Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cold and Windy - But On The Dawn of Renewal
Annual Review

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Australian aboriginals do not have a daily calendar as such. They have a great awareness of the Southern sky and its incorporation into their spiritual belief systems. Whilst not having a daily calendar they did possess a seasonal calendar more appropriate to their connection to the flora and fauna of the great Southern land.

Australia's climate is diverse: monsoon tropics, desert, savannah, alpine and temperate regions can all be found in various locations. The sheer diversity of ecological zones cannot be meaningfully simplified into a rigid European seasonal calendar for the entire continent. Aboriginal people inhabit regions that are geographically and ecologically distinct. The meteorological view of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is one of great diversity, where the names of the seasons are often dependent on localized events or resources.

The ability to link events in the natural world to a cycle that predicts seasonal changes is a key factor in the successful development of Australian indigenous communities. These natural barometers are not uniform across the land but instead use the reaction of plants and animals to gauge what is happening in the environment. After all, Australia is a continent and as such spans vast areas of differing climate calendars within a given time frame (e.g. winter in Tasmania is not like winter in the Northern Territory). As a result, seasonal cycles as described by the various Aboriginal cultures differ substantially according to location. This produces a far more intricate and subtle overview of Australia's climate than the four-seasons associated with an European climate description namely, of summer, autumn, winter and spring, applied as it is across most areas of the continent.

For example, Miriwoong (Miriwung) is an Australian indigenous language which today has about 20 speakers, most of whom live in or near Kununurra in Western Australia. Their season calendar is thought in terms of wet weather, cold weather and hot weather time.

On the other hand, the Nyoongar footprint is somewhat larger: in the Perth area the main source of food came from the sea, the Swan River and the extensive system of freshwater lakes that once lay between the coast and the Darling escarpment. Further South and East the Nyoongar people lived off the resources of the Karri and Jarrah forests. In the Southern coastal area around Albany the Nyoongar people built fish traps and hunted turtle. To the North and East Nyoongar people lived in the semi arid regions of what is now the Western Australian wheat belt. Their calendar spanned six seasons - from dry and hot to long dry periods.

The D'harawall country and language area extends from the Southern shores of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) to the Northern shores of the Shoalhaven river, and from the Eastern shores of the Wollondilly River system to the Eastern seaboard. Their season calendar identified six seasons from warm and wet to cool, getting warmer. For example, the warm and wet season begins with the Great Eel Spirit calling his children to him, and the eels which are ready to mate make their way down the rivers and creeks to the ocean. It is the time of the blooming of the Kai'arrewan (Acacia binervia) which announces the occurrence of fish in the bays and estuaries.

This annual review sits in the D'harawall cold and windy season. The lyrebirds' calls ring out through the bushland as he builds his dancing mounds to attract his potential mates. It is the time of the flowering of the Marrai'uo (Acacia floribunda) which is a sign that the fish are running in the rivers. At the end of this time the Boo'kerrikin (Acacia decurrens) flower, which indicates the end of the cold, windy weather and the beginning of the gentle spring rains. It is the beginning of renewal.

Table 1. A comparison of various Aboriginal seasons from around Australia compared to the traditional European season calendar.
Courtesy of reference [1].

As it is the beginning of the time for renewal we will cast our eye over the year that has gone. I started this blog five years ago, on the 26th August 2010 - in part as art therapy and moreover, to inform, aspire and inspire others to get on with their own art. At the outset my commitment was simple: I would blog approximately 50 posts a year, including an annual summary of each year. This is my two hundred and fifty-first published post. We have had over 400,000 visitors to this blog spot in that time. For your convenience I have listed annual reviews that span the life of this blog spot below:
Where Did The Year Go? (2010/2011)
It's Been An Exciting Year (2011/2012)
Another Cheer - Another Year (2012/2013)
The Year of the Horse (2013/2014)
A Time To Reflect - A Time To Select (2015/2016)
A Time to Remember (2016/2017)
To Be or Not to Be (2017/2018)
The Night Too Quickly Passes (2018/2019)

The number of categories on this blog spot are now as follows: (i) ArtCloth; (ii) Art Essay; (iii) Art Exhibitions/Installations/Talks; (iv) Artist's Profile; (v) Art Resource; (vi) Art Review; (vii) Guest Artist; (viii) Guest Editor; (ix) Musings of a Textile Tragic; (x) My Students Outputs (Workshops and Master Classes); (xi) Opinion Piece; (xii) Resource Reviews; (xiii) Prints On Paper; (xiv) Technical Articles; (xv) Wearable Art. Not all of these categories will be present in a given year (e.g. technical articles). In fact one of my regular posts - Musings of a Textile Tragic - will no longer be a category in the future, since I have decided to resign as co-editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine due to it being an extremely time-intensive commitment, which severely curtailed my artistic output.

