University of Leicester
2021BalchinRPhD.pdf (2.2 MB)

Narrative Threads: Written Textiles in Old Norse Prose and Poetry

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posted on 2022-01-11, 14:18 authored by Rachel Balchin
This thesis explores the function and significance of written textiles in the Íslendingasögur and a selection of poems from The Poetic Edda. This thesis defines ‘written textiles’ as written representations of textile-making processes, such as spinning, weaving and embroidery, and the material results of those processes, such as clothing. The term ‘written textiles’ is not an oxymoron: this thesis will show that the etymological and cultural relationship between ‘text’ and ‘textile’ is fundamental to our understanding of both. In contrast to much of the scholarship on Old Norse literature so far, this thesis focuses on the importance of textile terminology in a variety of narrative contexts. It argues that a more nuanced understanding of textiles reveals their function as powerful literary devices that paratactically convey social, cultural, and even emotional significances. This thesis questions a number of cultural assumptions regarding the value of textiles as a practice and how this reflects on those who create them – namely women. It demonstrates how this wider cultural devaluation influences both popular and scholarly reception of medieval women and, furthermore, illustrates how other avenues of meaning have been obscured as a result. As a countermeasure, it suggests that a systematic understanding of textile terminology is required, and explores the potential usefulness of an ‘Old Norse vestementary code’. It demonstrates how the Old Norse vestementary code can be used to read the written textiles of the Íslendingasögur, while emphasising the importance of narrative context: ultimately, it advocates for an attentive and holistic approach to Old Norse written textiles. The main contribution of this thesis is the ‘stitch act’, a new approach to the function of written textiles that draws on the linguistic phenomenon of the speech act. The stitch act is a formalised or ritualistic act of textile-creation – a ‘stitch’ – that impacts the saga narrative.



Ben Parsons

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of English

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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