In St. Andrew’s parish Orkney in 1867 a garment was found in a peat bog, which was subsequently named‘The Orkney Hood’ ( illus 1 ). This apparently unique garment with its complex weaving and double tablet woven bands with fringe, was taken to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh for display. The hood remained on display for approximately 83 years until it was studied in detail by A .S. Henshall, (Henshall 1951-52, 9) in this report it was suggested that the hood could be of Iron Age or Viking origin due to the tablet woven bands which were a typical feature of Scandinavian textiles of these periods. It was also suggested by Henshall that the style of the fringing on the hood could have its origins in Bronze Age Danish Textiles. A recent report on the Orkney Hood (Gabra-Sanders 2001, 98 ) also comes to this conclusion. These suggestions are references to the Egtved corded skirt (Broholm and Hald 1948, 30 ).
However the Egtved skirt which I have replicated in the past, is made of an entirely different technique. This skirt was made of a twisted wool fringe, which was interlinked at the hem, the fringe was not free falling as the hood fringe was. The cord also issued from a plain tabby woven band and not from a tablet woven band as the fringing on the Orkney hood. Therefore it does not in any way relate to the techniques used in the manufacture of the hood and should not I feel be compared with it.
I was commissioned to make a replica of the Orkney Hood following a lecture I gave on ‘Experimental archaeology in the 21st century’ at the Seachange conference in Orkney, September 2001. This paper will reveal the conclusions and discoveries I made while manufacturing the replica hood for display at the Minehowe Know How event in Orkney May 2002. The first prerequisite prior to making the replica was to find out what type of wool it was made of and if it had been dyed to produce the two tone brown and golden shades of the original. In 1981 the hood was taken to the Conservation and Research Laboratories of the National Museum of Antiquaries of Scotland for full conservation treatment. The subsequent analysis prior to conservation ascertained that the wool had not been dyed (Findlay 1981, 95) and that the brown colouration came as a result of pigments in the fibres, indicating that it came from moorit sheep (naturally brown fleeces).
Also preceding conservation a radiocarbon date was obtained of 1595+ BP i.e. AD c 250-615 which essentially confirms Henshall’s suggestion that the textile had an Iron Age date. M.L. Ryder in his essay on the evolution of sheep breeds (Ryder 1968, 139) suggests that the wool used to manufacture the hood was of a hairy medium, fine type of fleece very similar to that of Shetland sheep fleeces. Coloured Shetland sheep are relatively common in my home county of Cornwall this made the task of finding the raw materials for the hood comparatively easy. However when studying photographs of the hood I noticed that the majority of the textile had a very distinctive golden hue to it. I therefore proceeded to my local Wool Marketing Board wool sheds and acquired as large a colour range of Shetland fleeces as I could find, eight in all from Black to a Pale Apricot. I travelled the following week to Edinburgh to study the hood first hand at the National Museum of Scotland, armed with sixteen switches of fleece (two from each fleece one from the top and one from the bottom). At the museum I was given a desk in the office and the hood to scrutinize for the day. The main part of the hood was lighter and yet a more vibrant golden colour than I had ascertained from photographs I had studied. In reality it was exactly the same as the sun bleached tips of the mid brown fleece I had brought with me. The natural colour of sheep wool bleaches with the sun during the summer, this bleaching effect continues when it is made into textiles too. Very much the same as an old faded woollen blanket does. This suggests that the main part of the hood was originally a mid brown and paled down with age to the rich golden colour it is today. This hypothesis was given weight when I tried to match the dark brown bands in the tablet weaving. The tips of the black fleece were almost exactly the same as the dark brown colour on the original. Therefore I suggest that the original hood was made of dark brown Shetland fleece with Black Shetland fleece stripes in it. Armed with a days measurements and innumerable photographs I left Edinburgh for Cornwall to begin my commission.