I have never been guided by popularity for if I was so inclined I would not have tackled a lot of art projects that I did in the past. Although I have my favourite posts, I am always shocked by what the democratic process throws up. Naturally the statistics are always worse for those posts that are near in time to the annual review (i.e. number of page views, visitors, length of stay etc.) As for those posts in the various categories, some I would have predicted would be popular, but others are a complete mystery to me. The biggest surprises always resides with my artwork, since I foolishly believe that I know my artwork the best and so I think I know what works and what doesn’t work with the public. Think again!

Aboriginal August: Cold and Windy - But On The Dawn Of Renewal
Winter in Lake Macquarie (NSW) Australia

I have opened this category to include all posts that has been labeled as ArtCloth and some in the Art Review category. That is, there are a number of posts in this category this year ranging from aboriginal batik on cloth (ArtCloth) to Hawaiian quilts (Art Review) to fabric lengths etc. Hence I have collapsed these into one category.

Of these the most popular post is Historical Australian Quilts with the Balinese Langse post coming in second place. Note: Langse is a Balinese oblong painting used as a curtain to screen the bed on which Hindu offerings are placed.

This was viewed mostly by Australians who I imagined wanted to know the history of quilting in this country. For example, it was a surprise for some Australians to realise that “Crazy” patchwork was widely popular in Australia from 1880 until World War I. Rich, heavy fabrics with sheen, such as plush, sateen and brocade, were cut into haphazardly shaped pieces and then joined together in a jigsaw fashion to a background fabric. Surfaces tended to reflect the Victorian love of ornate decorations as the edges were further embellished with embroidery in herringbone or featherstitch. Australian touches can be seen in many small, surface types of embroidery, often worked in chenille thread, which featured items like wattle, emus, wallabies or coat of arms.

Queen Victoria Quilt 1900 – 1903, patchwork and embroidery.

Art Essay
This was by far the largest category in the 2014/2015 seasons. Part of the reason was that as being co-editor of Textile Fibre Forum (a textile art magazine) I was time poor and so on a Friday afternoon it was easier for me to pen an art essay rather than to spend hours to travel to exhibitions and write about what was on display - after all I was doing that for the magazine and so it would have been inappropriate and unethical to publish the same article on this blog spot. Hence I needed to separate the content of this blog spot from the content in the magazine.

There were two contenders: Expressing Australia - Art in Parliament House and Historical Australian D'oyley - with the latter being the most popular.

Designs for d’oyleys proliferated in Australia from the 1890s to 1914. Many of the Australian historical embroidered d’oyleys, termed fancy work by their owners, were made when they were young girls in Australian schools or for their glory boxes in their late teen years.

“Sol” lace. Sun center with medallions. C.W.A. Cabramatta, NSW (Australia) ca. 1930s.

Artist's Profile
This is a new category and yet it does overlap with previous categories. For example, there is an artist's profile on Mucha, who is also an artist who fits in the category of prints on paper. These overlaps will always occur due to the former talks about their life and their work, while the latter specifies the category of their work. Of those that were labelled in this category in the 2014/2015 season, the most popular was Yinka Shonibare, MBE - with Henny Wasser-Smeets coming in second.

Yankee Shonibare's artwork fits in the soft sculpture category but it is oh so more than that! He builds an interesting environment for you to engage and ponder about.

Earth (2010).
Materials: Mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather, wood, metal base and globe.
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Photograph courtesy of Stephen White.

Art Resource
In this category of posts - The Glossary of Terms and Fabrics and Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff - still dominated the 2014/2015 season. It seems that readers just love their data content. However of those penned in 2014/2015 season the two posts that were most popular centered on Man-Made fibers, namely, Acrylic and Modacrylic and Polyester - with the latter being ahead in popularity.

I am most pleased about the result since my MultiSperse Dye Sublimation Technique (MSDS) uses synthetic delustered satin as its art medium.

Marie-Therese Wisniowski, Autumn Bolt (disperse dyed polyester artwork).

Guest Artist - Flora Fascinata
I love this category since it brings to this blog spot a completely different tempo and artistic direction. There is no one more exciting than Flora Fascinata. Her millinery artwork appeared on the inside front cover of Textile Fibre Forum magazine (June 2015, Issue 118). She was also a guest artist on this blog spot in the 2014/2015 season and her wit and humour is there for everyone to experience. Her wearable art is beautifully constructed.

