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Spinning - Weaving

Weaving is such an important part of the Neolithic that I figured I should spin its own special forum Thread :relaxed:

Neolithic weaving / spinning involved many different fibers, such as flax, nettle, wool, lime and cotton. I have begun to reproduce these in order to understand the practical and experimental aspects of what is otherwise described in text. I will detail my own attempts to learn these techniques and what I have found. Please add any that you folks have found. All data is useful to the devs!

[This is, and should be, separate from clothing as weaving / spinning are not always used to make clothing]

So far, my spinning has been unable to produce anything (in any realistic quantity) below 0.5 - 1mm, though I can produce as thin of flax thread as 0.3mm, but only in very short lengths. I have yet to try spinning wool below 1mm, but this is a task I will soon try.

These spindles are made from clay and painted in wood ash (black) and red ocher. The designs on them are impressed with a sea shell, much like the Cardium culture. The wood was shaped with fire and stone tools, and smoothed using leather and sand as grit. This heavier whorl (weight) is useful for wool and 1+ mm cord.

I made a thinner whorl for 1mm or less thread and especially flax, which breaks easily.

I started with a simple, primitive vertical loom, perhaps in use in the early Neolithic. It has a fixed warp requiring the weaver to manually form a shed (split between warps) each and every pick (horizontal line being laid)!!! This is slow, but works. Notice the coarse linen made. This is 2mm flax cord, needed with such a primitive loom. Thinner cord simply breaks due to the stresses imposed on a static warp.

Sample of 2mm linen

Next up is a warp weighted loom. This is probably early Neolithic and onward, being used even today in some places (mostly ending use in the early CE). The warp needs to be at least 1mm, but the weft (horizontal cords) can be nearly as thin as you like. I have worked with 1mm, but less becomes very time consuming to pick and VERY time consuming to spin.


WoW! Great Work! :+1: :+1:

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Initial testing shows that wool can be easily spun to below 1mm without breaking.
I am unsure why, but the microscope will probably help reveal why (so off to the lab).

It’s interesting to look at each of these three fibers under the microscope (all at 200x). I have tried weaving flax, sheep’s wool and human hair (hair from my own head). You can see from these three images that only one of these fibers has any use when it comes to making felt, and that is wool. In fact, wool is the only one of these fibers which is also useful when spun tightly as well as having a fluffiness to it, a softness.

I decided to put these three fibers under the microscope today after I was finished checking the yeast budding in my prehistoric wine sample, in the lab.

Flax - Flax demonstrates a lack of strength when it is very thin, as well as a significant diversity and strength with respect to thickness. This is easily observed under the microscope. All of these fibers are proximate one another, you’ll notice that most of them are just about an focus and the focus of the microscope was extremely narrow, yet one is huge, to are very small and the rest are similar in size.

Human Hair - Human hair is very strong and by far the thickest I measured. It does not have that interesting scale pattern you see on wool, perhaps one of the reasons that it does not hold together very well when spun. Compared flax, it’s very uniform in both thickness and strength.

Icelandic Sheep Wool - Wool is very strong, even when spun very thin. You’ll notice the uniformity of size. This scale like plates are probably one of the reasons it holds so tightly together, and they are the very reason it is so useful in felting.

Here is 2mm thin flax cord I hand wove into a small panel.
While an expert weaver would probably have made a slightly tighter and even leave, there’s still a limit to how accurate you can make it with a warp weighted loom. A floor loom will be much more even because you don’t fight against gravity when you pack the linen tight.

Compare the sample from above to this store bought linen. Notice that the store-bought looks almost the same, except that it’s machine made and therefore extremely evenly distributed.

Here’s the 2 mm up close. You’ll notice the massive variation in thickness and coloring. It has a nice look from a distance, though.

This piece of linen has very dense and thick warp causing a distinctive look were only the vertical flax stands out, though the photograph is on its side so it reappears horizontal to your eye.

This woman is actually wearing a loincloth photographed just above with the extra tight warp lines.


