More Camel Muzzles

Sometimes one just needs to share one’s notes. After January’s post on Nalbound Camel Muzzles, people were asking to see more of the brightly colored nose caps. I had gathered many more images of camels in muzzles while doing the research than I could possibly use in the post. And truthfully more since, as I too enjoy seeing them and am still curious as to the breadth of their usage. However, the aggregated volume of all those camel muzzles is just too large for another blog post.

Thus, this post is to direct you to my new site page, More Camel Muzzles, where you will find images and video clips, both embedded and linked depending permissions. Each link includes a brief description, including colors and location if known. So far, the images predominantly come from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman, but some appear in images from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Unfortunately, many of the stock photos do not contain information as to where they were taken. Additionally, we have relatively few photos in general from certain regions, so their lack of inclusion may be due to a lack of access versus a lack of use.

The photos are broken out by category depending on how closely they could be identified. Starting with the nalbound muzzles where the images are close enough and clear enough to identify as worked in Mammen stitch (UOO/UUOO F2), both on and off a camel. Then those that can be identified as a Loop & Twist stitch (more often found across North Africa than Arabia), those identifiable as some form of Simple Looping follow. This section ends with a large collection of muzzles of the same style and appearance as the Mammen stitch muzzles (predominately), but the images are either too far away or insufficiently clear (or I was too tired at the time I added them) to be certain of the stitch determination.

Also included, because they are both interesting and to show how identifiable the nalbound muzzles are, is a selection of Not Nalbound Muzzles. Starting with the Ply-Split muzzles, a technique I first ran into with Peter Collingwood’s publications, this section also contains Crochet muzzles, which all appear to be from Turkey, and a brief selection of other styles of muzzles for comparison.

Now, on to More Camel Muzzles: https://nalbound.com/more-camel-muzzles/

Enjoy!

Egyptian sock in Edinburgh

Photograph by Cary Karp. Used with permission.

Searching for more examples of Romano-Coptic socks can lead to many surprises. A quick mention here, a random unidentified image there, the numbers go up as information is found and the numbers go down as disparate pieces are matched together. This is one of those cases where the numbers went down.

Searching through old catalogs of the early Egyptian collectors, I ran across a mention of a “knitted” Coptic sock in A Catalog of the Egyptian Antiquities in the possession of F. G. Hilton Price, Dir.S.A. As it was published in 1897, I was fairly certain that this reference was actually to a nalbound sock as the differences between nalbinding and knitting were not well known in the late 19th century.

“89. Sock, knitted in various coloured wools, with a receptacle formed for the great toe. Length 9 in. Coptic period. Ahmȋm.”

A Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities in the Possession of F.G. Hilton Price. Page 14 (page 36 of the scan), Number 89.1

Not too long before that, I had run across an image of the bottom of a two-toed nalbound sock that had been saved without any identifying information. Tracking the image down led me to Dr. Margret Maitland, Principal Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean, and Head of the Mediterranean, Africa, Americas, and Oceania Section in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh, but no further information on the image.

Then, in October of 2018, I ran across another photo in my Twitter feed. It clearly was the other side of the same sock. And yet, still no identifying information; although it was obvious the sock had clearly undergone conservation since the original image.

The second image I found of this lovely sock in the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh. Added to my notes 10/1/2018.

By November 2018, my search had turned up a then recent entry for A.1911.315 into the National Museums Scotland’s Online Catalog. At the time, there was only one image of the sock available. However, the catalog entry did note that the sock was from the Hilton Price collection. So where I had thought I might have two socks to add to the corpus, I only had one. The numbers go up and the numbers go down as images show data pieces are not a match, that a mention is not actually nalbinding, or as in this case matches are made between separate mentions. (I am currently tracking around 110 separate items in the Romano-Coptic corpus, but the numbers go up and the numbers go down.)

As I was preparing my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, I reached out to Dr. Maitland to request permission to include a photo of this sock. She was kind enough to forward me twelve beautiful photographs to use in my research. These quickly made it into the online catalog for public viewing as well.

One of the earlier images released after conservation in preparation for display.

This lovely sock was one of the items to be included on display in World Cultures, Ancient Egypt Rediscovered, a new gallery that opened in February 2019. It was also reported in the news as one of the five most unusual objects in the three new galleries. See: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-47129600 and https://www.list.co.uk/article/107153-five-of-the-most-unusual-objects-from-the-national-museum-of-scotlands-new-galleries/

It is actually possible to see the sock on display, even now while the museums are closed, via a Google Arts & Culture tour: Google Museum View – Ancient Egypt Rediscovered Gallery. (Note: I set the link to take you directly to the sock case instead of the gallery entrance.) You can tour the entire National Museum of Scotland in the same way.

