On Saturday, September 26th during the Ethereal Court of their Majesties Trimaris at Village Plague, I was sent forward to contemplate my elevation to the esteemed Order of the Laurel.
My vigil will take place on the evening of the 16th of October, and my elevation the following day, on the 17th, which also marks the Hellenic Festival of the Khalkeia, which celebrates craftsmen under the patronage of Athena and Hephaestus. (The 18th is the anniversary of the Battle of Dyrrhachium, but we aren’t going to talk about that.)
This will be a virtual event, with only a small team present here in Castlemere to make this safe and socially distant. More information will be posted as I receive it.
Sorry this took a bit, I was hoping to get a few more, but this is a good start.
I think I did myself, and everybody, a great disservice by saying I would help with general medieval information. I sat here and derped pretty hard, so, for future questions, please keep them limited to Roman/Byzantine only for my own sanity, and for the sake of the querents getting a decent answer. Questions can be sent to syrakousina -at- gmail.com. (remember to remove -at- and replace with @, no spaces.)
Libby: Do you know of a survey of band weaving finds from 13th century and earlier?
I’m afraid I do not. Since I don’t weave more than an inkle band here and there, it’s just not something I look for. If somebody else sees this, hopefully they can chime in down in the comments to get you where you need to go. You honestly will have better luck in a weaving group on Facebook than I can find you in 3 minutes of google searching.
Nicola: I am a fan of your blog and enjoy seeing your research and the work you do for your SCA persona and the community as a whole. I’m a LARPer over in the UK and was wondering how you keep the veils and layers of headdresses in place. The persona I’m currently playing is from medieval times but practical hints and tips would be very interesting to read about, if you’re willing to write about something a little more off topic.
You need to use bands, and pin the veil to the band. This is a period method, and you can really impress your LARPer friends. I’ve used this guide now for years: http://www.virtue.to/articles/veils.html Now, I’ve made some adjustment since my hair was so short for years, but now I’m growing it out. I’ve found that in a pinch when my hair was in a pixie cut, white cotton headbands you can buy at the drugstore do the job since they really aren’t going to slide anywhere. Now that I have shoulder-length hair, I cap it up first. You can see it a bit here with my 11th Century veil. The cap beneath my veil holds back all of my hair, and then the silk veil is pinned over it, allowing my coronet to just sit on top and not have to be shoved onto my head, or cause more weight. The gentlewoman to my right in the veil is also wearing a cap beneath hers, and you can see the pins better.
Dyonisia: So I have been fascinated with hoods for a while now. I make them and end up giving them away. But i also want to get research information on them. My focus is from 1000-1600. I also am looking for any embroidery that are on those hoods. Any help would be wonderful.
I am also interested in shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Looking at what was shipped and where they were going. I am looking at 1200-1600. Any resources ect. would help.
This is a really really REALLY broad topic that I feel could benefit from narrowing down into a specific time and place so you aren’t overwhelmed. Fashion changes a lot over the span of 500 years, and since you did not give a location, I’m going to tell you what I know regarding my area of expertise. I recommend breaking down your project and focusing on one hood from one place at a time, otherwise, you’re going to be overwhelmed and find nothing.
Disclaimer: I’m not an embroiderer, and as far as my personal scope of research goes, you won’t find much at least in the Byzantine area. They were more into woven designs that were appliqued on. As far as if this applied to hoods, I’m not sure. The Byzantines were not “hood wearers” like you see in the western part of the continent. The one hooded garment that you see commonly is called a “paenula”, a very simple hooded poncho that goes back to Roman times. After the 6th Century, you don’t see it too much outside of iconographic interpretation, which makes me think that maybe it fell out of style in the cosmopolitan areas during the early centuries, but maintained part of the traditional imagery we still have today. The climate in the Eastern Mediterranean is different than say, France, so hooded garments seemed to be pushed to the wayside for turbans, veils, and other headwear. Seeing gold work on turbans was common. The type of design is referred to as “grammata” in the original Greek, so basically golden letters, possibly pseudo-Kufic script. Of course, paenulae may have still been used in the countryside as a functional garment, but most depictions of working class Byzantines show little to no embellishment. Who the heck wants to clean mud off of expensive, time-consuming embroidery?
