I’m excited to announce the “Archaeological Puzzles in a Museum” online exhibition at the National Museum of Denmark is now online!
I contributed Case study 8, and a bit for the catalog, on the fringed nalbound sock in their collection. The sock is one of 112 textile fragments from Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Arab Egypt currently in the National Museum of Denmark. The case study includes some beautiful professional photographs of the sock!
This is the same sock I was honored to examine in 2019. Initial results of that examination were included in“Fringed and patterned: decorative elements in Romano-Coptic nalbound socks” presented at the Textiles from the Nile Valley study group conference on the 27th of October 2019. More in depth information and the current status of my research on this sock was presented in “A fringe study in footwear: lessons learned from a sock in a box” at the Reconstructing Textiles and Their History: Egyptian Fabrics from the 1st Millennium AD online workshop that occurred on March 26th, 2022.
The exhibition has twelve downloadable PDFs that include the Introduction, a Catalog of 30 fabrics from the collection, and eight Case Studies that go deeper into a variety of topics.
The online exhibition is the result of the RECONTEXT research project entitled “Reconstructing the history of Egyptian textiles from the 1st Millennium AD at the National Museum of Denmark” which involved research carried out by historians, art historians, archaeologists and ancient fabric conservators. The project included analyses of textile fibers, weaving and looping techniques, as well as complete photography of the entire collection. Fingers crossed that we will be able to continue research on this collection.
On Wednesday, 15 March 2023, from 15:15-16:00 Copenhagen time (10:15-11:00 am EDT), the Centre for Textile Research will be hosting their bi-weekly lecture in person and on Zoom. This week’s is the pre-opening of the “Archaeological puzzles in a museum” online exhibition, presented by Dr. Maria Joanna Mossakowska, that will be opening at the National Museum of Denmark end of this month. For three minutes near the end, I will be presenting on my case study of the fringed nalbound sock in their collection.
The exhibition will be covering the systematic research done within the RECONTEXT research project entitled “Reconstructing the history of Egyptian textiles from the 1st Millennium AD at the National Museum of Denmark” on the 112 textile fragments from Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Arab Egypt in the NMD, comprising the richest ensemble in Denmark.
Per the linked announcement above “RECONTEXT involved research carried out by historians, art historians, archaeologists and ancient fabric conservators. The project also included analyses of textile fibers and weaving techniques, as well as professional photographic documentation of the entire collection. The results of these investigations are presented in the exhibition entitled Archeaological Puzzles in a Museum / Arkæologiske puslespil på et museum, which will be available for the public in March 2023 on the NMD website (https://natmus.dk/). The exhibition includes general information on what a collection of Egyptian textiles is, how it is created, and the methods of reconstructing its history and the objects that form it. It presents 30 selected fabrics, arranged according to the four stages of the collection’s history. For the visitor who wishes to go deeper into various topics, eight Case studies were prepared.”
Case Study 8 is on the fringed brown sock in the NMD collection. This is the same sock I was honored to examine in 2019 and presented the current status of my research on in “A fringe study in footwear: lessons learned from a sock in a box” at the Reconstructing Textiles and Their History: Egyptian Fabrics from the 1st Millennium AD online workshop that occurred on March 26th, 2022.
I’m excited to announce the publication of the peer reviewed article, “Three objects catalogued as vantsöm in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland,” in Archaeological Textiles Review No. 64 (2022).
I had the distinct pleasure of collaborating with my friend Cary Karp to write this article after we were allowed the opportunity to jointly examine the items in question at the museum storehouse in January of 2019. I posted about that visit here (where you can see a few extra photos). Cary will be making a corresponding announcement on his blog, Loopholes; which has lots of additional information on the technique.
ATR is now Open Access and so you can freely download the complete volume, including our article, by following the instructions at: https://www.atnfriends.com/. If you’d like a hard copy of the issue, you can purchase a print on demand copy from the University of Copenhagen’s Campus Print Webshop here. You can now also download or purchase all of the back issues as well if you like. An offprint of the article itself can be found here.
Abstract The looped structure termed a slip stitch in the craft glossary of crochet can be produced both with a hook and an eyed needle. These implements are not equally amenable to working that structure into complex constructs such as the toe and heel of a sock. This article describes the examination of three objects that have been misidentified as nalbinding. Two of them are certain to have been crocheted and the third is highly likely also to instantiate that technique. The provenance of the objects is recorded as “Coptic Egyptian” on anecdotal evidence and without ascription of specific dates. If scientific dating were to establish that any of them approaches even the youngest age this might imply, the accepted date for the advent of crochet would require major revision.
As I’ve mentioned before, incorrectly co-opting slip stitch crochet structures into the nalbinding atlas of stitch variants has obscured and made difficult the study of crochet’s history and transmission. Given that nalbinding has long suffered under this same issue of miss-classification/identification obscuring its own history, it behooves us to exhibit caution when examining textiles with which we may not be as familiar to avoid doing the same to our looping cousins.
