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!