Saturday, May 9, 2015

Greek Hairnet Questions

Because the textile-making technique now known as sprang was definitely used by early Scandinavians, as the Borum Eshøj find and other contemporaneous archaeological finds attest, I have been planning for a while to learn sprang to make myself a hairnet.  However, several minor events combined to cause me to think about a different early culture that probably also used sprang to make hairnets--the ancient Greeks.

When I posted about my Greek head wrap a few weeks ago, one of the issues that came up during the discussion was whether sprang, the ancient net-making art, was used by Greek women for hairnets.  Janet Stephens, hairdressing archaeologist, believes that ancient Greek women wore sprang hairnets.  Her most recent video (to the top left of this post) shows the use of such a hairnet as a 6th century BCE hairstyle. Unusually, most of the nearly five-minute video does not depict hairstyling--it shows Stephens making a simple sprang hairnet on a homemade frame.  The interlinking, though of a very basic pattern, is carefully and elegantly done, with one curious exception.  To understand the significance of this exception, it is necessary to explain how sprang is worked.

Sprang does not use a weft, but consists of twists carefully placed throughout a continuous thread.  The way it is worked means that the final part of the work appears in the middle of the woven fabric, and it is crucial to secure these middle, unweavable threads so that the piece does not unravel.  (Why this part is unweavable is easy to see from watching Stephens's video.)  Most sprang tutorials suggest fastening a separate thread across the middle section or using a crochet technique called "chaining"  to fasten the center threads together and keep the piece from unraveling.  Stephens simply ties a tight knot around the middle threads, resulting in what I consider to be an ugly stump that sticks up at an odd place on the finished net. 

Seeing Stephens's video raised two questions in my mind:  1) what evidence there is for the wearing of sprang caps by ancient Greek women, and; 2) are there any surviving nets with a "stump" like the one shown in Stephens' video?  To my surprise, I was able to find the beginnings of answers to both questions in a relatively short span of time.  I'd like to share them here, because they might be of interest to people attempting to learn sprang, as well as to people interested in ancient Greek costume.

Evidence for sprang hairnets in ancient Greece.

On JSTOR, "a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources," in the institution's own words, I found an article that has provided me with material that went a long way toward answering my first question.   JSTOR now allows free accounts and searches, even for "independent researchers" like me, and one can read articles from many journals for free on the JSTOR website, but downloading most articles incurs a charge, which can be paid via Paypal.  The other night, I paid to download a copy of an article from the American Journal of Archaeology by Ian Jenkins and Dyfri Williams which discusses the evidence for ancient Greek women wearing sprang hairnets in some detail.*

Jenkins and Williams note that there are not only pictures of women wearing what look like hairnets on ancient Greek pottery, but there are also pictures of women carrying or holding items that look like sprang frames.  The article includes lists of surviving pottery bearing each of the two kinds of images, including the museum inventory/accession numbers and museums where the original pots may be found.  Pictures of some of the pottery showing hairnet wearers I had previously located on the Internet (see below) and posted on Pinterest in my search for nets of the same shape as Stephens's net also appear in the Jenkins and Williams article. 

Even more interestingly, the authors note that there are a handful of woolen sprang fragments in the British Museum that came from tombs near Kertch, in the Crimea.  The tombs date from approximately the fifth century BCE (contemporaneous with the Greek pottery images) through the second century CE, and are located close to the site of Panticapaeum, an ancient Greek city. The British Museum's accession register lists "a quantity of human hair" as being with the fragments, further suggesting that the sprang fragments came from a hairnet; unfortunately, the hair has become lost, making it unclear at best whether the hair was found in such an orientation with regard to the fragments to support the conjecture that the fragments were part of a sprang hairnet.

In short, though there is some primary evidence indicating that ancient Greek women wore sprang hairnets, it is more suggestive than conclusive in nature.

Nets with Tassels or Stumps.

The ancient piece of pottery Stephens shows in her video shows a woman wearing some kind of hair bag or net.  I originally assumed that it would be easier to identify ancient Greek art showing women with hairnets than looking for printed material, so I began my digging for more information about Greek hairnets by looking for images on the Internet, both of Greek pottery of surviving sprang hairnets. 

