Fabric, Color, Garment Construction, and Fur in Early Rus

by Sofya la Rus, Mka Lisa Kies
Updated 10 October 2006

Fabrics Overview:

The main fabrics used by nobility and peasantry for everyday clothes were linen and wool, both made from local materials and available in a variety of weights and quality. Linen production was particularly well developed. (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov)

The finds from the layers of ancient Russian cities, tombs and rural village burials show all the diverse fabrics of local manufacture, from which were sewn clothing. These were both woolen fabric, woven mainly from sheep wool, and fabric from plant fiber of various structures (linen, hemp). (Kolchin)

Color and Dyes: Colored fabrics were called krashenin and included homespun linen dyed blue, green and red, and set aside for boyar clothing. (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov) Despite all this, the raw color of unbleached linen predominated in peasant clothes with bleached white linen appearing in separate costume elements. (Stamerov)

Ancient frescoes indicate that the clothing of noble women was many-colored and used striking combinations of fresh, rich tones. Novgorod birchbark letters mention "portishche zeleni" and "portishche golubine" (i.e. green and sky blue clothing), "zolotnik zelenogo sholku" ("old measure of weight" of green silk). And other examples are found quite a lot. (Pushkareva89) One princess owned dresses in white, gold, yellow, crimson, green, red. (Pushkareva97)

Favored colors included various shades of red (crimson, magenta), blue (dark blue, sky blue) and sometimes green. The Russian language records dozens of terms for describing cloth colors. The most popular color was, of course, red. (Kireyeva) and (Pushkareva97) and (Stamerov) This is demonstrated in archeological finds, among which more than half are fabric of reddish-brown tones, however one finds also black, and bluish, and green, and light-brown. (Pushkareva89)

The abundance of red tints in the costumes of ancient Russian women is explained by the fact that red was the color of protection in superstition and the fact that there were numerous natural dyes for red-brown colors. (Pushkareva89)

Fabrics were dyed mainly with vegetable dyes, but also with animal dyes. Blue dye was made from son-travy (pasque flower?), cornflower, and blueberry/huckleberry [Vaccinium spp and Gaulussacia spp, all called черник in Russian]. Yellow came from blackthorn (?) or droka [a steppe plant in the bean family, see below], and leaves (or bark sheets?) of birch. Golden-brown was provided by onion peels, oak and pear bark. Red brown dyes came from buckwheat, St. John's wort, wild apple tree bark, alder and buckthorn. (Pushkareva97 and 89)

Several fabrics were woven of wool of natural brown, black or other colors, others were dyed with such organic dyes as chervets [insect-based dyes in the cochineal family] and “chernil’nyye oreshki” [oak gall]. Also used in dyeing were mineral substances – ocher, red iron-ore [zheleznyak] and others. (Kolchin)

Adam Nahlik analyzed 14 fabrics from the Novgorod excavations for evidence of dyes. He notes that the action of soil acids has tended to make many of the archeological fabrics look rather brown, disguising their original hues. His dye list includes: ehlagovaya acid, emodin, chrysin, indigo, lak-dej, madder and kermes. See discussion below. (Nahlik)

Novgorod fabric mordants per Nahlik: chromium salts, tin, iron, iron chloride (?), clay (ocher?), tonin (tanin?), acid (?).

Modern mordants listed by Brown: alum, chrome, tin, iron, copper/blue vitriol, tannin. Other treating agents - cream of tartar, Glauber's salt.

Information below from Pushkareva, Kolchin, Nahlik and Stepanova is specific to medieval Rus. Kramer, Castino, and Brown are modern Western dyers.

Alder - Member of the birch family. Red-brown dyes per Pushkareva. Juice is source of emodin per Nahlik. See emodin.

Alder has good tannin properties and gives black and a variety of other dark colors. (Kramer).

Apple - red-brown dyes per Pushkareva.

Bark with alum gives yellow. (Kramer)
Bark with chrome gives yellow-tan. (Kramer)
Twigs without mordant give yellow. (Castino)
Twigs with chrome - orange. (Castino)
Twigs with alum - apricot. (Castino)

Birch - yellow from leaves (bark sheets?) per Pushkareva.

Birchbark without mordant - light brown. (Brown)
Birchbarks give light brown to black. Usable species include Betula lutea, B. papyrifera, B. lenta. (Kramer)
Inner bark of white birch, B. papyrifera, best collected from decaying downed wood, gives tan. (Castino)

Blackthorn - yellow per Pushkareva97.

