Thursday 24 August 2023

Mending and alteration of clothing and accessories in the seventeenth century

 There has been a tendency to regard making do and mending, as something specific to the Second World War, but people have always mended and repaired their clothing and accessories. For the seventeenth century documentary evidence shows that clothes were mended at all levels of society, even including those worn by the King. Charles I’s wardrobe accounts show, “for altering and makeing upp of a cloke of cinnamond cullor tabie, and putting new tabie into the same, and takeing out part of the cloke that was stained.” (1 p. 87) At the lowest levels of society archaeological evidence, for example the Gunnister man’s clothing, shows large scale repairs being done. (2)

Where does evidence of mending appear

Good sources are probate accounts and household accounts. Probate accounts happen when children are orphaned, and money is taken from their parents’ estate to pay for their upkeep. Sometimes this can a very general reference to apparel, for example a 1612 probate account has “paid to John Perryn for the placing of Elizabeth Hughes...and for her apparell £6 17s 8d,” (3 pp. 213-4) Sometimes the accounts can be much more specific, so two accounts from either end of the seventeenth century in Kent have, in 1619 four pence paid for “footing of a paire of hose,” and in a 1686 account two shillings to “Nicholas Elgar for mending of shoes.” (4)

Household accounts generally are from the upper reaches of society, the nobility and gentry. The mending recorded in these accounts can be for their servants. The accounts of the Earl and Countess of Bath in 1642 has “paid Edward Bauton for mending the boy's clothes,” this appears to be the kitchen boy. (5 p. 26) The accounts of the Earl of Salisbury in 1634 has “paid for mending their clothes and stockinges & and for a new pair of stockinges for Tony & an ould paire of breeches to drudg in 5s 6d.” (6 p. 69) In 1655 the Paston household has “To John Davy mending of Wm ye lackey boys apparell 3s 8d.” (7) Mending is also recorded for members of the family. In 1619 the Howard of Naworth accounts have 7 shillings paid “for mending my Lord’s cloak”. (8 p. 104) Some account books do survive from the middle sort, Giles Moore, who was rector of the village of Horsted Keynes in Sussex, kept an account book from 1655 to 1679, which has frequent references to mending. (9)

Diaries and letters are another source. The diary of Samuel Pepys records him getting his clothes mended. In the entry for 30th December 1667 is “This day I got a little rent in my new fine camlett cloak with the latch of Sir G. Carteret’s door; but it is darned up at my tailor’s, that it will be no great blemish to it.” On the 15th January 1666 he reports himself as being, “in my old cloth suit, while my usuall one is to my taylor’s to mend.” (10)

By the end of the seventeenth century publications like the London Gazette, would have advertisements for lost or stolen items. A 1697 issue lists “Breeches darned with Worsted at the Knees”. (11)

Seventeenth century Britain does not have a tradition of genre painting in the way that the Dutch, and even the French have, so images of lower-class people in patched and mended clothing are few and far between. About 1640 the Manner of Crying Things in London, shows several of the trades people with obviously patched and mended clothes, for example Chairs to Mend is patched at the elbow and armhole. (Figure 1)

1: Chairs to Mends. c.1640.


Marcellus Laroon’s Cryes of London in 1688 has both the dealers in second-hand materials that are Old Sateen and Old Cloaks, suits or coats, who also has several old hats on his head and carries two swords in his hand. There are many figures in Laroon wearing clothes that are heavily patched, like the pin seller or the woman in a heavily patched man’s coat selling mackerel. (Figure 2)

2: Marcellus Laroon. The mackerel seller, 1688

There is also what survives with signs of mending. Some of these can be examples in museums, but there it is difficult to work out when the mending might have been done, perhaps decades, or even centuries later. Clothing from archaeological contexts is better in this respect, as what is seen is the state of repair when it went into the ground. In the case of the whalers’ clothing found in graves at Smeerenburg, one coat has a total of forty seven patches. (12) These finds are usually the clothes of working men, not the elite.