After doing Google image searches for a while, I recalled that I had recently read an article posted on by Anne Kwaspen about a number of Egyptian hairnets that are now in the Katoen Natie art collection.**  Those hairnets are from Egypt, not Greece, and they date to between the 5th and 7th centuries CE--about a thousand years after the images on the Greek pots, but like the Crimean fragments they were worked in fine wool.  Kwaspen's article has wonderful color photographs of a number of the Egyptian finds, which clearly show that most of them are shaped like rectangular bags.  A few of them, however, end in a tail or stump-like point that resembles a few of the images in Greek vase paintings.*** Stephens's net is the same shape as some of the nets shown in vase paintings--except for the stump.

Although most of the images I saw during my search featured either hair tied with bands or headwear that looked more like the headwrap I've already made, there were at least three images that had a little point, or stump, or tail, reminiscent of the sprang net Stephens made for her video.  However, both the Kwaspen and Jenkins and Williams articles indicate that tails were made by row decreases in working the sprang, not simply by tying the center threads together in a big knot.****

Final Thoughts.

My understanding from these sources is that our evidence for sprang hairnets in early Greece consists mostly of pottery art that appear to show both sprang hairnets in wear and sprang frames.  The period Crimean sprang fragments and the later Coptic nets, though far from solid proof that Greek women wore sprang hairnets, provide additional if indirect support for the hypothesis that they did.

Most of the sprang hairnets found in the Old World do not have points or "stumps"; they were finished differently from Stephens's net.  A few surviving Coptic nets do have tails, but those tails do not look like the "stump" on Stephens' net, and neither Jenkins & Williams nor Kwaspen suggest that tying the center threads together was a method typically used to finish a sprang hairnet.  The fact that the style Stephens achieved with the sprang net she made does not match the period art so well also tends to indicate that the "knot" method for finishing nets was not used by the Greeks. 

Stephens is a hairdressing archaeologist, not a weaver, and she only needed the hairnet she made for a brief video demonstration, not for daily wear.  Thus, her decision to finish off her sprang net in the quickest and simplest way possible is defensible.  Still, if I were in her shoes, I would at least have fastened the drawstrings to the net in such a way that the "stump" would be on the inside (and thus much less visible) when the net was worn.  I would like to use a more subtle (and, hopefully, more period) means of keeping my net for unraveling, if I can manage that.

*     Jenkins, Ian & Williams, Dyfri. "Sprang Hair Nets: Their Manufacture and Use in Ancient Greece," American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 89, no. 3, pp. 411-418 (1985).

**     Kwaspen, Anne.  "Sprang Hairnets in the Katoen Natie Collection," in De Moor, Antoine & Fluck, Cäcilia, eds., Dress Accessories of the 1st Millennium AD from Egypt, pp. 70-95 (Lannoo, Oct. 5, 2011).  Katoen Natie is a corporate sponsor of art through an organization called HeadquARTers, which sells the 1st Millennium book in its gift shop, here.  You can find out more about HeadquARTers here.

***  See, e.g., Jenkins & Williams, Plate 46, Fig. 13 (excerpt of scene from the tondo of a cup by Onesimos in the British Museum).  Interestingly, Jenkins and Williams mention "Coptic hairnets" in their article.  Jenkins & Williams, p. 418.  The article notes that the Coptic nets are identifiable as nets, because "the drawstring occurs invariably on only one side of the top edge" and, in many cases, because of "the presence inside of varying quantities of long hairs."  Id.  I would not be surprised if the nets in the Jenkins & Williams collection are the same as the Katoen Natie nets, though I don't have enough information to establish that as fact.

**** See Jenkins & Williams, pp. 414-15 (suggesting a method for narrowing or decreasing the piece's width in the center section to produce a tail); see also Kwapsen, p. 89 (discussing techniques for narrowing a sprang hairnet at the top).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Brooch for Sale!

Last weekend, I drove to Michigan with my husband to attend a science fiction convention. While I was at the convention, while digging around in the tote bag I took along to hold personal items I wanted to be able to grab quickly, I found a surprising item. This item:

A very familiar looking brooch (size is 2 3/4" by 1 1/4", or 7.1 cm by 3.3 cm)
This brooch is, as best I can tell, a reproduction of one of the brooches found at Norre Sandergard Vest; a 7th-8th century Danish grave site (though I keep forgetting that the site is Danish, for some reason, so I keep referring to the project I've based upon the find as "Norwegian"). It's sold by Raymond's Quiet Press, a site that sells inexpensive copies of bronze items but doesn't try to provide provenance information for the copies. Regular readers might recall this style of brooch as the brooch which formed the foundation of my "happy frob"

The problem is this is not the same brooch I added beads to in order to make my "happy frob".  It's another copy, also from Raymond's Quiet Press, which I'd apparently I'd forgotten I already had when I ordered the brooch for the happy frob.  In other words, I now have two copies of this brooch; the one in my "happy frob", and this spare.  That was the surprise.

