Sleeping medieval – Monks, nuns and monastic knights

I had a look at the monastic rule for the monks, nuns and monastic knights from different times and locations to fins out more about how they slept. It is a somewhat specific setting, which not altogether applies to mundane conditions, but it should give us some hints on what was used – and what wasn’t used. In those cases an excerpt of a rule is directly presented in English, it means that I either couldn’t find the rule in original language or that I couldn’t translate the original properly.

How did they sleep?

For bedding the monks will need a mat, a woolen blanket and a light covering as well as a pillow.

  • From the rule of St Benedict, (circa 480-548)

We command by common consent that each man shall have clothes and bed linen according to the discretion of the Master. It is our intention that apart from a mattress, one bolster and one blanket should be sufficient for each; and he who lacks one of these may have a rug, and he may use a linen blanket at all times, that is to say with a soft pile [of straw?]. /…/

Now we will say how you should sleep: henceforth you should always sleep in a shirt and breeches and in woollen hose, and belted with a small belt; and you should have on your bed three pieces of linen, that is to say a bag in which to put straw and two sheets, and in place of one sheet you may have a light blanket if the Draper wishes to give it to you; the rug is a favour if you find anyone to give it to you.

  • From the rule of the Knights templars (1129)

Höret nun wie Ihr schlafen sollet. Ihr sollet immer in leinenen Hemden, Beinkleidern und leinenen Strümpfen und mit einen kleinen Gürtel umgürtet schlafen; und in Eurem Bett drey Stücke haben; nemlich einen Strohsack und swey Bettlaken. Anstatt des einen Bettlakens aber könnt Ihr eine dünne Decke brauchen, wen der Drapier sie Euch geben will.

…roughly translated into

Now hear, how you should sleep. You shall always sleep in linen shirt, hose and linen socks and engirded with a small belt; and in your bed [you shall] have three pieces; namely a straw mattress and two bed sheets. Instead of a bed sheet you could use a thin cover, if the draper will give it to you.

  • From the Cistercian rule (1234)

The couch [consists of] planks and straw mattress, straw pillow, blankets according to need.

They have beds like monks have, apart from the woolen blanket, instead of which they use skins.

  • From the Cistercian Liber Usuum, (early 12th century; the Liber Usuum was, as far as I understand it, a book which defined harsher rules for the monks and nuns. It was used by a lesser number of monasteries)


The brethren of this order are allowed to wear and use linen for undershirts, for drawers and hose, for sheets and for bed covers, and for other things, when suitable. /…/ As for bedding, let each brother be content with a sleeping bag, a rug, a sheet, a coverlet of linen or buckram and a pillow, unless the one in charge of such articles wishes to give more or less. /…/

  • From the rule of the Teutonic order (1264)

Sengana wari aff brädhum oc j them hafwin halm oc ofuir halmin hafwin matto ellir biörnskin thogh ey loff ellir ett halmkläde ellir sengaklädhe aff wadhmal oc ey bulstre. Oc oppa sik hawin eet aklädhe ellir sengakläde aff wadmal ryo oc skinfäl tha som tharfuas vndir hofdheno hafwin ett höghinde oc örnagaat ofuir draghin medh lärifft oc liggin j hwita kiortlenom Aer the toc swa at nokar gitir eke lighat j hwita kiortlenom ellir annars som nw är saght tha maa them lofuas af formannenom liggia a bulstir oc wadhmals lakan ellir oppa linlakan

…which roughly translates into

The beds should be [made of] boards and in them there should be straw and over the straw a rug or a bearskin, though not without permission, or a halmkläde or bed cloth consisting of vadmal and not a mattress. And on top of them an Åkläde, a rya and a pelt, whichever is needed. Under the head is a hyende and an örngott [both] covered with lärft. [They should] sleep in a white kirtle. If however someone doesn’t want to/is able to sleep in the white kirtle or other that is here mentioned, they could get permission from the supervisor to sleep on a bolster and vadmal sheets, or upon linen sheets.

