Saturday 31 March 2012

Straw hats

I spent today at the study day in Dorchester Museum that accompanied their Hats to Handbags exhibition. One of the speakers, and the person who gave a tour of the exhibition, was Veronica Main who is curator at Luton Museum. Luton was of course the centre of the straw hat making industry in England, and Veronica is a brilliant speaker who knows her subject inside out and is incredibly enthusiastic.

So what did she have to say about straw hats and in particular early modern, which was covered in only about five minutes of her talk? The first thing is that straw is not just cereal (wheat, barley, rye, etc.) straw, it covers a whole variety of fibres from bast, (rag) paper, horsehair, ramie, pineapple fibre, etc.,  up to more recent use of cellophane, sinamay etc. One of the earliest fibres used was wood chip, this is shaved wood, usually from poplar or willow, hence chip hats. There are some good photos of a wood chip hat making demonstration at Ross Farm Museum in Nova Scotia.

Veronica suggests the earliest painting to show a straw hat is a mid 15th century painting by Pisanello in the National Gallery depicting St George with Virgin and Child.  A straw hat was bequeathed in an English will as early as 1449, and by 1568, as Cunnington has pointed out, in a “Debate between pride and lowliness” the grazier wears a felt on his head while the husbandman wears a “strawen hatte”

Veronica said that the straw hat making industry started in Luton in the 1600s, and quoted Pepys in his diary on a visit to Hatfield (15 miles from Luton), saying “being come back to our inne, there the women had pleasure in putting on some straw hats, which are much worn in this country, and did become them mightily” (11th August 1667)

The eighteenth century saw an enormous expansion in the straw hat industry both in Britain, and Europe. Britain was importing 2 million straw hats a year, mainly from Italy and, because these were shipped through the port of Leghorn (Livorno), they became known as Leghorn hats.

One of the comments Veronica made was that she had probably spoiled historic film dramas for us by pointing out that the mottled straw used nowadays is very easily discerned and comes from China. My own thought is that on my reproduction of an 18th century hat the most obvious thing to me, is that the plait has been machine stitched. Ah well.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Hollar Digital Collection from Toronto

When it comes to looking at the clothing of women in the mid 17th century the engravings of Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677) are invaluable. I am very lucky in that, knowing my interests, I have been given several originals as gifts and have them in my own collection. The University of Toronto, which has one of the largest collections of his works in the world, has put their entire collection online as the Hollar Digital Collection. The definition on the costume prints is superb, when you look at them just remember that the figures on the originals are only about 8 cm by 3 cm.

Hollar was born in Prague, and so his early life was heavily influence by the beginning of the Thirty Years War in 1618. When Frederick, Elector of the Palatinate and King of Bohemia, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of King James I of England, fled Prague in November of 1620 the city was taken by Maximilian of Bavaria. The city suffered during this and the next few years and Hollar’s family was apparently ruined. Hollar moved around the German states, meeting Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel in 1636 and travelling with him back to England in 1637. Hollar was certainly in England at the start of the Civil War, but appears to have moved to Antwerp by 1644. John Evelyn said he returned to England about 1649 but others have stated 1652. He died in London and is buried at St Margaret’s Westminster.

For costume historians the groups of his engravings of most interest are the Ornatus Mulierbris, the Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris. When looking at the dates on these prints watch out for the difference between del. and fecit. Del. indicating delineated means sketched or drawn on that date, fecit means made at that date.

Ornatus Mulierbris

To give it its full title, Ornatus muliebris Anglicanus, or, The severall habits of English women: from the nobilitie to the contry woman, as they are in these times, 1640. This was a set of 26 plates of Englishwomen published by Peter Stent The individual plates are not titled, so descriptions have often been given to them that are not Hollar’s own, the “country woman” (as shown above) has often been listed as a servant or a kitchen maid. Some of the plates are copies of Van Dyck paintings.

Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris

These are later plates done when Hollar was in Europe, dated mainly between 1644 and 1649, showing the costume of women from various countries, and they have an incredibly complex publishing history. These plates do have titles in Latin, so for example Civis Norimbergensis Vxor  is a citizen’s wife of Nuremberg, and  Mulier Sueuica Inferioris Conditionsis is a lower class Swedish woman. Illustrated here is his French countrywoman.

The Toronto Collection contains many other of works, including his landscapes, architectural drawings, maps and a lovely collection of sporting prints. It is well worth a visit.