Title of headpiece: Thermoplastic Rose Red.
Materials: Vinyl fabric, foam, glue, spray paint, varnish, satin covered band.
Size: 35 cm (high) x 35 cm (wide) x 20 cm (deep).

Musings of a Textile Tragic
There are only four posts in this category since each post is associated with a column that is titled, "Musings of a Textile Tragic" which appears as a regular column in the textile publication - "Textile Fibre Forum" - a magazine in which I was a co-editor (with Janet de Boer being the other co-editor) in the 2014/2015 season. Of the four columns, two were well above the others and they were The ArtWork of Youth and Venusian Men - with the latter being the most popular.

I guess men and textile art are not necessarily synonymous and so the few men who are textile artists become of interest to the much larger cohort of women textile artists.

Ken Smith, Fantasy Bark, Lichen and Bracket Fungi, 2013.
Technique: Freehand machine embroidery (including work on dissolving fabric and the artist's own signature stitches) on the artist's own hand-painted silk (including mount); some hand embroidery; commercial stabiliser and batting; silk lining.
Size: 18 cm (length) x 12.5 cm (width) x 8.5 cm (depth, including mount).
Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Opinion Piece
I only wrote one opinion piece in 2014/2015 season - Natural Versus Synthetic Fibers and Dyes - and so it will naturally be the most popular. Nevertheless, it is a controversial piece since it directly addresses which should be the base-load supply for fibres and dyes - should it be natural or man-made. It separates the ethical dilemma (ethical consumerism, where legislative and regulatory frameworks are to blame) from the practicality of which is better for a sustainable future since the world's population is spiralling out of control. If we agree that to feed, house, clothe, provide shelter and energy resources then to use natural fibres as a base-load would be disastrous due to the amount of land usage and water that would be required. Similarly, if natural dyes were the base-load supply the current allotted agriculture land usage would be totally consumed for this one purpose alone. Hence to natural fibres and dyes, whilst appropriate for art/craft ventures are totally inappropriate as base-load suppliers. For more go to the post.

An indigo dyer - using a natural dye - in India. Poor legislative and regulatory oversight creates dyed skin for the untouchable caste dyers in India. Even natural dyes are harmful without the necessary legislative and regulative oversight.

Prints on Paper
I was flattered to see that my haiku prints on paper - Four Seasons - outstrip its nearest rival, Margret Preston. Then again her post was published on the 11th July 2015, whereas mine was published nine months previously - giving a large advantage in time. Preston is a very famous printmaker in Australia, especially for her dramatic prints on paper. She transformed the way society thought about women artists and as it was written, she applied "...her considerable energies and willpower to develop her art and her theories on art". I love her work and only wish I had her vision.

I love the poetic form of haiku. It has two principal requirements: a seasonal word (kireji) and a "cutting word" or exclamation. My "Summer" haiku poem reads:

"Summer sears,
Leaves are sapped.
Life seeks - shade and darkness lapped!"

Summer Haiku.

Resource Review
The two contenders in this category were: Maschen (Mesh) Museum@Tailfingen and Museum Lace Factory@Horst - with the latter being the most viewed of the two.

I visited the Lace Museum at Horst (The Netherlands) since I was asked to open up a group exhibition of textile artists in the museum. I was amazed at the facility and how they had retained and maintained it. The Museum mounts a number of local and international textile exhibitions as well as provides educational activities such as workshops, lectures and courses for the young and the elderly. All of the machines are operational and so they can still produce antique lace using thousands of gossamer threads. The Museum houses a shop in order to sell lace, books and other textile artefacts. It also houses a unique collection of old and contemporary textile art and crafts.

Helmie van der Riet's textile installation at Museum Lace Factory (2009).
Size: 5 x 5 x 4.5 m.

Wearable Art
Wearable art is always a popular subject for a post on this blog spot. We never include any guest artist in this category since they would win hands down. There were three that hotly contested this category: Wearable Art Produced by the TextielLab, Muslim Headscarves and Some Wearable Art@The Powerhouse Museum. Of the three Muslim Headscarves was well ahead.

It is fascinating to read the responses I have received on this post. Most commented on the scarves and the fact that they enhanced the beauty of those who wore them. I fully concur.

Bridal Headware.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The History of Embroidery[1-3]
Art Essay

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Embroidery is stitching that decorates a fabric by the use of a needle and thread. There are many kinds of stitches that embrace the art of embroidery.

