Tracking the History of Viking Wire Weaving

I started this research project looking for the historical authenticity of what I was taught as “Viking Wire Weaving.”  While a google search provided many hits, most were tutorials and how to-s for this popular wire chain work.  I finally came across a few blogs and research papers, notably all SCA, that were also looking into the history of the craft.  The majority pointed to a 2001 SCA research project “A Research Journey: Trichinopoly Chainwork Is It Viking Chain Knitting” by Lady Apollonia Voss.

The crux of the historical authenticity argued by this paper rested largely on Graham-Campbell’s description in The Viking Age Gold and Silver of Scotland (AD 850-1100) of a “Trichinopoly chain,” found in a 9th century hoard.  Now I had a better term to search with: Trichinopoly.  However, as I searched for more information on this new label, I became more and more concerned about its origins.  The British Museum has a piece labeled as trichinopoly chainwork, but all other references seemed to point to an Imperial British term for a region of colonial India.  Could “Viking Wire Weaving” really carry a title that referenced 19th century India?

Putting that aside for later research, I delved into the woven patterns identified in A Research Journey only to discover another stumbling block.  The reliance on Graham-Campell’s authenticity of the chain work hinges on a perceived similarity between A Research Journey‘s Figure 7 and Figure 8.    To my eye, a significant difference comes with the twist depicted in Figure 8.  Figure 8 represents a better depiction of what I was taught as “Viking Wire Weaving,” where the wire crosses over itself to form each loop.  The pattern in Figure 7 shows a continuous wave pattern with no twists or cross over (follow the darkest thread).  This seemed to answer the question; No, Trichinopoly was not Viking Wire Weaving.  But then, was Viking Wire Weaving historically accurate?

However, all was not lost!  Additional support for historical authenticity was discussed using Tomantera’s publication Braid, Weave, and Foxtail.  An InterLibrary Loan request yielded a wonderful description of three, visually related chains.  The “braid” described makes the looping pattern (top) and the “interweave” making the lower wave pattern as seen to the right (the “foxtail” pattern being loop-in-loop chain).  Tomantera also provided descriptions of each technique, something Graham-Campell did not.  The “braid” or looped pattern is made with a basic unit of a 1.2-1.5 meter length of wire.  As each loop requires that the free end be drawn through the braid this is the maximum working length due to metal fatigue.  Additional 1.2-1.5m sections are then added to make the final product the desired length.  This sounds exactly like the Viking Wire Weaving I was taught in the SCA.  Interweaving or the waved pattern, on the other hand, uses one long continuous wire.  Both techniques produce a hollow tube, that is then pulled through a draw plate, creating a smaller diameter for the final, tightly knit appearance.

This then seemed to be the sticking point: while admittedly similar in final appearance, Graham-Campbell’s Trichinopoly compares to Tomantera’s interweave… not to the braiding technique.  However, it is the braiding technique (the top looping pattern) that matches A Research Journey‘s Fig 8, and the “Viking Wire Weaving” I was taught.

So, back, Graham-Campbell.   As it happens, A Research Journey‘s Fig 7 attributed to Graham-Campbell was actually produced by a predecessor: David Wilson and C.E. Blunt.  In their publication The Trewhiddle Hoard I found the full description.  “The chainwork… is manufactured in the Trichinopoly technique, a method of circular plaiting (known as tatting) still in use among school-children in England.  The chain is plaited on nails through a hole bored in a piece of wood; the resulting pattern is illustrated in fig 4” (Wilson & Blunt 1961). Note, Wilson & Blunt Figure 4 is the same image labeled Figure 7 in A Research Journey (see above).  So the Trichinopoly technique is actually tatting!

Now this part took some work.  There are two types of tatting: needle and shuttle.  Google searching for how to-s, patterns, instructions, etc. did not yield any patterns related to the Wilson & Blunt image.  It wasn’t for several months, and many SCA conversations that a thought finally struck me… what about that “lazy knitting” technique my grandmother used to make pot holders… and behold; it comes out looking exactly right!

Final conclusions:  While both are in fact period chainwork… “Viking Wire Weaving” and “Trichinopoly” are NOT the same!  And as an additional aside the “Trichinopoly” label is NOT a period reference.  However, as Tomantera (among others) reveals, both techniques are period in origin. But I’ll get more into that later…

So a couple of final thoughts: I wanted to get this basic outline out.  I also wanted to have a place I could point to images and show people what I had been trying to explain for months.  This is not a final draft.  I have more…  I have lots more about the history of the “Trichinopoly technique” (still period, but not Viking); the history of  “Viking Wire Weaving”- yes it is Viking, it’s just not “Trichinopoly”; and the origin of the label “Trichinopoly”- and why, being a 19th century reference, would ever have been applied in the first place.

