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.


  1. It looks great! The blue colour is beautiful and contrasts nicely with the linen. I would love to see a photo of you wearing it when you have it figured out.

    I don't think the absence of a surviving example necessarily argues against the accuracy of your wrap. The Aegean in general has some of the worst conditions for textile preservation in the whole world. As far as I'm aware there have only ever been a couple of textile pieces recovered from Greece, from the toumba structure at Lefkandi and dated to about 1000BCE.

    1. Thanks so much for the vote of confidence! Note (for what it's worth) that white and blue are the colors of the modern Greek flag. I thought of using bleached linen for the wrap portion (I do have some in stash), but decided a bleached white would look too harsh with the dark blue ribbon.

      You're certainly right that very few textile scraps survive from the Aegean. All the same, it means that the design Stephens suggests and that I improvised upon is, at best, conjectural. For all we know, all of the ribbon-wrapped, cloth-covered styles may have used sprang hair nets instead of cloth.

      The other thing I'm not sure of is whether I shouldn't have cut the wool strip a bit narrower. It's about an inch and a half now; but an inch might look better, given that I don't have a lot of hair to bulk the wrap out. Stephens's video convinces me that these are styles for women with abundant, coarsely curly hair.

  2. While there are many more extant ancient Greek textiles than the ones from Lefkandi, to the best of my knowledge none of them are associated with women's head coverings.

    I'm interested that Stephens devised this wrap. It looks a lot like the many extant pharaonic Egyptian linen ones, although of course it's worn very differently.

    One of the basic types of sprang caps found in Hellenistic, Roman, and Coptic Egypt is basically a rectangular bag with an attached cord; it was often worn with an additional band wrapped around the head in much the same fashion as Stephens demonstrates.

    1. A rectangular bag, either of sprang or of another fabric, would also be a valid interpretation of how the style on the vases was made, in my opinion. I rather like the open wrap (even though it's fiddlier) for the relative flexibility it provides, but I suspect that the coarse-haired Greek women would have preferred the bag approach.