So, while I’m taking a short break from heavy SCA sewing and research, I want everybody to help me keep my brain ticking.
Every week, or however often I get questions, I’m going to have a question/answer column here on my blog. Feel free to ask me anything about Roman and Byzantine history, textiles, clothing, etc, and I’ll give you a complete answer, or as complete as I can, with citations to send you on your way. General ancient and medieval history questions can also be fielded if you’re looking for something more broad.
If this gets busy, I don’t know how many questions I’ll be able to answer, but I’ll do my best to make sure that everybody is covered.
I have successfully transferred my domicile from the East Kingdom and the balmy tropics of New England, to the sunny and never-changing perfection that is Southern California.
I do have updates I need to get done, but I’m also planning for San Diego Comic-Con, and Pennsic AT THE SAME TIME. Yes, that’s right, I’m flying to Pennsic, which should be an interesting experience because I’m a lunatic and think this is good idea. I will also be teaching ONE class, due to streamlining my packing. (Help!)
That one class is entitled, “An 11th Century Byzantine Noblewoman’s Closet.” It’s a snippet of my research for my master’s thesis, and I look forward to sharing my knowledge. It is currently scheduled for August 6th at 1pm in A&S 8. I plan to have the handout posted within the next couple of weeks.
I hope everybody has a great war season, and I look forward to seeing many faces at Pennsic War. 🙂
***NOTE: AS OF JANUARY 2016, THE TUNIC IS NO LONGER IN THE GALLERY. THEY HAVE ANOTHER EXHIBIT ON PAINTED LINEN WHICH IS VERY COOL AND YOU SHOULD GO SEE ANYWAY.***
***OH LOOK, ANOTHER NOTE: AS OF FEBRUARY 2016, THE PATTERN I MADE IS INCORRECT AND WILL BE UPDATED THANKS TO SOME KEEN OBSERVATIONS BY SOUTH-RUS.ORG, WHO HAVE BEEN NICE ENOUGH TO SHARE THEIR VIEWS WITH ME. THIS IS STILL A PLAUSIBLY CORRECT PATTERN THAT MAY WORK BETTER WITH MODERN FABRIC WIDTHS ANYWAY, SO DON’T THROW OUT ANYTHING YOU’VE MADE SO FAR! JUST GET READY FOR THE NEXT VERSION. 🙂 ***
This is a class I’m teaching this weekend at East Kingdom University, and will also be giving at Pennsic. So if none of this stuff makes sense, find me in the meatspace at these locations, and I can explain a method to my madness. ❤
[All photos on this page were taken by me on my last trip to the Met in 2012, except otherwise noted.]
This tunic is a part of the permanent exhibit in the small Byzantine gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is, as the title of this class details, directly beneath the Grand Staircase of the museum, and sort of nestled in its own special world of Coptic shinies. It is dated to 7th Century Egypt, and boasts a unique method of tailoring brought to the West via the Sassanian Persian Empire. This particular style of “fit and flare” tunic may have been what influenced later examples in Medieval Europe.
The first thing I’m going to invite everyone to take a look at is the overall construction. It’s not too dissimilar from what we’ve come to know as a Birka tunic in the SCA, sans the underarm gussets that are commonplace in that design. There are side gores to widen the bottom for ease of movement, and the sleeves taper gently toward the wrist. The neckline is heavily influenced by Asiatic designs, and boasts keyhole design that fastens on the shoulder. The neckline and sleeves are finished with a blue and cream patterned silk tape, and the garment’s primary embellishments follow the traditional Roman-influenced patterns of the time. The roundels and clavii (vertical stripes) are woven from red colored wool, and appliqued onto the white linen tunic.
First: Some terms!
Clavii (Singular: Clavus. Greek: Potamion/a.) The vertical stripes that are seen on late Roman/early Byzantine tunics. Originally denoting rank, but later becoming simply decorative.