Pre-Inca feather dresses as early as 1200 AD featured brilliant feathers that were stitched to their dresses.

A collection of 12 Pre-Inca feather tunics dating 300 - 600 AD. The flat-framed tunics were hung in Paul Hughes Fine Art Gallery (24th of November 1999 to 20th January 2000). These dresses drew great attention due to their block compositions that were so influential within the art world when they came onto the American market during the mid 20th century.

Today embroidery work is more often done with traditional threads and yarns but as in the past, they are often decorated by stitching into them found objects such as pebbles, dritwood, grasses, beads or wings of the dragonfly.

“Wild Things” was the annual 2014 members exhibition of "The Embroiderers Guild", Victoria (Australia), featuring a wide variety of traditional and contemporary embroidery and textile art.

The History of Embroidery[1]
Embroidery is as old as the needle and thread. Needles made of bone a have been found in the Cave of Courbet in the Aveyron Valley, near Toulouse, France that are believed to be over 13,000 years old.

A set of bone needles from the Cave of Courbet.

The first needles would have been most likely made by using a flint tool. Splinters of bone would have been cut and trimmed roughly into a pointed shape. It is likely that they went through a process of being polished, smoothed with sand, water and a soft stone rubber. The needle eye would have been finally created with a stone "drill". Based on indirect evidence, it is believed that needles appeared almost 35,000 years ago.

The Bible is replete with descriptions of embroideries, frequently referring with minuteness to their details. In Exodus, for example, Moses caused a veil or curtain of fine twined linen to be cunningly embroidered with cherubim of blue and purple and scarlet for the holy of holies. It was bordered with loops and made fast by fifty gold rings to gilt-wood pillars.

Cherubim - velvet, ornate embroidered cloth.
Note: Cherubim is a winged angelic being who is considered to attend on the Abrahamic God in biblical tradition. They were frequently mentioned in the Old Testament and only once in the New Testament.

Needles of bone and bronze were found in the ancient tombs of Egypt dating from at least 5,000 BC. Mummy cloths dating from the ancient Egyptian dynasties showed that Egyptians cultivated the art of embroidery earlier than the Israelis. Many of the paintings upon sarcophagi clearly revealed the embroidery of clothing worn by important personages. As cotton was unknown at that time, linen was the fabric of the Gods.

Embroidered dress of an Egyptian Princess.

It is also known that when Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, journeyed down the Nile, the great square sail of her ship was richly decorated with embroidery in royal blue.

Cleopatra's boat.

On the American continent, the Paracas weavers and embroiderers of Peru were making magnificent embroidered fabrics from ca. 200 BC to 200 AD. The Peruvians spun their yarns from the fleece of the llamas, alpaca and vicúna that grazed on the high plateaus of the Andes. These fabrics have been persevered in tombs for more than a thousand years. They are covered with images that were important to the lives of these ancient Americans – dancers, head-hunters, birds, fish and four footed animals.

Embroidered cloak used to bury the dead (Paracas Necropolis culture ca. 200 BC to 200 AD).
Showcased in the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany.

As one of the ancient handicrafts of China, embroidery greatly contributed to the progress and enhancement of China's material civilization. China was the first country in the world that discovered the use of silk. Silkworms were domesticated as early as 5000 years ago and the production of silk thread and fabrics gave rise to the art of embroidery.

Chinese embroidery is an ancient art form. It was never classified as a solely female activity as both men and women have been involved in creating embroidered fabric. The items embroidered were diverse and included such items of clothing as: robes, theatrical costumes, purses, shoes, spectacle cases, banners, etc. Some of the pieces were so finely stitched that the pieces took several people years to complete.

Embroidery was also used as a means of decorating silk clothing, silk flags and banners that denoted rank or station. The finest pieces of work were very expensive. Gradually embroidery became popular as a pastime for wealthy ladies and many members of the court were renowned for their intricate embroidered work.

It is difficult to be precise as to when embroidery was first practiced in China. However, based on archeological excavations of tombs, it dates back at least to the early Han dynasty that was based near Lake Baikal. Many Tang embroideries continue to be preserved both in China and in Japan. One of the most famous representations of the embroiderers’ artistry was a piece that came from the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang that dates from the 10th Century.

There are also many fine pieces of embroidery from the Song dynasty. It is known from historical records that the Song Emperor Hui Zong (1101-1126 AD) established an embroidery bureau called "Wen Xiu Yuan". Since many of the finest pieces were copied in the Ming and Qing period, it is difficult to definitely attribute the dates of many of these pieces.

