Anna goes on pilgrimage! Part 1: The “Midwife” Esoforion

Next week at a Trimarian event called “Corsair’s Heart”, Mistress Mayken van der Alst is coordinating a Medieval Hike! I decided that this sounded more in my wheelhouse than an entry into the Birka Garb Challenge, so I chose to go full bore and see what I could come up with.

The short answer: A middle/working class Byzantine ensemble that would be comfortable for hiking in. The hilarious thing is that I don’t own anything lower class, or uh, casual.

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But for real, in period, in persona, I would have been carried to Jerusalem in a litter, or rode in the back of a carriage. If I was “roughing it”, I would be on my own horse. Walking? Bah!

But that’s not the point of this exercise. The point is to walk, and wear and carry something that I could walk in, comfortably.

Better start at the bottom. Layer that is.

In my searching for *sigh* casual Byzantine, which, by the way, not that easy, I found a Cappadocian fresco that is contemporary to my period. Here, a midwife and Salome bathe the infant Jesus and his rippling man-pecks of the Divine.

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Fresco is located in the Dark Church, Goreme, Cappadocia. 11th Century.

Everything here seemed perfect. You have women working, wearing clothing indicative of an arid climate that would have been passed through to continue to the Holy Land. The colors are great, and my favorite part? The Midwife’s SLEEVES:

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Hot diggity, they’re tied behind her back!

I determined it was either one of two things: A guard that was slung over the shoulders to allow her to pull her clothing back and away for midwifery duties, or, slits in a tunic designed to do this, again, for her profession. Both are plausible, of course, but I decided to test the theory on a tunic, as it’s also supported by some of the work Dr. Timothy Dawson has done with kavadion/gambesons whereas the underarm is open, and the padded long sleeve can be pinned back for more movement.

This is what I came up with.

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The base pattern for the esoforion (undershirt), is the Manazan Caves Tunic, which I’ve used before for some shirts for the hubby here. The reasons I decided to go forward with one of these for myself were: A; The high collar is good for protecting against the elements. B: The extant tunic is contemporary to Cappadocia, but not in the same location. The Manazan Caves are in present day Karaman, Turkey, and the Dark Church is in present day Goreme. This is a distance of about 270km. That doesn’t mean that these settlements weren’t in contact, and it’s still close enough for approximation of Cappadocian fashion. C: The long gore construction of the Manazan find would work well with allowing a ton of ease and slack on the arms for slits in the sleeves.

So, with my pile of 3.5oz natural linen, I set off on an adventure. I determined that the sleeves would have to be longer to pull this off, but since that was a Persian trend that had trickled into Byzantine fashion and stayed, I had no qualms with some potentially droopy sleeves. I also ended up hand-sewing the entire collar, and all openings/hems. There are only 6 machine sewn seams in the whole thing, not bad. I do want to do an entirely hand-sewn one of these, and I have the fabric to do it, so I figured this would be good practice. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous blog post about this tunic, hand sewing the collar construction is a must, anyway. It just won’t work right with a machine. Good thing too, because after the couple days it took me to complete the collar setup, I returned to the machine, and promptly sewed a full stitch through my left index finger, INCLUDING THE NAIL. Typing hurts right now, but it’s healing. I guess that’s a sign I should keep on my hand work practice.

So much whipstitching, man. The Byzantines loved them some whipstitch.

I decided on the arm slit placement after basting the side seams together, and looking at fit. Each slit is 8″ out of the front seam that connects the gore. I then cut the basting, turned in a hem, and it was done. Zero fuss, and zero fabric waste or odd cuts into the garment.

The pictures speak for themselves. It works. The placement of the uber-long gore makes for a full range of movement, and as you can see, I can still create more slack to go over an outer tunic.

This garment is more than practical for just midwifery. While on pilgrimage, it would be beneficial to cover your skin for sun protection, and the long sleeves still allow for this. But, if I get too hot, or need to cook/set camp/do dirty work, I can tie my sleeves back and be comfortable doing so. Genius.

What’s next?

I’m going to use a tie on the front of the collar this time, versus a button and loop as I did for Gieffrei, because I feel it will allow me to adjust fit and function better during the hike. I can inkle weave a small band easy enough in an hour on my little loom.