Coptic: The Copts were and still are native Christians to Egypt. Some believe it to be the Church of Mark the Evangelist. (Catholic is Peter, Orthodox is Paul.) We use the term “Coptic” to denote anything coming out of the Byzantine-occupied Egypt and parts of Ethiopian prior to the Fatimid Muslims taking over in the 8th Century. It’s really kind of a misnomer to use it for clothing, since a lot of the styles involved heavy influences of Hellenistic Greece, including pagan imagery.
Roundel: A round applique or embroidered design on a garment.
Sassanian Persia: The last Persian Empire prior to the spread of Islam by the Seljuk Turks. 224CE-651CE. Were a huge influence culturally on the Roman Empire.
Now let’s break it down…
Check out that curved underarm!
A term you’ll probably hear me use a lot during this class is “conspicuous consumption.” Nothing in this pattern shows attention to conserve fabric. The underarms are deliberately cut in an arc to make it more comfortable and reduce bunching, versus inserting a gusset. This provides a smoother fit but does not really conserve material, as the body needs to be cut to accommodate this. A teardrop shape is cut out of the rectangle to create the curvature of the underarm and slight flare at the bottom.
The sleeve is attached around mid-upper arm, and it tapers toward the wrist. There is trim covering this joint, and some additional embellishment at the lower arm closer to the wrist. There is also a roundel on the shoulder between the clavus and this joint.
Those tiny side gores!
I was thrilled to discover a Byzantine-period tunic with gores than really worrying about the size of them in question, as such things can be easily adjusted. This garment was tailored for somebody much smaller than the average person today. In fact, even my 5’2” size 0 jeans sister could not fit in this. But it’s not much of a secret that people 1500 years ago were smaller than we are today. I still like this though, because it shows that a wider flare for movement was still necessary, and it eliminated the bunching of the traditional rectangle tunic for wearing under layers. Unlike a solid gore that we see in some tunic patterns, this one is actually two small right triangles, individually sewn to the bottom already-flared skirt portion of the garment, and then connected via the side seam. The gores are set in lower on the hip, than rather on the waist.
Let’s talk the pretty parts (or what’s left of them, anyway.):
As previously mentioned, the embellishments on this are pretty standard for the Roman influence left in Egypt at the time. First we’ll take a look at the silk tape. Here’s another instance of conspicuous consumption, where the wearer is affluent enough to have a touch of Chinese silk on the hems and collar of their garment. Although silk is more comfy against the skin than wool, these are also the parts of the tunic that will see the most wear and tear. The maker of this probably knew that silk, although more expensive, was arguably more durable, but at the same time, more difficult to launder. The only think I really noted on this was how it was attached to the garment.
It is not a folded bias tape that goes over and protects the raw edge, but a trim added as a facing on the outside of the garment, The hem was created from whip-stitching the top of the tape to the raw garment edge, which was folded in toward the inside of the tape. The bottom of the silk is attached with a running stitch. There are some visible larger whip-stitches in a white thread on the outside, but my guess is that this was a later repair work to keep the silk tacked down where the original stitches may have disintegrated. It does not run the entire neckline. The sleeve treatment is the same method.
As far as the neckline closure goes, there is nothing remaining that suggests what type of fastener was used. It could have been a simple toggle and loop or a tie mechanism that was ripped off ages ago. Some modern Orthodox Christian ecclesiastical garments do still have ties on the shoulder, but the Chinese-style toggle or button being in use is just as plausible, considering the Persian origin of the garment.
Unlike the silk tape, the roundels and clavii appear to be tacked down using JUST a whip-stitch.
The seam treatments used on the overall construction of the garment appear to be a mystery. I saw no evidence of flat felling or thickness that would indicate a French seam. The conservators at the museum appeared to have pressed the seams flat, at least the ones joining the side gores, but that’s all I could really notice. There is a seam repair on the bottom of the right sleeve (photo left) that shows the same chunky whip-stitches present on the neckline, so my guess is that it is also later repair work. Seam finishes weren’t always used in period, so it’s okay to assume that it could be raw linen edges. I do not suggest leaving a modern interpretation this way, our fabrics are made differently, and mainly because a washing machine will rip it to shreds.
