Wednesday 27 November 2013

MEDATS (Medieval Dress and Textile Society ) Study Day 23rd Nov 2013

An excellent study day on Saturday with MEDATS, held in the bowels of the British Museum. What follows is my impression of the papers given; any mistakes or misunderstandings are my own.

From the Trachtenbuch, the left
hand outfit has been reproduced
 The first speaker was Jenny Tiramani with the 1530 outfit from Matthaus Schwarz that she produced for the University of Cambridge. For those who haven’t seen this there is an excellent video online at There was some discussion about the compromises that had had to be made, partly because of budget constraints. Also the model was a slightly different size and shape from the person it was made for, resulting in comments to the effect that it would never meet in the middle – it did. The comment was also made that, when dressing someone, a lot of time was spent arranging the person so they looked perfect. There were questions about the weight of the aiguillettes, and how this affected how they sat and how they needed to be attached, and how things laced together. The entire Trachtenbuch des Matthaus Schwarz aus Augsburg,1520 – 1560 is available in full online.

 The next speaker was Kathleen O’Neill on Nicolette: Action Transvestite. The second part of the title comes from Eddie Izzard, “I'm an action transvestite! ‘Cause it's running, jumping, climbing trees, you know.” These are the things Nicolette does while dressed as a man. The chantefable of Aucassin and Nicolette was not one I knew, and it was interesting to look at a heroine who not only cross dresses to get her man, but also dyes her skin darker. Kathleen is planning to put this on her blog at but I don’t think it is there yet.

 The third of the morning speakers was Sarah Thursfield on lacing in fact and fiction. Sarah started with some modern images that come up if you put medieval lacing in Google images, but she spared us the renaissance wench. Modern depictions show lacing that is entirely without function, and it is possible to trace ideas back to early (19th century) costume historians like Planche and Fairholt. Sarah argued that in the medieval period lacing was as ubiquitous and functional as zips used to be, before they became a fashion statement. The use of lacing was traced through the rise of more fitted clothes for both men and women, and the placing of it on the side, front or back of the garment. The Third Temptation of Christ in the Winchester Psalter of c.1150, was examined, where the devil wears lacing. Sarah said that Margaret Scott had commented that the devil's clothes are half male, half female. The side slit and the lacing are from men's wear, and the very long sleeve and skirt are from women's wear.

Book available from the BBC
 After lunch and the AGM Chris Carnie explored the work she had done researching and making Ruth Goodman’s c.1500 outfit for the television series “The Tudor Monastery Farm” Chris based her work on some of the very few depictions of lower class women that exist, especially for England. She showed a woodcut from the Sarum Book of Hours of 1507, an illustration of February from the Grimani Breviary of 1515-20, and material from the Hours of Henry VIII of c1500. Chris created a smock, kirtle, gown, kerchief, filet, rail, apron and cloth stockings that Ruth can be seen wearing in the programme. A book to accompany the series is available. The wear that the outfit received during the filming was discussed.

The final speaker of the day was Johannes Pietsch looking at the Fashionable Silhouette in the Middle Ages. He began his examination of the silhouette with Superbia (pride) on horseback in the Hortus Deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg, Alsace. The Hortus was started in c.1167 and Johannes worked his way through to the fascinating Erasmus Grasser statues c.1480, of Moriskentänzer (morris dancers)  in the Munich City Museum. On the way he took in the garments, which he described as jaque not pourpoint, of Charles de Blois and Charles VI, this lead to a questioning as to whether fashion follows armour, or armour follows fashion.

