Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Egyptian Collar for History of Costumes

My first project for my History of Costumes class was to make an accessory inspired by Egypt. Our teach encouraged us to use unlikely materials and to make it look as true to the period (in this case, as true to the age) as possible.
Theda Bara as Cleopatra

Egypt’s Culture is so rich, so vast and spans several centuries that choosing a particular adornment was a daunting task. I wanted something distinctively Egyptian in form, but also very wearable. I also wanted to veer from garish adornments that have been copied and sold by tourist shops and featured in too many books and websites. I had the idea of making something an Egyptian common woman would wear. It could not too fancy, as her socio-economic status would not allow it. After several exhaustive Google Image Searches, I found this:

Broad Collar Egyptian Necklace from the 12th Dynasty.

One of the most notable and distinctive jewelry worn in Ancient Egypt are collars. They are also called usekh. They are heavily jeweled necklaces, created with beads made of glass, precious stones, gold, and a glazed pottery called faience. These beads were strung on multiple strings of varying length that were then bound to a ring around the neck to make a wide, semicircular collar that covered the shoulders and chest of the wearer with bright color.

Making The Collar

            In 1999, I was presented with a bracelet made of safety pins and glass seed beads as a gift. I loved it so much that I wore it until the elastic that held it together disintegrated. As I was searching for possible methods to use to construct the collar, I encountered the pins in an old jewelry box. The construction was fairly simple: string beads on the business side of the safety pin, close it and make about a fifty more. Then string both sides of the pins together using elastic cord.

For more information and step by step instructions: “Make a Safety Pin Bracelet” About.Com. http://frugalliving.about.com/od/craftsgifts/ht/Pin_Bracelet.htm 

The construction of the collar is a more complicated version of the safety pin bracelet, but certainly feasible to do. After several calculations, I ran to the craft store and bought 15 packs of green wooden beads (to emulate faience and to represent life and youth) and 100 dozen gold pins, size 30 bead wire and an 18-inch plastic coated stainless steel wire necklace with a barrel clasp. 

Start by preparing the safety pins by stringing four wooden beads on the business side of the pin, adding a dab of bead glue and close it. Then string the beads on necklace wire until it fills the length of the wire. Loop the bottom of the strung safety pins with wire and the pins of the next layer. Repeat steps until you get the desired collar width (about 4-6 layers). Secure all loose wires by looping them inside beads and securing the hidden ends with bead wire.

The majority of the collar was made on the Saturday of Typhoon Ondoy’s merciless downpour. It is interesting to note that the safety pins that were originally very shiny upon purchase had tarnished significantly due to the amount of moisture in the air. I feel that it would not have resembled an unearthed Tomb artifact if it had not been exposed to waterlogged air during such unusual circumstances. However, I feel that the tarnished pins had added an authentic looking quality to the collar that I don’t feel as bad as I did when I found all the pins (strung up and loose) tarnished and muddy looking.

The Finished Product

MATERIALS: Safety pins, green wooden beads, bead wire and clasp. 

 I mounted the collar on an illustration board covered in real Papyrus that mom brought home from Egypt. Thanks, Mom!

Worn by Little Red!

I really enjoyed making this collar. My hands bled and there were pins and wooden beads EVERYWHERE but it was worth it. 


Dani said...

That is such a cool project! I came across this while looking for inspiration to make my own beaded collar for a Halloween costume and I was so impressed I just had to let you know your collar turned out wonderful.

I confess..... said...

What was the size of the safety pins and the beads? Thank you.