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Women’s Head-coverings in

North-Western Europe
in the Viking Age

Brígiða Vadesbana
(Brenda Gerritsma)

Feb 1, 2008


Table of Contents

Head Coverings - Styles & Forms.......................................................................................3
Veils and Scarves.............................................................................................................3
Head Coverings – Cultural Traditions...............................................................................22
Viking Dublin................................................................................................................22
Head Coverings – Fabrics & Dyes ...................................................................................27

Textiles in north-western Europe often suffer from soil conditions which are not
conducive to preservation, and this is particularly true of the more fragile fabrics
commonly used in head-coverings. Improvements in technology and awareness within
the archaeological community have greatly expanded our knowledge and understanding
of costume history in recent decades, however. More and more finds of textiles fragments
and impressions left in various contexts are being preserved and analysed and new
analyses of old finds are showing us a much broader picture of Early Medieval textile

I present here an overview of female forms of headdress in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia

and western continental Europe in the Viking Age and the historical traditions they come
from, organized both by style of headwear and by culture. Included is some information
about the textiles themselves, headdress construction where available to me, and the dyes,
which were used to colour them. Sadly I was unable to include eastern European
traditions in this paper, due to a lack of sources currently available to me. Hopefully they
may be added at some future date.

Head Coverings - Styles & Forms

Veils and Scarves

There is little evidence of women’s dress in the Viking Age in Ireland. A 13th century
stone carving at Kells Priory (Kilkenny County) shows a woman wearing a short folded
head-cloth with a band over it. Older, more worn stone carvings show women with either
hair dressed to ear or shoulder length, or short head dresses. But archaeological evidence
comes only from Viking controlled Dublin, though it is uncertain whether the evidence
indicates Scandinavian fashion or Irish influence. 1

Heckett, 2003 pg 53

There is evidence of short narrow veils or scarves being worn in Dublin. A length of silk,
dyed purple with lichen, and measuring a minimum of 870 mm long and 240 mm wide
was found.2 The piece still has both selvedges, indicating the fabric was woven to that
width. The ends are hemmed so it is difficult to determine if it was cut from a longer
piece or not.

The veil is not wide enough to cover the back of the head, and may have been secured
with a band or pinned to a cap, band or plait of hair, as it is too short to drape over the
head and wrap securely around the neck. The piece is broken however, and may have
been longer. If 870 mm were approximately the original length, the veil would hang to
slightly below the shoulders when worn centred on the head.

Dublin style Wool Scarf (long-rolled hems)

The other pieces are much shorter though of a similar width. These scarves were rarely
stitched, but woven to width and the warp ends gathered and plied into decorative tassels.
Both silk and wool scarves have been found, in most cases of an open-weave, with fine
threads and show some traces of dyes, in particular indigotin (likely from woad) and
Heckett, 2003 pg 4

madder. Draped over the head they would have been open at the back and likely would
have had to be worn secured either with a headband of some sort, or pinned to the hair or
a hat. 3 The lightness of this cloth makes it unlikely that it could have been used for much
else but head-coverings, as it would not tolerate much stress.4

The wool fabrics were all of good quality, long staple fleeces, combed and Z-spun firmly.
The average thread had a diameter of 0.2 mm, and fairly high thread count at 16 warp
ends per cm, and 13 weft threads. The tabby weave was open with visible space between
threads and was not fulled. This fabric is not seen elsewhere in Europe, though some
gauze-like fabric was found at Haithabu (Denmark), some of which might have been
wool, similarly woven with a slightly lower thread count. No information is available on
thread diameter, so it is difficult to determine if the fabric was as light as the Dublin
pieces. 5

Dublin style Silk Scarf (short-no tassels)

The silks are all tabby woven as well, though of different qualities. Some of the pieces
are also woven of fine, Z-spun thread in both sets, though the threads are slightly finer

ibid, pg 4
ibid, pg 6
Heckett, 2003 pg 89-90

than the wool at 0.09-0.14 mm, and have a higher thread count, particularly in the warp,
at 30-40 threads per cm, and 16-26 in the weft. 6

Other silk pieces have Z-spun warp ranging from 0.05 to 0.13 mm in diameter, and
untwisted weft of 0.45 to 1.0 mm. These are a denser cloth but still too light to have been
suitable for garments other than headwear. They have a thread count of 17-27 per cm in
the warp and 26-33 in the weft. There are also fragments of a type of silk cloth with
untwisted threads ranging from 0.11-0.12 mm in the warp and 0.45-0.5 mm in the weft,
but not much else is able to be determined from them. These silk fabrics are well known
in other parts of Europe, and have been found all over England and Scandinavia. 7

Among Anglo-Saxons veils are more securely assigned a place. It is relatively common
to find lightweight linen tabby woven cloth (preserved or cloth impressions) lying in
front of brooches worn on the shoulders and chest of buried individuals. These fabrics
range from gauzy to close-woven but are generally of finer fabrics than those found on
other parts of the body. The fabrics appear to lie in loose folds, or, in the case of the
denser fabrics, in gathers and pleats, sometimes sewn in place.8

The majority of these fabrics were bleached white linen, though examples of net-like
wool fabrics, including one dyed a deep blue black have been found. In one grave where
a brooch has fallen beside the head and preserved part of the upper portion of the veil, the
veil appears to be fine red tabby, edged with a patterned tablet woven band, 9 mm wide,
and running across the temple and over the ear, suggesting some form of tie to secure the
veil about the head. In several mid 6th - 7th century graves there are lightweight linen
fabrics bordered in tablet weave that are clearly worn over other garments. This border
may have only been on the front edge in some cases, or may have been sewn on only
across the forehead, after which they detached from the veil to form a tie. 9 A 7th century

ibid, pg 91
ibid, pg 93-4
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 157
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 157-8

complaint against nuns by Saint Aldhelm mentions veils held in place with ‘ribbons’
sewn to them. 10

