Shroud of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux


In pursuit of more hands on experience with medieval weaves, I decided to make a semi-reproduction of a 12th century shroud.  But first a little background: For those who are unaware, I am a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and every year my area (Kingdom of An Tir) holds what is known as an Arts and Sciences Competition.  I wanted to compete this year as a single entry, meaning I was not going for the championship title; personally, I think being kingdom champion would be a lot of work.

Thus I needed a project.  As I had only a few months (I’d decided to do this in December for a competition in early March), I also needed a project that could be done fairly quickly.   I’d read the article by Carolyn Priest-Dorman in Complex Weavers’ Medieval Textile Study Group News Letter (Dec 2001) on medieval linen weaves several times and had ignored this draft.  This shroud does not contain linen(thus the reason I was ignoring it in pursuit of medieval linen weaves; it is a cotton/hemp blend.  While cotton and in fact cotton blend cloths are not uncommon later,  the fact that this piece dates to around 1178 makes it very unusual.

Based on the evidence (part of which is an analysis done by Naomi Moore in 1990), my personal feeling is that this piece was made in a professional workshop in Northern Italy.  Part of this feeling stems from the fact that there is a word in Italian for hemp cotton blends;  bombazine.  In addition, city state such as Genoa and Venice had strong trade ties to what we now call the Middle East.  According to Moore’s analysis, the cotton used in the ribbing and the weft had more in common with cotton from Syria than that grown and exported from Sicily.  Then there was the question of the hemp.  That proved my sticking point for a bit until I found out that Burgundy was known for its high quality hemp.  It seemed to me that it was more likely for the cotton (being the high quality stuff that appears to have been used) was imported into the Italies from Syria (probably via Acre) and that the hemp was exported to Northern Italy from Burgundy.

Onward and weaving ward.  So after gathering materials I set up my loom for this.  Very interesting as I got to use (for the very first time) all eight shafts.  At any rate.  I got about two inches of weaving done and realized there was something wrong!  So, with less than two weeks until my deadline, I cut off the offending portion and resleyed the whole project. IMG_4812 (Sleying the heddles and reed are my least favorite parts of weaving).  This time it goes better.   There are still tension issues, but that is to be expected; there are two different weights of warp happening.  The main warp, hemp, is wound on to the back beam.  The ribbing warp heavy (8/8) cotton is weighted separately and simply hangs off the back beam.

Supplemental warp weights are about 8 oz each.

Supplemental warp weights are about 8 oz each.

Then every so often an individual warp thread of the hemp variety decides to play it loose and make the weaving more of a learning experience.  I learn in this case not to use two paperclip holding weights adjacent to each other; paperclips are friendly types and want to be close to their neighbors thus interrupting my nice tension fixes.

The individual thread weights are .5-1oz.

The individual thread weights are .5-1oz.

The weft (12/2) cotton was actually rather fun to use.  I’d’ve rather used 6/1, but I have no source for same.  (I’d love to hear of one, by the way).  Mostly, I’ve not used cotton; sticking to linen and wool.  At any rate.  On it went for several days in between appointments, taking care of family, and work.IMG_4813

There were several issues with the selvage; not ridiculously unusual for me, but this time it was the left selvage; normally the right side gives me issues.  The issue had to do with how many base repeats I had on each side; on the left there was a single 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1.  On the right hand side there were three repeats and there is a 5 in there separating the doubled 1s, this gave the selvage itself something to stabilize it. I  added all the broken threads in at one point and things went better for the last yard +.

I admit to being very concerned about the feel of the fabric; very sleazy.  Then it was washed and became woobely instead.  Woobley is a great improvement over sleazy.  Part of the fix came from all the cotton pulling in and playing nicely with the other threads.  Don’t know that I’d ever use this for clothing, but perhaps a shawl, too many floats for anything really utilitarian.

Got a bit of a surprise at the end.  I didn’t know that I couldn’t see the pattern.  I figured it would just come out in the wash as some do.  But what a happy surprise to see all the pretty little lozenges.

Pretty lozenges!

Pretty lozenges!

The final surprise was after it was washed.  I knew which side I’d looked at whilst weaving, but out of the wash, it was hard to tell what was “supposed” to be the front.  Based on the picture in Naomi Moore’s article, I’d say what I thought of as the back is really the front; fewer long floats.  However, the side I saw while weaving is more dramatic due to those same floats (they’re dark indigo).

So which is the front?

So which is the front?

All in all, for what I wanted it to be, the project was a success.  It might not be as perfect as I might want, but the final cloth will be cut up, part to the portfolio and part to become a table runner.


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