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Published: 01 September 2013

By Andy Ross

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Sails made of wool

This week we have had a few queries about woolen sails, especially those that the Vikings used.

To my chagrin (isn't that a great word) I did not know the first thing about Viking sails although I had been told that they were woven out of wool. I would have thought that wool was not the best for sails but how wrong I have been proved! Some research has been done and here is some of what I found out...

Hemp, flax and wool were all used in textiles at the time, and sails were made from all three.

Wool was from a primitive breed of sheep which had long hair. Some sails were recently made from this hairy wool in Norway where there are still enough of that breed to produce the required yarn.

The sails were permeable to air and so had to be finished with a mixture of fat, ochre, tallow and water. The ochre helped to resist rotting too.

There is plenty more but I shall leave it up to you, dear readers of enquiring minds, to find out for yourself. Here is the link to the International Journal of Nautical Archaelogy where the information from experiments is presented as a pdf and please let us know if you find anything interesting that you want to share.