Saturday 3 September 2022

Woven Seats in Ancient Egypt (Part 1)

Woven seats go back a very long way. They have been found, still in very good condition, preserved in ancient Egyptian tombs. 

Now, what I really want to do is copy the photos I'm finding, but some are under copyright, so I'll try to link to the relevant websites instead. The one below has several beautifully clear photos which can be zoomed right into, so you can see the pattern of the seat in great detail.

This is a lovely specimen, which can be found in the British Museum. The chair was found near Thebes, and is made from inlaid acacia wood, and the seat is woven in a diagonal pattern with fine cord. It's a simple pattern, but one I've not come across in modern chairs. It could easily be replicated on any chair with holes round the edges – obviously those designed for caning would work, but the holes might need to be a bit bigger. 
Above: simplified diagram of ancient Egyptian woven seat pattern

There are groups of 3 strands of cord going in one direction, and 4 strands going in the other, and each hole takes 2 sets of threes and 2 sets of fours, so would need to be large enough to accommodate 14 strands of  fine cord. (I'm guessing about 2mm.)

It's not clear how the cord is held in place underneath. I'd imagine it's knotted in some way. If I was trying to replicate the pattern (and I might at some point in the future!) I'd try to work out a way of doing it neatly. Remember that the underside of the seats we weave should be as neat and tidy as possible, even though they're not often seen!

We should also remember that the seatweaver who produced this lovely chair wouldn't have been able to contact SitUpon Seats to place a simple order for fine chair cord. (Not something we stock,  but we could order something similar!) It would have to be twisted by hand, laboriously (perhaps by slaves?), mile after mile of the stuff. Someone would have had to harvest the plant material from which it was made (papyrus was the commonest material for cordage), strip it down (only the rind of the stem was used for fine cord), clean it, dry it, and then twist these enormously long strands. I've made short lengths of rope with rush or heavy cord, just to see how it's done, and even using thick material and only going for a couple of metres of the stuff, it's time consuming. 

The papyrus used for fine string was made from offcuts of the rind left over when they were making papyrus sheets for writing on. It's incredibly strong stuff and could make tough but fine cord. 

[To be continued ...]

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