Faroese postage stamp with a picture of a Viking helmsman in a wadmal tunic.

Wadmal (Old Norse: vaðmál; Norwegian: vadmål, "cloth measure") is a coarse, dense, usually undyed wool fabric woven in Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Greenland, and the Orkney, Faroe and Shetland Islands from the Middle Ages into the 18th century. Wadmal was woven on the warp-weighted loom used throughout these areas of Norwegian influence, and was usually a 2/2 twill weave, although some medieval sources outside Iceland describe wadmal as tabby or plain-woven. In remote regions, wadmal remained the primary fabric for working people's clothing into the 18th century.[1][2]

Wadmal was a medium of exchange throughout Scandinavia. Wadmal was accepted as currency in Sweden, Iceland, Shetland, and Ireland, and exchange rates defined the equivalent of various grades of wadmal (measured in ells) in silver and in cows.[1][2][3] According to Bruce Gelsinger, the term watmal was known in Germany and the southern Baltic region as a rough cloth primarily used by the poor.[4]

Wadmal in Iceland

Wadmal was the main export of Iceland, where length, width, thread count, and weight for different grades were fixed by law.[5] Iceland was also the largest producer of wadmal in the North Atlantic.[6] Producing and selling inadequate wadmal was punishable by law in Iceland; for instance, in Ljósvetninga Saga, one individual is outlawed for selling wadmal full of holes.[4] Wadmal was a dominant form of legal currency in Iceland – both within Iceland and to some extent in the Icelanders’ foreign trade - from the 11th (at the earliest) to 17th century (at the latest).[4][7] According to archeologist Michele Hayeur Smith, wadmal was significant enough in Iceland “that its production nearly eliminated other textile types from the island’s woven repertoire.”[4] Some have argued that, given the importance of wadmal in Iceland and the fact that women primarily produced it, that gender relations in Iceland may have been more equal than was previously thought: "making vaðmál was making money and this may have provided women with a source of power that was socially understood, as the weavers knew best the differences between good and poor-quality vaðmál. This seeming symbiosis may stem from the small size of the Icelandic colony, the harsh nature of the North Atlantic environment and the need for collaboration between the sexes to guarantee survival. This is not to say that resistance did not exist, but it may have been subtle and reflected in the values and symbolic associations connected to the making of cloth".[4]

See also


  1. ^ a b Crawford, Barbara E.; Smith, Beverley Ballin (1999). The Biggings, Papa Stour, Shetland: the history and excavation of a royal Norwegian farm. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; Der Norske Videnskaps-Akademi. pp. 201, 265. ISBN 978-0-903903-15-8. Retrieved 19 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b Østergård, Else (2004). Woven into the Earth: Textiles from Norse Greenland. Aarhus University Press. pp. 62–64. ISBN 978-87-7288-935-1.
  3. ^ Allen, Larry (2009). The Encyclopedia of Money (2 ed.). ABC-CLIO. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-59884-251-7. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e Smith, Michèle Hayeur (2013-12-01). "Thorir's bargain: gender, vaðmál and the law". World Archaeology. 45 (5): 730–746. doi:10.1080/00438243.2013.860272. ISSN 0043-8243.
  5. ^ Pulsiano, Phillip; et al., eds. (1993). Medieval Scandinavia: An Encyclopedia. Garland Press. p. 99. ISBN 9780824047870. Retrieved 22 April 2010.
  6. ^ Øye, Ingvild (2016). Turner, V.; Owen, O.; Vaugh, D. (eds.). "Tools and Textile Production in the North Atlantic". Proceedings of the 17th Viking Congress.
  7. ^ Smith, Michele Hayeur (2015). "Weaving Wealth". In Huang, Angela Ling; Jahnke, Carsten Jahnke (eds.). Weaving Wealth: Cloth and Trade in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland. Textiles and the Medieval Economy: Production, Trade, and Consumption of Textiles, 8th–16th Centuries. 16. Oxbow Books. pp. 23–40. ISBN 9781789252095. JSTOR j.ctvh1dm0t.5.

Media files used on this page

Author/Creator: Dan Polansky based on work currently attributed to Wikimedia Foundation but originally created by Smurrayinchester, Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
A logo derived from File:WiktionaryEn.svg, a logo showing a 3 x 3 matrix of variously rotated tiles with a letter or character on each tile. The derivation consisted in removing the tiles that form the background of each of the shown characters. File:WiktionaryEn.svg is under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike, created by Smurrayinchester, and attributed to Wikimedia Foundation. This is the version without the wordmark.
Jute nahtlos.png
Author/Creator: SoylentGreen, Licence: CC-BY-SA-3.0
Hessian Fabric made seamless. It will serve to create a normal map in Blender.
Batik Indonesia.jpg
Author/Creator: MartijnL, Licence: CC BY-SA 3.0 nl
Batik cloth purchased in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
MacLachlan hunting tartan (D. W. Stewart).svg
Author/Creator: , Licence: CC BY-SA 2.5
A representation of the Maclachlan hunting tartan. This tartan is the oldest tartan to bear the name MacLachlan. This tartan is referred to as the Old MacLachlan, MacLachlan, and Hunting MacLachlan. This sett was first published in Old & Rare Scottish Tartans by D. W. Stewart in 1893.
Thread count: Y6, W4, Bk32, G32, Y6, W4, R48.
Sources: MacLachlan Clan Tartan WR1710 MacLachlan Hunting Tartan