Thursday, 30 October 2014

The side-pleated skirt is finished

Here is my entry for HSF challenge 20: Alternative Universe.  This is an alternative to the pattern proposed by Bernice Jones in her 2012 article The Construction and Significance of the Minoan Side-Pleated Skirt, featured in the latest Aegaeum book.  To recap my thinking on this, I hypothesize that there were two methods of making side-pleated skirts: one way is a tube of fabric pleated and tied at the waist as Dr. Jones has described, and the other is the two piece pattern I've used, which is essentially an A-line skirt with what we would now call organ pleats up each side.

The reason I think there were two patterns in use is that there are two different skirt shapes depicted in Minoan art.  Some skirts are clearly tubular like the one Dr. Jones reconstructed, while others appear to be fitted at the waist.

So did my pattern work?

Overall, I think it was reasonably successful.  Here it is from the side, showing the side pleats:

My pleats are held together at the waist with two little ties.

And here it is from the front.  As you can see, it could use an underskirt to help it keep its shape:

It does, however, have the flat, A-line shape that we see in Minoan art.  Here's my inspiration picture again for comparison:

Bronze female figure Cretan Late Minoan I 1600-1450 BCE Metropolitan Museum
Late Minoan bronze figure, image from Pinterest.

I think my pattern does a pretty good job of replicating the sculpture's skirt, but of course I'm biased.

Like the original, my reconstruction sits slightly south of the dummy's natural waist (though you can't really tell with the loose heanos underneath), and I found this was really helpful in terms of getting the thing on and off.  The original has no visible closure, but it would be easy to conceal a slit in one of the pleats and the ties holding it shut would be hidden under the belt.

Speaking of the belt, I've photographed mine with a strip of wool tied around it to emulate the rolled belt Minoans wore with their side-pleated skirts:

What would I do differently in future?

If I was making this skirt again I would make the side pleats deeper - probably 10cm instead of 5cm.  As I mentioned before, the skirt also needs more structure.  This could be done by wearing it over an underskirt, but if it was made of heavier, stiffer fabric an underskirt might not be necessary.  I don't think it would need a boned undergarment like a farthingale or panniers.

The Challenge: Alternate Universe

Fabric: 2.5 meters of purple coat-weight wool.

Pattern: I drafted it myself based on various Minoan bronze and clay figurines.

Year: 1600 to 1450 BCE.

Notions: Linen thread.

How historically accurate is it?  As this is a speculative reconstruction, it's hard to say.  It's reasonable to assume the original was made from wool and of course it would have been hand-sewn, but otherwise there isn't a lot to go on.  My fabric is machine-woven, but I doubt it's all that different from Minoan fabrics.

There's no way of knowing whether the colour I chose is appropriate for one of these skirts.  I chose it because I like it, and because the Minoans liked purple too.  Purple cloth was apparently being produced on an industrial scale in Minoan times*, so purple cloth would have been available.  However, this garment had ceremonial significance and it's possible there were rules about what colour it should be.

Hours to complete: About 5 hours.

First worn: Directly after pleating it, to see how it drapes.

Total cost: $52.

* Apostolakou, V. et al,  2012, ‘The Minoan Settlement on Chryssi and its Murex Dye Industry’ in Kosmos pp 179-182
Barber, E. 1991, Prehistoric Textiles.
Brogan, T.M. et al, 2012, ‘The Purple Dye Industry of Eastern Crete’ in Kosmos pp 187-192

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Making up the side-pleated skirt

As I said last time, my pattern for the Minoan side-pleated skirt is simply two trapezoidal pieces of fabric.  I stitched them together with linen thread using a lap over seam; I've discussed here why I think this kind of seam is appropriate for Minoan and/or Mycenaean items, and why I don't think it matters that the thread is a different colour.  The lap over seam is quite cool in that it joins the pieces together and binds the raw edges at the same time, but since this is fulled wool it doesn't fray.  The seams are hidden inside the pleats, so they aren't really visible once the garment is made up.

My lap over seam.  This picture is a reasonably good indication of the fabric colour.

After sewing both side seams I laid the skirt flat on the spare bed and folded the pleats. They're 5 cm deep, or 2 inches if you prefer imperial measurements.  I pinned right through each set of folded pleats, and turned the skirt inside out to fix the pleats in position.  I know, I know.  Pins are not period for the Bronze Age Aegean.  I suspect the period way to do this would be to baste the pleats together with one or two lines of basting stitches.  But I'm lazy, so pins it is.  The pleats are fixed in position with strips of cloth*.

Fixing the pleats in position.

Next time, I'll show you the finished skirt and we can see if this really is a viable way to construct a side-pleated skirt.

