I was inspired by a statue I found at the Getty Villa and decided to do an Ionian chiton with pleats sewn into a band. I’m calling this style “pleat-and-band” to differentiate from other varieties as the only terms for chitons that I know are for length (short – chitoniskos, long – elkechiton), unfastened at one shoulder (exomis), and the ad hoc terms Ionian and Doric. I have not seen terms describing inclusion of pleats, how the sleeves are fastened, etc. The inspirational statue is Greek from the Eastern Mediterranean during the 1st century BCE, #96.AA.169.
The property I was most interested in experimenting with is the pleats. What appears obvious is that a large width fabric is used and is pleated into a band around the neckline. It’s also obvious that the linen is quite fine, as you can see nipples and belly button details through the fabric. I chose to use full width, lightweight linen from fabrics-store.com, which after washing was about 54″ wide. I washed it about 10 times and it’s still too stiff for the draping I’m after, but I believe if I wash it enough, eventually it will get there. Wool would get there faster, but nearly all of the definitions I’ve seen state a chiton as made of linen. What is not clear from the statue is what the sleeves are like. It seems most likely that there is no true “sleeve,” but that it’s rather a Doric/tank-top style chiton. There is no shoulder harness to hold back the sleeves (which does not seem to be a requirement but frequently accompanies Ionian chitons, and only accompanies Ionian chitons it seems), and the image from the back gives the impression of only a little fabric extending past the band. The image from the front gives a different impression, and instead looks like there are short sleeves, but this is probably due to corruption of the statue. Another example of a pleat-and-band chiton, from the 5th century and of the Dorian variety #85.AE.101, exists at the Getty Villa, but this one is layered over another Ionian chiton and is more appropriately named a chitoniskos.
The spread in dates for the appearance of pleat-and-band chitons from the statue to the vase peaked my interest, and I have many more chitons with no sleeves and wanted to make one with longer sleeves, so I kept looking. I happened to take a closer look at a 6th century Kore from Chios at the Acropolis that I have referenced before.
If you look at the shoulder section, it is quite clear that her chiton has a band across the top that the body is pleated into, and that the band extends across the sleeves which are at least elbow length. Even better, we can see that the sleeves are fastened at several points along the length, either with “buttons” or rosettes. As her lower arms are missing, we can’t tell how much further the sleeves would extend.
The bulk of the construction is really quite straightforward. I made my band about 36″ long; 10″ for each “sleeve” and 16″ to cross the chest/back, aiming for a sleeve that hits just above the elbow. I pleated the 54″ of the full width fabric to the the band and sewed it together. I then folded the band over, tucked the edge under, and sewed it to the other side of the chiton body. I made two of these, one for the front and one for the back. I sewed up the sides leaving about 12″ for arm holes (6″ per chiton body side), and hemmed the arm holes and the bottom. I tacked the top at 4 points per sleeve, roughly 2.5″ apart. I chose to tack instead of using rosettes or buttons as an intermediate step, as I feel I need to do more of my own research before I accept the conclusion in Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece that the chiton would have been held together by buttons.
PDF of my method can be found here.
Pictures from Atenveldt Crown Tournament were taken by the wonderful Patti Jo Collum.
The only image I have of the chiton itself is right after I took it out of my suitcase after Battemoor. I will take better pictures soon, when it’s not being unpacked right after an event. (Probably.)
The next step will be to dye my chiton, which will be another post altogether. (I should have done this first, but I was trying to finish the garment for an event and had not yet received my dye materials.) I will say that Body, Dress, and Identity in Ancient Greece quotes another source, stating that “linen does not take dye well, and was valued for its whiteness.” I do not believe that means all chitons were undyed. The gut reaction from all other evidence should be that the Greeks loved color and though it may have been difficult, the colors may not have always been vivid, and it may have been a status symbol, they most likely did dye their linen. For an immediate example, look at the blue color of the Chios Kore’s chiton.
Update! I dyed the chiton aiming for the blue of the Chios Kore. I used the natural indigo powder from Dharma Trading and more or less followed this process. I will add a separate post regarding the period dyes I’ve been experimenting with.