About the Greenland Gown Project
The Greenland Gown Research and Recreation Project is tracing the route of a 13th century Norse dress that has become known as “The “Greenland Gown” back through time to the fibers that formed it.
The theory that is the basis of this project is that a locally grown sheep breed’s fleece can be used as a substitute for the original breed’s fleece to produce comparable fabric.
The dress was excavated from a grave in the churchyard cemetery of the old Norse colony of Herjolfsnes (“Herjolf’s Point”), one of the south eastern most of the Norse settlements during their colonization of Greenland.
In 1921, an excavation led by Dr. Poul Norlund (Nørlund) found the church cemetery with its treasure of almost fully intact garments used as burial shrouds.
This particular dress, Herjolfsnes #38 or museum number D10580, is located at the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The Greenland Gown was made using a unique fabric made by the Norse from before the time of the Viking raids until mechanized wool processing.
I had decided that in the recreation of this garment, I would try to use the same fabric as was used in the original dress.
It became apparent to me when I tried to obtain the fabric that it was no longer being made.
I then decided to try to weave the fabric using yarn from the original sheep and could find none.
Failing that, I decided that spinning the yarn that was needed to make the fabric and weaving it was the only way I would be able to make the dress… This is what started me down this road….
The sheep that made this fabric possible were double coated.
(A double coated sheep is one that is more primitive than most and still has a hairy outer coat and a softer wooly coat underneath.)
As I had not had the entire thought process enter my brain yet, I found I was unable to locate the Old Norwegian Sheep. (I know know that these sheep have very little to do with this project)
Undaunted, I then started to look around at our local sheep and I found the Navajo Churro. This sheep has a conformation that is remarkably similar to the original sheep. They originated on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain and were brought to the Americas with Christopher Columbus. The sheep was later spread by the subsequent exploration of the Spanish and Portuguese.
These sheep were mostly for meat and milk by the early explorers as the coats were course. I chose to use this local fiber source in place of the elusive Norse sheep because of the similarities of fiber and ready availability.
So now, having a target sheep, I’ve begun the research and experimental archeology that has become the Greenland Gown Project.
Update: Since this was written, I have been perfecting the recreation of the processes for making the raw fiber usable for a spinner to be able to make the required finished threads for the weaving. Also, I have actually located the sheep used to produce the textile. The Icelandic sheep had become a breed unto it’s self by the time of the fabric manufacture.
Please feel free to ask questions and make suggestions. I wish to share the learning process with as many as possible.