Germans obtained from the plant louse, living on roots of the plant Selavantus perennis. The coloring compound in kermes appears as kermesovaya acid, wich colors wool depending on the mordant. With acidic mordant kermesovaya acid colors in an orange colr, with tin – purple, with clay – maroon.

[Lak-dey, kermes and Polish cochineal are the ancient Old World relatives of the cochineal that was brought back from Mexico by the Spaniards in the early 1500s.]

Beside what is shown in the analysis mentioned above samples for obtaining of red often used “tonin” [tannin?], kept in ehlagovaya acid.

p. 268

“Classification of wool of Novgorod fabrics”

Analysis of wool fibers, sources of wool, distinguishing local wools from imported… (p. 268-274)

p. 274

“Novgorod textile finds and the problem of looms”

Discussion of vertical vs. horizontal looms, and techniques and equipment for weaving… (p. 274-285)

Starting on p. 275:

The most interesting analogue, conclusively allowing us to define fabric with ridged selvedge as a product of a vertical loom is three fabrics found in Old Ladoga, especially the fabric under the number lambda 1268 from horizon E3. On this last, along with the ridges going along the warp, was preserved the so-called 3rd or initial selvedge, perpendicular to the warp. Such a selvedge is characteristic of fabrics made on a vertical loom. The 3rd selvedge of fabric from Old Ladoga was woven on four plaques each with four holes. [Tablet-woven!]
Another very interesting Novgorod fabric – N-54/4187, level 17/18. This fabric has the so-called initial, 3rd selvedge, prepared on plaques, connected between two stripes, made on plaques, are visible additional weaving of threads, but unfortunately the report of this weaving did not manage to identify it exactly (Fig. 19). A selvedge of such type, prepared on tablets, often appears in fabrics of the 12th cent. It is possible to name a series of analogous fabrics. Such fabrics discovered in Corse litze [?] – complex dated to 3rd cent. C.E. Very curious also was finds in Tegle [?] (Fig. 32), on which is visible the beginning selvedge of fabric in connection with threads of the warp, not yet woven with weft. In Gdansk, in the layers related to the early middle ages, were also found fragments of fabrics with the 3rd selvedge, prepared on weaving plaques. Fabric decorated with metal rings, the ends and, accordingly, the beginning of which were woven on weaving tablets, frequently appear in ancient Rus and the eastern Pre-Baltic. Especially necessary to notice the already mentioned fabric from Old Ladoga, which, along with the selvedge woven in the form of a ridge, had also a 3rd selvedge, done on tablets.
The 3rd, beginning selvedge, that we are speaking about, was prepared with help of special auxiliary device of the following form. On a board connecting long driven-in pegs, on which was plied back and forth a narrow auxiliary warp. The threads of this warp were threaded through the holes of plaques (fabric found in Novgorod was woven on 4 such plaques). The rotation of these plaques created the fabric shed. In this shed passed threads of the actual warp of such form that along all the selvedges if forms a narrow braid, from which on one side hangs down threads of the warp. Then this braid was fastened to the warp reel on the vertical loom. Selvedges of a similar type are well visible on fabrics found in Tegle. The device for preparing the selvedge is pictured in Fig. 33. In situation, that we are speaking of, instead of plaques were used narrow fabric berda [?]. In Fig. 35 clearly is visible that threads of the warp and made on 2 levels – paired and unpaired in order to ease the work of placing the dividing board (the so-called permanent shed) and connecting loop polunichenok [?] which followed after fastening selvedge with warp to the warp reel of the vertical loom (Fig. 34).

More technical weaving details follow…

p. 285

“Imported fabrics in Novgorod”

Analysis of imported woolen fabrics, types, origins, etc. (p 285-292)

p. 292

“Changes in local methods of production of broadcloth (sukno)”

Just what it says. (p 292-296)

Remainder of pages in article are taken up by the table of over 460 fabrics analyzed by Nahlik.

COPYRIGHT (c) 2007 by Lisa Kies. You may make copies for personal use and to distribute for educational purposes but only if the article remains complete and entire with original authorship clearly noted.

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