How Ancient Egyptian Clothing Was Made & Maintained
On this page we’ll find out how ancient Egyptian clothing was made and maintained – from raw material to production, to washing and mending. All ancient Egyptian clothing was handmade, and the different tools used depended on the different stage of the process as well as the different time periods.
Most ancient Egyptian clothing were made of linen from the flax plant that was abundant along the Nile. Linen was light and flexible, so it suited the hot climate of the country.
There were clothes for special occasions, and there were few other materials used, but the simple linen robe-like garments were the most common.
I have already covered these and the different styles of ancient Egyptian clothes on another page.
How Ancient Egyptian Clothing Was Made
First, the men (and sometimes women) would pick the fibers from the flax plant. These fibers would come in the form of strips and what would go on to make the thread that was spun. The thread’s fineness depended on the age of the plan – the younger the finer.
Now the men’s part is over, and the rest of the entire process was done by women. Ancient Egyptian women would usually make the clothing at home, though there were also garment-making shops which enlisted the help of women to make clothing to sell. Sometimes the king’s harem would also serve as a textile workshop.
Instead of just explaining the process, let’s follow a very well-preserved model of a textile workshop from the tomb of Meketre – a Middle Kingdom high steward and chancellor.
The women would take the collected strips of fiber and begin slicing them down their length in order to make them finer. Then they would splice them by rubbing them on a flat surface. In the model, those are the three women at the far right, with their backs to the wall and crouching on the floor.
The women would then twist the spliced thread using spindles in order to form balls, or yarns, of thread. In the model, those are the three women standing in front of the previously-mentioned women, and they are holding two spindles each.
Next you see the horizontal looms with the women weavers crouching over them to weave.
At a later period, during the New Kingdom, vertical looms began to be used.
Once the raw fabric was produced – garments could be fashioned out of them. As the entire process was very labor intensive, most ancient Egyptians would sew loose robe-like garments with very little stitching and usually no frills.
The typical garment was made from a rectangular piece of linen that would just be wrapped around and then held up by a belt. Sometimes it would be sewed on the sides and hemmed as well.
Knives and needles were the basic tools to cut and sew the fabric.
Of course, there were certain occasions, or certain people, that needed more flare. Embroidery, beading, accessorizing and pleating were all different techniques that produced extremely beautiful results.
Most ancient Egyptians preferred their clothing to be white or whitish, and so dying fabric was not very common, though it existed.
The final product, as we see it on the linen covering the mummies, or the sheets found buried with the dead in tombs, or even in the depictions of paintings, was truly remarkable.
Soft, fine, white linen, so light and airy that it is sometimes transparent. It’s remarkable because these garments were made by hand, using relatively primitive tools as compared with the technologically advanced machinery we use today.
In fact, because of this loveliness, there are initiatives in Egypt today to produce hand-woven linen just as the ancient Egyptians had done.
Washing Ancient Egyptian Clothing
Herodotus observed that the ancient Egyptians were obsessed with wearing clean clothing. This was quite a task since doing laundry was not only hard-work, it was also sometimes very dangerous.
This work was usually given to the men, and actually it was not just work, but a profession. The pharaoh had personal laundrymen that were responsible for keeping his clothes fresh, white and clean.
The work entailed soaking, beating, rinsing and twisting the fabric. They had special bats and would use slabs of rocks to grind the material on, along with salts and lime (the same Natron salts used in washing bodies to prepare for mummification).
There were specialized facilities, and in later periods, they would use boiling to heat the water and make it easier to clean the linen.
But some did their laundry at the Nile…
The Nile back then was full of crocodiles and hippos. Even some pharaohs fell to their deaths because of these wild creatures, so no one was immune! And not only that, there were also parasites and worms and insects that brought the ancient Egyptians myriads of diseases – many of which would cause their deaths.
Mending the wear and tear was usually done in the home, using a simple needle and thread.
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