Chinese Daoist silk embroidered robe (from late Ming Dynasty, 1368 – 1644).

Chinese literature recorded the names of many famous embroidery artists. Among them were Kuan (the wife of the painter Chao Mengfu) and Ku Shouzhen, one the ladies of the Ku family in Shanghai, who worked their embroidery artistry in Ming times. The painters - Tong Qichang and Wen Zhengming - and more recently Shen Zhou (who died in 1910) were all considered to be great embroiderers.

Chinese embroidery is still practiced in many sections of the country. Suzhou is well known for the quality of its work, producing marvelous two-sided embroidery pieces. Other countries have a reputation for producing beautiful embroidery, but few can match the precision, art and charm of the work produced in China prior to the modern period.

The art of embroidery was introduced to Japan from China about 1,600 to 1,700 years ago. Since then embroidery had been the only way to decorate the kimono until the pattern dyeing techniques of Yuzen was introduced. A lot of embroidery techniques were developed in every area of the country for a long time, which led to the present elaborate form of Japanese embroidery.

19th Century kimono shown above, makes subtle use of dyes that have created a wispy cloud-like texture as the background for this fabulous embroidered garden. In its day such a kimono would have been worn by a lady-in-waiting of the imperial court. It is now the property of Kyoto National Museum.

In ancient Japan, it was thought that stitches had a magical power. For this reason, there was a custom to add an embroidery motif - called “Semori” - on the back of a child's garment. Semori literally means a "back protector". As children’s kimono had fewer stitches than those of adults, Semori was added as a kind of charm to protect children from evil spirits.

Embroidery was added to the junihitoe dress - a formal court lady costume in the Heian period (794-1192) - and to armours for Samurai. A religious element also helped to further develop embroidery in Japan and so embroidery helped to - “stitched up” - the Japanese style of elegance.

A junihitoe dress.

In India embroidery was a rich and ornate craft in which precious metals and jewelry were stitched into the fabric. Folk embroidery had always been a form of self-expression for embroiderers. It mirrored their lives and reflected their hidden desires and aspirations and so expressed their cultural and religious traditions of the society to which they belonged.

Kashmiri embroidery.

India had attracted migrants from pre-historic times and so people came with their cultural traditions, which were absorbed into the Indian multicultural society. Embroidery was an important part of the Indian household tradition. Gujarat, which had an open land route connecting it to Central Asia had a large number of settlers coming to that region. They settled in Kutch and Saurashtra and retained their traditions of embroidery that can be found in these areas to this day.

Rabari embroidery.

There are so many variants of embroidery due to the large number of ethnic groups and so to characterize each would in itself constitute several posts.

Kathi embroidery.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the brightest room in the castle was usually set aside for embroidered items. Here sat the chatalaine, the mistress of the castle, surrounded by her maidens and by “… the whole paraphernalia of embroidery frames, materials and implements”.

Embroidered alms purse (made in Paris ca. 1340).

In Elizabethan and Stuart England, people collected embroidery patterns. It was not unusual for servant girls to keep a type of embroidery notebook. Generally, her paper was a piece of linen and her pencil was a needle. With those tools, she made “notes” of any pattern she liked of her mistress's newest gown or her master’s best coat.

Scrolling floral embroidery decorates this Englishwoman's dress, petticoat, and linen jacket, accented with blue-tinted reticella collar, cuffs and headdress (ca. 1614–18).

For the peasants of Europe, embroidery was always a method to add color and beauty to their clothes. It was available to anyone with a needle and thread. Hence, every country girl was taught to embroider by her mother. Often they would work together for years to create a trousseau for the daughter - decorating blouses, skirts, petticoats and pillows.

Floral embroidered trousseau dress for evening wear.

Young peasant lads were handsomely outfitted in embroidered shirts, coats and trousers. In Hungary, for example, a "szur" coat was a cherished possession of a marriageable young man. It was an ankle-length elaborately embroidered, white wool coat. It was hung over the shoulders, with his arms never in the sleeves since they were sewn from the wrists to form pockets for carrying food, money or tobacco.

Hungarian shepherd's embroidered cloak.

In the past, bed curtains were necessary to provide warmth and protection in unheated homes. They were often elaborately embroidered.

