The ancient Egyptians pleated everything they wore, whether it was a garment covering the whole body, or just the skirt as worn by men. Pleating was regarded as elegant and opulent.
The pleats were made by hand by washing the fabric and then squeezing it hard so that the warp threads bunched together. This process, which was repeated with successive washes, dates from the 6th dynasty (2345-2181 BC).
Examples of pleated clothes are on display at the newly-opened Textile Hall in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), Fustat.
Most of the collections were moved from the Egyptian Textile Museum in Muizz Street last year.
Supervisor for Archaeological Affairs of NMEC Sayed Abul Fadl told the Egyptian Mail that the 1,000-square-metre hall houses 650 artefacts — 400 from the Textile Museum and 250 from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Agricultural Museum and Prince Mohamed Ali’s Palace in Manial.
“The artefacts are displayed chronologically, starting from ancient Egypt, then the Greek and Roman period through Coptic and Islamic to Ottoman and Mohamed Ali Family on the next floor,” Abul Fadl said.
There is a model of a spinning and weaving workshop, staffed, interestingly enough, with female workers.
Another case shows a cloak-sized garment in embroidered wool, which could have been one of the king’s winter robes.
“The ancient Egyptians did use wool, but they depended more on linen,” he said, adding that the cloak dates back to the New Kingdom, 8th dynasty (2055-1985 BC).
Fast colours and the chemicals, such as potassium aluminium sulphate that maintained them were known since pre-dynastic times, yielding a wide range of pigments.
During the Graeco-Roman period, textiles developed in Egypt thanks to the interaction with the Hellenistic and Mediterranean cultures, and new material cotton and silk appeared.
On display is a painted-linen shroud with the portrait of the deceased in the form of Osiris, god of the dead and resurrection. Osiris is flanked by two columns topped with lotus flowers and at his feet is Anubis, the jackal-headed god of death and mummification. This shroud dates back to the Roman Period (30 BC-395 AD).
Abul Fadl said the artefacts of the Islamic era are divided according to period: Umayyad and Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamlouk, Ottoman Period and Mohamed Ali era.
Each of these periods has its own distinct decorations. For example, the silk textile industry flourished and developed during the Mamluk Period (1250-1517).
Information is provided in Arabic and English. In the middle of this floor is a défilé featuring mannequins wearing heritage clothes of different parts of Egypt.
On the next floor artefacts from the Mohamed Ali family (1805-1952) are on display for the first time, according to Abul Fadl.
One of the most outstanding exhibits is a lady’s outfit consisting of a gown and jacket made of pistachio-coloured silk, embroidered with red, yellow, green, violet and gold silk threads in an elegant floral design. A sash of the same fabric and embroidery design is wrapped around the waist.
Working-class costume garments of the period contrast with the jewellery worn by the princess and kings of Mohamed Ali’s family.