Monday, December 15, 2014

Through the viewfinder: Peasant parlour, c. 1566

In this series, named after TtV photography,  I want to share with you a work of art, be it a painting, sculpture, manuscript or drawing from my vast collection of museum visit images.

You can see here two details of the painting 'Peasant parlour with noble visitors' by Antwerp painter Martin van Cleve, dated around 1566. At the time I saw this little wonder in Vienna, I had just presented a paper on children's dress in the 16th century, so this painting really caught my attention.


Peasant parlour with noble visitors (detail), around 1566, Martin van Cleve, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. 

What makes this painting particularly interesting is that it shows the clothes of both poor peasant children and a boy that clearly belongs with the 'noble visitors'. This boy wears a doublet and knee long breeches with a codpiece(!) and white stockings. My guess is that he would be around five or six years old (but I'm not good at guessing children's ages at all, so if you disagree let me know). At about this age, boys generally went from long coats* to wearing breeches, like grown up men.** However, the boy next to him, of about the same height and age, still wears a long coat (with back lacing!) over a simple shirt.
So, what this painting tells us, is that the moment of breeching wasn't only determined by age, but probably also by social standing. After all, as children grow, breeches last less long than a coat before needing to be replaced. Breeches moreover require the wearing of linen underpants, which need to be washed and laundered as well. For farmer's families having their children walk around in coats for a little while longer was most likely a strategy to save both money and time.

In the bottom image you can see a girl wearing a type of headdress that is also often seen on depictions of little girls in the paintings of Pieter Brueghel. Her really short sleeveless dress shows again how long garments were worn, even when they were already a few sizes too small.


* I call this garment, that is usually called 'tunic' or perhaps 'kirtle', a 'coat' (the equivalent in French being 'cote' which is clearly related to the English term, in medieval Dutch: 'rock' and in medieval German: 'rock/roch' , because this is the term used to describe this garment in late medieval and early modern written sources. That coat/cote and rock/roch are the same garment, becomes clear in Flemish sources, which often use a mix of French and Dutch words, and where 'cote' and 'rock' are used interchangeably. 'Tunica' or 'tunic' is the Latin name for this garment or course, so it isn't wrong to use it per se. As far as I know, however, a 'kirtle' or 'keurs' is a specifically female garment that usually has a tighter fitting bodice than a 'coat/rock'.
** For more on the practice of 'breeching', see Hugget, J. and N. Mikhaila, The Tudor Child: Clothing and Culture 1485-1625, Lightwater: 2013, p. 29

Monday, December 08, 2014

Brown cotte/rock # 1


A little while back I started a new project that I have been longing to make for quite some time. A few years ago I bought this lovely twill fabric with a beautiful handwoven feel to it. It had always been the plan to make a new cote or rock (in Medieval Dutch) for Mr. B., but it somehow never happened. I did pre-wash the fabric last spring. But that was it.

Until I decided enough was enough. I took the fabric and some books, a measuring tape and chalk.

The cut I chose is loosely based on Herjolfsnes 33 (Museum no. D5674) and Herjolfsnes 37 (Museum no. D10579). It consists of a rectangular front and back panel (about 50 by 100cms) and four side panels/gores (2 on each side). In total the circumference of the hem will be about 200cms, so a bit more narrow than the originals. I still have to cut the sleeves, but they will be simple sleeves with a triangular gusset inserted in the seam.

After cutting the main part of the cote, these are all the leftover snippets I have. The Herjolfsnes clothes really do make very economic use of fabric.



