Lydia of Brus – Lichen Dyed Brat: Textiles in the Oseberg Ship

One of the richest resources for Viking Age textiles is the Oseberg Ship. For this project I was inspired by extents found in the following article: The textiles in the Oseberg ship By Anne Stine Ingstad

I had the pleasure of joining a Forest Court event at the end of 2022. One of my favorite humans was leading a mini workshop on using the acorn leech water to make dye. We added skeins of cotton and wool to the dyepot, as well as some Cheviot wool roving. After a brief simmer, iron mordant was added and the color shifted to a lovely deep lilac brown. This was my first foray into dyeing with foraged materials.

After a few snacks of acorn cakes, we embarked on a woods walk. As we walked, I noticed a surprising amount of lichens around – much of it was no longer attached (thus no longer functioning as a decomposer). Once upon a time I had heard of a lichen that would produce a vibrant
magenta dye. I had no idea what kind of lichen that was, but it couldn’t hurt to collect what was there. I brought it home, washed it, and began fermenting it in an ammonia solution.

After about 6 weeks, I had a dye stock that appeared to be a deep, reddish brown. Now just to be brave enough to see what the tannins in the lichen will do to bare fiber.

Since the lichen was gathered at a Forest Court event, it seemed only fitting to dye the yarn at a forest court event. I dyed a test skein to see if I wanted to use a mordant to modify the color, and decided that it washed out far too pale for my taste. I added an iron mordant, and while the color is still out of my comfort zone I decided it would suit if I used a deep enough green to weave against it.

It was too much fun to dye yarn over a fire in the middle of a snow covered forest at Otzi’s Paradise. As fortune would have it, we forgot the lid for my dye pot, so we covered it with a shield to keep the temperature up.

In the articles I skimmed through, many researchers were confused by this warp pattern. I suspect it is because weaving is not a common skill, even among crafters and fiber artists.

As soon as I saw the pattern, I recognized it and pulled out my trusty warp dictionary. The warp threading is the same as for classic herringbone twill. The difference here is that it is a “trompe as writ” pattern – meaning that the shafts are lifted in the same pattern as the the warp is threaded.

When I dyed the warp at Otzi’s, one of the skeins settled to the bottom and cooked itself apart. I had more yarn, and more dye. But I couldn’t replicate the original color (must have been the snow covered forest).

I decided to incorporate it as a design element instead of mistake. I like the way the deep green plays against the browns of the lichen.

Most extant pieces we have, it is not always clear how the ends have been finished. I intended to braid or twist the fringe on this brat. But after testing and soliciting opinions from a local craft group, we decided it looked better to leave the fringe loose. There is one extant piece I know of that is dyed with indigo and has knotted fringe. It is still undergoing investigation. As a weaver, it is the easiest way to finish a length of cloth, but fringe is not always appropriate for the purpose of the cloth.

I made it to 100 inches (20 more than planned) before I called it quits on this project. It’s more than generous and will be plenty long enough to wear as a hooded wrap for the Forest Court.

I like that ties in the disruptive coloration that so many birds have developed as ways to hide in the woods.

See pictures and more details here.

One thought on “Lydia of Brus – Lichen Dyed Brat: Textiles in the Oseberg Ship

  1. I love that you foraged the lichen and did the dye works outdoors! Great project! I’m looking forward to seeing more!

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