14 January 2010

A&S 50: Material Culture five: Middle Eastern dress, shot blue wool with embroidery

Middle Eastern-Inspired Tunic with heart-shaped “embroidered necklace”
Julia May, aka Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Presented at Spring Coronation, April 2009
Revised 2018

Since making this garment, my research has continued. I have identified a research flaw, likely driven by enthusiasm, that I have noticed affects people who research and re-create items earlier than the Renaissance.

We want to make clothing and objects from "Time Period M". There is not a wealth of extant objects from Period M, but some written descriptions. So we expand our research to Periods L and N. Period L gives us some ballpark ideas, but Period N looks a lot like Period M; it's got some of the same descriptions, and there are a few more extant images. So cool! As my coach points out, Period N, being later than Period M, does not provide documentation for Period M.

The problem happens when we leave the title of paper as "Object from Time Period M". It's our best estimate of what might be worn/done in Period M, but what we're really documenting is "A possible object from Period N". We can talk about the plausable reasons for it to be used in Period M, but we still can't document it beyond Period N.

That's what happened with this paper and object 10 years ago. I wanted to wear Fatimid-style recreation clothing. I was gifted the beautiful book written by Marianne Ellis, and I had access to an incredible inter-library loan program.

But what I documented is tunic with Mamluk period style embroidery. It can't be documented to the Fatimid period. It's two doors down, chronologically speaking, and even in the same location. But my enthusiasm carried me away. I'll edit this, and many other articles, on my blog and hopefully correct some of the mis-information I've inadvertently spread.

Image: Completed dress

This dress is intended for a re-creation of clothing for a Fatimid Mamluk Egyptian woman [note: but it doesn't succeed at recreating *Fatimid* clothing]. It is a full length gown of a shot blue-green wool-silk blend, finished with flat-felled seams. It is adorned with a heart motif “embroidered necklace”, as can be seen on Islamic textiles of the period, and decorative bands. [Note: Corrected because each of the elements can be found, but this is not an exact copy].

The heart motif comes from three images dated to the Mamluk period of Egypt, called out in Ellis at the Ashmolean Museum, accession numbers EA1984.89, EA1993.230, and EA1993.229. All of these are Mamluk textile fragments with variations of of the heart theme.

The item EA1984.353 is an extant tunic (more details below) with a sort of necklace motif around the neck opening, however the neck opening on that garment is faced front slit opening to a round neck hole.

The slit neckline comes from an image discussed below. The re-creation neckline is plausibly period, but can only be documented by piecemeal.

My flawed research progress was driven by comments like this:

"There was very little difference between the wardrobe of a Fatimid or Ayyubid lady, and that of her Mamluk descendant (fig.53), that is as far as can be gauged from the vocabulary; the terms and the contexts in which they are used do not differ. Perhaps the cut of 14th and 15th century mi'zar (wrap), the sirwal, the qamis was identical to that of earlier garments, perhaps not. It seems unlikely that the design and appearance of such items remained static for four or five hundred years." --Baker dissertation, p 177. [1.1]

"Fashions in dress, as in aesthetic and intellectual modes, tend to migrate within the Islamic oikoumene. This migration can be traced to some extent from Arabia and later Iraq to Egypt, and thence to North Africa and Spain." -- Stillman dissertation, page ci.

Pattern Layout
The panel and gore pattern I chose to use is copied from several extant sources [1]. Although none of the examples included here date as early as the Fatimid period [Note: it can be dated to the Mamluk period [1.1]], we know that weaving technology and vanity advanced far beyond the typical early Coptic T-shaped tunic. Further, tailored clothing was recorded as a mark of an urban-dweller in the Fatimid period, and fitted garments are listed among items in Fatimid trousseaux [2]. We also know that this pattern is strikingly similar to contemporary European clothing. One could speculate this is either from a confluence of ideas, or the active Mediterranean-European trade system.

