No wool, no vikings
March 9, 2016 6:07 AM   Subscribe

 
The amount of wool working is just as mind-boggling as the amount of wool. “It’s actually more time-consuming to produce the textiles than to produce the boat,” Lightfoot said in a 2009 documentary about woolen sails. Building a boat might take two skilled boatbuilders a couple of weeks, she estimated, but creating its sail would take two skilled women a year.
Quoted to underscore a) how incredibly laborious textile production was prior to the industrial revolution and b) how much of that economically essential labor fell on women.
posted by jedicus at 6:40 AM on March 9, 2016 [17 favorites]


Good story.

Not long ago, researchers found that laundering synthetic fleece floods aquatic ecosystems with tiny plastic microfibers...


Doesn't sound like much of an improvement.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:46 AM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fascinating; I had no idea Viking ships had woolen sails!
posted by languagehat at 7:11 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, this was interesting. I kept wanting to learn more about the Viking high school, and the author was clearly just into wool. It was really weird at first, I felt like shouting at the article - "How did the girl from Thailand end up in a Viking high school!" but instead got descriptions of the wool she was wearing.

Then I gave in to the story and learned a lot about wool. And that was also really interesting.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:41 AM on March 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


Interestingly, a lot of the primitive sheep breeds* you find in places like Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda, Faroes and Iceland can be genetically traced back to sheep brought there by Vikings (and the Norwegian spelt sau is related). Their fleece are particularly well suited to light-weight, yet warm garments.

I'm not an expert on sheep breeds and I'm not a spinner, but anyone interested should seek out Deb Robson and her books on fibre. She also keeps an engaging Twitter feed.

* it's an actual term - not a slur ;)
posted by kariebookish at 7:42 AM on March 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


blahblahblah: I kept wanting to learn more about the Viking high school...

Sort of previously.

(I, too, am "a U.N. of wool" all winter!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:09 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I kept wanting to learn more about the Viking high school

Fosen Folk High School has a website in English. Here's a blog by a recent student.
posted by jedicus at 8:10 AM on March 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Let me know when we get the blog from the Irish Catholic high school, praying to be saved from the fury of Fosen Folk High School....
posted by happyroach at 8:40 AM on March 9, 2016 [11 favorites]


Vikings: the fuzziest marauders.
posted by Hypatia at 8:44 AM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Fascinating, thanks!
posted by msbubbaclees at 9:24 AM on March 9, 2016


Just recently I watched something, I don't remember where, that showed shepherds in some Scandanavian country carrying out a controlled burn of the coastal heath, which the narration said has been done for thousands of years to prevent forest from growing and thereby increase the land's grazing capacity for sheep.
posted by XMLicious at 12:19 PM on March 9, 2016


Wool kept on driving the wars and politics of northwestern Europe for at least a couple of centuries after the Vikings. To a first approximation, the wars of the English in France were paid for by wool exports.

If you're bored, you can read about it in Wool, Cloth and Gold. (PDF of original dissertation here.
posted by clawsoon at 12:22 PM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just recently I watched something, I don't remember where, that showed shepherds in some Scandanavian country carrying out a controlled burn of the coastal heath, which the narration said has been done for thousands of years to prevent forest from growing and thereby increase the land's grazing capacity for sheep.

Here's
an article about controlled burning

The East Atlantic heath culture goes from the most northern parts of Norway to Portugal, and yes it includes controlled burnings. The interesting thing is that it is an almost consistent culture across all the countries it includes - the shepherds have more in common with each other than with the national states they are citizens of.

Up till a few years ago, this wasn't even acknowledged as a culture. The heaths were seen as wild, barren nature rather than cultured landscapes, and in spite of the huge value of both wool and mutton, sheep farmers were not at all supported by national or EU initiatives. To the contrary, most states saw the heaths as problems which should be solved by cultivation, foresting or drainage.

Oh, there is the stuff of a FPP here, but I can't see how I can find the time...
posted by mumimor at 1:27 PM on March 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


Building a boat might take two skilled boatbuilders a couple of weeks, she estimated, but creating its sail would take two skilled women a year.

Creating a sail might take two skilled threadspinners-and-clothweavers a year, while building the boat to go under it would take two skilled men a couple of weeks.

-My wife.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:05 PM on March 9, 2016 [8 favorites]


Fascinating; thanks for posting.
posted by The Toad at 7:12 PM on March 9, 2016


Wool kept on driving the wars and politics of northwestern Europe for at least a couple of centuries after the Vikings.

You could count the Highland Clearances of the 19th Century, too.
posted by sneebler at 9:07 PM on March 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


languagehat: Fascinating; I had no idea Viking ships had woolen sails!

Wadmal is one of these underappreciated commodities that had an enormous impact on the history of Europe. Not only did it allow the Norse to range from Newfoundland to Crimea, but the production of it created huge wealth. The Icelandic economy grew wealthy from the production of wadmal (or vaðmál, in Old Norse). That gave the chieftains and clerics enough leisure time to start coming up with the distinct literary tradition of the island.

My personal theory is that wadmal actually has a further influence on the creation of saga literature. The wealthy chieftains needed gifts for each other and also Scandinavian kings and earls, because that was one of the main ways to make interpersonal bonds. Because Iceland is a volcanic rock on the northern edge of the North Atlantic, there wasn't much there in terms of valuables. However, they could give sails, which are gifts fit for a king. However, there are only so many sails someone can have, and a sail isn't exactly easy to transport. So they needed something else as a gift. And they did have enough cattle to make vellum. So they started making books. And they needed something to fill those books. The oral tradition of complicated skaldic poetry only took you so far since they're so short. And skaldic poetry was in decline in Scandinavia by the height of the saga writing age (13th, 14th and 15th Centuries). So the chieftains needed something to fill all those books they were producing. And so the sagas were born.

Books were not only easy to transport, but because the book itself can be filled with any kind of text, you could make an infinite amount of different books. And once people get a hankering for books, they always want more. They're just about the perfect gift. But medieval books cost a lot of money (well, cattle) to produce, so the practice could only be sustained while the selling of wadmal was enormously lucrative.
posted by Kattullus at 2:26 AM on March 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


« Older Is the Competitive Bridge World Rife with Cheaters...   |   woe is the millennial, bringer of slack and... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments