Iron Age


The design The design The inspiration comes from our earlier exhibition at Sutton Hoo, when I had the opportunity to study the site and various artefacts found there, now in the British Museum, including a sword and its belt-fittings. The fittings, being of gold, garnet and enamel, have survived fairly well, as has the jewelled hilt of the sword, but the sword blade is horribly rusted. However, the pattern welding on the blade, a common design feature in Anglo-Saxon swords, can still be seen.

In British archaeology, "Iron Age" usually means pre-Roman. However, both Romans and Anglo-Saxons belong in the Iron Age in the sense that iron was their principal non-precious metal. The term also evokes Hesiod's "Age of Iron" - the present day, seen as a sad decline from the "Golden Age" in the mythical past. Finally, the rusting blade is a product of the ageing process as it affects iron.

In designing this piece, I have represented the sword in a straightforward manner, but have "taken liberties" with the size and colour scheme of the belt fittings in order to produce the background panels.

The Sword

detail of the sword blade detail of the sword blade The chevron patterns in the blade are the result of pattern welding. Strips of iron were twisted and hammered flat to give a pattern of oblique lines. Two strips twisted in opposite directions give the chevron. Several strips, including the decorated ones, were welded together to make the blade, and when complete it was ground and polished to reveal the pattern. I experimented with various means of making this by fabric manipulation, but the results, though interesting, were too cumbersome. I had already decided to make the sword by covering wooden forms with fabric, which, therefore, needed to be fairly flexible. The rather inevitable result was the use of painted calico, with Xpandaprint very sparingly applied to make the corroded texture. The paints used were Lumière metallic rust and several colours of Dye-na-flow. These are very strong colours and need to be used sparingly and quite dilute. The rust paint also stiffens the fabric and therefore could not be used in places where stitching was required to render the welding patterns.

The Hilt

Hilt design The hilt as embroidered The sword hilt was also to be constructed from fabric covered wood, and the shape had to be simplified to make this possible. In the end I made it in three pieces, covered with similar fabric to the blade, but without Xpandaprint and much less metallic paint, as it had to stay flexible enough to be gathered around the wooden forms.

The jewelled decoration is represented (very approximately) by embroidery.

The uppermost knot is a domed shape, covered with a Suffolk puff of embroidered fabric. A central screw fastens it to the next piece.

This is a cylinder, covered with embroidered fabric which is gathered over the ends. The upper know is screwed into the top, while the bottom has a slot to receive the tang of the blade.

The next element is a wider, shallower cylinder, again with an embroidered fabric gathered over the ends. The slot to receive the tang goes right through it. The bolts which secure the sword to the background emerge from the back of this piece, and pass through a buttonhole in the fabric.

The sword-blade has a tang at the top which fits into the slots in the hilt pieces.

The wooden pieces are fastened together by screwing, glueing and stitching the fabric coverings together.

Background to the Sword

background (1) background (2) background (3) Three panels, decorated with motifs from the sword-belt fittings, were again to be made from fabric covered wood. I experimented at some length with colour schemes and stitch techniques, but eventually settled for calico painted in colours related to those used for the sword, with hand-stitched patterns.


woodwork All the elements of this piece are worked on wooden backing, the background panels and the hilt pieces being padded with felt.

The three background panels are bolted to a pair of uprights, and the sword hilt is bolted to the topmost panel. Apart from this, the sword hangs free.

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