Dresses & nets
In the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom of Pharaonic Egypt, dresses made of beaded nets are found in the funerary contexts as well as in depictions of scenes of daily life. The sensual character of these dresses has often been stressed in literature, although many of these nets were discovered in funerary context. Beaded dresses were for instance painted on funerary statues and remnants of beaded structures were found in tombs. The most complete dress was found by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in a tomb in Giza, near present-day Cairo (photo credit: Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition). Although the thread was almost completely deteriorated, by studying the order of the beads on the mummy the archaeologists could still reconstruct the original pattern. Other beaded dresses are now in the collections of the Petrie museum of Egyptian Archaeology, University College London (UCL), the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and the Louvre, Paris. To see the London dress click here.
All of these dresses are essentially made in same manner. The bead net is produced ‘hanging’ from a baseline of tightly threaded beads. For the exhibit “De Kleren van de Farao” (Pharaonic Clothing) in 1994 for the Textile Research Centre in Leiden (the Netherlands) a reconstruction of a beaded dress was made, based on the Boston dress. From the production of this reconstruction the technique of making these dresses could be analyzed in more detail. For these reconstructions, producers of Egyptian faïence were asked to produce the material. The beads however, were very fragile and the string, when strung to tight caused the beads to break at the edges. The bottom picture at this page shows this is also the case with many ancient beads. This makes these dresses extremely vulnerable.