Legwraps are part of many Viking age and medieval costume. Basically, they are about 3 m of fabric wrapped tightly around the legs and they were popular before stockings were invented. We do not know whether legwraps were worn by women in Western Europe as there are no surviving finds. However, bronze spiral decoration in Finnish women’s burial clothing has preserved the garments better and we have definite evidence of women wearing legwraps here. The Finnish legwraps are worn with tubular selvedges which are pretty visible. So, the only way to get legwraps that look right is to weave them. So I did.
How to weave Iron Age fabrics?
Well, I’m not a professional weaver and know next to nothing about weaving. However, I recently bought this book by Mervi Pasanen and Jenni Sahramaa and it has instructions on how to weave Iron Age fabrics, including legwraps. Besides, the book is so full of interesting and useful information that I cannot give it enough praise! I just found out that an English translation is on its way, so even you who don’t understand our weird language can enjoy the book soon.
The weaving process
I rented a loom at the local weaving centre (Tapiolan kudonta-asema) and bought yarn. My yarn was this gorgeous blue Finnish wool yarn that was slightly thicker than the yarn in the instructions. Thus, we needed to make small adjustments to the pattern and use a smaller number of warp yarns to keep the legwrap width the same.
The legwraps are woven with broken twill or herringbone weave. The tubular selvedges are weaved in even weave and they are woven so that the edge rolls over and forms a nice rolled edge that is typical to Finnish Iron Age fabrics. This is accomplished by going over the selvedge yarns every time the shuttle goes into the shed. According to Mervi (the author of the book, I mentioned), there should always be 16 yarns in the tubular selvedge but we missed this in the text and used 14. Finally, this doesn’t really show much.
However, manipulating warp yarns by hand to go over the selvedge seemed tedious and slowed me down. So immediately, I realised that there must be an easier way. After some trial and error, I found out that if you tied loops of cotton yarn around the selvedge and anchor the bottom of the loop behind the reed comb, the top of the selvedge stays lower when the shed is opened. Now I could just push the shuttle in without needing to separate the selvedge yarns by hand. I had to fix the loops once during my weaving as they got worn out but they worked perfectly!
While weaving, the wrong side is on the top as the edges curl upwards.
The right side is underneath:
All in all, weaving legwraps was much easier than I thought. I had honestly prepared to throw away the first 50 cm or so but finally used all of my weaving.
Finishing the legwraps
My finished fabric was something like 6,5 metres long. I didn’t have the heart to chop off any of the extra length but I still had to cut the fabric in two. Then I unravelled a few centimetres to be able two weave the tablet-woven edges. Once again, I recommend checking out the book Löydöstä muinaispuvuksi for details. In short, I wove a band using the ends of the warp yarns from the legwraps as a weft. The ends get folded to the wrong side of the legwraps and they can be cut short afterwards. The ends of the tablet warp are hidden inside the tubular selvedges.
You can start wrapping legwraps either from the top or the bottom. This far, I have always started at the bottom, wrapping the cloth first around my foot and then continuing upward. The end can be tucked in and tied with a garter.
You can see some Viking re-enactors also using hooks to fasten their legwraps. The Finnish experts I asked about the hooks were a bit sceptical whether the Birka hooks were actually used to fasten legwraps. They said the position of the hooks was suggesting some other use but I don’t really have the expertise to have an opinion. The hooks seem to do their job though. In any case, Finnish finds come with evidence of garters that also were (sometimes? often?) decorated with bronze spirals to ward off bad spirits.
I made myself a pair of finger-loop braids to work as garters. I may replace them with tablet woven bands later when I have time to weave myself some. However, finger-loop braids work and they are quick to make. I also added a few brass spirals to the ends.
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