Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Egyptian Faience Beadnet Dresses

This is probably one of the more ambitious historical costumes I am ever going to attempt.

I've been doing a lot of research on Egypt lately, especially surviving art pieces. I even bought myself a small faience shabti, the first piece for my own antiquity collection! :D

Anyway, I began looking at surviving Egyptian textiles, and it turns out there are a lot of surviving clothing items from ancient Egypt! Not as many as, say, Medieval costume, or Victorian costume, but there are far more pieces than I expected. The oldest piece of clothing in the world, the Tarkhan Dress, was found in an Old Kingdom tomb from Dynasty 1, is displayed at the Petrie museum, and is some 5,000 years old!


Equally fabulous, the Swedish Museum of Textiles undertook the monumental and completely amazing task of recreating Tutankhamun's entire wardrobe based off of the pieces found in his tomb. I would love to see that exhibit!

So, while I was searching around, I came across an interesting thing, the Egyptian bead-net dress. There are only a couple of surviving examples, one in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the other in the Petrie museum.


Bead-net dress, 5th Dynasty, Old Kingdom, Egypt - Petrie Museum

Bead-net dress, 4th Dynasty, Old Kingdom, Egypt - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I was immediately in love with them. They're not only completely stunning, they are thousands of years old. I am tempted to recreate both of them, since there are a few subtle differences that would make recreating both rather interesting. 

For these projects, I would be creating the beads myself, since faience beads are hard to come by in large quantities, and are stupidly expensive when you do. There are quite a few recipes for faience out there, called "Egyptian paste" in modern bead making, and I've managed to find a recipe that I suspect is pretty similar to what the Egyptians might have used, since it has silica (quartz sand) as a base instead of clay like more modern recipes. 

Faience is pretty amazing stuff. Anthropologists suspect that the Egyptians discovered it by accident, since it can be made with commonly found materials. The addition of different materials causes it to come out different colours when fired - copper oxide produced the most commonly seen colour, turquoise, manganese produced purple/black, and lead antimonite produced yellow. The paste is a dull white colour as it dries and before it goes in the kiln, and then MAGIC, and it turns turquoise, and self glazes. MAGIC.

I'll have to learn some things about bead making before I can dive in to making the beads for the dresses I'm going to make, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of learning a new skill. The dress from the MoFA, Boston had something like 7,000 beads in it, so I'm going to be up to my gills in faience beads by the time these projects are finished!

My main problem now is finding historically accurate Egyptian thread. They made everything out of linen, but they made it in a particular way, and I'm having trouble finding anything like it. I've been emailing textile museums (like the Swedish one that did Tut's wardrobe) to see if they can recommend anything, or know of artists I can commission for it, but so far, no luck. 

I usually wouldn't be so concerned with it, but the big part of this project is that I want to get these recreations museum certified as authentic recreations. I know it's possible, since a friend of mine who used to be in the museum industry told me about how tedious and paperwork-filled the process is, but the museums I've emailed about it either have no idea what to do, or they haven't responded yet. Hopefully I'll hear something back soon, and I can take the next step. Hopefully, I'll get the OK to use a more modern linen thread if I can't find a suitable Egyptian-style thread. (And no, I don't think I can make the thread myself, I just don't have the skills or access to resources to do it.) 

This will probably be a pretty long-drawn project, so I'll update when I can!

11 comments:

  1. You are so amazingly hardcore (and I admire your attention to detail, creativity and skill so very much).

    Egypt was my first archaeology love (as with most of us who later go to school for archaeological studies), and I know your reproduction is going to be as amazing as the pieces found in the museums.

    Good luck!

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    1. Thank you! It's my goal to have them certified, and available for museums if they need them for a display. :)

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  2. I took pictures of that dress when I was in Boston, would you like me to email them to you or something?

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    1. I would love that! My email is m_martin85@yahoo.com Thank you so much! :D

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  3. Your ambition knows no bounds! I love it!

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  4. Hello! I just started reading your blog recently. I also read the blog of a woman who spins and weaves with her own linen thread. I only know her through reading her blog, so I don't have any idea if she could help you, but her blog is here:

    http://onesmallstitch.wordpress.com/

    Good luck with your project!

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    1. Thank you for the link, I'll definitely get in contact with her! :D

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  5. http://www.vitrumstudio.com/ClassesFall2009/Sand%20Molds%20for%20Glass%20%26%20Faience%20Bead%20Making.html

    I imagine you've already seen this. are classes available in your area?

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    1. Ooo, I hadn't seen that, thank you for the link! :) Unfortunately, it looks like there aren't any classes available near me. :(

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  6. I was doing a search and stumbled upon your plans for a faience dress project. I'd be excited to see an update, regardless whether the project is by the way side or half done! This type of project takes such a lot of time!

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    1. Hi! I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner! Unfortunately, I haven't been able to even get started on this project, my last few years at uni really ate up a bunch of my time. I'm hoping to return to this in the near future!

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