Image: Illumination to an Arabic translation of "De Materia Medica" by Dioscorides, made for Shams ad-Din Abu'l Fada'il Muhammad, copied in Northern Iraq or in Syria, 1229. Topkapi Sarayi Muzesi, Istanbul, Ahmet III, 2127.
Note boat-style neckline on the man on the left and distinct cut of the pattern on the man on the right. 

The striking difference between this and a European garment is the lack of fitted sleeves—rarely in the illuminations or extant pieces do garments for men or women have sleeves fitted to the wrist [Note: fitted wrists are more common than I first thought]. In fact, there is some pictorial evidence for sleeves to grow wider as wealth increased and the need for personal manual labor decreased (likely because personal servants were more common at higher income levels).

The slit neckline is typical of Mediterranean garments for several hundred years before, and at least one hundred years after the Fatimid period (as seen in the illumination housed at the Topkapi, above.) [Note: the image above is concurrent with the later Ayyubid period in Cairo, not the Fatimid period. Again, this provides for the documentation of the Mamluk period]. The floor-reaching length of the garment, though rarely depicted, is discussed in trousseaux of the Fatimid periods as being reserved for more expensive garments [3].
image: Alphonso X's Book of Games (In Spanish: Libro de los Juegos" or "Libros del Axedrez, Dados et Tablas) commissioned between 1251 and 1282 A.D. by Alphonso X, King of Leon and Castile. This is from Spain. Note color and length of garment, full sleeves; veils.

For background: With the notable exception of Persian clothing, there is a strong argument for a pan-Islamic style of dress in this period [4]. This is supported by the considerable documentation of trade in the region—not only of textiles, but also of ideas and thinkers. Fatimid fashionplates were known to copy the styles of Andalusian leatherwork, Syrian silk weaving, Yemeni ikats, and Baghdadi adornment [5]. Using traded textiles and copying styles of dress is not a long reach for proof [Note: but, it's still not documentation, it just makes it plausible].

The placement of bands of decoration at the cuffs and hem are typical of Islamic dress of the Middle Ages, and can be spotted on contemporary illuminations [6]. See accompanying images. [note: this book is packed at the moment, but this citation needs improving].

The embroidered motif is inspired from an extant piece dated to the Mamluk period (the Mamluks conquer the Fatimids in 1171) [7]. This style of “embroidered necklace” features a heart, which had none of the love and Valentine’s Day connotation that it carries today. It was simply a motif in Islamic Egypt. [Note: this sentence suggests that there is an extant heart embroidered around a neckline-- bad language because it's not true. My product is the one that looks like this].

Some garments are listed in trousseaux of Fatimid brides are described as long sleeved and having a fine weight, as well as decorated with both embroidery and borders [8]. [Note: an image of an extant tunic, released with the Naqlun textile finds supports this more: Fig 3. Cuff ornament on a tunic sleeve (note that it's a narrow cuff) (Nd.04.223) (Photo W. Godlewski). Based on the quote from Baker earlier, it's plausible to use this information to support the creation of a Mamluk-style dress.

A particular type of fancy women’s garment is noted for its length—to the floor rather than the ankles.

Fabric choice

Shot fabrics, or cross-woven fabrics, are discussed numerous times in the trousseaux of the Cairo Geniza. They are characterized by the warp and weft being of different colors. The silk-wool blend of the fabric would be a typical use for conserving the expensive silk, and may have been known as mulham by the Fatimids [9]. Fatimid Egypt was both an importer and exporter of wool [9.2], and given that this went hand-in-hand with milk and cheese production, one can believe it would continue into the Mamluk period.

Image: Copied from Ellis. Child's Tunic, Mamluk period, late 14th-early 15th century, radio carbon date 1390+-35. Ashmolean Museum of Oxford, Accession number EA1984.353. In the same book, a line drawing of similar garment, which appears to be of adult proportions, with gussets under the arms, is dated to the Mamluk period 1250-1517., Accession number EA1993-90.