All types of clothing and accessories could be mended or altered. The larger items: breeches, cloaks, coats, doublets, gowns, petticoats and waistcoats, were usually mended by local tailors who would do both making and mending. In the Howard accounts in 1620 a tailor is first paid, “for translating [altering] Mrs Mary's gown and other work 4s 3d” and then “for making up a waistcote and altering a gown for her 9s 8d. (8) These tailors are frequently named in the accounts. In 1645 John Willoughby of Leyhill, “paid to Ned Hensley 16d and Tappecotte 12d for mending my doublet and breeches.” (13 p. 257) Women’s bodies could also be mended. Bodies, or a pair of bodies, is the seventeenth century term for what in later centuries are called stays or a corset. In 1620 the Howard accounts have “mending Mrs Mary's bodies 3d” (8 p. 162) In the 1650s there are several references to mending to bodies for the Harpur girls. (14 pp. 266-98)

 Sometimes the information is more specific than just mending. Where children are concerned garments could be made longer, and in the Seymour accounts in 1641 five shillings and sixpence is paid, “for taby to make longer the pincke coloured petticoat for my Ladie Frances and for silk.” (15 p. 29) Even the King had his hose relined and shortened, “making shorter a paire of willow cullor cloth hose and new lining them, making a paire of isabella cullor cloth hose shorter and new lining them.” (1 p. 80) New sleeves could be added, in 1673 Giles Moore pays “Tho: Pelling for mending my doublet & new sleeving it 2s 10d,” and he also pays to have his caps made wider. “& For the widening of two mor [satin caps] which Befor were too narrow 4d.“ (9 p. 128 & 134)

Those living in London might have repairs and alterations done by botchers, who were not allowed to make new clothes, but were “Botcher of old garmentis” (16). In London the making of clothing was controlled by the Merchant Taylors livery company, who commented that those tailors no longer capable of making new clothes were “fain to fall to the said feat of botching.” (17 p. 101)

The Barrock estate breeches provide an example of something found in an archaeological context on a Scottish estate, that has been heavily patched and altered. It is probable that the original owner spent much of his time kneeling as the knees were worn through. The knees were then patched with a similar, but not the same, twill wool. At some point to further extend the life of the garment, the front fly opening was sewn up with a patch of fabric across the opening, and a new opening was created at the centre back, with a new buttonhole and button in the waistband. The breeches were then worn, back to front. When the knees of this arrangement wore through, they were again patched. At some point the crutch wore out and this too is heavily patched. (18) (19) (Figure 3)

3: Barrock breeches. © National Museums Scotland



There are very few references to linens being mended, this may be because, whereas clothes were sent to tailors or botchers, linens were mainly mended at home. If you were rich enough to employ a bandwoman, as the Earl and Countess of Bath were, then you might send items back to her for mending. In 1649 they record, “paid for a lawn suit and a fine Holland handkerchief and cuffs and mending other plain linen & making a band and cuffs to Miss Watsonne £2.” (5 p. 277) James Master, when he was a gentleman commoner at the University of Cambridge, paid “for washing and mending my linnen 2 weeks &c 4s 8d” Currently no references to mending women’s smocks have been found in documentary evidence, and only one reference to mending men’s shirts. In 1620 The Howard accounts list “for cuffing 3 shirts and peassin on longer.” (8 p. 144)


The most common repair for stockings was footing, that is replacing the foot. Between 1650 and 1658 the stockings of the four Harpur children were mended on at least thirty three occasions, including sixteen stockings that were refooted. (14 pp. 266-98) In 1661 James Master lists “for knitting a new pa of worsted stockings feet 9d,”; he also has five pairs of his boot hose footed. (20 p. 341 & 329)  The state to which a working man’s stockings could descend can be seen in the Gunnister stockings, from a burial in Shetland at the end of the seventeenth century. Both feet have been replaced, one with part of the leg of another stocking and the other with coarsely woven cloth. (2)

 Repairing runs in knitted stockings was also something that was done. By 1599 an English to Spanish language book has the phrase “Looke well to see if the stockings have any stitches broken in them.” (21)