On the subject of your interest in shipping, again, you need to narrow this down. You have a 400-year timespan, and no specific culture or ports in mind. From 1200-1400, the crusades dominated the Eastern Mediterranean as well, with the Fourth Crusade wrecking the commerce of the Byzantine Empire for the remainder of its existence.
I do love your enthusiasm, but let me give you some helpful research tips to make your massive interests work a bit smoother in your favor. I feel like you really don’t know where to start, which is why you’ve asked me such broad questions, and that’s okay, we all have humble beginnings.
A good rule of thumb is: if your Google search isn’t coming back with anything, narrow it down until it does. “Medieval hoods 1000-1600” is going to probably give you a Pinterest, while “extant medieval hood” is going to give you images of stuff that is still around from museum databases. “Hoods worn in medieval France” is going to give you better answers. Head right to the Met or British Museum websites and look up their collections, they’re here to help! Same with your interest in shipping. This is where getting into the fun journal databases will be a huge advantage. You can even pop over to JSTOR and put in some search terms. I found this article first shot just typing in “medieval Mediterranean shipping”: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt1kgqt6m Chances are, you have friends with JSTOR or library access that can help you get the material. If this is something you really want to focus on, it may be worthwhile to invest in an account. Who knows, you could end up getting enough material to write your own Compleat Anachronist! Good luck!
Marc: I found your blog via a search on Byzantine costuming – and noted that you’re up to answering questions about same.
Well, I have a perhaps atypical one: I’m finishing in the details of a story set in early 14th Century Trebizond, and I haven’t been able to put together visually a wedding dress for one of the legendary Trapezuntine princesses. I have some vague piecemeal ideas, shoulder panels covered with pearls, etc. and I can draw a little from Pisanello’s St. George and the Princess of Trebizond, but I really can’t imagine what a wedding gown at that level of Byzantine society would look like – particularly the colors.
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.
We always see them: the funky printed cottons in the stores. Sometimes we can’t resist, and then we wonder why the heck we bought it in the first place. Clearly, you can’t make garb out of silly prints!
Or can you?
This summer, I had a weird awakening. It’s no secret to my readers and friends that I’ve pretty much busted my rump this last year on research in Byzantine dress. From investing the money in Sartor fabrics to finding some of the best linens and trims I could to make a splash dropping my 12th Century side-eye skills, and spending 4 months on a master’s thesis where I dug into an 11th century will, I sort of put on a display this year like some swaggering Byzantine peacock (Byzancock? Argh, no, bad term, there.) It worked, and I’m exhausted. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of new exciting things out there waiting for me to sew, like my upcoming foray into Sassanian Persian for my husband and I, only because I hate money and I dropped it like it was on fire at Sartor while at Pennsic.
I am no longer in school, and working freelance back in the graphic novel industry, so yeah, I have the time to play with sewing again. Sassanian will be fun, it’s something I’ve wanted to examine for a while as a predecessor to my period’s Silk Road fashion. Plus, I think there are cool hats involved.
I digress, we came here to talk about fun garb, not Anna and Gieffrei’s soon-to-exist “you spent HOW MUCH on that silk?” Sassanian Persian with dorfy hats. Fun garb. How’s this?
Yes. I did.
Go ahead, clutch your pearls, get a shot of bourbon, whatever it takes. I made this garb. And I wore it too. At Pennsic for a party. Yep.
A lot of my friends think that I have this over-the-top obsession with flamingos. In fact, I really don’t. I just love tacky lawn flamingos. Now, Mistress Vibeke Steensdottir back in the East Kingdom? Now SHE’S the awesome flamingo maven, complete with flamingo wing heraldry. She was the first person I know to document flamingos in period, so really if anybody deserves the credit for flamingo adoration, it’s her, not me.
I own pink lawn flamingos because I bought them for holiday decorations. I got mad at my former apartment complex for having stingy rules about decor and “religious” exemptions, and went a little nuts. They also look hilarious in snowbanks.
But anyways, yes. The short story is that the flamingo fabric magically appeared in my shopping cart at Joann’s during a sale event on red tag materials and then it came home with me. My initial intent was not garb, even though I joked about it online. It was going to be curtains or a sundress, or something festive to add to my Flamingomas decor. I mean, it’s a printed cotton twill. It would make crappy garb, and probably get me some sneers if I did it anyway.
