Spiral tube decorations on garments: Restoring a lost technique
Spiral tubes made from coiled wire have been used as decorative elements on garments in Estonia for the last thousand years (from the 10th to 19th centuries). Decorations using this technique can be found in both archaeological and ethnographic collections. The tradition documented in Estonia is part of a larger phenomenon that spread across the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea (Finland, Northwestern Russia, Latvia, and Lithuania, in addition to Estonia) from the 6th century AD. Thus far, archaeologists have regarded spiral tube decorations mainly as a source for garment history, and not much attention has been paid to understanding their construction. This article focuses on the techniques used to make spiral tube decorations, from wiredrawing to constructing the ornaments.
The results from metal analysis prove that the main raw materials used in wiredrawing have been copper alloys, with additives being mainly zinc and tin, and in lesser amounts, lead and other elements. Woollen and linen yarn and horsehair have been used as materials for constructing patterns. The woollen yarns used are usually fine and of high quality. Two main techniques used to make the ornaments can be observed: weaving the spiral tubes into a tablet-woven band and the use of various types of braided mesh and bands. When considering this very long period as a whole, it is possible to discern many regional differences both in techniques and pattern combinations. Behind the archaeological examples, makers of different skill levels and with different purposes can be seen, from professional craftsmen to women who made spiral tube decorations at home for personal use.
Keywords: Spiral tube decorations, ancient craft, tabletwoven bands, archaeological textiles