Viking or Mammen Style Embroidery Stitches

THL Lucia Thaylur

mammen birdmammen man
The design on this pouch was inspired by an ornate purse lid discovered at Sutton Hoo. The purse lid is currently on display in the British Museum. While a relatively easy design to execute in stem and chain stitch, it took about 50 hours to complete.

Early surface decoration of cloth

The concept of adding needlework decoration to clothing can be traced to 1500-500BC - the Early Bronze Age (Staniland, p 4). Some of the earliest examples of embroidery on cloth come from Iraq, Persia and Egypt, can be dated to the early 10th c. The ground was usually linen and chain, back stitch, satin and various types of counted stitch work were done in multi colored silks or cotton (Gervers, p 95-111).

To date, one of the most remarkable burial mounds was found in Mammen Parish near Vyborg and has been dated to the close of the 10th c. or Viking Period. The embroidered textiles from this find are exceptional and are examples of the earliest embroidery fragments found in Denmark. The designs include acanthus foliage, animals, birds and human masks.(Hald, (p102-111).


Detail of the masks. Hald (p. 109)

The stitches appear to be outline or stem and chain stitch. Some of the areas are filled in, other left void.


Detail of the quadraped. Hald (p. 107)

While none of the designs are completely intact, Hald suggests they are influenced by manuscripts of the period (p. 104)

A tailor, a weaver, an embroideress, a tablet weaver, a silk weaver, a shoemaker, a designer, a furrier, a dye analyst, a fiber specialist, two archaeologists and a textile conservator spent nearly two years recreating the Viking King Canute’s costume which made it’s debut at the 4th NESAT Symposium in Copenhagen. (Jorgensen, p 109-110)

King Canutes costume

Small fragments of embroidery were also in the Oseberg ship burial (see The Textiles in the Oseberg Ship by Anne Stine Ingstad at

While costume construction is fun for some for others it’s not. Does this mean that if you can’t recreate the entire costume you shouldn’t use the designs to embellish your clothing? Does this mean you shouldn’t use other designs from this period to enhance your clothing or that you are limited by one costume as to placement of the designs on your clothing? I would hope not!
Be creative - try a new skill but above all else -
Keep it fun!

Works cited:

Gervers,V. Studies in Textile History. 1977. The Alger Press. Canada

Hald Margrethe, Ancient Danish Textiles From Bogs and Burial:A Comparative Study of Costume and Iron Age Textiles. 1980. Fyens Stiftsbogtrykkeri. Denmark

Ingstad, Anne Stine.

Jorgensen, Lise Bender. "Ancient costumes reconstructed: a new field of research" in Textilsymposium Neumunster Archaologische Textilfunde-Archaeological Textiles. 1993 NESAT V

Staniland, Kay. Medieval Craftsmen Embroiderers. 1977. University of Toronto Press, Toronto,Buffalo.

Special thanks to THL Cassandra of Glastonbury for sharing her library.

Last updated: 8/1/2008