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Child’s Coptic Sock Manchester Museum item 983 Middle Egypt, Oxyrhynchus (el-Bahnasa)

Roman Egyptian Period 1st Century AD

Having been fascinated by this Manchester Museum sock since the late 1980s I was very curious as to how it was constructed. When I first saw it up close, I believed it to be knitted with two needles, worked from the top to toe.

However, from later experiments using Cross Knit looping I have been able to produce this pair in the one needle technique which is called variously Tarim Stitch and Coptic Stitch. This method is a precursor to knitting with two needles. I believe this pair are a closer replica to the Manchester item 983 than those I have previously made.

This pair were commissioned by Lucy Adlington of History Wardrobe for her upcoming presentations THE SECRET LIFE OF KNITTING in March 2020.

The method of cross knit looping is worked from the toe upwards, with one needle. Very fortunately I met Anne Marie Decker who is an expert in Nile textile methods on Facebook. Please visit her blog for a comprehensive account of these Coptic Socks. I adjusted my sock pattern with information generously supplied by Anne Marie.

Recent work by Dr Joanne Dyer a scientist in the British Museum’s department of scientific research, has developed multispectral imaging to establish which dyes were used in this style of sock; madder (red), woad (blue) and weld (yellow) .

The Coptic Socks found, tend to be mono coloured for adults, but striped in many colours for children. The colours are achieved with a combination of madder, woad and weld dyes as in the example in the fragment below found in the Bolton Museum collection.

I experimented with dyes from Wild Colours, but the results were not quite what I wanted, I struggled to get a deep enough colour yarn. So I bought pre-dyed yarn from the very excellent dyers Medieval Colours who were able to match my requirements.

Overall, I am very pleased with the outcome of this project and wish the little socks a happy new life travelling in the History Wardrobe collection.