One of the best things about blogging is that you get feedback.  Leimomi made a really good comment on my last post.  She said "...I agree that the skirt looks like it flares from top to hem, but I immediately noticed the fabric wastage in a trapezoid, which is unusual for really early garments. Any theories on that?"

This is a great question, and it hadn't occurred to me to discuss this issue on the blog.  Thanks Leimomi!  Taking fabric consumption into consideration, here's the cutting layout I propose for this skirt:

This layout requires a piece of fabric 1 meter wide by 2.15 meters long, which is easily doable on a period loom.

The shaded triangles show the waste pieces of cloth.  There isn't a lot of wastage with this layout, and in general fabric wastage seems to have been less of a consideration for the Minoans than it was for other comparable cultures.   Compared to the kind of rectangular construction used in Classical Greece, Egypt, or Bronze Age Europe, Minoan and Mycenaean clothes are wasteful.  The pattern pieces are typically curved and this inevitably results in wasted fabric.  To demonstrate, here are cutting layouts I've used to make a heanos and a kilt:

Not to scale.

These patterns were developed by Bernice Jones** based on paintings and Mycenaean logograms which depict the items in question.  Dr Jones' heanos had a shoulder seam, but I made this one without because the fresco I was copying didn't show a shoulder seam.  Leimomi is right; this is very different from the kind of pattern layout you get with most early garments.  Because these clothes were worn by high status people, I actually wonder whether fabric wastage may have been a feature rather than a bug.

In Egypt and Classical Greece, everyone from kings to slaves wore clothes made in much the same way.  The difference was largely a matter of fabric quality and decoration.  What if Minoan and Mycenaean clothes were also constructed differently, depending on the wearer's status?  If that were the case, it's possible the average person's clothes were a lot more like Classical Greek clothes than the garments shown on palace frescoes.  If anyone has any thoughts on how to test that hypothesis, I'm all ears.

* There's a good description of how to make organ pleats in Sarah Thursfield's book The Medieval Tailor's Assistant.

** Jones, B. 2003, 'Veils and Mantles: An Investigation of the Construction and Function of the Costumes of the Veiled Dancer from Thera and the Camp Stool Banqueter from Knossos' in Metron.
Jones, B. 2009, 'New Reconstructions of the "Mykenaia" and a Seated Woman from Mycenae' American Journal of Archaeology Volume 113, Number 3.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Side-pleated skirts

For HSF Challenge 20 the theme is "Alternate Universe".  This could mean making something from a book or movie, or, says Leimomi: "An alternative history might provide the opportunity to explore a garment that is theoretical, but not proven, to see if it makes sense as a working garment."

That's the approach I plan to take with this challenge.

The latest Aegaeum publication has a fascinating article from Dr. Bernice Jones* about the Minoan side-pleated skirt.  It's nowhere near as well known as the flounced skirt, and that's a shame because it really is a fascinating garment.  It's wide and flat like an 18th century robe de cour, and has three deep pleats down each side.

Here is an example:
Bronze female figure Cretan Late Minoan I 1600-1450 BCE Metropolitan Museum
Late Minoan bronze figure, image from Pinterest.

You can clearly see the pleats at the side of the lady's skirt.

Dr. Jones has reconstructed the skirt as a tube of fabric pleated at the waist.  The following pictures show a selection of Minoan figurines wearing side-pleated skirts, and the reconstruction Dr. Jones made based on them.

I've taken the liberty of photographing these pages from my Kosmos book.

With the greatest respect to Dr. Jones, I would like to propose an alternative method for constructing the Minoan side-pleated skirt.  My method involves organ pleats.  Organ pleats are what you get on a houppelande, and I think they look very much like the pleats on these Minoan skirts.

Looking at these figures' skirts, I wonder whether there might be two different construction methods.  Some of the skirts look like a tube gathered in at the waist, as per Dr. Jones' reconstruction, but others are narrow at the hips and widen out towards the hem.  I wonder if this A-line style might be made from two pieces of cloth.  Dr. Jones notes that Colette Verlinden reconstructed the side-pleated skirt with two pattern pieces, but frustratingly her book is in French and I do not read French.

My experimental pattern uses two trapezoidal pieces:

It doesn't matter which is the front of back because the seams will be hidden in the pleats.

Will it work, or not?  I don't know.  We'll find out.

If that looks like a very large waist measurement to you, it is.  Each set of pleats will take up 30 centimeters, and of course I also have to get the thing on and off.  I'm not yet sure how that's going to work.  I think laces will probably be involved.

Another question is whether there should be a support structure like a set of panniers underneath the skirt.  I suspect if you have a reasonably heavy wool cloth you probably don't need panniers; Dr. Jones' reconstruction didn't need any foundation structure.