Fast forward, I graduate, I move across the country, I’m unpacking my fabric onto my shelves, and I see those flamingos staring right back up at me. And that’s when I remembered something.
Let’s take a closer look:
Two out of three women in this section are wearing gowns with some form of obvious waterfowl, probably geese or ducks, maybe even in a way for the artists to mock Theodora and her former profession, but it’s pretty clear. So yeah, waterfowl on Byzantine garb, check.
But seriously, flamingos?
Now, I’ve seen this thing in person at the Cloisters. Those birds are screaming pink. Yes, they have green ones facing them, but that pink is deliberate. Sure it says swans or herons, but you know, we all know. Who makes deliberate acid-pink birds on a chasuble and wants us to think “swan”? Okay, that’s a stretch. I know.
Want even more of a stretch? You’re probably wondering how I justified having a cotton tunic? A printed one at that. Well, recent research has let me to uncover a booming cotton industry in Anatolia, but also, that printed cotton fabrics were coming out of Persia during the Middle Ages. Like this example from the 11th Century.
So basically, what I just did was stunt document a 6th Century flamingo dalmatica by using objects from the 6th, 11th, and 15th Centuries from 3 different cultures. It’s not something that will pass an A&S competition, so please don’t try this and tell your judges I said it was okay, but it was a way for me to appease my accuracy-brain for the sake of fun. We do this for fun, and it’s still okay to have fun.
Now, don’t go making yourself a closet of these things and brag that my blog told you it was okay. Make one. Wear it to a party or to a silly garb event. See if you can document some shapes and techniques and turn it into a conversation piece, which is basically what I did with mine.
“Hey, did you know that printed cotton is period? This tunic is silly, but let me tell you about this fragment I found while doing research…” Seriously, it sparked some great interest in printed textiles, which is already a growing trend in the SCA. So, why not see what direction a goofy idea can take you for your next big project?
On another note.
Speaking of authenticity brain…
The funny thing is that why I was planning the Fowl Dalmatica (yes, that’s what I call it), a bunch of friends were checking out Duchess Aikaterine’s tutorial on Youtube on how to make a Roman stola out of a sari.
I’ve had this love/hate relationship with saris being used for Roman garb for the longest time. I love it because it looks amazing. It’s beautiful, it’s exotic, it looks decadent and exactly what a Roman woman would have loved. I hated them only because they weren’t period and refused to make one for myself. Which is kind of a stupid reason, considering I made Jeff and I’s Babylonian garb out of vintage saris, so I’m really a big fat hypocrite who got stuck in the authenticity brain pool, swimming in circles, versus letting myself have fun.
…So I did it. I regret nothing and I want to make more. Plus, her draping technique for the stola is way better than my pinched in neckline, and the front/back seams versus side seams may just make more sense.
I will say that it definitely doesn’t work as well with linen unless it’s a thin, hankie weight linen. I made one of a 5oz linen and it just didn’t…manifest at the shoulders like the cotton and the 3.5oz linen did. So keep that in mind should you try this pattern. I’m going to try again with that fine pink linen I just got in from Sartor (see above) since it’s rather sheer. It would make a lovely stola, and I do need to start dressing like I’m married more often.
The only real downside to wearing the thin sari cotton is that it’s clingy, so I’m not sure how well it would do as a chiton underneath. I picked up some more vintage saris from eBay to try, as well as a couple of real silk ones at Pennsic (by the way, if you bought the 4 for $100 silk sari deal at Pennsic, better burn test a swatch, I got 2 real silk ones, a totally poly one, which I knew and bought really only for craft purposes, and a nice art silk one that melted to the plate when I burned it, so yeah. Check your purchases.) DO NOT MAKE THIS OUT OF ART SILK. Art silk is not “real” silk, it’s short for artificial silk, and is usually a poly rayon blend. You will boil alive. Granted, in real silk you’ll boil too, so, pick your poison. I’m not sure if the Romans had access to cotton, even though it was being cultivated in Egypt and Persia pretty early, but it’s a far better option than dead dinosaur.
I’m going to be making some more lightweight Roman and Byzantine (which I’m calling the Byzanlite) for regular wear here in Caid. My garb arsenal was just not originally designed for events at 110F, but hey, for when we get a cold front in February, I guess I’m set.
So, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to shake off the stuffiness once in a while, and remember we do this for fun.
…Not that I don’t think hours on International Medieval Bibliography and making interlibrary loan requests isn’t still fun, mind you.
Well, I’m moving, anyway. I’ve successfully completed my masters program, and I’m relocating to join my lord husband across the country at his naval posting. I have lots of cool stuff on my master’s thesis I can’t wait to share, but this blog will be on hold a bit while I pack up here in the East Kingdom, and get to my new home in Caid. I expect it will take several weeks to really settle in, considering I’m as East Coast as a hurricane smoking a clove, and I’m being transplanted to California.
I am teaching at Pennsic, (Yes, I’m flying from CA to PA, I’m insane) and will be posting more on that next month.
I hope everybody enjoys the start of summer, and I hope to see you all at a Caidan event soon! In the meantime, here’s a photo of me wearing my master’s project. Yeah, I got to make garb, talk about playing off of your strengths.
I managed to get back to the Met last month, and spend a whopping six hours there, never getting off the first floor. Again. Well, except for the Roman study rooms, but I digress. They have a really neat exhibit right now under the stairs in the Jaharis vault (where my favorite tunic was) that shows off some very cool painted liturgical linens from the late Roman/early Byzantine Egyptian period.
I’m going to start trying the technique, as it doesn’t look too daunting, it’s just egg tempera on linen, either pure white or dyed indigo. I figure if I can frame the fabric in an embroidery apparatus, it should work. As far as I know, the fabric wasn’t sized or gessoed prior to painting, at least it didn’t seem that way, so this could turn into a big mess. Should I succeed, I see a very nifty, period way to display heraldry indoors.
This is what happens when I catch a cold, miss an event, and decide to not do homework. When I’m sick, I get bored, and when I’m bored and hopped up on cold medicine, well…I needed to tinker.
Edited on 9-28-2015 to add finished pictures.
PROJECT ONE: WEAVING THINGS.
Well, I started by warping up the inkle loom and making the Norman husband a pair of leg wrappings in his heraldic colors. They’re pretty crappy in some places, and hence, leg wrappings, rather than trim. This is the first full 6 yard band I’ve ever made! Material is acrylic yarn, because I wanted them thick,washable, and low-cost in case of it turning into a cat toy. I did okay though, so now I’m more confident in trying wool yarns for the next batch. I finished this in a day. I warped it Saturday night and by Sunday night the band was complete. I was a MACHINE.
PROJECT TWO: SHINY THINGS.
Oh yeah, see that coronet on the table? I made that too. Norman Husband challenged me to make a coronet with him out playing Navy. Him not around left with me NO METALWORKING SUPPLIES. So, I had to play, and go buy a new beading pliers set. And JB Weld. I could NOT have done this without clear 2-part epoxy. G-S Hypo Cement did not cut it except for gluing the band itself together and the cabochons onto the settings. It did not hold the settings onto the band. I’m still not 100% finished with it, when I am I’ll post finished pics.
Finished coronet as of one week after I made it, after removing the top pearls, replacing them with smaller ones, and lining it with orange velvet:
Notes after wearing for an event: Too much padding, it didn’t want to stay put. I know coronets are jewelry and not a headband, but still. I’m going to try a different method before I wear it next. Also, I got a lot of compliments on my veil. All it is, is a green/yellow/red ombre dyed Indian dupatta. It still smells like batik. I wrapped it and tucked it into my belt in the front based on some icons and manuscripts I’ve seen.
No, using vintage lamp brass and epoxy aren’t exactly period techniques, but it creates the illusion for now until Norman Husband completes the Hagia Sophia of Coronets he’s promising me. Plus, this is dainty and clocking in at 1 3/4″ at the tallest, so it works for periods I wear that AREN’T Byzantine. I’m not a jeweler, and especially not a hat maker, so even three days later my hands are KILLING ME.
Here’s a couple of Byzantine crowns that I pulled some [vague] inspiration from. They didn’t always wear votive crowns and massive tall hinged plaque things of doom.
PROJECT THREE: MODIFYING THINGS.
And last but not least, OMG SHOES.