  • From the rule of St Bridget (1370-1451)

Then what does the above mean?
Halmkläde = described in later sources as a simpler bottom sheet ”white and/or grey, made from vadmal, which they never washed”. During summertime it could also be used as a bed cover. The word is directly translated into “strawcloth” and the halmkläde was used directly on top of the straw in the bed frame.
Vadmal =
Rya =
Åkläde = a kind of heavier woven woolen blanket/cover
Hyende = a kind of coarser pillow stuffed with chopped straw or tow (the biproduct from making linen cloth – severly coarse)
Örngott = a kind of nicer pillow, probably stuffed with feathers, used on top of the hyende
Lärft = a kind of linen cloth: white plain weave
Bolster = The word “bolster” can mean blanket or cover, but more commonly it means pillow or mattress, usually filled with feathers, although it could probably be filled with straw.


In a bed made from wooden boards filled with straw (rule of St Bridget), they put some of the following objects.

Bottom sheets – something covering the straw

This could be 

  • Rule of St Benedict: A blanket of a non descript material, a mat of a non descript material
  • Rule of the Knights Templars: A rug of a non descript material, a bottom sheet of a non descript material (possibly linen)
  • Cistercian Liber Usuum:beds like monks have”
  • Cistercian rule: A sheet of a non descript material, possily linen
  • The Teutonic order: A rug of a non descript material, a bottom sheet made from linen
  • Rule of St Bridget: A rug of a non descript material, a bearskin, if you were lucky and had special permission, a simpler bottom sheet consisting of a white or grey halmkläde, a bottom sheet made from vadmal, a bottom sheet made from linen

Comment: The exact difference between halmkläde and bottom sheet made from vadmal is not clear to me. Perhaps the rule of St Bridget go from better to worse, where a mat (or bearskin) is the most favoured, the halmkläde next and the vadmal is the worst.

Instead of a bottom sheet covering the straw, or straw altogether, they could use a straw mattress which could in turn be covered by a bottom sheet, a blanket (Cistercian rule) or a rug (rule of the Teutonic order).

The cover

  • Rule of St Benedict: A light cover
  • Rule of the Knights Templars: A linen blanket, a light blanket, a blanket, a sheet
  • Cistercian Liber Usuum: A woolen blanket, a skin
  • Cistercian rule: A sheet, a thin cover
  • The Teutonic order: A coverlet made from buckram (cotton or linen fabric)
  • Rule of St Bridget: A heavier woven cover made from wool (Åkläde), a rya, a pelt

Comment: this seem to have differed depending on time of the year or the need of the individual and the mood of the Abbott or Draper. It is clear that most of these rules are written by people active in Southern Europe or the Middle East; most of them stipulates ”light covers” or even sheets, whereas the rule of St Bridget talks about ryas or pelts.

The pillow

  • Rule of St Benedict: A pillow
  • Rule of the Knights Templars: A ”bolster”(a bit like the bolster mentioned in conjunction with the account on the rule of St Bridget above) a pillow, nothing
  • Cistercian Liber Usuum: A straw pillow
  • Cistercian rule: Nothing
  • The Teutonic order: A pillow
  • Rule of St Bridget: A feather filled pillow made from lärft closest to the head (örngott), a stiffer hyende made from lärft underneath the örngott (rule of St Bridget)

Comment: it is clear that the nuns and monks of St Bridget used two pillows, which seems to be the case in many instances in the mundane society.

The bolster

Straw mattresses were clearly in use, even if the monks and nuns of St Bridget couldn’t use them, save for under special circumstances. If we are to look at later sources (17th-18th century), these mattresses were made from everything from silk, to cotton, to linen and to wool, and as stated, could be filled with feathers as well as straw.

  • Rule of St Benedict: A mat
  • Rule of the Knights Templars: Mattress, straw mattress, a bag to put straw in
  • Cistercian Liber Usuum: Straw mattress
  • Cistercian rule: Straw mattress
  • The Teutonic order: Sleeping bag
  • Rule of St Bridget: Bolster

Comment: the bolster or mattress could be covered with ”bolster-sheets”, made from vadmal or linen, which indicates that the bolster itself might have been a bit coarse. Otherwise, nothing tells us about the material of these matresses.



