Stories from the Crannog: Claire and Iron Age Textiles

Lara McLeod


Working somewhere like the Scottish Crannog Centre means that there are stories everywhere, you just have to know where to look.

I spoke to Claire, our resident textiles extraordinaire, blacksmithing trainee, and cooking queen. She had made these tiny little Iron Age-style clothes, and I wanted to know more, and all I had to do was ask!

Claire’s passion for not only history but clothing is infectious, and she has a wealth of knowledge that extends far beyond the Iron Age. She told me that she looked around at various finds from museums as inspiration for patterns for her clothing.

Iron Age clothing was very simple as they mostly used oblongs or squares and then sewed them together. They were roomy and easy to move in, but a common misconception Claire has found is that people don’t realise how colourful their clothes really were. I asked her what kind of colours and she laughed, “Every single one you could imagine!” came her reply.

“Even turquoise?” I asked.

“Even turquoise!”

Dyeing was something prevalent in the Iron Age, as it has been throughout most of human history. It’s in our nature to stray from the boring, after all. Not only this, but patterned clothing was common too. We know this from bog body finds, in which a body is preserved by a bog to such an extent that we can tell what colour clothing they might’ve worn. Patterns that even today we would recognise, various checks like dogtooth or herringbone.

To maintain their clothing, the people would frequently mend. They didn’t, however, wash their outer layers.

“Wool doesn’t like to be washed,” Claire explained. This doesn’t mean that they were gross and stinky though, as they would wash their linen underclothes. Linen naturally has antibacterial properties and is good at absorbing smells, so hygiene was not an issue the way I thought it might have been.

If you fancy trying your hand at making some tiny Iron Age clothes like the ones Claire made, she has kindly drawn some diagrams with some explanations for how to do so.