Early to Mid-Saxon Veil with attached band

Small closed rings, annular brooches, and metal clips shaped like modern staples begin
appearing near the ears in graves at this time. The rings have sometimes been interpreted
as earrings, but as the rings are permanently closed it is more likely that these, and the
clips and brooches were part of the veiling arrangement. They may have been a way of
securing tablet woven bands to the veil or a coif underneath, or of strengthening the point
at which a band edging the veil in front detached from the veil to form ties.11 Single pins
are also found at the jaw, forehead and under skulls. These metal objects have also been
interpreted as possibly securing a burial shroud across the face of the deceased.12

A long straight pin appears to have been used to secure the veil in the neck area. These
pins, however, rarely appear in graves on women under the age of approximately 17. This

Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 135
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 159
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 157

may indicate a specific change in status of a female at this age, most likely marriage.
This is in contrast to when the peplos dresses generally began being worn; the
approximate age at which a female is capable of bearing a child. The fabrics interpreted
as veils are also not found on women under the age of 16. 13

In the 5th and early 6th century short white linen veils were worn. Gauzy black veils and
at least one red one are found in Yorkshire. These veils hung around only the shoulders
and upper chest, with the longest veil found only reaching to just above the elbows.14 This
is evident from the fact that metal artefacts worn lower on the body preserve other
materials, but the veil material is only preserved around the head and shoulders.

These began lengthening in the 6th and 7th centuries and a wider range of fabrics began
being used. Veils are found to the hips and even the thighs, and the pleats seen in some of
the heavier early veils had become tight, close pleats. Coloured veils seem more
common, and according to literary evidence, may even have been so long as to fall to the
ankles.15 Veils also become more common among girls in the 7th century, probably due to
the influence of Christian morality. 16

By the 7th century veils appear to have become a medium for displaying status and
fashion sense, with veil options including plain, or ornamented with patterned braid (and
possibly beads), white or coloured, smooth or pleated, and worn with or without a
headband and/or coif. However they were worn, it would seem that the veils did not
entirely cover the hair, as Aldhelm’s complaint makes mention of curled hair visible at
the forehead and temples. 17

Black veils appear to have been a sign of religious status. In the 7th century, Aldhelm
complains of nuns replacing their black or dark grey veils with white or coloured veils,

Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 178, 242
ibid, pg 158, 161-2
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 159-65
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 157
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 165-7, Owen-Crocker, 2004. pg 135, 157-8

and in Byzantine art Mary is often depicted wearing a black veil over a white coif,
whereas secular, court ladies are more often portrayed in white or patterned veils. 18

In the 10th and 11th centuries most art depicts women wearing voluminous veils, covering
the head and neck and hiding the hair. This appears to have been worn by all women
except very young girls. One possible variation of this head covering is a large
rectangular veil, draped loosely about the head and pinned at one end to the head on the
opposite side. This is not a practical style for physical labour, and may be more common
among the upper classes that dominate in artistic depictions. Another possibility for a
closer fitting veil is a rectangle or oval with a hole cut out near one long edge for the face
to emerge from. Or the veil may be worn tucked into the neck of the gown underneath
rather than loose about the shoulders.19 Most of these veils are depicted as being
unornamented though there are a few which may have been pattern-woven silk.20

Late Saxon Veil with headband

Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 165
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 219-20
ibid, pg 158, 223

Pins are never shown in depictions, but are common finds. They are usually small,
round-headed pins, which could have been discreetly used to hold the veil in place.21

Early in the period, the fashions in Kent were a bit different than other parts of England,
due most likely to being settled by the Jutes and Frisians rather than the Angles or
Saxons. In the 6th century Jutish fashions were replaced with Merovingian. 22

Kentish women almost certainly wore veils. Veils were fashionable among Merovingian
women, likely an import from Byzantine styles. One veil falling to the hip appears to
have been made from brocaded fabric. The ground fabric has disappeared, so it’s unclear
what the veil was made of. These veils likely framed the face more closely than the
Continental fashion, however, as there is evidence that brooches were used to fasten them
under the chin, and Kentish women were generally not found to be wearing the elaborate
earrings popular in the Frankish courts.23

Many veils found in Kent edged with gold thread are from this period. While some of the
gold-brocaded bands have been interpreted as headbands, and the location of some of
these bands support this, some of the bands also appear to fall alongside the face and are
quite possibly veil edgings.24

Among the Frankish courts, elaborate and lengthy veils were fashionable. The burial at
Arnegunde contains a veil of red silk satin, pinned at the temples, which hung to the
waist. Another burial at Cologne Cathedral, presumed to be of a princess, contained gold
threads by the feet, which have been interpreted as the edges of a veil. Calf-length veils
were popular in the Byzantine Empire with whom the Franks had many close ties. 25
Germanic women are sometimes portrayed in Roman sculpture as wearing long loose
veils sometimes secured by headbands.26

ibid, pg 225-6
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 190-1
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 100-1
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 158
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 79, 100
ibid, pg 79

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The evidence for veils in Scandinavia is a bit scarcer, at least in the archaeological
record. At Birka, several metal-brocaded bands have been found with fragments of silk
cloth preserved beneath them, suggesting the possibility that the bands had been worn
over a veil or a cap. Gauze-like cloth has been found at Danish Haithabu (Hedeby) dating
to the 9th century, it may be wool and the open-weave of the cloth is similar to what was
found in Dublin, dating from the 10th and 11th century. Some more closely woven wool
fabric at Kaupang in Norway may also be related.27 The Oseberg Queen is also said to
have been found with evidence of a veil, possibly soumak woven, however I have as yet
not been able to access the recent research released on the textiles found in the Oseberg