In a continuous reminder of the absurdity of commonplace linen fabric in the early Neolithic, perhaps the following data points would help. I’m using store-bought flax warp ( warp is the string that hangs vertically through which the weft, the string which crosses through horizontally, is passed). I do this because I honestly cannot spin warp thread tightly enough to not have to deal with it constantly breaking. I suspect a spinner with much greater skill could definitely do this. In order to get my timing correct, I’ve calculated how long it takes me to skintight warp so that I can add those numbers together when I’m finished making this garment.

I’m simply making a linen skirt. This is far less complex than the full body linen tunics you constantly see in Neolithic illustration, but it’s already taking an eternity and I haven’t even begun weaving yet.

Spinning warp: 10 hours

Cutting and sorting warp: 2 hours

laying warp and wrapping heddle string: 1 hour

I have 360 warp lines to lay and I have completed only 22.

At least I have a Neolithic manikin standing by to help. Note that she is holding a spindle and flax, and has an obsidian dagger at her belt. She is actually wearing a burlap cloth version of the skirt that I will be making, though I think it will look better after it’s been handwoven. Behind her head is Icelandic wool, which I will be using later on when I’m done with this. I think that this outfit is much more realistic as it would be much easier to make. The specific design is a bit artistic license, but I think it’s dumb and illustrations always depict the most bland outfits with no design. Humans love design. She i supposed to be Linear Potter culture, so her headdress emphasizes the lines.

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A Neolithic Drop Spindle!

This is the tool Neolithic people used in order to make Fred, essential for several types of rope and for nearly all textiles. In essence, the spindle hangs beside the leg and spends due to the weight of the angular momentum of the whorl, the circular stone at the top of the spindle. As that whorl (similar in function to the flywheel on a spinning wheel) spends, it twists threads that are attached to it, which hangs from. More thread can be fed into this hanging spinning apparatus. This is done very carefully in order to achieve a continuous thread.

One of my cats is standing over top of the clay whorls before they are taken outside fire. I made them from 06 cone clay. Because they are woodfired, I had to add broken pieces from previously made pottery in order to better allow gases trapped within to escape.

I fired them to a temperature just shy of what is needed to melt iron, for several hours.

The resulting whorls can be seen here cooling in the fire. In this picture, there still over 1200° F

Finally, they are placed upon a stick and used as spindles.

Small Early Neolithic Simple Frame Loom

Simple frame looms, like the one I constructed, could be used for the manufacture of small woven items. They were easy to make, quick to set up, and very portable. In many ways, they provide some of the same capabilities as the famous back strap loom, though they are simpler to use.

Examples of items one could make on a Simple Frame Loom:

  1. Belt
  2. Small bag
  3. Loincloth
  4. Panels to be used in large works

I start my Neolithic project by using a very non-Neolithic item. This modern saw had to be used because I did not currently have a hand ax capable of cutting the wood cleanly. It is important to note that this is just a lack of a particular tool on my part and not a reflection on the capabilities of Neolithic people. I very much dislike using modern tools, but sometimes I must, though I always like to provide justification for why I did. I only used it for the single cut.

The board is made of pine, readily available at the time. The tree would have been cut down and a large wedge would have been used to split the wood. A rough grinding stone could have quickly flattened any imperfections in the wood.

Cutting the two main holes in the wood, which will lighten its weight and aid in its utility, require burning holes through the wood.

A burned section of wood can be ground with a rough stone and then burned repeatedly until a hole forms.

It is important to scratch the wood is often as possible as the ash reduces the speed of the burning.

I can use low-quality stone tools for this process, saving the better quality tools for the later steps

Once a whole has been cut and burned, a flame will burn through the hole and be carefully maneuvered in a spiral shape until inside of the board is finally burned out. This takes plenty of time and patience. It took me nearly a week to burn these two holes.

Growing annoyed by the time it took, I switched to a larger flame. I’m impatient.

I also used embers from a small fire on top of the wood, constantly blowing and burning downward, the same technique used to make a dugout bloat.

