Cloth production includes a series of processes by which wool or plant fibres are converted to thread, by spinning and then woven to form cloth. In the tenth century, weaving would be on an upright loom (Weaving – upright loom). The wool weaves yielded by most archaeological finds have been in the various twill pattern types, and less commonly, tabby. Linen fabrics, on the other hand are usually plain or tabby weave.
Tabby is the easiest weave to produce on the warp-weighted loom.
Twill, especially the 2 x 2 diagonal weave, was very popular with Anglo-Saxon weavers because of the stability it gave to the fabric. Twills such as the broken diamond or lozenge required very skilful weaving and were certainly luxury fabrics.
Archaeological evidence for early domestic fulling (felting) in Britain is virtually non-existent. Such textiles as have survived do not prove that fulling was a common practice until the later middle ages: felted textiles could just as well be the result of heavy wear or post-depositional change as an original condition. However, in Aelfgifu’s will (c.1000) she frees a thrall who is described as a ‘fuller’, but this may well refer to the person who trod the wool in urine.
One estimate of the effort involved in producing a Viking sail is:
- Wool had to be contributed from many flocks of sheep (the average Viking flock size was estimated as just 4 sheep)
- The wool had to be rooed - pulled from the sheep. or shorn. Primitive sheep breeds shed naturally so their wool can be collected this way instead of shearing.
- The wool was combed to untangle the fibres and to separate long and short fibres then prepared into a long rope of unspun fibre called a roving
- Warp and weft yarn had to be spun spun in different ways to get hard smooth warp, fluffier rougher weft.
- After spinning the yarn was set by winding into a skein=, wetting and drying under tension from a weight
- The warp for the loom was prepared by weaving a starting border
- The loom was set up, weights tied on, heddles tied on and spacing cords tied on
- The cloth was woven
- The cloth would be wet and "walked" or fulled to make it denser and more windproof
It is uncertain how much time the total cloth production process would take, but to make a Viking ship's wool sail on estimate is that the spinning would take 4800 hours and the weaving 3200 hours giving a total of 8000 hours for a sail.
Spinning and weaving the clothing for a man is estimated to take a year of effort.
With this amount of effort it was important for cloth to be durable. The life of a sail is estimated as 40-50 years and a sailor's blanket would last a lifetime.
(These estimates are taken from Bender Jørgensen, Lise, 2012, "The introduction of sails to Scandinavia: Raw materials, labour and land" BAR International Series 2399)