Of course, the outer garment is next after that. I’m following through with the color scheme of the fresco, especially the look that Salome is wearing on the right. I have a block printed cotton I will be using for the turban to match the Cappadocian look, as well.

My final touches will be a shoulder bag, and a relic bag for my belt. If I can find out more, I want to research into accurate ankle support as well, only because I’m a chronic sprainer and could use the, uh, help. These will all be completed over the course of the next week, and I’m looking forward to pulling it all together for the hike!

Dressing the husband: Variations to the Manazan Cave Tunic

I barely sew men’s Byzantine clothing. I know where to look, where to point friends, but for the most part, I personally haven’t touched it. My husband is a Norman. He wears riding tunics, and basic linen gored tunics with keyhole necklines. He likes them, and looks good in them. His complexion and appearance echoes Anna Komnene’s description of Bohemond I of Antioch in the Alexiad almost verbatim. It’s disgusting how Norman he is.

But we have a deal: I sew it, and he wears it.

Up until this project, I’ve made him 1 “SCA Byzantine™” tunic, made from lovely wine colored thick linen with potamia and fancy cuffs, but it’s sewn to his usual Northern European tunic style, versus anything actually Byzantine. I’ve also made him exactly one Roman tunic, and one later Roman dalmatica with clavii stripes for when the weather is stupid hot. He mostly stays in his period, with long sleeves on in warm weather because he’s very fair. Lightweight linen is his friend.

I’ve been meaning to try this pattern for a while, so, one day, I decided to sew things, and that he was going to deal with it.

The mummies of the Manazan Cave City date from the 9th-13th Century, though I believe more recent studies are putting it at the end of this period. Manazan is located in the region of Cappadocia, in Anatolia, present day Turkey.  This shirt is based on the mummy at the Karaman Museum.

The pattern I used that I felt had the best walkthrough, is here, by the folks who used to run Birka Traders in Lochac: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/manazan_shirt/manazan_instructions.htm

They haven’t updated their site since 2014, but if you’re reading this, thank you, Christobel and Peter, you helped me figure out pieces to my mental puzzle in constructing this based on Dawson’s descriptions.

I haven’t really ever seen this done in the SCA. At least not in my parts, aside from a member of my household, who I think I may have given the link to. I knew that the standing collar was seen in some Byzantine art, but I always kind of avoided it, since I hate being choked and didn’t know what was going on. After finally making a series of these for my husband, I gained a better understanding of how the shirt works, and feel like a ditz for not trying it sooner.

The Manazan tunic is, on the most basic level, a keyhole neckline with a placket over it. That’s it! Once you get that in your head, you look at the picture and go, “Oh.”  Trust me, this is way easier than it looks at a first glance.

I made him three types, in this order:
An indigo linen version, without the standing collar, knee length.
A white linen version as an esoforion/undershirt, with the collar, knee length.
A swanky silk version as a court garment, ankle length.

I had a surplus of weird, secondhand linens I wasn’t afraid to screw up something on, so I decided that the first version would be out of a mid-weight linen with a rich indigo color that straight up reminds me of blue jeans. (In retrospect, I’m pretty sure it’s real indigo dye, talk about a luck out.) I like the idea of wearable mockups. If it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work, but if it does, then you have a finished garment.

The way it works, is that the collar has to be completed before attaching the sleeves and side gores. The dark linen makes it hard to see details here, but here’s some photos of the construction.

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Placket closed.
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Placket open.
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Kind of a weird closeup, but when I attach facings on the inside, I use a hand invisible hem stitch. This stops the bold lines of machine sewing being visible on the front, and tacks it down securely. The machine zigzag is lazy finishing on the edge of the facing.
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Finished and laid out on my table so you can see how high the gores go under the arm.
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On the Norman. Following the instructions of the pattern to determine measurements gave us a very wide tunic, but when you see period garments, they are rather baggy, if not “bulbous” on men’s figures.

 

Adjustments made after the first tunic:
-Take in the measurements a couple of inches on each panel
-Re-calibrate the neckline gauge for a tighter fit (I added a half inch when I didn’t need to.)

Onto the full construction with the band collar out of crisp, white linen that took me 6 washes to get it usable. The white allows a more visible depth to the layers on the collar, so I have more pictures.