Shoes and boots

The repair of shoes frequently appears in accounts. As with clothing you have two types of people who may do the repairs, shoemakers, and cobblers. As Baxter put it, “A sorry Taylor may make a Botcher, or a bad Shoomaker may make a Cobler” (22)

In 1612 the Howard accounts have “to the cobler going to Armathwaite 6d and the kitchen boy's shoes twice 8d” (8 p. 62) James Master pays frequently for having both his own shoes, and his servants’ shoes mended, for example “for soleing my footboys shooes 1s” (23 p. 178) The most common named repair is resoling, but other repairs are mentioned, John Willoughby pays “for new healing and welting my shoes 16d.” (13 p. 257)

 A set of 1691 accounts from the overseers of the poor in Boxford, Suffolk, shows them paying for the mending of shoes belonging to those too poor to pay for mending themselves, “Widow Trueman’s shoes soled 1s”, and “mending old Scowen’s shoes 9d. (17 p. 57)

Shoes that have been concealed in buildings are often heavily worn, and show signs of repair and patching. A concealed shoe in the collection of Norfolk Museums, has a section of the vamp cut out and re-sewn. (Figure 4) It is interesting that Vons Comis, excavating at Smeerenburg, points out that at that site felt hats appear to have been cut up to make inner soles for shoes. (12)


4: Shoe. Norfolk Museums, Acc. No. NWHCM : 1940.177.445


When it comes to boots more work seems to be done. James Master pays more than once, “for vamping and colouring a pa. of boots 5s” (23 p. 165) In 1663 Giles Moore pays “James Wisby of Lindfield for soling & tallowing my greate Riding Bootes 2s 2d” (9 p. 270) Both James Master and Giles Moore pay to have their boots “set up” This may involve making sure that the boot sits properly on the leg. At one point Giles Moore purchases from “J. Wood Tanner for a New paire of Shashoones  1s 3d” (9 p. 272)  Shashoones are defined by Randle Holmes as “stuffed or quilted leather to be bound about the small of the leg of such as have long heels, to thicken the leg, so that the boot may sit straight and without wrinkles.” (24)


Hats could be lined and relined, dressed, dyed and even cut into a new, more fashionable, shape. In 1645 John Willoughby pays eight pence for “for dressing and mending the lining & new dyeing of my black hat.” (13 p. 257) Over a period of nine years James Master has at least seven hats dyed and lined. (20) In 1665 Giles Moore pays “for dressing my old hat & cutting it to fashion 1s 6d” (9 p. 151) Dressing a hat is similar to dressing cloth, it is the raising and smoothing of the nap, as Palsgrave says “I dresse an olde garment I rayse the woll of it to make it seme newe agayne.” (16)


 Gloves sometimes appear among items mended. Giles Moore has gloves mended on four occasions, one time paying “Watere's Maid for mending my gloves 1s” (9 p. 123) Considerably further down the social scale, the gardener on the Shuttleworth estate has his mittens mended by a shoemaker at the same time as seven new pairs are made for him. These are described as “yeardinge” mittens, that is heavy duty mittens for use in the yard or garden. (25 p. 171) These mittens may have been similar, though probably less decorated than, those in the Metropolitan Museum of New York. A plain, slightly earlier, example in the Victoria and Albert Museum, may have been made from reused leather, and has a patch on the thumb. (Figure 5)


5: Mitten. Victoria and Albert Museum, Acc. No. T.621-1913


Gloves were not just made of leather, there were both cloth and knitted gloves, and the knitted gloves owned by the Gunnister man have a patch on the right hand glove.


 Once the fashion for gentlemen to wear wigs had become established in the second half of the century, they start to appear amongst the mending. In April 1665 Samuel Pepys, “went to Jervas’s, my barber, for my periwigg that was mending there.” Wigs required a lot of work to maintain, so much so that in 1668 Pepys came to an agreement with his barber, “to keep my perriwig in good order at 20s. a-year.” (10) The curls of wigs occasionally needed to be reset, so James Master paid, “for a new periwig & curling 4 others 19s” (23 p. 210)



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