Viking appliqué 

A textile fragment was found in Lund that appears to consist of narrow strips of fabric stitched onto a ground of red silk:

It measures approximately 13 cm x 5 cm and is widely (and incorrectly, as far as I can tell) referred to as ’embroidery’. The thin strips of golden yellow appear to be actually turned edge appliqué, and the fragment is believed to have been part of a garment.

It’s a relatively easy thing to reproduce, and an interesting exercise in surface decoration.

The background is a modern dupion silk woven with fine stripes; the applied strips are taken from a fragment of very old silk that I was once lucky enough to find on that well-known online auction site. The antique silk dates to (I believe) the late 18th century, and you can still see evidence of a gold thread that runs through it. Despite its age, it’s robust enough to use, and of course it was perfect for this exercise.

Although I’ve chosen to reproduce the colours as they appear to be, I’m not necessarily convinced that the strips would originally have been yellow. Time and environment work on fabric dyes in a peculiar way. I know that the Vikings would have had to dye twice to get green – they would dye the fabric yellow first, then over-dye with blue. My feeling is that these strips could have been green, and that the second dye has worn away to reveal the original dye beneath. I know it hasn’t been exposed to light during its approximate millennium in the earth, but the acids and chemicals in soil might well have some effect on dye structures. Not that I have any kind of chemical knowledge or expertise, but it strikes me that this is possible. I’m thinking in terms of perfume, with its top notes and base notes, and I feel that colour perhaps works in a similar way.

I’ve nestled the little appliqué fragment on a layered ground of hand-dyed silk gauze, silk chiffon, and cotton open weave fabric. The tacking stitches you can see around the edges are a first tentative step in trying a couple of pages back to back, to see how they will look when I bind them into a cloth book at the end.

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2 Responses to Viking appliqué 

  1. It looks like the original might be a garment cuff, or if it is longer, maybe a belt. I like your version, too it brings the idea to life!

    • Karen says:

      Thanks. Yes, I thought perhaps it might have been a cuff trimming. Nice way of using precious off-cuts of silk.

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