Apprenticeship – Experiments with Textiles

Scottish Crannog Centre apprentice Izzie talks about her experimentation with Iron Age textiles!


Since I started my apprenticeship, I have found a real interest in ancient textiles. And we have the textile area at the crannog because we found a small piece of textile on the excavated Oakbank Crannog site. We have been learning about the chain of textile production, from washing wool to the finished piece of woven textile.

To wash wool, we have been doing experiential archaeology and from this, we have discovered that if you put charcoal in a nettle bag, simmer it with wool on an open fire for about 3 hours, it will wash while retaining some of the lanolin, which makes it easy to spin.

After it has been washed, it can be dyed a range of colours. Historically we know that woad, madder and weld have been used, which gives blue, red and yellow, respectively. The techniques we know of are both hot and cold methods of dying. Cold dyes can be fermentation dyes which we know from late Iron Age Finland. To make a fermentation dye, wood rich in tannins is needed and is left to ferment in water for 3-4 weeks. Then the wool can be put in for 2-3 weeks, which will give a vivid auburn colour. Madder, woad and weld are all made as hot dyes. Which is done by collecting plant materials, crushing them up and boiling them on an open fire.

One of the things I stumbled across was that if dyed wool is put to wash with charcoal, it brightens the colour.
At the Centre, we have been using a warp-weighted loom to create a working construction on how the crannog textile might have been woven. Our experience to this seems to point to a different type of loom used (two-beam loom), which we have ambitions to create over the winter.

We look forward to welcoming members of the Crannog Community coming to have a go at working the two-beam loom starting early next year.

(Funding for the apprenticeship programme kindly supported by the Gannochy Trust, Museums Galleries Scotland, Perth & Kinross Council and SSE Renewables)