“Semiotics of the Cloth”: Reading Medieval Norse Textile Traditions

“Semiotics of the Cloth”: Reading Medieval Norse Textile Traditions

By Kristen Marie Tibbs

Master’s Thesis, Marshall University, 2012

Abstract: Reading textiles from medieval Norse society supplements written sources and also provides insight into the voice of the individual who created these textiles. This project puts women and traditionally female tasks at the forefront of historical thought and analysis. I demonstrate that we can read textiles (via their material, color, style, and geographic location) alongside texts in order to expand our understanding of past cultures. Along with valuable archaeological remains of textiles and textile production tools, this research incorporates examples from the Sagas of the Icelanders in order to further understand the significance and symbolism of clothing and production in literature and daily life. I also focus on the finished head coverings worn by women in medieval Norway and analyze specific garments from the collection uncovered at Herjolfsnæs, Greenland in order to address questions about the complex social cues related to clothing and textile production.

Introduction: For thousands of years, textiles existed as an important part of society and central in the daily lives of women. The necessary compatibility of female labor with child care and breastfeeding led to women primarily engaging in repetitive, safe, and easily interrupted tasks. The work necessary in the textile production (spinning, weaving, etc.) definitely fits these criteria; as a result; women took on the task of creating cloth and clothing for their families. With industrialization and developments in technology, most women today do not produce their own cloth via the methods of their predecessors. Now that spinning and weaving are no longer common tasks, archaeological finds of tools and textiles encourage questions about the lives and labor of past women. By studying the history of textiles and the role of textile labor as women’s work, historians gain further insight into the cultures and people of the past.

Click here to read this thesis from Marshall University

See also Medieval Garments Reconstructed: Norse Clothing Patterns

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