There is a 10th century burial at Horning in Denmark, where fragments of a loosely

woven tabby cloth, dyed blue, have been identified as a veil with a tablet woven edging
falling on both sides to the knees. This burial of a high-ranking lady is believed to reflect
Frankish fashion, which seemed to be popular among the elite in Denmark at the time. 28

The only artistic depiction I have seen record of is the Lewis chessmen, which were
found in Scotland, but appear Norse in style. The Queens in the set are depicted wearing
short veils under their crowns.29


Headbands of silk and wool have been found in Dublin. Two longer silk ones measure
580 mm long and between 80-100 mm wide. One is still knotted, though the loop is
broken, but the broken ends appear to fit together. The measurement of the loop would
be about 390 mm. A further two bands are made of shorter lengths knotted together; one
two-piece band measuring 390 mm, and a three-piece band measuring 480 mm. Heckett
determined these would be sufficient to wear round the head. 30

Heckett, 2003 pg 8, 90
Krag, 2005 pg 29-31
Heckett, 2003 pg 7
Heckett, 2003 pg 4-5*

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Shorter pieces in wool and silk measure approximately 380 mm as well. At least two of
the wool bands appearing to be a complete loom-pieces, as warp loops are present at one
end of one, with the other hemmed, and the other piece appears to have the fringes tucked
into hems at both ends. It is impossible to tell if the silks are also loom-pieces as the ends
are still stitched down. One of the silk bands was found with a knot of flossy silk yarn,
and the ends of the band were drawn in as though the yarn may have been sewn to the
ends to allow the band to be tied around the head. One of the wool bands also shows
signs of similar bunching at one end. 31

Thin gold bands with Scandinavian associations, perforated at the ends to allow for a tie
to be threaded through have also been found in Dublin. These may have been used to
hold scarves and veils in place, as could gold and silver brocaded tablet woven bands
found in Dublin. Such bands have a long history in Europe of being worn with or
without other head-coverings. The undecorated wool and silk bands of loom woven cloth
may be a lower status version of these tablet woven bands. 32

There are few depictions in art of Anglo-Saxon women wearing headbands but written
sources indicate they were a typical garment of married women, so much so that a form
of sign language developed for use by monks who had vowed silence indicated a
headband or bindan as a sign for women. The word binde in Anglo-Saxon refers to a
fillet and appears most likely to be a gold or silver (or both) brocaded band. It is possible
it may also have referred to bands which were not brocaded with metal, but which have
disappeared from the archaeological record. 33 A similar word, bænde, refers to a solid
metal band. 34 The brocaded bands appeared to have been brocaded only on the front and

* I am enormously confused by this conclusion. All evidence I have seen seems to indicate the
average height of people in this period is not much smaller than average height now. I am slightly
shorter than current average size and there is no way in which to wear a band that short securely
around my head. All measurements of my head require over 500 mm, even if pinned to something
else. Since there seems to be clear evidence these were worn on the head, I theorize these may
have actually been worn as binding for the hair, rather than worn around the head itself.
ibid, pg 5-6
ibid, pg 7-8
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 82
ibid, pg 225

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possibly on the ends of longer ties, with the hair and veil covering the undecorated parts,
though the largest example had brocading on 250 to 340 mm, which would stretch from
temple to temple or even from behind one ear to behind the other. 35

Metal-brocaded Head-band common across Northern Europe

There is one illustration (showing the daughters of Ruel) that shows the band being worn
over veils, and another illustration of Emma, King Cnut’s wife wearing a stiffened band
with long, possibly jewelled, embroidered or brocaded, ties under her veil. 36

Patterned tablet woven bands have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves. While there is
some evidence that these may have been veil edgings in some graves, being found falling
alongside the face, in other graves the bands appear to cross the forehead and over the
ears, suggesting they were headbands. They may have been sewn to the veil around the
face and then left loose for the rest of their length, allowing them to be used as ties to
bind the veil. Small closed rings, brooches and metal clips similar to modern staples
appear around the temples and ears, which would reinforce the point at which the band

ibid, pg 96-7
Heckett, 2003 pg 6-7, Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 224

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separates from the veil. 37 These bands would have been rich items, as they were one of
the most commonly bequeathed garment in women’s wills. 38

In Kent these headbands commonly were gold brocaded. At least ten burials have gold
strips on or near the head. There are several other burials that also contain the same type
of gold strips used for brocading, but the position of the strips was not recorded, and it is
therefore impossible to say for certain they were also headbands. These headbands were
probably tablet woven and likely of silk, as the Continental examples of these types of
headbands were. The gold brocading was made of gold foil cut into narrow strips, which
were brocaded into the bands, then flattened and burnished to look like a solid gold
pattern. If brocaded onto red silk they would have looked remarkably similar to the gold
and gilded jewellery inlaid with garnets or red glass that was being imported from among
the Franks. 39

The Kentish bands were probably derived from the fashions of the Franks, among whom
some of the earliest examples of these bands appeared (5th and early 6th century), where
they were referred to as vitta. They were popular in the later 6th and 7th centuries. A
particularly elaborate example comes from a grave in Cologne Cathedral, with the gold
brocaded in a soumak weave, and a gold and garnet ornament set on the brow. The bands
were so notable, they appear frequently in Frankish literature. They seem to be especially
associated with brides, but married women appear to have continued wearing them, at
least on ceremonial occasions. Roman sculpture depicts women with loose veils draped
over their heads, and secured by headbands. The technique of brocading gold was likely
learned from the earlier Gallo-Romans, who edged their garments with it, but the fashion
for fillets was Byzantine. 40