There are, as of this writing, 19 images of the sock available online in the the National Museum of Scotland’s catalog entry for this sock: https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/collection-search-results/?item_id=404856. Several of them are quite close up. The sock clearly shows ridges evidencing a middle, not top edge, connection between rows (excluding in the back and forth short row construction of the heel). This is similar to, though likely not exactly the same connection as, the stitch described as being used in the 13th century nalbound fragment from Müsen, Germany;2 mentioned as it is a mid connection most likely familiar to nalbinders. It is also at least similar to, and quite possibly the same as, the stitch used in five Coptic socks currently located in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland.3 These are a Mammen/Korgen/Müsen base stitch with an M1 connection: UOO/UUOO M1.4

One might say the sock is inside out, although we do not know which side the maker and wearer intended to be the “right” side. The exterior of the sock is showing the technical back of the fabric as made. Most prominently this is noticeable in the ridging as the ridges of a mid connection are formed on the technical back as worked. The direction of the spiral start on the toe also indicates that the current exterior is the technical back as nalbinding is conventionally worked from left to right and the toe is spiraling right to left. Of the four socks using a visually similar stitch in the Museum der Kulturen, four show the ridges on the outside (two adult split toed socks, one undivided children’s sock, and one undivided incomplete children’s sock) and one has the ridges to the inside (undivided children’s sock).5

On April 7th, 2020, the BBC Scotland posted a ‘One Night in the Museum’ video on their YouTube channel that features the sock for the first minute. It shows some lovely closeups of the toes.

On May 7th 2020, we get an excellent article, The Lost Sock, from Miriam McLeod, the conservator, on the conservation process preparing it for display. https://blog.nms.ac.uk/2020/05/07/the-lost-sock/?fbclid=IwAR3FI85o1Xf-H9rnpBfzPFcrDbmV9x7BfkVQMmL7drideQoSboVjJooRMxs
It includes several additional images taken during the conservation process.

The National Museum of Scotland has a very nice Twitter feed with all kinds of interesting items.

Visitors to the Ancient Egypt Rediscovered exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland occasionally post additional photographs of the sock online as it is now on display. The one below was an exceptionally fine example posted as a response to a tweet of another sock from the Romano-Coptic corpus currently found in the British Museum.

My sincerest thanks to Jennifer Blaikie who posted the link to the “The Lost Sock” blog post where I would come across it and to Kirsten Donaldson Wheal who posted it where Jennifer would run across it. It gave me just the push I needed to finish up this post. If you, dear readers, happen to run across interesting nalbinding tidbits, I’d love to hear about them.

Footnotes/Additional sources:

  1. Hilton Price, Frederick George. A Catalogue of the Egyptian Antiquities in the Possession of F.G. Hilton Price. London: B. Quaritch, 1897. Page 14 (page 36 of the scan), Number 89.
    http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/16500440.html (BW scan) or
    http://dlib.nyu.edu/awdl/sites/dl-pa.home.nyu.edu.awdl/files/catalogueofegypt00pric/catalogueofegypt00pric.pdf (Color scan)
  2. This stitch description has yet to be independently verified. However, it is the stitch most likely recognized by nalbinding craft workers as being a mid connection. Mid connections are unfortunately never specified as to taken from the left or right, but either is possible and distinguishing important. More information on the Müsen fragment is available in:
    Böttcher, Gudrun. “Nadelbindungstechnik: Mittelalterlicher Textilfund in Müsen – Nachbildunsversuch” in Experimentelle Archäologie: Bilanz 1991 Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Nordwestdeutschland. Beiheft 6. by Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte. Oldenburg: Isensee, 1991. ISSN: 0170-5776
  3. There are very few published photographs of the Museum der Kulturen’s collection of nalbound socks. The largest collection is in this article: Flury-v. Bültzingslöwen, Regina, and Dr. Edgar Lehmann. “Nichtgewebte Textilien vor 1400 / IX. Teil.” Wirkerei- und Strickerei- Technik: Fachzeitschrift für die Fabrikationspraxis und Betriebstechnik der Wirkerei- und Strickerei-Industrie 1955 (5): 38-41.
  4. Böttcher, Gudrun. “Nadelbindung – Koptische Textilien un Museum der Kulturen Basel und un Stadtischen Museum Simeonstift, Trier” in Archaeological Textiles Newsletter, No. 39 (Autumn) 2004.
    There is another fragment extant that appears to be in this stitch in Finland. It is described in Vahter , T . ‘Tuukkalan neulakinnas’, Finska Fornminnesforeningens Tidskrift X L, 1934: 236-243. See also: Vajanto, Krista. “Nålbinding in Prehistoric Burials – Reinterpreting Finnish 11th–14th-century AD Textile Fragments” in Sounds Like Theory. XII Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group Meeting in Oulu 25.–28.4.2012. Edited by Janne Ikäheimo, Anna-Kaisa Salmi & Tiina Äikäs. Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland 2, 21–33. ISBN 978-952-67594-7-0 (PDF) ISBN 978-952-67594-6-3 (hardback)
  5. The Museum der Kulturen posted a blog post about our visit to see the collection in January of 2019. https://www.mkb.ch/de/blog/2019/q1/sockenforscher.html While the blog post focuses on another sock in the Museum der Kulturen collection, the images do include a few of the socks mentioned in the background.

