I'm interested in literature as a source of information about embroidery and I would really like to find out more on embroidered garments: was embroidery used for decorating cloths and, if so, when, who, how, where etc?
I'd like to write something about that today because, this Christmas, my brother who told me about the Tudor-style outfit he is making. (He's member of a historical dance group: Plaisir Courtois) He also showed me this book:
It's a very nice book, with a lot of interesting historical details. I was surprised by a picture of two beautiful 16th century white linen shirts, embroidered in black and white silk ("Blackwork").
This reminded me of some lines in The Canterbury Tales (around 1380), which I read last summer. What I really like about Chaucer, besides the fact that most of his stories are very funny, is the way he describes his characters. I don't think he was familiar with the poetical device called ut pictura poesis, a picture in poetry, but the descriptions of his characters are very vivid, clear and detailed. It appears as though he shows you, the reader, some polaroids of the actors, before he starts telling their story.
The miller's tale starts with a very detailed description of his wife (lines 3233-3251) and her cloths and accessories:
She's wearing a silk belt, a white apron and an embroidered undergarment (lines 3235-3238):
A ceynt she werede, barred al of silk,
A barmcloth as with as morne milk,
Upon hir lendes, ful of many a goore.
Whit was her smok, and broyden al bifoore
According to the notes (Oxford, Riverside Edition 1987, p. 68) a barmcloth is an apron and a smok is the undergarment/shirt worn beneath the apron. Broyden means "embroidered" . That's interesting!!!! Does this mean women could wear embroidered shirts? If so, what would those have looked like?
These lines are also very nice (line 3250-3251):
And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether,
Tasseled with silk and perled with latoun.
I love to read things like this and I think literature can be a valuable source about medieval life etc, next to archeological findings and the like. There's a lot more to say about the description of the miller's wife, so this post is to be continued...!