Posaments!

For the uninitiated, posaments are these fantastic metal bits of ornament that were applied to clothing in Birka, Sweden during the Viking Age. There are braids and continuous knotwork strands that are made in the hand and carefully tightened to form beautiful knots. If I am interpreting the archaeological finds correctly, they’re rare enough in graves that not everyone had them (status symbol, no doubt). There are enough posaments that reenactors have a number of designs and applications to choose from, should they wish to incorporate them. The fantastic Silberknoten site has beautiful examples she’s recreating from various graves. Eithni is also recreating them grave by grave. Her project at Gulf A&S was truly fantastic, and her tutorials have been very helpful. You can look at the originals and work out how to do the knots yourself, but I need a tutorial.

If you want to slap some fancy metal on some fabric, Birka is not the only contemporary settlement that has really cool metal ornaments on clothing – there are others in Sweden, Finland has some great stuff, there’s wire weaving, and there are woven bands of varying complexity from various Viking world locations that have metal brocaded through them (a project on my list!). Many of these other projects require less expensive materials or have the ability to substitute something much less expensive, like very fine brass jewelry wire for gold.

The originals were made primarily with straight gold wire, and some with very fine tin/silver alloy wire that’s coiled around a silk core. This is called tenntråd, and you can order it on Etsy or from Sweden. It’s not cheap (~$3/m), particularly since you are using 2-4 strands at a time to make the patterns. There’s a little piece below (about 8″/20cm) that I’ve put on a smokkr panel, and it’s about $10 worth of material. Making little rows of it to go down the bands of silk across a man’s chest on his tunic could easily cost $50 for small and uncomplicated posaments. Because of that, I looked for viable alternatives and tried them out.

Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck.
Cheap braided mylar cord stuff from the ribbon section of the craft store. Worth a try for a buck. I could potentially run a very fine wire down the center and try it again since the lack of structure a wire would give made it hard for the knots to keep a distinct shape or look crisp.

 

Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.
Craft wire I had around, grabbed when I could not find my small jewelry wire. This was too thick, and nearly impossible to tighten up. SO. BAD.

And then there was Gulf. Violet was asking random vendors about whether or not they carried tenntråd. I thought it was for her. Then we met some fantastic OOK Viking Laurels from An Tir, and one of them casually mentioned that she had enough for a handful of people if anyone wanted to learn to make them. I barely refrained from shouting, “TAKE MY MONEY!” And that’s how I got a tiny purple bag of magical tenntråd. Because it’s coiled, it’s forgiving of being made to curve this way and that. Because of the silk core, it doesn’t behave like wire. It’s seriously worth the money if you want to try to make posaments because it gives perfect results (once you figure out how to make the knots). There are a few things I’ve found where I struggle and struggle, then try the historical material or tool, and the heavens open for the angels to sing. A well-cut quill. Rectangular construction. Tenntråd.

My first knot with the tenntråd! It's the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures.
My first knot with the tenntråd! It’s the same knot I was doing in the first two pictures. Only in soft focus, so that you know my practice knot is artisinally-made with craftsmanship for Instagram.

 

My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards...they're not supposed to be.
My first string of knots, done in the car on the way home from Gulf. You might notice some of them are backwards…they’re not supposed to be. Notice their size in comparison to the weave on my jeans. Posaments are surprisingly small, for the most part.

 

This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they're spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery.
This is my second string of knots. This time, none of them are backwards, and they’re spaced like the original, instead of all spread out. I put the posament on the bottom of a smokkr panel on very fine herringbone wool with strips of silk and a band of linen on linen embroidery. I used tiny blue silk thread to attach the posament, because I couldn’t figure out how else to get it on.

I’m making a stronger effort to be more authentic in my portrayal, which means being more focused on a time and place instead of being a magpie and popping together shiny things from a more generous swath of time and geography. I’m doing more research, paying closer attention to the most likely interpretation of a find instead of trying to stretch the possibilities to fit what I want. The upside is that research is fun for me, and learning the details impresses me with the cleverness and workmanship of the people whose graves we’ve dug through. The downside is that by the time I have completed a project, I’ve invariably done more research and am now displeased with some aspect of what I made and want to redo it. All of that is to say that while I’m think this smokkr panel I made is beautiful, and people have been fawning over it, the silk strips are too wide, and I shouldn’t have the embroidery on there like that, I don’t think. Or if I do leave it on (which I will, because I did some itty bitty stitches on that silk), I should fill it in with stitching in silk, like the examples they found in Oseberg, which likely came from the British Isles.

One thought on “Posaments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *