25 January 2014

Using the bias of woven fabrics: Advanced T-tunics

Using the bias of woven fabrics
Advanced T-tunics
Sayyeda al-Kaslaania
February 2013

Clothing is amazing when we stop to think about it. In the middle ages, someone spent hours weaving threads back and forth to carefully craft yards of fabric. Plus there was all the time taken to spin the fiber—and even to harvest it. People then decided they had enough extra time to make curtains, blankets, napkins, mattress covers, and rugs! Textiles were considered liquid assets in the middle ages, as good as money. They were passed on in wills, recorded as taxes, and gifted in dowries.

Woven fabric is composed of warp and weft threads. Warp threads run the length of the loom and are strong enough to be worked under tension. Weft threads are passed up and down through the warp (or through a warp shed) to bind the fabric together.

The grain line always follows the warp of the fabric. Conveniently, this can be identified by the selvedge edges, which also follow the warp of the fabric. Selvedges typically don’t unravel. Measuring from selvedge to selvedge yields the width of the fabric (modern fabric is typically 44/45”, 54”, and 58/60”).

The crosswise-grain follows the weft of the fabric. On modern cotton broadcloth, warp and weft threads are generally identical. On other fabrics, the crosswise grain is considered weaker than the grain.

The true bias is 45° from the grain. This cuts across both the grain and crosswise grain equally. When cut, this edge will distort quickly when handled. Caution should be used to keep a bias edge from stretching while one sews.

The garment bias is anything other than a 45° angle. An isosceles triangle is an example of a typical bias used in garment construction. Caution should still be used to guard against stretching the bias.

A gore is a triangle with two edges sewn into place, and one edge left free as part of a hem. As a triangle, at least one of the sides will be cut on the bias. A garment will tend to fall in folds and “flow” towards the bias edge of the gore. You can use this to your advantage to accent or diminish aspects of your body shape.

Side flow” is applying a gore so the straight edge is stitched to the body panel. This keeps straight lines down the center of the body and visually creates more fullness toward the outside of the body. This can balance a natural fullness in the center.

Center flow” is applying a gore so the bias edge is stitched to the body panel. This will smooth the fabric over the hips and draw the weight of the fabric toward the center

Tunic in the style of a 10th Century Norse Skald: Material Culture 25: A&S50 Challenge

Tunic in the style of a 10th Century Norse Skald
Material Culture 25: A&S50 Challenge
Samia al-Kaslaania

A friend requested a barter commission for his Norse persona. The criteria were that it be suitable for a skald (bard) to wear, and mainly be red. For reference I primarily utilized Gale Owen-Crocker’s book Dress in Anglo-Saxon England.

Having said that, I reached outside of Owen-Crocker’s text to find the pattern used. The basis is an adaptation of Middle Eastern garb from the same time period. Marc Carlson shares an extant version of the same panel-and-gore pattern from the European Middle Ages (noted as a few centuries later). I made the choice because I find the cut more flattering for prosperous men. The otherwise common pattern has the body panel cut as wide as half of the fullest measurement on the trunk. On a luxury-sized body this makes the shoulder seams sag halfway down the bicep, and can feel frumpy to the wearer. In further support of my choice, in the redrawn images Owen-Crocker offers, garments are generally fitted around the body, which can be seen under raised arms (with a few exceptions).

Figure 1 Calendar, London, British Library MS Cotton Tiberius B, v. fol 4r.

The idea that this cut of tunic is known to the Norse is not impossible. Owen-Crocker discusses that furs were traded with the Islamic lands at this time. Gifts of clothing from local leaders are common in the Islamic lands at this time, and the practice grew to include the merchant class power-brokers as well. Norse traders plausibly could have received tunics as gifts from their trading partners in the south.

Tunic style choices and deviations, based on Owen-Crocker:
·    This tunic comes to below the knee, which is in the common range for the 10th century court scenes. 
·    The hem is cut level to the ground to match the redrawn examples Owen-Crocker offers, thus avoiding the “shark-bite” shaped hem.
·    In keeping with images from this period, the hem is intentionally quite full for someone who is not in warrior gear.
·    The sleeves are not so long so they can be pushed up to show wrinkles at the cuffs. While most period images likely display wrinkles at the cuffs, the modern person wearing it is also a volunteer who moves tables and chairs. Therefore he requested standard length.
·    The neckline is “keyhole” style. Whether or not period images show this kind of access slit at the neck opening, all of the garments have close-fitted necks which would require some sort of additional opening.

