Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sewing for Byzantium--Making The Savanion

As I mentioned a while ago, I'm also sewing a savanion to wear as part of my Byzantine outfit. In its early form (which is what I'm making), the savanion is nothing more than a long strip (about 3 meters) of hemmed cloth, which is then draped and tucked around a woman's head to form a kind of veil-and-quasi-turban combo. I had about a yard of 59-inch-wide cloth, so all I had to do was to tear the fabric into three strips of equal length and width and sew them together end to end. Most of the work consists of folding the edge and hemstitching, so I expect it to go quickly, and so far it is. At this point, I have the three pieces firmly seamed together and am working on hemming all four edges.

I started experimenting with wrapping the savanion as soon as I had the three pieces sewn into a single strip. So far, I've learned several things about the process:

* The hardest part is keeping the strip evenly folded while you pass it around your head;
* I need to fold the strip much narrower than Tim Dawson suggests in order to obtain a visually similar result to the reconstruction on the Levantia site;
* Once wrapped, no pins are required to hold the savanion in place; it's sufficient to tuck the end firmly inside the wrapped cylinder because the layers of linen grip each other pretty well, and are not inclined to slip and unwind.

I can see why the Byzantines ultimately gave up on wrapping and, as was done with the men's chaperone in 15th century Europe, just sewed the savanion so that it could be put on like a hat. Wrapping the thing for the first time took me about 5 minutes, with a large mirror to use as my guide. Even if we assume that the process of wrapping one's head with linen was part of the daily routine for a Byzantine woman, it must have been a nuisance to deal with, at least sometimes. I may end up tacking the last 3/4ths of the strip into a folded piece of the correct size, to facilitate the wrapping.

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