Sunday 10 November 2013

The Knitting History Forum, 9th November 2013

I spent a pleasant day yesterday at the KHF conference, where six speakers provided a wealth of information on knitting from the 16th century to the present day. So many thanks to Sandy Black who was our host at the London College of Fashion, for organising the day, and acting as the Forum’s chair.
Our first speaker was Susan North from the  V&A Museum, who spoke on A (Knitting) Needle in a Haystack: knitting information found whilst researching other things.
Susan has recently complete her PhD at Queen Mary, University of London, and as she said if you are going through archives looking for information of one thing, it is as well to make notes on other things while you are there. She had lots of references to knitting and knitting needles in the 16th and 17th centuries, and she pointed people to an article on knitting in Naples in the journal Jacquard.
She suggested comparing the pattern of the V&A jacket in Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns, with the garment in the Royal Ontario Museum, a picture of which from Wikimedia Commons appears here.
Our second speaker was Amanda Mason from the Imperial War Museum, and her subject was Wartime Knitting: collection of the Imperial War Museum. She showed us garments in the collection made by POWs using wool unravelled from old socks and jumpers and knitted on needles made from wood from packing cases. She also spoke about a lady on the home front who tried to knit a jumper from darning wool, because it wasn’t on ration.
Next up was Maria Price who followed on the WW2 theme as she was costume designer for Foyle's War, and she spoke on the problems of Researching and designing costume and knitwear for film and TV. People will spot anything that is wrong, and write in.
Rachael Matthews, who followed her is an artist and knitting/textile practitioner. She runs a shop called Prick Your Finger, and the best way to find out about her work is to look at her website
Matteo Molinari, is bravely working for a PhD at the LCF and spoke on Crochet: Ubiquitous Craft, Iniquitous Historiography. He was looking at the origins of crochet and how various myths have grown up about it. One of his pictures showed a c.1700 metallic chain lace. Unfortunately when you search the V&A collection for it by its accession number the website does not have an image.
Finally we had Barbara Smith who spoke on The evolution of Aran Style. It is more recent than you think. She talked about Muriel Gahan of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association who visited the Aran Islands in 1931, and provided a commercial outlet for Aran knitters in her Dublin shop. A jumper bought in that shop in 1937 was illustrated in Mary Thomas’s 1943 Book of Knitting Patterns.

Friday 1 November 2013

Pantofles and the origins of slippers and mules.

This is a quick look at pantofles, slippers and mules. The problem with what museums call things in their collection, is that they are often using modern descriptions to categorise. Words change their meaning over time, and leak from one language to another, often taking on differing meanings during the change.  The two examples shown here are both described by their museums as toffel (slippers), and the pictures are provided from Wikimedia Commons. The black leather slippers embroidered with gold thread and silk are in Skokloster Castle, and are traditionally associated with Eric XIV of Sweden who died in 1577. The picture of the insole is of a 17th century slipper in the Livrustkammaren, the Swedish Royal Armoury. Below I give links to some 16th and 17th century survivals which may be slippers, or pantofels, or mules, or just shoes depending on who is looking at them. They are for the most part made with fabric uppers and are backless.

The word pantofle in its various forms and spellings appears all over Europe in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The earliest use seems to be in French in 1465 as pantoufle, and the word continues to mean a slipper in modern French.  Its first use in English appears to be about 1482, and in Lowland Scots in 1489 as pantonis, but it also appears as pantofla in 1463 in Catalan Spanish, the Dutch and German pantoffel are also late fifteenth century, and the Italian pantofla is in use by 1502 (OED; DSL; Hanham 1961).

So does a pantofle indicate a light indoor shoe in the early modern period? It does seem to mean something different from an ordinary shoe. The Scottish Treasury Accounts in 1489 have “Payt to Ryche cordynar for xxx payre of schone and xxx paire of pantonis” (paid to Riche cordwainer [shoemaker] for 30 pairs of shoes and 30 pairs of pantofles), and again in 1494 “to Home the cordinare, for schone, brodykinnis and pantuiffillis” (to Home the cordwainer for shoes, buskins and pantofles). By 1565 the lexographer Thomas Cooper in his Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae gives the Latin word Baxeæ as meaning “..a kynde of slippers, or pantofles,” though a modern Latin dictionary translates it as a sandal (OLD).

By the second half of the sixteenth century however the term in English has moved to be associated with the new fashion, the chopine. Stubbes in his 1585 moan about all fashions says “They have corked shoes, pincnets, and fine pantofles, which bear them up a finger or two inches or more from the ground ... I see not to what good uses serve these pantofles, except it be to wear in a private house, or in a man’s chamber to keep him warm?”  George Puttenham in 1589 makes the same association commenting that an actor did “walke vpon those high corked shoes or pantofles, which now they call in Spaine & Italy Shoppini.”