The construction is a combination of modern and period techniques. The seams are sewn with a machine, and then finished by hand with decorative stitches so that only hand-finishing on the seams is seen on the outside of the garment. The seam decoration is the Mammem herringbone stitch, from a 10th century Danish find at Hedeby. These are worked in Silk Splendor embroidery floss, three strands. The choice for silk decoration was driven by the concept that the skald is an important member of a royal court—he is the historian, spin doctor, and praise-bearer in this period.

Figure 2 Tenth to eleventh century, life of St. Radegund. MS 250 Fol 24r. Bibliotheque Municipale, Poitiers, France

In addition to the decorative seam finishes, this garment is adorned with tablet weaving at the neck and cuffs. The fiber is 100% wool from the retired DMC De Medici collection. The pattern is a simple 7-forward-7-back, with same-color border cards. This simple repeat produces a nice chevron pattern that lies flat when removed from the loom. The fine quality of the wool fibers coupled with the simple repeat allows it to be curved around the neck and steam-shrunk into place.

Finished Tunic

19 January 2014

A Curious Thirteenth Century Blue Folding Stool

A Curious Thirteenth Century Blue Folding Stool
Muqima al-Kaslaania with work from Sayyeda Urtatim Al-Qurtubiyya
January 2013

While helping a friend look for an image source, I spotted this stool (the lower figure sits on it).
Folio from an Arabic translation of the Materia medica by Dioscorides. This Arabic translation is dated to 1224 in Baghdad. The original is housed at the Freer Gallery of Art, of the Smithsonian Institutes in Washington, D.C.

From this image alone another researcher, Sayyed "Uncle" Rashid, believed it could be a common ceramic drum stool. Similar items are known from the period.
This stool is housed at the Freer Gallery as well. Painted stone. Eleventh century; Raqqa, Syria.

However, my friend Sayyeda Urtatim discovered another image from the same manuscript, this time housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
"Preparation of Medicine from Honey: Leaf from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides [Iraq, Baghdad School]" (13.152.6) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/13.152.6. (December 2011) 

And I discovered a third.

Folio from an Arabic translation of the Materia medica by Dioscorides. This Arabic translation is dated to 1224 in Baghdad. The original is housed at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institutes in Washington, D.C.  Item number S 1986.97.

Finally, Sayyeda Urtatim discovered this fourth image from the same manuscript.
"Leaf from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides ("The Pharmacy") [Iraq]" (57.51.21) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/57.51.21. (October 2006)

At first, I identified that each of these is situated near a cookpot, but it's actually a pharmacy or pharmacist in each image. All are blue, but because all are displayed in the same manuscript that could be a convention of the artist. Could it be a depiction of metal?

It looks to the modern eye like a folding stool, with the balls acting as hinge points. Other thoughts?

Wow!! Thank you, Rachel. Researcher Rachel Shaw saw this post and did the simplest search imaginable: "Islamic folding chair". She found this:

Image 32 a, b. Folding chair, Persian, 12th century, and detail. Private Collection, Teheran. As it appears in: Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1972; p. 301.

18 January 2014

A Fatimid Hexagonal Neckline?

A Fatimid Hexagonal Neckline?
Muquima al-Kaslaania
January 2014

I have accumulated several images of hexagonal necklines and plan to make one myself shortly. As I look at them with an eye to recreate one, I notice that they all appear to have distinct facings. They're not just shaped like a hexagon, they also have an outline about 1 -1 1/2 inches wide. Some are adorned, some are just a different color from the garment.

 11th century Fatimid bowl. Woman dancer. Identified as a woman because she has painted-in eyebrows; curls at the temples; performing the 'dance of the veils'. Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Inventory number 46.30. 

11th century Fatimid bowl fragment. Woman playing a lute. Identified as a woman because she has painted-together eyebrows; an 'isaba around her head gear; curls at her temples.

Late 10th-early 11th century restored bowl. Lute player. Likely woman, unknown headgear causes hesitation.

10th-11th century Tunisia. "Bas relief with a prince and a flute player" sculpted marble. Right side figure likely a man because of shape of crown; "king pose" convention, typically used to depict rulers. Museum of Bardo, Tunis. Inventory number E 16.


11th century Fustat (near Cairo). Fresco on stucco. Identified as a man because of turban; "king pose" convention; lack of temple curls; lack of painted-in eyebrows; researcher's thoughts about the location of the fresco. Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo. Inventory number 12880.

11th century plate. Figure has conflicting gender markers-- eunuch? Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo.

11th century plate. Figure has conflicting gender markers-- eunuch? Possible exposed navel. Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo.

12th century Fatimid painted ceiling panel. Likely depicting King Roger II of Sicily. Note: "king pose" convention. Capella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily. In sutu.

