Haraldskjaer sprang hairnet

I read about Bronze and Iron Age hairnets while researching the chronological order of hairnets and found several made with sprang. Most of these are researched in Margarethe Hald’s book Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials, where she also touches on the technique. My favourite one by far is one of the younger ones named after the Haraldskjaer woman (c. 500 BC) who was found in remarkably good condition with high quality textiles. They and the mummy are under closer research and that’s why we can see pretty decent pictures. The woolen hairnet looks incredibly fine and has a beautiful open honeycomb pattern. The finished net is attached to a wide woolen band that might be tablet or inkle woven. 

The extant net

The description of the hairnet in Hald’s book is quite short, concentrating more on the fact that this might not actually belong to the Haraldskjaer woman after all. But later examinations have concluded that it is the same age period, later Broze Age or early Iron Age. After the net was found in the 19th century it was spread out and pasted on cardboard. It was the style back then and although it sounds awful to us modern researchers, it does make photographing, counting and measuring quite a lot easier. Hald has some patterns and instructions for sprang in her book. The technical drawing of the Haraldskjaer net shows it to be made in openwork mostly in a honeycomb pattern with some basic twining closer to the “lock” made by chaining two threads at a time.

I used this large image from Archeosciences article, as it shows details very well and has a 10 cm scale bar included. The net is 17,4 high and 25 cm wide, with a c. 1,5 cm wide woolen band made in a tabby pattern. The yarn used is very fine wool, under 1 mm in width. The original colour hasn’t been researched, nowadays it’s a golden coppery colour. With the net are two pieces of cords, the thicker is almost 8 mm wide and 20 cm long. The finer cord is c. 45 cm long and 6 mm wide, with a cable structure (4Z2SZ) visible in the unraveled ends. 

The netting has been identified as sprang and as the pattern is easiest to reproduce in that technique, I have no doubt it is sprang indeed. It was probably made flat, then pulled together and sewn into the round shape we see today. One end of the warp is visible as the loops around the centre eye, the other end is missing. Earlier sprang hairnets have used the whole length of the warp, with one end cinched closed and the other end with cord threaded through it.

In the most visible part of the net the loop size is approximately 4-6 mm hide when opened. Ten centimeters of net has about 68 rows of hexagonal loops. The width and height depend quite a lot on how much the net is spread out. But it is obvious that the other side of the net was woven tighter as that small area seems darker and denser. The lock row, that every sprang work used whole needs, is thus possibly closer to one end and not in the middle as in many earlier nets.

After counting hexagons and loops and threads and all yarn possible, I came to these numbers. There are about 56-50 hexagons in a tiled honeycomb pattern in the width of the net. As every hexagon takes up four threads, this means the warp has 224-240 threads altogether. In the sprang warp the threads are typically counted as rounds, so the net has 112-120 rounds. Again, feel free to count them yourself if in doubt or if you want to make your net as same as the extant piece.

One end of the net warp has been threaded and pulled together with a separate yarn, you can still see the ends of this yarn. The resulting eye is not completely closed, it is c. 1 cm wide. This shape has then been sewn onto a band along the sides of the warp. The band seems to be made of the same yarn as the net in inkle weaving with approximately 30 warp yarns.

Start with something easy, or not

I started all wrong, because of course I did. The yarn choice was wrong, loosely plied medium thick linen yarn that had no give and split easily while picking. Too many warp yarns. The wrong working position. This resulted in a three day celebration of patience, mistakes, cursing and back ache.

I followed Sally Pointer’s video Make a Bronze Age or Iron Age Sprang Hair-net, which is wonderful in many ways, but not a good starting point for a complete beginner. But to my credit I did finish the white linen hairnet and the proof of concept is there. The netting looks very pretty, even with mistakes. And because sprang has so much mobility compared to knotted netting, it’s just fun to play with it.

In my second experiment I used The Sojourn Spinner’s tutorial All-over holes språng pattern. The pattern is divisible by four yarns, I tried 20 rounds (40 yarns) in mine. The yarn is just basic socks wool blend with a good twist. In my linen experiment it became very clear that the yarn loses twist on one side of the warp, depending on what twist it originally had. This could be solved by changing the twining in the sprang pattern, using both Z- and S-twining as was done in many earlier hairnets. The Haraldskjaer pattern doesn’t change direction apparently.

Top tips for sprang

As I’m not very experienced with sprang, especially when compared to netting, I would not dream of writing a tutorial on the technique. But that said, I did find out what were my biggest problems with it and how to try and solve them. Maybe you’ve struggled with the same things, maybe you’ve found problems of your own.

