The Minoans were Europe’s “first great civilization” (J.A. Lobell, 2015) and interacted closely with the other Bronze Age empires of the Mediterranean. The heanos underdress, with its dramatic V-neckline and figure-flattering and decadent curved underarm seam, is a hallmark of their lavish aesthetic and sophisticated clothing production techniques. The textiles were embellished with dyes, paint, woven trims, embroidery, and beading. The Minoans wore the heanos open to the waist or tied below the bust with twisted cord ties and covered with a richly decorated wrapped kilt/skirt. The Mycenaeans wore it closed in front and covered by a triangular bolero jacket, which has the added benefit of providing breast support; they wore a matching kilt as well.
The heanos is comfortable, flatters many body shapes, and can be airy (if loose) or supportive (if tight and tied in front or worn with a jacket). You can seen it worn all 3 ways in the photo below. The simple design is beginner-friendly and the bright colors, patterns, and trims leave lots of space for creativity. Minoan goddess/priestess figures wore the bodice open, but front ties were used also and I have included notes for making the heanos comfortable (physically and socially) for a modern audience.
I based this design on the research of Dr. Bernice Jones, specifically her excellent book Ariadne’s Threads (2015). I modified the construction of the neckline and front trim, for reasons explained below.
My white heanos was constructed in April 2019 at the group Revenge of the Stitch SCA sewing competition and is based on those of the Saffron Goddess and Necklace Swinger from the Adorants fresco in Akrotiri, Thera/Santorini. I owe humongous thanks to my teammates! For more details and photos of the competition, plus my research documentation, visit my Revenge of the Stitch post.
The yellow and purple heanos were made by me. They feature handmade trim that was gifted to me. The yellow one is based on the Kneeling Woman in Field of Crocuses fresco from the north wall of Room 14 of Hagia Triada, a Minoan settlement in Crete. The purple one is not a recreation of a specific piece; it is simply based on the general pattern and design of heanos.
This is my construction process. For a fitting guide and detailed instructions, visit my Class Handouts post.
Select your fabrics and embellishments. Choose lightweight or handkerchief-weight linen for a diaphanous, bathrobe-like feel. Choose midweight linen for a supportive garment. Look for a solid color (red, orange, yellow, white, purple) or a geometric pattern such as a grid or repeating flowers or scallops. Select trim that stands out in coordinating colors; the cuffs should have the same trim, but they do not have to match the neckline or shoulder trim. The Minan aesthetic is “More is more!” You can also bind the cuffs quilt-style with contrasting fabric instead of using trim. You can also trim or quilt-bind the hem; they often used blue for this. Here’s a link to the scallop-print fabric I used.
Determine your pattern using the class handout linked above. Cut in two pieces: the back (regular layout), and the fronts (switched as shown in the diagram below so the center seams fall on the selvedge edges). My advice: Do not cut the neckline.
Flip the fronts around so they line up with selvedges in middle, S-curves matching the back piece. Pin at sides and outer 8″ on the shoulders.
Create the neckline. It can be anywhere from 4-6″ wide and as deep as the navel. Dr. Jones’s pattern calls for cutting, but I have found that simply folding the fabric back is easier and creates a stronger, straighter edge. It can also be unpicked and reset if you need to alter the neckline later, such as if your size, aesthetic, or breastfeeding access needs change. Trim the neckline down to the waist. Add twisted cord ties, if desired (this can also be done at the end). Pin the rest of the shoulder seam.
Sew the side seams and shoulder seam.
Sew shoulder trim over the shoulder seam.
Sew cuff trim or quilt-bind the cuffs with contrasting fabric.
Sew the front seam from the waist to the thigh, knee, or hem.
Finish the hem. Dr. Jones demonstrates that some heanos had a high-low hem that was higher in back; others are flat across. Seams can rolled, trimmed, or quilt-bound with contrasting fabric.
Optional: Add underbust ties, elbow tassels, and other embellishments.
This dress is flattering, versatile, and very showy. It’s easier to sew than a T-Tunic! For added flair, use matching or coordinating trim, colors, tassels, patterns, or other embellishments on the kilt.
It is a great choice for warm-weather and indoor events. For colder events, I wear a long-sleeved linen tunic underneath and a mantle over it for warmth.
For added modesty, I make higher ties (starting at the breastbone rather than under the bust) or wear a nude tank top or shapewear underneath. You can also sew the center seam up to the breastbone or wherever height makes you feel most comfortable; just do a practice piece first to make sure it’s still loose enough to pull on and off!