helens_daughter (helens_daughter) wrote,

Woven Threads: Patterned Textiles in the Aegean Bronze Age.

I am currently reading Woven Threads: Patterned Textiles of the Aegean Bronze Age, by Maria Shaw and Anne Chapin.  It's a scholarly, more budget-friendly alternative to Bernice Jones' Ariadne's Threads, but lest you think it's a lesser book, it isn't.  The emphasis here is on pictorial depictions of Aegean patterned textiles, many from fresco fragments that have never been published.  The evidence is there for various fabric techniques, including quilting, tablet weaving, sheer linens and wools, embroidery, and possibly beading.  Did you know that the Mycenaeans favored more practical decorative bands on plain garments to the elaborately patterned textiles worn by the Minoan elite?  It reminds me of our more recent ancestors, who, in an age before mass-produced, store-bought clothes, regularly recycled laces, ribbons, and other trims.

It turns out that you could squeeze a good deal more purple out of murex shells than previously thought.

How did those fresco artists depict those wonderful patterned fabrics? With Egyptian-style grid-lines incised into fresh plaster, of course.  And how do the Minoans and Mycenaeans differ in their depictions of luxury textiles?  Mycenaean artists copied Minoan styles in the beginning, with the flounced skirts and elaborate processions, but you can see Mycenaean fashions creeping into the scene, with a stiffness the Minoan paintings don't have, until finally the artwork is fairly crude, heavily outlined, simplified, lacking the earlier richness of detail.

I love rich textiles, though my skills at embroidery and beading are rudimentary at best.  One day I'd love to write about a woman working in the Aegean textile industry, but meanwhile I have managed a bit of description.

Once, a scribe showed me the sign for woman: a curve suggesting a face, a loop for the dress and arms, two dots for the breasts.  That is how the tally takers record women of our kind in clay and wax; only the high-ranking women, the priestesses, have their names recorded.

There are other signs for us, too--we are the workers in wool or linen, spinners, finishers of cloth, and the palace must keep track of how many rations we receive--but the kindly old scribe who showed me the woman-sign got in trouble for indulging me even that much.  I am sure there is even a sign for my name, though I would not know what that looks like.

My mother called me Arachne, for the spider that was once a woman, who once challenged Potnia Athena to a weaving contest and lost.  I suppose my mother thought she was being clever, or hoped I might have more talent at the loom than she, or had been told that "Arachne" was a good Hellene name for a weaver's daughter.  She was one of the many women of Asia the old king brought back to Pylos, and knew no better.
Tags: artwork, book recs, costumes, fabric, frescoes, minoans, mycenaeans, writing
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