Neolithic Textiles !?!

Textrix or Weaver - Handwork Homeschool

Recently, we had the chance to experience a most unusual summer festival –
Pierres en Fête

Today, you’ll meet a neolithic weaver,
see ancient arts revived &
through a labyrinth back in time.

21st century kids at a 1st century archaeological dig in France - Handwork Homeschool

Yes, it was a HOT day but it was so worth spending a few hours in that little field here in northern France.  We started the afternoon playing a few Roman games (see Part One for a recap).  Then the children waited (quite patiently) for me to finish reading all of the very informative panels hung on the walls in the labyrinth set in the middle of the festival.

Pierres en Fete - Bretagne - Handwork Homeschool

This is the view of the festival from a small knoll at the edge of the dig.  The walled section at the right is the artshow/labyrinth.  Before I take you in, I thought I’d show you some of the artisans who were working outside it.  The festival organizers did such a great job making the day really come alive, they even made bilingual, slate signs for each artisan – the languages ?  Latin & French of course…!

Textrix spinning - Handwork Homeschool


I had met the Textrix (tisserande or weaver), Marie-Pierre Puybaret, before at the Fête des Moutons earlier this year.  Apparently, she is quite an expert on Neolithic & Ancient textiles.  What I find so fascinating about her work is that she steps beyond books & intellectual research & actually tries out her theories!  She casually told me that she had some archaeologist friends who had found 2000+ year old textile fragments in Danish bogs which were large enough for her to recreate.

Ancient Upright Loom with clay weights - Handwork Homeschool

She told me that she liked the challenge of working from these pieces & so she set about making an ancient upright loom, selecting the correct fibres (nettle, flax & wool), dyeing them using period-appropriate plants, then spinning them with a simple spindle before weaving a full piece of fabric.  It is amazing that this level of weaving was possible thousands of years before the Roman empire had even begun.

Ancient Weaving reproduced - Handwork Homeschool

(Note: As a costume historian, I have always believed that re-creating or reproducing a garment will teach you much more than you could ever learn by just looking at it.  In the past, I found that some people in the museum world didn’t hold the same opinion …. which is probably why I find Marie-Pierre’s work so very exciting!)

Ancient Fibres, spindles & re-created fabric swatches - Handwork Homeschool

Her display included many types of fibre including nettle (you know, the stinging kind) which is treated & used in similar ways to flax (which makes linen).  Interestingly, nettle was used before flax ( 8000+ years ago) & can actually produce a finer, smoother fabric if spun & woven neatly.  The ancient spindles which Marie-Pierre has re-created, above, are accurate for the period, one has a stone whorl & the other is weighted with a piece of clay.

Flax & Nettle Fibres - before & after spinning - Handwork Homeschool

Since textiles are much more fragile than stones or even wood, fewer pieces are found & they are usually submerged in salt water or fresh water bogs (in fact until recently, many archaeologists assumed that fabric from these ancient periods couldn’t possibly have survived!).  This textrix has certainly proven them wrong.  She has reproduced entire garments from mere shreds of cloth.  I hope that she writes a book one day, it would make for fascinating reading.

Hand spun & handwoven ancient pattern - Handwork Homeschool

She hand-dyed & wove this replica piece on her standing loom.  The colours look very contemporary to me.  Can you imagine a lady from antiquity displaying this on her dining table?

Now, let’s enter the main exhibition space of the festival, the Labyrinth.

Entrance to the Labyrinth - Handwork Homeschool

The labyrinth was created using natural materials & featured the work of many local, artists working in various materials.  The theme of “Betes, Hommes et Dieux” (Beasts, Men & Gods) was beautifully executed – even the entrance was artistic.

Ariadne, Theseus & the Minotaur - Handwork Homeschool

There were many canvas panels hung on the “walls” of the labyrinth filled with fascinating information including stories, fables, art & even recipes.  There were statues, pieces of pottery & fabulous wrought iron figures waiting to meet us as we wound our way towards the centre.

This panel featured the wool artisans…

Wool Artisans of Ancient Rome - Handwork HomeschoolAn historic theatre group, SKALD, presented a musical play, “FABULAE” based on fables written by the Greek slave/author, Phedre who lived in Rome around the time that the Roman Villa was built (early 1st century AD).  He used animals in his tales to delight & instruct.

Fables by Phedre - Handwork Homeschool

Can you imagine ?  The audience is sitting IN the dig!?!  I couldn’t help but wonder if the owners of the Villa entertained their guests in the courtyard in a similar way….

Ancient theatre in ancient environs - Handwork Homeschool

Some more beasts… a delicate mosaic of a classic winged-lion &

classic winged lion - Handwork Homeschool

a modern mysterious mouse-type creature!

Modern Metal Mouse - Handwork Homeschool

If you missed the first post,  click HERE :  Fun & Games in Roman France

Until then…


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2 Responses to Neolithic Textiles !?!

  1. Samantha says:

    Dear Elizabeth,

    Thank you for these posts. It almost feels as if I’m there with you, hot weather and all.



    • Hi Samantha!

      I’m glad you’re enjoying them. It is really nice for our kids (& us too) to get to experience these amazing events. Yet another enjoyable aspect of living here. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other good ones this fall.

      Nice to hear from you –


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