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.

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