  • Rule of St Benedict: They sleep clothed, and girded with belts or cords; but they should remove their knives, lest they accidentally cut themselves in their sleep
  • Rule of the Knights Templars: Shirt, breeches and woolen hose
  • Cistercian Liber Usuum: They sleep fully clothed and wearing their girdles
  • Cistercian rule: In linen shirt, hose and linen socks and engirded with a small belt
  • The Teutonic order: unclear. Possibly linen undershirts, linen drawers and hose
  • Rule of St Bridget: They should sleep in “the white kirtle”, the undergarment of their habit (monastic dress), made from vadmal 


It seems most people in monastic orders had access to some kind of mattress, which were probably made from coarse woolen fabric or coarse linen fabric.

If they used bolster-sheets of any kind (woolen or linen; as a matter of fact there are two old Swedish expressions – linsäng and vadmalssäng – linen bed and vadmal bed, which denotes a bed made with linen sheets and a bed made with vadmal sheets respectively) to sleep upon, on top of the mattress, it would in any case have been tightly woven, to prevent straw from the bolster from scratching through it. The mattress might also have been made from a very coarse material. This is probable, as the rules almost always mentions something to be put on top of the mattress – be it a rug or a sheet.

Later Swedish sources (1677) tell of sheets made from blaggarn – tow – and that ”servants” usually preferred to sleep on vadmal sheets, which could mean that woolen- and tow sheets were considered inferior to sheets made from lärft and therefore cheaper, which in turn would tell us that vadmal sheets were used by those of less means.

As monastic life was supposed to be pious I would suggest that monks, nuns and monastic knights slept as rough as the common man. If that is indeed the case, the description of their bedding might be true also for peasants, lower burghers or soldiers as well.


Sleep tight!


Publicerat i Camp life, Culture and customs, Research, Textiles, Work with sources, Written by Peter | Märkt , , , , | 2 kommentarer

A sideless surcote

I sometimes portrait the wife of a high ranking nobleman in Sweden. In the late 14th century the movers and shakers of their time did have access to fancy fabrics of high quality, even silks, so I thought it would have been accessible for a noblewoman, even in an outpost of Sweden.

I bought a silk fabric from It’s a reproduction of a fabric that can be found in the collection of the  Victorian and Albert Museum, London, and in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Adolescens, Omne Bonum, c.1360-1375– Royal 6 E VI f. 58v, England
Detail of a historiated initial ‘A'(dolescens) of a young woman with a mirror and a young man. 

Wedding -Louis VIII and Eleanor of Aquitaine) (1137).
Grandes Chroniques de France, MS. Douce 217, fol. 192r, End of 14th century. France

The assassination of Agamemnon in De casibus (BNF Fr. 226, fol. 27),
first quarter of the 15th century. 

14th century, Made in Normandy France.
Now in The Metropolitan, New York 

The death and crowning of Saint Klara. Altar piece. 1360/ 1370. Nürnberg, Germany. Now in GNM, GERMANISCHEN NATIONALMUSEUMS. 
Photo by: Lady Petronilla

The wedding of Phillippe III of Frankrike and  Marie de Braban. 
Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (from 1270 to 1380)
This picture is from the last quarter of the 14th century. The manuscript is to be found here, but this particular picture is unfortunately not there. 

When the fabric arrived I was quite disappointed. It was thin and flimsy. Not at all what I expected. The originals are quite heavy and stiff. The opposite to the one I bought. I realized that the dress would need to be fully lined. I chose a silk taffeta in a reddish brown with stripes in yellow.
I was inspired by these garments for the striped fabric.
Sideless Surcoat/Pellote of Lenora de Castille, Aragon, 1st half 1300’s.
Las Huelgas convent near Burgos, Spain.
Pellote of Enrique I (1203-1217) is made of silk, gold on edges, Museum de Tales medieval, Burgos.
Pellote of Enrique I (1203-1217) is made of silk, gold on edges,
Museum de Tales medieval, Burgos.

