Sunday, 8 April 2018

Minoan textile with embroidery

Previously, I discussed the idea that the textile designs shown in Minoan and Mycenaean art were not always woven directly into the cloth.  The designs shown on Minoan frescoes can easily be made using embroidery techniques, so I’ve started a reconstruction of one of the kilts shown on the Knossos procession fresco using embroidery techniques.  The results are promising, and consistent with Linear B evidence for textile finishing processes.

When it's finished, the embroidered cloth will be a kilt like these ones shown on the procession fresco from Knossos:

Knossos procession fresco, group C.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The procession fresco is life size and painted with a lot of attention to detail, which means it's easy to see what the fabric designs looked like.  I'm doing the kilt on the far right of procession fresco group C (pictured above), with a pattern of tessellated quatrefoils on a blue background.  Although this part of the fresco is not well preserved there is enough of the quatrefoil design left to see what it looked like, and the decoration at the bottom of the kilt can be reconstructed with reasonable certainty based on better preserved parts of the fresco.

I’ve used embroidery stitches found on Tutankhamun’s clothing to make the design: stem stitch, running stitch, and chain stitch.  King Tut lived either around the time the procession fresco was painted, or about a hundred years later (Aegean chronology is not an exact science) so his clothing is roughly contemporaneous with the procession fresco kilts.  If the Minoans were using embroidery, it's reasonable to assume they would have been using the same sort of stitches used in the Near East around the same time.

I picked the quatrefoil pattern in part because I think it would be difficult to weave.  Brocade techniques don‘t adapt well to designs that require long thin straight lines.   These are better suited to embroidery, so I chose this design for my proof of concept.

All the kilts in the fresco have two stripes of contrasting colour which bear a superficial (and probably not coincidental) resemblance to the bands of fringe pictured on women’s kilts, but in this case analysis of the stripes reveals they are not fringes.  They taper to points at each end, which is just not possible for a woven fringe.  Based on comparison with Near Eastern iconography, there is also some evidence that fringed decoration on clothes signified kingship and/or divinity for the Minoans, so it may not even have been appropriate for these men to wear fringed kilts.

I don't believe these stripes represent one or more woven bands sewn onto the kilt, either.  In my view this is more likely to be a panel of embroidered decoration* because the stripes, and the space in between them, are shaped like an elongated crescent.  If you unfolded the kilt it would look like this:

Weaving bands of cloth that taper to a point at each end is difficult if not impossible.  It makes more sense to interpret the decoration as an embroidered panel, or perhaps applique, and as you can see in the top image embroidery reproduces the stripes nicely.

*  It would be possible to weave this decoration directly into the fabric using tapestry techniques, but it would be difficult.  If the piece was being made on the standard Aegean warp-weighted loom, it would be extremely difficult.


  1. It looks wonderful so far! I can't wait to see the finished product.

    (P.S. Now that my taxes have been done I can spend some spare time on my handled Viking bag.)

  2. It looks like the man in the quatrefoil kilt has belted it with a net or meshwork belt. Sprang, perhaps? Perhaps you may want to tackle that after the kilt is finished?

  3. Thank you! Good to hear you've got your taxes out of the way and can move on to something more interesting.

    Yes, they all have those belts. They're probably very similar to the kind of belts the Egyptians were using, but I'd need to do some research before I attempt to make one. I have been contemplating it though.