Women's Activities


Textile-working was an important task. Wool was spun with a drop spindle to produce yarn for weaving and it is this type of spinning equipment that the Norns used to spin out the lives of people. The yarn could then be dyed and woven into cloth for clothes. In addition to the drop spindles and spindle whorls (weights for drop spindles) that have survived, the Oseberg burial included many other textile working tools, such as a yarn winder. These give a good idea of what tools were available in the Viking Age.

Naturally-Dyed Wool

(c) RDale


Wool was dyed with a variety of natural materials, many of which could be easily gathered locally. Plants, mushrooms, lichen, bark, leaves, flowers and bugs could call be used to produce a wide range of colours. Despite depictions on television and in movies that claim to be historically accurate, the clothes worn by people in the Viking Age would have been much brighter than is usually envisaged. The Vikings have a reputation for loving colour and there is no reason to suspect they would not have worn bright clothes where they could afford them.

The interior of the reconstruction of Erik the Red's house

(c) RDale


The warp-weighted loom could be fixed in place, as in this reconstructed example from Eirik the Red's house in Brattahlíð, Greenland, or it could be a free-standing frame that was moved to where it was needed. The warp yarns hang freely in this type of loom, and tension is maintained by the use of weights which are normally stone, although Njál’s saga describes Valkyries weaving on a loom that uses men's severed heads as weights and warp and weft made from their intestines.

Another technique of weaving uses tablets to create the shed. The warp is then passed through that space. This is card or tablet weaving, and was used to make decorative braids for edging clothes.

Cooking Utensils from the Oseberg Ship Burial

(c) RDale

Food preparation

Women would have been responsible for food preparation in the home. Contrary to popular imagination, roast animals would not have been the primary meal. Instead, it is more likely that most Viking Age people ate pottage, a thick stew that would be boiled up in a cauldron like that depicted here. Bread was a staple of the diet too, and the average person drank syra (soured fermented whey) because ale and mead cost too much to produce, especially in Iceland.