Once the wood had been carved with stone and burned into shape, I used sand and leather like sandpaper. I’m impressed at just how fast would can be sanded this way. It took only about double the time to send this way versus modern sandpaper, and the look was quite beautiful.

Looking at the dark patch above and then the beautifully sanded, smooth patch below, understand that this took barely 2 minutes of actual time. I was very pleased with how the sanding went. I used high quartz sand to start with, and then fine beach sand to finish.

As you can see, the wood begins to look quite smooth and beautiful after just a little bit of sand!!!

The final product has been smoothly sanded and gets a coat of a walnut oil to bring out the color and help keep the finish.

As you can see, the small loom works very well. I could quickly make panels for a larger garment, a small bag, or perhaps something to tie my hair up!

As a reminder, here is a 6 foot tall loom of basically the same design. You can see a loincloth under construction.


This is the first cloth sample made from my new Neolithic hand Loom. There is a narrowing that occurs due to the warp being pulled too tightly. This is a problem which can affect frame Looms, like this one. I have added additional tensioner rods to vary the tension and make this problem go away. It’s also why the edges seem uneven.

This is 2 mm 2 ply flax Warp, with two ply natural wool weft. If this had been straighter and I had gone the full length the loom can weave, twice over, this might have made a loincloth of good quality. As it is, it could still make a bag or simply a decoration.

I cannot stress how much work goes into making cloth in the Neolithic. Well I find it quite fun to do, Neolithic people probably used leather whenever possible.


@Uncasual As I sit here weaving, I keep wondering whether or not you folks have made any weaving models are animations yet. I figured you could probably just make a simple Loom model and just have the person’s hands kind of moving around on it. Closer detail wouldn’t be required :smile_cat:

I just finished another piece of Neolithic cloth. This one has a flax Warp and uses sheep wool for weft. I still have a lot to learn about weaving, and you can see the imperfections in my work. Regardless, this item took 8 to 10 hours to weave, and a lot more work would have gone into it Neolithic time ( spinning, growing, harvesting, sharing, carding).

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Sheep wool, meaning middle/late Neolithic if I’m not wrong?

Highly-specialized society, lot of prestige won and you may get cheese by trade. Well done! :blush:

Also, have you tried making patterns like in the video I posted? But I guess that would far, far longer to do. And what do you think about this theory of having motives weaved in the fabrics, like seemingly shown by the statues menhirs? Does it seem reasonable for you, maybe for luxury fabrics when a social elite appeared?

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Sheep don’t appear immediately, but by the middle of the late Neolithic there definitely there. I haven’t tried any patterns yet, but I might do some later. perhaps in the next piece that I make. What do you mean by motives? I’ve seen the mehirs, but I’m not sure what you mean.

I am planning on more complex designs in the belt of a string skirt I’m making. Putting patterns into weaving is more complicated, especially when I don’t have a series of rigid heddle, but it can be done in a tapestry fashion.

A string skirt I plan to make using all hand- spun string. It will have intricate designs.

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Well, “patterns” & “motives” where in fact the same. Like crosses over a layout, etc.
As a French I don’t like words being repeated twice, so I use synonyms – but in this case it was fail it seems :blush:

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Oh, so you mean using patterns in my weaving?

I’ll be doing that in my next piece. It’s a little more complicated on the type of loom that I’m using. Most people make patterns using at least a rigid heddle Loom. I don’t have a heddle at all.

Here are some short video clips showing how I weave using a Neolithic frame loom.
These are early Neolithic. Later looms would have heddles and be much larger.

Quickly made cloth for normal use.
8 inch x 46 inch took about 16-20 hours to weave.

Better quality weave for warm weather.
8 inch x 48 ich. Estimated 2" per hour. =/
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Realistic Neolithic drop spindle. Stick was shaved using obsidian blade and smoothed using fine sand and leather (like sand paper). Whorl is made of natural low fire clay, hand made and fired in an open fire. Flax is being spun into string.You can see maybe 20 yards of flax string, single ply.

