Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thoughts on kurta patterns

  Over the past half a year, I've intermittently been rethinking my original ideas about kurta patterns. Some of it is based on a class I attended, some of it on looking further at pictures of the child's kurta and other depictions of kurtas, and some of it from a recent comment on a past post.

Pattern pieces and their shape
  I had originally thought the front flaps would be trapezoids whose bottom width is from hip to hip, but when you look at the child's coat- it's bottom is only a little wider than the top. Laid out so that the opening is vertical down the center, the outside edges pretty much go straight down. The extra bits on the side are gores.

  Jadi Fatima showed her class at KWARCS a Mongol pattern she'd recreated that used gores and gussets like that on the side. The two gores on the armpit were trapezoids as opposed to the triangles anyone who's ever made a generic T-tunic using a period pattern is used to. There were two additional long trapezoids running from below the armpit to the hem.  It looks like the child's kurta eschews the gussets and just has two gores running down the side.

  Scott, the commenter I previously mentioned, makes his kurtas with triangular gores. He described his pattern as follows:
  My kurta uses these long triangular gussets that function as armpit gussets as well. I have found this to be the easiest and most practical way to go about it. I basically use a 3,3,5 pattern, that is rectangular body panels 3 units wide and 5 units long, sleeves 3 units long and 2 units in circumferance at the widest point. Then I can simply alter the width of the triangular gusset and taper of the sleeve to achieve a good fit. For instance, mine is 1m long, with 60cm wide body panels, 60 cm sleeves that are cut 40 cm wide tapering to 25 cm. The triangular gusset starts about 15cm down the sleeve and is 50 cm wide at the bottom hem and is made up of all the scraps, 3 pieces in one and five in the other. If you just leave the front panel whole instead of splitting it, you have a Byzantine style tunic like the one found in that cave in Turkey, or you can make a narrower side gusset, split the front panel and you have a kaftan pattern.

Keeping kurtas closed
  I had thought that the hem should lie horizontally when the kurta is flattened on the ground, but the child's kurta is opened in such a way that it's pointed in front instead. I have a really hard time keeping my crappy attempt at a kurta closed and was considering adding some sort of button to the inside for practicality's sake.

  That still left me wondering how Sarmatians and others would have kept theirs' closed, because I've never seen any sort of internal fastener. That doesn't mean they don't exist- All the pictures of seen of Sarmatians wearing kurtas have them crossed in only one direction (and Sulimirski mentions this), so maybe they had some sort of fastener on the inside and we just don't have one preserved today [that I know of].

  The one Gamble made for me actually stays closed on its own because the fake silk brocade on the inside creates enough friction that it doesn't budge much. The moleskin on the mine has a slick inside surface that wants to move. I'm sure leather would create friction more like the brocade does. Quilted cotton, too. So maybe fasteners just wouldn't have been needed?

Open vs. closed
  The kurtas of the Scythians on the Greek-made jug and jewelry are barely crossing and have a vertical slit down the center. Someone sent me a link to a Scythian A&S entry in another kingdom (Northshield or Midrealm, I don't remember which), which also demonstrated the vertical opening down the center. I really wish I could find that link, because they created an entire outfit and it was gorgeous. After flipping back and forth through depictions of kurtas with vertical openings (I'm going to call this "open") and those with flaps crossing the front of the body (I'm calling this "closed"), something Jadi had said years ago at Dragon*Con  (and repeated at KWARCS) struck me- what if it's the same pattern, just worn differently by the Scythians than by the Sarmatians?

  She had been trying to figure out a pattern for an open kaftan. I don't remember if it was Persian or Mongol. She just couldn't get the neckline right. She'd already made a closed kaftan from the same culture and was standing in front of the mirror one day while the kaftan was unbelted and hanging open and realized she was wearing the open kaftan. It was the same exact garment.

  This kaftan had fasteners in the same place as you see on Mongol kaftans and some extra attachments on the inside edge of the underflap. Going horseback riding? Cross the flaps and fasten the overflap at the armpit to keep the wind off your front. Walking around town on a hot day? Attach the outer flap to the inside buttons so that there's a vertical slit down the middle.

  Under the assumption that Iranian steppe nomads didn't have fasteners, one could either cross or not cross it before putting on the belt depending on which culture you're emulating. If they did have fasteners, it could be a similar setup to the Persian kaftan.


  1. Greetings,
    In most images that I have seen of the Scythian Kurta, its been kept closed with a belt. The many examples of Goldwork left behind in Kurgans have been good examples of that.\S\C\Scythianart.htm
    These two are just an example. From what we have seen found in the Kurgans, the Scythians loved pieces made realistically, even those with mythical creatures. The men were always better made than reality, the animals perfect. Leaving us to assume that they were a pretty pretty people.

    1. Thanks! That's what my opinion was leaning towards, but I try to err on the side of not using absence of evidence as evidence of absence. I have a couple books with pictures of that comb in it. Interesting point about perfection in their art. I hadn't noticed that.

    2. Something I don't think I clarified before- In my experience, wearing a belt over a kurta won't necessarily keep the two sides of the kurta in place. They tend to open up when one moves around. At least with the modern fabric I've been using. I'm sure period fabric behaves differently, I'm just don't know if it would stay in place with only a belt.

