Dura-Europos Fragments

The most famous of the Dura-Europos fragments is the beautifully stitch patterned cross-knit nalbound fragment, Inv. No. 1933.483, in the Yale University Art Gallery, showing a opposing leaf pattern bordered by repeats of a pomegranate like shape. Its original function is unknown, but the conservation efforts made the three remaining integral lacing loops visible.

Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery – Public Domain
Source: Knit Textile Fragment | Yale University Art Gallery

The particular fragment pictured above initially caught my eye back in the late 1990’s. I had gotten my first copy of Richard Rutt’s A History of Hand Knitting. The chart he included for a knitted simulation did not match the image of the actual object provided on page 30 with the precision that I desired. I spent many many hours pouring over that image and charting out stitch by stitch the nalbinding pattern the year I was in Taiwan (1999/2000). I also spent a good bit of time consolidating a list of references to track down and discovered that the Academia Sinica library had an amazing Humanities and Ethnography collection. This collection included a copy of R. Pfister and Louisa Bellinger’s 1945 article on the “knitting” in The excavations at Dura-Europos Final Report IV, Part II which included a black and white image that was clearly post cleaning/conservation.

Increase/decrease diagrams from my 2000 cross-knit nalbinding handout.

My class handout I initially created in 2000 included not only diagrams of the possible increases and decreases and my chart for the specific pattern found in Inv. N0. 1933.483, it also included my initial attempts at using the images of the Dura-Europos fragment to illustrate the specific increases and decreases used in extant Roman Era cross-knit nalbinding. It continues to be a favorite piece for this purpose as it includes so many examples thereof in the formation of its stitch patterning.

Reviewing surface structure similarities after my presentation at the 39th International Medieval Congress.

In 2004, I was honored to present “Nalbinding or Not?: Some Structural Differences between Nalbinding and other Textile Techniques” at a DISTAFF session during the 39th International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The patterned Dura-Europos piece proved to be an excellent example for demonstrating what cross-knit nalbound increases and decreases looked like in an actual object and how they differed from the corresponding shaping of a knitted object.

Here is a copy of the handout from my presentation.

A sample testing out the pattern I charted from Inv. N0. 1933.483 made while listening to presentations at the 39th International Medieval Congress.
Cross-knit looping being produced by both crossed/twisted knitting and the cross-knit nalbinding variant.

The cross-knit looping structure can be produced by two different techniques, either cross-knit nalbinding or crossed/twisted knitting. They both produce a fabric of the same basic structure. However, they are worked in opposite directions. The clues as to which technique produced the fabric are in the shaping (increases/decreases), pick-ups, and mistakes. The preferred spiral working direction also differs between the two.

More information regarding the stitch patterned fragment, Inv. N0. 1933.483, along with a downloadable full size image is available on the Yale University Art Gallery’s site. The record for the two “ribbed” fragments, Inv. No. 1935.556, that were also found at Dura-Europos is available here. The electronic records were created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect their current knowledge about the objects, thus they are still listed as having been knitted.

The Yale University Art Gallery also has a permanent exhibition on the Dura-Europos excavations and as part of that has a very nice online feature outlining the historical background and excavation history with images and maps of the excavation: http://media.artgallery.yale.edu/duraeuropos/

I would like to thank the Yale University Art Gallery for providing such excellent photos in their online collections. I am also very much looking forward to, and very grateful for, the opportunity to view the fragments in person later this month. They continue to play a pivotal role in the study of the nalbinding technique and the structures it produces.

Have you seen this sock? – Part 1

As part of my project to track down and study nalbound textiles, I occasionally run across items that have been photographed, but I do not know their current location. As I mentioned in my presentation earlier this year, sometimes, you just need a little help.

Have you seen this sock? If so, please reach out and let me know where it is currently.

Schinnerer-web

This image is taken from Luise Schinnerer’s Antike Handarbeiten published in 1895.

The sock is described as being cream with red and blue stripes. It was part of Theodor Graf’s collection. While it was said to be dated to Late Antiquity (4th – 6th cent.), no specific find location within Egypt was identified.