The sock and the pouch discussed in “Three objects catalogued as vantsöm in the collections of the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland” could very well be important early instances of the crochet technique of potentially pivotal historiographic significance, but we won’t know until they have been scientifically dated. This is an important reminder that dating crocheted objects based on the art historical dating of other nalbound items because the items were not recognized as crochet entirely obscures their potential place in crochet history and simultaneously muddies the water of nalbinding’s history, construction details, and definition.
I’m excited to be able to see this article in print and am looking forward to future projects and collaborations.
I’m honored to be included in the Reconstructing Textiles and Their History: Egyptian Fabrics from the 1st Millennium AD online workshop coming up on Saturday March 26th, 2022. I will be presenting “A fringe study in footwear: lessons learned from a sock in a box” on the current status of my research into the fringed brown nalbound sock* in the National Museum of Denmark at 7am Eastern Daylight Time (noon Copenhagen time) .
The online workshop will include research on a good number of the fabrics in the Egyptian collection of the National Museum of Denmark as well as on objects from other collections directly related to the fabrics in Copenhagen. It looks like a very interesting program! These presentations are expected to be published in the “catalog” (PDF format) of the online exhibition on history of the Copenhagen collection available in May 2022 on the National Museum of Denmark’s website.
If you’d like to join us, the online workshop is open to the public. However, you will need to register by 24 March in order to get the Zoom link. With her permission, I’ve set up a Google form to collect email addresses to send to Dr. Mossakowska-Gaubert for registration here: https://forms.gle/jpkyxomMvVuVQSDAA
This workshop and the subsequent online exhibition are organized in the framework of the project RECONTEXT: Reconstructing the history of Egyptian textiles from the 1st Millennium AD at the National Museum of Denmark. You can read more about this year long project at: https://ctr.hum.ku.dk/research-programmes-and-projects/recontext-reconstructing-the-history-of-egyptian-textiles-from-the-1st-millennium-ad–at-the-national-museum-of-denmark/ The stated aim of the project “is to establish a history of the Egyptian textiles collection at the National Museum of Denmark: reconstructing the way the objects are acquired, their provenance, as well as their original look and shape.” As per the CTR’s website: “RECONTEXT is funded by two Danish foundations: Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond and Beckett-Fonden, and hosted by the Centre for Textile Research (CTR) – Saxo Institute: University of Copenhagen. It is conducted in close collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark.”
The other weekend we had the opportunity to head up to New York city to see, amongst other things, an old painting of a Lady with Red Socks! I was soo excited to finally see her in person!
Now some of you will immediately know which Lady I’m referring to, but for those that have not yet been introduced, she is the “Woman wearing a Fringed Tunic” painted on a Roman Era, c. 170-200 AD, Egyptian linen shroud, perhaps from Antinoopolis, that now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Her socks give us an idea of how the split toed nalbound socks may have been worn. It is important to note, however, that the painting is not so detailed as to reveal the technique used to make her red socks and we do have extant socks with split toes from a similar time frame in Egypt that are made of cut and sewn woven cloth and a different pair of felt. All three kinds, woven, felt, and nalbound, appear to have very similar characteristics with slits at the ankles (necessary in the less flexible techniques, optional in nalbinding) and ties at the top.
If you look closely you can see that the artist has drawn lines at the back of her ankles that appear to indicate that the laces were tied at the back. One on each side of her right foot (showing on the left) and also at the back of her left foot.
You can also see that the socks are relatively thin as the artist did paint some definition of her toes, besides the slit for her sandals.
I did have to bring my own pair of red socks, just because I could not pass up the opportunity. The reason that my ties are as long as they are is because I had seen pictures of this Lady before I made them.
My thanks to Matthew Pius for letting me know that she was out on display and sending my first close-ups.
While I was there, I also got to get a close look at some Roman wall paintings (and lots and lots of Roman/Greek statuary feet). One of which became very interesting… a detail I had not noticed in photographs before. Her foot is not painted in the same color as her skin. I cannot say definitively that it is a sock, more research into Republican Era painting styles and clothing/footwear is necessary, but it is an intriguing detail. Please let me know if you run across any other potential depictions of socks.
While we spend much of our time in the Roman and Greek areas of the MET, we did take a quick look at the Medieval, Egyptian, and passed through areas of paintings on our way to the Medici exhibit that was on temporary display. I could not pass up the opportunity to see Eleanore of Toledo’s red velvet dress in person as who knows when I will get to return to Florence.
After a very exciting, but very very long day, mom and I had a wonderfully relaxing and restorative dinner at an amazing restaurant just two doors down from the hotel. Which was absolutely necessary given that I have not walked over 14,000 steps in a long, long time.
Our trip ended after a tour of the Garment District and St Pauls on one day and Coney Island and the Aquarium on the next. I was so glad to have to be back to work on Monday after nearly 40,000 steps in three days. But, we are very much looking forward to being able to travel again. We learn so much.
While at the MET, I picked up several books on art and textiles of Central Africa. I’ve been really enjoying getting a glimpse into an area with which I have been unfortunately less familiar. It’s fascinating to see the very strong traditional usage of nalbinding in the region. There are a variety of stitches, ranging from simple variants to lacework in compound variants, in a variety of garments and other usages.
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.