it would seem that the stitch on the Shroud is the basic standard one
which one would use then and now to join two pieces of cloth.

imageCharles Freeman, by way of a (44th) comment to The Shroud is 8 x 2 Assyrian Whatchamacallits, writes:

Selvedges and stitches. I am now quite used to following up a source quoted in Wilson and finding something very different from what he suggests (the classic remains the discrepancy between Wilson’s depiction of della Rovere’s actual portrayal of Christ in the Shroud and his own version, p. 28 of my 2010 edition of Wilson’s The Shroud in which Wilson even reverses the position of the arms!).

So while I was having a research day in the Cambridge University Library, I called in the Masada Report to check out the source references given above. In my edition of Wilson the discussion is on p. 109-110.

P. 169, fig. sixteen does exist. It does show a selvedge on a goat hair cloth. The excavators appear to have illustrated it because it is woven on a tubular or two beamed loom. No other example of the use of this kind of loom or selvedge has been found this early in the Mediterranean . However, earlier examples are known in northern Europe from earlier so the suggestion is that either the cloth originated in northern Europe –more likely – see further below- – or is evidence for the first use of this kind of selvedge in the Mediterranean. Wilson then gives a reference to Gabriel Vial’s 1989 report on the Shroud in which Vial talks of the construction of the Shroud’s selvedge as ’tout a fait inhabituelle’. He does not give the page number in my edition of The Shroud, but it is p. 15 with an illustration on p.16 of the Shroud’s selvedge. (The article is in the CIETA Bulletin for 1989, Dave B quotes a reference for pages 27-9 from his edition of Wilson but this is a completely different article!) The problem is that the selvedge on the Shroud does not appear the same as the selvedge shown in the Masada report. So all we can do is agree with Vial –the article is his own report of his examination of the Shroud while they were choosing the sample for radiocarbon dating on 21st April, 1988, so is interesting and perhaps even important in its own right- that the selvedge on the Shroud is ‘very unusual’.

We next go on to the reference to figs. 111-113 on pages 201-11 of the Masada report. Yes these figs. do exist and on these pages. They all refer to the same fragment of wool. It is picked out and illustrated as it is wool, 2:2, Z twist spin, balanced diamond twill. So except for the Z spin being similar to that of the Shroud , I can’t see why this is relevant- it is not herringbone, linen or 3:1. In the discussion on the origins of the textiles found at Masada (p. 239), this cloth is placed in their group iv. The excavators’ conclusion is that these textiles probably came from northern Europe as this kind of twist (Z) and this kind of pattern is known from examples there. They suggest it may have come in with Roman soldiers who were involved in the crushing of the Masada revolt. I simply cannot see why Wilson provides a reference to a piece of cloth that has absolutely nothing in common with the Shroud except that its thread is Z spun (and thus as the excavators suggest probably spun in northern Europe).

So far nothing about stitching at all so I had to find my own reference to the stitching in the Masada report and it is found on pp 170-1 where they discuss the 45 textiles that have stitching on them. They illustrate six of these stitches on figs. 20-25 but they do not describe any of them as exceptional. So I was surprised to find that Wilson reproduces Masada fig. 23 (as his fig. 8)- which is a counter-hemming stitch- as one which the excavators ‘adjudged to be a very unusual seam’. I can’t find any reference to such a judgement but as Wilson has provided no references it may have been somewhere outside the accompanying text in this section.

Luckily I had access to a higher authority- my wife who designed and sewed theatre costumes for her degree and then went on to work in the textiles department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. She took one look at Wilson’s ‘unusual seam’ and said in fact that this was the standard stitch for joining two pieces of cloth together when one wanted to make sure the ends did not fray. Nothing unusual about it at all!

Wilson does mention that Mechthild Flury-Lemberg is on record as saying that this stitch is similar to the one on the Shroud but he gives no reference for her opinion. In fact, it would seem that the stitch on the Shroud is the basic standard one which one would use then and now to join two pieces of cloth.

And so how much more time does one waste with Wilson? I have certainly better things to do but at least I can warn Shroud researchers to take anything that Wilson says with a large pinch of salt. I had only to read into the next page to find other issues that I could have dealt with in the same way as here but life is too short and I have far more interesting and accurate historians to work with. Hugh seems the man for the job of taking a critique of Wilson further – sorry Hugh but so long as people are going on quoting Wilson in their support it needs to be done.