Much of the information above has come from Richard Pennington, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Etched Work of Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677 (Cambridge, 1982), a catalogue raisonné of Hollar’s work.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Dress of Ordinary People Study Day at Bath

Yesterday I spent the day in Bath for the WECS study day the Dress of Ordinary People. The first speaker Barbara Painter explained the work and thought behind dressing the interpreters at the Weald and Downland Museum in the clothing of the 1620s and 1630s to fit with the two houses they are interpreting. The clothes have all been made by volunteers under the direction of Barbara, much of the cloth is also dyed on the site and the stockings knitted from wool spun on the site. Second speaker was Rachel Worth on rural dress in the novels of Thomas Hardy, interesting was his comment on the change in rural towns in the second half of the nineteenth century from the white and drab of the smock frock of the labourers to the grey and black of off the peg town suits, a visible sign of a changing life style. Our third speaker was Claire Watson of the Yorkshire Fashion Archive who have collected ordinary people’s dress, mainly from the second half of the twentieth century, together with their stories about the clothing. It’s an invaluable insight into social mores, as in the lady who talking about a photograph of herself at the seaside as a child, said they wore their school uniform because it was the only smart clothing they had. Our final speaker was Jennifer Thomsom on the Hodson Shop Collection at Walsall. Flora and Edith Hodson turned the front room of their house into a drapers and dress shop in the 1920s and traded from there until the early 1970s. On Flora’s death the collection came to the museum, and on first going into the house it was discovered that the sisters had never thrown anything away. The museum has over 3,000 items dresses, blouses, underwear, stocking, haberdashery and magazines covering the whole period, there is a searchable database with about 1,000 items having photographs, online at Black County History. A good day.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Definitions of Early Modern Colours

Everyone knows, or at least has a good idea of what is meant by, colours like black, scarlet, blue, grass green, but some of the names given to colours in the Early Modern period are less obvious, isabella, carnation and aurora for example. This blog gives definitions for some of those colours that are not obvious and were listed in clothing accounts or inventories for Henry VIII, 1547(Hayward, 2007), Elizabeth I, 1601 (Arnold, 1988), the 3rd Earl of Dorset, 1617 (MacTaggart, 1980), Charles I, 1633-5 (Strong, 1980).

Ash – greyish pink (Lawson, 2007)

Aurora - a yellow with light red tones. This is a colour where the meaning has changed over time. The OED has no reference earlier than 1791, by which time it is moving far more into orange. (Lowengard, 2006)

Bezoar - probably a soft beige (Arnold, 1988)

Brazil - red. The dye was originally from an East Indian tree and well predates the discovery of South America, being referred to as early as Chaucer (OED).

Carnation – “a kind of colour resembling raw flesh” (Phillips, 1663)

Colour de roi - “Was in old time purple; but now is the bright tawnie” (Cotgrave, 1611)

Hair – Markham (1631 (1986)) describes dying a bright hair colour using alum, lye and chimney soot. Cooper (1815) says soot is of use in dying “drabs, olives and browns”

Isabella - greyish yellow; light buff (OED)

Lusty gallant –light red (Slive, 1961)

Maidensblush – pink (OED)

Minume – dark brownish grey or dun colour (Phillips, 1663)

Murrey – a deep maroon (Slive, 1961)

Parricito - in margin described as greenish (Strong, 1980)

Plunket – lead coloured or greyish blue (OED)

Popinjay – blue green (Hayward, 2007)

Russet – both a cloth and a colour. “If you will mingle a litle portion of white with a good quantitie of redde, you may make thereof a Russet, or a sadde Browne, at your discretion.” (1573)

Stammell – scarlet (Slive, 1961)

Tawny -brown with a preponderance of yellow or orange (OED)

Turkey – “is a blue, but others will have it red.” (Peacham, 1634)

Watchet – light greenish blue. There are references from “of a watcheth or pale blewe colour” (1578) to “of a watchet or greenish colour” (1635) (OED)

1573. A very proper treatise, wherein is briefly sett forthe the art of limming. London : s.n., 1573.

Arnold, Janet. 1988. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. Leeds : Maney, 1988.

Cooper, Thomas. 1815. A practical treatise on dyeing . Philadelphia : Dobson, 1815.

Cotgrave, Randle. 1611. A Dictionarie of the French and English tongues . London : Islip, 1611.

Hayward, Maria. 2007. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds : Maney, 2007.

Lawson, Jane. 2007. Rainbow for a reign: colours of a queen's wardrobe. Costume. 2007, Vol. 41.

Lowengard, Sarah. 2006. The Creation of Color in Eighteenth-Century Europe. s.l. : Columbia University Press, 2006.

MacTaggart, Peter and Ann. 1980. The Rich Wearing Apparel of Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.

Markham, Gervase. 1631 (1986). The English housewife. Montreal : McGill-Queens U.P., 1631 (1986).

OED - Oxford English Dictionary Third edition, March 2002; online version December 2011.

Peacham, Henry. 1634. The compleat gentleman. London : s.n., 1634.

Phillips, Edward. 1663. The new world of English words: or A general dictionary . London : Brooks, 1663.

Slive, Seymour. 1961. Henry Hexham's "Of colours": a note on a seventeenth century list of colours. Burlington Magazine. 1961, Vol. 103, 702.

Strong, Roy. 1980. Charles I's clothes for the years 1633-35. Costume. 1980, Vol. 14.