Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles

Get access Subject: History
Edited by: Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth & Maria Hayward
The single volume Encyclopaedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles c. 450-1450 is a unique work that intends to bring together in 582 signed articles the latest research from across the range of disciplines which contribute to our knowledge of medieval dress and textiles.

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(243 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
A nail could be either a measure of length (2 1/4 inches), especially for cloth; or it could be a unit of weight (usually seven pounds), especially for wool. Zupko suggested this was (as a measurement of length for cloth) originally a unit of body measurement, referring either to the distance from the end of the thumb nail to the joint at the base of the thumb, or to the last two joints of the middle finger, and taken equal to ½ finger, ¼ span, 1/8 cubit . Based on the foot of twelve inches it was made equal to 21/4 inches, or ¼ quarter of cloth measure, or 1/16 yard. It was also a weight synonymous with clove .…


(579 words)

Author(s): Gale R. Owen-Crocker
The Danish term nålebinding is variously translated 'looped needle netting', 'needle binding' or 'needle coiling'. It is a technique in which a needle threaded with a short length of yarn is successively passed through loops, making a network consisting of a series of interconnected loops. It can be worked straight or in the round. Since it cannot be made with a ball of thread (as knitting and crochet are) it is necessary to join more thread from time to time as the textile grows. It produces a thick, elastic fabric which does not unravel. Nålebinding is an ancient technique, and has bee…

Naming of cloths

(2,862 words)

Author(s): Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Early naming practices Fabric names in the early medieval period were wool (Old English wul), linen (or lin in Old English, Irish léine) and, imported and precious, silk (Old English seoluc), and cloth seems to have simply been referred to by these fibre names. There were certainly varieties of weave type in pre-11th-century Britain – well demonstrated by archaeological textiles – and it was perhaps an attempt to describe a type of what we now call 'twill' that led a 10th-century Anglo-Saxon woman called Wynflæd to specify a bequest of her twilibrocenan cyrtel in her will; but the defi…

Naming of garments in Old English

(2,210 words)

Author(s): Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Old English clothing vocabulary is extensive, containing synonyms and overlaps, and suggesting a much greater range of garments than contemporary art implies. Pairs of words can sometimes be found: a compound may exist alongside a simplex word, such as sceanc-bend and wining, both names for garters, and native compounds alongside synonymous Latin loans. Some such compounds may have been scholarly coinages, nonce words found only in glossaries, but some of them manifestly are not: when Bishop Theodred bequeathed vestments which he had bought in Pavia, he called them by the name mæsse-h…

Narrow wares

(118 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
Such textiles were the province of silkwomen, though it does not include all their work, excluding for example fringes and tassels, knops (see button), and buttons. It is not synonymous with small-wares, made or sold by haberdashers, though these included narrow wares such as ribbons, it also included small garments such as gloves, which were made up from leather or normal widths of woven cloth.. For examples of narrow wares, see brocading; finger loop braiding; garter ante-1100; garter post-1100; passementerie; stitches: embroidered seams and line stitches; tablet-weave. Elizabet…


(582 words)

Author(s): David Humphrey
Throughout the period, the wearing, or not, of a necklace was linked to current fashions in garments: when necklines on items, such as dresses or tunics, were fitted up to the neck, necklaces were rarely worn. When low-necked garments were in fashion, a necklace was worn to complement the lower neckline. Necklaces were worn by both sexes, with individual styles for each. Many Anglo-Saxon necklaces were simple strings of amber, terracotta or glass beads. More luxurious types used gold beads interspersed with small pendants containing garnet inlay. As a jewe…


(391 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
Needles are found in archaeological contexts from a very early period in human history. The earliest seem to have been of bone (or ivory where that was available). Modern needles are of different lengths, sharpness of point and eye size, related to the intended end use and type of materials involved, but examples in our period have rarely been investigated from this point of view, although it is clear that some needles would not have been suitable for fine work such as silk embroidery. In the ea…


(7 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
See vegetable fibre. Elizabeth Coatsworth