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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Technique of Sprang: From the Greek Headgear to the Woolen Headdress of Egypt and the Belts of Arcadia

The term sprang means a fabric consisting of a single set of elements, as well as the technique of “plaiting parallel threads with fixed threads” on a frame. In the manufacturing process, a continuous thread is fixed at both ends in a braiding frame, and plaiting begins from the ends to the center by intertwining threads in alternate rows. The tools the worker uses are her fingers and a few small sticks. A characteristic feature of sprang is the finish line or “meeting” line which consists of a chained row or different thread at the center, designed to hold the elements in place. The elasticity is considerable, and the fabric produced is often lace-like openwork, but it can also be compact and braid-like.

Sprang bands and headgear have been found in the course of archaeological excavations in different sites, and the earliest known examples, definitely made on a frame, come from the Bronze Age in Denmark (about 1400 BC). There also exist Iron Age examples from Europe, and later Coptic bag-shaped caps from Egypt, items made of undyed linen or dyed in different colours wool. Fifth-century BC vases from Greece and South Italy show women with frames lying on their laps or hunging on the wall, as well as female figures with spang-like headgears. It has already been accepted that these frames were probably used for sprang.

On the evidence supplied by the Greek vase representations and the rare textiles that have survived to the present day, a practical application of the technique is examined, particularly its use in the “Coptic” sprang hair nets of the Benaki Museum in Athens.

Plaiting on a frame, especially for belts using a tubular warp, seems to be deeply rooted in many handicraft traditions in Greece, Scandinavia, Mexico and Pakistan, where this traditional technique has been kept alive.