Nalbound camel muzzles

Three wise men, riding on camels, followed an Eastern star… so they say.

Camel sporting red muzzle in Livestock Market, Wholesale Markets area. Doha, Qatar, March 4, 2013 Photo taken by  Alexey Sergeev. Used according to commonly accepted rules and regulations.

This last year’s examinations included several examples of nalbound Omani sand socks in addition to the Romano-Coptic Egyptian socks I’ve been concentrating on of late. I spent some time searching for comparables and stumbled across a rare image of sand socks being worn. Searching for more I realized that there is a reluctance to take images of people’s feet (not that surprising given the cultural issues). However, in my searches I was reminded that sand socks are not the only traditional nalbound objects in the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Anti-spitting muzzles for camels are another traditional craft that uses nalbinding quite frequently (amongst other interesting techniques such as ply-spliting, etc.) and it turns out that people are much less reluctant, eager even, to take pictures of camel muzzles than they are of people’s feet.

Photo taken on June 22, 2010 by Jarod Carruthers of a Camel in the Dubai Desert. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

These camel muzzles are almost always identified as knitting; though I’ve yet to see a knitted one. And while I did see one source that called them crochet (a technique that has some minor representation in modern camel muzzles though not commonly amongst those photographed), none of that particular article’s accompanying photos were representative of anything but nalbinding. This misidentification of technique obscures the living tradition of this ancient craft.

Based on the imagery online, current trends in camel muzzles involve the use of brightly colored acrylic yarn. A more traditional one now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, 2003.9.132, was collected in 1994 and is made of hand-spun yarn. This is similar to the majority of the sand socks I have examined. Those in the Pitt Rivers that were collected between 1985 and 1986 are also primarily hand spun  (2003.9.134 .1, 2003.9.135, 2003.9.136, 2003.9.137, as well as the recent pair at TRC, Leiden  TRC 2018.2807a-b). Although, the Pitt Rivers also has the brilliant red/green striped pair, 2003.9.138, which are entirely acrylic and the pair acquired in 2011 and now in the British Museum,  2012,6004.5.a-b,  incorporates some black acrylic at the cuff of otherwise hand-spun socks.

Camel and falcon in the desert in Qatar.
Camel and falcon in the desert in Qatar taken by Ralf Steinberger on March 9, 2012. (CC BY 2.0)

Our knowledge of historical nalbound artifacts from the Arabian penninsula is so negligible as to be non-existent at this time. However, nalbinding’s general obscurity also means I believe it’s less likely to have been something picked up from travelers or invaders. Nalbinding has a known history in Egypt & Sudan, and  current traditions not just in the Empty Quarter, but also further into the Middle East in Iran (I’ll be writing about traditional Iranian giveh in the future).

The search for as many examples of camel muzzles as I could find took me places I never expected. It’s not often that my nalbinding research turns up celebrities. But this search found me glancing through Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart’s vacation photos amongst others.

The nalbound camel muzzles all appeared to be worked at rather large row heights. Between that and the acrylic yarn, in the closer photos it was easy to see the stitch used. I was a bit surprised to find that in each and every case where it was clear enough to see, the stitch used was UOO/UUOO F2, more commonly known at the Mammen stitch (after a single find of the same stitch in Mammen, Denmark).

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However, that finding is consistent with the socks I examined as well. I did come across one image, that while it was not clear enough to make a determination from, did appear to potentially be of a simpler compound version than the predominant Mammen. As of yet, it appears the socks examined by Peter Collingwood are of a stitch atypical of current use.