William Morris’ bed in Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire. Alison Smith notes that May’s designs for the embroideries were "...characterized by clear structures with stylized natural features contained within geometrical frameworks." The bedcover is a meadow, with small bouquets of wildflowers like embroidered botanical drawings set in an intricate network of twisting yellow borders; tiny birds and insects can be seen resting and crawling around the edges as if in hedgerows.

In Czechoslovakia, when a baby was born, specially stitched curtains were placed around the baby’s cradle and the new mother’s bed. The gay designs on these childbed curtains expressed the best wishes from all to the newborn baby. If it was a boy, they usually embroidered a deer and for a girl, they usually embroidered blossoms. These curtains were hung around the cradle for the first six weeks of a baby’s life. After a party to celebrate the birth, the baby’s godmother took down the curtains and would throw them over the father, expressing the hope that they may be needed again in the not-too-distant future.

Detail of childbed curtain from vicinity of Rehřimov (ca. 1820).

In the United States, embroidery already existed before European occupation, since it was a craft that the indigenous Indian population practiced. When the European explorers first landed in America they found Indian chiefs wearing leather robes embroidered with shells. There were many other kinds of embroidered work. For example, the hair of the buffalo and the moose was dyed and used for stitching designs on clothing, pouches, moccasins, belts and blankets. The dyed and softened quills of the porcupine were also used for stitchery on leather and birch bark.

Native American themed dream catcher embroidered flour sack hand/dish towel.

Later when white settlers came, they traded beads and silk threads with the Indians. The beautiful quill embroidery was replaced with elaborate beadwork and other types of stitchery. Many Indian girls were trained by nuns in convents replacing more traditional techniques with European methods.

A beautiful Chiricahua Apache woman.
Photographed in 1881, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

During the early days of European settlement in America, a girl was expected to sew a fine seam and to know how to embroider by the time she was 10 years old. She was taught by her mother, how to spin yarns from sheep’s wool and strong linen thread from home-grown flax and she knew how to make colorful dyes from flowers and plants.

Embroidered dress – formal wear of the 18th Century.

Embroidered collar of a man's cloak – formal wear of the 18th Century.

Every New England (USA) girl learned her embroidery stitches at home or in school. To test her skill, samplers were often constructed, sometimes getting ideas from a pattern book or by inventing her own. Some samplers contained many different stitches - others used only one stitch.

A 19th Century embroidery sampler from Tredegar Museum.
Samplers were often not only valued for their decoration but were originally a practical aid to remembering particular stitches and techniques.

Fabrics were also scarce and so ingenious ways were sought to use pieces from worn out dresses and coats. They were turned into beautiful patchwork and appliqué quilts. Often on top of the patchwork and appliqué, they would embroider imaginative designs.

Patchwork Quilt (late 19th century).
Silk, silk velvet, embroidery.
Size: 79 3/4 x 82 in. (202.6 x 208.3 cm).
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum Collection.

In conclusion, in all periods of time and in all places around the globe, if there was a needle and thread present, embroidery embellished wearables and non-wearables that human kind required for day-to-day living. Stitchery transformed a functional item into a piece of art!

[1] R. P. Miller and W. Lubell, The Stitchery Book, Odhams Book Ltd., London (1968).

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ancient Egyptian Dress - Part I
Wearable Art

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

There is another post in this series and for your convenience I have list it below.
Ancient Egyptian Dress - Part II

The dress designs of ancient Egypt laid down foundations of dress designs across the Mediterranean sea. It is clear that Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt were mostly clothed.

The Dress Designs of Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.
Courtesy of reference [2].

The immortality of the soul was fundamental to the ancient Egyptians’ religious beliefs and so mummification was a form of an entombed dress. Pyramids, mastabas and tombs were all constructed to house the dead. The word “Ka” indicates the universal spirit, the physical body which animates the entire being.

After the death of the body, the soul enfolds the mummy; it becomes its “Ka” - its “double” - until the spirit is transformed into “astral spirit” and “Ka” and “Ba” (the divine spark, one of the spiritual principles of the individual) become one, uniting through Osiris’ cord with the superior spirit to form one single spirit.

Numerous frescoes representing immortality of the soul and other religious scenes have been found in the brick dwellings, which housed the Pharaohs. In all the funerary temples and in tombs were depicted scenes symbolizing the survival of the decreased in the after world, in external life; for this they were called “houses of eternity”. “Ankh”, the crux ansata, also symbolized the life to come with its three attributes: peace, happiness and serenity.

Representation of the god Anubis leaning over a mummy. (Valley of the Workmen – Tomb of Sennedjen).
Courtesy of reference [2].