If you read my previous post, I made a blurb about what color shoes are appropriate for a Byzantine persona. As a court baroness, I could get away with yellow, so, I wanted to see if I could invest in a pair of proper Eastern looking shoes. Unfortunately, most medieval cordwainers don’t make Byzantine or Middle Eastern shoes (that’s a hint, folks) so I had to improvise. I hate HATE HATE wearing Pakistani/Indian Khussa, because they eat my feet alive. Even if I shower with them on, or wet my feet, they just never break in, and rip me up. That’s no fun. So some searches yielded Moroccan Babouches. These are actually pretty perfect, except that they’re backless. Now, extant mules have been found, and are still worn in Turkey today, but I hate backless shoes, mostly because as you can see in these pics, my feet and ankles are very narrow. It makes mundane boot shopping a crappy experience when the material just pools around my ankles.
Shoes with better lacing and my red stockings:
Period shoes that gave me this horrible idea:
The ones I made are clearly going to be “inside event” shoes. I’ll wear them with stockings in hopes to combat some of that extra width while the lacing will stop my feet from falling out. The best part that is if I want to, I can pull the lacing out of my shoes and flatten the backs again into mules.
Again, like the coronet, I’m creating an illusion from modern materials. Once I’m done with my master’s degree and move across the country, I’ll have time to work on making an actual pair of period leather shoes with gold leafing that WON’T be too wide for my feet and involve kitchen surgery. And maybe I’ll learn some metalworking so I can help my husband in making a proper hinged 11th Century coronet, but until then, it doesn’t hurt to use your imagination in the little game we play.
I finally got a chance to go back to the MFA yesterday and see Juno with a head on. When they acquired her in 2012, she was decapitated and needed a nose job.
When I went last year in 2014, she was blocked off because of a special event. So yesterday, finally yesterday, I got to take in her entire massive splendor, which I must admit, makes you want to drop to your knees in worship just because of her sheer size. This also meant that I finally got a chance to analyze what’s going on with her layers.
All photos were taken by me with my phone at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, MA. They can all be blown up to a larger size by clicking on them.
Before we get to the knitty gritty, here’s all the pictures I took of her. Isn’t she magnificent?
And now we get to talk about what we’re looking at. That’s a peplos over a chiton. (Remember, here at Anna’s Rome, we use the Greek terms for Roman clothing to better determine the difference between the two garments. For more information, please visit my Ancient Roman Garb page.) Now, my observation of this from 2012 apparently sent some folks into a minor tizzy on the internet, because that is what the internet is for. Clearly I meant stola, clearly I was wrong. Clearly I didn’t know what I was talking about.
THAT. IS. A. PEPLOS. OVER. A. CHITON. With the left shoulder unpinned and rolled down to reveal her breast, and the right side left unsewn to add to the really detailed open drapery the sculptor had a field day with.
The stola had its golden age in the Republic. This statue, at least the body of the statue, is dated to the 1st Century BC. (The head was a later addition in the 2nd Century AD.) So you’re looking at the early Empire. Now, some women did continue to wear the stola well into the Empire, it was popular in the Flavian court, which may have been more conservative than the Julio-Claudians. The concept of fashion and trends was just as alive then as it is today. But what this does is provide women with an alternative to the frumpy blimpy stola that allows them to maintain the modesty expected of a matron while being more mobile and less confined to layers upon layers of cumbersome material. (More info on stola can be found above in Ancient Roman Garb page.)
Now, sculpture always interprets the ideal, not the real. Gods and Goddesses will always be the ideal, no matter what, but it’s worth noting the way the material drapes against her body and allows for some clingy sexiness. This cannot be achieved with today’s linen. My assumption is that we’re looking at some really REALLY fine tropical weight wool gauze, which I HAVE seen occasionally at a premium, but that’s what was worn more often than linen. It was more colorfast and easier to weave versus the smelly process of retting and laundering flax. It also would have felt nicer against the skin than wool does today.
So let’s take a closer look, care of Photoshop and some bad transparent painting.
Now you can really see the separation of the layers from the front, which is where the sculptor would have paid the most attention to detail. The peplum (flappy bit) is clearly visible, and unlike a stola, the garment is shorter, and reveals the chiton underneath, rather than reaching to the floor and touching the wearer’s instep such as her chiton does. There is no visible sign of belting but one tassel on the side (we’ll get to that in a second.)