According to literary sources, narrow brocaded fillets were worn by both men and
women in Scandinavia, especially among middle class women and warriors. At Birka, 20
male graves, and 15 female graves have the distinctive gold and silver strips on tablet
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 158-59
ibid, pg 224
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 96
ibid, pg 97, 79

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woven bands. Silver is more common than gold in Scandinavia, both in the relative
numbers of gold and silver brocaded bands worn in Scandinavian, and in comparison to
other areas of Northern Europe.41

Some of the bands have fragments of silk lying under them, suggesting the band was
worn with a cap or veil (there’s evidence of stitching some of the fragments). Viking Art,
however often depicts women bareheaded, with their hair knotted, and sometimes
confined with a headband to keep it in place. This is shown on the Oseberg cart and
the Kinsta figure, both of which appear to have a band, not across the forehead, but
running along the hairline. In some graves it would appear it could also have been worn
only around the back of the head. 43

Metal Brocaded Headband worn in different positions

The scarf-like headband, however, was only worn by women. This may have been the
head covering referred to in sagas as sveigr, a garment worn by married freewomen. The
word is related to another Scandinavian word meaning “to bend or bow”, suggesting to
was some kind of cloth twisted around the head. In one saga a man taunts another by
claiming the bandage the second man is wearing around his head and covering his eye
looks like a woman’s head-cloth. This would clearly suggest that the narrow brocaded

Heckett, 2003 pg 7-8
ibid, pg 7-8, 53
Ewing, 2006 pg 55

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fillet is not what is meant here. 44 It may be similar to the short, narrow scarves found in


Several wool and silk caps have been found in Dublin, the most common form being
about 160 mm wide and 480 mm long (unfolded). The front edge is usually rolled, or
folded and sewn; the bottom edge double folded and hemmed (average fold 5 mm/5 mm
on the wool caps, and 2-3 mm in the silk caps); and the back over-sewn with the selvedge
edge turned in 2-25 mm. A curved line of running stitch shaped the peak of the hat to the
skull, and the peak is left revealed. The over-sewing on the back often was not continued
past the beginning of the curved line of stitching, and in some cases the back was not
stitched together at all, the back edges being rolled and stitched like the front. Ties were
sewn to the front bottom corners of the cap. None have been found still attached, but silk
ribbons and braids have been found, which may have been used for ties, and the fronts of
the caps show signs of stress consistent with having been pulled by ties. 45

Dublin Wool Caps - 1. closed back, 2. open back (wrong fabric)

ibid, pg 52-3
Heckett, 2003 pg 44

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It is unclear whether the wool caps were loom-pieces as the bottom edged are hemmed,
but most had selvedges on both sides so were woven to the finished width, likely
specifically for making caps with. The width is slightly narrower than that of the wool
scarves. 46 The silk caps have only one selvedge or none extant, suggesting these were cut
down from wider cloth to match the parameters of the wool caps. 47

The sewing on the wool caps was on average 2-4 stitches per cm and about 1-4 mm long,
on the silk it was 3-6 stitches per cm and 1-2 mm long per stitch. In most cases the fibre
used to stitch the cap was the same as the cap was made of. The wool sewing thread was
Z-spun and S-plied with two strands, and around 1 mm in diameter. The colours ranged
from reddish-brown to black, with black predominant. The silk sewing thread was used in
both single and double strands (S-plied) with diameters ranging from 0.4-1 mm and
appeared golden to dark brown in colour (these colours may be the result of the soil in
which they were found). All extant beginnings of a line of stitching had knots to secure
the end, with no instances of taking several stitches in place as later became common.
The variations in technique and skill suggest that the pieces were made on an individual
basis as needed or wanted, rather than being commercially produced by a specialist. 48

The fact that these caps have been found in more than one location in Dublin suggests
that the caps may have been in general use in the community. It is not completely certain
who wore these caps but, based on comparable garments in other cultures, experts believe
it is more likely to be women and children. The range of sizes and the placement of ties
on some of the caps suggest they were worn by a wide range of ages. The veil-like
material is not very sturdy and may have been originally been meant to be pinned to
dressed hair or loosely tied as tying them more firmly would cause the fabric to pull and
tear quickly. They may have been worn under the kinds of veils seen in Anglo-Saxon and
Byzantine art. While such under-caps in those cultures would likely be made of linen,
which was readily available and comfortable, there’s no reason wool and silk could not
have been used the same way. 49
ibid, pg 44
ibid, pg 46
ibid, pg 102-4
Heckett, 2003 pg 47-9

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Several show signs of repair; darning, patches, and ties replaced. One cap has a patch
sewn on the inside over one ear. This is an odd position, as it has left a hole visible on
the outside. Possibly this hole was created after the patch had been applied, and the patch
had been intended to reinforce a thin area that had not worn through yet. Or perhaps it
was worn only as a nightcap or under another covering so comfort on the ear was more
important than appearance. 50 These sometimes extensive repairs suggest that these caps
had a complex and lengthy pattern of use, possibly as status symbols worn alone or with
a fillet when first made, and gradually being put to more general use as they became
worn, or handed down to younger family members, servants, or such. 51

There are no extant caps or hairnets found among the Anglo-Saxons, however, some kind
of coif does seem likely. Coifs and caps of various sorts have a long history in Northern
Europe and both the veil of the nun’s habit (with its roots in early medieval dress) and the
Moslem veil are typically worn with a cap and/or headband to hold the hair securely and
provide a base for the veil. 52