The fabric has a rather loose weave and frays very easily. Since the cote won't be lined I wanted to use a stitch that would prevent fraying. I first tried a flat felled seam, but the seams got too thick. I prefer flat felled seams for linen or very fine wool. I finally decided to go with a variation on a regular hemming stitch over double fold fabric, also called 'overcast of double fold hem with hem stitch'. This stitch has been found on fragments from Haitabu (see: I. Hägg, Die Textilfunde aus dem Hafen von Haithabu. Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu, Bericht 20. Neumünster: 1984). Haitabu is, I agree, a bit early to use as a source for a fourteenth century cote, but since double fold hems do appear regularly on later garments I thought it a reasonable choice.
First, I hemmed all the individual pieces using a pale brown linen sewing thread. The hems are about 6-7 mm wide.
Usually I use natural undyed linen for my sewing, but I still had a roll of this colour on hand, and there are sources indicating for brown linen was used as well.

In the 1358-59 accounts of Jan van Blois, Lord of Schoonhoven and Gouda (and nephew to Charles de Blois), a pair of brown linen hosen are mentioned:
'Ghecoft bi Gheenike den Wilden omtrent Paeschen [...] linne tot ii paer cousen iii(?) ellen bruyns delle x s viii d loept xxxii(?) s viii d.'*
'Bought from Gheenike den Wilden, around Easter, linen for 2 pairs of hosen 3 ells of brown at 10 shillings and 8 pennies per ell, makes 32 shillings and 8 pennies.'




The next step is to sew all the pieces together using an overcast or whip stitch. I find this method very easy to work with, and it gives a very neat and tidy end result. Also, whip stitch has always been my favourite stitch, so this project really is a little piece of heaven for me. As long as I don't have to do back-stitch I'm happy.


Each sleeve will have eight buttons at the wrist, so I already started making those as well.


I will keep you updated about the progress! For the same outfit I've also started making a little hat and the man is making an unbleached linen apron for himself.


 * The numbers indicated with a question mark are my own interpretations. When A.A.M. Schmidt Ernsthausen transcribed the accounts in 1981 he indicated that these numbers weren't clearly legible. Throughout the accounts 1 to 1,5 ells of fabric are bought for making 1 pair of hosen. The xxxii shillings were transcribed by Ernsthausen as xxvii shillings. When calculating the price per ell and the total sum spent on the linen fabric, according to Ernsthausen's transcription the total amount of fabric would have been 2.5 ells of fabric. I suggest a reading of xxxii shillings, which would bring the total amount of fabric to 3 ells, an amount of fabric which is regularly bought for this purpose by Jan van Blois.

 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Embroidery basics: silk thread types


This is an updated version of a post I made back in 2009. As I have noticed that people are still struggling to find the right type of thread for their medieval embroidery, I thought it a good idea to bring the subject up again. So, here follows a slightly more detailed comparison between modern yarn types and medieval originals.

There are many examples of Medieval brick stitch embroidery, but I decided to use this late fourteenth century German altar hanging from the Metropolitan Museum as an example, since I managed to take good photos of it where you can clearly see the details of the silk thread.


Some of the white threads (for instance the white zig-zag pattern at the bottom of the image below) are clearly less shiny, and they also have a stronger twist than the silk. This is probably because the thread used is linen rather then silk. We know from several embroidery pieces from the same period, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London), that linen was often used for the white areas.


In the images below you can see a comparison of modern cotton, spun silk and filament silk embroidery floss. I used DMC cotton embroidery floss (rust brown), Soie d'Alger from Au Ver à Soie (pink) and 1200 denier from DeVere Yarns (gold).



Filament silk is made by reeling one continuous silk fiber from the silk cocoons and plying those together to form one thread. This results in very strong yarn, since one fiber is over 1 km long. After the reeling process shorter fibers stay behind. When these are combed they can be spun into yarns. This results in a less strong and less shiny and more fuzzy yarn. A more detailed description of the silk reeling process can be found here.





You will notice on these samples that the modern filament silk is much more similar to the medieval original. The reeled silk is much more shiny and less fuzzy than the cotton and spun silk threads. Here is a photo of my samples next to the original from the MET. The silk thread from DeVere has slightly more twist than the medieval silk.


The medieval embroidery appears to have been pressed, so that the individual stitches seem more flat than the ones in my sample. After pressing my own piece of embroidery, it looked even more similar. The twist of the thread is much less noticeable after this treatment.


