egyptian wall painting of weaving technology

Ancient Egyptian Tomb Painting of Weaving

Coptic Weaving Technology

Weaving technology has changed very slowly over the centuries. The Copts probably used looms that evolved from those used by ancient Egyptians as depicted in the wall paintings of tombs from the Middle Kingdom and from the burial finds of models of weavers' workshops. The oldest type of loom appears to have been a horizontal tapestry low-warp loom that was attached to the ground with pegs to stretch the fabric. Around 1650-1500 BC a vertical standing loom which used weights to stretch the warps was introduced. The foot-powered draw loom which permitted fast mechanized weaving of intricate patterns came into use during the Roman period.

There is evidence that both high-warp, or vertical looms existed alongside low-warp, or horizontal looms during the 4th to 10th centuries in Egypt. Still, it is not entirely clear which type of loom was used for most commonly woven garments and home furnishings. Some evidence of loom stucture is inherent in the design of early tunics.

The tunic is a garment form which survived virtually unchanged for centuries. Not peculiar to Egypt, tunics, or dalmatics, as they were also called, were worn throughout the entire Roman Empire and were believed to be introduced to Rome in the early third century.

Some of the earliest tunics to survive are remarkable for havinga been woven entirely in one piece, as indicated by the illustration. In order to weave the garment in one piece with the warp running in the correct direction for the tapestry ornamentation, the textiles had to be woven on a loom close to three meters wide. Such wide looms were usually high-warp (such as the looms used to weave the classic European tapestries) and required several weavers working together in concert.

tunic on loom image

Tunic positioned for weaving on a loom in one piece.
tunic positioned for weaving

Tunic positioned on a loom
for weaving in two halves.
The sleeve would be woven first, then the body of the tunic with a slit created between two warp threads for the neck opening in the center, then the second sleeve woven. Upon completion, the garment would be removed from the loom and essentially folded in half and seamed along the sleeves, underarms and down the sides, leaving an opening along the lower sides of the tunic to allow for freedom of movement.

During the late fourth or early fifth centuries, it appears that sleeves were woven separately and sewn into place. With this procedure the weaving could be done on a low-warp loom which is worked in a horizontal position. The weaver sits or leans over the tapestry piece. As the work is completed, the tapestry is rolled toward the weaver. Piecing the tunics allowed them to be woven on a much narrower loom width, with less warp waste, and speedier weaving since the narrower loom width meant that a shuttle could be used to pass the weft through the warp, a lone weaver could operate the loom, and a reed beater could be used. In short, the narrow loom width of the low warp loom greatly increased the weaver's speed and efficiency. The low warp loom is worked in a horizontal position and the weaver sits or leans over the tapestry piece. As the work is completed, the tapestry is rolled toward the weaver.

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