Article 23: Skjoldehamn blanket- a reconstruction

by Þóra Sumarliðadóttir (Rachel Steffensen) - e-mail:

This article is a translation of the article written by me for the Aros (Drachenwald) webpage, published December 31, 2013.

In the fall of 2012, I worked on the reconstruction of the Skjoldehamn blanket, a plaid blanket in natural sheep‘s black and white which had been used as a burial shroud. To me, the blanket is both a beautiful artifact in and of itsself, but it is also an important part of the Northern Norwegian medieval cultural heritage.


A little about the Skjoldehamn find

The Skjoldehamn find is a Northern Norwegian bog burial, a corpse found during the harvesting of peat in 1928. Skjoldehamn is located on Andøya, an island in the Vesterålen archepelago off the Norwegian coast, directly west of the city of Narvik. This find is unique for two reasons. It is a „complete“ find with both inner- and outer tunics, trousers, footwear, blanket and many other smaller artifacts. It is also exciting because of its location in an area with both ethnic Nordic and Samí habitation. There has been much debate surrounding this find, whether it was a man or a woman, Norrøn or Samí, the circumstances leading to the bog burial rather than cemetary, and not least about the dating of the find. Some pieces from this find have been on exhibition at the Tromsø museum (primarily the trousers and bands) for the first time in years in conjunction with the exhibition on settlements and ethnicity "Who Came First?"

The most recent analyses of this find are available in a master‘s thesis (2009) by Dan Halvard Løvlid. He has also looked at Guttorm Gjesseng‘s article on this find (Viking 1938), an analysis well known to people working with textiles in an historical perspective. I won‘t expound on Løvlid‘s analysis and conclusions at this point, but rather recommend his thesis as interesting reading.

The Skjoldehamn Blanket- a colorful shroud

The new datings are very interesting as they show the Skjoldehamn find is older than earlier thought, possibly dating from 1050-1150 CE, with an even earlier dating for the blanket. In addition to the presentation of analyses from the 1980s and 1990s, the new photographs gave me much useful information with which to work.
The blanket was woven in handspun single-ply yarn in (most likely) natural white and sheep‘s black. The alternating of the colors gives a lovely pattern that repeats with alternately white and natural black as the primary color. The threadcount is a little higher in the warp than the weft and it is woven in a 2/2 twill weave structure (draft ‘h‘), which gives a slight diagonal stripe effect where the light and dark threads cross.
Originally the cloth was woven in one length, then divided by cutting. The one piece was then rotated and the lengths sewn together so that the plaid pattern mirrors along each side of the central seam. The more recent analyses show that the blanket originally measured ca 1,7m x 1,5-1,6m (67” x 59”-63”), seriously deviating from Gjesseng’s original conclusions.

My reconstruction

Looking at the alternation of the light and dark stripes, I found a pattern 9 stripes wide. This pattern repeats by exchanging the color placement and this same alternation also occurs in the weft, creating a fabric with a lovely, harmonic plaid. The original blanket was woven with handspun yarn, so stripes of the same length can have a slightly varying number of threads. I analyzed stripe width/number of threads as best possible with the available pictures in order to understand the variation seen in the original. As can be seen elsewhere, such as the textiles from Greenland, the weft utilizes a thicker yarn than the warp.

I used a floor loom rather than a warp-weighted loom, and commercially produced yarn for this project. I chose Rauma 1-ply ‘prydvev’ (6000m/kg) in natural white and dark sheep’s brown, as they didn’t have sheep’s black available at that time.

 The weight of the yarn was a good match for the warp, but finding a suitable yarn for the weft was a challenge, so I chose to use the same yarn here as well. I feel it is a bit too “easy” to lose the feel of the original textiles, as the variation in yarn gauge and weaving makes the end product more alive. For this reason, I chose to use a slightly varying thread count in the stripes. If you look carefully at the blanket I wove, you can see the variation, but this is not visible when viewing the blanket as a whole. My reconstruction measured 1,76m x 1,49m (ca. 69” x 59”). This project has been very interesting and I am looking forward to working on a revised version.

I was fortunate enough to have a short length of cloth left over after sewing the blanket. I had an inspiration from a ”diplom” (legal document) witnessing a wedding held July 25, 1335 at Vágar (now known as Kabelvåg i Lofoten). This document listed the dowry belonging to Ingebjørg Ivarsdatter for her marriage to Torleif Sigurdsson. Among her possessions were “2 pillows of plaid cloth.”  I sewed pillow covers for some down pillows, one of which was given to Mistress Lia de Thornegge on the occasion of her elevation to Laurel (Photograph by Lia de Thornegge with permission)


Additional resources:

I have created a blog entry with some links to resources and articles available on the Internet. There is also a link to Dan Hallvard Løvlid's master's thesis which also contains a useful bibliography.

All photographs (with the exception of “Lia de Thornegge’s pillow”) and text by Rachel Steffensen. All textile work by Rachel Steffensen. Article 23: Skjoldehamn blanket- a reconstruction by Rachel Steffensen (also known as Þóra Sumarliðadóttir) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
(Translation published March 31, 2014)