14 January 2010

A&S 50: Material Culture five: Fatimid dress, shot blue wool with embroidery

Fatimid Dress with heart-shaped “embroidered necklace”
Julia May, aka Sayyeda Samia al-Kaslaania
Presented at Spring Coronation, April 2009
All rights reserved.

Image: Completed dress

Description
This dress is intended for a Fatimid Egyptian woman. It is a full length gown of a shot blue-green wool-silk blend, finished with flat-felled seams. It is adorned with a heart motif “embroidered necklace”, as can be seen on Islamic textiles of the period, and decorative bands.

Pattern Layout
The pattern I chose to use is copied from several extant sources [1]. Although none of the examples included here date as early as the Fatimid period, we know that weaving technology and vanity advanced far beyond the typical early Coptic T-shaped tunic. Further, tailored clothing was recorded as a mark of an urban-dweller in the Fatimid period, and fitted garments are listed among items in Fatimid trousseaux [2]. We also know that this pattern is strikingly similar to contemporary European clothing. One could speculate this is either from a confluence of ideas, or the active Mediterranean-European trade system.
Image: Syria, Materia Medica of Dioscurides, 1229, Two students & frontispiece. Iraq or Syria. Note neckline and pattern

The striking difference between this and a European garment is the lack of fitted sleeves—rarely in the illuminations or extant pieces do garments for men or women have sleeves fitted to the wrist. In fact, there is some pictorial evidence for sleeves to grow wider as wealth increased and the need for personal manual labor decreased (personal servants were more common at higher income levels).

The slit neckline is typical of Mediterranean garments for several hundred years before, and at least one hundred years after the Fatimid period. The floor-reaching length of the garment, though rarely depicted, is discussed in trousseaux of the Fatimid periods as being reserved for more expensive garments [3].
image: Alphonso X's Book of Games (In Spanish: Libro de los Juegos" or "Libros del Axedrez, Dados et Tablas) commissioned between 1251 and 1282 A.D. by Alphonso X, King of Leon and Castile.note color and length of garment, full sleeves; veils.


Adornment
The decoration chosen is based off of a few sources. For background: With the notable exception of Persian clothing, there is a strong argument for a pan-Islamic style of dress in this period [4]. This is supported by the considerable documentation of trade in the region—not only of textiles, but also of ideas and thinkers. Fatimid fashionplates were known to copy the styles of Andalusian leatherwork, Syrian silk weaving, Yemeni ikats, and Baghdadi adornment [5]. Using traded textiles and copying styles of dress is not a long reach for proof.


The placement of bands of decoration at the cuffs and hem are typical of Islamic dress of the Middle Ages, and can be spotted on contemporary illuminations [6]. See accompanying images.

The embroidered motif is copied from an extant piece dated to the Mamluk period (the Mamluks conquer the Fatimids in 1171) [7]. This style of “embroidered necklace” features a heart, which had none of the love and Valentine’s Day connotation that it carries today. It was simply a motif in Islamic Egypt.

Some garments are listed in trousseaux of Fatimid brides are described as long sleeved and having a fine weight, as well as decorated with both embroidery and borders [8]. A particular type of fancy women’s garment is noted for its length—to the floor rather than the ankles.

Fabric choice

Shot fabrics, or cross-woven fabrics, are discussed numerous times in the trousseaux of the Cairo Geniza. They are characterized by the warp and weft being of different colors. The silk-wool blend of the fabric would be a typical use for conserving the expensive silk, and may have been known as mulham by the Fatimids [9]. Since sheep were quite common in Fatimid Egypt (used for their milk in the production of cheese), it’s not unreasonable to assume that wool would be one of the fibers blended.
Image: Ellis.

Completing the look
A dress like this would be worn over a base layer, or under tunic and pants (which may or may not have decorated cuffs). It could be worn belted or not. It might have shoes to match it, and it would have head coverings to compliment it, the simplest being a square veil tied on the head with a decorated strip of fabric (see image of woman in blue dress above). A rectangular overwrap, or a coat would also be worn with this outside of the house. Jewelry would consist of a minimum of earrings and finger rings, and likely a pair of bracelets. I do not know if a woman would wear an “additional” necklace with this dress.
It is interesting to note that there appears to be very little difference in how people dressed between the three faiths in Egypt (Islam, Judaism , and Christianity) [10]. The same head coverings would be worn across the board.

Image: Ellis


[1] Ellis, Marianne. Embroideries and Samplers from Islamic Egypt. Ashmolean Museum: University of Oxford, 2001. ; Alphonso X's Book of Games (In Spanish: Libro de los Juegos" or "Libros del Axedrez, Dados et Tablas) commissioned between 1251 and 1282 A.D. by Alphonso X, King of Leon and Castile.; Baghdad, Maqamat al-Hariri, Late Eleventh to early Twelfth Centuries.


[2] Stillman, Yedida. Female Attire of Medieval Egypt. Dissertation, unpublished. 1972.

[3] Goitein, S.D. A Mediterranean Society:The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, Vol 1. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967.

[4] Stillman, Yedida. Norman Stillman, ed. Arab Dress: A Short History. Brill:Leiden. 2001.

[5] Goitein.; Stillman, 1972.

[6] Guthrie, Shirley. Arab Social Life in the Middle Ages. Saqi Books:London, 1995. (The Deserted wife and child, pp 153)

[7] Ellis.

[8] Stillman, 1972.

[9] Goitein.

[10] Stillman, 1972. “Silk woven with another fiber” as distinguished from marwazf, probably silk woven with cotton.

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