Small Tablet Woven Bands from Egypt

In excavations of burial grounds in Egypt, for example, Antinoé, which were carried out in the 19th century, many textiles have been found. These are known as Coptic textiles, fabrics and clothing from Egypt that date from the 3rd to the 7th century.

Tablet woven bands were among the textiles found during these excavations. They are treated negligently in many of the publications regarding Coptic textiles. It is not easy to find literature about them or get detailed pictures, and you often need to visit the archives of the museums. I came across the great variety and splendor of the bands in the French book Antinoé, à la vie, à la mode. Then I started to research further.

In late antiquity and early medieval Egypt, it was not only the elaborate borders of the rich which were found in the burial sites but also small, fast-to-weave ribbons, which can still be woven today without much effort. We also see a difference between the grave clothes of adults and children. Even though the children’s clothes look splendid at first, they are often made with less effort than the adult ones. This also explains why several of the simple tablet woven bands come from children’s clothing.

As opposed to burial grounds in Europe, where ancient textiles survive only by lucky accident, the dry climate in Egypt has ensured that the clothing is almost completely preserved.

The dominant color of the tablet woven bands is red, followed by white, brown, blue and green. They used mainly wool but occasionally the white threads were made of linen. Rarely they used silk. The thickness of the fibers varies, with most of the bands woven with very fine threads, and a few simple bands worked with coarse material.

I have put together a selection of the small bands, including some historical information and weaving patterns, but not all of them are easy to weave. The description ‘small band’ doesn’t automatically show the level of weaving difficulty. There was a variety of techniques from threaded-in patterns to 3/1 broken twill with complex turning sequences.

Please read the patterns from top to bottom and from left to right. S & Z stands for the direction of the threads.

The band from the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester

Let’s start with a simple threaded-in pattern that is reminiscent of an arrow. It is housed at the Whitworth gallery at the University of Manchester in England. The original location and the usage are unknown, but it is dated to the 6th century.

You can find a picture of the band here: http://gallerysearch.ds.man.ac.uk/Detail/22247

The band is originally 1.1 cm wide and is woven with 12 tablets. I used 20/2 wool and the resulting band is 0.9 cm wide.

The band from Antinoé, tomb C 345

The next find was excavated in Antinoé and is kept at the Louvre, Paris, France (Inv. E 32034). It was found in tomb C 345. But there is no information on its original use. The band is 1.6 cm wide. You need quite coarse material to match the original width (I used 8/2 wool and the band is 1.5 cm wide).

The border of a child’s dress, from the Byzantine Museum in Berlin

A child’s dress (Inv. No. 9935 of the Byzantine Museum, Berlin, Germany) was made from seven pieces of linen, and has been adorned with a white/red border on the neck and sleeve. It was woven as a simple threaded-in pattern with an individual steady turning sequence.

A characteristic feature for tablet weaving can be seen with the band on the sleeve —something you rarely find with historic bands because they are often only fragments. This feature is the change of the turning direction, which is in the pattern usually continuously turned in one direction.

The original has a width of 1.5 cm. I’ve woven the band with 20/2 wool and it is 2.2 cm wide.

Many thanks to the Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Berlin for being so generous to let me visit the archives, taking pictures of the bands and to have these great discussions. Also to the Städtische Museum Simeonstift, Trier for being so generous to let me visit the archives and taking pictures of the bands. Thanks for everyone helping me, especially my husband, Marled, who listened and provided me with missing yarn, Magali, Meike, Sara and Heather

Bibliography:

Collingwood, Peter. The Techniques of Tablet Weaving. Brattleboro, VT: Echo Point Books & Media, 2015.

Durand, Maximilien and Calament, Florence. Antinoé, à la vie, à la mode: Visions d’élégance dans les solitudes. Lyon, France: Fage, 2013.

Durand, Maximilien, and Saragoza, Florence. Egypte, la trame de l’Histoire : Textiles pharaoniques, coptes et islamiques. Paris, France: Somogy 2002.

Fluck, Cäcilia, and Finneiser, Klaus.  Kindheit am Nil: Spielzeug – Kleidung – Kinderbilder aus Ägypten in den Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin. Berlin, Germany: State Museums of Prussian Cultural Heritage, 2009.

Fluck, Cäcilia; Linscheid, Petra, and Merz, Susanne. Textilien aus Agypten: Textilien aus dem Vorbesitz Theodor Graf, Carl Schmidt und dem Agyptischen Museum Berlin. Berlin, Germany: Reichert Verlag, 2000.

Gustav-Lübcke-Museum Hamm, Museum für Spätantike und Byzantinische Kunst. Ägypten, Schätze aus dem Wüstensand: Kunst und Kultur der Christen am Nil. Wiesbaden, Germany: Ludwig Reichert, 1996.

Musée Dobrée. Au fil du Nil: Couleurs de l’Egypte Chrétienne. Paris, France: Somogy 2001.

Rautenstrauch, Sammlung Wilhelm, and Nauerth, Claudia. Die koptischen Textilien der Sammlung Wilhelm Rautenstrauch im Städtischen Museum Simeonstift Trier. Trier, Germany: Städtischen Museums Simeonstift, 1989.

Stand, Micky Scholz. “Deux galons tissés d’Antinoupolis – Two tablet-woven bands from Antinoupolis.” https://mickytissages.wordpress.com/2018/12/30/deux-galons-tisses-dantinoupolis-two-tablet-woven-bands-from-antinoupolis/

Wollny, Claudia. Tablets at Work. Germany: Claudia Wollny Edition, 2017.

Wulff, Oskar, and Volbach, Wolfgang Fritz. Spätantike und koptische Stoffe aus ägyptischen Grabfunden. Berlin, Germany: Wasmuth, 1989.

Copyright © 2020 by Silvia Aisling Ungerechts

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