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The Tvinningsben or Lucet

By: Sandy Sempel & Steven Lowe. September 2005. 

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A lot has been said about the Viking era that has now been proved to be historical and archaeological rubbish, there is an ever increasing scholarly counter-attack against these bad old caricatures, the new wave of scholarship has gone to great pains to demonstrate the full and true glory of the Vikings achievements as brilliant artists and craftsmen, boat builders, traders, explorers, farmers, fisher folk and crofters as well as heroic warriors.

Often tools of the Viking age have been cast aside in favor of weapons and jewelery the image of brutish pirates and murderers has had prominence over the real facts of everyday life, thankfully the new wave of archaeologists is now looking at more than the sword in the grave, tools and their uses are being examined, textile arts are coming into the researchers domain, as more excavations find more artifacts a real picture of everyday Viking life is beginning to emerge. A new picture showing that trading rather than “Viking” was the source of wealth in the North is beginning to emerge. 

Their ability to live in such a harsh environment and prosper as they did proves their ability to adapt and use their resources wisely and be self-sufficient. 

Their metalworking and textile skills were of extremely high standards for the time, in fact their jewelry and textile designs and patterns are still taught and copied today. 

This article examines and demonstrates the use of one small tool from the Viking era the Tvinningsben a small tool usually of bone used to make cord and rope of great strength from wool, flax, leather or other suitable material. While we say the tool is made of bone, simply because most of the surviving examples found to date have been of bone, other less durable materials may also have been used, even as simple a device as a forked stick could have been used to gain the same result but of course a forked stick would be discounted as a stray find and would certainly not be classed as grave goods, only the best would have been buried in the graves with the deceased.

The Tvinningsben or Lucet


The mystery of those strange cords and belts, how are they done? How hard is it to learn how to do them? Not hard at all in fact, nor is it a great mystery. The technique has been around for thousands of years and is still in use today. For many years the tools were not recognized for what they were and simply cataloged as bone finds and lumped in with other food and animal bones, unless the bones are carved or drilled as in the case of some bone whistles, or carved with runes as the example from Lund or complete as the example from York they are not normally noteworthy and can slip past the archaeologists notice. 

With so much bone material excavated broken pieces from house excavations are extremely hard to identify and except for a few experts many people would not even know this tool exists. 

Tvinningsben

In 1968 Kerstin Pettersson wrote an article in TOR (vol XII) on a find of a Woman’s burial from Barshalder, Grötlingbo parish, Gotland. Among the rich textile finds from the grave are two braided cords. They are both square in section and roughly 3-4 mm and 1,5-2 mm across. The latter was found corroded to the needles in two of the four animal-head brooches in the grave. The author states that experiments show that a tool with two points a Tvinningsben gave a result close to the original cord. 

Very few have any real decoration, they are mostly made from Sheep metatarsus and metacarpus and a disposable tool. The one from Lund being more the exception than the rule. The inscription in runes reads as “tinbl bein” possibly meaning twine bone. 

Having now made four replicas of these items to try I have found them to be as simply to use as the “Knitting Nancy” of childhood days. 

They are difficult but not impossible to use with just your fingers as per the lyre shaped Lucette but with a bone needle they are extremely fast to use, the shape actually lends itself beautifully to speed and efficiency, having made an exact copy of one of the artifacts I found that one V slot was slightly lower than the other, this tends to leave the threads lower loop more accessible to the needle and makes for ease of operation. The cord, conveniently, passes down the center of the bone and with the heavier wool will actually hold some tension on the loops; with thin wools it is quite easy to hold the tension by wrapping the cord around the hand. 

The raised band in the center is not just decorative but functional, by keeping the thumb on this point one can slide the tool upwards in the hand thereby keeping a constant tension on the cord wrapped around the hand for longer. This tends to speed up the whole operation since one doesn’t need to re-wrap the cord around the hand as often. 

A Lucet or twine fork, as they are commonly termed, is a simple tool for making cord out of thread. Basic cord making requires little skill, and its use can be traced across many cultures. They have been found made of wood, bone, horn, antler and even clay. The “knitting Nancy”, known as a child’s toy a few years ago is a modern form of this tool. 

These tools are known by several names lucette being French, the Scandinavian names are Tvinningsben = String twisting.
Snoddgaffel: snodd= cord, gaffel = fork hence cord fork
Knytgaffel: knyt= from "knyta" and "knut"= tie, hence tie fork
Slynggaffel: slyng= from "slinga"= coil, hence: coil fork this appears to be the oldest of these terms. 

The lucette / Tvinningsben is a smooth multi-pronged implement; more commonly having two prongs but it can have any number. Most archaeological finds from the Viking age have been bone or horn but any suitable material can be used. When desperately in need of a cord or rope I have even used a forked stick straight off a tree; it works quite well and preparation time is seconds. 

The thread is looped around the prongs, and the needle used to form a knot, which then becomes part of the cord. The thread is looped around the prongs again, and another knot is formed, and so on. Production is simple and quite swift. An average of 6 to 10 meters per hour is normal for most people soon after they learn the basic techniques. Even if the thread is very roughly spun it will still produce a quite attractive and presentable piece of cord. 

Linen thread, wool, yarn, crochet thread, string or embroidery silks can be used. Multiple strands may be used and will provide the weaver with a strong durable cord or rope that has many applications. I have used them for drawcords, belts, shoelaces, tent ropes, horse leads and braid on costume. 

Making Lucetted / Tvinningsben cords


Many illustrations show people operating the cord with finger and thumb. My personal preference is to use the types of needles or pins that have been found at many archaeological digs. I find them very functional, much quicker than the finger pinching method and the holes in the end of the needles are very handy for quickly and neatly finishing off the cords. 

Step 1: Hold the tool in your left hand with thumb and index finger over the thread With right hand, wrap supply thread in either a straight loop or a figure eight fashion near the top of the “horns” as shown in figure 1 and 2. 

Step 2: Move the lower left hand loop over the supply thread and off the left hand prong with your needle: The supply thread now forms the new loop. 

Step 3: With your needle, move the lower right hand loop over the supply thread and off the right hand prong. 

Step 4: Pull gently down on the “Tail” standing end, then to the right on the supply thread this will position the new loops lower on the tool and keep an even tension while leaving you room to now wind on another loop from the supply thread. From this point onwards it is simply repetition until your cord reaches the desired length. 

Step 5: To finish your cord simply thread the end of your supply cord (cut to a suitable length approx a foot or so long) through the eye of the needle and with the needle lift the loops off the tool pins and thread the supply end through the loops and pull tight. If one desire the loose tail can also be sewn into the cord simply by threading the needle up the centre of the cord which is tubular and pulling the needle out to leave the tail inside the cord. 

For those wishing to try the more complex it is quite feasible to use 2,3, 4, 5 or in fact as many threads and colours as you desire. Laying the different coloured threads on the horns of the tool in the same order will in fact produce quite a nice pattern as will alternating straight turns and figure 8 turns. When using multiple threads it is usually a good idea to rotate the Lucet / twinefork rather than winding it around the horns, this keeps the threads in the same order all the time and one does not need to rotate and untangle the balls of wool all the time winding them around will naturally twist the threads together and mean that you need to untwist the threads eventually. The simple clockwise rotation for right-handers or anti clockwise for left-handers prevents a lot of tangle frustration, after all we do want to have fun and keep it simple. 

Variations


The variations that can be used with these tools seem to be almost endless, one very nice variation is to weave in a decorative colour to highlight two sides of the pattern, this is simply done by laying a different coloured thread between the horns, do the normal two loops then throw the tail between the horns in the opposite direction, and do the loops, this will simply weave the different colour in between the loops and hold it in place. Another variation is to pass the thread through but to slide beads on it, when you bring the thread to the front simply slide a bead down and sit it on the front of the cord do your loops bring the threads around the horns, throw the tail of the decorative thread back to the rear again and do the loops, you can slide a bead into place on each stitch or alternately a bead a plain thread then a bead again i.e. a bead on every second or even third stitch. 

It is also possible to use a tool with more than the basic two pins and a greater variety of patterns and styles of cords is possible, some people lock two standard lucets together at 90 degrees to each other to form a knitting Nancy similar to the cotton reel and nail style so popular in schools many years ago. Back in the 1950s the Knitting Nancy had from 2 to 20 nails. 

I find the comb style with from 3 to 8 teeth produces some very interesting variations that are quite useful. Looping around the tool in the same manner as the two prongs and knitting the loops over in the same manner from left to right will now produce a tubular cord. 

However if we should bring the supply cord across the front of the horns and knit from left to right then back right to left it will actually produce a flat cord suitable for use as a small braiding on costume. It in fact looks like pearl stitch normally done with knitting needles. A most interesting variation.

There is no historical proof of the correctness of this particular method and there are no archaeological finds of anything resembling this type of tool as such, although some loom combs would lend themselves to this particular application very well indeed, mention of it is included simply for those who like to experiment, it does make an interesting experiment and an eminently usable braid. The first time I actually tried this it was on a replica of a period bone comb surprisingly it worked quite well. The closer the prongs, the neater the braid. 

The purpose of this article is to get you started on the basics but hopefully you will quickly advance to experimenting with colour and pattern and learn to appreciate this handy little tool. Have fun. 

Bibliography:


Fuller, Elaine. Lucet Braiding : Variations on Renaissance Cord. Berkley, CA : Lacis Publications, 1998. 

Groves, Sylvia. The History of Needlework Tools and Accessories. London : Country Life, 1966. 

Pettersson K. "En gotländsk bondeskvinnas dräkt. Kring ett textilfynd från vikingatiden" p. 174 - 200, TOR XII, 197-68. B. Almgren & I. Hägg (ed) Stockholm 1968

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This article was submitted by Sandy SempelAny questions should be directed to her at frojel@frojel.com.