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There really is no easy way to avoid handsewing on this pattern. You can if you want, but it won’t look right. After I attached the facing inside with the blind hem as seen above on the indigo tunic, I also attached the band collar to the inside by hand.  You can do a machine running stitch when you initially attach it at the base, but when you flip it up and close it to the inside, hand is necessary, otherwise the outside will look ugly. I’m planning on handsewing a whole one for myself.
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View from the inside looking out, so you can see the keyhole neckline, the facing, the placket, and the collar.
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The same view from the outside.
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Let’s face it, this is basically Byzantine Han Solo.

I actually screwed up. I made the band too short because I read the pattern wrong. I repaired this by adding another length of band, versus taking the whole thing off and starting again. My husband destroys collars because his sweat contains amine, a chemical used on submarines to purify the air that also dyes everything a gross shade of rust, so he kills tunics and bedsheets by the dozen. I’ll replace it once it gets gross.

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On the board, puffy before ironing, with the repaired collar.
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Actually on. I used a small white glass bead to make the toggle. Doesn’t it look so much more crisp than a normal keyhole?

Things learned from the full construction:
-Taking in the couple of inches doesn’t matter, this is a wide tunic.
-Pay attention to the taper on the sleeves, men have forearms that women don’t typically have. I made them a little snug, but not uncomfortably so.

For the grand finale, I wanted to see how I could really jazz it up. I had 3 yards of beautiful silk broadcloth in my stash reserved for when Gieffrei decided to dress like civilized folk, as well as my usual stack of  dupioni remnants for trim, and a brocade I had stashed from when Sartor had a sale last year.

The broadcloth was narrower than the panels I had used on the blue tunic, and just about where I cut them on the white one, so I lucked out. I was nervous that the longer length would screw with his stride, but it did not. Instead of putting the facing on the inside, I put it on the outside for some pizazz, and made the placket from the brocade. Added some cuffs with the dupioni, and bottom trim with the brocade, and voila.

The alb of the Holy Roman Empire was my inspiration for his look, only sans all the pearls. (I did buy pearls, I just haven’t sat down and gotten busy with them yet.)

Alb of the Holy Roman Empire
Kamision of the Holy Norman Jeff.
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Detail on the neckline before I finished it.

I don’t have good pictures of him fully dressed head to toe, that’s next on the agenda.

Here’s an extremely flattering shot of us both at East Kingdom Coronation, where you can see the band collar peeking out. The chain is tarnishing and already ruined it, so, I get to replace it sooner than him sweating amine, I guess. Boys are gross.

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“Protect ya neck!” Or, how Anna learned to hide Gieffrei’s delicate collarbones.

[Yes, the woman who named her site after a VNV Nation song just dropped a Wu Tang reference. Not even sorry.]

My husband has a huge head and a normal neck. Those of us who sew know what this means, it means a gaping maw of a neckline that shows off the Norman’s delicate ginger skin. And while it’s nothing a nice brooch and a gallon of sunblock can’t fix, it’s not -right-.

I’ll be posting soonish on dressing my husband in Byzantine, (yes, really, men’s garb, you heard it hear first), as well as including a new page on Norman Garb here on my site (*faints*) but I needed to reassess my approach toward fit.

During my short time in Caid, I had a discussion with a friend about necklines. American reenactors and re-creators make our necklines too big. After her visit to Scandinavia and meeting with Viking reenactors in the land of Where This Stuff Actually Happened, she gave me some tips on how to fix my stupidity.

I’m sure that this technique is known to a few people and I’m going to get a “WELL, DUH!” Gibbs Slap in the comments, but knowing also that there’s some derpy sewers out there who probably make the same mistakes I do, this post is important.

For the longest time, I’ve been following a formula given to me a while ago: You draw your neckline 3-4″ each way from the center point, 2″ down in the back, 4″ down in the front, and add a keyhole slit. This gives a lopsided oval effect with a shorter back than front, which is essential for comfort, but it’s just too wide around the neck. My husband’s head is 26″, his neck is 17″. He’s not a jacked guy, but he’s tall and broad, so making garb that doesn’t choke him has been a challenge.

Here is my new hack: Neckline gauges.

A true circle with the circumference of our necklines (13.5″ for me, 17″ for him), marked up showing increments of  1/2″ from the back toward the center mark. Ignore where it says “+ allowance”, I tried that and it made it too big. Just go with the regular neck measurement, the hem or facing will take care of that ease.