Pillbox Hat

ibid, pg 46-7
ibid, pg 49
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 160, 165

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The Anglo-Saxon language has three terms for kinds of hats, hæt (hat), cuffie (loose
fitting hood or scarf) and scyfel (hat or cap with some form of projection). 53 A cuffie is
related to the modern word coif, but could also be related to the word cufle, a monk’s
cowl, suggesting the cuffie was shaped more like a hood. There is also the possibility of
some kind of round hat, perhaps in a pillbox style. The 6th century pot lid from Spong Hill
is often interpreted as piled up hair, but may be hair confined in a pillbox style hat. Some
Frankish and Germanic art from the 9th and 11th centuries also depict such a hat, 54 and
one has been found in the Merovingian or Carolingian level at Raskwerd, the
Netherlands. 55 Such hats appear in the archaeological record in Greenland as well,
though they are dated past the scope of this paper. 56 A further possibility is some form of
hat with a projection of some sort that shades the face, which may be what is meant by
the scyfel. Scyfel is a cognate of the Icelandic skupla or skypill, which refers to a
women’s hood, which hides or shades her face. Such a hat is depicted in the 11th century
English Harley Psalter. 57

Caps similar to the Dublin caps were found in York, London and Lincoln, Birka
(Sweden), and Masku (Finland). The closest comparable ones are the ones at York (in the
10th century layer at Coppergate) and Lincoln, all of which are silk of similar weaves to
the Dublin silk caps, and like them, had one selvedge edge and one cut one. The basic
pattern, including the curved line shaping the peak to the head was present, though at
least one York cap had the peak snipped off. The cap found at Saltergate, Lincoln was
open at the back. It has been suggested that the similarities between the silks may even
indicate that the fabric could have come from the same bolt, possibly sold in pieces by a
travelling merchant, however variations in reinforcement of the selvedge during weaving
and the fact that caps have been found in contexts ranging from the early 10th century to
early 11th makes it more likely that the fabric was merely a commonly available fabric at
the time, particularly in trade towns. 58
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 81
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 221-2
ibid, pg 79
Ostergard, 2004 pg 219-20
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 221-2
Heckett, 2003 pg 49-52

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Jorvik Cap (in linen, with headband)

At Birka, the evidence is less firm. A silk fragment with evidence of stitching, is
described as a small cap by Agnes Geiger, which she suggests was worn on the back of
the head, and secured with a metal-brocaded band, the silver strips of which preserved the
fragment. A headdress found at Masku is similar in shape and dimensions as the Dublin
caps, but is made of a thicker wool twill fabric, which would have stood up around the
head in a stiffer fashion. A fresco in Kiev shows the daughters of the King of Kiev in
what appear to be close-fitting caps, though they appear more generously constructed
than the Dublin caps.59

In the Scandinavians sagas, a type of headdress called a faldr (“to fold”) is mentioned, a
good description of the Dublin and York caps and small scarves. One saga seems to
suggest a woman’s faldr had a bulging appearance, as though it were stuffed with her
hair, and some of the women on the Oseberg Tapestry do appear to have their hair
dressed or covered in such a fashion. 60 It is possible to tie the caps in such a way as to
accomplish this.

Heckett, 2003 pg 52-3
Ewing, 2006 pg 53

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A late 10th century statue from Germany shows Mary wearing what is possibly a close-
fitting cap, or a small wrapped headdress with a cloak closed by an elaborate eagle
brooch. This gives credence to the idea that people who wear elaborate jewellery would
not likely wear garments that habitually covered them up. 61 Roman sculptures from a few
centuries earlier also show Germanic women wearing caps or hairnets, at least in indoor
settings. Sculptures in Rhineland show women with drawstring caps over bundled hair.

Pillbox style hats also appear in Frankish and Germanic art. The 11th century Paris
Psalter shows a woman in a round hat, carrying a scarf or veil, and 9th century
Carolingian illumination shows a cloth wrapped round a similar hat. In archaeological
finds there was a pillbox hat found in the Netherlands in the Merovingian or Carolingian
levels. 64


Hairnets are very fragile in nature and few survive in the archaeological record. Seven
knotted silk hairnets were found in Dublin, and one piece of sprang. 65 There is no
evidence Anglo-Saxon women wore sprang, though it was known in Britain in the
Bronze Age. 66 No sprang pieces or other types of hairnets have survived in England in
the Viking Age, 67 though the soils are poor for textile preservation and very little textiles
from the top of heads remain unless they were resting against metal. Caps of sprang were
known to be worn by Germanic women in Scandinavia and is known in Norway and
Sweden in the Viking Age. 68 This may be because most sprang was probably made in
linen which rarely survives in the archaeological record. 69

Heckett, 2003 pg 54
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 161-2
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 80
ibid, pg 221-2, 79
Heckett, 2003 pg 109
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 80
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 160
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 79-80
Ewing, 2006 pg 149

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Head Coverings – Cultural Traditions
Viking Dublin

Our knowledge of headwear in Viking controlled Dublin is primarily from the 10th and
11th centuries. Very little is known about dress in other parts of Ireland at the time. The
women of Dublin do not appear to have worn veils commonly. This is not unusual, as
veils known to be worn in other cultures during this period were generally relatively
voluminous, and impractical for working in. Dublin was a trade town and the areas in
which the Dublin caps and scarves were found were primarily populated by artisans,
rarely than the wealthy elite, who might have had the leisure to wear impractical clothing.
Also, the caps and scarves were found in settlement areas, discarded, rather than buried in
graves, where people were commonly buried in their finest.