Randle Holme in his 1688 work makes the link between pantofles and slippers, when talking about an orchid, “The Lady Slipper so called from the resemblance the fore-part of the flower hath to a Slipper, or Pantable.” As with pantofle the term slipper arrives in the fifteenth century, appearing more than once in the Paston letters where someone has, “viijd. wyth þe whyche I schuld bye a peyer of slyppers.” Raleigh speaks of “fair lined slippers for the cold”, and William King wrote in his poem The Old Cheese of a wife who, if her husband went out too often would, “give him his slippers and lock up his shoes.”  That slippers were made by shoemakers is shown in a comment in a Dekker play, “What a filthy knaue was the shoo-maker, that made my slippers, what a creaking they keepe.”   Dr Johnson in his famous dictionary describes slippers as “A shoe without leather behind, into which the foot slips easily.” Here above is a lovely mid 17th century woodcut showing slippers by the bed.

It is difficult to tell when the term mule is associated with a backless shoe. Although the quote from Dr. Johnson shows he considered slippers to be backless, he doesn’t list mule in his dictionary except in the sense of the animal. The word mule was in the fifteenth century applied to sores or chilblains, especially on the heel (OED).  Somehow by the sixteenth century the word is applied to a type of footwear, Heywood in 1562 has, “Thou wearst..Moyles of veluet to saue thy shooes of lether.” Higgins 1585 translation of the Nomenclator however seems to associate mules with the high soled chopine. “Mulleus, a shooe with a high sole,..a moyle.”

So on the basis of the above when Queen Elizabeth’s shoe makers list what they have made, they knew what they meant. We can be considerably less certain about what is meant by, “xxiiij paire of velvet shoos, slippers and pantobles stitched with silke lined with satten and in the soles with skarlett two paire of slippers of tufte taffeta lined with velvet, xxiij paire of Spanishe lether shoes and pantobles of sondrie colours and fashions.” (Arnold)

Surviving examples:

Velvet slippers in the Rijksmuseum dating from c.1550-c.1574

 This is a report with a photograph of a 1640s-1660s slipper (mule) found on Canna Island, Scotland

 These are the nightcap and slippers of King Christian IV of Denmark (died 1648). They are in the Danish Royal collection. Both are monogrammed with C4, his initial and regnal number.

 This is a pair of 1650s-1660s leather soled backless slippers with an originally salmon pink watered silk upper. They are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and like the Canna slippers they are plain.

This pair are also from the V&A, and are of the same date range, 1650s-1660s. They were probably originally purple velvet, and are embroidered with silver-gilt thread and lined with leather.

Dating from the 1660 or 1670s this pair in the Victoria and Albert Museum are embroidered white silk. They are discussed in detail with photographs and x-rays by Luca Costigliolo in: North, Susan and Jenny Tiramani, eds, Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns, vol.2, London: V&A Publishing, 2012, pp.152-155

This pair from the Platt Hall Gallery of English Costume date to around 1665-1675. They are of pale blue silk satin over cream leather, embroidered with metal thread and spangles

Another slightly later (1700-1720) slipper from Platt Hall, is in blue/silver figured silk, over leather with a red heel

Finally from 1710-1720s in the V&A collection is a pair of brocaded silk slippers. 

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

Dekker Thomas and Webster, John. 2010  North-ward Hoe: sundry times acted by the children of Paules. 1607. The British Library

DSL: Dictionary of the Scots Language [online]

Hanham,  Alison, 1961. The Cely Papers and the Oxford English Dictionary, English Studies,  vol. 42, pages 129-152

Heywood, John  1562  The Proverbs, Epigrams, And Miscellanies Of John Heywood.

Higgins, John. 1585. The Nomenclator Or Remembrancer ... Conteining Proper Names and Apt Terms for All Things Under Their Convenient Titles... Written in Latine, Greeke, French and Other Forrein Tongues: and Now in English

Holme, Randle, 1688. Academie of Armory.

OED: Oxford English Dictionary [online]

OLD: Oxford Latin Dictionary [online]

Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century Part I. 2004. Edited by Norman Davis. Early English Text Society.

Puttenham, George 1589. The Arte of English Poesie.

Stubbes, Philip, 1585. The Anatomy of Abuses.