I have several others that I am also trying to locate. Those will be posted separately.

Nalbinding’s myriad of variant possibilities and the dangers of insufficient understanding of other looped textile techniques

The myriad of theoretically possible stitches in nalbinding can be quite exciting. Nonetheless it is very important to exhibit caution, especially when “finding” new stitches in the wild.
A solid understanding of all looped structures is necessary to avoid accidental and injudicious co-opting of the natural structures of other looping* and knotting techniques. Not all end-led structures are nalbound structures.

Over time, I will be addressing the issues surrounding properly and clearly defining nalbinding (doing so by what it is instead of what it is not). I will also show how surface structure can both assist with and obscure identification of technique. Additionally, how to spot those higher level construction structures which help differentiate the specific technique used to create a particular base structure. This means that there will be an amount of not directly nalbinding related posts as we explore other looped textiles enough to get an understanding of how exactly they differ from nalbinding. As we’ve noted throughout the study of nalbinding, it is easy for objects to be miss-classified as an entirely different technique and structure by those that are insufficiently familiar with the possibilities available within the family of non-woven looped textiles.

For example, Cary Karp has pointed out in his blog, in the post Crochetedness vs. nalboundness, how incorrectly co-opting slip stitch crochet structures into the nalbinding atlas of stitch variants has obscured and made difficult the study of that technique’s history and transmission. Given that nalbinding has long suffered under this same issue of miss-classification/identification obscuring its history, it behooves us to exhibit caution to avoid doing the same to our looping cousins.

* While all loop-led structures can technically be produced via end-led means, those means may not be at all practical or reasonable.

Socks in the ROM

Exciting news. As I was preparing for my presentation in January, the Royal Ontario Museum posted photos (including some shots of the bottoms) of all 11 of their 3rd-7th century cross-knit nalbound socks from Egypt. You can see them by searching for socks in the ROM’s online collection search: https://collections.rom.on.ca/advancedsearch/objects/geography%3AEgypt%3Btitle%3ASock

The ROM also recently posted a video about these socks, showing some great views, shot during Barbara Köstner’s visit in 2016. Also available via: https://www.academia.edu/38500243/Video_Nalbinding_Socks_from_Late_Roman_Egypt_3rd-7th_CE_

It’s a great video. One minor note I’d like to add. The term “Tarim stitch” is a misnomer as cross-knit nalbinding is not found as a primary construction stitch in the Tarim Basin finds. I discussed this in my January presentation and will be blogging about my summer of 2000 trip to see the Tarim hats in a later post. Cross-knit nalbinding examples show up on multiple continents, with the Andean region being particularly prolific. The oldest example of the cross-knit looping structure is a fragment found with some of our earliest textiles in the Nehal Hemar cave.

Further information on the Tarim finds and also on many truly comparable items to those in the ROM are available in my presentation from January of this year available for viewing at: https://uwtsd.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.asp…

Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile

On January 21st, 2019, I was honored to give a presentation entitled Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile at the Textile Archaeology of Egypt and Sudan’s (TAES) seminar on “Current Research in Textile Archaeology along the Nile” at the Centre for Textile Research in Copenhagen. They recorded the presentations and posted them online. A direct link to mine is located here. This presentation focused on the over 110 extant nalbound artifacts, primarily socks, that have been found in Romano-Coptic Egypt and surrounding areas. They are now located in museums throughout the world.

This presentation was intended to be an introduction to the breadth of information that can be gleaned from examining the corpus as a whole: the diversity of nalbinding variants, the colors and shapes of the objects, their shaping and construction, the find locations up and down the Nile, along the Eastern desert and in the Western Oases, etc.

Image may contain: Anne Marie Decker, sitting
“An acclaimed independent researcher in her element made a marvelous presentation yesterday.” Photo by Ruth Decker

This post was specifically regarding the presentation. However, I plan to write up a bit of my experiences leading up to the deciding to do the presentation and the preparation therefor in a future post. I also want to write up one on the trip surrounding the seminar and presentation as I was lucky enough to arrange several visits with museums to see extant items in their collections (reports on which will be forthcoming in their appropriate venues).