Monday, December 22, 2014

The red and blue purse # 2

Remember the red and blue purse project I blogged about about a month ago? I had hoped to show you some more progress today, but because I also made quite a bit of Christmas presents during the past weeks, there was not much time left for other handwork.

I did make a little progress though. I sewed the panels for the lining together using a simple whip stitch. The fabric is cut from a few leftover pieces from my scrap box. It's a medium to coarse quality of linen.

Below you can see a picture from the inside.

I also cut out the velvet for the outside of the purse. I already started assembling the parts but the light was too poor to take pictures yesterday evening, so you will have to hold your breath for a little while longer!

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!

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