09 January 2014

Ayyubid Urban Woman’s Garb, an Interpretation: Material Culture 24: A&S50 Challenge

Ayyubid Urban Woman’s Garb, an Interpretation (Cairo, twelfth century)
Material Culture 24: A&50 Challenge
Sponsored by Baroness Ellen de Wynter
Artist: Sayyeda al-Kaslaania

My model is a wealthy patroness of the Kingdom, Sayyeda Hannah. She employed me, under the sponsorship of Baroness Ellen de Wynter, to create a Middle Eastern outfit suitable for her rank that she could wear to a ceremony in a public venue.

Her outfit features a full face veil, the burqa. The garment bearing the same name in modern context is very different for our medieval counterparts. It does, however, serve the same purpose: concealing the face by swathing it in fabric serves to protect the honor of the family.

More than half of a woman’s trousseau consisted of head gear in the Middle Ages[1]. Researchers today can do little more than speculate about the connection between the named garments and the depicted garments. Even pioneering work such as Yedida Stillman’s analysis of women’s trousseaux does not provide the details that a re-enactor looks for[2]. For modern comparison, saying, “there are 4 neckties in x colors,” does not indicate how a necktie was worn, when it was worn, how it was cut on the bias, how it was tied, or specific garments it was worn with.

Figure 1 St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies. Ms C 23, detail.

Other headgear elements include a kerchief and a head veil. They are matched intentionally, as headgear garments in trousseau lists are commonly listed as matched and coordinated. Overall, garment ensembles could consist of up to 15 pieces[3].

The headgear is augmented by an undertunic, a tunic, and an overwrap.

Full face veil— burqa, to conceal the face

My goal was concealing the identity of the model so she could attend a ceremony in public without

Figure 2 Extant face veil, Eastwood.
heat-stroking her in July. The burqa style was chosen over other faceveils because it allows for easier use of modern eyeglasses, and permits breezes to get by.

During the Middle Ages, the burqa is as wide as the face. It is made in two pieces, upper and lower, connected in three places: above the nose and outside each of the eyes. Along the nose there is a ridge seam sewn in to shape the garment to the face. In the extant garment, the upper and lower pieces of fabric are touching each other; however, extant images do not always portraying this same proximity[4]. The distance I included allows for the eyeglasses of the model to be worn comfortably.

While the existing garments are unfinished in the same way as each other[5], I chose to finish the whole length of the veil and make it shorter—despise two extant pieces to the contrary—for a few reasons. First, both of the veils were coarsely made overall; they may have belonged to poor women who did not have time or inclination to complete the garments. Second, my garment will typically be worn so that the hem is visible, whereas the existing garments are believed to always be concealed beneath a large overwrap[6]. In the context of the SCA we do not wear the large concealing overwraps while out-of-doors that women did in period. These two garments (the burqa and the overwrap) went hand in hand during the Middle Ages.

Third, Vogelsang-Eastwood describes this garment as occasionally being decorated with beads, coins, chains, shells and so forth[7]. Having worn face veils of my own construction, I can say that this sort of adornment would be beneficial to keep the veil under control while walking or in a breezy area, functioning like the weighted hems on draperies. I believe this added weight is an alternative to the length, which would provide the same function.

Figure 3 Child's Tunic as it appears in Scarce, Jennifer.  
Women's Costume of the Near and Middle East
London: Unwin-Hyman Ltd, 1987, p. 118.
Kerchief—mandīl, foundation headwear

Most women had several head-kerchief mandīls in their collections[8]. It is described as one of the foundation garments available for men’s turbans as well. This type of mandīl protected the other head-gear from the oils of the hair and skin. Other options would include skullcaps. The mandīl was selected for the flexibility of passing it along to another person to wear in the SCA. In this period, the word “mandīl” is also used for a number of kerchief- and hand towel-like objects; some are garments, others are household linens[9].

Veil—Bukhnuq, to conceal the hair

In my speculation, this garment was triangular[10]. This shape would allow the garment “whose primary purpose is the cover the neck” the ability to do so as it “covers the head, goes down along the cheeks under the chin, and falls over the shoulders” and remain a comfortable, tug-free neck covering when “the two ends might be brought again over the head and there attached[11].”

Figure 4 Child's tunic from the Mamluk period. 
Jameel Center at the Ashmolean Museum, 
Univ of Oxford. No. EA1984.353.
Fabric Choice for Headwear

Many trousseaux survive from this period and give us a snapshot of women’s wardrobes at the time
of their marriage. Several of them list the fabric jari al-qalam (literally, "the flowing of the pen") which is described by clothing expert Yedida Stillman as a fine pinstripe[12]. Another indicates that an entire ensemble of garments is made from a common striped fabric[13]. In the Islamic Middle Ages, matchy-matchy garments were a sign of prosperity, this being a period where textiles were liquid assets and sale of second-hand garments was a thriving trade[14].