 

Casting Flower Necklace

I have a brand new casting pot of my very own!  Over the last week I also picked up various supplies such as leather gloves and soapstone.  Dick Blick had some nice rectangular stone blocks, so I got two. 🙂

I’m working on putting together a 1530s outfit.  This is my current inspiration: Peter de Kempeneer Portrait of a Woman (previously addtributed to Girolamo da Carpi.  How is this related to casting?  Well, I’m going to attempt to make the flower necklace.  I’m going to cast the flowers out of pewter, and then look into some enamel options to get the color.  I might opt for green flowers so it can serve as my apprentice belt… but I decide on that when I get there. A nice close up of the necklace can be found here.

 

So, back to the casting…

 

To start, I needed to cut the stone into workable pieces for carving. Its a softer stone than I’ve used previously and I was able to cut out two pieces with a hand with relatively little arm strain.  Dick Blick lists it as Sea Mist Soap Stone, and see what a nice shaped block it is?   The wood block is there to make sure I don’t saw into the plastic table.

Having cut out my mould blocks, I got to sketching and then carving.  Again, this is much softer than the pyrophyllite I had used previously.  Carving is therefore a bit easier, but I’m noticing more imperfections in the stone, lines and channels and deposits of harder spots that tend to chip off unexpectedly.   Regardless, I think I’ve got a good carving and I tested it with play-dough to see how it would look.

In the photo you can see one of the stone imperfections running from the bottom right, through my carving.  Its fairly shallow though and didn’t seem to effect the casting later.  The discoloration around the carving is from the moisture of the play-dough when I pressed it.  It looked like a pretty good start so I added the spru to give it a go.

So then I put a 1lb block of pewter into my brand new melting pot and turned on the heat.  The pewter was a gift from Sir  Thomas and Countess Elisenda about a year ago so I’m not sure about the specifics of the metal.  I got the melting pot from Midsouth Shooters.  It’s designed for casting bullets, but the price was much more reasonable that jewelry type melting pots.  The instructions that came with say it heats up to 900F.  Depending on the exact composition, pewter melts about 400F, so it should work well.  I kept the nob turned to “7” (out of 9) and seemed to be getting a good pour.  I’ve got the whole set up on a porcelain tile I picked up from Home Depot.  This makes me feel better than playing with molten metal on a plastic table.  I also got the pouring ladle from Midsouth Shooters.

 

 

 

 

 

After some tweaking (I think the carving was originally too shallow) and I had forgotten to add vents.. I finally got a nice poor!  And the flowers started coming out looking great!  I got about 40 of them to play with.  Then my hand started hurting from squeezing the moulds together and my fingers were getting hot, even through the lined leather gloves.  Ah well.  I’ve seem some that use clamps instead of holding the mould.  But then for every pour you have to unclamp, remove the piece and then re-clamp… I guess I’m just not that patient.

I got the excess cut off and remelted.  And I’m quite happy with the results!

Each flower is about 3/4 of an inch.   I will need to drill out the center pieces later to put the necklace together.

Viking Wire Weaving

Recently had the opportunity to take a class during South Downs Project Night (2nd Wednesdays) on Viking wire weaving.  We used a dowel to wrap the weave around, and 26gauge wire.  Once I had  the basics down, I was intrigued by different pattern variations and possibilities.  So I tried double weave… and then triple weave…  This mostly means that instead of weaving behind the loop immediately above where you’re working, you past the one two above, etc.  It’s a much slower process and gives a thicker final product but looks more patterned (and shinier!) in my opinion.

The pictures I’ve taken so far are abysmal, but you can sorta see the basic idea.  Towards the top of the dowel I was doing single weave, with a triple weaving starting in the middle of the picture and continuing down.  Even in the blur, the weaving looks wider and shinier.  The picture also illustrates how the initial weaving doesn’t stay in a straight line down the dowel but has a tendency to bunch up in places in spread out in others.  The draw plate forgives all manner of inattention as it helps spread out and smooth the weave into a more uniform final product.

Anyway, in playing around with weaving patterns, and poking around on the internet, I came across this lovely blog post from Tangible Daydreams.  So I now have an attempt at weaving with internal beads.   As shown on Tangible Daydreams, I wound the beads around the dowel while weaving, offsetting each bead so they never bunched up and got in the way of each other.

 

I want to try a couple more bead experiments, maybe see if I can get a different pattern going.  Working with the beads created a bit more of a challenge, and I’m not sure I would be able to manage a double weave with beads… though that may be another attempt.

Not yet sure what I’m going to do with any wire woven pieces, but so far enjoying the experimenting.  May have to figure out how to make hooks, clasps, and other finishing elements and get a bracelet or two at least.  One last blurry picture for now: Double weave, triple weave, and internal beads in a single weave all in a row:

 

 

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