At first, I thought she was wearing a rolled palla or something over her shoulder, but now that I’ve been able to really circle the entire sculpture 17 times before my husband dragged me out of the gallery, it’s clear that it’s only pinned on her right shoulder, and that the garment is rolled down. The only idea I have regarding this is to pay attention to Juno’s sexuality. I’ve been mulling over the idea that the peplos as a sole garment with no under layer is the mark of a virgin, you see this with statuary of Athena/Minerva and Artemis/Diana. In this case, Juno (Hera) is the Queen of the Gods, she has children, and a sexual relationship with her husband, Jupiter (Zeus.) The peplos revealing the breast in such a manner could better facilitate breast feeding, but it also goes, “Hey, yeah I’m modest and married, but I’m still desireable.” As on the other side of the modesty spectrum, Aphrodite/Venus is often shown just wearing a chiton that is usually falling off, or nothing at all. So this bridges the rigid virginal appearance of some goddesses with the hypersexualized appearance of other. You have a modest, married woman, who has nursed her children, and is still revered as a mother to her worshipers. Juno herself had many, many roles as a Roman Goddess, ranging from being Queen of the Gods, a patron of Rome in the Capitoline Trio, an image of war, motherhood, childbirth, creation, etc. There’s no really good way to nail her down, so it would depend on the local cult. The provenance of this statue seemed shaky on the placard, but one could assume that in the particular shrine this sculpture was carved for, her motherhood and patron of childbirth probably took precedence, just because of the attention given to one breast, and her lack of armaments.
Here’s the side views. As you can see, little attention was given to her back, or pieces were sheered off to make way for a mounting mechanism at one point in time. I do want to pay attention to the open sides of the peplos in the first image. Traditionally, this garment was belted and overlapped to help conceal the body. Romans were more modest than Greeks in that regard, and they probably would have sewn it shut. This is left open and unbelted. There is one small tassel visible in that same image that shows the open side, which could be reference to an open girdle, or something hanging from the top. (I really couldn’t see. She’s tall!) In the case of the girdle being left open, that really lends to sexualization of the statue. The visible tassel likely belongs to the girdle of her chiton peeking out from the side of the open peplos, which would make sense, because her sleeves are nice and taut, signifying the garment being pulled against the body.
Overall, this style is pretty unique and the placard doesn’t state either way. It does pay attention to the open side of what they refer to as her mantle, *grumble*, but that’s really it. There’s only so much you can put down before people get bored at museums, anyway, unless you’re me, and you go, “BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT!” But I don’t work there. That’s what.
What I do really love though, is the amazing detail the sculptor gave to the sleeve treatments on the chiton in the last image that focuses on her left side. Those look like cloth buttons, rather than metal, and they’re a pretty good size in comparison to her dress. Which gives us reenactors and re-creators more ideas on how to embellish our garments. They also don’t go all the way to the neck, and just stay on the upper arm. Curiouser, and curiouser!
For those of us who want to emulate this look, I would advise against the one-shouldered thing. Leave that to the goddess, as that would not have been very proper for a Roman matron to wear, even in the house (unless you’re breastfeeding of course, when having functional buttons on the chiton is also a fantastic solution.) Other than that, now that we have concrete (eh, marble?) evidence of a peplos being worn in lieu of a stola for a Roman matron, the days of wearing eight yards of fabric over another four are over for women who actually like walking around events without tripping on their garb.
***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.
We’re always so quick to forget that fashion has been a phenomenon for thousands of years. Women just didn’t wear one or two style dresses. They wore what was in style, they wore what was popular in other places and made it work for them. I’m a firm believer that the clothing of Roman women was pretty limitless. They were essentially the original divas.
This is a public gallery on Facebook by Ratna Drost, who is a researcher and reenactor at the Archeon museum in the Netherlands. It’s a collection of her interpretation of provincial (Think Gaul and Belgica) clothing, with some great cold weather options for those of us who live in the Frozen Tundra. I’ve been pretty good about sticking with my Byzantine lately, but some of these looks are totally inspiring.
I hope these images help those looking for alternatives to the traditional peplos and chiton looks. I would recommend sending questions to Ms. Drost herself. This is not my work, I just wanted to share this great collection!