Greco-Roman Royalty

This is an album of clothing I made for Their Excellencies Ioannes and Honig during their East Kingdom reign in 2017. They had a Greco-Roman themed reign so my husband and I were asked to assist with making or coordinating most of their outfits due to our experience with making this style of clothing for ourselves. Countess Honig had previously made Roman dresses for herself out of cotton saris and preferred the weight and drape of cotton or silk. Count Ioannes preferred the sturdiness of linen.

By this point I had already begun experimenting with converting cotton and silk saris into Greek chitons so I used saris and sari trim for almost all of their outfits, including their coordinated himations/pallas. I matched Count Ioannes’s linen tunics to Countess Honig’s cotton and silk sari colors and embellished the tunics with extra sari trim. I made two of their outfits out of rayon challis rather than saris, one of which was stenciled and one of which was machine embroidered. I used a hodge-podge of saris–some that I had previously acquired, some that Ioannes and Honig found prior to or during the reign, and some that I found online and at local sari shops. They ended up with a variety of Greco-Roman themed styles that, while not necessarily period-accurate in every case, produced the look they wanted.

I share these examples to give others some ideas for ways to create matching outfits for couples, and to show the variety of ways saris can be converted into Greco-Roman clothing. Although I am now moving away from sari use myself, I still feel that sari conversion is the quickest, easiest way for people to construct beautiful, period-looking Greco-Roman clothing with just a few straight-stitched lines on a sewing machine. No embroidery or stenciling is needed. I have even pinned new saris onto myself at events without any sewing. Cotton saris, in particular, are comfortable, breathable, and drape beautifully. I would highly recommend this method of Greco-Roman clothing creation to beginners.

Photo credits: Dayna Tarabar, Suzan Longo, Camille DesJardins, and Vlad Iliescu.

Stenciling

My first chiton edge embellishments were primarily stenciled. This was the easiest way I could think of to create a decorative edge similar to the garment edges that appeared on pottery images. I didn’t own an embroidery machine, I didn’t have time to hand embroider, I found most decorative trims to be too stiff for this purpose, and I had previous experience with stenciling for other SCA garments. I have since experimented with fabric ink stamping, but I tend to get a cleaner, more reliable result with stenciling. Here are pictures of a few of my first stenciled chitons.

Red Stencilling

White Stencilling

The red chiton was the first linen stenciled chiton I ever made. The stencil was not a period-accurate motif so I didn’t use it again after I did more research on accurate motifs. I was excited to find a stencil with a more accurate motif for the white chiton. I’ve used this stencil for other garments, including outfits I made for Their Excellencies Ioannes and Honig when they were Prince and Princess of the East Kingdom. I will showcase the outfits I made for them in a separate post.

I found some stencils at craft stores, and some were made by my husband, Sir Zhigmun’ Czypsser. He does a wide variety of arts and his talent for visual arts is far superior to mine. Therefore, he will design and cut a custom stencil if I need a specific motif. I also modified some of the stencils by either covering parts of them with tape to isolate design elements in a busy motif or by cutting design elements out of a larger motif. Many of our purchased and custom stencils are shown below.

I stencil on fabric using standard acrylic craft paint mixed with textile medium and a little water. I don’t have an exact ratio, but it’s approximately 1/3 cup of textile medium to 1/2 cup of paint with 1-2 teaspoons of water. The goal is to thin the paint so it doesn’t dry so stiffly that the fabric won’t be soft and flowing, while preserving the integrity of the color. The textile medium thins the paint without diluting the color and helps the paint set into the fabric. The addition of water is a personal preference to ensure that the paint won’t be too stiff and it helps make the stenciling process quicker.

