1. Tarkhan dress

UCL Museums Top Ten Objects: Petrie Museum

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Tarkhan dress

This dress UC28614B was excavated at Tarkhan. Tarkhan is one of the most important cemeteries from the time that Egypt was unified around 3000 BC. Petrie named the site after a nearby village Kafr Tuki to distinguish early finds from later material, since the cemetery continued to be used in antiquity.

Petrie excavated a pile of linen from a Dynasty 1 (c. 2800 BC) tomb in 1913. It was only in 1977, when this linen pile was cleaned by the Victoria and Albert Museum's Textile Conservation Workshop, that the dress was discovered. It was then carefully conserved, stitched onto Crepeline (a fine silk material used in textile conservation) and mounted so it could be seen the way it was worn in life. It is one of the oldest garments from Egypt on display in the world.  

The dress shows distinct signs of pleating around the neck and on the sleeves. Rosalind Hall, who re-displayed the garment, comments that:

The garment had clearly been worn in life, because it was found inside-out, as it very well might have be after having been pulled over the head with distinct signs of creasing at the elbows and under the armpits.

The dress may have been placed in the tomb deliberately in an 'inside out manner' as a piece of funerary clothing. However, it is hard to make assumptions since the only context was the recovery of a garment amidst a pile of linen.

Reference from:

S. Landi and R. M. Hall (1979), 'The Discovery and Conservation of an Ancient Egyptian Linen Tunic', Studies in Conservation, 24, 141-152.

A pattern and instructions for making the Tarkhan dress are below or downloadable as part of our Textiles Pack. 

How to make the Tarkhan dress

By Janet Johnstone

The dress consists of a skirt joined selvedge to selvedge down the left hand side with a weft fringe. The sleeves and yoke are made of two pieces of material joined to the top of the skirt which meet at the centre front and back giving a v-shaped neckline edged with selvedge. The fabric has an irregular grey stripe as decoration and the sleeves have fine pleating.


100% Linen (only pure linen will hand pleat successfully)

22-23 warp threads per cm (with two threads together in some places), 13-14 weft threads per cm.

Body: Width 76cm selvedge to selvedge.  Length unknown.
Sleeves: Length neck edge (selvedge) to wrist c.58cm. Length over shoulder c.35cm.  (The measurements refer to the size of the material after pleating).

1. Cut a paper pattern using Diagram 2 as a reference. Add seam allowance. Pin pattern to linen, mark and cut out.

Diagram 1: Bodice and sleeve of tarkhan dress

Diagram 1: Bodice and sleeve. Finished measurements

2. Hand pleat the two bodice sections by first dampening with water. Lay one section down on a table or flat surface and starting with the long straight edge (A-B) fold over 1cm and press the folded edge flat.  Using this first pleat as a guideline pleat the rest of the fabric on top of it creating 1cm wide accordion pleating.  Weight the pleating down if necessary and dry in a warm place.

3. When dry, hand-roll and whip stitch the cut edges of the bodice and sleeves. (See section on sewing techniques.)

4. To make the sleeve. Whip stitch the angled edge of the sleeve to a fold 38mm from the straight edge and fringe the warp threads. Turn inside out. The excess fabric is inside the finished sleeve.

5. Hand-roll and whip stitch the cut edges of the skirt. Seam the two selvedges together by overlapping the right selvedge (this can be fringed) over the left and sew as Diagram 3.  This forms the left-hand side seam.

6. Mark the centre front, back and sides on the top edge of the skirt and match the corresponding points on the bodice. Attach the rolled edge of the bodice to the top of the skirt with whip-stitching.

Diagram 2: Pattern measurements for pleating bodice

Diagram 2: Pattern measurements for pleating bodice

Diagram 3: Flat overlapped seam

Tarkhan dress

Tarkhan dress

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