According to Ozhigov dictionary, a thorny shrub of the rose family that bears a tart blue-black fruit (sloe). This seems likely to be a mistranslation, since the two sources for yellow dye given in Pushkareva89 are "droka and list'ev berezy", but in Pushkareva97 (the English translation) they are blackthorn and birchbark. See droka.

Blueberry - blue per Pushkareva.

Russian term is chernik, черник, and apparently covers both Vaccinium (blueberry) and Gaylussacia (huckleberry) spp. Interestingly, the English terms for these plants include: blueberry, bilberry, deerberry, huckleberry, hurtleberry, whortleberry (V. myrtillus). This seems a bit excessive, especially compared to the Russian.
For blue/purple/grays per Brown.
Frozen berries with alum - pale blue. (Castino)

Buckthorn - red-brown dyes per Pushkareva.

Buckwheat - red-brown dyes per Pushkareva.

Chervets (coccides, cochineal-like) - used per Kolchin. See lak-dej, below.

Chestnut - noble chestnut is a source of ehlagovaya acid per Nahlik.

Chrysin (a flavone) - obtained from poplar buds (Populus italica, P. nigra, P. pyramidalis) per Nahlik. [Text mistakenly gives Latin names as "Topulus" spp.]

Its use on "openwork" fabrics, local to Rus, indicates the dye's use in Rus by the early Middle Ages. (Nahlik)
With "clay" mordant gives wool yellow color per Nahlik.

Cornflower - blue per Pushkareva.

Cornflower = bachelors button Centaurea cyanus and the petals provide the blue color per Kramer.

Drok - yellow per Pushkareva89.

According to Ozhigov dictionary, a shrubby steppe plant of the bean family with yellow flowers. See blackthorn.
According to Dal' dictionary, Genista tinctoria, i.e. dyers greenweed.

Ehlagovaya [элаговая] acid - widely distributed in the plant world and obtained from oak wood and bark, pomegranate fruit, "noble" chestnut, and the stones formed in stomachs of animals that eat bark of plants containing "golitanin" голитанин or "ehlagotin" элаготин according to Nahlik. He notes that ehlagovaya acid is easily extracted from oak bark with hot water or dilute alcohol. It is called a "mordant dye" which apparently means that it doesn't require a separate mordant.

Appears in use in early Middle Ages, frequently found on "knitted" items and other coarse fabrics of obviously local manufacture. However, it is not just for poorer quality materials, since it was also used to dye a "special" fabric with a square/block pattern, although this piece may have been imported. (Nahlik)
With chrome mordant gives a yellow-olive green color. (Nahlik)
With iron mordant give black coloring. (Nahlik)
With iron chloride (?) mordant gives black-blue shade. (Nahlik)
Seems to be a form of tannin. The black coloring attained when combined with iron mordants would be correct for tannin. And it turns about that there are many tannins, besides tannic acid. These include elegiac acid (ehlagovaya?) which is the bloom/sediment of hydrolyzable tannins called pyrogallols, gallotanins (gallic acid); and ellagitannins (ellagic acid), etc.

Emodin (an anthroquinone, a group of chemicals that also includes madder, etc.) - in juice of alder (Alnus glutinosa) gives light to dark brown color depending on the amount of oxygen in the juice collected in hollows of branches, and the mordant. (Nahlik)

With iron mordant gives dark brown color. (Nahlik)
See alder, above.

Indigo - Nahlik found one fabric from his 14 samples with indigo dye, combined with an unknown yellow dye. He goes on to discuss the origin of indigo from Indigofera curil (same as I. tintoria?), and that it was brought into Europe in the 12th century, imported via Genoa (Krupp mentiones Genoese tax records first noting indigo in 1140) and Venice, and widespread in Germany and Flanders by the 14-15th century. However, since the indigo-dyed fabric he analyzed actually dates from the 13th cent. he concludes that the date of the arrival of indigo into northern Europe can be pushed back to that time. He makes no mention of woad, Isatis tinctoria, nor do most other sources on Medieval Rus garb that I've seen. (Except a brief on-line article by Yulia Stepanova on "Style in Ancient Rus" in the Russian-language magazine Rodina, Feb. 2006.) The Russian word for woad is вайда.