So on this day of Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, I bring you the gift of brilliantly colored nalbound camel muzzles. If you’d like to see more, a simple search for “camel muzzle” will bring up a beautiful bouquet.

Edit: Further follow up is available in this blog post: More Camel Muzzleshttps://nalbound.com/2020/05/25/more-camel-muzzles/

And on this page, which includes many many photos and links to More photos: More Camel Muzzleshttps://nalbound.com/more-camel-muzzles/

Medieval Nubian Nalbinding in Sudan

I’m very excited to start this year off by calling your attention to a particularly spectacular and significant pair of nalbound socks. While the known corpus of finds out of Egypt continues to expand as growing interest encourages examinations of those random boxes and unopened drawers that have been languishing, next to nothing was available about nalbinding further up the Nile. And now, not only do we have our first known piece of medieval nalbinding found in Sudan, it’s a pair of compound nalbound socks decorated with intarsia.

These beautiful blue wool socks with yellow and green accents, KH 18868, are currently on display in the “Hidden Textile Treasures in the collections of the Sudan National Museumexhibition which opened in Khartoum on October 24, 2019 and will run through May 2020. The green crosses on the fronts and yellow crosses on the backs of the ankle shaft are worked as an integral part of the fabric.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Magdalena Woźniak, as part of her broader Nubian Textiles project.1 I had the honor to meet her last January at the TAES seminar in Copenhagen. She brought this pair to my attention after my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, introducing a broader understanding of the wide variety within nalbound finds from Egypt and surrounding regions. In particular, the embroidered crosses on the two socks2 found at Deir el-Dyk caught her eye given the intarsia crosses of this pair.

These Nubian socks were found on the feet of an adult woman buried in the medieval Christian cemetery in Semna South.3 Dating to around the 11th century AD is based on the type of burial and the last architectural phase of the Christian church that was built there in the 9th-11th centuries AD. 4

This extraordinary pair of socks constitutes one of four unique fabrics that were allowed to be transported to Poland for conservation as part of the project.5 Conservation complete, they returned to Sudan in time for the exhibition opening and are now housed in sealed and properly lit display cases for preservation.

Another small picture of the conserved socks on display is included in IKŚiO PAN’s exhibition announcement (in Polish). The further linked description pdf (also in Polish) includes two closer photos, one pre- and one post-conservation, showing the technical front and technical back of one of the integrally worked crosses. (See also link and link). We are currently working on an article with further details.

This will be one of many articles I will be working on this year. Last year, I was honored to have the opportunity to examine a large number of other examples of extant objects. However, the travel required, and life’s demands, meant that I did not have much time to analyze and write up the data I acquired. I look forward to being able to bring together more data regarding historical nalbinding.

Also, a huge thank you to all those that brought me information on finds new and old this last year.

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NOTES:
1. Part of the “Nubian Textiles: craft, trade, costume and identity in the medieval kingdom of Makuria” project, the exhibition was prepared by the Instytut Kultur Śródziemnomorskich i Orientalnych Polskiej Akademii Nauk (IKŚiO PAN) [Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Poland Academy of Sciences] in cooperation with the Sudanese National Museum and the Section Française de la Direction des Antiquités du Soudan (SFDAS) [French Archaeological Unit Sudan Antiquities Service].
2. One sock is now held in the British Museum; EA72502. The other, III 3356, is located in the Museum der Kulturen, Basel. See also: Gayet, Albert. Le costume en Egypte du IIIe au XIIIe siècle Palais du costume, Exposition Universelle de 1900. Paris: E. Leroux, 1900. https://archive.org/stream/lecostumeenegyp00frangoog#page/n112/mode/1up Accessed January 1, 2020.
3. Further information regarding the excavations is available in Žabkar, Louis V. and Joan J. Žabkar. “Semna South. A Preliminary Report on the 1966-68 Excavations of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute Expedition to Sudanese Nubia” in Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 19 (1982), pp. 7-50. Published by: American Research Center in Egypt DOI: 10.2307/40000432 Accessed January 2, 2020.
Also, the SFDAS has a link to this very nice pdf that outlines the history of the region and shows Semna on a map.
Rilly, Claude. The Sudan National Museum in Khartoum: An illustrated guide for visitors. Translated by Solène Marion de Procé. SFDAS 2013. https://sfdas.com/IMG/pdf/livretmuse_etenglight.pdf Accessed January 1, 2020.
4. Personal correspondence: Dr. Magdalena Wozniak, October 2, 2019.
5. http://centrumnubia.org/en/projects/nubian-textiles/conservation/ Accessed January 1, 2020.