There are different types of filament silk, depending on the thickness (expressed in 'denier' or 'nm' usually) and the amount of twist in the yarn. For medieval embroidery, both brick-stitch and needle painting types of embroidery, very loose twist filament silk was used. (If there are any exceptions to this rule, I still have to find them.) At the moment I only have experience with the silk thread from DeVere Yarns, but I will do a comparison of different brands of reeled silk soon(ish). A quick overview:  

Loose twist filament silk
  • basic characteristics: very strong, shiny, very even thread
  • suitable for period embroidery, narrow wares, possibly less suitable for tassels
  • modern option: e.g. Devere Yarns - 1200 dernier silk, Au ver a Soie - Soie Paris
Spun Silk
  • basic characteristics: less strong and shiny, not as even as filament silk
  • less suitable for period embroidery, possibly suitable for tassels
  • modern option: e.g. Au ver a Soie - Soie d'Alger, Aurora Silk
I would like to call on all medieval embroiderers out there to use the right type of silk. There is no point in using silk when you are using spun silk. Then you could just as well use cotton! And, as you have just seen for yourself, you do clearly notice the difference!
 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The red and blue purse # 1

I've always been intrigued by this red and blue purse from Tacuinum Sanitatis (Tacuinum Sanitatis, Lombardy, 1380-1390, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. nouv. acq. lat. 1673, f. 43). As you can see the purse is made of a red fabric, with blue tassels and a blue drawstring. It hangs down from the woman's belt and on this hanging cord there is a blue purse cap that one can slide up and down. When I first saw it years ago, I had never seen a purse with a cap before.


It all started to make more sense to me when a few years later I visited the Stadtmuseum in Cologne, where they have a purse cap and a purse with a netted cap in their collection (see more images here). I think that without the image from Tacuinum Sanitatis, I could have never guessed the function of this little thingy.


It measures 8,8cm high and 8,4cm wide (which means that the individual panels measure 8,8cm by 4,2cm). It is made from silk brocade and has a pink silk lining. The seams are covered with four-strand gold thread braids and on the top sits a wooden bead covered with needle lace/buttonhole stitch. Based on the weave of the lampas brocade and the type of gold thread in it, the authors of the museum catalogue (W. Schafke & M. Trierdate, Mittelalter im Koln, eine auswahl aus den bestanden des kolnischen stadtmuseums, Köln: 2010) date it to the fifteenth century.

Because the purse cap from Cologne is made from four triangular panels, I decided to go with the same construction for the purse itself. A really lovely fourteenth century pouch in the collection of the Saint Servatius Church in Maastricht, Netherlands, served as my inspiration. This purse is made from Italian silk brocaded lampas. It has a leather lining, green silk tablet woven edges and red silk pompons. It measures 16cm by 18 cm, which means that the individual panels of the purse each measure 16cm by 9cm. You can find more details here: A. Stauffer, Die mittelalterlichten Textilien von St. Servatius in Maastricht, Riggisberg: 1991.




Even though the pompon tassels on the Maastricht purse are super sweet and strawberry like (the pompons on the drawstrings even have green needle lace crown leaves), I decided to go for another type of pompon this time. I saw some really lovely ones two years ago in the Metropolitan Museum.



These amazing pompons with fabric covered wooden beads and leaf shaped charms are part of the Crib of the Infant Jesus, fourteenth century, South Netherlandish (propably Brabant), Metropolitan Museum, New York. Similar pompons can also be found on earlier purses from the Low Countries, for instance on some of the purses from Tongeren.What I like particularly about the pompons from the crib's pillow is that they have a needle lace detail as well, to match the button on the purse cap from Cologne.


The fabrics I'll be using for my purse burgundy red velvet (it's a bit darker as it turned out on the photo) for the purse itself and a brocade for the purse cap. The velvet are a few scraps I got from a friend who made a fifteenth century houpelande in the same fabric. The brocade is woven from blue silk and natural unbleached linen and is from Historiska Rum. The fabrics was woven after a historical pattern to recreate the thirteenth century bedroom of Edward I in the Tower of London.



