Tag Archives: City Museum Winchester

Medieval Textile Tools

This week we’re back at City Museum in Winchester, but looking at things from a slightly different angle. Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts about how some textiles were produced in the Middle Ages. You can find the first one here. While I was researching the series, I read about the processes and looked at pictures of the tools used, but there’s a world of difference between looking at a picture and seeing the real thing. City Museum houses some textile tools from the Middle Ages.


In numerical order they are:
17 A whorl for a spindle
19 A tenterhook
20 A harbick
21 Shears
22 A thimble
23 A needle
24 A couching needle

The uses of some of the objects are fairly obvious.  The whorl sat on a spindle to balance it when yarn was spun. Spindles were made of wood, so tend not to survive. Whorls were usually made of stone or clay, but this one is lead.

The sewing needle (slightly bent as the description card points out helpfully) was used in the same way that a needle would be used today. It’s thicker than I would like to use, but I suspect it wasn’t meant for fine needlework. Someone using it would have need of the beautiful little thimble.

The shears (21) were probably used for cutting fabric or thread. They look too small to have been used for removing the nap on cloth, although they look too large to snip sewing thread. I don’t suppose the needlewomen of the Middle Ages had a large collection of scissors of different sizes as I do.

According to its card, the harbick (20) was used to secure cloth to a board when the nap was shorn. It’s not an object I’ve come across before in my reading and I can’t find out any more than the museum card told me.

It was the tenterhook (19) that first caught my eye in the display. Tenterhooks were used to stretch fabric on a tenterframe after it had been fulled. I had no idea the hooks were so tiny, but I suppose they would have damaged the fabric had they been much larger. It’s not every day you get to see something that is only remembered through an idiomatic saying, which is why I was quite excited to see it.

I have to confess to being more than a little worried about the couching needle (24). Everything I’ve read or seen about couching indicates that an ordinary needle is used. Couching is an embroidery technique in which a thread is placed on the fabric and held in place by small stitches along its length. In the Middle Ages couching was mostly used to secure gold thread, which was considered too valuable to be wasted on the back of an embroidered piece.  Gold thread was made with gold leaf, so was very expensive. I suppose this needle could be a laying tool, used for keeping threads flat and controlled while the needle is pulling them through the fabric, but I don’t know. If anyone recognises it and understands its purpose in couching, I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment below.


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Medieval Life

A Visit to City Museum, Winchester

The last time I was in Winchester, someone recommended the City Museum to me. There wasn’t quite enough time to go in on that day, so I was pleased when the necessity of going to Winchester arose this week and I had the opportunity to see what delights it holds.

It’s a small museum, but I found a great deal there to enjoy. This post is really a random collection of things there that caught my eye, and I hope they’ll appeal to you as much as they appeal to me. I’m sorry about the quality of some of the photographs. It was a sunny day and all the things that interested me are under glass.

Winchester was an important town under the Romans, and the whole of the top floor of the museum is dedicated to some amazing finds both from the town and nearby villas. There are coins there that are 2,000 years old and a mosaic that’s about five foot square and complete, save where a tree root grew into part of it. What I loved, though, were these fragments of a wall from a house where there’s now a shopping centre. IMG_20190913_135708

I was attracted to them by the bright colours. It’s easy for us to believe that people in the past lived in a monochrome world. The artefacts we have from those times have mostly lost their paint, but these bits of wall are a reminder that the Romans, just like the people of the Middle Ages,  lived with and liked vibrant colours.

The museum was recommended to me on the strength of its medieval exhibits, but in Winchester medieval means Anglo-Saxon. It was Alfred the Great’s capital and there are many interesting things in the museum from his time.

My favourite Saxon object is this tiny piece of a house-shaped shrine. It’s a gable of the roof, so not desperately important, but it’s exquisite. To give you an idea of the craftsman’s skill, it’s about 2 1/2 inches tall.


It’s from the end of the tenth century and is made of walrus ivory. At the top, there’s an acanthus spray, which is, according to its card, typical of the Winchester style.

Another religious object is this shell. If you look closely, you can see the holes drilled into it so that it could be sewn onto a pilgrim’s hat. It would have been worn to show that the person wearing it had been to Santiago de Compostela, the third most important destination for medieval pilgrims.


There were also tiles. I love tiles, but I’ll spare you all the pictures I took of them and show you just two that I thought were particularly interesting.

I’ve written about how tiles were made here.


I’ve saved the best till last. This is a fourteenth-century toilet seat. It’s not quite as big as it seems. Those are combs on the left and the fipple flutes on the right are tiny. The toilet seat came from a house belonging to John de Tytynge. Fortunately, other items were found on the site. I’m not sure I’d want my name to be remembered only because the excavation of my latrine pit gave up a toilet seat.


April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:













Filed under Medieval Life