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Fashion: Bags

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Probably the most ancient of all Egyptian crafts is basketry. Around 4,000 BCE—the pre-dynastic era—grain stores and other buildings were formed of clay and then reinforced, for waterproofing purposes, with a layer of matting, a product of basketry. In addition, the style of basketry was conservative and practically unchanging for centuries. In fact, New Kingdom baskets and modern baskets share common features.


Such objects were typically fashioned from nearby materials such as from grass, especially from halfa; from the sedge; from the papyrus reed; from stalk, especially from flax; from twig leaves of the date or doum palm; and occasionally from leather. At a later day, Europeans introduced wicker—a sturdier material—into basketry.


Being an early craft, basketry influenced the following: cloth weaving, pottery, and carpentry. Potter was supposedly a discovered art, as it was the product of an accident, where the basket surrounding the clay—the clay was actually the reinforcing lining of the basket—went ablaze and burned off, leaving behind the baked clay, now a pot molded in the shape of the basket. Whether or not this is true, it bears no influence on the validity of the following information.


Now that we know of the materials used for basket making, it is on with a description of the various methods of making such carriers and styles that make them unique.


There were two known methods of making a basket: weaving or plaiting and coiling. I shall start with the former. For weaving a basket or a bag, the ancients used two or more of the above materials, interlacing them, using a weft and warp technique. Three styles could be produced using this method of weaving. The first of three is the check style, where one warp strand and one weft strand are interlaced to form a checkerboard-like pattern. The second is the twilled style, where a weft strand is interlaced over more than one warp, giving the basket a zigzag look. The last is the twined style, where two weft strands are interlaced between each warp strand, producing a lightly opened weave.


The second method from making a basket or a bag—even, mats—is to braid or twist a strand of any of the above-mentioned materials into a cord. This braided or twisted cord was then coiled into a spiral and then sewn together. To sew the coiled basket together, the ancients employed two stitching techniques, which gave the basket its look. The first of two is the bee-skep coil stitch, where the stitches are widely spaced out, touching neither the preceding stitch nor the following stitch. The second style is the furcated coil stitch, where every new stitch is sewn into the stitch of the next coil, splitting this stitch, thus giving the basket a crocheted look.


As an added feature, a handle was added to the basket, depending on its purpose; a bag could be made with or without a handle. If the basket was made with a handle, it was reinforced to prevent it from tearing off the basket. Such a handle was typically attached to a woven bag for portability. On the other hand, lidded storage baskets made of coiled cord typically had a cord attached to it to hang either on the wall of or on the ceiling; this was a keep-out-of-reach-of-children and of rodents tactic.


In terms of decoration, baskets and bags were typically plain because they were expendable. However, when such objects were adorned, the following were used: colors of black, white, and red; decorations stitched into the basket, serving additional reinforcement; elaborate weaving patterns; and shells and other objects, incorporated into the weaves or coils.


Once the basket or bag was finished, it could be used for many purposes. In general, such items housed whatever possessions an Egyptian had, which could have included the following: beads and rings; tools; jars; and other small objects. Not only were baskets used to hold such object, but also they were used to hold dry and other goods and materials. For the peasant, it was corn he put into his bag to transport it to a buyer or to his home. For the servant, it was bread he put in his bag to bring to his master. For the builder, it was clay he kept in his basket to easily transport it from its origin to the architectural site. For the foundry worker, it was charcoal and raw material he put in his basket.


Such basketry was ideal for the Egyptian family, as they were affordable, sturdy, lightweight, and easy to come by. They were also ideal because wooden storage chests were too expensive and rare and cupboards were non-existent.


It should be relatively easy to tell that baskets and bags were mainly used for necessity rather than for accessorizing; they were mainly used like a grocery bag or like a storage container than like a purse with which to match one’s jewelry, outfit, or wig.  However, it was not beyond an ancient Egyptian woman to put an accessory item, like a mirror, into a bag, which she might carry with her when she went to a feast where she and her friends would engage in eating, drinking, and putting on make-up.



Cline, Eric H. and Jill Rubalcaba.  The Ancient Egyptian World.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 2005.


Dollinger, André.  Ancient Egypt:  an introduction to is history and culture. September 2006 <>.

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Latest Update: December 17, 2007 at 10:10 am

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