Textile Society of America
Sprang Bonnets from Late Antique Egypt: Producer Knowledge and Exchange through Experimental Reconstruction
Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Head coverings are a global phenomenon, worn by people everywhere with various roles and meanings within their respective societies. The sprang technique has been part of the hat-making tradition in various times and places, from Bronze Age bonnets in Scandinavia to hair nets found in modern Eastern Europe. Arid conditions in the Nile Valley communities of Egypt preserved hundreds of sprang bonnets dating to the Late Antique period (c. 3rd to 7th centuries) which are now held in many European and North American museums. Among these, the Deutsches Textilmuseum in Krefeld, Germany holds one of the largest collections of sprang head coverings. Sprang is a symmetrical plaiting technique used to create close-fitting garments such as the head coverings commonly worn by women. Like most archaeological textiles, the fragile condition of the Krefeld bonnets means that they can only be studied by observation. Lack of tactile experience means that many performance characteristics such as “hand” and elasticity are now lost. Producers and users valued these qualities and assigned meaning to the many technical and decorative variations observed in the surviving material. Experimental recreation provides a methodology to acquire a deeper understanding of the material in a dynamic sense. The Krefeld sprang bonnets exhibit a wide range of technical and decorative choices. Women’s bonnet shapes include conical and rectangular forms. Pattern construction falls into three distinctive families: multicolored twining, monochrome S and Z designs, and lace. The relationship between shape, design, and structure is sometimes counter-intuitive. My creation of replicas has resulted in several surprises, leading me to re-think design and construction theories. By comparing the Krefeld bonnets with those found in other collections, the material suggests communities of practice within the larger cultural landscape of Late Antique Egypt. These in turn contributed to continuing sprang head covering traditions in later centuries.
Art and Materials Conservation Commons, Art Practice Commons, Fashion Design Commons, Fiber, Textile, and Weaving Arts Commons, Fine Arts Commons, Museum Studies Commons
Copyright © 2018 by the author