I attended the Manchester Ancient Egypt Society talk on 5 March 2018: 'To die, to sleep’ The Meaning of Beds in Ancient Egypt by Manon Schutz.
It was a very interesting presentation about the meaning and function of ancient Egyptian beds. I was very surprised when Miss Schutz showed slides of reed/cord woven bed frames from Tarkhan Early Dynastic (Dyn. 1)
The slides of Manchester University Museum 5465 Bed frame with reed matting still attached from Geoffrey Killen's book Ancient Egyptian Furniture Volume 1 were particularly helpful as they show the front and reverse side of the weaving. The reverse shows the use of a guide line, around which the warp is wrapped every second time. This would lend strength and stability to the finished piece.
I was surprised because I am very familiar with this kind of weaving. I grew up in Ireland in the 1960s and learned to weave footstools using grass cord in Primary school. Sewing, knitting and weaving were part of my early education and home life, this has led to a lifelong interest in crafts. At that time basket making and rattan/cord weaving were also taught to blind children as a specialist career.
I was quite keen to try to replicate the weaving method used on the Tarkhan bed fragments, as it differs from the style I am used to making on frames with square dowels. Initially I struggled to find a commercially available stool frame with round dowels. However, I tracked one down on the internet from the USA but I am still looking for a carpenter who could create replica frames for this project.
Seagrass cord is readily available from craft suppliers for weaving. Although it is not very pliable, it is very resilient and hard-wearing. This commercial cord is manufactured in Malaysia. I have not found a manufacturer of plant made cord in the UK.
Alfred Lucas in his book Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, discussed the use of Halfa grass which was abundantly available in Ancient Egypt to make cords for mats and baskets. As yet I have not found a reference identifying the materials used for the Tarkhan Bed woven fragments in Brussles or Manchester.
YouTube has many films of different methods of Bed Weaving; there are current examples online from Australia, Pakistan and India (one of which featured a blind weaver).
My initial attempts at the weaving were frustrating as I was impatient. However, after several attempts I concentrated on getting the reverse side of the weaving wound around the guideline and so achieved the correct outcome.
Figure 1. Close up of the top side of sample woven by RDG.
Figure 2. Close up of the underside of the sample woven by RDG.
Figure 3. Overview of the complete sample woven by RDG.
If you have seen examples of this kind of weaving in recent years I would be grateful to receive any photographs, stories or book/website references that could shed light as to whether this method of weaving is still a living tradition in Egypt.
Lucas, A., Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd, London, Reprinted 1959
Killen, Geoffrey, Ancient Egyptian Furniture Volume 1: 4000-1300 BC, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2017