The first step was to create a few prototypes. I have never made a four-panel-purse before, so I had to fiddle a bit with the pattern. First I made it way too short. The second try was better but the curve in the bottom was a bit too sharp, which gave the purse too much of a boxy bottom. My final purse panels each measure 12cm by 7cm. The proportions thus are the same as the purse from Maastricht, but just slightly scaled down. Because I only have a small piece of the blue brocade fabric, I couldn't make the purse too big.


I changed the paper pattern piece to have a slightly gentler curve for the final version.


The next steps will be to make a pattern for the purse cap, to order silk thread for the pompons and drawstrings, and to assemble all the separate pieces.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Through the viewfinder: The Heiligentaler Altarpiece

In this series, named after TtV photography,  I want to share with you a work of art, be it a painting, sculpture, manuscript or drawing from my vast collection of museum visit images.


On our way back home from The Battle of Visby, 2011, we made a stop in the German town of Lüneburg. In the church of St. Nicolai we found this altarpiece (called the Heiligentaler altar) with scenes from the life or Saint Lawrence, dated c. 1445, and presumably painted by local painter Hans Bornemann. Originally, the altarpiece was made for the St. Andreas church in the same town. At an unknown (to me anyway) point in history, this church was demolished and the altarpiece was taken apart and moved to a new home. In St. Nicolai the panels were rearranged in such a way that they'd fit their new home, but with the result that part of the panels are no longer visible to the audience, and no longer in their original order.
The four panels in this photograph show St. Lawrence at a variety of activities (from left to right), from baptising poor Roman sods such as Lucillus (1), healing a blind man (2), and showing emperor Decius that the poor were not a nuisance but the true treasure of the church (3) to being beaten with lead clubs (4).

Here are some lovely details for you to enjoy:





Friday, November 14, 2014

The mi-parti dress # 1



Look what arrived in the mail today! A sample of indigo dyed 100% silk velvet from Färbehof. Isn't it gorgeous?! I think it will look perfect with Maria's handwoven fabric. Together they will become the mi-parti overdress I talked about in my last post.
Before you get too exited, the actual making of the dress will have to wait a bit. First I have to order the blue velvet and wait for Maria's weave to arrive, but also I should first make the red wool dress that will go underneath.
That doesn't stop me from fantasizing about it though. I would love to find some beautiful bezants to sew on the velvet, or maybe make some myself, if I find the courage to do so.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Outfit planning

The summer gone over and autumn has definitely arrived. The busy season is over. There is less work in the garden (even though that's where I spent the better part of this afternoon). There is more time to spend indoors, working on new projects.


In the past few months I've collected fabric swatches for new outfits for me and the Mr. As you can tell from the image these outfits will be quite a lot fancier than what I usually wear.
In the upper half of the photo you can see the fabrics for my outfit. The blue brocade with lions and the burgundy velvet will become a purse. The brick stitch embroidery will get some tassels in blue silk to match and will be sewn into a purse as well. The little pink/red square is a fine twill weave that I will use for making a dress together with the brass buttons (it is a bit less pink in real). The yellow fabric is for hose, although I might change my mind about that still. The two samples of pink striped fabric were try-outs handwoven by my friend Maria. The final fabric will be in a paler pink (here you can see Maria's post on the weaving of the new piece). This fabric will become a mi-parti over dress with tippets. The other half of the dress will be in blue, hopefully velvet if I can find the right shade.

I'll talk about the Mr.'s outfit another time, but the cherry red wool you can see in the bottom half of the picture will be the fabric for my hood.



And here's a close up of Maria's amazing work. The pink and white are wool, and the woad blue is silk. The weave is based on several finds from 14th century London. For as long as I've known about these finds, I've wanted to have some of this fabric myself and I can't believe that in a few weeks or months this will finally be true!


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