Book Review: This Golden Fleece

I picked up a book from my local library on hearing it mentioned.. I don’t remember where, but it felt like something right up my alley. This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History by Esther Rutter. It was published in 2019, so there’s no discussion of the plague times, which is rather a lovely pause from the present day.

Support your local library! Thank you Guelph Public Library!

This book looks at the knitting history of the UK in a really gentle introspective memoir style of writing. The author spends a year travelling around the UK picking a different aspect of knitting history and visiting museums and festivals, talking with people and working on a suitable knitting project for her months’ focus. (Seriously, how do I get a book deal for 12 months worth of exploration? Sheesh! Anyhow.) The author did grow up on a sheep farm, so she came into this experience fairly familiar with all things wooly, although she admits that her knitting skills were relatively beginner when she started. She did not, for example, have to learn to spin, even if she was woefully out of practice. For all my pre-1600 folks, fair warning that this book happily settles primarily in the hay day of knitting life in the UK, mostly the 18th and 19th centuries, but she does not forget early knitting, and she even touches on naalbinding and has a go at it!

I found it to be a lovely conversational read, with plenty of good solid research to go with it, the text is chock full of end notes and rarely was there a spot that I eyebrow raised and went ‘Cite THAT source, if you would’. You know those moments, when someone is writing on something you’ve spent a fair bit of time researching and they pull out the ‘as everyone knows’, and there’s no endnote to be found and you sigh at the spread of more myth and less fact. Basically none of that here. A couple spots that I went ‘hunh.. that feels a stretch’, and better, more than a few spots when I flipped to the endnotes and copied down her source to go read it myself.

Not the most helpful table of contents.

The chapters are arranged by project and month, which makes it moderately a bear to use as a reference book, but at least it has an index, so there’s a hope of being able to find something again. I’m not sure I’m in a rush to go add it to my personal library, but I’m grateful that I can snag it from my local library. No regrets about the time I spent reading it.

Book Review: Textiles and Clothing c. 1150 – c. 1450

This is another book that I’ve conjured out of the library, and figured I’d share my thoughts on before I send it back to its humans. It’s from the Medieval Finds from Excavations in London series, number 4. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150 – c. 1450 written by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland and published by The Boydell Press in 1992, with a second edition in 2001.


As you may have guessed from the series it is in, it’s got a rather narrow focus on a selection of finds from London itself, primarily carried out in the 1970s and 1980s, and within about a 300 yr time scale. My personal interest falls both before and after those 300 years, but that’s besides the point. I don’t mind that it’s got a moderately tight focus, it feels as if it can do a better job of looking at what it’s got rather than try and be all things to all people.

They spend a chunk of time discussing the challenges of textile archeology and the digs themselves, and then devote themselves to many chapters of fairly typical examination. Fibre content, weave structure, details on the spinning of the fibres, and speculation on dyes. It is delightfully detailed, and the wool chapter alone is a good read, but the addition of a chapter about goathair is an unexpected delight.

They do an excellent job of putting the finds into context of every day life, not just looking at the textile alone, but also mentioning where such textiles were found in inventories and wardrobe accounts to discussions of the various textile industries in their focus time period. This is not uncommon in various textile accounts, but is always welcome.

Probably my favourite chapter from the book is the one on sewing techniques and tailoring. How were the seams put together? What thread did they use? How long did it take to make a certain garment? It’s these niggly details that I appreciated someone gathering up and trying to make basic sense out of, and those are the ones that many who are interested in as close to re-enactment as possible want to work with. It’s an excellent chapter, and if you read only one out of the book, that’s the one to start with. (Also the last chapter, it was rather like dessert).

The book has no index, but rather a glossary and an extensive bibliography, as well as a concordance of all of the finds from each dig categorized by fibre, if you prefer to look things up that way.

All in all, another book that I was very happy to spend some time with. Another book that I’m not sure I need to have on hand at all times, but one that I appreciate having access to. I wish it was slightly closer access than borrowed from the library of another city, but that’s not so bad, all things considered.

Book Review: Northern Archaeological Textiles NESAT VII

I’ve been gorging lately on library books, many conjured up from the far reaches of the province (and beyond!) thanks to the University Interlibrary Loan system. While I have them for an all too short period of time, I thought I’d highlight some of them.