  1. The loom. Make it with a big frame, knitting needles and some rubber cord like mine. 
  2. Two hands. Attach the loom with C-clamps to a table or a chair, so you have both hands free.
  3. Tight, tighter. Keep your yarns tight, they will sit so much better and not hop over each other.
  4. The middle. Weave at the middle of the warp, but keep an eye on how the yarns twine at the top.
  5. Lifeline. Weave a lifeline through the last shed if you’re taking a break or working the lock.
  6. Light. Sprang might be one of the few techniques that benefits from being back-light, you can see the warp threads clearer. 

My version of the Haraldskjaer sprang hairnet

The original hairnet is very fine and at the moment beyond my skills and patience. My version is made of thicker yarn and in 1:2 ratio. I used 60 rounds or 120 yarns with size 4,5 mm knitting needles for picking and spacing. The yarn I’m using is Ohut Pirkkalanka (100g=400m), a tight worsted wool yarn that I typically use for tablet weaving and embroidery.

My temporary loom is made of a sturdy 50X50 cm sized embroidery frame. Dowels holding the warp loops in place are just knitting needles. They are attached with loops of rubber cord that are quite tight but still have some stretch to them. I knot some extra loops in the cord, so I can adjust the warp looser when I start chaining for the lock. The best work position I found was by attaching the frame to my kitchen table with C-clamps.

I beat the warp tightly at the bottom and left no needles in it, but the top was woven looser. This makes the top side (the side attached to the finishing band) more open, the lock situates itself lower and the bottom becomes tighter. As I’m using yarn that has an S-twist, this means that the S-twining at the top makes the netting very neat as the yarn tightens. The lock in the middle was done in slip stitch with a 1.75 mm crochet hook on every thread.

The band is 31 warp threads wide and just basic tabby weaving done with the same yarn as the net. I used my seriously cool golden (plastic) heddle from Stoorstålka. You can achieve the same tabby pattern by weaving under-over with a needle, there is no need for a heddle, but it makes it quicker.

Finishing the net

In the looser end of the net the loops of the warp threads are gathered into a ring. Then the sides are sewn onto the woollen band. I choose to think that this is the front part that is worn on the forehead or the crown. The tighter end of the net is mostly missing, but seems to be opened into fan shape. But that could be because it was mounted on cardboard soon after it was found in the 1830’s. I decided to gather the tighter end too into a ring and sew the sides together to form a pouch.

The band is c. 60 cm long and has simple tied tassels just because they looked cute, the extant band is much shorter and has no end decorations. 

I used the same wool yarn for sewing, but for strength’s sake I used it doubled. I began at the front sewing the warp loops into a ring. And as the yarn was at the centre I then continued with the same yarn from the centre down the right side up to the lock and a bit over, about 20 cm and then repeated the same on the left side. I didn’t gather or stretch the side but kept them in their natural length. I made a couple stitches to the last loop of the lock as this needs to be secured some way.

Wearing a Bronze Age hairnet

The Haraldskjaer net might not be a hairnet in the modern sense, but a cap of some sort. You can wear it without a hairdo, but I’d rather put up my hair and then place the netted cap over it. Both options are good.

There are several plaits and hairdos found with Bronze age sprang caps, sometimes they are as unattached to the body as the cap. Typically these hairdos are plaited and coiled some way, my favourite is the Elling woman braid which is c. 300 years younger than the Haraldskjaer find.

Mastering it all

As a textile crafts teacher and researcher I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon of “mastering it all”. Meaning that if you can knit and crochet, surely you must be an idiot savant in, let’s say, nålbinding. But then, to your absolute horror and a bit of embarrassment, you are not. 

I have oodles of textile techniques that just baffle me. Bobbin lace, frivolite, macrame and sprang to name just a few. And I find learning them always irritating and embarrassing. A friend of mine invited me to her class of advanced lace bobbers (is that the term? It should be.) to learn the basics. She was fantastic and very accommodating, but still I ended up red faced when other students came over and thought it was adorable that I was working lace that preschoolers can do.

Now, being embarrassed is not a deadly sin, but it can hinder you from taking the time you need and learning the space that feels the best for you. I try to take things slow, enjoy the process and let myself repeat, repeat and repeat until I’m happy to continue to the next level. That said, I did use some very colourful Finnish curses and shout at innocent yarn while practicing sprang.

Why am I telling you all this? Because we teach and learn by example and it’s dangerously easy to look at textiles made by experienced or professional crafters and not see the work behind it. Let’s enjoy the process too and not get too bogged down by mistakes, those are usually more aesthetic features than technical problems. 

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