Egyptian Kit on a budget

Charged with making delightful Egyptian kit for under £30, Daisy and Jude headed out into Glasgow city centre to do their best. Our aim was to make versatile, evocative kit which is suitable for the British weather, easy to make with the minimum of expensive equipment, and likely to be suitable for most body shapes and sizes. We decided not to attempt historical authenticity!

Low status Egyptian: tunic and headdress

Equipment needed:

  • a needle, or preferably access to a sewing machine
  • scissors
  • pins
  • a friend to help you pin (optional)
  • iron

Materials needed

  • 1.5 metres of cream/unbleached white cotton/polycotton. Do not pay more than £4 per metre, you can get it for £1 if you really try, or try charity shop bedsheets (mmm, prehemmed!) (You really want linen, but it tends to be too expensive, get linen if you want to spend more.) - We got some double-width polycotton for £3.50 per metre (i.e. about 10ft wide).£5
  • white thread - £1
  • Optional: blinging jewellery from a charity shop or Asian tat shop - £1
  • Optional: waist sash - £2
  • TOTAL: £6-9

Cut out your fabric as shown. This amount of fabric is our double-width fabric, folded at the top of the picture. Our recommended fabric amounts are quite generous, but bear in mind that if you do not find fabric/bedsheets this big, you may need to buy slightly more length (in metres) and sew bits together to achieve the same effect.

If you are a (brave) man, you may want to consider making this less of a dress and more of a skirt - i.e. cut it waist to knee instead of armpit to mid-calf and make the circumference your waist instead of your chest measurement, like shown in the illustration from the Odyssey culture briefs. Your straps (see below) will obviously have to be much longer.

Sew your two back pieces together to make a piece that should be the same shape as the front piece. Here it is held upside down.

If you are not much of a sewer: there is a golden rule... always sew FACE to FACE. This means place the front of the fabric piece against the front of another piece, sew the line of stitching, then eventually you'll turn it all inside out so that the seam is on the inside. Here, there is no 'front' of the fabric (i.e. both sides are equally usable), but you'll have to make sure once you've done one seam, that all your other seams will end up being on the same side... the easiest way to do this is when you place pieces together to sew them, check that you can see the 'wrong' side of the seam before you start sewing. Unpicking is annoying and time-consuming. If in doubt, PIN IT and CHECK! 

Then sew down all the diagonal seams to join up the dress into a tube. Here we see that we have been very conservative and the dress is much too big on Jude. This is a GOOD THING. Too big can be fixed, too small and there's nothing you can do.

Here's how you fit the tunic to your exact size.

Get a friend to put a pin in so that it sits snugly around your chest. Don't worry, it doesn't need to stay up by itself, so don't go too tight. 

Mark a line from the pin to the corner of the dress tube. Remember that at this stage, we're still working with the tunic inside out, so you should be able to see all the seams.

Cut down this line, remembering to leave a seam allowance as you will lose width when you sew it together. 

Leave a generous seam allowance of at least one inch. Remember - if things are too big you can always fix them but if they're too small you'll have to go on a diet... 

Sew up this new seam. If you're not using a machine, you can fit the tunic by pinning it before you sew the back pieces together. This will save you a wasted seam.

Hem the bottom and the top of the tunic now. If using a machine, we recommend using a zigzag stitch or double-turning the hems.If you've no idea what I'm talking about, ask your granny or Google it or something! 

Now it's time to make the straps to make sure the tunic stays on.

Cut two strips as shown, making sure they're long enough (including an inch seam allowance) to go all the way over your shoulders and join up to the tunic. Don't make them too narrow or you'll have trouble turning them inside out once sewn. I recommend 2 inches wide at least. Sew up one edge and turn them inside out with the help of a solid jabby object such as a pencil. Once they're the right way out, iron them flat. Seriously, it makes a huge difference. 


Using pins, experiment with how you want to attach the straps. Some different ways are shown here and below. Your tunic can be turned the right way out now.


Sew the straps on where you want them and you have a basic Egyptian tunic!