Art in Ireland at this time shows women with their hair either dress to shoulder length, or
wearing short veils or caps. It is unclear if this was a native fashion or Scandinavian
influence, though the presence of similar caps in Viking controlled York and Lincoln
suggests the latter.

Scarves and veils were narrow and short, only about 240 mm wide, and about 600 mm
long. They were woven to size, with selvedges on both sides, and warp ends, sometimes
still in loops, plied and cabled into decorative fringes. They were of delicate gauze or net
like fabric and were woven of both wool and silk.

They could be worn a number of ways; centred on the head and hanging loose, probably
pinned to the wearer’s hair or some form of cap or headband; secured with a band
overtop; tied by the corners under the chin or at the nape of the neck; or gathered and tied
like a headband around the forehead.

Similar to the scarves are the sewn caps. They were also woven to size, though on
average narrower than the scarves, being between 160 –180 mm wide where selvedges
could be identified on both sides. Because the ends were sewn in it is difficult to say for

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certain that they woven to length as well, though it seems plausible. They were also
shorter than the scarves, at 480 mm unfolded.

A typical cap had a rolled, or folded and sewn, front edge (front edges with cord whip-
stitched on are also present). Doubled folds of 5-20 mm were hemmed along the bottom
edge with ties sewn to the front bottom corner. The backs of the caps could be hemmed,
but otherwise left unstitched, or more commonly, over-sewn with the selvedge edge
turned in 2-25 mm, often continuing only to where the peak was shaped. A line of
running stitch curved across the peak of the hat, shaping it to the skull, with the peak left
standing. No ties have been found still attached to the caps, but silk braids and ribbons
have been found in context with the caps, which may have been used. There is no sign
embroidery or decorative stitching was used on the caps.

Narrow bands of silk and wool were also utilized, sometimes knotted together from more
than one short length. These were loom-woven bands and some of the shorter pieces may
have had some kind of ties sewn to them to secure them behind the head. These bands
could be a lower status version of the metal-brocaded silk tablet bands found in Dublin
and across Britain and the Continent. Solid narrow metal bands with a perforation in the
ends, which could have been threaded with ties, have also been found. These would have
been very high status symbols.

Some knotted silk hairnets and one piece of sprang have been found in Dublin as well, so
hairnets are a likely form of headdress. If they were typically made of linen, they may
have been more common than the archaeological record suggests.


Early in the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain women tended to wear short veils, only
covering the head and shoulders. It was common for them to be pinned at the neck,
though not necessarily closely. By the Viking age, these had lengthened considerably.

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The archaeological record shows many extending to the hip or thigh, but literary evidence
points to the fact that some hung as far as the ankles.

While bleached white linen was typical early on, and continued in use into the Viking
Age, a much wider range of fabrics and styles had appeared. Veils were often plain but
could be ornamented with costly braid and possibly beads. Most common were tablet
woven borders, possibly only on the front edge. Some of these borders were only sewn
on the veil across the forehead, and then detached to form ties to secure the veil. The
point of detachment was sometimes reinforced with brooches, rings, or staple-like metal
clips. Veils could also be pleated and/or worn with or without a coif or a headband
(which was usually worn underneath, but could occasionally be worn over top of the

Veils appear to have been the exclusive province of married women in the early period,
but by the Viking Age, all but the youngest of girls would have been wearing some form
of head covering. By the 10th and 11th century these head coverings would cover the head
and neck and conceal the hair completely, but in the earlier Viking age, literary evidence
suggests hair was often visible at the forehead and temples. The later veils were also
depicted as unornamented for the most part, though a few seem to be patterned silk.

It should be noted, the voluminous veils of the late Viking Age are known primarily from
art, as Christian beliefs discouraged the practice of interring grave goods with the dead.
The veils depicted are impractical for work, but as art generally depicts royalty, wealthy
patrons and saints, and what little remains in the graves is likely to be ‘Sunday Best’ this
is likely to represent a high status and/or ‘special occasion’ fashion. Two possible
variations of this fashion might be a large rectangle of fabric draped closely about the
head and pinned with small, discreet pins at the side of the face, or a rectangle or oval
with a hole cut near one long edge through which the face can emerge. One fashion that
is occasionally shown is to wear the veil with the ends tucked into the neck of the gown.
Likely this would have been a smaller veil.

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Headbands were a typical feature of Anglo-Saxon women’s headwear. While the most of
the finds are of metal-brocaded tablet woven bands, this would have been an expensive
item, and fibre-brocaded tablet bands, or non-brocaded patterned or plain bands would
probably have been worn on a day-to-day basis and by lower classes.

The bands often appear to be brocaded only on the front, presumably because the veil and
hair would cover the rest. Some of the bands seem to have been quite long, and hang out
from under the veil at the bottom. These tie ends appear to have been ornamented, at
least some of the time, possibly with further brocading, embroidery or even jewelled.
Solid metal bands have also been found.

Coifs have not been found in Anglo-Saxon England, though textile historians do consider
them likely. They were common elsewhere in North-western Europe during this period
and would provide a firm base for the veil, as well as holding the hair back. The Anglo-
Saxon language does have several words for types of hats, including a cuffie, which is
often translated to mean a loose fitting hood or scarf, which would fit the description of
the nearby Dublin caps and scarves. Other possibilities for Anglo-Saxon hats include a
pillbox style, as possibly depicted on the 6th century Spong Hill pot lid, and in the 11th
century Harley Psalter. One possible reconstruction for how these types of headdress
would be worn is to tie the coif at the chin or nape of the neck, tie the wide band of cloth
around the forehead, and drape the veil over top. 70

Hairnets have also not been found in this period in England, though they would not
survive well in an archaeological context in English soil, and would not be visible under
the veils in most artistic depictions. There is no evidence for sprang being a utilized
technique at this time.


Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 165

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Veils were common among the women of Kent, and many were richly decorated with
gold braid borders and gold threads running through the weave. One veil appears to have
been brocaded all over with gold thread. They seem to have been worn close around the
face, as pins have been found under the chin, and the elaborate earrings of the Frankish
courts, from which Kentish fashion derived, do not appear.

Gold brocaded bands were quite common in Kent, sometimes as fillets, and sometimes as
veil borders. The gold strips, which formed the brocading, was smoothed and burnished
to appear as though the designs were formed of solid pieces of gold. The bands
themselves were most likely silk, and if they were done in red, would have looked much
like the garnet or red glass enamelled gold jewellery that was then being imported into
Kent from the Frankish territories. Shortly into the Viking age, however, the differences
between Kentish fashion and that of the rest of Anglo-Saxon England had mostly


There is little evidence for veils in the archaeological record in Scandinavia. Some silk
fragments have been found under a metal-brocaded band in Sweden, suggesting the
bands were worn with a veil or cap, and some gauze-like fabric similar to the Dublin caps
and scarves has been found in Denmark. The Queens of the Lewis Chess Set, which may
have been Norwegian work, are wearing what looks like short veils under their crowns.

Brocaded fillets were routinely worn by both men and women. In Scandinavia, silver
was a more commonly used metal thread than gold, unlike elsewhere. These bands are
sometimes shown being worn alone in artistic depictions and in archaeology, and could
be worn around the forehead, the hairline, or just the peak of the skull. Women wore
another form of headband as well; based on literary evidence, it seems to have been
similar to the short narrow scarves found in Dublin.

- 26 -
Caps like those found in Dublin were also found in Viking settled York and Lincoln, and
in London. One of the York caps has the peak trimmed off, but otherwise the hats are, for
the most part, similar. A fragment of stitched cloth, found under a brocaded band at
Birka, suggests this fashion existed in Scandinavia as well. Sprang hairnets were also


The veils of Frankish women were often depicted as very similar in style to that of
Byzantine Empire, with whom the Frankish kingdoms had close ties. The veils were long
and elaborate, some of the finest found being of red silk satin, or having gold threads
worked in at the edges.

Brocaded tablet bands were common, and as a fashion likely also derived from Byzantine
styles, though the technique of metal-brocading probably came from the Gallo-Romans.
Frankish gold-brocaded bands were especially elaborate, and included soumak-wrapped
weave, and were so notable they often were mentioned in Frankish literature. They
appear to have been especially associated with brides, but married women seem to have
continued wearing them, at least on ceremonial occasions.

There is some suggestion in Frankish art for coifs or caps of some sort, and hairnets and
caps were known from Roman times. Some sculptures in Rhineland also show a form of
drawstring cap over bundled hair. 9th and 11th century illuminations show a pillbox style
hat, worn by women, and one has been found from the Merovingian or Carolingian level
in the Netherlands.

Head Coverings – Fabrics & Dyes


- 27 -
The wool fabric found at Dublin has some similarities to fabric found elsewhere in
northern Europe; the particularly fine tabby wools are peculiar in the archaeological
record to Dublin. It was all of light, open-weave tabby, averaging 16 warp threads per
cm, and 13 weft threads and was not fulled. The threads were all Z-spun firmly, of long
combed wool staple and the average diameter of the threads was 0.2 mm. The wider
fabric was between 140-180 mm wide where both selvedges are extant, and between 380-
490 mm long. The bands were between 80-120 mm wide. 71 16 warp threads per cm was
also typical of the narrow bands, but while one band has a similar weft count to the wider
fabrics, the other has a weft count of 17-21 threads per cm. Many of the fabrics appear to
have been complete loom-pieces, woven specifically not just to width, but also length, the
scarves at least, having clear warp loops plied into tassels on several pieces. 72

A few of the Anglo-Saxon veils are of wool; they are described as semi-transparent net-
like Z/Z spun tabbies of fine, smooth yarn. These weaves are found in England (6th-7th
centuries), Germany (7th-8th centuries), and in the Viking Age, in Anglo-Scandinavian
York, Hiberno-Norse Dublin, Mammen (Denmark), and Haithabu (Sweden). The Viking
Age weaves are a bit finer, but generally the same technically. They were often dyed
black, blue or purple. 73

As the tools for wool production from fleece to finished garment are present in all
Northern Europe communities, it is likely the wool was locally produced. There is a
possibility such fine cloth was produced by a specialist, and unusual wool fabrics were
known to be traded widely.


The Dublin Silks were of three kinds, Z/Z tabby, Z/no twist tabby, and no twist/no twist
tabby. Weaves vary from gauze-like to more solid weaves with thicker weft threads that
add sheen to the fabric. Some of the pieces have both selvedges and warp loops present,

Heckett, 2003 pg 89
ibid, pg 5
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 68-9

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which indicates many pieces, would have been woven to size. All types seem to have
reinforced selvedges with extra threads. These types of fabrics were well-known in
Europe, with finds at York, Jelling, Mammen, Perth, Lund and London

The no twist/no twist silks were all small fragments, and are distorted, so the density of
the weave is difficult to establish. The yarn diameters were 0.11-0.12 mm in one set, and
0.45-0.5 mm in the other.