  2. Hi!
    My SCA name is Achaxe. I have been doing a Scythian persona for about 14 years, and reside in An Tir. I am a Laurel, and one of my big geeks is Scythian costuming. I have made a ton of the front slit coats with the points hanging long. When they are made of wool or linen, they stay closed very well on their own, with or without a belt. I have experimented with several patterns, and would be happy to email diagrams etc. /dialogue with you about patterning. You can reach me at achaxe at gmail dot com. I enjoy what you have going on with your blog here.
    Cheers, Achaxe

  3. Regarding the long points in front, and other oddities about the kurta: it is my guess that one of the ways the jacket ends were held closed is by the thighs while mounted. I have worn a parka while riding in a snowstorm, and you really want to have the kurta reach down to at least midthigh to help keep the top of your thigh from freezing. It's the part of your leg most exposed to direct wind and snow, after all. Having a long point means you can wrap it around your thigh and tuck it underneath, to keep warm.

    Fair warning, however: I've not found any specific graphics of this, since the Greeks rarely (if ever? ;) portray anyone in a snowstorm. This is just me working with clothing in a commonsense fashion while trying to stay warm on horseback while in horrible weather.

    1. Brilliant! I hadn't thought about the flaps helping to hold it closed or to wrap around the thighs. Thanks!

    2. Happy to help! ...and to stay warm and unfrostbitten... ;)

  4. Regarding artistic perfection, I've noticed some interesting things there too. For example, even in our modern art we tend to depict the big predators with their upper canines being more forward and prominent than the lower ones. However, if you actually look at the skulls of predators, it is the lower canine teeth which are in front. Interestingly, the Central Asian nomadic art gets this right.

    Also, regarding the men being better than reality, I offer two thoughts: first, we should keep in mind that the unbearded "men" depicted in their art are as likely to be women as male youths, especially considering gender roles were not graven in stone for them. Secondly, Andrew Bell-Fialkoff, in his 1995 book The Role of Migration in the History of the Eurasian Steppe: Sedentary Civilization vs. 'Barbarian' and Nomad, notes the following, -- which I quote precisely so you can have as much fun puzzling out the various numbers as I did... :)

    "Ammianus Marcellinus wrote that 'almost all of the Alans are tall and good looking, their hair is generally blond' (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae, XXX, 2, 21, in Bachrach 1973, 19, n.40). And they were tall: men in the Middle and Late Sarmatian graves in the Volga region reached 182, 185, 187, and 189 centimeters (6'-6'3") (Rykov 1925, 66, and 1926, 103, 117, 123, in Maelchen-Helfen, 1973, 362, n.39) [209-10]."

    I should note for the sake of precision that Bell-Fialkoff, when he gives his own opinions and interpretations, is not what I consider a completely reliable source on the Central Asian nomads. Due to the rather broad sweep of his anthropological explorations in his book, I find him somewhat ethnocentric, projecting just a tad bit too much of his modern attitudes onto them.

    1. I love how accurate steppe nomads are with their animal art. I work with animal anatomy mundanely, so I appreciate that I can do something period without making my anatomist side twitch (I'm looking at you, heraldic art!).
      It surprised me the first time I heard about how tall the Volga skeletons were. Here, you have these people that one would have assumed to be riding around on stocky steppe ponies, but that would be really awkward if you were 6+ ft tall. Have you been able to find anything on Sarmatian horse height?
      Thanks for the tip about Bell-Fialkoff. I don't think I've read any of his stuff yet, but will keep that in mind..

  5. I have, yes, though at this point in time I can't lay hands on the sources any more -- I apologize for that. But I remember reading that the Chinese envied the nomads' "golden" horses of, umm... it began with a B, darnit! Not Berkhana -- that's a Norse rune. I'll think about it and try to remember. Oh, also the horses were supposed to be longer-limbed and faster, and tended to be taller than the regular nomad ponies. I think I vaguely recall reading also that they averaged 15 hands but were found to grow up to about 15.3 hands in a few cases?

    I'm less sure about this memory, but I think there was something about deducing from some of the remaining hides that the horses were a sort of rich, fiery-red chestnut that would catch golden highlights from the sun. Hmm... thinking about this, you might try Renate Rolle's The World of the Scythians? Even if I'm remembering wrong as to whether she's got the horse data, she also has some really beautiful color plates in the book for the decorative horse tack found in some of the more splendid burials. It's a slim hardcover, but get it from the library -- it's going for $50 currently.

    Rolle is an author I'd recommend wholeheartedly, and she's like the modern scientific source on the Scythians -- I consider Jeannine Davis-Kimball the best "go-to" person for the "talented amateur" author category. ;) Unfortunately Rolle got some bad reviews on, which is really sad because the negative reviewers' reasoning is unwittingly inaccurate. For example, we know the Central Asian nomads did not use stirrups for most of their tenure. Also, there's a particular torq with mounted riders as the end-caps, and most photos show them from above -- such as the one in Rolle's book. That means the indented lines over the feet look like simple, engraved stirrups -- and that's what the negative reviewers assume they are. However, if you see a photo of the object from the side (which I was lucky enough to find) you can see that the lines aren't symbolic of stirrups, but rather are the cord-like thingies that wrap around ankle and instep of the Scythian shoe/boot.

    Anyway, hope this is useful; enjoy! :)

    1. Cool! I hope you're able to remember the source. Sounds like it has lots of useful information.
      I know the torq you're talking about and I will definitely look up that book!