Monday, 21 December 2009

Did the Ancient Egyptians use Teasels?

We have not yet found evidence for carders in Ancient or Coptic Egypt and there has been some discussion as to whether teasels where used. Angela has been getting advice from a botanist friend, Ian, who says:

- Teasel, alias Dipsacus fullonum, is found naturally from Western Europe (mostly a line south of the Pennines eastwards), right across to Russia, and across North Africa and right into Turkey. It favours heavy soils, so I imagine would be very much at home on regions of the Nile Delta.
- There is no other plant I can find in the flora of Egypt that has dried flower (seed) heads that would do as good a job.
- My conclusion is that teasel was available and put to good use by the ancient Egyptians

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

In a Spin!

Today we tried spinning but first some information from Charlotte about spinning in Ancient Egypt!

There were different methods of spinning in ancient Egypt using the drop spindle, all depicted in tombs from the Middle Kingdom onwards.

The ‘grasped spindle’ technique, shows the rove pulled from a basket through a ring or a forked stick, and spun onto the spindle which is rolled between the hands.

The ‘supported spindle’ technique, where the spindle rolled down the knee to twist it. This will be the method we will be working on today to create enough wool to include in our socks.

Well we tried it and found it very difficult to do in a skirt. Fortunately Sally could show other people in a far more expert way than me, but Angela manged it, just:

It gives us all a lot to do over Christmas and we got into a festive mood by eating home-made mince pies (I'd have taken a picture but we ate them all).

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Life of a Coptic Sock

Due to a request for more historical information, I decided to present some research on the sock to the group. I feel much more at home with historical / archaeological data!

Egypt in 4th-5th Centuries CE

Hawara, the place where the sock was found, is a good example of Egypt as a Greek occupied land under Roman rule – mixture of Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.

Map showing the Fayuum area and the town Hawara where the sock was found.

The sock comes from a period of transition in terms of Empire and traditions - Roman Empire moved to Byzantine (though Egypt was never never truly Byzantine – political rule in name only). It was also moving from a predominately pagan world to a mostly Christian one. Graeco-Roman transition into Coptic. Some times known as late antique Egypt. It was a complex and developed society.

The archaeological material is thin from this period, though the papyrological material is rich. There are many documents, including petitions, letters, ostraca.


The dominant material for clothes in late antiquity was wool. Good quality clothing was a way of storing wealth. There are laundry lists in papyri that list items such as a chiton or tunic, cloaks, mantles, shoes, sandals and pants.

Much clothing was made at home, though there was also a considerable textile and clothing industry. References to the making of clothes are generally found in references to the raw materials such as linen and wool (fleece).

The textile industry was a major employer in some cities and production, such as washing, carding dyeing, fulling and spinning, could be in the hands of specialised workers. In the country this was more likely to be done in the household. This was based on Egypt’s production of flax and on large flocks of sheep.

The predominant use of flocks in late antiquity was for the production of wool and sheep became more important and thus more valuable. Flocks generally were based around the Nile Delta in the green oases surrounded by desert – the Fayuum was particularly important.

The Sock in the Petrie: No. UC 16767

A single brown woollen sock possibly from the collection of Amelia Edwards and a gift to her from Flinders Petrie from his excavations in Hawara 1888/9. It was therefore (possibly)a founding part of the Petrie Collection.

It is turned inside out – there was a practice of placing recently washed and worn garments in the tomb inside out. Often the garment worn by the person at death was washed and put in the tomb for transportation into the afterlife.

Fibres are tightly spun: z-spun three s-ply brown woollen thread:

Conservation work was carried out on the sock in 1994. This is a photo before from the report made at the time:

Big holes in sock and some unraveling, probably due to insect attack. Deteriorating by aging due to light since sock was excavated.

Treatment of sock
Treatment was carried out through:
Surface cleaning
Stitched onto suitable fabric
Unravelling areas
Internal support

The sock was left inside out to maintain historical evidence.
Roger S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity (Princeton, 1993)
Nobuko Shibayama, Treatment Record of Egyptian Sock, TCC No.1826.2a / UCL16767 (1994), Petrie Museum Conservation Report

More Carding

Today we continued carding - some of us are almost at the spinning stage.