These trousseaux also teach us that people in this period had a “tremendous range of highly refined dyes[15].” Blues (and whites) were the most common of these colors.

Instead of copying the method of creating the anchors and ties, I used lengths of corded silk. This maintained consistency across the piece, and served as another step to raise the quality of the garment above the coarseness of the original. Not only was this a faster option, the specific fibers used have a “sticky” feel to them—with the goal of clinging better to the hair of a weekends-only (and therefore less experienced) hijab-wearer.


Garments from the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages were generally loosely fitted tunics for both men and women, augmented by unseamed rectangular lengths of fabric. Yedida Stillman refers to this as a Pan-Islamic style of dress because the basic elements were the same across Islamic communities, excepting Persia.

The shape of this tunic garment is drawn from extant sources[16]. I find it allows for greater movement because it fits a round body instead of a flat one. This works because the sleeve and side body intersect in an unusual way (see Appendix A). The pattern I chose to use is copied from several extant sources[17].  Tailored clothing such as this was a mark of an urban-dweller in the Medieval period, and fitted garments are listed among items in period trousseaux[18]. This pattern is strikingly similar to contemporary European clothing, and was intentionally selected for that reason (as the model also wears Saxon garb). One could speculate this is either from a confluence of ideas, or the active Mediterranean-European trade system.

Figure 5 Woman with sleeveless dress, 
head veil wrapped around her shoulders. 
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. 
MS. Arabe 5847 , fol. 138v. Detail.
Sleeveless undertunic –Badan

The badan is a short, sleeveless tunic often mentioned in women’s trousseaux[19]. Descriptions include white garments with a single-colored border decoration. I believe an illustration from a twelfth century Maqāmāt al-Ḥarīrī[20] depicts this garment (fig 5). In this image, the woman’s scarf is wrapped around her hair and drapes across her shoulders, visually connected by the decorative band.


The overwrap is a required garment for any woman leaving the house in an urban setting[21]. Of the several options available, the izār is a large rectangle of fabric geared toward being enveloping. Often they are plain garments, usually of wool, and can double as a blanket. This izār is purchased from a used clothing merchant, a common practice in the Middle Ages[22].

[1] Stillman, Yedida K. “Female Attire of Medieval Egypt: According to the Trousseau Lists and Cognate Material from the Cairo Geniza”. Unpublished doctoral dissertation: University of Chicago, 1977.

[2] Stillman, Yedida K. “Importance of the Cairo Geniza Manuscripts for the History of Medieval Attire.” International Journal of Middle East Studies Vol 7, Num 4 (October 1976): 579-589.

[3] Cortese, Delia and Simonetta Calderini. Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam. Edinburgh University Press, 2006.

[4] Eastwood, Gillian. “A Medieval Face-Veil from Egypt.” Costume/London Costume Society 17 (1983): 33-38.

[5] Eastwood.

[6] Vogelsang-Eastwood, Gillian and Willem Vogelsang. Covering the Moon: An Introduction to Middle Eastern Face Veils. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2008.

[7] Vogelsang-Eastwood.

[8] Stillman dissertation.

[9] Rosenthal, Franz. “A Note on the Mandil” Four Essays on Art and Literature in Islam. Leiden, 1971.

[10] This could be achieved with little waste by cutting rectangle crosswise and sewing the two short ends together.

[11] Stillman dissertation  p 124

[12] Stillman, Yedida K., Norman A. Stillman, ed. Arab Dress: a Short History. Brill 2003, p 59.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Goitein vol 1, p 222-3, 245.

[15] Stillman, Yedida K. “New Data on Islamic Textiles from the Geniza.” In Patterns of Everyday Life. Edited by David Waines. The Formation of the Classical Islamic World: 10th ed. Ashgate Variorum, 2002, p. 204.

[16] Godlewski, Wlodzimierz. “Naqlun: Excavations, 2000.” Polish archaeology in the Mediterranean/Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, Warsaw, POLOGNE Vol. 12 (April 19, 2000): p. 149-161. http://www.centrumarcheologii.uw.edu.pl/fileadmin/pam/pam_2000_XII/53.pdf (accessed 19 April 2011). ; Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001.; Syria, Materia Medica of Dioscurides, 1229, Two students; frontispiece. Iraq or Syria; 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.

[17] Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001. ; Syria, Materia Medica of Dioscurides, 1229, Two students; frontispiece. Iraq or Syria; 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.

[18] Stillman dissertation.

[19] Stillman, Yedida K., Norman A. Stillman, ed. Arab Dress: a Short History. Brill 2003.

[20] Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Ms. Arabe 5847, fol. 138.

[21] Stillman dissertation.

[22] Goitein, Vol. 1.