Since I don't need a second copy of this brooch (and there is another brooch I'd like to buy from Raymond for a different costume project), I've decided to make it available to an interested reader of my blog.

Raymond's Quiet Press sells this brooch now for $21.95 USD (it's item Z-15) plus $7.00 USD shipping within the continental U.S.  But the price used to be lower, and I probably bought the brooch at the lower price, though I can't recall when I might have done so.  However, I'm not looking to make a profit on the spare brooch; I just want to get a bit of my money back, and give it a good home.

What I propose:  I will sell this brooch to the first interested person who contacts me, either via commenting on this post or otherwise, for $10.00 USD plus whatever the shipping costs are to that person's home (and I'm willing to ship anywhere in the world once I figure out how).  I will get an estimate of shipping costs after interest is expressed and before anyone commits.  I'd prefer payment by Paypal or Paymate, but something else can be worked out if necessary.

Shipping outside the U.S. farther than to Canada or Mexico probably will cost more than $10.00, so you'll have to decide whether the total cost still makes buying my brooch worth your while.  E-mail me at cathy at thyrsus dot com if you are interested.

EDIT:  (5/3/2015)  Someone has taken me up on my offer; I am sending the brooch out to her tomorrow.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Next HSM--More Headwear?

My taxes are finally done (which is why I haven't done any blogging since posting the photographs of the Greek headwrap), but April is now half-over, and I'm heading out of town next week for a long-weekend pleasure trip.  That doesn't leave much time for this month's Historical Sew Monthly ("HSM") challenge, even if I were enthusiastic about making a costume item based upon April's "War and Peace" theme. However, I do want to participate in the challenges for May and June, so I need to think about the types of projects that might be workable.

May's HSM theme is "Practicality." The cut-and-sewn wool stockings I've considered doing previously would still work for that challenge. However, I've had a different thought, in case that project turns out to be too involved for whatever comes up to disrupt my life in May.

Last year, Catrijn vanden Westhende of A Dressmaker's Workshop came up with a very simple method of making a 15th century cap.  The method requires only a small rectangle of linen, a suitable tie string, and a bit of straight hemming; she describes the method here.   I have all of those things and I think this would be a fun project to try.   This cap is very much within the "practicality" theme; it's a tidy, washable covering for one's hair that should be easy to put on and very stable once it's tied on.  So if a pair of stockings turns out to be too much for me to manage in May, I'll still have a project for that month.

As for June, that still seems to be the best time for me to finally "step out of my comfort zone" (the HSM theme for June) by teaching myself sprang and making myself a cap. 

If I follow through with these plans, that will make a total of three items of headwear for 2015 (so far).  But three pieces of headwear is better than doing no historical sewing at all!  Besides, I find I'm really liking the idea of projects that are quick and fun. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Greek Head Wrap, in wear

Front view
Rear view
Finally, here are some pictures showing my head wrap in wear, taken by my patient husband from all of the standard angles.  Because I don't have a hand mirror, I didn't have more than a vague idea how this style looks on me from the back or in full profile until I saw these photographs.  The weird yellow shadows are caused by the odd lighting in the hallway where the photographs are taken; please try to ignore them.

Having tried to put on the head wrap about half a dozen times and looked these photographs over, I have a number of observations that may be worth thinking about:

1.  The wool band I used is probably a bit wider than necessary, and is too wide for the resulting style to look like the images on ancient Greek pottery. It's about an inch and a half (roughly 4 cm) wide, and it should probably be no more than an inch wide (2.5 cm) to resemble the period images.  That argues for using a tablet woven band or a commercially woven wool tape in an appropriate size.

2.  It is critical that the tape be wool and that the fabric be linen or a cotton rough enough not to be slippery.  Using different fibers would make it likely that the wrap would slide off one's head, no matter how tightly it was tied.  The fact that wool is easily dyeable with period-available substances enhances the ornamental value of such a wrap, and further supports the use of wool for the purpose.

