Minoan: the challenges & the fun

As I’ve continued working on Minoan and bronze age Aegean sea area clothing I’ve ran into some fascinating challenges, and some even more fascinating insight!

“Restored” images & fragments

One of the biggest challenge is fragmentary frescoes, and the recreation of them.  Knossos was discovered by Sir Arthur John Evans, a British archaeologist, who “restored” many of the frescoes there as he thought they should be with the assistance of Swiss artist Émile Gilliéro.   The artist’s son, by the same name, later did further restoration work when an earthquake damaged some of the remaining images.

More recently, archaeologists such as Dr. Bernice Jones have been challenging some of the assumptions of how these frescoes were restored, and seeking to refine our understanding of the original art.  This is an ongoing project, and there is often small disagreements that result in dramatic changes of how a fresco is interpreted.

Minoans LOOOVVVEED their Wallpaper

Frescoes were not a single layer!  Many had been painted over several times during the Bronze age, making the puzzle of putting them back together even more challenging.  (For example, assemble 3 puzzles on top of each other, now break chunks of them off and mix those pieces into a bowl, try to match the pieces back in the right layer on the right puzzle.  Oh, and similar colors and paint styles were used, so make sure your puzzles are very similar too).

When is “wool” wool – and when is it a dollar?

Linear B has been translated, mostly, we think.  It’s not a direct translation of ancient Greek, it’s older, and after it passed away on the Minoan isles there was about a 300 year gap called the Greek dark ages before a written language (the Greek alphabet) was used again.  Much of Linear B was translated in the 1950s, but there are still questionable translations and complete unknowns.

One of the challenges in language is how certain words were used.  There are a group of tablets from the palace at Knossos where the translations result in fabric being compared to various amounts of wool.  The way we would say “$50 worth of fine silk” or “$100 of rough cotton”.  Wool is compared to cloth and separately to “edged cloths of a royal type” (Panagiotakopulu, Eva, University of Edinborough)

Fabric, fabric, and more fabric!

Minoans had a surprisingly wide variety of fabric and animals that could be harvested for fabric.  Frescoes depict a number of goat, sheep, and other furred animals as well as silk moths, cotton plants, and flax type fibers.  Some fresco images show fabric solid enough to cover the body completely, while others are depicted as incredibly sheer.   Clay tablets written in Linear B have been translated with words for sheep, goats, wool, and fabric.  Must of the trade from Knossos was dedicated to textiles.

How did they make that?

A common assumption is that Minoans were limited to warp weighted looms and tabby woven bands, what we frequently call inkle bands.  The patterns in trim on the fresco images are incredibly complex, as are those of the fabrics, and could have been created in a number of ways.  I was unable to find obvious tablets as early as 1300 BC, but there are bone tablets from 8th Century BC in central Italy that are were clearly used for tablet weaving. The wear patterns along the lines of the cards are the same that my own favorites get after frequent use.

 

In short – combining a lot of different pieces and angles of investigation is yielding an incredible wealth of knowledge.  Creating, and wearing, the clothing depicted in frescoes has added even more information.  I’m preparing a more detailed write up piece by piece, and will post it soon!

12th – 16th Century Tablet Woven Brocade Class Notes and Handout

One of my favorite classes to teach is Brocaded Tablet Weaving in the 12th – 16th Centuries.  I bring handouts to the class, and when available, also use projectors to add to the class.

Both files are long, and use a lot of color, so I have attached them here for download.  Please feel free to share and use with accreditation.

Presentation Notes:

12th – 16th Century Brocade Tablet Weaving Presentation

Handout:

12th – 16th Century Brocaded Tablet Weaving Handout

 

12th Century Tablet Weaving: Inspiration and Creation

My favorite area of research is the late 12th / early 13th century in Western Europe, primarily France, Germany, and Italy.  I’ve got an incredible amount of close up photos and statuary for someone who’s not been lucky enough to visit those areas!

Just recently I stumbled on an incredible treasure, the Gospels of Henry the Lion.  Written sometime between 1175 – 1188 the book is INCREDIBLE (a few peeks are above!).  The pages are full of gorgeous full color illuminations and they’re simply breath taking.  I could rattle on for quite a while, but I’ll try to keep focused. If you’d like to check out more of the manuscript, it’s here:  http://diglib.hab.de/mss/105-noviss-2f/start.htm

I’ve had this stunning red orange overshot fabric set aside for a new bliaut, and this time I decided to weave trim for it.  As I have a small child, I wanted a more durable woven in pattern than an elaborate brocade, but still wanted to be true to the styles of the period.