Sally spun some of her carded fleece into card on her wheel:

However, You would not find spinning wheels in Ancient Egypt!

Angela made a replica sock out of a dish cloth, which she then dyed in tea to make it look old:

It may not be knitted but it is a good replica:

Next fortnight, we're on to spinning. I'll be taking lessons from Charlotte on Saturday and it will be interesting to see what the others do that day too!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Close Up Pictures of the Socks

Mollie took some great close up pictures of the Egyptian Socks:

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Carding Fleece

All of us have improved upper arm and chest muscles after carding fleece for over an hour this morning!

Some of us had done this before and brought our own carders and made very neat piles of yarn almost ready for spinning:

We did stop for a cup of tea and biscuits and some time in the museum before going back to work:

It was pretty tough to do though personally I found it very therapeutic (it may help get me through meetings) and am quite proud of my pile of wool:

Some of us are continuing at home and next time it's purifying the fleece into yarn and pulling out any sticky bits or (in Charlotte's words) sheep nastiness.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Defrosting Wool

The fleece, yarn and wool is out of the freezer and defrosting. Any pesky pests should have been frozen away!


Monday, 2 November 2009

Sock It! Introduction

Text by Charlotte Booth.

This beautiful pair of socks, dated to 400-500 AD, are the centre of this experimental archaeology project at the Petrie Museum. However they are not the only socks that have been discovered, and there is another one in the Museum collection which was discovered inside out.

Examination of the socks has enabled us to identify how they were constructed. All the tools needed are found in the Petrie collection. We will be using the same tools (where possible) to create our socks over the coming months.

(The inside out sock)
In the absence of any pictorial evidence of carding of raw fleece, we have to look at what would do the job from the evidence we have. There is a large intricately decorated comb in the Coptic Museum in Cairo but for the smaller wool producer a comb such as this would be perfect.

Numerous drop spindles have been discovered in Egypt from the Middle Kingdom onwards in varying sizes for the production of different thicknesses of wool, and perhaps for children to become involved.

Hundreds of needles have been discovered and there are many in the Petrie collection, which look like any in our sewing boxes at home. It is with one of these that we will be creating our Coptic socks!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Public Schedule

Saturday 31st October (pre-book only) 11.00 – 1.30pm
Overview of knitting and socks in ancient Egypt (40 min talk)
Museum tour (15 minutes)
Introduction to carding, spinning and knitting technique (45 mins)

Saturday 28th November (Public drop in) 11.30 – 1.30pm
Today we go spinning – using wool carded at the last session as well as some of the pre-carded wool. We will try out two methods – rolling along the thigh and free spinning. There will be a brief introductory session to recap on 31 October!

Saturday 30th January (Public drop in) 11.30 – 1.30pm
This session sees us examine the socks more closely and start knitting. We will concentrate on knitting ‘in the round’ to get the sock shape and create a practice piece, before moving onto make rectangular pieces and start the sock if we are ready.

Saturday 27th February (Public drop in) 11.30 – 1.30pm
This session sees us examine the socks more closely and carry on knitting. We will re-cap on knitting ‘in the round’ to get the sock shape and making the rectangular pieces and then start / continue the sock.

Saturday 27th March (Public drop in) 11.30 – 1.30pm
The launch of the finalised sock patterns and a presentation of the project. We will compare the original Coptic socks with those produced by the participants.

Book the 31 October 2009 session with Debbie Challis / All the rest are drop in!

Background Information

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology is based within the campus of Univerisity College London in Bloomsbury. The museum houses an impressive textile collection, including two-toed socks. The idea behind this project is to make a pair of socks based on those dating from c.400-500 AD in the Petrie Museum from scratch using, as far as possible, methods employed in Ancient Egypt.

It is an experimental archaeology project and, though, it will be planned, the emphasis is on the actual processes of making things and your experience on the way!

There are two groups involved in this process - the University of the Third Age and members of the public (i.e. any one who wants to be involved). The project has been funded by Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) and it is free to come along.

We will be recording our progress as we go, so watch this space.