20180322_113304You place the gauge on the fabric, center mark matching to the dead center of where you want the neckline to be. Then, move it forward to where you want the depth of the back to be. I’ve done both 1″ and 1.5″ with good results. The dotted line helps you maintain the angle toward the front, and where you can mark your slit.

Here I am demonstrating it on a piece of scrap linen:

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White on white was a horrible idea, but let’s pretend that fold in the scrap is our shoulder seam or fold.
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Place the gauge on the fabric, matching center points.
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Move it forward to how deep you want the neck to be. In this case, I’m leaving 1″ in the back, so I’m putting my 1″ mark over the center mark.
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Trace, and cut.

Give that a shot. Practice on a scrap and put it over your head. You should have a neckline that comes right up if not a bit above the clavicle, and looks more accurate. Voila!!

Clearly, a closed slit is vital to the tight necks in Byzantine artwork, but you never see the slit! What do we do?

We cover it, or move it to the side.

The Manazan Caves tunic covers the keyhole slit with a placket. And I was a a fool to not have tried to make one of these sooner. You can find a great walkthrough from the folks Downunder at Birka Traders here: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/manazan_shirt/manazan_instructions.htm

I’ve constructed this for my husband with great results, both with, and without the band collar. This is also where I learned to NOT ADD A SEAM ALLOWANCE ON THE NECKLINE.  I’ll be posting a better walkthrough once I’m done with his new collection of tunics so I can discuss my experience using the pattern above.

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The other option is to put the slit off-center. The most common is just down the left side of the neck, as seen in the Alb of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Palermo Tunicella. While both not “Byzantine” garments, the Eastern influence is evident.

The Coronation Alb of the Holy Roman Empire. The left slit is closed with fingerloop braid. Click on this to see the larger image, it’s worth it.
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The Palermo Tunicella, with the deep slit off left on the neckline, surrounded by a band of brocaded trim.

 

Another option is to use the shoulder seam as the slit. You see that in the Met Tunic I have posted on (link), and I emulated that for my 12th Century Ensemble (link).

So the next time you’re at a loss, looking at source artwork and wondering why your necks don’t look right, give this idea a shot and try a variation for a new fit. I know I’ve been totally converted.

Video walkthrough of Sari Dalmatica/Delmatikion!

I did a thing!

Note that this is only a plausibly period approach with modern liberties. This is just a way to make good-looking, passable Byzantine garb on a budget for themed events, allow newcomers to try out a different style or persona, or make a low-cost “casual” wardrobe for when wearing fancier clothing is not appropriate (outdoor/warm weather events, wars, etc.)

This is a beginner/intermediate pattern. You will need to know how to do facings and have a basic idea of rectangular construction. You will still need a long sleeved undertunic, as well.

Pay no mind to my lack of makeup and phone acrobatics.

Pennsic class materials posted.

As always, I have posted my class materials on Google Drive. Don’t forget to visit my Classes tab to access handouts and modules from previous classes.

The Orient Express: Did the Byzantines wear Persian?: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4jf5ZhBMl5xY3phVU5FSFlyVlk/view?usp=sharing

Deconstructing the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Tunic Under the Stairs”: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B4jf5ZhBMl5xWGVQSVNoWDBSejg

Color images: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4jf5ZhBMl5xazJuSHZDY0gwdUE/view?usp=sharing

 

If you would like a high (or higher) res image from the handouts, shoot me an email. 🙂

A better look at Juno at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

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.

Click for larger image.
Click for larger image.

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.

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“Gee whiz, Mrs. Jupiter, you’re AWFULLY tall!”

Before we get to the knitty gritty, here’s all the pictures I took of her. Isn’t she magnificent?

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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.

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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.

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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.

juno_whatweseeWhat 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!

juno_buttonsFor 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.

Deconstructing the “Tunic Under the Stairs” at the Met.

***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. ❤

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[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.

tunic_underarm

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.

 sleevetrim

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.

tunic_gore

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.

tunic_neckline_crop

silk_stitches

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.

roundelstitching

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.

fashion1
Tunic photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Pattern:

I have drafted a simple pattern to use to make a tunic in this fashion that’s already posted here on the blog at https://annasrome.com/2014/01/03/byzantine-patterns-they-are-here/.

Happy sewing!