Drawing upon the statues at Saint Loup de Naud (detailed photos below), I decided on a simple pattern using a mix of diamonds and diagonal lines.

Notes on color choice:  One thing many artists struggle with is creating images with up close and distant impact.  The single BEST tip I ever got was to take a photo of your planned colors in black and white.  If there’s clear contrast, your design will pop in color as well.

For this, I chose colors from the manuscript – a burgundy 2/20 silk from Eowyn De Wever and a light teal silk I dyed myself.   The pattern is 26 cards wide with a chocolate colored 2/20 silk border for contrast (personal aesthetic).

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I’ll use the trim along the neckline of the dress as well as the sleeves.

15th Century Tablet Weaving: Brocade and Pearl Placement

Continuing my research on the Cod. Pal. germ 551 I have a theory about the pearl placement as described in the first section of the book.

The first several patterns are described as roses, rosebuds, or little roses along with a “wecklein” for each which looks like a leaf or stem.  I don’t have a good translation for that word yet.

Most of these roses have lines describing where the pearls are to be inserted in the band, and these come in two very distinct fashions.

Type 1 reads like this:   Raise 9 tablets, take the 10th and place one pearl therein.

Very simple right?  The one note is that “raise above” means the warp thread on top, not the brocade thread.  Otherwise this is an incredibly simple description of where exactly to place the pearl on that line.

Type 2 reads like this:  Raise 3 tablets, and take 2 under and over 3 tablets and take 2 tablets and place a pearl therein.

This is a much more complex explanation and is what is the basis of my theory.  

The pearl-holding thread could also be a decorative element in the band.

 

In which case, I would take my brocade thread inside the warp for 3 tablets, over the warp for 2, back under for 3, and then place my pearl.  This would create an additional brocade thread on top of the warp.

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Page 2 Design

Evidence:  While there are no actual extant bands from this book (to the best of my knowledge) there are bands from the same time period that use multiple colors of brocade thread to create and accent patterns.  One example is the 15th century band on the chausible at the Ösmo church, Stockholm, Sweden.  (http://historiska.se/upptack-historien/object/95622-masshake-av-textil/).

Additionally, we see a very common standard of balanced patterns in embroidery, weaving, and trim throughout this period.  The patterns themselves are evenly balanced from side to side.  Ignoring the extra over and under steps results in a band with pearls lumped on one side and the other left blank.  While it can be erroneous to apply modern sensibilities to period taste, 180 pages of patterns in this exact manuscript show a preference for evenly balanced designs.

Current Steps:  I’ve been working to create a Rosetta Stone of sorts.  Many of the words and phrases are repeated throughout the manuscript and I’ve been slowly transcribing the handwriting, typed words, and translation as provided by Mistress Drea of Atlantia.  I’ve also begun drafting patterns keeping these revised thoughts about pearl placement in mind.

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Page 1 Translation

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Cod Pal germ 551: a 15th Century Brocade Pattern Book,Translation & Transcription

I am incredibly excited to tell you about a project I have been working on!  The Heidelberg University has scanned in a full German manuscript from 1471 that includes a treasure of brocade patterns.  Including patterns for beading with pearls!  The manuscript is in excellent condition, and the scans are very detailed.

Take a peak at the link below!  I had the book printed and spiral bound at Staples.  The original manuscript is about 7.5 x 10″ so only slightly smaller than the letter size paper used here.

Preview of the printed Cod. Pal. germ 551

When I first began researching this book I wanted to really “see” the patterns, so began by just transcribing them onto a graph style instead of the numbers format used in the book.  This allows us to see a picture of the design and is a method more commonly used today.  I went through the first 200 pages of the manuscript this way.  I printed graph paper, but then worked entirely by hand.  Here is a preview of those graphs:

200 pages of Cod. Pal. germ 551 patterns

I also wove a selection of the designs.  Initially I chose designs that were error free and repeated easily.  I sampled these using 60/2 silk dyed a dark blue with a 2/20 silk brocade thread in light gold.  I am using wooden cards, and a simple U shaped wooden loom.  The 15th century painting of a woman brocading in the Book that fist Jehan BOCAC de Certalde of the cleres and noble women, which he sent to Audice de Accioroles of Florence, Countess of Haulteville guided my selection of loom, cards, wooden weaving swords, and wooden bobbins.

