detailtjp-coatAlong the silk road, in Samarkland in Central Asia, the Sogdians were creating silk fabrics of a distinctive style as a supplement to their trading links.  (See this article for a nice overview of Samarkland.) Some are extremely well made. Yet some of that fabric was in many ways the cheap knockoff version of Chinese silks.There are definite weaving quality issues in some of the extant pieces – so while nice enough, it was low enough quality to be an intermediate trade good. Some extant examples on Pinterest

Map of the Silk Roads.
Tim Williams, Sjoerd van der Linde (2008) The Urban Landscapes of Ancient Merv, Turkmenistan [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor] (doi:10.5284/1000164)
And those fabrics WERE used as trade goods. Bolts of Sogdian silks appear to have been traded to the various tribes along the northern silk road route through the Caucausian Mountains, to get the main cargo onto the Mediterranean. One of those tribes was the Alans, with a marvelous burial complex in Moshchevaya Balka. And that started me on a quest.

It was a noble quest. My apprentice oath was to Alan Smyith of Darkdale, thus in the SCA I was part of the tribe of the Alans. And the burials at Moschevaya Balka had so much stuff – shoes, hose, underpants, tunics, coats, hats, even dolls (or possibly votive outfits.). The curator at the Met had published a full pattern from an extant coat. So all I needed was some Sogdian Silk for the trim.

4444541871_fe802202b5_mI needed a fabric that had the roundel of white circles (pearls), that had a central motif that was static, and most importantly, appeared to be woven with a 3 color weft. I looked for about five years, for anything with the roundel of pearls, every time I went fabric shopping. Yet I was always disappointed.

But once I was announced for Laurel, I could wait no more. I learned of the possibilities of Spoonflower, and began designing my own fabrics. They are not nearly as complex as the Sogdian originals, for my digital design skills are lacking. But I am heartened by the fact that the quality of the designs in the originals varied too. (Notice the yellow ducks aren’t fully round, and there is no design in the spaces.) And the Spoonflower fabrics aren’t woven, but instead printed. Yet they work quite well for the intended purpose.

3176386_rrrrrrlaurel_4_inchI created both variations on the award heraldry for the Laurel, and the GoA level award I hold, the Silver Hammer. As well, I developed one for our Kingdom totem, the Falcon. Eventually I will make others as well.

I used it for my vigil clothing, a garment I wear regularly as it is so comfortable. But this type of silk WAS a trade good. It traveled along the silk road, and possibly beyond.  It could be used for byzantine roundels, or a Palla, or trim on a garment from nearly any of the Central Asia cultures in the 8th-10th centuries.

It is POSSIBLE that this type of silk traveled to the Viking regions, but this is not certain. That there was trade between places like Birka in modern Sweden and the East is certain. (well summarized here.) Sogdian silks are multi-colored, weft-faced, compound twill fabrics. There are finds of silk at Birka described in just that way. The silk has been cut and sewed as narrow strips, which would obscure some of the pattern. Much of any original color or pattern is gone, lost to changes in the graves, and the translation of Geijer‘s work relating to the silk probably needs the photos to be best understood. She does acknowledge trade contact between Birka and Central Asia. So based of the fragmentary knowledge we have, using narrow strips of this to trim your Rus and Norse garments is plausible.

I used the offcuts from my Alanic coat to trim my Viking apron dress – and deliberately used the partial bits. The Norse didn’t seem to worry that much about using full motif repeats, so I didn’t either.

Fabrics available on Spoonflower.