Left side
Right side
3.  It's clear from Stephens's video that you want a piece of cloth wide enough to go around your head with a few inches of overlap and long enough to wrap around your bun.  Other than that, the exact size probably comes down to individual preference.  Perhaps I should have made the fabric piece a bit shorter, but doing that would make it hard to position the wrap so that all of the bun is covered--and I think the wrap looks better that way.

4.  It's difficult to wrap the band tightly if you are putting the head wrap on your own hair, because it's difficult to flip the ends of the band around in a way that guarantees that the entire length of the band will continue to lie smoothly while you are flipping them.  That leads me to the conclusion that Greek women probably used a cloth bag with a band attached for this style, instead of a flat piece of cloth.  That way, it would be easier to keep the bun covered as you wrap the band.

5.  Once the wool is knotted, however, the wrap is quite stable even if the band isn't knotted tightly, and it tends to stay put even if the band is not double-knotted.  The stability is a tribute to the self-sticking qualities of wool, and shows that this would have been a very practical style for a busy Greek woman.

If I make another such wrap, I will use a thin, narrow, tablet-woven band instead of thick wool.  I believe the resulting wrap would look both more authentic and more beautiful that way.  Still, this was a quick, interesting, and educational project, and I'm glad I did it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

HSM #3--A Greek Head Wrap, Completed!

The head wrap, laid out before use
A few minutes of rustling through the boxes and piles that comprise my "stash", a few hours with needle and thread, and voilà!  A head wrap, as shown in the photograph to the left.  (Click on the photograph for a larger and more detailed view.)

I ended up whipstitching the raw edge of my wool band to the edge of the linen, and then flipping the band over and tacking it down onto the right side of the linen.  The lumpy-looking border, by the way, is the edge of the selvedge of the flannel; I left it as-is and chose to put it on the right side of the wrap because I think it's decorative, in its way.  In my opinion, the best way to decorate this kind of wool band would be to apply some simple embroidery--probably nothing more than a wavy line down the band, repeated in, say, in white, yellow and red. Unfortunately, I haven't done any serious embroidery in years, and tonight was not the time to start.  Perhaps the task of ornamenting the band will be a good subject for a subsequent HSM challenge, sometime.

While I agree with Stephens that this style looks very much like the style shown on women on ancient Greek vases, that may be due in part to the fact that she demonstrated it on a woman with abundant, coarsely curly hair, a hair type that is more common in the Mediterranean region than it is where my ancestors came from.  My thinning, slightly wavy hair does not give the same impression, but the use of appropriately sized cloth makes it work as a hairstyle even though the shape of the wrap on my head and hair is a lot different than Stephens's inspiration images on ancient Greek pottery.  It's also possible, though, that the purpose of such a cloth head-wrap style was originally worn by older women with thinning hair, like me, who could no longer secure their hair adequately by simply wrapping a band around their pinned hair (the other style shown in Stephens's video). 

One of my commenters noted that the blue fabric remnants from my Iron Age skirt would look wonderful as part of such a head wrap. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any fragments from that cloth!  Did I throw them out in a fit of misplaced tidiness after completing the skirt? Probably. However, I had more than enough of the dark blue wool that I was planning to make into stockings to serve the purpose.  That wool is a bit thick for gracefully wrapping around my head, but I addressed that issue by washing it and drying it in the dryer to full it enough to minimize raveling and avoid having to hem it.  Wool tape would have been much better for this project because it's naturally thin while retaining wool's knack for sticking to itself, but I don't have any wool tape in my stash and, even if I had been able to obtain some before the end of March, buying some would have defeated the purpose of this challenge.

Hairstyling note:  Because my hair is thin, I would need a short bodkin (i.e., a straight, smooth, pointed-ended stick no more than about 3-4 inches or roughly 7-10 cm long) to fasten a bun that would not stick out way beyond the edges of the wrap and interfere with the wrap's drape.  Because I don't own such a short bodkin, I used a spare ponytail holder to wrap around the bun and keep it from unraveling while I tied the wrap in place. I think a bodkin would have held my hair more securely though.  Perhaps I'll improvise one out of a chopstick at some point.