Christina Krupp points out, in From Woad to Blue, that while it is possible to chemically detect the presence of indigotin, the main colorant of the dye "indigo", current tests cannot determine whether it came from woad or the indigo plant. The ratio of indigotin to indirubin (another coloring compound in indigo) can provide clues, but most archeological samples are too degraded or too small to make such an analysis. However, it is sometimes possible to detect a green tint supposedly characteristic to woad dyes due to the presence flavin compounds from the original plant. This is very interesting in light of the green color of the textile that Nahlik analyzed, due to an "unknown yellow dye". Krupp also says that scholars seem to prefer to attribute early medieval northern European indigo-dyed textiles to woad, rather than true indigo, in cases when no physical evidence either way exists, presumably for historical reasons.
An article about the ancient textiles found in the Altai Mountains associated with the Pazyryk culture of 2,500 years ago discusses the use of indigo dyes in their fabric analysis, and concludes that the source was most likely woad, despite the lack of indirubin in the samples, since woad grew in the Caucasus, South Europe, and the Near East, while indigo only grew in India and Bengal.(Polos'mak)

Iron - red iron-ore used per Kolchin. [as a mordant?]

Kermes - a red dye from the "gnat" Coccus illicis (or Kermes ilicus) living on oaks (Q. coccifera) and known from ancient times. Brought to Europe from Persia by the Arabs in the Middle Ages. Such dye was known also to the Ukrainian and Germans, obtained from a plant louse that lived on the plant Selavantus perennis. The coloring compound is kermesic acid. (Nahlik)

An article about the ancient textiles found in the Altai Mountains associated with the Pazyryk culture of 2,500 years ago discusses similar dyes in their fabric analysis, including Kermes vermilio, a source of kermesic acid. See lak-dej, below. (Polos'mak)
Further on-line research indicates that the dye known to the Ukrainians and Germans is probably Polish cochineal, from Margarades polonicus or Porphyrophora polonica or Coccus polonicus, that feeds on Scleranthus perennis.
Oldest recorded dye obtained from insects that feed on a certain kind of oak. Called "scarlet" in the Bible. (Brown)
With "tonin" from ehlagovaya acid (tannin?) gives a red color. (Nahlik)
With acidic mordant gives an orange color. (Nahlik)
With tin - purple. (Nahlik)
With clay - maroon. (Nahlik)

Lak-dej (a transliteration of "lac dye"?) - dye related to cochineal according to Nahlik. The pigment is laccaic acid and is obtained by a complex chemical operation. He says that there is some debate on the exact source of this dye. Some say its from the scale insect Coccus laccae which drinks from the plant Ficus indicus of Indian, Persian or Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) origin. Others derive it from the plants Laurencee, Perseacee, and Gascaria madogascariensis Targ Tozz. (Nahlik)

On-line research indicates that the lac insect is also called Laccifera lacca or Kerria lacca, and that it feeds on over 160 types of host trees in its native habitat, but especially Ficus spp, F. religiosa in particular.
An article about the ancient textiles found in the Altai Mountains associated with the Pazyryk culture of 2,500 years ago discusses similar dyes in their fabric analysis. They discuss a coccide called Porphyrophora, a source of carminic acid for dying, and also Kermes vermilio, a source of kermesic acid, both of which inhabit the eastern Mediterranean. (Polos'mak)
Whatever it's source, "lak-dej" appears in Novgorod fabrics dating to the 13th century. (Nahlik).
True cochineal, Dactylopis coccus, gives carminic acid and was found by the Spaniards in Mexico in the early 1500s. (Brown and Kramer)
With clay mordant gives wool a scarlet color
With tin gives a purple color
Pure lakkainovaya acid gives wool a copper-red
Cochineal plus alum - red. (Castino)
Cochineal plus chrome - pink to purple. (Castino)
Cochineal plus tin - scarlet. (Castino)
Cochineal plus iron - maroon. (Castino)

Madder - dye from madder plant, Rubia tinctorum and used since ancient times. The presence of its name in Slavic mythology demonstrates the longevity the Slav's knowledge of it. Documented in Europe by the time of Charlemagne, with wide cultivation in France and Germany in the 13th cent. The dye comes from dried out and ground root, and the primary coloring compound is alizarin. It is a "mordant dye", which seems to mean that it doesn't need a mordant. (Nahlik)

The most common red, rose-red color, 35 species, chemicals are alizarin and purpurin per Brown.
Used with clay-lime mordant. (Nahlik)
Without mordant - orange/red. (Castino)
With iron salts - red-violet. (Nahlik)
With alum - red. (Brown)
With chrome - rust. (Brown)
With alum or chrome - reddish orange. (Castino)
With tin - orange. (Castino)

Nettles - used for green colors according to Stepanova.

Give yellow-green per Brown.

Oak - bark gives golden-brown per Pushkareva. Oak gall was used per Kolchin. Wood and bark provides ehlagovaya acid (see above) according to Nahlik.