This one in particular has been coming up in the references of so very many papers I read, and I finally tracked down a copy. It’s the proceedings from the North-European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles (NESAT) held in Edinburgh in May of 1999. Edited by Frances Pritchard and John Peter Wild, published by Oxbow Books in 2005. (ISBN: 1 84217 162 3)

It is comprised of 24 short papers that were presented at the symposium. Most are in English, but not all. (5 are in German. I think. Looks like German? My language skills suck.) They range from a discussion about brocaded tablet woven bands, to the Textiles of Seafaring, to a preliminary classification of loom weights and a look at gender roles in textile production during the late Saxon period. This is not a how to book, this is a book of academically rigorous papers, full of solid bibliographies and references, and light on the pretty pictures.


Personally, I’ve been appreciating the article on loom weights (A Preliminary Classification of Shapes of Loomweights by Karen-Hanne Staermose Nielsen) and an updated article about the evolution of sheep fleeces by the major name in fleece history. (The Human Development of Different Fleece-Types in Sheep and Its Association with the Development of Textile Crafts by Michael L Ryder).

I have to say, even just flipping through it again to write this review, I’ve settled in to re-read a few articles, and continued to enjoy them. They are strongly skewed towards early period, Roman, Saxon, Viking Age, there’s only a couple touching on sixteenth century textiles.

This is, to me, a book that is handy to have library access to, but it is not a must own for everyone. I would appreciate having it, but I’m a bit of a research geek, and having it to hand to reference would be super handy. There’s good reason I see it cited in so many papers, there’s a lot of solid information in here for textile geeks. It will not help you figure out how to weave, nor provide suggestions on why your tunic doesn’t look like the picture. It will give you reason to say ‘ah, I was aspiring to higher authenticity, and I aimed my thread to be this size, because of this find.’. For some people, myself included, that’s valuable, but you may not be it’s target audience, and that’s fine.

I appreciate having access to it, and I wish I could have easier access to it (local library rather than ILL), so thumbs up from me!


The Warp Weighted Loom: A book review

While working on my BSP(tm), I went digging for resources on warp weighted looms. A number of posts came up, and when chatting with some out of kingdom weaving friends of mine, this one book got mentioned as being a really great resource. Long story short, I managed to get a hold of a copy via University InterLibrary Loan (Thank you Princeton for buying cool textile books.) to be able to have a wee look see before I ordered from Norway.

The Warp-Weighted Loom I Oppstadveven I Kljásteinavefstaður by Hildur Hákonardóttir, Elizabeth Johnston and Marta Kløve Juuhl 

It’s a hefty book, at about 300 pages, and while I didn’t stick it on the scale, hauling it around in my backpack, I absolutely knew it was there. It has a solid cardboard cover, heavy pages within, and is bound such that it will lie utterly flat and stay open. It is a very pretty book.


The book itself is divided into three sections. The first section is a look at the history of warp weighted looms in three different locations; Iceland, Shetland, and Norway. The second section was a practical ‘how to’ for making and weaving on a warp weighted loom and the third section was a series of articles, essays and reports relevant to warp weighted looms.

The history of the loom was really engaging and interesting. They took a very personal tack on how the loom fit into the culture and society in each place. The inclusion of Shetland is unusual from what I can read, and I really appreciated it. They went as far back as they could find information for, solidly into our early period and discussed the loom in each of those areas up to when it was replaced, often in the 19th century sometime.

The practical section included clear photographs next to each description of what to do next. This section was written in English, Icelandic and Norwegian. There was both how to start with a tablet band and without, and how to thread heddles both for tabby and twill. While I haven’t yet tested the directions myself, reading them over made the experience seem accessible and possible. I look forward to trying them out soon (and a friend swears by those directions to get her heddles knitted on).

The final section was the one I wasn’t expecting. Bits and pieces of this and that.. from the book’s website, you can see the titles of this articles in this section. More history, an article on grave finds. Experimental archeology. Traditional bed covers, finishing cloth in the sea, traditional crafts in modern society. They were fascinating little tidbits. Short, about a magazine article in length, but thoughtful and well written and left me wanting to read more, or experiment.

I got the book via ILL to see if it was worth the money and hassle of importing it from Norway. It’s a small publisher, they sell direct.. there’s no Amazon machine to make international currency and shipping convenient, and I can say that this book has been added to the shortlist of book buying, once I save up my pennies. (Small press textile books are never the cheapie ones, drat it!) I was really impressed and I’m looking forward to adding it to my textile library.