When I was an undergraduate, several of the lecturers insisted that the smaller weights found in classical archaeology were buttons used to fasten the chiton.
All these lecturers, august though they were in their own fields, were men, and none had any pretentions to know the first thing about textiles. Personally I always looked at them and thought “small spindle whorls”
Yes, I know its and established fact that late classical/hellenistic art tended to exaggerate drapery for artistic effect, but it is still possible to achieve some of the swagger seen in sculptural drapery.
The technique shown here is based on that proposed in Alex Croom’s book, “Roman Clothing and Fashion” I’ve been using it for years and find it works very well. I have tried the other method of using actual beads etc as buttons, but found that not only did it drape incorrectly, but the buttons kept coming undone and were a nuisance.
The Chiton shown here is rather pale because it’s going to be an under dress for the Roman dress I made last week, but I use exactly the same construction for the chiton I wear when presenting the Ancient Greeks (I do like to have two separate chitons though, mainly to stop me getting bored) I used linen because I need to wash it regularly, but it works very very well with a soft wool challis.
Start with a piece of fabric long enough to go from one wrist to the other and back again – about 3 metres – and sew it into a tube. The width of the fabric will be the length of the chiton. Unless you are either exceptionally tall or very very wee, you shouldn’t need to shorten the fabric because any excess length will gather into you belt – in fact you’ll find it does it automatically as soon as you move your arms.
First you need to mark your contact points. Leave a generous allowance for the arm (you need to be able to move it) and allow enough room in the middle to let your head through. I like to use paper clips rather than pins, as I find they are less likely to fall out when holding two pieces of fabric together, and also I can’t stab myself on them. (I’m clumsy that way, so practice hazard avoidance)
If you’re having three “buttons” on each side, start with one of the outer ones – do the one near the sleeve, then the neck, and do the central one last so you can get it nicly centred. It’s best not to remove the paper clip until you’ve done the first stitch to mark your place.
Pull the running stich tight to gather the fabric into a little puff. Be careful not to pull to tight and snap the thread, but pull as tight as you can. Anchor the thread at the base of the puff so it can’t slip. This puff forms your “button”
You might find that if you use linen, as I have here, that it’s a bit too stiff to gap prettily between the “buttons” until you wash it once or twice, but you can already see that the drapery has begun to fall nicely. When you use linen for a chiton in this style you do find it looks better with a little wear.