  To make the headdress simply get a square of fabric (you should have plenty left over) making sure that one edge is enough to tie around your head. (Put the middle of one edge on your forehead and tie the corners under the nape of your neck). Hem all the edges, using a double-turned hem. We think the 'windsock' headdress looks quite Egyptian: 

nun-headHowever in the photo below, it is shown below folded back up on itself like the Dutch-style headdress shown here:  


  You can dress this up however you want. It is shown here with a necklace (£1), a sash (£2), and a sweet find, a gold snake belt-buckle! (£2) 

Deluxe Egyptian - add a collar, belt, and headdress detail

Extra materials needed

  • 1 metre of coloured wool/felt/linen/whatever fabric. Stiffer than the cotton. We used felt because it doesn't need to be hemmed. You can use interfacing to make it stiffer if you like. We like dark green.£5
  • coloured thread - £1
  • gold leather thonging, 5 metres of - £3
  • petrol-coloured glass beads, 2 packets of - £2
  • Optional: more blinging jewellery from a charity shop or Asian tat shop, we used earrings that came with a matching necklace - £1
  • TOTAL: £17-20

Cut out a piece for your collar as shown and decorate in whatever style pleases you. Lots of ideas here: fashion-era: Egyptian collars

We have used the gold leather thonging, sewn on using a large zigzag stitch on the machine, although for fancier designs like on the belt you'll need to do it by hand. We also used lots and lots of tubular glass beads which take an age to sew on but look fantastic. Knot your thread every few beads so that if the thread breaks you don't lose the whole row. We also advise using doubled-over thread. This is not a special kind of thread, it just means use two at the same time. You can also add jewels or bling from cheapo finds as you see fit.

Cut out a long piece for your belt (or make up from scraps) and cut a nice tapered shape as shown below. Decorate in a matching way. 

And here's the whole ensemble. The headdress detail was made with leftovers from the coloured fabric, gold bits, and beads and is tied as a 'windsock', see above. Our fabric was quite stiff so sticks up in a lovely way. If yours is more drapey and you don't get it sticking up, you might want to try spray starch to make it stiffer. Lots more ideas for collars are at the link above, but we feel that paper-mache isn't really robust enough for larp so went for a fabric and embroidery look instead.

To make the collar and belt much more cheaply, don't use beads and stuff that looks like real gold, instead use embroidery thread like this. It's available from all decent sewing/art shops or ebay, doesn't cost much and you can even get it in irridescent beetle-coloured colours, like our glass beads. You'll need a chunky embroidery needle too if doing it by hand.

If you've got a sewing machine, use machine-embroidery thread.

Make sure you mark your designs on the fabric first, especially things like concentric circles. 

Deluxe and WARM Egyptian - add an overrobe

Extra materials needed

  • another 1.5 metres of fabric. If you have only a 5ft width you may need more - £5
  • TOTAL: £22-25

This bit really is tremendously easy. Cut out a massive square and head-hole as shown on this page: and hem the neck and any raw edges.

You can wear it open at the sides and simply scoop it up over your arms...
  ...Or you can tie it at the waist or under the bust by grabbing the corners of the back bit, and pulling them up, enclosing the front bit inside (to preserve your dignity). 


... Or you can belt it and wear the lovely collar/belt on top, wrapped around the whole robe at the waist... 

... Or just wrapped around the front bit of the waist, giving you a trailing cloak effect at the back.

Obviously, if you want to be really warm, then make this robe out of thicker or more snuggly material. You can often be lucky and find a nice white wool blanket in a charity shop. 

Alternatives and additions...

Instead of a headdress, why not buy an Egyptian wig from ebay or similar? Our intrepid researchers have found them as cheap as £7.50.

Leather sandals are an obvious choice of footwear although you might want to get some pointy-bejewelled slippers from your local Asian clothing shop. They are cheap but don't hold up to British weather all that well...

Heavy eye make-up is a must of course. You've a fiver or so left to buy some black kohl, gold eyeshadow, or a tattoo pen. More on the make-up here.

Tips and tricks

Got a whole Egyptian group? Making a matched belt and collar for each person is relatively inexpensive (£10 gets you the deluxe version) and you can wear pretty much anything underneath if you have matched collars for that uniform look.

For your group leader, invest in an Egptian headdress (try ebay or fancy dress shops, although beware of crap quality ones) and base your colour/design decisions off that.

Group leaders, wear a fake beard - men and women! No, I'm not kidding:,

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