It’s not often you get an invitation to bring your spindles and have a holiday in Greece, the one and only part of the nearby ancient world I’d never visited. Dear friends kindly suggested I go to stay with them for a break, and to bring books, spindles, weaving or anything else that took my fancy. I packed up my tablet weaving books, tablets, some silk, some wool and, and, with spindles padded in my suitcase, off I went. In between being a traveller in this antique land, I started some wool on one spindle and silk on another, hoping to produce enough to warp up for a first go with the tablets.
I’d no idea, until we went to the Greek National Archaeological Museum, that Athena was the ancient goddess of weaving, amongst all her other duties. There was a Linear B hieroglyph representing wool in one of the displays, alongside some Linear B tablets detailing the activities of lady weavers at court, and a number of what looked like woven scarves modelled in stone in one of the cabinets. Yes it’s true there’s a lot of very famous Mycenaean gold in the display cases, plus the fascinating Antikythera Mechanism exhibition, but for the textile-lover there’s also a deep-seated veneration of the weaver’s art amongst the antiquities.
We were lucky enough to catch the Saturday talk in English about the Acropolis Museum’s research on archaic colours. Apparently the statues around the building pediments, and elsewhere around the Acropolis, which we think of as just plain white, were anything but. Traces of vivid colour and the chemical signatures of pigments abound under the glare of modern microscopy techniques. The flowing folds in the statues’ fabric garments were adorned with coloured braids as well as gold ornament. The colours themselves have to be seen to be believed: it gives a totally different impression to the one we’ve all grown up with: Greek statues were not ‘white’ at all.
One of the most fascinating colour remnants on a statue was on the shorts worn by an ancient sculpture of a Persian rider, identified by the design and colouring of his remaining attire. They’d even reproduced the weaving beside the statue to show both colour and form. My friend and I started debating whether it had been made using a form of tablet weaving but we couldn’t quite work it out. Doing some internet research earlier today it looks very much like they were made using the technique known as Sprang, which I haven’t tried yet. If any of you have already had a go I’d love to hear about your experiences and how to avoid any pitfalls that the Sprang beginner might not see. In the meantime, here’s wishing you a surprising week ahead full of unexpectedly colourful moments, whether you’re spinning in the one and only Greece or elsewhere.