(The text in this post is Copyright Valerie Hector 2105. All Rights Reserved.)
Quantum Leaps 6-7: The Development of Three Dimensional Bead Netting and Contouring
Time: Mid-to-late Middle Kingdom, ca. 2030-1640 BCE
The bead-net dress introduced in Quantum Leaps #4-5 can be seen as a 3-dimensional structure. But how can we be sure that the dress was in fact cylindrical? How could all but the skinniest maidens put it on? Perhaps the dress was left open and tied at the back, making it more like a 2-dimensional panel of beadwork made to serve a 3-dimensional purpose?
The belt of Ptahshepses, also discussed in Quantum Leaps #4-5 also appears to be a 3-dimensional structure. But the beaded panel itself was worked flat - meaning 2-dimensionally - and then attached to a backing.
Only later, it seems, do we have evidence of true 3-dimensional bead netting, found in the tomb of Senebtisi at Lisht, a village about 40 miles south of Cairo.
Senebtisi's dates of birth and death are unknown, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art's website assigns the tomb to 1850-1775 BCE. To be taken to the website, click here.
Senebtisi's tomb was opened during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1906-7 excavations of the Tomb of Senwosret. One of the splendid objects that accompanied Senebtisi to the tomb was a beaded apron.
The apron consists of a narrow band of beads probably netted in peyote stitch. Twenty-three strands of beads are suspended from the belt. The center strand consists of a wooden “tail” enveloped in beads – again, probably netted in peyote stitch.
While the top of the tail is cylindrical, the bottom is oval in shape. This object was not one-of-a-kind, for beaded aprons with similar beaded tails were found in other ancient Egyptian tombs.
As Kate Bosse-Griffiths pointed out 40 years ago, covering the cylindrical portion of the tail entailed the invention of tubular bead netting, while covering the oval required knowledge of 3-dimensional contouring, increasing or decreasing the rows of beads to fit the curvilinear shape of the oval. (See Kate Bosse-Griffiths, "The Use of Disc Beads in Egyptian Beadwork Compositions," p. 38. To read the article, originally published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 61 (1975), click here. Then scroll down to page 31.)
As mentioned in Quantum Leaps #4-5, two-dimensional contouring had already been discovered in Egypt by ca. 2500 BCE, when it was used to shape beaded broad collars.
I see Quantum Leaps #6-7 as two independent but related inventions of equal importance to the field of beadwork, which enabled 3-dimensional objects - straight or curved - to be covered in bead netting - in this case, as noted, probably peyote stitch.
That said, both of these leaps involved rather straightforward symmetrical bead netting which could not be used to cover asymmetrical shapes without one further quantum leap.
The further potential of 3-dimensional peyote stitch seems to have lain dormant for several thousand years. As far as I can tell, only in 17th century England and in 20th century America did beadworkers achieve the next two quantum leaps in 3-dimensional bead netting by eschewing both armatures and symmetricality.