 

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This is one of the sections I have woven:

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I had a theory that I had actually patterned the bands backwards – what I had charted as brocade was the ground threads and vice versa.  Through the assistance of Mistress Drea translating the German text in the manuscript, I was able to confirm my theory.

Meeting people who could help with the German text made this project even more exciting, and I decided to start again at the beginning.  Already I was recognizing patterns of words that repeated themselves and with an actual translator to help a whole new world of options quickly opened up.

My goal with the project is to end up with a hand written manuscript that is easily understood, and to the best of my ability, true to the intentions of the original writers.

 

As the book has pages that are lined and ready to be written on, I chose to also create a template page.  I created a lightly lined grid paper that was the same size as the original book, and offset to eventually allow for binding.  I began at page 1 with Mistress Drea’s assistance on the German language.  These are the initial results:

Each page contains the original pattern as written, including any miscounts or errors.  (I will admit these often evoke a chuckle of empathy as I have certainly had similar mistakes in my own pattern making.) To the right side I have made notes about the placement of pearls and any suggested pattern changes.  I will be continuing this project and adding pages to the blog as they are completed.

Meanwhile you are likely to find me in a position remarkably like this one (Thank you Mistress Brig for the photo!)45931285_718359625208720_6429065953299922944_n

Note:  Claudia Wollny, whose work I admire and deeply respect, has announced the publication of a book inspired by this manuscript.  Copies are available for preorder at this time, and I believe will be shipping to the US this week.  I began this project before her announcement, and we have been working separately on our interpretations of the original manuscript.  I’ll finish my work before ordering a copy of Claudia’s book.

çaprast (pronounced chahprahst) (Persian & Turkish coat button strips)

On April 7th, 2018 the Kingdom of Atlantia in the SCA crowned a new set of Monarchs.  The reigning couple declared a theme honoring Middle Eastern cultures for their reign, and it opened up all kinds of wonderful options for Arts & Sciences.

As a weaver, I have been fascinated by the strips of trim depicted in paintings on the front of coats in both Persian and Ottoman Turkish art.  They ran anywhere from just a few on the chest to closely spaced down the entire length of the garment.

Below Left:  1582. Detail from the Sūrnāme-i Hümāyūn, the Imperial Festival Book, documenting the circumcision festival of Prince Mehmet that lasted longer than 50 days.

Below Right:  Hayreddin Barbarossa – Pasha of Algiers, Admiral of the Fleet. 1580 by an Italian master. 

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I started my research with extant examples – Coats held by the Topkapı Palace Museum that had belonged to the Sultans of the past.  The Ipek: The Crescent & The Rose: Imperial Ottoman Silks and Velvets was also incredibly useful.

I found examples of tablet woven bands as well as bands done in a different braiding technique, such as flat kumihimo bands.   Close examination of the bands showed something very interesting – both the buttons themselves and the loops to hold them appeared to be integral parts of the band!  This called for experimentation, and I warped up a silk band to create my own çaprast.

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I did not have a clear picture of how thick the bands should be, it seemed to vary from coat to coat and art to art, but generally fairly narrow.  For a band using 2/20 silk I used 10 cards, for other attempts in #10 cotton I’d use 8 cards.

I chose a simple pattern in striking colors – geometric diamonds in red and golds as seems so common in period artwork.  I liked the appearance of the flat braided bands, so instead of using separate border cards I wove my pattern right to the edge of my band.

Because I knew these would be sectional, I broke the warp up by weaving in the ends of each small section, then leaving a gap before beginning the next section. On half of the sections I left a larger gap in order to create the buttonholes with the warp thread.

Then – the fun part!  After cutting each section off the loom, I began by rolling one end into a small button and using the same silk thread to sew it into place.  I did notice these came out smaller than the buttons on the extant caftans, and I think they may have either rolled more trim, or wrapped it around another object.  This bears further research.

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For the other half of the band, I looped the remaining warp pieces into a loose knot, then used the same thread to knot around them -creating button loops that fit snugly over the buttons.

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These will be attached to a coat like the following example:

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