Textured Silk in Period

THL Lucia Thaylur

The purpose of this paper is to determine if textured silk was used in the time frame relative to the SCA and whether it would have been used by persons of first estate.

Creating texture

Tabby or plain weave is the simplest form of weaving: a single weft thread passes over a single warp thread, under the next warp thread and continues over and under across the row. On the next row, the weft travels under and over a single thread across the row. These two rows are repeated until the cloth has reached desired length.

There are numerous ways to add texture to a tabby weave. One way, is to use threads which vary from thin to thicker in no established sequence.

This example of tabby weave, from The Weaving Book, was woven with random thin to thicker threads used only as weft. Additional texture can be created using random thin to thicker threads as warp (Bress, p.7)

Example 1 is from Agnes Geijer’s book A History of Textile Art. This piece of Sassanian silk, 7-th-8th C., is a scene of the Iranian king hunting and is owned by the Ursula Church in Cologne.

Example 1
In this extreme close up of a small portion of the scene, you can follow one thread across the segment and clearly see the thread varies from thin to thicker.

Geijer, A History of Textile Art Plate 15.

Tabby Weave with thin to thicker threads used

Example II is another from A History of Textile Art, Recorded as a royal gift to the convent of Mozac c, 750, this is an example of Byzantine silk.

Example II
A History of Textile Art Plate 20
An extreme close up shows this tabby woven piece abounds with threads which vary from thin to thicker used as warp and weft.

Example III is from Augustiner Klosters, Freiburg. In her article “Die Mittelalterlichen Textilfunde aus der Latrinengrube des Augustiner Klosters un Freiburg in Breisgau,” Johanna Banck tells us : Eckdaren fur die Nutzungsdauer der Latrine sind das Grundungsjahr des Augustiner Eremiten Klosters 1278, sowie der fruheste   Anhaltspunkt fur die SchlieBung der Grube, der von einer   Stadtansicht des Gregorius Sickinger aus dem Jahr 1589 stammt. Auf   diesm Plan ist die Grube bereits von einem Wirtschaftsgebause uberdeckt (Tidens Tand #5, p. 169).

The following pieces are from a pit at the cloisters, believed to be in use from 1278-1589 when the city founders covered it up.

Example III
(Tidens Tand p. 174)
Abb. 4.
Seidengewebe, Taft. M. 1:1.

Example IV
Tidens Tand #5 p. 175
Example IV is another piece from Augustiner Klosters in Freiburg and is a nearly fully intact reliquary pouch.

Photographs and written accounts of period textiles from the “Report on Textiles in Patrimonio Nacional, Palacio Real” in Madrid show wonderful examples of textured fabrics. The cloister church in Monasterio del Santa Maria in Rael de las Huelgas in Burgos, Spain was the burial site for Spain’s royalty and nobility during the 12-14th centuries (introduction).

Thread analysis from the Burgos finds establish a wide range of thread variances (from 0-3mm) used as warp and weft to create a crepe like fabric. (Report, p. 1-2). In the close up photograph of inventory no. 653745 (Textiles, introduction) you can clearly follow a weft thread, to see how the variance of a single thread affects the pattern and texture. (Dahl, Vedeler, Carretero)

Given to the relics of St Remi in 852.

Thin an thicker threads can be observed in both warp and weft on this close up view of tabby weave.

Example V
A History of Textile Arts Plate 24 b.

Example VI
another example from A History of Textile Art
Close up of plate 36 section of a cope brought from Rome by Arch bishop Nicolas Alloni of Uppsala in 1295.

Thin to thicker in tabby weave

Example VII
A History of Textile Art
Plate 5 Gold and silk Islamic-Sicilian 1100 AD. Close up of coronation mantle.

Coronation mantle of Roger II of Sicily from the royal workshops of Palermo, 1133-34
Example VIII
The Book of Silk by Philippa Scott p.155

Example IX
from A History of Textile Art
Plate 68
Azure blue damask brocaded with scarlet silk and gold. Used as a wedding robe in 1710, it was later made into church vestments.

Nice detail in this close up view.

Blue and silver brocaded Spitalfields silk. 1742
Example X
The Book of Silk by Philippa Scott (p. 203)

While a century out of period, these last two pieces were included to establish the practice of using thin to thicker silk threads was continued well into the later centuries.


These examples clearly show thin to thicker threads in plain tabby weave were used to create luxurious period fabrics which were worn by person’s of first estate. Webster’s helps clarify “the class structure in feudal times: There were three classes having specific political powers: the first estate was the Lords Spiritual(clergy), the second estate the Lords Temporal (nobility) and the third estate the Commons (bourgeoisie)”. New World Dictionary, see estate.

For pre industrialized textiles, the variance in warp and weft is a common occurrence. Those who produced silk, lacked the technology to create the perfectly consistent threads modern fabrics display. The common variances in woven fabrics pre industrialization, were not considered flaws, rather, the rich textures were part of the allure.

Today, thin to thicker threads, used as warp and weft and woven in plain tabby weave are still being used to create luxurious fabrics such as dupioni and shantung.

Example of modern dupioni

From the time silk was discovered it has been one of the most luxurious fabrics known to man. Once reserved for emperors and worn by persons of first estate during the medieval period, it is now readily available for anyone who wishes to pay the price.

Works cited:

Bress, Helen. The Weaving Book: Patterns and Ideas. 1981. Charles Scribner’s Sons. USA

Dahl, Camilla L, Marianne Vedeler and Concha Herrero C. “Report on the Textiles from Burgos Cathedral in Patrimonia Nacional, Palacio Real Madrid, Spain” found on www.middelaldercentret.dk/pdf/burgosrapport.pdf on 7/21/08

Geijer, Agnes. A History of Textile Art. 1979 Philip Wilson Publishers, Ltd. London

Banck, Johanna, “Die Mittelalterlichen Textilfunde aus der Latrinengrube des Augustiner Klosters un Freiburg in Breisgau,” in Tidens Tand Nr.5: 1992 Archaeological Textiles in Northern Europe . Report from the 4th NESAT Symposium. 1.-5. May 1990 in Copenhagen Textilmuseum Neumunster, Germany

Scott, Philippa. The Book of Silk. 1993 Thames and Hudson, Ltd., London

Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language. 2nd. College Edition. David B. Guralnik, Ed. In Chief. 1980. Wm. Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc. USA

Last updated: 9/27/2008