Two Anglo-Saxon fillets woven using the Laceby technique

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The fillets

Birds in the Woods

Birds in the Woods

Puffins in the Garden

Puffins in the Garden

A fillet and wimple in use

A fillet and wimple in use

Photo taken by Jeppe Christensen, showing Caitlin Greenwood

These fillets were tablet woven in fine wool and are intended to be worn over a linen cap, providing a secure base onto which a wimple can be pinned. This would form part of a costume for a mid to late Anglo-Saxon woman of medium status, featuring motifs that she had seen in church and woven using materials that were available to her.

Although tablet-weaving is commonly associated with Vikings and with earlier Anglo-Saxons, I think it is likely that the craft continued in use into the later Anglo-Saxon culture and that the lack of finds is down to changes in burial practice around the end of the 7th century AD. These bands use a warp pickup technique known from Anglo-Saxon finds and motifs inspired by Anglo-Saxon art.

I wove my two fillets in fine white and mid-blue wool. I used fine linen cloth to make the ties, which are simple straps sewn onto and around the ends of the tablet weaving, and long enough to tie securely at the back of the head.

Twisted Threads patterns

I drafted the pickup patterns in Twisted Threads, my online app for tablet-weaving. I used the interactive weaving chart to step through the pattern as I wove it.

Puffins in the garden Puffin left Puffin right Birds in the woods Interlace

Inspiration for the motifs

The design is not copied from any individual item but is inspired by two Anglo-Saxon sources:

1. Tablet-woven brocaded textiles forming part of the Relics of St Cuthbert [1]

2. Stone carvings at the Church of St Mary and St Hardulf, Breedon on the Hill [2]

Brocaded birds from the relics of St Cuthbert

Brocaded birds from the relics of St Cuthbert

The Cuthbert brocades feature birds as listed below.

Plate XLII, P 439

Two birds facing a scroll pattern.

This pattern is from "band 3", one of the wrist bands. The other, band 2, also had birds but they were "more squat and duck-like, with trailing tails". It is woven with gold brocade on silk warp and weft now deep brown but perhaps originally red. There are 14 warps in the pattern. [3]

Fig 9d, P444

Braid from the stole near the figure of Jonah.

This is again brocaded in gold on silk.

"No two of the figures seem identical in spite of the many repeats; tiny as they are, it is possible to distinguish birds, lions and winged dragons....In the flying bird the artist refused to be bound by his field and thrust its beak into the border, like that of the flying bird on the coins of Anlaf of Northumbria" [4]

Carvings from Breedon on the Hill

Carvings from Breedon on the Hill

The Breedon carvings are dated to the 9th century and include Celtic patterns, lions, people, cocks and other birds that are pecking at vines.

These examples indicate to me that Anglo-Saxon textile workers used bird, plant and interlace motifs, and were working in a common tradition with other artists such as stone carvers and manuscript illuminators; they did not necessarily limit themselves geometric patterns. They were continually playing with and varying their designs.

The weaving technique

This band is woven in a warp pickup technique known from two Anglo-Saxon finds; Laceby, Lincs [5], and the "unique band" which forms part of the Relics of St Cuthbert [6].

The presence of two pieces in this technique from different regions and historical periods suggest to me that it was well known in Anglo-Saxon England.

Each tablet is threaded in only two holes, these being diagonally opposite each other, and each hole carries two threads of contrasting colours. The tablets are turned alternately forward and backward and the pattern is made by manually lifting one of the two top threads to select the desired colour, and pushing the other down so the weft passes over it. Although this is a slow method, I wove two fillets in about 2 weeks of intermittent evening sessions, and found it enjoyable because the pattern was so varied.

The Laceby fragment dates from around 600 AD. It features a pattern of diamond shapes with some small pattern filling them.

The "unique band" from the Cuthbert textiles is too small for the pattern to be identified but it seems to have been worked in the same technique as the Laceby band;

"the warps are really all many places both warps are actually present on the face of the braid, but in others only one can be seen and the other floats at the back. The back, indeed, is almost covered with these vertical floats. Such a condition is clearly indicative of a pattern weave and there is an appearance of some design like diamonds, particularly noticeable low down on the photograph. On the back, too, the floats, passing usually either over 3 or over 5 weft rows, rise in steps diagonally". [6]

There were at least 64 such warps which, taking account of a border, suggests a pattern woven on about 30 tablets. Crowfoot regards this fragment as being probably contemporary with the stole and maniple.

As to date, two main items from the Cuthbert relics, the stole and maniple, are inscribed on the reverse with "AELFFLAED FIERI PRECEPIT" and "PIO EPISCOPI FRIƐESTANO", that is made at the command of Queen Aelfflaed, who died in 916, for Frithestan who was Bishop of Winchester from 909 to 931. This dates them to between 909 and 916, and they are almost certainly those recorded as being presented to the shrine of St. Cuthbert by King Athelstan, step-son of Queen Aelfflaed, on his visit to Chester-le-Street in 934. They seem likely to have been made in Winchester. [7]


[1] Crowfoot, Grace. The Braids. In Battiscombe, C. F. (ed). The Relics of Saint Cuthbert. Oxford University Press, 1956.

[2] The Priory Church of St Mary and St Hardulph is the Church of England parish church of Breedon on the Hill, Leicestershire, England.

[3] Crowfoot, Grace. The Braids. P 439 and Plate XLII.

[4] Crowfoot, Grace. The Braids. P 444.

[5] The textiles and impressions. Anglo Saxon Sites in Lincolnshire by F. H. Thompson, The Antiquaries Journal XXXVI, p.181-199, 1956.

[6] Crowfoot, Grace. The Braids. PP 461-462.

[7] Ivy, Jull. Embroideries at Durham Cathedral. The Dean and Chapter of Durham, 1992.

Details of the Laceby find and the technique are given in my article about the Laceby band.

Shelagh Lewins

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