Saturday 29 September 2012

Make do and mend – early modern style

Turned collar and cuff
Mending my partner’s shirt by turning neckband and cuffs on a shirt I made some years ago now, I thought that we don’t give much consideration to the extent of mending, of even the size of the second-hand clothing trade in the early modern period. We may not do much mending nowadays,  I have a friend who spoke of throwing away his (modern) shirt because a couple of buttons had come off,  but just think of the number of charity shops selling second-hand clothes today. As an aside a good reason for using sewn on ties for shirts rather that eyelet holes for ties to go through, is that when you turn the cuffs or collar the eyelet holes get horribly in the way.

 The main problem with early modern survivals is that they are mainly upper class, and they do not show the sort or repair and patching that went into working class clothing. I can think of only one non archaeological survival that really shows this, and that is the shirt and breeches ensemble at the Museum of London. Click on the link and there are many close ups of the items that show why in the 1970 catalogue the breeches are described as, “so extensively patched that it is difficult to determine which is the original material.” (1)

Other garments that show this sort of mending are some of those that have come out of archaeological digs. Vom Comis for example, excavating at Smeerenburg, points to seventeenth century felt hats having been cut up to make inner soles for shoes, and breeches that had been heavily patched. (2) Examination of a jacket from grave 579 at Zeeuwse Uitkijk shows that on the outside of the jacket, which was blue, are ten dark blue patches, and on the lining inside, which was brown, were five brown patches. There were a further seven patches belonging to the jacket which had come loose and their original position could not be certain.  In addition it was noted that all the seams had torn out at vulnerable points and been crudely mended with woollen thread, and there was also much darning. (3)  It is interesting that the owner endeavoured to have some form of match for the colour of his garment; re-enactors have a tendency to patch with different colours to show that there is a patch.

Back in the UK the Gunnister man, who died around 1700, had a “shirt” which is patched on the sleeves, and worn at the waist where a hole had been mended by sewing a tuck. Likewise his stockings were so badly damaged that not only were the knees heavily patched, but the feet of both had been completely replaced. (4) This echoes the stockings in grave 579 which were also heavily darned, though the feet were not replaced but patched, five patches on one stocking foot and three on the other.

Patching the lining of my son's breeches
I recently put a link to Michelin (Le Nain’s) 1656 painting the Baker’s Cart, all the clothes are patched, doublets, breeches, cloak. We have so few images of working class people, if you move on a few years to Laroon’s Cryes of London (1688) as the well as the dealers in second-hand materials that are Old Sateen and Old Clothes, many of the figures are wearing clothes that are heavily patched like the pin seller or the woman selling almanacks.

Garments that were too worn to be patched any further could be sold to a ragman. That many of these old scraps ended up being used as the seventeenth century equivalent of loo paper, can be seen in the amount found when excavating a privy in Newfoundland. (5)

1. Halls, Zillah. Men's costume 1580-1750. London : HMSO for the London Museum, 1970.

2. Vons-Comis, S.Y. Workman's clothing or burial garments?: seventeenth and eighteenth century clothing remains from Spitsbergen. Smeerenburg seminar: Report from a symposium presenting results from research into seventeenth century whaling in Spitsbergen. Oslo : Norsk Polarinstitutt, 1987.

3. Vons-Comis, S. Seventeenth century garments from grave 579, Zeeuwse Uitkijk, Spitsbergen. Walton, P. and Wild, J. Textiles in northern archaeology: NESAT 3. London : Archetype, 1987.

4. Henshall, A. and Maxwell, S. Clothing and other articles from a late 17th century grave at Gunnister, Shetland. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 1951-2, Vol. 86.

5. Mathias, C. Walking down the "Prettie Street" of 17th century Ferryland, Newfoundland. Material Culture Review. 2009, Vol. 69.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Elizabethan stitches: a guide to English historic needlework - Book review

Jacqui Carey – Elizabethan stitches: a guide to English historic needlework (Ottery St Mary : Carey, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9523225-8-0, 160p. £24.95)

This is a fantastic book for anyone with an interest in Elizabeth or Jacobean embroidery, full of incredibly detailed coloured photographs and instructions. After an introduction covering terminology, materials and design the main part of the book is divided into stitches and case studies of the use of those stitches.

 For each stitch Carey has examined original needlework to see how the stitch was actually worked, often finding that they were worked differently to the way they are worked today. In each case you have a close up of an original or a modern worked example, a diagram clearly explaining how it was worked and, if necessary, a diagram showing how it has been worked by modern needlewomen. Some years ago I made a nightcap copying a design on an unfinished coif. I though from photographs of the whole embroidery that the work had been done in stem stitch with French knots, but Carey’s close up photography clearly shows that the original is coral stitch with Elizabethan spiders webs. Carey covers 34 types of stitch which she has divided into needlepoint, looped and braided stitches, for example under braid stitches you have ladder braid, holly braid, and four variations of plaited braid stitch. Stitches that are more common, and that have not changed over the centuries, such as stem, chain, and back stitch, are not examined in this way though they are included, and there are photographs of them in use.