The black oak, Q. velutina, provides quercitron which gives a famous bright yellow dye according to Kramer and Brown.

Ocher - perhaps the "clay" mordant mentioned by Nahlik?

Onion peel - golden-brown per Pushkareva.

With alum - burnt orange. (Brown)
With chrome - brass. (Brown)
Red onion gives brown. (Kramer)
Yellow onion gives yellow shades. (Kramer)
Outer skins with alum - yellow. (Castino)
Outer skins with chorme - orange/golden-brown. (Castino)

Pasque flower (son-travy) - blue per Pushkareva. Anemone patens is the American prairie flower known as the pasque flower. I'm not sure it is the same plant.

Pear - bark gives golden-brown per Pushkareva.

Leaves give yellow/orange/gold colors per Brown.
Twigs alone give yellow. (Castino)
Twigs with chrome give orange-apricot. (Castino)

Pomegranate - fruit is a source of ehlagovaya acid (see above) according to Nahlik.

Poplar - buds are source of khrisin per Nahlik. See khrisin.

Leaves give yellow/orange/gold colors per Brown.

Spruce - needles used for green colors according to Stepanova article (see indigo notes).

St. John's Wort - red-brown dyes per Pushkareva.

With alum - yellow. (Castino)
with chrome - deep yellow. (Castino)

Tannin, танин - while not specifically named in any of the Russian sources I've consulted, except perhaps the "tonin" mordant listed by Nahlik, many of the plants they do mention are excellent sources of tannin or tannic acid, and tannin is a crucial substance in most cultures fordyeing, as a colorant and a mordant, and in leather tanning. In fact, "tanning" is called дубление, presumably derived from tannic acid, called дубильная кислота in my dictionary, both terms deriving from the Russian word for oak, дуб. I can only think that somehow the terms ehlagovaya acid, ehmodin, and probably khrisin, are related to tannin.

Other medieval dyes conspicuous by their absence from the Russian sources: lichens, murex, saffron, safflower, weld, woad.

    In the ancient Russian language there existed two sets of terms for indicating linen fabric: "xlast", "xolst", "t"lstiny", denoting unbleached fabric, and "bel'", "platno", denoting bleached linen. Characteristically, during excavations the remains of such materials are rarely found, most of all bleached linen ("platno"). (Pushkareva89)

    In the Kharlapovskom tomb, where are buried Krivichi [people from an ancient Slavic tribe], are found many cloths. Among them, there is no cellulose [kletchatoj, plant-based? checkered?] cloth (only one fragment in the region of head-gear). As is known, in the various monuments of the Krivichi, the only fragments of cellulose cloth were found together with the bracelet-shaped temple rings. Nevertheless, it is possible to assert that these fabrics were essentially not used in the funeral clothing of this tomb. Significantly fewer in the Kharlapovskom tomb are woolen figured bands. Here, just as in the kurgans of the Vyatichey, are abundantly represented the woolen single-tone cloths of linen interlacing. They are decorated with a geometric pattern, performed by "branoy" [brocade?] technique. Predominant are fabrics of twill weave, broadcloth and felt, under the remains of which are found tight-woven fabric of plain weave. (Kolchin)

    The rough homespun wool used in peasant clothing was called "sermyaga" or "seryachini," however, the fine wool broadcloth "sukno" in the clothes of the nobility tended to be imported. Fabric widths were narrow, 32 to 60 cm widths. The cloth could be woven with multicolored thread or printed. (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov)

    Archeological excavations of burials allow one to make the conclusion that, in 12-13th cent., multicolored checked wool fabric "pestryad" already was known. "Pestryad'" was used as a material for ponevas. (Pushkareva89) Coarse wool fabric was called "vlasyanitsy" (hairshirt); monks and nuns wore it directly on the body as a form of self-torture. From vlasyanitsy was sewn the caftan, which was in that time both a men's and women's garment. (Pushkareva89)

    It was determined that in various regions of Rus dominated fabrics with defined interwoven [perepleteniya] threads. Thus in kurgans of the Viatichi more often of all are found wool-blend and wool plaid fabrics (coarse) [pestryad’]. They were woven of wool threads dyed mainly in red, green, blue, yellow and black colors and also of threads of vegetable origin of white color. The pattern of the check/square [kletka] is various. Are met plaid fabrics with openwork bands, formed at the expense of pulled out paskonnykh [?] threads; plaid fabrics with openwork bands, formed during weaving. [Note that some researchers hold that "openwork" fabrics are an artifact of the poor preservation of the parts of the fabric pattern that were woven from plant-based threads.] (Kolchin)

