Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A "Black and White" Challenge

The Ninth Historical Sew Fortnightly challenge (due May 15) is "Black and White." As the name implies the challenge is to make a costume or costume item that is black, or white, or both.  I have a little more time now, and this concept seems simple enough that I should be able to come up with a suitable item to make for it.

Bag tunic.  From Mary Houston.*
Deshasheh dress**
Now, the hood for the völva's costume would be black and white, and one might think that I could simply do that for Challenge #9.  However, I'd rather save that hood for a different challenge. (Probably I'll try to finish the völva costume for the "Art" challenge (due June 1). Why? Because I think of the völva costume as a unified project, and though I'm willing to use items I'd planned for separate challenges as part of the final costume, I don't want to chop the entire costume into unrelated projects. Similarly, since I've already designated the white wool tunic as a separate challenge even though I blew the deadline, I'd like to leave that item as its own challenge. More importantly, I still need to keep the challenges fairly simple or they're likely to become UFOs ("UnFinished [Sewing] Objects"). 

So I figured that the best idea is to make a tunic--but an even simpler tunic than the wool Vendel period one. And that got me thinking about the ancient Egyptians.  

I had been thinking of making an Egyptian tunic for the "Black and White" challenge for a while, but I wasn't enthusiastic about the idea. Then a combination of associations changed my mind.  First, after reading the Dreamstress's post on her beautiful ramie shift, having a "shift of nettles" suddenly seemed tempting.  I thought of making an early Scandinavian tunic--until I remembered that there are no surviving shifts or shift fragments in Scandinavia until the Viking age (I'd be glad to be proven wrong on this one, but I doubt I will be). 

Then I thought of Ancient Egypt. Because of the dry climate and ancient funerary practices, plenty of bast fiber garments survive there--particularly linen. I've been thinking of making one of these designs--one found in Deshasheh--for years now. These dresses are a lot like the reconstruction used for the underdress of the Eura woman's costume from Viking age Finland, i.e., a middle piece onto which sleeve pieces are folded over and sewn onto the top, making long sleeves and a v-neckline at the same time. 

I also wondered whether a "shift of nettles" is period for ancient Egypt.  Possibly so. The Encyclopedia Brittanica claims that the ancient Egyptians used ramie.  One of the essays in Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology (Paul T. Nicholson & Ian Shaw, eds.) claims that several scholars agree with the Brittanica, but "these identifications are not certain and more work needs to be carried out on the textiles in question." (p.  269).

For my purposes, it hardly matters.  I can engage in speculative fabric usage if I want, and ramie and linen, both being bast fibers, are difficult to distinguish, especially in the archaeological context.

Then I found this EBay seller who has "ramie linen" by the yard for $7.50 USD per yard.  That made up my mind to do an Egyptian tunic. I'd have bought the fabric already, except the seller is out of town and orders can't be taken until April 24.

That left me with only one question:  Deshasheh tunic, or bag tunic?  The bag tunic would be simpler, but not as flattering.  The Deshasheh tunic would be lovely--if I don't botch the proportions.

Given the hectic nature of my schedule, I think simpler is better--which makes the bag tunic the optimum choice.  Maybe I can find some thin wool cord to trim it; the Petrie Museum's educational pack on Egyptian costume suggests that would be an appropriate choice. We'll see how this project fares.

EDIT:  (4/23/2014)  I just had an inspiration last night.  I can buy wool mohair cord from this website, in black--and use it to trim the neckline of the white bag tunic I'm planning to make!  That way, it would really fit into the "Black and White" challenge!

*  Houston, Mary G.  Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian & Persian Costume (1920).  Paperback edition by Dover Publications 2011.

**  Photograph from the Petrie Museum of Archaeology, London.

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