Surcotte of infanta Marie (1235) made of white silk. Previously lined with fur.
Surcotte of infanta Marie (1235) made of white silk. Previously lined with fur. 

A lot of these sideless surcotes have got fur around the armholes. The whole garment could have been lined with fur or just edged around the edges.

The pattern was tricky and I got help with it from my friends Magdalena and Julia. We played a lot with the size of the armholes so that they would show a nice belt if worn under the sleeveless surcote.

  The pattern is not centered. I try not to be pissed off with that. My modern eye is annoyed but my medieval eye is happy with the dissonance.

As you can see the fabric doesn’t drape very well.
  It’s even more visible on the striped side. :( 

Trying out the size of fur stripes. Too wide.

 The dress didn’t drape the way I wanted it to so I decided to line it in between the silk layers with a thin but heavy worsted wool. Now it became perfect and it draped the proper way. I used white rabbit for the edging. I’m still not certain that the rabbit is the best choice. I would love a fur that doesn’t look so fluffy. Ermine would be the best choice but that’s difficult to find.    I might change the fur it in the future. The best thing with the dress is that it is reversible. Which was not my first intention but it came as a bonus.  
Photo by: Amica Sundström

 Photo by: Constantin von Bernuth

I haven’t got to use it that often. It’s tricky to find use for such a fancy garment. You don’t really walk to the market in this..
With side do you prefer? I prefer the striped side. :)


Publicerat i Crafting, Museums, Textiles, Written by Maria | Lämna en kommentar

A quick tutorial on hose making 

Take a piece of a sturdy cotton fabric and place it, on the bias, on your lower leg. Make sure the fabric is long enough to reach from you knee to under your foot.   Pin the fabric on the backside of your leg and under your heal, to the middle of foot.

 Cut away the fabric from your front part of your foot.  

Take a piece of new fabric and wrap it over your foot. Starting where your foot meets the leg. Make sure you can bend your foot up. Pin under the foot, from toe to mid foot. The seam, from the front part, meets the seam from the leg part. Make sure that the connection of these seams will be where in the arch of the foot is highest. So the seam will in a ”hole”. Otherwise you are going to step on a hard lumps  of seams. That hurts- believe me!

 Draw with a good pen where all pins are. Make sure to add extra material for the seams. Cut out patten from the wool. On the BIAS!!! Start sewing the pieces together at the joint of the foot/leg. The move over to toe. Sew some cm. Try the hose on. Pinch it and pin it. You will now see that wool is more stretchy then cotton. Adjust the pattern as you keep sewing. Make sure to be able to take it off without breaking the seams. 

The best fabric for making a hose is a 2/2 twill.

Happy pinning!


Publicerat i Crafting, Tutorials, Written by Maria | 4 kommentarer

Do you wash your helmet? 

Fighters tend to sew their padding to the helmet. So does the one I’m living with. This is him in his helmet.  5th from the right. Picture from Azincourt 2015 at the 600years anniversary.

The padding tend to get kind of sweaty when being worn. I  strongly recommend to take it out and wash it every now and then. Why? Sweat contains salt, salt breaks down textile fibres. So does metal and grease, like a chain mail. That means- something sweaty and unwashed will break faster then something clean. And the pictures below will show you how dirty a helmet padding get during 1(!) season. Since this padding is seewn by hand in a handwoven linen fabric that is over 100years old, I’m really not keen on making a new one every other year. And to be honest, I can’t get that fabric again.

Removing the padding. No! It’s rust not blood. ;)

Washing in a baby bathtub.  Normal detergent. This is the second rinsing water. As you can see quite dirty.

Here you can see how clean it became. The difference is quite visible. Now it even smells nice, I wouldn’t have put it on my head otherwise.. As you can see the grease is gone.


Happy washing!



Publicerat i Crafting, Textiles, Written by Maria | Lämna en kommentar

A striped hunting hood

I sometimes gets a bit warp over when weaving. I wove this white tabby weave last year as a gift for my husband.  It’s the lining in his uniform jacket. Husband in the middle. 

