Fabric, Color, Garment Construction, and Fur in Early Rus
Updated 10 October 2006
Fabrics Overview:Color and Dyes:
Apple - red-brown dyes per Pushkareva.
Birch - yellow from leaves (bark sheets?) per Pushkareva.
Blackthorn - yellow per Pushkareva97.
Blueberry - blue per Pushkareva.
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.]
Cornflower - blue per Pushkareva.
Drok - yellow per Pushkareva89.
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
Nettles - used for green colors according to Stepanova.
Oak - bark gives golden-brown per Pushkareva. Oak gall was used per Kolchin. Wood and bark provides ehlagovaya acid (see above) according to Nahlik.
Ocher - perhaps the "clay" mordant mentioned by Nahlik?
Onion peel - golden-brown per Pushkareva.
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.
Pomegranate - fruit is a source of ehlagovaya acid (see above) according to Nahlik.
Poplar - buds are source of khrisin per Nahlik. See khrisin.
Spruce - needles used for green colors according to Stepanova article (see indigo notes).
St. John's Wort - red-brown dyes per Pushkareva.
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 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)
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)
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:
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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. [?]
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)
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