Viking Knit – how did it develop?

OK I’ve done some more research since my original post on the history of Viking Knit here: Viking Knit – Fabulous or Fraud? .. my lazee daisee tool didn’t turn up in the mail today, so I have the time. LOL

Questions arose about the differences between “Viking Knit” (or trichinopoly chain) and loop-in-loop chain, as they look very similar and can be easily confused without close inspection.

Loop-in-loop chain is made of a series of fused 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 ancient loop-in-loop chain:

loop chain

You can see how easily it could be confused with Viking Knit.  There are many examples of loop-in-loop in museums, but identified examples of Viking Knit are actually much rarer.

Lora-Lynn Stevens who I quoted in my last post, goes into some of the history of the knit, and loop-in-loop chain too.. in her appendix (that I’ve only just read now.. ) she says that loop-in-loop chain is actually much older than viking knit, and much more widespread, but she does affirm that viking knit has come to being as a cross-over from textiles to metalwork. She also has a map of the distribution of viking knit finds in the 1100′s.. and you can see that the finds radiate out from the Scandinavian area, which I guess indicates a central point of development/origin.

It looks as if a Viking in the 9th C had an “ah-ha” moment, as no finds of viking knit have been dated before the 9th C. Interestingly, the wikipedia article for nalebinding (the textile technique that Viking Knit may have been derived from) that Trina Ann generously mentioned in the comments of the last post, also mentions that it was widespread and ancient.

OK.. so that got me wondering.. if nalebinding is very ancient, and loop-in-loop is very ancient too.. why didn’t somebody put the two together before the 9th C? Viking knit is a superior process to loop-in-loop, in that it does not need the labour intensive multiple fusings or the required forging equipment to achieve them. It’s simply much easier to do with almost indistinguishable results… if you have wire in sufficient lengths. But did they?

This led me to investigate the history of wire production, I came across a few articles on the www.biab.co.uk site. “Round wire in the Early Middle Ages” says “The earliest draw-plate from western Europe dates to the mid-eighth century, and the earliest decorated object displaying drawn wire can be stylistically dated to late-eighth or early-ninth century. Wire drawing was firmly established by the Viking period, although it is not clear how immediately it replaced older techniques.”

Wire production techniques prior to drawing included hammering and block twisting, neither of which produced wire that would be suitable for braiding or knitting. (Hammering can’t produce wire thin enough, and block twisted wire comes apart with bending.)  The wire we use today is produced by drawing.

So it would seem that viking knit only really became a possibility with the advent of wire drawing in the mid 8th C, and would not have been possible before then.

As I go about my daily chores, I find myself wondering about the person with the “ah-ha” moment. Who they were, what their life was like, and if they had any idea that we would be practicing their craft nearly a millennium and a half later. Will someone in a millenniums time be wondering about the “ah-ha” moment that created metal clay? Will they be looking at our work and pondering it’s history?

Will our creations of today be the relics of tomorrow?

I hope so.

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3 Responses to Viking Knit – how did it develop?

  1. Trina Ann says:

    Very interesting! I think both methods are beautiful and have
    wanted to try my hand at loop in loop chains. There’s a fantastic
    book by Jean Starke and Josephine Smith called Classical Loop in
    Loop Chains that I recommend to anyone looking to try the
    technique. Rio Grande also has a video tutorial on their education
    site showing how to do a classic loop in loop chain. There are some
    variations that actually do not look like viking knit and are quite
    amazing. To me, a traditional loop in loop chain actually feels a
    bit different from viking knit. They have a bit more fluidity in
    movement because they consist of little “joints” (for lack of a
    better word) where viking knit can feel more cable-like when pulled
    very small. The feeling of a loop in loop reminds me of chainmaille
    done in the full persian or queen’s maille design, which is
    coincidentally, also a similar look. I imagine chainmaille probably
    did actually stem from loop in loop chain as it’s technique is much
    more closely related to it. I thought that the loop in loop might
    have come after the viking knit method, but it’s interesting to see
    people coming up with a very similar product using two different
    techniques. I would love to have been a fly on those walls and see
    them making their chains so long ago! Thanks for writing this,
    Julia!

  2. Thanks for says:

    Just seen the pingback to my posts on wire making. Thanks! Hope
    they were useful to you. One avenue that you might want to follow
    is the works of Theophilus, a 12th century goldsmith and monk. He
    describes a process that might be woven chain in part 3 of his book
    “On Divers Arts” – several strands are woven together, and then
    drawn through a wooden draw-plate to even out the size. This might
    be a bit simpler than some of the “viking” style ones you are
    talking about, but it’s almost certainly woven rather than
    assembled from links. I recommend that you invest in a copy of the
    text – you should be able to get it for £5 + postage – the one you
    want is the Hawthorne and Smith version, which is reviewed on my
    blog:
    http://ganoksin.com/blog/primitive/2010/04/28/book-review-theophilus-on-divers-arts-by-hawthorne-smith/

  3. shannon says:

    You and Trina are the go-to ladies on this. Trina’s posts got me
    going, and i made a few chains, will post them later. The
    loop-in-loop chain above looks like spool knitting or circular
    knitting, where the viking knit, before it is drawn, looks like
    little ladders, at least to me.

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