2020 Bling-Off Challenge Scythian Edition

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The 12th Night Bling-Off

Last fall, some of us decided to participate in a friendly challenge to make new clothing for 12th Night. The more “bling” the better. Each month was supposed to be about one particular piece so that by 12th Night, you had a complete outfit. I decided to take this as an opportunity to try something I have always loved but never done – Scythian.

It’s the vibrancy of the art, the use of color, the amazing metal work that’s the attraction for me. It’s very dynamic art. Doing this also opens up so many possibilities for me to increase my skill level in things like felting so I can make the pieces for my booties. I think that’s the thing I like best about this project. From head to foot, I will have made everything myself.

The Headpiece

For my head piece, I decided to recreate the Calathos. This style of headress was used most commonly in the Black Sea/Bactia area – modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. I love this look. I find it very elegant. I did not make the metal plaques as I have no metal skills, but it is something I’m very interested in learning. My Laurel has encouraged me to explore punch work as I expect to see many more plaques in my future.

This was interesting to pattern, mostly due to the height. I would make a pattern try it on and then decide it was too tall. I realized that it wasn’t the pattern, it was I am unaccustomed to wearing a tall headpiece. In reality the piece is only about 5″ high (not counting the baronial pearls).

The Tunic

The tunic is based on burial finds. This style of tunic, white fabric with red embellishment, is found in both male and female grave sites. I am going to do more research of the red on white motif. As these garments are found in burials and they seem to be ubiquitous, I believe that the red down the seams and the neck and wrists are there for ritualistic purposes – either as protection or for other spiritual reasons. On a basic level, red embroidery on white fabric is impracticable. In a nomadic society where resources are precious, it seems an extravagant option. I have used cotton embroidery thread as opposed to silk as I find it much more color fast.

The pattern of the tunic is very simple – rectangles for the front and back with smaller rectangles for the arms and some with small gores on the sides. That style looks terrible on me. I opted to use a more fitted rectangular construction pattern as that fits my body better.

The Pants

I have chosen to make pants this time around instead of the skirt that is usually found in female graves. There have been pants found in female graves (though not many) and I am especially excited to read the 2019 study from the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the grave finds of 4 “warrior” women found in one of the 19 burial mounds studied in the archaeological excavation near the Russian village of Devitsa .

Instead of using patterned fabric, I decided use the opportunity to do some applique and embroidery. I took the inspiration for the design from a wall hanging found in one of the barrows from the Pazyryk finds. I have not done a lot with negative embroidery so this was an experiment. Using all the pieces certainly cut down the amount of ultrasuede I used. I suspect that is also the reason it was done in period. I bought the plaques originally for a different project, but thought they echoed the “fleur-de-lis” pattern nicely. While no extant pants have been found with plaques on them, there have been plaques found where pants would be.

Further Projects

The final steps for the complete project will be my coat and booties. The applique will be going on my coat. Based on leather work from a saddle arch from a barrow in the Pazyryk burials.

The bright orange wool is for my booties. I am very much looking forward to making the booties. I have never made shoes for myself before so this will be new territory.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions!


  • Rudenko, Sergei I. Frozen Tombs of Siberia: the Pazyryk Burials of Iron Age Horsemen, University of California Press, 1970.
  • Davis-Kimbla, Jeannine, Bashilov, Vladimir A., Yablonsky, Leonid T., eds. Nomads of the Eurasian Steppes in the Early Iron Age, Zinat Press, 1995.
  • Hiebert, Fredrik, Cambon, Pierre, eds. Afghanistan: HiddenTreasures from the National Museum, Kabul, National Geographic, 2008.

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15 Replies to “2020 Bling-Off Challenge Scythian Edition”

  1. This was a great read, thank you! I’m not great at the sewing thing, lack of patience to learn and drive for a reason to, a challenge like that in the future may well help. Also with persona development.

    Does the decoration indicate status or a story of the wearer?

    Ciar ingen Fiachnae

  2. Those designs are soooo beautiful.
    Both the shapes and your execution of them. I can see why you are attracted to them.
    Nicely done,

  3. Great job on this. The colors are amazing and I can’t wait to see the final result. I also have to congratulate you on keeping up with the Bling off. I am woefully behind but you have inspired me to try again.

  4. As someone who is not well versed in Scythian culture this was really interesting. I love the headdress it is just beautiful, the clothing also looks so comfortable and like it can be made to accommodate hot weather. The embroidery patterns are really dynamic. Can’t wait to see the full finished outfit!

  5. This is very nicely done. I love the vibrant colors. For the hat, you selected plaques that definitely give the feel of the repousse versions. Don’t fear the hat height… Scythians were all about the tall hats!

    On the tunic, I really like how you pieced it as from a narrow fabric. I’m not sure why the red on white would necessarily be impracticable… not all red dyes bleed. And they seem to have been quite extravagant with color generally; it was, after all, a way to display wealth (along with all the bling). As to meaning, it is frustrating that we don’t have any contemporary accounts on the Altai area as we do with Herodotus for the Black Sea Coast (and even that doesn’t give us much, and has to be taken with a grain of salt). I don’t think I’ve seen any work on color symbolism, but for more on religion and pictorial symbolism, you might look at The Deer Goddess of Ancient Siberia by Esther Jacobsen, a University of Oregon prof who is considered one of the world experts on Scythian/Altaic rock art.

    There was an example of plaques indicating a woman’s pants at Arzhan (first published in National Geo 2003), perhaps you saw it. In addition to that type of find, there are numerous human depictions in Greek and/or Scythian-made goldwork from the Black Sea area showing patterns on pants that are probably indicative of plaques, so although those are usually male figures, that gives further likelihood of such embellishment. Greek depictions of Amazons also tend to have extensive patterns on their leggings/pants. At any rate, I like how you adapted the Pazyryk hanging motifs to the pants. I think on the hanging, the shape was cut out of each color and then swapped (inlaid applique), rather than having the cutout area of one color be reverse applique, but I could be forgetting something from the find. At any rate, it’s a nice effect, the colors really pop, and your stitching is very even.

    I’m wondering if you plan to include a gusset in the pants? IME the crotch tends to tear out otherwise, and there are some extent examples with a gusset.

    I’d love to see how it all comes together with the coat and boots! How do you intend to incorporate the saddle applique design onto the coat?

    1. Thank you for the resources! The saddle applique design will go down the front and around the bottom and down the length of the arm. That will be a long term project, but I’m hoping (if we have 12th Night) to have it done by January. I’m hoping it’s down before then. I have not put a gusset in the pants. I had a pattern that fit true, but I think next time I will add the gusset. I would love to speak with you during the event!

  6. Excellent work. I look forward to seeing your progress on this. Hopefully we will be able to talk about it next week as well.

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