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Desert Clothing
ostrich riding
lady_puck9999 wrote in little_details
Setting: Fantasy world

I am just curious about cloth. What culture the cloth comes from doesn't matter, as long as it is a desert culture. I have a character hailing from a fantasy desert, and I am wondering what his clothes would be made of.

Various lightweight cloths are made from plants, worms, etc. Like linen and silk. In the desert, presumably flax would have a hard time growing and silk worms would have nothing to eat. So did ancient desert people trade and/or buy their fabric, or did they have some other kind of desert-made cloth (besides wool and leather)?

While flax grows better in a damp climate, cotton was often farmed along rivers in desert climates, such as ancient Egypt - people who lived further away from the river could trade or buy it.

I'm not sure if this helps (since it's not exactly ancient), but during the late Ottoman era, they imported a lot of their textiles from India and the area (mainly cotton, wool, and silk), so having your characters wear clothes made out of any of that would be plausible.

What kind of desert? A hot sandy desert like the Sahara or someplace cold like Antartica or Greenland? A really cold desert climate with a short growing season would likely make use of animal fibers or skins. Silk would most likely be from trade (I don't know how feasible silks from spiders are but silkworms require mulberry leaves). Desert cultures are often nomadic, establishing trade routes seems a natural step. A people with access to a good navigable river or a seaport ought to be able to trade for just about anything.

Wool from sheep or camals or goats or whatever was anamal they could easealy keep with a spinnable coat. They would probalby do a lot of trading for finer cloths like slik and cotton and linnin, I would think it would be a statis thing, showing off how much money you have.

Suprisingly wool is not that uncomfortable to ware in the heat and a thicker fabric would protect you from the sun's uv rays.

Seconded. You need something fairly thick and opaque to protect you, and historically desert people have tended to use yarn from the beasts they keep. As they are usually nomadic, it makes sense to have your supply with you; if flax etc can be grown, well, it's not really desert as such.

I watched a doco on desert clothing, specifically it was about 19th century to present day Middle Eastern garb. The finer detials elude me at this time but one thing I remember is that the clothes could tecnically be made from any material (so anything listed in previouse posts will work for you) but the real trick in the cloths is the layering of garments to keep one cool in the day and warm at night. Basically you'll notice that the majority of men wear the long robes of a light colour. The ligh colour basicaly reflects the UV and heat while underneith they ware a dark or black robe to asorb the heat away from the skin. Even though they are wearing more layers of fabric they are able to keep cooler due to the way the two colours react to the climate.

I found that fasinating anyway.

Stillsuits! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

But seriously, trade. Or, if all else fails, you could invent a plant that hoards its own water supply, or has roots tapping into underground water supplies, or that needs barely any water. Watermelons would be worthless as fabric, but they hoard water like mad, so there is reality precedent.

First, what level of civilization are you talking about? That will determine how fine a weave or the likelihood of imported materials (the more advance the culture the finer the weaving). Any fibrous plant material can be made into cloth. I've heard of reeds, corn, bark and roots being used for cloth. The same can be said about animal fibers, the use of human hair, and weavings made of animal skins. Desert cultures will use about anything that is available and can be rather inventive. However, remember that the clothing itself is either sparse or baggy and multilayer. The idea is to manage evaporation rates to keep oneself cool and hydrated.

While most tend to use the Middle East and Africa as models for desert wear, it would be a bit novel to use the Americas as an example. Far more diversity in materials used.

Cashmere/pashmina is technically wool (made from desert/mountain goat undercoat), but the finest quality feels nearly as light and fine as silk while being warmer than ordinary wool. It's expensive, though; it has to be combed off the goat or collected from bushes by hand.

Thirded- the thick wool grown from their own herds of sheep, camels and goats that can both survive on graze and browse in the desert, and travel with nomads, is practical desert clothing.
It's strong and thick enough to protect from sun, blowing sand an cold nights, and also provides a certain amount of shade. When soaked with sweat, thick cloth can actually cool by evaporation, while light cloth dries too fast. loose Felted overgarments-about 1 cm thick- are traditional in some desert areas.