*The article I'm referring to is: Bernice Jones, ‘The Construction and Significance of the Minoan Side-Pleated Skirt’ in Kosmos pp 221-230. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A late entry

This is the kind of project you do when you're avoiding something else - in this case setting sleeves.  I hate setting sleeves, especially those two-part 19th century jobs where the sleeve head is never the same shape as the armhole.  So instead of spending at most half an hour setting sleeves, I spent four hours making a piece of Neolithic linen textile.

I'm entering this one for HSF Challenge 13: Under $10, which I didn't manage to make anything for at the time.  Of course, Challenge 13 was due in July, but better late than never, right?  I did actually start a piece of twined cloth for Challenge 13, but the timing didn't work out.

Fragments of textile like this were found at Nahal Hemar in Israel, in 1983.  They date from the Neolithic, before the invention of pottery, and they are not woven the way cloth is woven today.  Instead, the linen warp and weft threads are twined together; the people who made these 8500-year-old textiles had not yet invented weaving as we know it today.  However, there was nothing coarse or primitive about the Nahal Hemar textiles.  This tiny scrap of fabric is only 5.5 by 7.5 cm.

פיסה אריג
 צלם:עמית קלרה
Scrap of fabric from Nahal Hemar.  Picture found here.

In Prehistoric Textiles, Elizabeth Barber has a section on the Nahal Hemar textiles and diagrams showing how they were made.  The weft threads are twisted around each individual warp thread, and the result is a sturdy, net-like fabric.  I've made the selvage by wrapping the warp ends in thread, which seems to have been how the Nahal Hemar pieces were finished.

Here is my piece in close up:

The Challenge: Under $10.

Fabric: It is fabric.

Pattern: N/A.

Year: Around 6500 BCE.

Notions: None.

How historically accurate is it?  The technique is fine, and the original Nahar Hemal textiles are made of linen.  While my fabric is not as fine as the example I included in this post, I think it's within the general ballpark in terms of thread diameter.  So maybe 9/10.

Hours to complete: About 4.

First worn: N/A.

Total cost: Virtually none.  I don't remember how much I originally paid for the big spool of linen warp I used to make the piece, but the few meters of linen would cost only a few cents.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

With thanks to Catherine Raymond

Historical Sew Fortnightly Challenge 19 is HSF inspiration.  It's an excellent theme, but it was very hard for me to decide what to do because I was spoiled for choice.  There are so many HSF people making so many awesome things.

In the end I took my inspiration from blogger and HSF participant Catherine Raymond.  Catherine has made some stunning projects for this year's HSF, and in this case I'm thinking particularly of her Roman earrings for Challenge 7 and the Egyptian bag tunic she made for Challenge 9.

I decided to try making jewellery, and since I've never made anything Egyptian before I thought this would be a great opportunity to try something Egyptian.  I made a beaded headband of the type that was popular in New Kingdom Egypt.  Mine is based on an 18th Dynasty tomb painting showing a lady named Tjepu.

I couldn't find any existing examples of this type of headband, so I had to work out a plausible way to reconstruct it based on examples of ancient Egyptian beadwork that do survive.  Yes, there is an ancient Egyptian headband in the Petrie Museum, but it is a completely different style to Lady Tjepu's band and is constructed differently.  So, instead, I looked at other beaded items like this dress from Qau to see how the beading might have been done.

The Petrie Museum has an excellent handout titled Textiles in the Petrie Museum, available here, with instructions for making a number of ancient Egyptian garments including the beaded dress.  It's done with peyote stitch.  And how do I know about Textiles in the Petrie Museum?  Well, that's thanks once again to Catherine Raymond, who posted the link on her blog a while back.

Armed with this knowledge I used peyote stitch and size 8 seed beads to make my headband, and can confirm that the peyote stitch worked well for me.  I found I needed to use a combination of one- and two-drop peyote stitch to get the pattern looking right.  I've seen this combination on ancient Egyptian beadwork, so I'm confident it is an acceptable period method.

My version of Lady Tjepu's headband ties around the head with a plied linen cord.  This is an educated guess on my part since I couldn't track down any indication of how these headbands were attached.  Plied cords are easy to make and were extremely common in ancient Egypt, where they were used for all kinds of purposes.  The cord was easy to stitch unobtrusively to the top of the headband, using the ends of the tread I used to stitch the beads.

The Challenge: HSF Inspiration

Fabric: None.

Pattern: I drafted it myself based on the painting of Lady Tjepu.

Year: 1390 to 1353 BCE.

Notions: Glass beads and linen thread.

How historically accurate is it?  The beads are plausible colours and a plausible size, but I imagine they are probably a different chemical composition to ancient Egyptian glass.  I'd give this one 9/10, because it is as good as it's going to get with modern materials.

Hours to complete: About 6 hours.

First worn: To check the size.

Total cost: $16.