 Carey has chosen for her case studies 24 items ranging from a book cover made by an eleven year old Princess Elizabeth for her step mother Katherine Parr, though samplers, coifs and caps, to Margaret Layton’s jacket. The items come from a variety of museums and collections, including the Victorian and Albert Museum, the British Library, the Ashmolean Museum, the Embroiderers’ Guild and several private collections. As well as photographs of the whole and close ups of the stitches, there are often photographs of the back of the work showing not only how they were worked and finished, but also how far the colours have faded from the originals.

 Jacqui Carey is also the author of Sweet Bags: an investigation into 16thand 17th century needlework, which is certainly going to be my next purchase.


Wednesday 12 September 2012

Leather stays - mid 18th century

At Killerton yesterday I saw a pair of mid 18th century stays so, after asking, I took some photographs, the first four shown here. As I said I’m not the world’s best photographer. The label dates the stays to 1740-1760, and says that microscopic examination shows that they were covered in a yellow worsted fabric. This would seem to indicate that the leather was used as a stiffener, a substitute for boning.  What fascinates me is that they are patched, and obviously well worn. I know leather stays are a contentious issue in re-enactment, but these are nothing like the “beer tent” stays that some traders produce.
Interestingly the inventory of Edward Kitchiner, draper, of Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, 1713, shows that he stocked women’s and girls’ “bodyes and leather bodyes” (1) Styles in his work talks about “leather stays or bodies sometimes worn by the labouring poor,” but doesn’t expand upon this. (2)
There is an all leather pair of stays in the Nordiska museet in Stockholm, which are dated to 1763 and were owned by a Helena Olofsdotter, and I believe the museum has others. I also saw a pair in Worthing Museum last year, but although I took a photograph, the last one in this blog, I didn’t make any further notes.
1. Buck, Anne. Dress in eighteenth century England. London : Batsford, 1979.
2. Styles, John. The dress of the people of England: everyday fashion in eighteenth century England. New Haven : Yale U. P., 2007.

The stays in Worthing Museum

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Honiton lace in the first half of the 17th century

Today I visited the Allhallows Museum in Honiton. At first glance there may not appear to be much early lace, but open the drawers and there is a treasure trove.

For those who are unaware Honiton was for centuries one of the lace making centres of England. Nowadays when people refer to Honiton lace they usually mean the style of lace that Honiton was best known for in the nineteenth century, what Earnshaw (1) (2) describes as a non-continuous bobbin lace in which the toile (that is the motifs or solid parts of the design) are then kept in place with brides or a ground. Queen Victoria was a great supporter of the Honiton industry, and the lace for her wedding dress was “Honiton” though it was actually made ten miles away in Beer. (3) The lace consisted of a flounce, which Victoria used on several other occasions over other dresses, and a collar and trimming to the sleeve which can be seen on the Historic Royal Palaces website.

The earliest documented evidence of lace being made at Honiton is a tombstone which reads “Here lieth ye body of James Rodge of Honiton in ye county of Devonshire (bonelace siller hath given unto the poore of Honiton pishe the benefit of 100L for ever) who deceased ye 27 of July AD 1617. Remember the poore.(4) For a bone (bobbin) lace seller, that is a man who gave out thread to be made into bobbin lace and then collected the lace from the makers for onward sale, to be rich enough to give £100 to the poor seems to show that the trade was well established.

Thomas Fuller in his Worthies wrote that, “much of this (bobbin lace) is made in and about Honyton and weekly returned to London...(it is) not expensive of bullion like other lace, costing nothing save a little thread descanted on by art and industry...”  Although Fuller’s Worthies was published after his death in 1661 it was written earlier, and Fuller was vicar of Broadwindsor, only twenty miles from Honiton, from 1635 to 1640.

What this early Honiton lace looked like is, as Levey says, largely a matter of conjecture. (5) Levey considers that the collar in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum is English lace and probably Honiton.  It looks similar to the laces shown here that are in the Allhallows collection. Unfortunately they had to be photgraphed through glass and therefore there are some reflections and some shadows. I recommend the museum if you are into lace, these are from one draw. There are also 18th, 19th and 20th century Honiton laces on display, as well as some fine late 17th century needle laces. 

1. Earnshaw, Pat. The identification of lace. Aylesbury : Shire, 1980.

2. —. A dictionary of lace. Aylesbury : Shire, 1982.

3. Staniland, Kay and Levey, Santina. Queen Victoria's wedding dress and lace. Costume. 1983, Vol. 17.

4. Museum, Allhallows. The history of Honiton lace from 1560 to the present day. Honiton : The Museum.

5. Levey, Santina. Lace: a history. London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.