New excavations turn up 15th Century Nalbinding from Tallinn

Today a post came across my feed telling me of the recent excavation of a late Medieval (15th century) landfill in the Hanseatic town of Tallinn, Estonia that includes nalbound fragments. The linked report is the initial summary of the finds and other information collected in the 2018 excavation season.

The collection has not been fully catalogued so there is no precise analysis of the artifacts as of yet. However, 4 items of fragmentary nalbinding were found, now in 21 pieces. Additionally, a knitted cap, which is pictured in the article, and a few knitted socks, gloves, and mittens can be identified out of the 43 knitted items (70 fragments thereof) that were also found in the landfill. These are but a few of the approximately 2000 total textile fragments, primarily woven with some felt.

Russow, Eric, and Keiti Randoja, Rivo Bernotas, Andres Tvauri, Riina Rammo, Monika Reppo, Jaana Ratas, Juhan Kreem, Lembi Lõuga. “A late medieval treasure trove of TallinnSalvage excavations of the 15th-century landfill between the Jahu and Väike-Patarei streets” in Archaeological Fieldwork in Estonia 2018, 185–218. Accessed December 12, 2019. http://www.arheoloogia.ee/ave2018/AVE2018_13_Russow.et.al_Jahu.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3FMgUp3wJA1FNFQk6u8ktsmDV9Y5f1ZHU3bgAjaRn19P0muqmGb_9-5Vw

In this season of giving, I am extremely grateful for those that bring me gifts of information regarding nalbound finds. This year has been made even more fruitful by your sharp eyes and generous spirits.

Sock in the Warrington

Last January, I headed to Europe to present my preliminary research into Romano-Coptic nalbinding from Egypt and surrounding regions. As I generally don’t often get the opportunity to visit Europe, I had arranged several appointments with various institutions to see nalbound objects in their collections. One of these was with the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.

I had attempted to reach out to the Warrington before I left, but as the timing had been short, I had not been able to make contact. So after my appointment at the Whitworth Art Gallery to view their collection, my mother and I met up with Regina De’Giovanni and, after a quick lunch, we made our way to Warrington to see if by chance the sock I had heard of was actually on display. The Warrington is a lovely museum. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it.

Thorough examination of the Egyptian displays did not reveal a sock hiding anywhere. But, as they are rather crowded displays, we decided to ask. The lovely young lady on duty said that there was no sock on display. However, if we were interested in seeing it, she had a form we could fill out and she would get it to the collections manager to see if a visit could be arranged. She was surprised that I had the inventory number on me. Given that I would be leaving Manchester in just a few days, we did not expect there was any chance I’d get to see it.

And yet, before we had even finished viewing the rest of the collections, Craig Sherwood found us. He knew exactly the sock I was asking about. It was in a box with some of their other Coptic textiles. He was going to the store rooms the next day and could bring it to the Museum the day after that. Would I be available in two days time? Would I? Luckily our flight out of Manchester was not until Wednesday evening and we had no specific plans for that morning.

It was rainy on that Wednesday and we missed the best train. After finding a place to set up (all the exam rooms were full), we proceeded to have a lovely time discussing Coptic socks and examining the precious little example in their collection. As this sock had not previously had a photograph published, I had very little information about it beforehand. I got to learn what its current condition was, the fineness of the yarn used, and which foot it was for. It had clearly been worn and the dust of Egypt was still on it.

I would like to extend my warmest thanks and appreciation to Craig Sherwood and the other employees of the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery for their assistance and gracious hospitality giving me the opportunity to examine this beautiful blue sock in their collection.

I was honored to be granted permission to include a photograph of the sock in my presentation (shown on the 5th slide), Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, to help round out a visual summary of the variety of nalbound socks from Egypt and the surrounding regions.

Travel Log – or why it’s been quiet

Once I got back from Copenhagen and Nantes, it was time to quick turn around and prepare for the presentation at the Textiles from the Nile Valley study group’s conference and associated travel. Unfortunately, this left me little time to work on the blog. That said, I have been gathering lots of interesting information that I will be processing and hoping to share in this and other appropriate venues.

Note: This was a long and involved trip. This is a summary, but it is still quite long. I will be making more detailed posts as to the specific appointments/items as time permits.