    Among woolen and half-woolen fabrics are found checked and striped fabrics. Known also are patterned fabrics. Among the usual finds for the 10-12th centuries appear patterned and un-patterned ribbons, braids, laces and fringe from woolen yarn. Broadcloth, sukno, had a wide distribution and also objects of felt [voilok]. (Kolchin)

    Clothes of wool fabric became predominent in cities approximately from 13th cent. Part of wool cloth was imported (in Novgord, was known Dutch, English and Flemish smooth wool cloth), but wool openwork, unique in color, was produced by the hands of Russian craftswomen, in particular, Novgorodian. (Pushkareva89)

Upper Fabrics:
    The upper garment of well-to-do city dwellers could also be sewn from imported cotton fabrics. "Buy me good zendyantsu ", - asks a letter dating from the 14-15th cent. "Zendyanitsa" was cotton fabric widely known in Novgorod, produced in the village Zandana not far from Bukhara. (Pushkareva89)

    Besides that, for sewing of clothing, fine wool broadcloth [sukno] was imported from the countries of Western Europe, and silk and brocaded fabrics came from the countries of the Mediterranean, Byzantium and the Middle East, and also gold-fabric ribbon [galloon?]. (Kolchin)

    The outer garments and holiday wear of the boyars would be made of fabric imported primarily from Byzantium, but also Asia and Europe. These fabrics included aksamit samite (fabric with golden tracery), taffeta, brocade (silken fabric with monochrome patterned design), velvet with stamped designs, and golden velvet (with gold embroidery). The most common were gold brocade, velvet (with a pattern formed by gold or silver thread tied and woven into a dense silk warp), overall-gold altabas, and also light-weight silken taffeta and kamkha covered with a monochromatic pattern. These expensive imported fabrics were called pavolok. Pavalok were mostly patterned in a typically Byzantine pattern of dark-red (cinnabar), crimson (carmine), purple and azure. (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov) One princess owned dresses of fabrics ranging from silk to brocade to velvet to chiffon, called "cloth of air" in Russian because this cotton fabric was so light and thin. (Pushkareva97)

    The over garment of princesses and boyarinas in 10-13th cent. was sewn of eastern embroidered silk ("pavolok") or tightly woven vorsistoj (napped) fabric with gold or silver threads, similar to velvet ("aksamita"). The Arab travelor of the 10th cent., Ibn-Fadlan, noted that noble women of the Slavs wore the "xilu" (oriental robe) - a upper silk garment. Such a garment is mentioned in the chronicles under description of holiday clothes of women and is called "rizy" (chasuble?). (Pushkareva89)

    Textile Weaves and Production Techniques:

    Adam Nahlik divides the 400+ fabrics that he analyzed from the excavations of the Nerevskij End of Novgorod into several categories:

      A. "Ordinary fabric" of tabby or twill weave. The twills are are either 3 or 4 thread (1/2, 2/1, 2/2). They are not woven with any remarkable thread density, and they are either undyed or a brown-black color which is likely caused by the soil acids they were found in.

      B. So-called "openwork" fabric.

      C. "Special fabrics" with fine, even threads and a rather high density of warp thread compared to weft, woven in a 3-thread twill.

      D. Un-fulled, dyed fabric, usually tabby weave, but sometimes twill.

      E. Fulled, dyed fabric, so well done that it is difficult to see the weaved detail, but usually tabby weave, more rarely twill.

      F. Weakly fulled, dyed fabric, rather strongly damaged (?) which is called "sukna" and has the same weave as D. and E. above.

      G. Plentenki - literally, wicker/weaving - basketweave? bands?

      Belts... other categories from the table...

      H. "Knitted" goods - actually needle weaving aka naalbinding

      I. Individual threads.

      Archeological material in Novgorod indicates 2 spinning techniques were used - a) twisting fibers with the palm and b) with a spindle. A third technique, using a spinning wheel, appears in western Europe at the end of the 13th century [?], but no parts of spinning wheels have been found in Novgorod [source = Kolchin?] and the surviving threads do not show any features that could distinguish the spindle vs. spinning wheel. (Nahlik)

      The palm-twisting technique was used for the yarn meant for "knitted" items as shown by the yarn itself, and supported by ethnographic sources. The yarn was heavy and irregular and apparently obtained by twisting waste wool. (Nahlik)

      There were two methods of spindle-spinning distinguished by whether or not a distaff was used. Both are seen in period art. Distaffs were used with combed and beaten [?] wool. Spinning without a distaff was exclusively for beaten [?] wool. (Nahlik)

      The spinner uses the spindle in the right or left hand, depending on the direction of twist needed for the thread. The direction of twist gives the final textile important features. For example, a twill woven with the warp twisted opposite to the weft will have a stronger diagonal texture. Having the same twist will give a smoother fabric. Opposite twists in the warp and weft are required for fabrics that are to be fulled. (Nahlik)


      Adam Nahlik discusses in some depth the question of vertical vs. horizontal looms.