Completing the look
A dress like this likely would be worn over a base layer, or under tunic and pants (which may or may not have decorated cuffs [Note: the decorative cuffs can also be documented to the Mamluk period]). It could be worn belted or not. It might have shoes to match it, and it would have head coverings to compliment it, the simplest being a square veil tied on the head with a decorated strip of fabric (see image of woman in blue dress above [Note: this image above is from Al-Andalus, not the Fatimid period or location, and is dated concurrent with the Mamluk period. However, Stillman in Arab Dress, page 145, calls out that in Al-Andalus "not all free urban women went about veiled all of the time".]). A rectangular overwrap, or a coat would also be worn with this outside of the house. [9.1] Jewelry would consist of a minimum of earrings and finger rings, and likely a pair of bracelets. I do not know if a woman would wear an “additional” necklace with this dress. Again, this completed look comes from Fatimid trousseaux, and can plausibly be applied to the Mamluk period in Cairo.

It is interesting to note that there appears to be very little difference in how people dressed between the three faiths in Egypt (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) [10]. The same head coverings would be worn across the board in the Fatimid period.

Image: Ellis at the Ashmolean Museum, accession numbers EA1993.230,  http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/object/EA1993.230

[1.1] Baker, Patricia L. "A History of Islamic Court Dress in the Middle East." Dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy (Faculty of Arts), School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, 1986.

[1.2] Stillman, Yedida. Female Attire of Medieval Egypt. Dissertation, unpublished. 1972.

[1] Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001. ; Alphonso X's Book of Games (In Spanish: Libro de los Juegos" or "Libros del Axedrez, Dados et Tablas) commissioned between 1251 and 1282 A.D. by Alphonso X, King of Leon and Castile.; Baghdad, Maqamat al-Hariri, Late Eleventh to early Twelfth Centuries.

[2] Stillman, Yedida. Female Attire of Medieval Egypt. Dissertation, unpublished. 1972.

[3] Goitein, S.D. A Mediterranean Society:The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, Vol 1. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

[4] Stillman, Yedida. Norman Stillman, ed. Arab Dress: A Short History. Brill:Leiden. 2001.

[5] Goitein.; Stillman, 1972.

[6] Guthrie, Shirley. Arab Social Life in the Middle Ages. Saqi Books:London, 1995. (The Deserted wife and child, pp 153)

[7] Ellis.

[8] Stillman, 1972.

[9] Goitein.

[9.1] Stillman, Yedida. Female Attire of Medieval Egypt. Dissertation, unpublished. 1972, page 222. "For underwear, a woman in medieval Egypt may wear a pair of drawers (sirwal-- fn. like shoes, sirwal are never mentioned in the trousseau lists for the sake of propriety) tied with a draw string (tikka) and long shirt (qamis) or a light tunic (either the plain or gossamery, gilded ghilala. Over the undergarments came a long tunic (e.g. a badan) which might be either with or without sleeves. Over these two light shifts would be worn a robe of which there were several kinds, namely the jukaniyya, the qajija, the makhtuma, or again a ghilala. Each of these came in a variety of fabrics ranging from light cotton and linen to silks and brocades, as well as in numberous colors, decorations and other embellishments. Around the waist would come a belt or sash (wasat or khasi or an apron (futa)."

[9.2]  Goitein SD. A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Vol. 1. Berlkey and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967, 105.

[10] Stillman, Yedida K. Arab Dress from the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times: A Short History. Edited by Norman A. Stillman. Boston: Brill, 2003, page 143. "The Geniza trousseau lists make it eminently clear that by Fatimid times, veiling was as basic for Jewish women (and one might suppose for Middle Eastern Christian women too) as it was for Muslims contrary to the assertions of some historians..."

Stillman, 1972. “Silk woven with another fiber” as distinguished from marwazf, probably silk woven with cotton.

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