There was only a month and a half between the two trips, so I had to immediately start arranging my travel plans and requesting permissions from museums to use photographs of items in their collections in my presentation. Complicating that, is requesting, arranging, and confirming research examination appointments along the way. As luck would have it, almost all of the institutions I approached were able to accommodate my schedule, so this became a very packed trip.

The chicken in the gift shop spoke to me, but there was no room in the luggage. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

We started off by heading to Nashville, Tennessee. An online friend of mine was being honored and I had been asked to participate in the ceremony. Mom and I had a lovely time exploring Nashville. We went to the Tennessee State Museum. An evening at the Grand Ole Opry (very fun) and some tire pressure trouble (not so fun) with the rental car topped off the evening before we drove out to our hotel near the site.

A slow morning, one of the few this trip, got us to site just before 2pm. We then proceeded to try to not be noticeable as it was supposed to be a surprise. It worked well and I got to spend a lovely evening chatting nalbinding with Muirghein. The temperature drops rapidly when the sun goes down in the Tennessee mountains and we were not prepared. By the time the ceremony actually occurred, I could barely speak I was soo cold. Thankfully, due to the hospitality of the locals, I was not actually frozen. Nonetheless, the heat and water pressure of the shower was greatly appreciated once we got to the hotel.

Our friendly inspector, Mr. Clyde. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

The next morning involved repacking for Europe. An hours drive to the airport and a quick flight up to Newark brought us to where we were met by my heroic husband. His visit solved several of our issues; how to not take extra luggage to Europe we weren’t going to use there and collecting a few forgotten items. It also solved how to get to JFK for the next flight. A quick dinner and we were off. Except for a minor issue regarding overweight luggage, everything went smoothly at the airport and we landed in London on Monday the 14th. After which we followed our host’s excellent directions to her house, where we were greeted, and inspected, by a beautiful and friendly cat named Clyde.

Tuesday was filled with appointments at the Blythe House. The first was with the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre. My sincerest thanks to Benjamin Hinson for his excellent support during our visit. The lighting was challenging, especially with two of the items in melamine envelopes. However, I did get the chance to see details that I had not previously seen of the purple sock with lacing loops (link), the red and yellow striped children’s sock (link) with its mix of cross-knit and pierced loop variations, the brown sock with many patches (link), the toe cap once thought to be a doll cap (link), and the “bag” that looks like a cat toy (link). Unfortunately, but certainly not unexpectedly, they were unable to pull the pair of red socks (link) off display for me to examine. I did manage to capture some details of them on display as we took a quick trip to the V&A at the end of the day.

The display case in which the red socks, 2085&A-1900, appear is in a different location than when I first saw them on display in May of 2014. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

My second appointment was with the British Museum’s Textile Study Room. Here I requested, and got to see, their red Egyptian sock (link), a pair of Omani sand socks (link), and some beautiful Peruvian bird and flower bands (Am1931,1123.21.a is the one I most closely examined). The Collections Manager, Helen Wolfe, was kind enough to have brought out another piece of Peruvian cross-knit looping for me to see as well; a lovely fingered turban band of which glorious photos are published in Textiles from the Andes by Penelope Dransart and Helen Wolfe.

I was very fortunate in the timing of this trip as the Blythe House is closing soon and the V&A’s Clothworkers’ Centre and the Textile Department of the British Museum will be closed for a while as they navigate the move to new locations.

Wednesday we headed to the British Museum to the Ancient Egypt and Sudan Study Room. I spent the morning examining several fragments of knitting: some knitted tubes (link & link) and a lovely bit of multi-colored cotton stranded knitting (link) from Nubia. The afternoon was spend examining the colorful child’s sock (link) that recently had its dyes analyzed by multispectral imaging (link to article), the brown cross-knit sock (link), and the compound nalbound sock with embroidered cross (link) that is so similar to the one I examined in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel this last January (link to our visit, but not that particular sock).

Capturing my own photos of UC16766 at the Petrie Museum.
Photo credit: Ruth Decker

At the lunch break we took a quick dash to the Petrie Museum to see the pair of socks they have on display (link). Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a research appointment as they are booked solid through February which meant I was unable to see their other sock (link). I look forward to the opportunity in the future as there are several places in the UK I still need to see.

Thursday morning it was up early so that we could catch a train to Oxford as I had an 11am appointment with the Pitt Rivers Museum. A quick walk to the storage depot and I got to spend the day examining 5 pairs of Bedu sand socks collected in Oman (2003.9.134 .1, 2003.9.135, 2003.9.136, 2003.9.137). Interesting tidbits include noting that the inside heel of the vibrant red and green striped pair was made using the most glowing orange yarn (2003.9.138) and that the technical front does not appear to have been considered when applying the additional pads. The accompanying paperwork so kindly provided by Nicholas Crowe included the the fact that one of the pairs was made specifically for the collector and thus we know the specific dates of its creation. I was also granted the chance to see the pair of split toe felt socks collected by Petrie (catalog entry link & images link & link).

