Knit Chain has been a form that I’ve loved for 16 years. A recent class unexpectedly expanded my understanding of this technique and changed my view of some other skills, too.
Sometimes when I go to an event I wind up taking a class on a lark. Something I hadn’t planned to take. Something that just sparked a moment of curiosity. And sometimes that class can turn out to be an entirely new thing for me – a new area of study and experimentation.
Well, that happened this year for me at Gulf Wars. I was reading through the class list, and there it was – a class on Anglo Saxon Style Knit Chain.
I have been making and teaching Knit Chains, often incorrectly called Viking Wire Weaving, for about 16 years. I took a class at the Pennsic War and took my skills home with me to the West Kingdom. Many dozens of people now do this craft as a direct result of my classes – and some of my original students have gone on to perfect and teach this skill. I’ve helped dozens of others figure out how to finish or improve their pieces, so I am VERY familiar with the technique.
Since “Viking wire weaving” fascinates me, I’ve also done a considerable amount of research on the technique. I’m always looking for evidence of how these early skills were actually performed – tools, and artifacts.
Some researchers and academic papers told me that the technical name for the technique was Trichinopoly – an unfortunate term that was applied by a British Gentleman back in the late 1800’s – but more about that later. I wondered how long the technique had been used. So I started looking for other artifacts that could be credited to specific cultures and dated. Real artifacts pushed the use of the technique back to 400 BC in Turkey – waaay before the Vikings. It was surprised to find knit chains there. Wasn’t this supposed to be a Scandinavian thing? But I kept watching for more pieces, and one day I randomly happened upon a traveling exhibit of the female Pharaoh Hapshepsut ( 1479-1458 BC) from Egypt. I was wandering through, and there was a gold necklace made with this technique.
It was now very clear to me that this technique had nothing to do with the Vikings. They may have used it, but they did not appear to have invented it. In fact when I initially went to look for Viking pieces that used the technique, I couldn’t find any. I eventually did start to find them, first in Ireland and Scotland, and then in other areas, but it was really NOT that common. In the long run I discovered that the lack of consistent terminology that was used for the technique was one of the things that made it so hard to locate true knit chains. Most museums just lump the technique in with all of the other “chains”. The only way to actually tell if a piece is wire weaving is to find a good up close picture and actually figure out the pattern of the wire in the chain. Not an easy task.
Now to the individual who is used to standard chains made from links, it may seem silly that identifying something that was woven from something that was just “joined together” would be difficult, but if you understand the actual structural forms of wire weaving, and chain making, it will become obvious.
Next time: Viking Wire Weaving, Linked Chains, and Loop in Loop