OTOH, linen or rope can be produced from any plant with long fibers, hemp, nettles, thistles, yucca, etc. many of these would grow in the marginal areas on the desert edge, so there's no saying they'd have to trade for lighter fabrics-even if they could and did.
oh, and in American SW deserts rope sandals of yucca were common in the Great Desert.

Seconding some of the above -- camel-skin or camel hair has a fine history, with aficionados including John the Baptist. ;-)

Not much I can add to the above posts (except to emphasize the layering, and I should know-- I live in Arizona, smack in the middle of the Sonora), but as a spinner of textiles I can add that you can spin *any* plant with nice long cellulose fibers-- nettles, hemp, mallow, even certain seaweeds. The process of turning a chunk of plant-stalk into spinnable fibers takes a year, generally, and the majority of it is called 'retting' (which actually means 'rot away the outer stuff we don't need and leave the tough cellulose so we can break it down and soften it'). You need running water (or at least a water-source) to do this; there are fibers that are spun all across the world that don't make it into common knowledge, and as this is a fantasy world you have the option of creating your own source.

Actually, retting can be done in standing water, even tanks and bins, too.

I know. But... **makes a face** ...ever been around a batch of stuff being retted? It smells bad enough as it is; at least running-water retting doesn't smell QUITE as awful as the alternate. And there's the Nile, after all...

We have a variety of flax that grows as a wildflower out here in the desert; I've been contemplating harvesting some at the just-past-seeding stage and seeing how it rets.

Edited at 2008-09-24 05:58 pm (UTC)

"ever been around a batch of stuff being retted?"
hence the nomadic adaptation in areas without running water...*g*

I've been told the Great Plains wildflower flax isn't really fibrous, but I'm not sure it's the same!

**grins** Emphasis on the term 'nomadic', as in 'Thank the gods we don't have to live near this stench for long!' But yeah; humans (and their techniques) are nothing if not adaptable.

Drat; it probably is pretty close-- this is an orangy-red flowering flax, with the occasional pale red-purple variation, not much like the blue flax that gets grown commercially. Oh well; someday I'll try nettles (I made beer out of 'em once, and THAT worked just fine.)

Huh, ours is blue flax, but a shorter perennial- linum perenne lewisii, and common flax -fiber flax- is an annual Linum usitatissimum. Yours sounds like linum grandiflorum rubrum? (finally had time to check that!)
None of the wild flax in this country arelisted as having any use except grazing, since they do have the high oil content seeds.
Nettle beer? How'd it taste? I've heard of nettle soup..
(I still wish I could try to grow hemp- it's the only fiber plant grows wild in the Rockies area, but! Stupid laws..)



2008-09-29 05:41 am (UTC)

Heh, you're the third Arizonian posting in LD recently...

In ancient Mesopotamia (which was located, as you probably know, along two rivers in the middle of a desert), cloth was a very fine, highly valuable commodity that they spent a lot of time trading and writing about. So, it is possible to make very nice cloth in a desert. The Mesopotamians focused on wool cloth (mostly for middle and lower class people) and linen (from flax, which was for people who could spend more on their cloth). Because Mesopotamia has few natural resources (oil not being a big need in the Bronze Age), their cloth was the thing they traded to peoples who did have the lapis lazuli, carnelian, gold, special woods, etc, that they wanted. During what's called the Ur III period (the big period of cities like Ur and Uruk, the famous Bronze Age period in Mesopotamia), cloth production was highly centralized, with teams of people, mostly women, children, slaves, and prisoners or war, in workshops to produce cloth. People had very specialized jobs, such as weaver, fuller, etc.

A couple simple sources:
Mesopotamian Clothing
Ur III commerce
I can find some scholarly articles all about this if you want, but I figure that's way more detail than you need. But let me know if you're interested.

wools from sheep, goat, even certain forms of oxen. Well, in fact, why not dogs, it's already been done. Any animals that would have grown long hair in a desert climate to protect themselves could be conceiveably have their hair weaved or spunned.