      While Nahlik mentions a researcher who believes that horizontal looms were used very early, essentially simultaneously with vertical looms, he expresses agreement with several other researchers that the vertical loom was used first, and then the horizontal loom arived in Rus. [dates?] Wooden parts of horizontal looms are fairly common finds in the Novgorod excavations. (Nahlik and Kolchin "Wood")

      There are a only couple of fabric types (includes fabrics with a tablet-woven "3rd selvedge") found in the Novgorod excavations which could only have been woven on a vertical loom. The rest could have been woven on either type. (Nahlik)

    "Openwork" fabrics

      This fabric is based on the tabby weave and, like the rice-textured weave, seems to have been unique to Rus. It resembles a checked fabric, but the "white" squares are actually openings in the fabric. (Nahlik)

      Fabrics of this type, met with everywhere in the excavations, are connected to the period of early Russian Middle Ages, alongside fabrics, completed in “branoj” [brocade?] technique, and represent examples of very high technical artistic achievement in Russian weaving at this time. (Nahlik)

      Some researchers thought that they were examples of a special technique, by which the openwork spaces were achieved in the process of weaving. Most seem to consider that “openwork” fabric comes about when wool threads woven together with threads of plant fiber. (Nahlik)

      In these case, the "openwork" pattern appears in fabrics as a result of the destructive actions of soil acid on the plant fibers after the fabric is buried. Threads of warp and weft of such fabric are partly wool – partly linen, and when the plant fibers disintegrate, they leave behind a wool net, which is incorrectly interpreted and served as the cause for 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. (Nahlik)

      Linen fibers are poorly preserved in Russian archeological digs.

    Striped fabrics

      Nahlik discusses these on p 253-254. I didn't translate this section, because I didn't see anything particularly surprising/interesting.

    Twills in four threads 2/2

      Nahlik's discussion included: “ordinary” twill fabrics, fulled and dyed fabrics, dyed but non-fulled, herringbones, and some with fringes. (p 254-258).

    Woolen twills in three threads 2/1 and 1/2

      Nahlik's 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 [word?] and also striped fabrics. (p 258-264)

    “Other textile items from Novgorod the Great” - Pletenki?

      In the Novgorod material, the greatest number of textile items prepared without a loom are unquestionably "weavings" of which there are 16 examples. In 14 cases, they have a plain or ribbed (?) weave. Only one fragment (N-55/10153) has another method of weaving. One weaving in distinction from all others was prepared on weaving tablets with four holes. (Nahlik)

    Tablet Weaving:

      Among the 16 textile items not prepared on a loom, that Nahlik analyzed, one weaving was prepared on weaving tablets with four holes. (Nahlik)

      Another example of tablet weaving is found in at least one fabric found in Old Ladoga. On this example 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. (Nahlik)

      Another very interesting example is Novgorod fabric N-54/4187, from 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). [And I can't quite figure out what this sentence means...] A tablet-woven selvedge of such type often appears in fabrics of the 12th cent. It is possible to name a series of analogous fabrics. 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.

      The 3rd, beginning selvedge, that we are speaking about, was prepared with help of a special device of the following form. Long pegs were driven into a board, on which was plied back and forth a narrow auxiliary warp. The threads of this auxiliary warp were threaded through the holes of plaques (4 plaques were used in the Novgorod examples). The rotation of these plaques created the fabric shed. In this shed passed threads of the actual warp in such a way that along all the selvedge it forms a narrow braid, from on one side of which hangs down threads to form the warp of the fabric to be woven. 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. (Nahlik)

    "Knitted Goods"

      The lowest quality of wool is found in the "knitted" items. They use a coarse, thick wool that is more irregular than the wool used in other textiles. (Nahlik).