Friday morning took us to the Ashmolean and The Von Bothmer Centre for the Study of Antiquities; which is currently entered through a fresco in the Pompeii exhibit. Here I met with Liam McNamarra, the Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator for Ancient Egypt and Sudan, to examine the baby bootie and larger brown sock. The brown of the baby bootie is actually purple, so it’s purple with orange and green stripes. The brown sock also revealed a few surprises. Never let anyone tell you they only have a boring brown sock of no consequence. Every single one I have examined has had some special interesting detail to add to our understanding of these objects. Unfortunately, these socks have yet to make it into the Ashmolean’s online catalog as of yet. I did provide a link to one online image in an earlier blog post on January’s visit to the Bolton, New Walk Museum, and Ashmolean (link).

My brother and I at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. We had such fun opening all the drawers.

After my appointment at the Ashmolean, we met up with my brother. Having stashed our luggage we went back to the Pitt Rivers to actually explore the collections on display. The Pitt Rivers has to have my favorite ever directions on how to get to their museum. Once in the Natural History Museum, go past the dinosaurs. When you find Darwin, turn left. There you will find the entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Bring a flashlight and some patience. It is absolutely packed with all kinds of interesting items. The bilums and baskets were of course a favorite, but I was also enamored with the wheat weaving from 1900 and several of the wax votives.

We finished the day with a walk all the way around Christchurch. Unintentional, but we caught the sun setting in the golden hour on a beautiful building covered in red ivy. We attended the Evensong service and then my brother drove us home for a quiet relaxing weekend.

Monday morning it was back to London and the British Museum to meet up with Joanne Dyer for a delightful chat about her work with multispectral imaging for dye analysis as done on the British Museum’s colorful child’s sock and my work on understanding the sock within the context of the broader corpus of Romano-Coptic Egyptian socks. https://twitter.com/JoanneDyer_BM/status/1186351417419796480

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Tuesday morning was an early train to Amsterdam. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place. We took a walk down Niuewendyk were we saw what has to be my favorite T-shirt shop (mashing various genres together in a beautiful and cohesive manner). The Dam square was populated with Santa and Darth Vader as well as a beautiful bubble maker and a great swarm of pigeons. While mom and I often don’t use the audio tours, the one offered for the Royal Palace was excellent. The gift shop left me trying to work out how to bring home a full size umbrella. Didn’t manage it this time.

All of a sudden the pigeons took off and swirled through the air. Dam square, Amsterdam.

Wednesday was an appointment with the TropenMuseum. Veerle van Kersen brought these socks brought to my attention very recently and I was lucky enough to have a day free in my travels that could easily bring me to Amsterdam. There was a slight mix up as to what day I would arrive, but Sofie de Weger made time to ensure I had the opportunity to examine them. They are all small children’s socks, but the largest of them has several colors (link). There is also one other complete sock (link) and two toe/heel pieces (link), one of which is very small (link). Not much is known of their provenance as is unfortunately the case for much of the compound nalbound finds.

One of the windmills of Dokkum. Photo credit: Anne Decker

The day ended with a multi-train and final bus leg trip up to the Northern end of the Netherlands to a small town called Dokkum. We arrived just after 9pm, which unfortunately meant that all the kitchens were closed, but the lights were so beautiful. We took an evening stroll around to see the sights. We saw two lovely windmills and met a very friendly cat that hopped up on a post to be petted. It was a perfect evening. The scent and crisp chill of autumn setting in.

Thursday morning we met up with Harma Peining and her husband before heading to the Museum Dokkum to examine their 19th century hat. More will be forthcoming on that in future articles. We had a lovely visit and a chance to explore the museum as well. Harma and her husband graciously gave us a ride to the train station which cut down on some of our travel time and gave us time to catch up on the way.

An unfortunate delay in Rotterdam meant that we got into Antwerp after 10pm. The delay itself was kept pleasant by some lovely Belgians we met on the platform and it is due to them that we had an easy time catching the bus towards our hotel in Antwerp. A bit of a walk and we arrived. Such a relief to know I didn’t have to pack up again for three days.

