03 November 2013

Anglo-Saxon Woman's Garb: Material Culture 22: A&S50 Challenge

Anglo-Saxon Woman's Garb: Material Culture 22: A&S50 Challenge
Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
March 2011

This past fall, I had opportunity to make Anglo-Saxon garb for the escort procession of Anne, Queen of Northshield. Given the name of my blog you can rightly assume that Anglo-Saxon is not my specialty. I have a ringer of a resource, however, and I highly recommend it as readable and accessible: Owen-Crocker, Gail R. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, revised edition. Boydell Press; Woodbridge, 2004.

One of the things that immediately stood out to me was the Byzantine influence on Anglo-Saxon dress in the 8th -10th centuries. It’s a very subtle influence—certainly not as much as the 7th-9th centuries--, but the minimal decorations that were chosen for women’s garments in the period clearly exhibit it. There is similar influence on Sicilian and Abbasid dress during the same period. Given the wealth and power of the Eastern Roman Empire, as the Byzantines called themselves, this is not surprising.

Elements of Garb

Women’s Anglo-Saxon garb of this period follows the standard formula found across the Western and Middle Eastern world at that time: Two distinct visible layers of tunics, at least one head covering, covered legs, and a cloak or wrap over all. Jewelry was common; however there was a distinct lack of necklaces in this period. I will discuss the choices I made for this garb, and encourage to reader to seek out Professor Owen-Crocker’s tome for expanding her knowledge.


As part of the retinue/retainers for the Queen, we were directed to wear muted versions of the Northshield patriotic colors at the top layer. I selected a lovely herringbone tropical weight wool in dark grey for this project. I also made hosen and a new veil. For the undertunic I used an existing gold linen Byzantine tunic from my closet. The cloak is simply my regular rectangular wool wrap, and my existing shoes were nearly perfect for the period. The jewelry was also selected from my wardrobe.

After examining the images from Owen-Crocker’s book and from Internet searches, I choose to modify my existing Middle Eastern tunic pattern—already designed to accommodate a luxury sized body (the following post will explain this in more detail). Knowing that I would need to be able to set up thrones and tote many things, I selected a modest sleeve that gently narrowed to the wrist. I also elected to make a scooped neckline, rather than my standard slit neck. In extant images, women’s veils cover their necklines.


For the veil I purchased “veil weight” linen from on-line and was very disappointed. Once washed, the fabric looked distinctly like cheese-cloth; the linen fibers had been cut before spinning and produced a “hairy” look that more resembles cotton. The yarns were not as fine as I would have preferred for a veil, and were loosely woven. Being tight on time and resources I advanced with this fabric anyway. I cut two rectangular veils from 2 1/3 yards of fabric, each 30 inches wide, and used Eithni’s Magic Veil Stitch to finish the edges.

Wrapping an Anglo-Saxon veil from this period appears to be tightly prescribed. The “tails” of the rectangular veil are always on the right shoulder, with the tail coming off the head staying in front, rather than being “held” by the tail that passes across the body. For this Minnesota girl, quite accustomed to wrapping modern winter scarves tightly, the difference causes pause every time I dress.

The veil is secured to the head with pins. Owen-Crocker explains that while pins are rarely depicted, extant pieces indicate that their use was quite common. I used glass-headed pins made by Master Ivan Matfeevich Rezansky, of Jararvellir. Having a modern haircut means finding creative ways to attach a veil to my head. Working from the crown of my head, I make two little standard braids. If I held them up, they would look like antenna poking out from my head. Then I finish my hair as I normally would. These little braids are where I secure my pins.

Footwear and accessories

Footwear for women was typically ankle shoes with a slightly pointed toe, in black leather. The leather shoes that I wear for Middle Eastern garb meet the description except for the color, so I was lucky there. Lacking these shoes, I would have worn felted slippers. The hosen I made have a separate entry in this blog, above.

The brooch I selected was made by Raymond’s Quiet Press, a place I highly recommend for timely, affordable service and excellent products. My earrings were drop pendants of amethyst, and I wore a Byzantine style ring. I will probably make a wire wrapped ring such as those mentioned by Professor Owen-Crocker for future wear with this outfit.

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