The procedure for stenciling begins with laying a single layer of fabric out on a flat surface with some kind of heavy or non-porous protective barrier beneath the area you will be stenciling. I have used cardboard, card stock, and aluminum foil. I prefer aluminum foil because I can easily run a long sheet of it down the entire length of the table beneath the fabric and not have to cobble together multiple pieces of cardboard with tape. I secure the foil to the table with tape then pull the fabric taut and secure it to the table with clips. You have to be very careful that the fabric and the protective under layer do not shift around while the paint is drying. If this happens, the paint will transfer to non-stenciled areas on the back of the fabric and may bleed through to the front of the fabric. If I’m working on multiple garments, I will set up two stenciling lines on each long edge of the table. That way I can work on a second stencil line while the first is drying.

After I have everything taped and clipped down I mix the paint. I then spray the back of the stencil with repositionable adhesive spray and wait a few seconds for the adhesive to start drying and get tacky before laying the stencil down on the fabric. You will need to press the stencil down firmly on the fabric in order to reduce paint bleeding past the edges.

The next step is to daub the paint onto the fabric. I have used a variety of sponge-style paint daubers that are easy to find in any craft store. Some styles may work better for some people than others, but I have used all of them successfully. I begin by dipping the sponge into the paint to soak up a moderate amount of paint, then daubing some of the paint onto a scrap of cardstock or foil to get a thin, even distribution throughout the sponge before daubing the fabric. I would recommend experimenting with this process using scrap fabric to get a good feel for how to produce the best results. It honestly takes some trial and error to figure out how much paint to use and how to avoid paint bleeding across the edges of the stencil.

After daubing the paint onto the stencil you will immediately pull up the stencil and carefully lay it down next to the area you just stenciled to continue the pattern down the length of the fabric. You don’t want to let the paint dry with the stencil still adhered to the fabric. This will make it difficult to pull the stencil up and will likely pull some of the paint up with it. The spray adhesive will remain tacky for a few rounds then will need to be reapplied when the tackiness no longer keeps the edges firmly adhered to the fabric. If there are any questions about how often to reapply the adhesive, err on the side of more frequently to prevent paint bleeding across poorly adhered stencil edges.

There are a few common problems to watch out for. Make sure to check the adhesive side of the stencil for paint in between every round of stenciling. If paint bled across the stencil line or accidentally came in contact with the painted design, you will run the risk of transferring paint to an unwanted place on the next section of fabric if you don’t clean the paint off the adhesive side. Also, if you are stenciling a large project, you may begin to notice paint building up along the edges of a stencil you are using repeatedly. Make sure you either wipe or pull the paint build-up off the stencil or use a razor knife to cut the paint back to the original edge. Otherwise, the design will grow progressively smaller and small details around the edge will become distorted.

After the paint has completely dried, I set the paint by putting the garment into the dryer at the hottest temperature setting. The stenciled paint is safe to iron after this initial setting. Ironing with a hot, dry iron will also help fully set the paint prior to wearing and washing. The paint will last a surprisingly long time and will not flake off or wash out.

Here are examples of products I’ve used for this process. I’m not picky about brands and can’t tell much of a difference between the variety of brands I’ve used.

Craft Paint  |  Textile Medium  |  Adhesive Spray  |  Stenciling Sponges

I now own an embroidery machine, but I would still use stenciling if I needed to quickly add a custom design to something I was making on a deadline. I have yet to make friends with my machine and have so far found it to be more trouble than it’s worth. However, I am hoping to master some simple, period-accurate motif designs for future chiton and himation projects. I’m sure that adventure will find its way to another post.

 

First Chiton/Peplos Hybrid

Greek Beginnings

When I first began researching Ancient Greek clothing online, the plethora of pictures and descriptions spanning the Archaic through the Hellenistic eras left me confused about what to make and how to make it. Most sources described three basic female garments: the chiton, the peplos, and the himation. However, these garments were constructed and worn in different ways over time and there is conflicting information about the distinctive features of a chiton versus a peplos. Some sources say that a chiton is typically made from linen and rarely has an apoptygma overfold, while a peplos is almost exclusively made from wool and always has an apoptygma. Other sources describe wool chitons with apoptygmas and linen peploses. Each garment could be worn alone or a peplos could be worn over a chiton. These variations may have depended on time and place, but it was difficult to determine which garment was being depicted on Hellenistic statues, pottery, and wall paintings. I ended up approaching the challenge anachronistically, seeking to recreate the general aesthetic of Greek clothing rather than belaboring the accuracy of the details. I settled on design elements and fabric choices based simply on personal preference and fabric practicality or availability.

