Coptic Costume

The common costume of Coptic Egypt—as ubiquitous as blue jeans are in the early 2000s—was a tunic with tapestry embellishment. The one-piece tunic of tabby-tapestry was woven from cuff-to-cuff on a hem-to-hem loom width with a slit for the neck opening. To finish the garment the fabric is folded at the shoulder line and seamed up the sides. Some tunics were woven in sections on a narrow loom and then pieced together. Tapestry cuff bands, shoulder or knee medallions, yoke panels, hem bands, and clavi (weft-wise bands) decorate the tunics. The clavi, which become the vertical strips of tapestry running down the front and back of the tunic, can be recognized as an early twenty-first century priestly stole. Men's decorations were typically monochrome, while the women's were often polychrome. Though there are variations in the size and arrangement of tapestry embellishments, the tunic stays in style for nearly a thousand years. Precious tapestry remnants were recycled and appliqued on other tunics. Brocaded bands, tablet-woven bands, scraps of patterned taquete or samitum, and some separately woven tapestry bands were sewn to tunics. All wool tunics, decorated with tapestry and some with hoods, were also found. In frescoes, mosaics, and both secular and sacred manuscript illustrations from the early medieval world one can identify the same type of cloth and costume found in the necropolis of Coptic Egypt.

The Antinoé Riding Coat is an elegant knee-length coat nipped in at the waist with long flaring sleeves. Though found in Antinoé, they are considered Near Eastern. The coats of wool or cashmere were dyed a luscious red or blue-green. Scraps of delicately patterned silk samitums—the first draw-loom fabrics found in the western world—were used as facings and trim on these garments.

Shawls of linen tabby-tapestry textiles decorated with lavishly colored flowers, dyed woolen shawls, and perhaps silk scarves for the wealthy were worn over tunics. Patterned taqueté woolens, that Gayet found used as duvet covers, were probably reused mantle fabrics. Tapestry leggings, knit socks, leather mules embossed with gilt, and leather sandals with perforated straps were all found in Coptic graves. Hairnets of sprang, as well as bags, made of linen or linen and wool were a fashion item of the day. A bourrelet de chenille is an unusual women's head ornament worn to frame the face. A bourrelet is a roll of material and chenille is French for caterpillar—an apt description for this fuzzy roll of multicolored, long woolen weft-loops on a linen fabric. Thaïs is illustrated in Gayet's book wearing a bourrelet de chenille.

Gayet's many exhibits of Antinoé textiles—especially the one he created for the Palais du Costume at the Paris exposition of 1900—inspired costumes for opera, theater, silent films, and even a haute couture gown by Mariano Fortuny. Embroiderers could find Coptic patterns in three booklets published by Dollfus-Meig Company. Rodin collected Coptic textiles. Matisse and other Fauve artists, fascinated by Coptic tapestry art, discovered a new way of interpreting color, shape, and archaic scenes. The impact of Coptic textiles continues with new excavations, exhibitions, and publications.

Gayet believed that the exploration of Antinoé was ". . . the resurrection of a lost world" and the artifacts ". . . of inestimable value for the history of art." His dream of an Antinoé museum was never realized, but the textiles discovered by Gayet—once quotidian cloth— grace modern galleries of museums around the globe. The diverse textile themes, techniques, and technology reflect influences from the languishing classical, flourishing Christian, and emerging Islamic world.

See also Dyes, Natural; Loom; Textiles, Byzantine; Weave



Du Bourguet, Pierre. Musée National du Louvre Catalogue des etoffes coptes. Paris: Editions des Musée Nationaux, Ministere d'Etat-Affaires Culturelles, 1964.

Hoskins, Nancy Arthur. The Coptic Tapestry Albums and the Archaeologist of Antinoé, Albert Gayet. Eugene, Ore.: Skein Publications in association with the University of Washington Press, 2003.

Lorquin, Alexandra. Etoffes égyptiennes de l'Antiquité tardive du musée Georges-Labit. Toulouse: Somogy Editions d'Art, 1999.

Martiniani-Reber, Marielle. Soieries sassanides, coptes et byzantines V-XI Siècles. Paris: Editions de la Reunion des Musées Nationaux, 1986.

Rutschowscaya, M. H. Coptic Fabrics. Paris: Musée du Louvre, 1990.

Santrot, Marie-Hélène, M. H. Rutschowscaya, Dominique Bé-nazeth, and Cécile Giroire. Au Fil du Nil: couleures de l'Egypte chrétienne. Paris: Somogy Editions D'Art, 2001.

Trilling, James. The Roman Heritage, Textiles from Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean 300 to 600 A.D. Washington, D.C.: The Textile Museum, 1982.

Nancy Arthur Hoskins

TEXTILES, JAPANESE Textiles have long played an important role in Japanese life. Japanese weavers and dyers used silk, hemp, ramie, cotton and other fibers, and a range of weaves and decorative treatments, to produce textiles of distinctive design and exceptional aesthetic merit. These textiles were put to many different uses: for clothing of both commoners and elites; for banners, hangings, and other materials produced for use in temples; for theatrical costumes; and for cushion covers, curtains, and other domestic uses. As with many other Japanese arts, Japanese textiles historically have developed through an interaction of external influences and indigenous techniques and design choices, and a tendency to develop both technology and aesthetics to a high degree of refinement.

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