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Fashion Design: How Hieroglyphics Can Inspire Designers

Updated on September 1, 2013
The shirt design. Note the hieroglyphs used judiciously in a symmetrical layout.
The shirt design. Note the hieroglyphs used judiciously in a symmetrical layout. | Source

Get inspired

A designer or artist can study Ancient Egyptian writing and art to get inspiration in any field of art including fashion Design. It would be ideal if the artist would also borrow some inspiration from his or her own culture to make the designs really relevant. In this hub, I will describe a shirt that was inspired by Kikuyu culture and Ancient Egyptian art. The shirt is now in practical use and can be used by both men and women.

Works of art are made due to the value that society attaches to them. According to Adams (1999), great human achievements have tended to be associated with an abundance of art on a grand scale. Art collectors have increased the value of art by internationalizing it, making the stealing of art objects a business today, much as it was in the tomb raiding days of ancient Egypt. There are five ‘Values’ of art - material value, intrinsic value, Religious value, Nationalistic Value and Psychological Value.

You can choose any of the values above to be your guide as you try to get inspired by Ancient Egyptian art. When I was designing the shirt described below, I derived some pleasure and satisfaction when the product was complete. That is psychological value for me. The intrinsic value is there, but it is for others to discover as they interact and interrogate the design.

Three lines as beauty marks below the eyes of a Kikuyu girl
Three lines as beauty marks below the eyes of a Kikuyu girl | Source

The shirt and its motifs are based on elements from both Egypt and Pre-colonial Kikuyu. From the Kikuyu, I used three lines that were used as beauty marks, below the eye. These lines are in the chest area on the left side of the picture. I believe that the lines also represented an old tripartite state composed of the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru. The three lines represented the numeral 3 in Egypt. Below the three lines is a hieroglyphic design called symbol of the wineskins. It is very similar to a symbol that Routledge attributed to the Anjiru clan in 1902.

The other element from the Kikuyu is represented by the dark shaded fabric which ends at a point on the right shoulder. The Kikuyu, both male and female, tied the upper garment into a knot on the right shoulder.

On the left side of the shirt, there is a pocket. Its top edge is lined with a zigzag line that represented water in Ancient Egypt. The entire pocket is emblazoned with the ankh, which was the symbol for life and health. Several pictures of Akhenaten show him worshipping the Sun whose rays end in hands that hold ankhs.

Around the waistline, there is a large pyramid design. On each side of this large pyramid, there is a pocket. Each of the pockets has a small pyramid popping from it.

It is possible for any other artists and designer to combine design elements and motifs to create unique paintings; fashion designs; sculptural, architectural and other art forms.

The Anjiru clan symbol of the Kikuyu. It resembles the symbol of wineskins in hieroglyphics
The Anjiru clan symbol of the Kikuyu. It resembles the symbol of wineskins in hieroglyphics

Principles of Art and Design

There are rules that govern how a language is organised which in English for instance are the grammar. In art, there are about nine principles which can guide an artist or designer to produce a wholesome piece of art. They are balance; variety; harmony; emphasis; proportion; movement and rhythm.

Balance in a work of art ensures that “no one part of a work overpowers, or seems heavier than, any other part (Mittler and Ragans, 1992)”. I have tried to strike a balanced layout with the two kinds of fabric, a cream one (the right of the picture) and an orange one. Symmetrical balance can be termed “formal balance” while Asymmetrical balance is “informal balance.” In this design, both kinds of balance have been used. The two fabrics create an asymmetrical balance, while the pockets and hieroglyphic designs create symmetrical balance. Other kinds of asymmetrical balance are radial and approximate balance. A blooming flower with its petals spread outwards is one example of radial balance.

Variety is the combining of two or more elements to create interest. Variety increases a work of art’s visual appeal. The four hieroglyphic symbols are different from each other to give variety to the design.

The entire arrangement gives the viewer a feeling of Harmony. All the elements of art and design are organised around each other in a way that creates order.

Theprinciple of emphasis is used when an element or object in a work of art is made to stand out from the rest. This kind of shirt will stand out in any boutique because inspiration is not from the everyday objects we see around us today.

Proportion is the relationship between the various parts of a work of art to each other. The Hieroglyphs fit on each side of the two fabrics in ideal proportions – none gives the impression of being oversize or undersize. Colour can be used in differing proportions to enhance a wok of art. The two different colours are almost equal in proportion. Rhythm is created by repeating certain elements. This has been achieved in this design by having three pyramid designs (the pockets), and other pyramid designs in the hemline at the bottom of the shirt and the ends of the shirt sleeves. Besides creating rhythm, the arrangement of elements in a work of art can create a path for the eye of the viewer to follow.

In conclusion, a feeling of ‘completeness’ is created in a work of art when there is a pleasing arrangement of the elements. This unity is which Mittler has called “…an unseen glue.” By looking at a work of art, one can sense whether it is present or missing. Lastly we have the principle called Technique. Thisare the consistent methods used to create a work which In my case above can only be attested by looking keenly at the finished work of the seamstress or taylor.

Perfection of technique leads to craftsmanship. Hopefully, by adopting this comparative method of two cultures to create designs, one or more readers will a achieve a high level of craftsmanship through patience, persistence and practice. The reader is free to adopt this design in part or in full as my contribution to the field of fashion design.


1.Adams, L. S.,1999, Art Across Time, McGraw-Hill College, New York.

2.Mittler and Ragans, 1999, Exploring Art, Macgraw Hill.

3.Home Library Encyclopaedia, Vol. 4, 1965, Parents Institute, a division of Parents Magazine enterprises, INC., New York.


Submit a Comment

  • Emmanuel Kariuki profile imageAUTHOR

    Emmanuel Kariuki 

    5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

    Thanks for the encouragement DDE. I will keep on writing.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Great Hubs, you have well informed and researched Hubs keep writing and thanks for the insightful information


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