Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Making up the side-pleated skirt

As I said last time, my pattern for the Minoan side-pleated skirt is simply two trapezoidal pieces of fabric.  I stitched them together with linen thread using a lap over seam; I've discussed here why I think this kind of seam is appropriate for Minoan and/or Mycenaean items, and why I don't think it matters that the thread is a different colour.  The lap over seam is quite cool in that it joins the pieces together and binds the raw edges at the same time, but since this is fulled wool it doesn't fray.  The seams are hidden inside the pleats, so they aren't really visible once the garment is made up.

My lap over seam.  This picture is a reasonably good indication of the fabric colour.

After sewing both side seams I laid the skirt flat on the spare bed and folded the pleats. They're 5 cm deep, or 2 inches if you prefer imperial measurements.  I pinned right through each set of folded pleats, and turned the skirt inside out to fix the pleats in position.  I know, I know.  Pins are not period for the Bronze Age Aegean.  I suspect the period way to do this would be to baste the pleats together with one or two lines of basting stitches.  But I'm lazy, so pins it is.  The pleats are fixed in position with strips of cloth*.

Fixing the pleats in position.

Next time, I'll show you the finished skirt and we can see if this really is a viable way to construct a side-pleated skirt.

One of the best things about blogging is that you get feedback.  Leimomi made a really good comment on my last post.  She said "...I agree that the skirt looks like it flares from top to hem, but I immediately noticed the fabric wastage in a trapezoid, which is unusual for really early garments. Any theories on that?"

This is a great question, and it hadn't occurred to me to discuss this issue on the blog.  Thanks Leimomi!  Taking fabric consumption into consideration, here's the cutting layout I propose for this skirt:

This layout requires a piece of fabric 1 meter wide by 2.15 meters long, which is easily doable on a period loom.

The shaded triangles show the waste pieces of cloth.  There isn't a lot of wastage with this layout, and in general fabric wastage seems to have been less of a consideration for the Minoans than it was for other comparable cultures.   Compared to the kind of rectangular construction used in Classical Greece, Egypt, or Bronze Age Europe, Minoan and Mycenaean clothes are wasteful.  The pattern pieces are typically curved and this inevitably results in wasted fabric.  To demonstrate, here are cutting layouts I've used to make a heanos and a kilt:

Not to scale.

These patterns were developed by Bernice Jones** based on paintings and Mycenaean logograms which depict the items in question.  Dr Jones' heanos had a shoulder seam, but I made this one without because the fresco I was copying didn't show a shoulder seam.  Leimomi is right; this is very different from the kind of pattern layout you get with most early garments.  Because these clothes were worn by high status people, I actually wonder whether fabric wastage may have been a feature rather than a bug.

In Egypt and Classical Greece, everyone from kings to slaves wore clothes made in much the same way.  The difference was largely a matter of fabric quality and decoration.  What if Minoan and Mycenaean clothes were also constructed differently, depending on the wearer's status?  If that were the case, it's possible the average person's clothes were a lot more like Classical Greek clothes than the garments shown on palace frescoes.  If anyone has any thoughts on how to test that hypothesis, I'm all ears.

* There's a good description of how to make organ pleats in Sarah Thursfield's book The Medieval Tailor's Assistant.

** Jones, B. 2003, 'Veils and Mantles: An Investigation of the Construction and Function of the Costumes of the Veiled Dancer from Thera and the Camp Stool Banqueter from Knossos' in Metron.
Jones, B. 2009, 'New Reconstructions of the "Mykenaia" and a Seated Woman from Mycenae' American Journal of Archaeology Volume 113, Number 3.

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