Back in January of 2019, I had the honor of meeting up with Cary Karp to examine several items that had caught our attention in the significant collection of “nalbound” socks in the Museum der Kulturen, Basel.
While we both had separate reasons for wanting to visit this particular collection, it was the baby sock, Inv. No. III 16705, that brought us to arrange a joint visit as it appeared to be of a structure that has previously been misattributed as nalbound. Much to our amusement, a baby has clearly been in that sock! When I inserted the endoscope to get a picture of the inside of the toe to assist with understanding the structural details (yes, the fabric of this one is still quite flexible), my view was obscured by fuzz.
While there have been delays, Cary and I have been working on writing up our findings regarding the misattributed baby sock (pictured). My reports on the details of the nalbound socks in their collection are also in the works.
As reported in Cary’s blog post shortly after, https://loopholes.blog/2019/01/the-second-bootee/, the baby sock made it into both of our presentations at the TAES seminar a few days later. I’ve already posted the link to my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, here. The baby sock shows up briefly on slide 17 at about minute 26:47. The seminar had some issues with recording causing Cary’s presentation to be in one file with the prior unrelated presentation. Thus Cary’s presentation, The Museological Value of Misattribution, begins at minute 18:47 of that recording with his slides starting shortly thereafter.
Cary has also written a blog post and subsequent article on a pair of baby booties from late 18th century Scotland that were also misattributed as nalbinding in the 1950’s: https://loopholes.blog/2018/11/two-bootees/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
Last seen in Egypt during the 1913-14 excavations of Antinoë, the other three socks pictured appear to have made their way to various English institutions. However, where is the 4th?
The original image was taken by John de Monins Johnson during the 1913-14 excavation of Antinoë for the Graeco-Roman branch of the Egypt Exploration Fund. The glass negative of which is now housed in the Griffith Institute. Their online catalog, http://www.griffith.ox.ac.uk/gri/johnson/jo10-13.html, shows the image rotated 180 degrees with the missing sock at the bottom. An excellent overview of Johnson’s role in documenting the excavations, is available here in Elisabeth O’Connell’s article “John de Monins Johnson’s 1913/14 Egypt Exploration Fund expedition to Antinoupolis (Antinoë).” Fig. 104 shows the socks, but there are also many images of other items excavated at that time as well as information regarding several other socks and nalbound fragments distributed by the EEF in 1914-15.
Note: At the time of the excavations, the socks were presumed to be knitted as the differences between the crossed knitting and cross-knit nalbinding techniques had not yet been described.
So if you happen to see this sock (#4 above), please let me know via Contact.
I will blog about the other three socks in future posts.
Antinoë, also known as Antinoopolis, is located along the Nile near modern day El-Shaikh Ebada.
This last year has been a very exciting one as I work to track down all known examples of nalbinding (simple and compound) found in Egypt and surrounding regions. (Preliminary results were presented in January.) Primarily these have been dated art historically to the Coptic Era with some earlier and some later dates, generally covering much of the 1st millennium. Radio carbon dating has tended to bring the dating of these finds earlier than the art historical datings, moving many of them into the Roman and Late Antiquity Eras.
Many of these finds I have known of for decades and thus am simply collating and analyzing data I have already collected. But as I am searching for more recently published data and images, I have had the repeated giddy fortune to run across finds I did not know about previously. Sometimes they are old finds that have been hiding in their museums for over a century or obscure publications that are now finally easier to track down (a shout out to my friends that send me articles; you know who you are). Occasionally, the finds are from relatively recent (within the last 30 years or so) excavations. Sometimes it is simply an image that I then have to track down where it is currently located and if there are any publications. Other times it is a reference in a publication leaving me to track down images to assist with my comparative analysis.
Today, it is an image (embedded below). Conveniently posted within a nice article that provides information regarding the institutions involved with the excavation. Most importantly, it notes that while the “Child’s Sock” was found amongst rubble, the stratigraphy led to well-dated layers resulting in a dating from the Greco-Roman Period of 2nd century BCE. Thus leading to the added excitement of potentially corroborating the carbon dating of another cross-knit nalbound sock that fell unexpectedly into the first few centuries before the Common Era.
So if you heard a random giddy squeal of joy today, it might have been me. A new to me sock, complete with image and dating. A new city for the map of finds. Potential corroboration of the dating of another sock. These are the things that make me bounce with glee. Now to actually dig further and find more information.
De Moor, Antoine, Cäcilia Fluck, M. Van Strydonck, and M. Boudin. “Radiocarbon dating of Late Roman woolen socks from Egypt,” In Textiles, tools and techniques of the 1st millennium AD from Egypt and neighbouring countries. Proceedings of the 8th conference of the research group ‘Textiles from the Nile Valley,’ Antwerp, 4-6 October 2013, edited by Antoine De Moor, Cäcilia Fluck, and Petra Linscheid, p. 131-136. Tielt: Lannoo Publishers, 2015.
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.
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.
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.
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. I was honored to be authorized to include photographs of a good number of the extant objects, including photos of some that had not otherwise been published.
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.
Abstract: Extant Romano-Coptic nalbinding from the Nile Valley and surrounding regions provides one of the most statistically significant populations of such material, consisting of over 100 specimens. The technical variant used in approximately half the objects is misleadingly called Coptic or Tarim stitch. A preferred established term is cross-knit looping and personal examination of the Tarim basin finds has not revealed its presence there. The misnomer derives from the misinterpretation of a brief note in a broader work, compounded by unawareness of the variant’s oldest known occurrence from the Nahal Hemar cave. The term Coptic stitch reflects a greater understanding of naming conventions for nalbinding variants. However, recent research indicates that multiple finds labeled as Coptic actually date to the Roman and Late Roman Eras. The nominal association with the Coptic Era is additionally misleading because half of the designated corpus displays a range of more complex variants. This paper addresses the terminological imprecision, confusion about underlying fabric structures, and effects of provenance irregularities. It also presents an initial collation of available images and mapped locations of the Egyptian finds as part of a comprehensive catalog of nalbound objects prior to 1600 currently being compiled.
This post was specifically to collate posts 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 therefore 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).