More Oseberg embroidery

When I first came across this design, taken from embroidery found in the Oseberg ship burial, I thought of couched lines and fly stitch.

First, of course, I had to transcribe it and somehow get it onto fabric. Easier said than done. I tried copying the drawing – several times – each attempt so epic a fail that I didn’t take time to photograph the efforts. Viking design is often extremely complex, and this one particularly so. In the end I resorted to squaring it up and transferring the lines one square at a time:

Still not that easy! I traced the basic design onto tissue paper, then pinned that over cotton fabric stretched in an embroidery hoop. I found that if you go over the traced lines with a permanent marker pen, the ink soaks straight through the tissue and appears on the fabric. Since I knew that the whole surface would eventually be covered by stitch, it didn’t matter that there were ugly black lines all over the fabric. Goodness knows how the Vikings did it.

Eventually, and after a reasonable amount of effort and concentration, it was ready to stitch. I used mostly space-dyed cotton embroidery threads for the spiral, with spun silk thread in the chain-stitched leaf motif, and 4-ply cotton yarn for the terracotta background couching.

Once the stitching was complete, I could cut the design area out (to help it look more like a fragment of found embroidery) and stitch it to a paper background.

I confess I was glad when this final page in this first series was finished. Now I’m thinking about how to put it all together. 

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5 Responses to More Oseberg embroidery

  1. The Vikings didn’t really have something as disposable as tissue paper for pattern drafting, so I suppose they must have worked freehand, but like you, I can’t see how they could possibly have done so. Maybe the designs were so much part of their life and culture that they didn’t find them complex? Or maybe there is some underlying structure which they could lay out and then embellish?

    • Karen says:

      I suspect you’re right, they were probably familiar enough with the forms that they could draw them freehand. Some of their jewellery, especially, is spectacularly complicated to my eyes.

  2. Amanda House says:

    Looking good. There’s a lot of work there.

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