 The fabric looked like this before it was dyed yellow. 

  I wove it with handspun and machine spun yarn, mixed to get the same uneven feeling as the original. After I was done with the meters for him I had some meters left to play around with. I wove some meters of white 2/2 twill that I later dyed with madder.  It’s the red fabric on the picture below. 

But then my friend Johan sent me a picture of some fancy Italian men out on their way to hunt. I fell in love with the striped hood on the man in the middle of the picture.     I decided to weave the fabric and hoping that the last 100cm of the warp was going to be enough. 

 I needed to dye some fabric for the lining so I dyed with some more madder. Color came out smashing. But with hand on heart, it’s a bit too red. But I can live with that.  

 Now We just have to wait for my husband to finish it to see it on. Can’t wait! 



Publicerat i Crafting, Textiles, Written by Maria | 2 kommentarer

Caring for wool textiles

The season is almost over. Some of my wool clothes is really getting dry and is not as protective against rain any more. It’s time to cure them with lanolin.

I buy lanolin in the same store as people buy washable dypers. The one I use is called Sonnett and can be ordered online.

 I fill up the sink with lukewarm water and put in approximately 2 tablespoons.

 I stir the water until it has dissolved. And after that I put in my garb. I leave it for 30-60minutes and just let it dry afterwards. I don’t rinse it.

I do this on my clothes every or every other year. It depends on how much they that been exposed to rain and sun.

Do I wash my clothes? Yes. Why? Sometimes on event I’m in the kitchen. And chicken grease and mashed fish is not something one can air out. The once that are not messy with food stains I just air out. Like these once.

Publicerat i Crafting, General, Textiles | 2 kommentarer

Kurs i att sy 1300-talskläder

Kolla in vår Facebook-sida Medeltidens dräkt- Kurser och utbildningar.

23-24 maj så kör vi en dräktkurs i Stockholm.
Dräktkonstruktion 1::
Här tillverkar vi en toilé – ett personligt mönster som du kan använda när du konstruerar dina plagg.
Vi arbetar i par och lär oss att göra mönster på varandra.

– 14 timmar, inklusive frukost och lunch
I kursen ingår:
– Teorilektion om 1300-talets dräkt
– Toilé-konstruktion
– Materialkunskap

Vad behöver du ta med dig?
Ta med dina medeltidsplagg, tyg, tråd, sax, nålar, måttband, papper och penna.

Var är kursen?
I Stockholm. Lokalen är belägen på Thorildsplan i korsningen av Geijersvägen/ Nicandervägen. T-bana, grön- Thorildsplan och blå- Stadshagen. I lokalen finns ett fullt utrustat kök med kyl, spis och micro. Så man kan värma mat och ta med kylvaror.

Vi bjuder på frukost och fika båda dagarna. Kaffe, te, smörgåsar och kakor.
I närområdet finns flertalet take away-ställen och en stor matvarubutik.
Om deltagarna vill så kan man hänga kvar på lördag kväll och äta mat, dricka något gott och delta vid en genomgång av en massiv bildkavalkad.

Anmälan sker via privat meddelande till ”Medeltidens dräkt- kurser och utbildningar”.
Du får då ett kontonummer och betalning = bekräftad anmälan. Pris per deltagare 700: -.
Avanmälan skall ske senast 10 dagar innan kursdatum för att avgiften skall betalas tillbaka.

På kursen finns plats för 12 deltagare. Vid färre än 7 anmälda så kommer vi inte att kunna genomföra kursen och då betalas givetvis din kursavgift tillbaka.

Varmt välkomna!
Peter och Maria
Här är en länk till Facebook-eventet

Publicerat i Uncategorized | 1 kommentar

The dyed feathers? 

Is it possible to dye feathers? Technically yes. It’s a protein fiber, but does it work? My friend Andrea asked me if it was possible so I had to try. Why? In reenactment society you often come across people wearing dyed ostrich feathers. Often dyed as the ones we put in our Easter decorations. Like the once on this picture.