      Nahlik found 9 examples of "knitted" items from the Novgorod excavations in the Nerevskij End. These items were from 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 in a special technique to “knit” warm, thick mittens, and also insoles for shoes. (Nahlik)

      Knitted items from Novgorod have a technique of weaving identical to that defind by M. Khal’d as Type II. [I have not looked up this reference.] This is the most simple method of needle knitting. Preparing mittens with this method proceeded by the following form. With the help of a coarse and blunt needle a strip was made, consisting of mutually interwoven loops. When the band reached the length of the cuff, 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. (Nahlik)

      [I would recommend going to Phiala’s String Page to learn naalbinding. Her directions for basic naalbinding are clearer, and seem to be the same as the instructions Nahlik gives based on Khal'd.]

      Knitted items appear in archeological material of Europe from the beginning of our era (i.e. around the time of Christ) and are found until the beginning of the 15th cent., and in some countries production continues until the present day. In Gotland excavations A. Moreh found mittens dating from the beginning of our era. In Sweden mittens were discovered dated to 1400. In Finland items of this type are known in medieval excavations. Mittens with needle weaving are often met with in excavations of Denmark. In the territory of Scandinavia, this technique continues until now. The closest analogues to the Novgorod technique, would be items from excavations in Beloozero, and also early medieval Gdansk. (Nahlik)

      Nahlik also mentions, among items prepared with a needle (possibly a hook), another weaving found in Novgorod in level 24/25 – H-53/9581. [?]

    Fabric Patterns:

    Woven-in patterns, such as checks, plaids, herringbones and stripes, are discussed above.

    In the 10th-13th centuries, the Rus were already blockprinting fabric using black, dark blue, bright red, yellow, or white dye on unbleached linen which was then dyed a dark blue or green color. This was used in peasant clothes and the everyday clothing for the nobility. Motifs derived from plant forms were rarely seen in the ancient block-prints, but stylized animals are often encountered: horses, deer, and birds. (Stamerov)

    The decoration of line printing was simpler and generally geometrical. A typical pattern was a rhomboid lattice with dots or circles in the middle; four-part divisions into smaller rhomboids, rosettes, or stars on a background of small triangles or squares (imitating wood carving); patterns of straight or wavy lines ("pathways"); and with a different figure into its rosettes, braiding, and "suns" for borders. (Stamerov)

    Pavalok, expensive imported fabrics, were mostly decorated in a typically Byzantine pattern of dark-red (cinnabar), crimson (carmine), purple and azure. (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov)


    Fur was used commonly and everywhere in ancient Russian clothing. It was used as a lining to warm winter clothing, and as ornamental edgings and borders, especially on hats. Furs were worn in the winter by even the poorest women. Wealthy women had coats made of fox (silver), ermine, sable, marten, lynx, otter and beaver. The most expensive furs (such as ermine and sable) are mentioned in chronicles only in reference to princely women's clothing. (Fur was used as money in ancient Russia.) Poorer women used less valuable furs such as wolf, sheepskin, fox (common fox, not the silver fox of the wealthy), she-bear, hare, wolverine and squirrel with the most accessible and durable being sheepskin. Unmarried women might wear rabbit or squirrel furs. Wealthy married women considered the wear of such frivolous coats embarrassing. (Pushkareva97 and 89) and (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov).

    After the 13th century, it was fashionable to trim dresses and sleeves with fur. 13th cent. Russian noble women adorned the fur trimming of their dresses with little ermine skins, and the most well-to-do made fur "nakladki" ("linings") up to the lap of garments, reaching in width to the knee, forming a border up to half a yard wide, to the astonishment of foreign visitors. (Pushkareva97 and 89) and (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov).

    Garment Construction: An entire dress was discovered in 1957 in the strata of Toroptsa, burnt in the second-half 13 cent. as a result of Lithuanian invasion. It was sewn from woolen fabric of various weaves. Top of dress - from woolen cloths of tabby weave, the bottom - from cloth of twill weave. The folds are visible on some fragments. (Kolchin)
    Well was preserved narrowing to the zapast'yu sleeve with a gusset [lastovitsa, the underarm gusset]. The sleeve is made from the cloth of twill weave, the lastovitsa - from cloth of plain weave. The seams, the connecting parts of dress, are made in such a way that the edges of the cloth would not be peeled off - by "zaposhivochnym seam" [flat-felled]. This technique of sewing arose with the simulation of the cut of clothing. However, in Toroptse is found a piece of cloth with ornament in the "branoy" [brocade?] technique. (Kolchin)
    One additional entire dress is found in Izyaslavl. It was sewn from several forms of the finest woolen cloth of linen interweaving and cut with a top/bodice and separate skirt. Top of dress is lined. At the waist a skirt is sewn to the top of the bodice. It is put together with small gathers, for which are sewn four parallel seams. Judging by the seams, the sleeve was sewn under the arm, where a strip of cloth with a width of 5 cm was sewn. This detail is sewn across the sleeve with the finest seam - a running stitch, and then a return route [i.e. the Holbein stitch], the space between the stitches is filled so precisely, that it creates the impression of a machine seam. (Kolchin)