The Z/Z tabby is the finest fabric, with a yarn diameter of 0.09-0.14 mm, and a thread
count of 16-26/cm (warp) x 12-15/cm (weft), to 30-41/cm (warp) x 19-32/cm (weft). The
weave is open and some of the pieces have a well-crimped yarn, which gives the fabric a
crepe-like appearance, though the twist of the threads is light to medium. There are
traces of decorative fringes on several of the pieces. The one exception to the general
parameters of the fabric is the largest silk scarf, which has thicker yarn and a denser
weave than the others.

The Z/no twist silk is of a denser weave than the Z/Z tabbies. The yarn diameter of the
warp is 0.05-0.13 mm, while the weft ranges from 0.45-1.00 mm, with a thread count of
17-20/cm x 24-27/cm to 28-33/cm-26-31/cm. This cloth is very similar to the silks used
for the York, Lincoln and London caps. 74

Many of the tablet weaves are believed to be of silk, which was common on the
Continent. While brocading could be done on wool or linen, only silk seems to have
survived with any frequency. 75 Some silk bands from Scandinavia have replaced certain
of the threads, those never appearing on the surface of the band due to the pattern of
weaving, with some organic thread (linen or nettle) which has not survived. 76

Heckett, 2007 pg 91-3
Crowfoot and Hawkes, 1967 pg 53, 56
Knudsen, 2005 pg 36-37

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A few rare types of silks were also found. Silk taffeta was found at Birka, 77 and a satin
weave was found at Arnegunde (the burial is dated 580-90 CE, before the Viking Age). 78

Silk cloth is less likely to be locally produced. While silk thread was being imported
since at least the early 7th century for use in embroidery, there is no evidence of silk
weaving in Europe at that time. 79


Linen was a widely available cloth in the Viking Age, but because it does not survive
well in archaeological settings, it is often more difficult to find evidence of. Its use for
veils in Anglo-Saxon England and on the Continent is known from impressions and some
fragments, 80 There were no pieces of linen from Dublin positively identified as parts of
headdresses. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t used, only that it the soil conditions are not
conducive to its survival. It may have been used to make the same sorts of headdresses,
or even possibly a form currently unknown. 81


No traces of dyes were found on the Dublin caps, though a few showed signs of the
presence of mordants, which may indicate they were dyed once but the dye decayed. 82
However, some naturally occurring mordants may have leached in from the soil.

In the silks, several dyes are present. The largest scarf was dyed with lichen purple,
though which lichen is unknown. Two of the silk hats had traces of indigotin, likely from

Heckett, 2007 pg 94
Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 79
Heckett, 2003 pg 105
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 157
Heckett, 2003 pg 109
ibid, pg 129

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woad, and one had traces of madder. 83 Some of the pieces had a golden brown tint to
them. This may be their natural colour, however, or colour leached in by the soil. 84

Dye analyses in Anglo-Saxon textiles indicates dyed cloth was a lot less common than
previously thought, and occurred with greater frequency in accessories such as veils and
scarves and in trimmings than in whole garments. Reds and purples tended to be confined
to threads for embroidery, narrow bands and headdresses. Blues, greens, browns and
yellows were a bit more common on larger pieces of clothing, and also used for
accessories and trims; blue in particular. 85

The same is true in Scandinavia, where undyed clothes were the norm in day-to-day
garments. Most undyed clothing came from naturally pigmented wools, which were
rarely dyed, and natural or bleached linen. Dyed wools were predominantly white
originally. Blue is one of the commonest colours mentioned in relation to clothing in the
sagas. It is also the usual colour of a specific type of cloth called Birka-type, which is
generally dyed a deep blue, as are the fine tabbies in high-status graves.

Blue dye came from woad, in northern Europe. While the chemical component in woad
is the same in indigo, which produces more dyestuff, indigo is a tropical plant that does
not grow in Europe and would have been impractical to import at that time, when woad
ass available. Idigotin is the only source of natural blue dye. 86

Reds primarily come from madder, though some imported dyes silks were coloured with
kermes, and bedstraw was also used. While madder was grown in both England and
France, it was sparingly used in both places and rare in Scandinavia. Kermes is derived
from a beetle, which lives on the kermes oak in the Mediterranean. 87

ibid, pg 4
ibid, pg 93
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 62-3
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 63
Ewing, 2006 pg 155-7

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Purple is most commonly derived from lichen. Several lichens will produce this dye in
various shades. It was particularly favoured in Dublin, 88 but rare in much of England,
perhaps reflecting a scarcity of the types needed. 89

Yellow can come from a number of sources, one an unidentified plant labelled ‘Yellow
X’ which is only known in Scandinavia. 90 Among the Anglo-Saxons weld and dyer’s
greenweed were used. They give bright, fast yellows, and greenweed in particular was
commonly used with woad to produce greens, hence its name. 91

Brown, aside from naturally pigmented wool, came from the tannins in walnut shells.
Without a mordant, it gives a rich, reddish brown, 92 and over-dyed with woad, a deep
blue-black. 93

ibid, pg 154-5
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 63-4
Ewing, 2006 pg 157
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 63
Ewing, 2006 pg 155
Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 64

- 32 -
A rather wide range of garments with which to cover, protect and dress the head were
available to women in north-western Europe during the Viking Age. There was
considerable overlap in styles between cultures, possibly due to increased amounts of
trade between them during this era, though it is still somewhat unclear in some cases how
widespread certain styles were. Clearly however, headdress was a remarkably evocative
and important part of a woman’s attire, displaying to her contemporaries her wealth and
status, her tastes, her culture and her beliefs.

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Knudsen, Lise Raeder. “Brocaded Tablet-woven Bands: Same Appearance, Different

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