Friday morning I sent mom off to explore Antwerp while I finished up my slides for the presentation. The last of the permissions I needed had come in on Thursday and thus it was easier than it could have been. However, getting all the last minute minutia arranged took me through until the afternoon. I finished up just as my friend, Cary Karp, arrived. After giving him a few moments to freshen up, we were out the door to the Katoen Natie headquArters so that I could examine the beautiful pair of children’s socks in The Pheobus Foundation‘s collection. I got a good look at a particular detail I had been confused by in previously published images of the pair. While we were there, Kristin Van Passel, asked us if we’d be interested in examining some knitted tube fragments that are also in their collection. We were able to take a very close look at their structure which was aided by the multicolored patterning of the tubes. When we finished up it was time to join in the conference’s social gathering upstairs. A chance to meet up with old friends (a few) and new (many).

Saturday was spent enjoying the excellent presentations being delivered at the Textiles from the Nile Valley Study Group’s conference dedicated to “Explorers, first collectors and traders of textiles from Egypt of the 1st millennium AD.” Putting names to faces in some cases. The study group does not maintain a website, but the program was uploaded on the Universität Bonn’s website (link). The book table was also fun to peruse and caused some difficulty in how to get them all home. You will notice several new entries to the Annotated bibliography page.

Saturday evening was an optional dinner gathering with conference attendees at a lovely, but loud, restaurant near the water. I got to try more new foods. During the lull between courses, I was able to finish up my theoretical re-construction of what the Dura Europos patterned fragment might have looked like as a complete sock, based on my examinations of other contemporaneous finds. This is the piece Lily had been helping me with earlier in the month.

My evening ended with a quick lesson in how to steam block a sock using a steam iron and hotel towels. After basting in a rough outline of the fragment edges, it was ready for its photograph and insertion into my slides for the morning’s presentation. My presentation, Fringed and patterned: decorative elements in Romano-Coptic nalbound socks, was first thing on the schedule Sunday morning.

Sunday morning before my presentation. Photo credit: Ruth Decker

The submitted abstract reads: “Approximately ten percent of the recognized corpus of Roman-Coptic nalbinding consists of items with fringe or stitch patterning as decorative elements. This paper will report on the results of a preliminary structural analysis of a number of such objects and place them in a broader museological context. These are three pairs of socks found in Gebel Abou Fedah by F. Cailliaud (1787-1869) now in the Musée Dobrée in Nantes, France and the single sock recently rediscovered in the National Museum of Denmark in an older unexamined lot. These socks will be compared with similar contemporaneous items such as: the image of a sock collected by T. Graf (1840-1903) of currently unknown location, the fragment collected by F.W. Kelsey (1858-1927) now in the Kelsey Museum of Archeology in Ann Arbor, the sock collected by C.T. Currelly (1876-1957) now in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, and the fragments from Dura-Europos.” 

My investigations turned up several more comparables after submitting the abstract, so there were also examples from the collections of The Whitworth Art Gallery (University of Manchester), the Bolton Museum and Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, and the musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs. All of whom were gracious enough to grant me permissions to use images of their collections in my presentation.

Once the Sunday presentations were completed, many of us boarded a bus to Brussels to visit the “Crossroads – Traveling through Middle Ages” exhibit at the Art and History Museum (once known as the Cinquantenaire Museum). I enjoyed learning more about their collections, but my attention was, not surprisingly, held most by the child’s sock (and tunic) on display (link). The exhibit is ongoing through the end of March next year (2020) in case you happen to be in Brussels.

We left Brussels that evening heading up to Leiden in the Netherlands. Another delay in Rotterdam (brake trouble on our train) meant we took a detour past Delft through The Hauge, but as it was already dark we did not get to see much. The morning light in Leiden, on the other hand, was perfect. We decided to forgo finding a bus and took a walk instead to meet up with Diana Lankhof at the Textile Research Centre. Lies van de Wege, the depot manager, was kind enough to open the Centre an hour early as we had limited time before we had to leave to catch the plane home from Amsterdam. I had a lovely time chatting with Diana and Lies over tea and getting the chance to explore TRC’s “Socks & Stockings” exhibit which runs through the 19th of December.

Unfortunately, the time to leave drew quickly nigh and we had to catch our train to Amsterdam to begin the trip home. Schiphol Airport made the process easy and we were soon on our way to New York where my dear husband awaited to drive us the rest of the way home.

This has been a very busy year. While there are still objects out there that I would dearly love to have the opportunity to see, and I am set to present a poster at NESAT next year (schedule), I also need time to write up my reports on all of the items I have been honored to see this year.

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