    The existence of sewn dresses in Old-Russian cities is proven by finds discovered on the Raykovetskyy fortification in the territory of the Ukraine. Among the heap of burnt fabrics, there are fragments of woolen, flaxen and silk cloths of different structure. The seams were preserved on some of them. Fabrics of tabby weave are laid in the creases, and also in the smallest pleats. Clothing with corrugation [gofrirovskoj] and pleating is known in the graves of Birka already from the 11th cent. The opinion is expressed that clothing with corrugation is imported from the lands of the southern Slavs. (Kolchin)

    In individual regions of the south-Slav world has been preserved to our time traditional clothing, which was constructed with the aid of the different type of folds, pleats and corrugation (on the skirts, the sarafans, the sleeves of shirts and on collars). Gathers, corrugation and pleating are also known in the traditional clothing of Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians. (Kolchin)

    The discovered dresses and their fragments testify to the existence among Old-Russian townspeople of sewn clothing created by different methods: both of not-cut-out [neraskroennykh, fitted?] pieces of cloth, put together with the help of various forms of gathers and pleats; and from the fundamental [korennykh] pieces of cloths. Both methods of sewing relate to defined stages in the history of the making of clothing, but they exist in the traditional costume of Russians to the present day. (Kolchin)

    The dresses also give ideas about the culture of sewing, about the special features of the cut, the character and the variety of seams. The dress from Izyaslavlya confirms the presence in ancient Russia of clothing, which was constructed on the figure (pritalennoj - sewn on the body). This clothing can be seen on the "girl" from the Izbornik of Svyatoslav. On her is placed a dress with oplech'e and skirt in pleats (Izbornik of Svyatoslav 1073. 1977 p. 251). (Kolchin)

    In the figures of the capital letters of the Old-Russian manuscripts are depicted the different forms of the existing clothing, among them – sewn on the body [pritalennoj] with folds and gathers. (Kolchin)

    As is known, double-breasted [dvubortnaya] clothing is characteristic for the Russian national costume. In the work of T.S. Maslovoj it is suggested that the wide distribution of double-breasted clothing and the men’s blouse [kosovorotki] occurred simultaneously. Double-breasted clothing can be seen in the miniatures of the 15th cent. Radzivillovskoy chronicle. Thus, in the miniature connected with the founding of Kiev, two figures are shown in long outer clothing with the zapakh [upper flap] on the left side. Obviously, the high collars (more than 4 cm high), sewn on birch bark and leather, with the opening to the left, belonged to the upper double-breasted clothing. (Kolchin)

    Textile References: Brown, Rachel. The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book. Alfred A. Knopf. New York. 1978.

    Castino, Ruth. Spinning & Dyeing the Natural Way. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. New York. 1974.

    Khvoschchinskaia, Natalia. "New Finds of Medieval Textiles in the North of Novgorod Land". NESAT IV, edited by Lise Bender Jorgensen and Elisabeth Munskgaard. 1992.

    Kolchin, B.A. Wooden Artifacts of Medieval Novgorod...

    Kramer, Jack. Natural Dyes: Plants and Processes. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York. 1972.

    Krupp, Christina (ska Marieke van de Dal). "From Woad to Blue". The Compleat Anachronist #129. Autumn 2005.

    Nahlik, Adam. "Ткани Новгорода" [Fabrics of Novgorod from Volume IV of Works of the Novgorod Archeological Excavation] "Труды Новгородской Археологической Экспедитии." A.B. Artsikhovskij and B.A. Kolchin. (editors) No. 123 of Материалы и Исследования по Археологии СССР. USSR Academy of Science. Moscow. 1963.

    "Natural colourants and dyestuffs." NON-WOOD FOREST PRODUCTS 4. FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. //www.fao.org/docrep/V8879E/V8879e00.htm.

    Polos'mak, N.V., V.V. Malakhov, and A.V. Tkachev. Древнейший Текстиль из "Замерзших" Могил Гроного Алтая [Ancient Textiles from "Zamerzshikh" grave of Altai Mountains]. //www.nsc.ru/win/sbras/rep/rep2002/t1-2/84/84.html

    Stepanova, Yulia. "Мода в Древней Руси" [Style in Ancient Rus]. On-line Родина [Rodina], Feb. 2006.

    Comments and suggestions to lkies@jumpgate.net.
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