So, what does this tunic mean?
My overall interpretation is that this tunic is a transitional garment. It deviates enough from the blocky earlier Roman design into a more tailored fit. This would eventually make its way into the European continent and evolve into the “standard” for hundreds of years. Compare this other style tunic, contemporary to the one above. I definitely prefer a more tailored fit than wanting to deal with the bulk and folds that this rectangular cut would create.
Readers of my blog will probably recall a post I made not long ago, well, six weeks ago to be exact, on my beginning of a course on FutureLearn. I reblogged a post “Who built the wall?” when the course started, and now I feel urged to share a poem by Rudyard Kipling, “The Roman Centurion’s Song”. It’s that feeling you get when you finish a good book, that emptiness that comes with completion. I guess I didn’t expect to feel this way, but that’s a good thing! That means that FutureLearn and Newcastle University have done their jobs. For a free online course, it was OUTSTANDING.
A little bit about the breakdown of the course:
Each week had about 20 short sections to complete. They ranged from short videos, to articles, and quizzes. The quizzes don’t count against your grade, they were just a learning tool. Every 2 weeks there was an actual test, culminating with the final test at the end of the 6th week (That one had some curveballs in it.) My favorite part were the little forensic challenges that happened every other week or so. You would be given an archaeological find of bones, and then try to determine cause of death, gender, etc from the clues given in an article. It was a great insight into the grim world of forensic archaeology.
The Vindolanda tablets were totally awesome. I had heard about them before, but never actively went seeking them. I really suggest taking a look at them here. Learning a bit more about the religious syncretism that occurred at the wall and methods of worship was also incredibly fascinating.
In addition, the discussions that were had were also great. Each section has a discussion area that functions like a social media platform, in which one could post an answer or topic of discussion and receive answers, sometimes even by the staff at the University, who was actively engaging with the MOOC the entire time.
I do believe you can still check out the course. Go to https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/hadrians-wall/ and see for yourself. I may have also totally taken the bait, but Newcastle University may be on the list of schools I look into for my PhD. But that’s a ways off yet, let me finish my MA first!
Thank you to the staff at Newcastle University and FutureLearn for offering this experience. I’ve already enrolled in an upcoming course, also through FutureLearn, on the archaeology of Portus which is being given by the University of Southampton, another UK school. I look forward to checking that out in January. 🙂
I started my MA degree this fall at the University of New Hampshire, and needless to say, it’s been keeping me a bit busy. I am doing what research I can, and hitting all sorts of amazing conferences, such as last weekend’s New England Renaissance Conference in which the topic was Credit and Debit in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Totally a fascinating topic I never even thought to look into before.
In 2 weeks there is an event in the Barony of Carolingia, our neighbors to the south of Stonemarche, called Voyages of Discovery, and A&S Colloquium. It is a mundane clothes dress academic conference with Scadians in mind. I will be presenting my paper on Suetonius’ biography of Domitian, and my analysis using contemporary sources. It’s one of my undergraduate works, but it was my writing sample to get into graduate school, and apparently did the job.
I also plan to prepare my propoloma article from here on this blog for publishing in Ars Scientia Orientalis, the East Kingdom A&S Journal, much like my silk paper was. So yes, even though I haven’t been crafty, I’ve still been busy!
I do have some slow-coming work in progress on Byzantine outerwear. Look for that in the coming weeks.
I’m REALLY MEAN when I teach at Pennsic and only give out outlines when I teach my classes. There’s multiple reasons for this:
1: You can’t show up, jack a handout, and then not stick around for my class thus shorting the people who stay a handout.
2: It’s harder to plagiarize me. Yes, it’s happened. Really people, just cite me in your work.
3: It makes you become more engaged in what I’m teaching by following my outline, and taking your own notes for your own benefit. I do pass around supplemental materials and draw pretty pictures on the whiteboard and I want you to pay attention.
4: IT SAVES TREES. If I printed everything I needed for a 2 hour class, it would be a small booklet, and cost me a lot.
