Despite their clothing being rather straightforward (mostly lengths of undyed linen tied in various ways or sewn into simple shapes), Egyptians in ancient times had pretty sophisticated resources for the fabric arts.
The needles in the above picture don’t state their lengths (and, oddly, claim them as medical tools, not fabric ones). They come from long before New Kingdom days (6000-3150 BCE) yet show quite complex metalwork with two different kinds of metal. That top needle in particular would look completely ordinary in any modern sewing basket.
In other photos from the New Kingdom and before, we see needles made out of bone, ivory, and bronze or copper alloy and ranging in length from 8 cm (3 1/8 in) to 20 cm (8 1/8 in), the longer ones noted as being for weaving fish nets and other textiles.
Ancient Egyptians embroidered clothing and other fabrics and used a range of different stitches for that and other sewing and needlework.
The ancient Egyptians used a comparatively narrow range of decorative embroidery stitches. Identified to date, these are the blanket stitch, chain stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, seed stitch, stem stitch and the twisted chain stitch
In addition, darning and mending of worn textiles were sometimes carried out using coral stitches and overcast stitches, as well as couching, but these should be regarded as functional, rather than decorative forms.Ancient Egyptian Stitches, Stichting Textile Research Centre (TRC).
While this artifact isn’t quite from the right place or old enough for our purposes, it was the best I could find that was public domain or with a Creative Commons license. For a terrific picture of a contemporaneous embroidered work, see Tutankhamun and Decorative Needlework.
An expert on needlework, Catherine Leslie [author of Needlework Through History: An Encyclopedia (Handicrafts Through World History Series), 2007] reveals that needles with eyes and beads made from stone were used by prehistoric people in 38,000 B.C.E. That was 30,000 years ago, before the existence of written language and therefore there is no written record of this. It is, however, thought that the earliest artworks were likely part of religious rituals.
The oldest surviving pieces of embroidered material date from approximately 2,000 B.C.E. and were found in Egyptian tombs. These artefacts include hem panels found on the tunic of the famous Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun.
Functional Woven Items
Woven from various fibers, including jute.
These look like they came off a modern dock. Made from palm fibers or reed.
- Ancient Egyptian Stitches, Stichting Textile Research Centre (TRC).
- Tutankhamun and Decorative Needlework (Egypt), Stichting Textile Research Centre (TRC).
- Embroidery: History and How It’s Made, F&P Interiors.
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