Viking Knit: Fabulous or Fraud?

Trina Ann's beautiful viking knit and wire work bracelet

A new form of chain making is taking the jewellery artisan world by storm, and rightly so.  This beautiful wire knit work forms amazing necklaces, bracelets and even earrings out of “knitted” wire.  It has a wonderful ancient look and feel to it, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to add this technique to my arsenal of jewellery creation methods.

My friend Trina Ann has put together some great viking knit tutorials, if you are interested in learning this craft.

I also like to be historically accurate in my understanding of my sources, and so the brief explanation of it being an “ancient technique” that accompanies most of the tutorials and online resources wasn’t enough for me.. I wanted to know what these ancient examples looked like, where they were found, when they were made, and how ancient metalsmiths incorporated the knitted chain into their work.  I wanted to know if I could use it in my own pieces, without being anachronistic.

Hunts for the term “viking knit” turned up nothing on the British Museum site, and nothing appeared in Wikipedia, either.  In fact the closest I could find on Wikipedia was an article on lucet weaving, which mentioned a number of different weaving techniques for cords, none of which looked like “Viking Knit”.  Surely Wikipedia would mention it, if it existed.  Surely.

I was even more discouraged when I found a blog post from the Bead and Wire Wrap History blog which states “In recent years jewelry artists adapted the method of attaching links together (chain maille) in making wire wrap jewelry and named this technique Viking Knit.”

It seemed official.  Viking knit was a fraud.  A beautiful and elegant ancient-feeling fraud, but a fraud none-the-less.

“One last search” I told myself, feeling resigned to stringing my pendants on waxed cotton for perpetuity, or at least owning the fraud should I choose to continue with “viking knit”.   I typed “viking knit ancient” into Google, expecting to see more of the vague references to history I had seen before in articles on the technique.

And most of them were..  but wait.  One entry mentions viking knit also being known as trichinopoly chain.  Ah!  Another term for it.  Maybe I’ve been searching under the wrong name.. maybe, just maybe.. “Viking Knit” was the common term for something that actually WAS ancient.  And lets face it, “viking knit” is much easier to say, and is much more evocative than “trichinopoly chain”.

A google search for “trichinopoly chain” turned up nothing that was, at first glance useful, so I flipped to image mode and was faced with a few pages of obviously modern pieces.

But then.. there it was.  Fibulas (circular brooches) simply weren’t part of modern creations.  The chain was damaged, and most artisans didn’t post pictures of damaged things.  Clicking as fast as my mouse would let me, I arrived at a page that was selling the following item:  Baltic-Scandinavian / Viking ‘Brooch, Chain and Ring’ Dress Suite, Silver, 18.29 grams, 255 mm. 12th century AD.

The chain was listed as a “trichinopoly chain.”  The erstwhile “viking” knit.

12th century AD.

Ancient.

“Viking knit” WAS truly ancient.

With some further investigation, I uncovered a 19 page treatise by Lora-Lynn Stevens entitled “A Research Journey: Trichinopoly Chainwork. Is It Viking Chain Knitting?” in which she mentions that trim on the rim of a paten coming from a hoard found on the monastic site of Derrynaflan, Co Tipperary is trichinopoly chainwork.  I checked out this hoard on Wikipedia, and found that it dates from around the 8th to 9th C.

This was eureka news for me… as much of the jewellery from which I take my inspiration is 9th C. Irish!!  Upon investigating images of the paten that Lora-Lynn mentions in her treatise, the knotwork and gold panels that have inspired me are present in the piece together with the knit.. therefore I can hang my knotwork and celtic brooch inspired pendants on viking knit chain with no historical hesitation.

At this point I came very close to shedding a few tears of joy.. and luckily I have toddlers, because teenagers would have been incredibly embarrassed by the “happy chicken dance” their mother was doing.

So, look out for some trichinopoly chain in my upcoming pieces, I’m very excited about starting this ancient technique.

Check out my pinterest board for the images I have collected from around the web featuring viking knit (both modern and ancient.) http://pinterest.com/relicuus/viking-knit/

 

 

 

 

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12 Responses to Viking Knit: Fabulous or Fraud?

  1. Cara Ellison Halbirt says:

    Love that you took the time to research this (mostly because now I don’t have too!). Thanks for sharing your historical finds!

  2. Jenny Ekberg says:

    I recall seing this type of chains in a museum of viking artifacts in Sweden as a child (I lived there). Can’t remember where thougth, but was mesmerized with the chain. I am learning to do it SOON! x In fact, very soon, can’t wait! I have a full time job and 4 kids so not much time

  3. great blog post. Love the humour and of course all the knowledge you’ve imparted. I’ve yet to start on my “viking knit” journey but had never thought to question its origins…although I did see something similar in a picture of a recent viking hoard that was found in Cumbria. I couldn’t see enough detail to be sure…but it did look as if there were some samples there.
    cheers S

    • admin says:

      Thanks Sheila – needed something to do until my tool arrives.. I guess in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn’t modern… I just needed the proof. LOL

  4. admin says:

    Hi Folks – just a little extra comment – much of what you can see in museums that looks like trichinopoly chain is actually loop-in-loop chain. Loop-in-loop chain is made of a series of links that have been bent together. It is not made from a continuous piece of wire like “viking knit’ is. It’s a beautiful chain but without a jewellery loupe, is very hard to distinguish from trichinopoly chain.

    Here’s a pic of loop-in-loop chain:

    loop chain

  5. Trina Ann says:

    Thanks for including my tutorials! My understanding about the
    history of this technique is that many cultures around the world
    have produced a similar product, but that it was named “viking
    knit” due to the earliest discovery (at the time) being at a
    Scandinavian digsite. The loop in loop chain (also called Roman
    chain) is a variation that looks very similar to viking knit, but
    is made completely differently as you stated. Although nothing is
    to say that it wasn’t another culture’s answer to making the same
    product…..an improvement so to say…or how they thought it might
    be made possibly. Another term to look up is naelbinding (also
    spelled nailbinding and nalebinding). Here’s a link to a wiki
    article about it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nalebinding

    • admin says:

      Thanks so much.. I was so intrigued by what you have mentioned.. I did some more digging and wrote another post on it.. oh dear. My house needs some attention, though!@ ;)

  6. Trina Ann says:

    Forgot to add that I enjoyed reading your post! You did some great
    research! i think the viking knit will be a beautiful addition to
    your pendants and very fitting with your unique style! I can’t wait
    to see them!!!

  7. Pingback: Viking Knit – how did it develop? | Relicuus Fine Silver

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