Is it possible to get a dye as strong as theese once? I started with a white ostrich feather.

I didn’t have any alum at home so I had to use cream of tartar as only mordant. The weight of the feather was 4 g. I used 100% of mordant. To be able to see how the pigment was going to set on the feather I also put in a piece of white wool fabric, handwoven. It weighed 9g.

They were in the mordant bath for 1h.

At the same time I boiled skins from red onions, 49g. That means ten times as much dyestuffs as the weight of the feather. That is A LOT!!!


 After the 1 hour of boiling.  It was almost black.

I separated the skins from the dye water and put the water in the pot with the feather and the fabric. 

After 1 h I took them up.


The feather and the fabric had both gotten a brownish color. But the fabric was dark and thick, the dye on the feather was pale and quite seen though. After the dried they looked like this.

As you can see the feather didn’t receive the same color as the wool. And to be honest I was surprised that it was so pale. The bath was REALLY strong.

Did I get the Easter colors? No. Do I think it’s possible to get them? No. Not with plant dyes.

Do you know any medieval sources that are mentioning feather dyeing? I don’t and I would really love to have some original recipes to follow. Help me!!

/ Maria
ps. I’m sorry for the lousy quantity of the pictures

Publicerat i Crafting, Miscellaneous, Written by Maria | 4 kommentarer

A pink hood 

Remember this one? The little left over piece of pink and white was only 45-50 cm and I promised to make a small hood for my daughter. She keeps on steeling my black favorite one so I wanted to make her one for herself to be able to have my hood for myself.

The fabric was lovely but it frayed like mad – 4 shaft twill usually does this when not fulled. As you can see the fabric didn’t leave me with any leftovers.

I sewed it with linen tread, 35/2. The fabric was too bulky to double fold so I really had to use filling tread to prevent it from fraying more, even after sewing.

The filling tread is some leftovers from some madder dye I made years ago. Too orange for my taste but my daughter liked it and she was the one deciding. I’m secretly happy that she choose a very historical dye. Madder seems to be the IT color during the medieval period. I hate the ugly stitches but they will move down further in the fabric after some use.


The inspiration for this hood came from:

Not really ;) But it’s always good to have some Disney inspiration when making things for kids.

The real one:

Publius Terentius Afer, Comediae 1400-1407

And from this: MS Bodl. 264 fol 101v Romance of Alexander 1338-1343

I chose to make a short tail too, because my daughter informed me: a hood without a tail is boring.
I’m quite happy with it and to be honest, I didn’t want to give it away when it was done ;)


Publicerat i Crafting, Recreations, Textiles, Written by Maria | 2 kommentarer

The metal button issue

There are several finds of metal buttons from the 14th century, but no surviving garment  with metal buttons, from this period. At least none that I know of.

I have often considered the best way to sew these buttons on to a garment. They have really long ”necks”. Why? Are they sewn directly onto the fabric edge, or are they attached the way people put metal buttons on folk costumes in the 19th century? Besides, the 19th century is way too late a period to look at when making 14th century outfits.

When I made my checkered dress I was shown a picture of metal buttons on a 16th or 17th century coat. I can’t remember where that picture came from. :(
Anyway, I did the same thing on my buttoned dress as was done on the 16th/17th century coat.

This is how it’s done.


The thread/ leather strap is sewn onto the fabric to prevent the buttons from ”falling out” of their holes.

About a year ago, I stumbled upon this picture of St. Margaret by Pietro Lorenzetti (1306-1348). She is probably from Italy. Today, the painting can be found at Musée de Tesse, Le Mans, France.

Look at her metal buttons. The inside shows the method for fastening the buttons. To me, it surely looks like they were attached the same way. I think the reason metal buttons have such long necks, is that they must be long enough to pull though the fabric. A shorter neck would be preferrable on buttons placed right on the edge, the way you would place fabric buttons.


Publicerat i Crafting, Research, Textiles, Written by Maria | 11 kommentarer