So, how much flax to make clothing?
I did some tests of spinning using flax and an exact early Neolithic replica spindle. I wanted realistic numbers. The only real unknown here is the flax/acre. I have gotten numbers for this all over the place, from 10-15lb/acre to 50lb/acre. I am using 11.34kg/acre because it seems on the lower end and the actual crop yields would vary quite a lot, anyway.

A simple linen loincloth of low EPI (more like burlap) would have the dimensions of:
150 cm length and 30cm width. It’s EPI (warp thread per inch) would be maybe 6, so 6 warp per 2.5cm? It’s weft would be maybe 8 per 2.5cm?
8 warp * 150cm/warp = 1200 cm
3.2 weft/cm * 30cm/weft * 150cm = 14400cm

Total flax string needed (120% show to account for errors, etc)
(14400cm + 1200cm)* 1.2 = 18720 cm = 187.2meters of flax!

A single acre of flax may yield ~11.34kg of flax.
Since the ratio of grams of flax to cm of string is ~64.52 cm/g = 0.015499 g/cm

1 acre = 4047 m^2
4047m^2 / 11.34kg = 356.88 m^2 / kg = 2.8021 g/m^2

Linen loincloth = 18720 cm * 0.015499 g/cm = 290.141g of flax.

This means a simple linen loincloth, nothing special, takes about ~103.544 m^2 of land to grow.
(about ~10 x ~10 meters of area, or ~33 x ~33 feet)

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I have just commissioned a series of six full size color illustrations depicting the planting, growing and harvesting, preparing, spinning, weaving and finally wearing of early Neolithic flax and linen. As soon as they are completed, I will post them here. The cost is several hundred dollars, but I think the end result will allow everyone to see the process for themselves

Here are a couple of the reference images that I drew to show the illustrator what I wanted. These are my crappy images, and the final products will look much more beautiful than these. They also will come with text explaining what’s going on in detail.

Planing the flax in early March

Harvest that flax

Spinning the flax in August.

Weaving in a warp weighted loom in september. This could be me lol

Final shawl ready to wear in October for a festival

These three spindles represent probably 10 hours a weaving. I haven’t measured them yet, but there may be a hundred yards of Flax on them, and a little wool at the bottom. This would only be about half as much flax as required to make a simple linen loincloth, let alone anything more complicated.

Making something like a shirt or a tunic might take many times this much representing weeks of time spinning.

Miniature Early Neolithic Warp Weighted Loom

In preparation for the full-sized warp weighted Loom I plan to make in a few weeks, I created a fully-working miniature Loom today. It is 1:6 scale, approximately the same size as a Barbie doll. It is fully functional and it can make linen lol

To be clear, what you are about to see is a pretty authentic example of a Neolithic Loom, though it is important to realize that textiles were not a major product in the Neolithic.

I started with a simple diagram of an early Neolithic warp weighted Loom. The only deviation from authenticity are those two giant circular weights holding the loom posts. Those exist because I can’t bury the posts into the ground, so I need weights to hold them up period on the real Loom, the posts would be buried into the ground.

I selected a set of fresh sticks that matched the shapes in my diagram. When I make the real Loom, I will have to use an Axe and cut down much larger wood.

I made a Pottery culture pot, Loom weights, and those two large tubes which will hold the posts of the Loom up in place of actually bearing the posts in the ground, which I can’t do. These were made with easy bake clay. The real Loom will use actual wood fired clay for its Loom weights

Attaching the wood was as simple as tightly wrapping sinew. the full size Loom will probably have grooves cut in the wood to double in sure it stays in place.

Here is the finished Loom being demonstrated by a little doll wearing a Neolithic winter outfit.

I actually made a tiny working spindle for the loom. As you can see, the spindle is actually able to make tiny thread from flax. Like the loom, it is completely functional and authentically made. Even the tiny Loom whorl was made of real clay and fired in wood.

Here is the loom in the closed position. The shed, that space that opens up between the fibers, is currently closed. the doll is now wearing a Neolithic string skirt.

here is the shed in the open position. Notice that there is now a space split between the strings to pass the weft through. you may also noticed a tiny shuttle and a tiny weaving sword. I made every component.