HSM Challenge #3--Stashbusting

How long in stash?   The linen was only in stash about one year (it came from the leftover fabric for my bog blouse project last year). The blue wool flannel was purchased for a project at least as far back as about 2000, and thus is approximately 15 years old!

Fabric A scrap of linen, left over from my bog blouse project, cut and ripped to approximately 26 inches (roughly 45 cm) by 18 inches (about 66 cm), and a strip of dark blue wool flannel about 80 inches (roughly 200 cm) long. 

PatternBased upon Janet Stephens's video showing the ancient Greek "head wrap" style and my own measurements.  It's two rectangles--a short, squat linen rectangle and a long blue wool strip; not much of a pattern.

YearApproximately 450-400 BCE, based upon the identification given of the Greek images that appear in Ms. Stephens's video.

Notions:   100% blue silk Gutermann thread (for stitching the wool band to the linen), and some white Londonderry brand 60/3 linen thread (for hemming the linen wrap itself).

How historically accurate is it?   Only somewhat.  I handsewed the wrap, the fabric types used are period, and Ms. Stephens demonstrates in her video that this type of wrap results in an appearance that is a good match for images of women found in period art.  However, no such item has, to date, been found by archaeologists working in Greece so far as I am aware.    So about 50%-60% is an appropriate accuracy rating.

Hours to complete: About 10 minutes to locate the fabric, 5 to 10 minutes to cut it to shape, and about 2 1/2 hours to hem the linen and to sew the wool band to the linen.

First wornOnly to establish that I *can* use it as a head wrap.  I need a bit more practice in putting it on before I bother my spouse to take photographs of me in it to post on this blog.
Total costEffectively zero.  The fabric for the bog blouse I obtained for store credit, the flannel is from a piece I bought about 15 years ago, and the thread was originally bought for other projects.

Hopefully, I'll have enough time in a month sometime this year to make something that requires more challenge and more than an hour or two of work!  On the other hand, both the head wrap and last month's Iron Age skirt would make great one afternoon projects for anyone looking for such a thing.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Cheaper NESAT X

The published volumes from each North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles ("NESAT") contain wonderful information about costume-related archaeological finds, especially for early period costume, but the volumes themselves can be hard to obtain and are usually pricey when found.

So I was pleased to see that Casemate Academic is selling a PDF copy of NESAT X (the one before the most recent volume, NESAT XI) for $48.00 USD. The page that PDF can be purchased from is here. This is possible because Casemate is the American affiliate of Oxbow Books, and Oxbow happens to be the publisher of NESAT X. 

Granted, $48.00 still may be a lot of money for one book, especially for a digital book.   But, in my opinion, it still represents an improvement over having to track down NESAT X by interlibrary loan (and having to return it before fully absorbing the information you've sought it out to find) or paying the much higher dead-tree price, so I figured I'd pass the information along.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

HSM #3--Another Last Minute Change of Plan

At the beginning of March, I planned to use some blue wool flannel from my fabric stash to make a pair of cut-and-sewn stockings for the "Stashbusting" challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly.

After that, there were more bouts of killer winter weather, several rush projects at work that ate into my weekends, and another round or two of strep throat.  As a result, it is nearly the end of March and I have done no work on the planned stockings whatsoever.  Nada.  Zip.  Zero.

I was wondering whether I was going to have to give up on the March Stashbusting challenge altogether, when I found the video shown to the right of this post, which is one of a series of tutorial videos by Janet Stephens, hairdressing archaeologist, demonstrating her theories on how hairstyles depicted in classical Roman and Greek art were achieved.

As I watched the video, it occurred to me that the headwrap used for the second hairstyle would be easy to make, even in the time I have available, and that I could make it with linen fabric that I have in my stash. Unfortunately, I don't have a long enough piece of wool ribbon in my stash, but I could sew a ribbon out of wool fabric that I do have available.  Perhaps even the remaining wool from the Iron Age skirt I made in February will serve.  I don't have spangles to sew onto the ribbon, but I'm not sure that I'd want any.  A patterned tablet-woven band would be ideal, but I definitely don't have time to weave one, and don't have suitable wool in my stash anyway.   It will be fun to try out the Greek hairstyles, too.

Hopefully, this project will prove too simple for Murphy's Law to interfere, and I'll have something to post here before the end of the month.  Watch this space!