Dress Designs of Ancient Egypt[1]
Linen from the first Dynasty (ca. 3000 BC) has been found to have a warp count of 65 and a weft count of 65 or a weft count of 50 threads per centimetre, a rather finer weave than that of a modern handkerchief. Cloth could be woven in large pieces; from the beginning of the second millennium there are examples of rolls of cloth some eighteen meters in length.

Representation of a sun barge (Valley of the Workmen). Note: the variation in dress.
Courtesy of reference [2].

The use of linen is well documented, not only by the finds of cloth, but also in the depiction in wall-paintings and reliefs of the harvesting, preparation, spinning and weaving of flax. Most of the Egyptians shown in paintings wore white linen clothes, sometimes pleated and sometimes sheer to the point of transparency.

From Sennefer's Tomb. Sender and his wife Seth-Nefer, sail the Nile seated beneath a canopy, while a servant presents a richly prepared table. Note: the linen dress of the woman and the men's linen "kilts". Men's skin coloration is always depicted darker than female skin pigmentation.
Courtesy reference [2].

Most of the cloths found in tombs are wrappings and bandages from mummies and lengths of cloths; a few actual garments have survived. From the evidence of statuary and wall paintings it would seem that Egyptian garments were simply tailored and consisted mainly of rectangular pieces wrapped around the body in different ways according to fashion.

The tomb of Tutankhamon. Note: the difference between male kilts and fremale dress.
Courtesy of reference [2].

The golden mask of Tutankhamon. Note the magnificent headdress.
Courtesy of reference [2] and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

Men wore a “kilt” – a plain or pleated strip of fabric of varying width wrapped round the hips and tied in the front.

Male kilts. Offerings painted on the wall of a tomb, depict produce spread out on the ground.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Illustrated from detail from a tomb painting. Man pleated kilt. Man kneeling by a pond in the shade.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Illustrated from detail from a tomb painting. Man kilt with animal skins shoulder cover.

Men also sometimes wore shirts or tunics with or without attached sleeves.

Illustration of one of the tunics found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is of fine linen with woven and embroidered applied bands. Top: Illustration indicates the position of the bands on a tunic. Below: A reconstruction illustration of two embroidered panels. Their condition is poor but outline and chain stitch can be recognized (ca. 1361 – 1352 BC).
Courtesy of reference [1].

Women wore close-fitting dresses with shoulder straps, which were made up of a piece of cloth sewn together to form a tube, or wrapped round the body like a sarong.

Illustration of the use of nets of cylinder beads over a plain tunic. Both sexes wore simple cloaks fastened at the neck.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Spinning and plying was done on a spindle weighted by a whorl. The illustration below shows the two threads drawn up from separate pots and plyed. The woman holds another spindle behind her back.

Illustration from details from wall paintings. The girl is plying yarn from two threads.
Courtesy of reference [1].

The earliest type of loom in Egypt was the ground loom. The warp on this loom was stretched between two beams, secured in the ground by a peg on each corner. The chain of threads at the top represents laze threads, which enable the weaver to disentangle the warps at this point. One of the two cross-sticks would be in the heddle-rod. The long stick held by the weaver on the right is probably a “sword” used for beating down the weft. No shuttle is shown. The woven cloth has a pronounced selvage on one side

Illustration from details from wall paintings. The ground loom on the Middle Kingdom tomb-painting is shown in the “aspective” convention.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Upright looms (see below) had been in use in neighbouring Asia since the beginning of the third millennium and were perhaps one of the products of new technology introduced to Egypt during the Hykos period in the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC. On this type of loom the warp is stretched between beams fitted into the upright frame. The illustration below shows little detail – the warp for instance is not differentiated from the cloth – but it can be seen that the two weavers sit in front of the loom holding sword-beaters. The upright loom did not replace the ground loom, but it was more flexible, and while the same type of plain cloth could be produced as on a ground loom, particularly in larger sizes, it could also be used for tapestry weave.

Illustration from details obtained from a wall painting. The upright loom was introduced in the New Kingdom. It was used to weave large cloths and tapestry.
Courtesy of reference [1].

Linen is difficult to dye colorfast and the knowledge of mordants – chemicals which fix the dye permanently to the fiber – was not introduced in Egypt until the end of the Dynastic Period. The weaving of white garments was therefore perhaps a necessity rather than a matter of choice. Rare examples of linen cloth dyed in monochrome colors are found, but it is thought that these would have been fugitive (not colorfast); there is no evidence that such cloth was frequently worn.