The larger Ionian chiton designs of the Classical era were not appropriate for my persona so my garments needed to be sleeveless or short-sleeved. I chose not to wear a peplos over a chiton due to the warm Arizona weather. I liked the look of the peplos’s apoptygma overfold that would allow me to embellish an additional mid-length edge. I preferred long (mid-thigh to hip) apoptygma lengths rather than short (waist to breast) apoptygma lengths because they are better for my body type. I also preferred using linen rather than wool due to the dense weave and stiff drape of most modern lightweight wool fabrics. I ended up creating a linen hybrid of a peplos and a Doric chiton.

    

Many online sources explained that a Doric chiton was constructed in a similar manner as a peplos, by folding a long piece of fabric in half to create a tube with one folded side edge and one sewn or open side edge. I have since found sources that depict Hellenistic chitons constructed by sewing two rectangles together at each side, but I originally assumed chitons always had to be folded over. The apoptygma of a peplos was created by allowing the top of the tube to fold back down to the waist or hips. The apoptygma was most likely longer on young girls to allow for height growth (pictured above on the left). As the girl matured, the length of the garment could be increased by moving the shoulder fold higher up the tube of fabric. I experimented with different apoptygma lengths to see what looked and felt best on my body. I also made a few chitons without an apoptygma.

I assumed period chitons would have used lightweight, loose-weave linen, but I didn’t feel I could wear something sheer at SCA events. I was mostly working with light or medium-weight, densely-woven linen so I didn’t want to make a garment much wider than my hips. Unfortunately, a few of my first chiton attempts ended up too narrow to pin at both shoulders while still leaving enough room for arm holes so I ended up wearing them pinned at only one shoulder. I realized this was inaccurate so my first design challenge was to create a chiton with an apoptygma that would fasten at both shoulders while not leaving me swimming in frumpy linen. This led to my first anachronistic chiton/peplos hybrid design.

Sketch

Chiton

I would pin the shoulders about an inch in from the edge then tuck the corners under the edge of the arm slit to mimic the look of a wider pinned sleeve falling from the shoulder. Most commercially available fabric is not wide enough to give me the width I need when folded in half so I used the width of the fabric as the shoulder-to-floor height. I then attached an additional piece of linen to the top of the chiton, just below the neckline, that would fold over to create the apoptygma. The arm slits were a bit complicated to sew appropriately with the apoptygma. The pictures below show the construction of the arm slits on both the sewn edge and the folded edge, as well as the flat felled join of apoptygma fabric to the body of the chiton.

Below is another chiton with the apoptygma join closer to the neckline.

White Arms

I made a single-layer chiton with navy blue rayon challis as an experiment to try to find a fabric that would drape better than linen while still being made of breathable, natural fibers. I had intended to make it with an apoptygma, but I machine embroidered the bottom edge and ran out of time to embroider the apoptygma edge before I needed to wear it. Here are pictures of the top of the chiton while I’m wearing it, the embroidered edge, and the hemmed arm slits.

I no longer wear this chiton design, but this is still a viable option for people who are not comfortable wearing sheer fabrics and want to have a slim garment design. It mimics the silhouette of a chiton or peplos even if the drape isn’t accurate. Future blog posts will describe the transition of my chiton design to sheer linen with buttoned sleeves, as well as the evolution of my preferred methods of edge embellishment. With the exception of the embroidered rayon challis chiton, I stenciled all of my first chitons. I will address stenciling in a separate post.