However, this has a downfall. Those that want to go to my classes and then can’t get shafted. So I was thinking to myself, “How do I make this easier for folks who can’t make it? You can’t learn much from a boring old handout.”
DING. SOCIAL MEDIA.
I understand that not everyone has Facebook, I apologize, but not everyone has Google + either, and I find the Facebook group interface a bit better for discussion anyway. Therefore, I created a group on Facebook that I plan to fill with all of my class goodies after war, so everyone can jump in, ask questions, and engage in a sorta online class. This is pretty beta, and I hope it works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll just can it.
I had the pleasure of attending a great new costuming symposium in the Midwest this last weekend: Figments and Filaments, in Independence, MO. It was certainly a long way from home, but worth the traveling. I’ve never been to Missouri, and I have plenty of friends in the Kansas City area who were more than happy to give me crash space. Naturally, fellow Byzanteamster Konstantia Kaleothina was my host, and with our powers combined with Andrixos, we were the Byzanteam! Taking the fashion show by storm!
I taught 2 classes: My Historical Costuming for Cosplayers one, and my 2 hour long Roman dress one, and we actually got to the Byzantine part, hurray!
I also took the train there and back, you know, to do something different (and it was cheaper.) I will definitely take the train long distance again. That was fun, and everybody should do it at least once.
I have so much wonderful things to say about this convention, I don’t even know where to start. Yes, it was small, and it was its first year, but it ran well, and everyone seemed to have had a really great time. Even this slightly aggressive Easterner. 😉 They want me back for next year, so I’ll be planning that return trip shortly.
Check out their website at Figmentsandfilaments.com, and the respective Facebook groups and pages.
Since I had so much time on my hands on the train, I stared at the Bamberg Textile again for a while, and now another blog is cooking while I start planning to turn a piece of red-orange linen into a short stola. Mwahahaha.
Because of the impending doom, er, Coronation, I’ve been getting pinged a lot here in the East on how I tie my chiton and get my Roman clothing to drape properly. So, I made this handy dandy 10 minute vid to help explain my method, as well as give a brief look at my new dark blue stola. I hope it helps.
Garb does not blink into existence, but oh, how I wish it did.
I have a backlog of commissions right now because schoolwork is taking precedence right now in my life. I’m toward the end of my degree, and the classes are railing into me, this includes a capstone major paper on The Varangian Guard.
I haven’t really made myself any new “nice” garb in a while, because I don’t particularly have the time. My Viking dress was finished a year ago, and since I’ve made the switch to Byzantine persona full-time, I figured I needed more stuff. Well…I picked up some gorgeous jewel-toned linen and some trims at Birka for this project, and figured, “Oh I have PLENTY of time before I have to teach my class at Ice Weasel.”
Yeah no. A couple blizzards and the inability to get anywhere slowed me down greatly on the sewing front, because I couldn’t get to the laundromat or Joann’s for much needed supplies. This is annoying, but nothing life-threatening. So, as it stands, the gorgeous linen I have is still unwashed and shall remain that way until I have ample time to make myself this new tunica and dalmatica. Until then, I have older stuff I can bring to Ice Weasel I can use for the sake of the class. I would love to get my beaded dalmatica to a wearable state, so that’s an option, but…it’s Ice Weasel. Snow, ice, weasels. Okay, not actual weasels, but the climate and the fact I’d like to be outside supporting my lord in his first heavy tournament (I brought a newb into the society, teehee.) is more important than wrecking new, or nice expensive, garb. Plus, he’s been on my ASS to finish his Norman riding tunic, so that’s the project this week. I will post pics when it’s done.
Until then, here’s pics of my fabric and trim that will some day become my next tunica and dalmatica. Complete with antique silk saris I pillaged for trim.
Mint green for the tunica, dusty rose for the dalmatica.
Some old, moth-eaten saris I’ll be cutting trim from. I’ll probably use the pink for the dalmatica, and save the red for a hand-sewn tunica I have planned for the summer.