How Did They Make Clothes?

   This session focuses on clothing production, from identifying and spinning the fibres to weaving, then cutting and sewing the cloth. The two main fibres used were wool and linen.

   The children can see some raw fleece, then help to wash it with 'marrow-soap' - a gentle soap made from bone marrow and wee filtered through ash and straw! (Really it's just soap flakes.) Carding and combing come next, using replica wool combs and modern wool carders.

   Linen comes from the flax plant and is grown tall to maximise the length of the fibres. The children can see the dried stems and learn how they get to that point. Linen production is long and complicated! First, they will help to 'break' the stems - either by hand (AS, V,N) or with the 'brake' (M). Then they will 'scutch' the fibres by scraping them down the scutching board with the scutching knife (made of wood). Then they will observe the heckle being used, and finally, they will comb the fibres to straighten them.

   At this point the fibre may have been dyed, and I show the children some of the dyestuffs used. I will then demonstrate both the hand-spinning of wool and flax from the distaff to make thread. (Fibre or thread could have been dyed). Hand-spinning is quite tricky so I keep this to just a demonstration.

   The children can have a go weaving using card squares and I show them how my 'warp-weighted loom' works. It's very tricky weaving on this, so I keep it to just a demonstration.

    Finally, at the very end, I show the children the tools that would be used to cut and sew their cloth.

The skeleton of Bernuthsfeld Man was discovered in 1907 during peat cutting in Hogehahn bog in Lower Saxony, Germany. The body was wrapped in several garments, including a sleeved tunic made from 43 pieces of textile and two long leg wrappings. Bernuthsfeld Man died between A.D. 660 and 870.

As an extension following on from this, you could do the hat- or ball-making sessions next.

Questions answered: What were clothes made from? What tools were used to make clothes? Is it hard work?