Fabrics

I believe that everyone who does Ancient Greek (and probably Roman) clothing at some point gets frustrated by the fact that the common fabrics we have just don’t work well. We know that wool and linen were their two primary fibers, and that the peplos was probably wool and the chiton was probably linen. I hypothesize that the himation and chlamys were probably wool as well. Yet, their clothing is often sheer and drapes in a way that proves difficult if you get linen and wool that works well for, say, Northwestern European clothing. Anyone who has made a chiton “the right way” and ended up looking like a bouncy house knows what I’m talking about.

I don’t think the problem is our construction; I think the problem is our fabrics. Take for example this statue from Delos. That overgarment she is wearing is probably wool, but most wools won’t look like that.

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Delos, House of Cleopatra (not that Cleopatra) from Wikimedia Commons

I believe that they did have very fine thread for weaving (and I will discuss this at length…later), but the biggest difference is that I think their fabric was less tightly woven than what we get by machine. The evidence I am aware of suggests that Greeks used plain weave only, even though their neighbors used twill. With this in mind, I have turned to using lightweight and gauze fabrics, and I believe these are beginning to give me the desired silhouette. Below, I am providing some resources I have been using with success, followed by photos of these fabrics and some finished products.

Wool gauze, handwoven – made in the Himalayas, ships from India. It is only available in cream, but dyeable (obviously…it’s wool). I have ordered 2 batches and they have had quite different tightnesses in the weave. My second batch was much tighter than the first, although still gauze-y. As a handmade item, be prepared for variation.

Wool gauze – this is another alternative for wool gauze. I have never used it as Dharma Trading has never had it in stock when I went to order, but I know others who have used it and liked it.

Linen gauze – sheer linen, comes in a variety of colors. See through when white, but almost wearable on its own when dyed a darker color. Takes dye quite well. Drapes very well.

Linen, lightweight – needs to be washed a lot before it drapes well, but it can get there. My blue and white chitons are made from this fabric. I am almost ok wearing it without another layer when undyed; I have no concerns when dyed. Takes dye well.

Wool, loosely woven plain weave, medium weight – I’m not sure how much I love this wool. It is fine for a chlamys, but too heavy/thick for most other purposes; however, it is among the best I was able to find for this purpose. I think it should be relegated to Greek “winter wear.” I have a himation coming that is made from Italian suiting, which might be a good summer version.

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Handwoven wool gauze, second batch with the tighter weave
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Lightweight linen, undyed
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Lightweight linen, undyed
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Loosely woven plain weave wool
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Loosely woven plain weave wool wrapped as himation
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Left: linen gauze dyed indigo; Right: wool gauze dyed with madder
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Left: lightweight linen dyed indigo, medium weight wool dyed madder; Right: linen gauze dyed indigo, wool gauze dyed madder
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Left: lightweight linen dyed indigo, medium weight wool dyed madder; Right: linen gauze dyed indigo, wool gauze dyed madder

2 thoughts on “Fabrics

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