Apart from simple striped patterns on clothes depicted in tombs and on statuary, there is no evidence of clothes with woven or embroidered color patterns worn by Egyptians before the New Kingdom. Representation of pattern garments of earlier dates may have been ornamented with fine pleating, beads, feathers or patchwork – or they may show clothes of dyed or painted leather of fabrics woven from other plant fibres like grasses in natural or dyed colors.

Wool was not much used in Egypt, save perhaps for rough cloaks. This may have been because of religious taboos against wool garments or more simply because the native sheep were hairy, rather like goats, and produced no wool. Egypt’s eastern neighbors, however, commonly used wool, which was much easier to dye than linen. Figures represented in color-patterned garments are therefore usually identified as slaves or foreigners. For instance, the Semitic travellers illustrated below may be wearing woolen clothing.

On tomb painting, foreign visitors are often shown in pattern clothes while the Egyptians wear only white. Above is an illustration from a tomb painting showing a group of Semitic travellers dressed in clothes of dyed wool or appliqué leather.
Courtesy of reference [1].

In the New Kingdom a few pattern textiles appear in tombs. Most are self-patterned in stripes, but for color patterning several techniques occur – embroidery, tapestry and warp-face weaving. Their sudden appearance, and certain foreign elements in their design, suggest that some of these techniques came from abroad at a time when influences from Egypt’s extensive empire introduced many new ideas and techniques.

The textiles in the tomb of Tutankhamun illustrate the range and quality of the pattern fabrics available at this time. The textiles themselves are in a very poor state of preservation, but an impressive variety of techniques can be identified – simple striped weaves, tapestry-woven tunics and gloves, belts and braids in warp-face weave and embroidery in outline and chained stitch as well as a cloth embroidered in beads. The colors are difficult to determine; analysis has revealed the use of madder and indigo (perhaps Egyptian woad) and other dye-stuffs, but the colors are not fixed and so the fabrics could not have been washable.

Illustration of a design of a warp-face weave linen bands of a tunic. The arrows indicate the direction of the warp. The colors are difficult to distinguish with certainty: black indicated black, dark blue or brown, the dark screen red or brown and the light screen pale blue or gray.
Courtesy of reference [1].

The so called “Girdle of Ramesses III” is in a much better state of preservation and allows a closer study of warp-face weaving technique. The design on the five-meter long and tapering strap is of two lengthwise stripes separated by a plain white field. The main motif is the hieroglyphic sign “ankh” – meaning “life”. There has been a good deal of controversy associated with this object: it has been suggested that it was made by tablet-weaving, but it is now generally agreed that this is a warp-face weave, produced on a simple ground loom.

Illustration of s detail of the design from the “Girdle of Ramesses III” (ca. 1198 – 1166 BC). The 5.2 m long sash is in double warp-face weave (the arrow indicates the direction of the warp).
Courtesy of reference [1].

Other patterned fabrics from the Old Kingdom onwards include matting, hangings, canopies and sails – all often depicted on the walls of the tombs. The materials used to produce such fabrics can only be guessed at – woven plant fibers or leather could be painted, embroidered, appliquéd or decorated with beads etc.

Silk was first introduced into Egypt by the Greeks during the Ptolemaic Period towards the end of the first millennium BC and cotton was brought in during the Roman Period.

The use of beads to produce patterns on cloth is particularly associated with the design of lozenges found in many contexts in wall paintings and statuary from the Old Kingdom onwards on garments, hangings, canopies, cushions etc. The beads were either woven into the cloth or stitched onto it, or (as illustrated below) the beads were made up into a separate net worn over a dress of plain fabric.

Illustration of the design of a hassock in beadwork from Tutankhamun’s tomb. It depicts a bound and gagged prisoner in flower dress, floating among water plants. The hassock is bordered by petal and feather patterns (ca. 1361 – 1352 BC).
Courtesy of reference [1].

A unique dress of tabular beads from the Fifth Dynasty (ca. 2494 – 2345 BC) was discovered in Qua Southern Cemetery and is now in the Petrie Museum, University College London. Blue and black cylinder beads make up a wide-meshed net, measuring ca. 51 x 57 cm, with green ring-beads at each crossing point. There is a bead fringe and a string of shells at the bottom and towards the top two caps, 4.3 cm in diameter, which were worn over the breast. This is probably the costume of a dancer, the shells rattling as she moved.

[1] E. Wilson, Ancient Egyptian Designs, Dover Publications, New York (1986).
[2] A. Chalaby, All of Egypt, Bonechi, Florence (1996).