This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Embroidered Shirt in the Fashion Museum, Bath

This man’s shirt is made from finely woven white linen and embroidered in black silk. It has been dated from between 1585 and 1620.  The embroidery style is a little early for our period, but the construction and pattern of the shirt is still correct for the 1640s. This photo courtesy of Fashion Museum, Bath and North East Somerset Council. The reason I’ve decided to post these really nice images from Caroline Vincent is that they show all those small details that make the difference between a seventeenth century shirt and a fancy dress one.

A lot of these details are also shown in Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion 4, together with a detailed pattern. This is a recommended book for anyone interested in linens from our period. 

The body of the shirt is made from a single length of linen 38” wide, and about 8 feet in length, folded and gathered into a neck band at the top. The length of the shirt is the first point that makes it right for the period. The linen is finely woven, but on closer inspection, the threads aren’t exactly even and an obvious texture is visible in the surface of the fabric. For a lower quality, soldier’s shirt maybe, you might want to look at a more coarsely woven fabric. The two sleeves are cut from the same width of linen, 24 inches long, sewn to the body of the shirt and pleated into embroidered cuffs at the ends. The work on the shirt is nice, but not top quality for the period and should be reproducible by any modern sewer who takes care and time. It’s the embroidery that is probably the reason why this shirt remains to be seen now.

For instructions on how to make a shirt, refer to my blog post. These pictures should be seen as a companion piece. This kind of sewing will take time and effort to copy, but having something nicely made will be the reward.

 First of all, flat seams. There are instructions online how to do this, but here’s a photo that shows how a finished looks on the shirt, with the fabric laying flat and no raw edges inside or out. This seam was counter-hemmed, where one edge is folded and whip stitched to the other piece. Then the piece is turned over, the raw edge folded under and the folded edge whipped (or felled) down.

If you follow my instructions, the first construction point, having cut out your pattern pieces is to insert the shoulder gussets. This picture shows one in place on the Bath shirt. The edges of the gusset are gathered into small pleats and sewn into the collar.

This is a view of the neck opening. The edges are rolled back and hemmed as instructed in How To Make Your Own Shirt. Note the single tie sewn to the collar (there should be two ties but only one remains) and the gathers of the shirt into the standing collar band.

Next part is to insert the sleeve gusset. This is what one of the gussets looks like. Measuring tape gives you the scale in centimetres.

This photo shows the side seam where the opening begins. The shirt has two small squares of linen inserted to provide strength. This is a weak point and many reproduction shirts rip at this point. The edges are not hemmed as they correspond to the selvedge of the fabric. This is the advantage of using period width linen.

The sleeve is gathered in tiny cartridge pleats and sewn into the cuffs, which are also  embroidered. Sleeves were becoming wider and more gathered even than this one by our period.

And to finish off, a few details of the embroidery which is mostly formed in vertical panels, possibly to line up with slashes in a doublet body that would have been worn on top. Some of the black thread has disintegrated but most of it is still there, and where it isn’t, you can still see the stitch marks. All detail photos reproduced with permission from Caroline Vincent.

Monday, 20 February 2012

King Charles' Buffcoat?

The jerkin is on loan to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace, along with a sleeved buff coat.  The two items belong to Lord Acton, and grateful thanks go to his Lordship for permission to photograph the coat.  The pieces are, by long family tradition associated with King Charles I, although the coat is clearly of a larger size than the jerkin and different in style.  It is a substantial item of thick oiled buff leather, designed for protection on the battlefield and although well made, and lined throughout the body and sleeves with linen; it has fewer adornments and the feel of a basic trooper's coat.

The jerkin however was made to fit a much smaller man than the sleeved coat. The jerkin has a waist measurement of approximately 89cm, whilst the coat reaches to 100cm. The smaller size is consistent with the story that it was made for Charles I. It is a short, sleeveless oiled buff leather coat, lined in places with finer leather and decorated externally with false butt seam stitching in several places. The coat was presumably made for protection as the two front tabs are twice as thick as the rear ones, the thickness being added to by the lining. This would possibly suggest use on the battlefield as the fleshy part of the legs covered by the tabs are more vulnerable when on horse back than anything covered by the rear tabs, which would also need to be flexible for comfort. The overall impression is of a fine, well-made, serviceable garment, though arguably not of “Royal” quality. It is however obviously of a style that places its manufacture and use in the English Civil War.

The garment is made from 8 basic pieces, a back, two front sections, collar and four tabs. The waistline is pointed down towards the centre front more in the manner of a pre Civil War fashionable doublet than the horizontal line common in most military buffcoats. The tabs flare out and overlap front to back. At the centre back just below the waist, a large irregular shape has been cut out at some time, possibly by a souvenir hunter. The edges of the cuts are quite clean which suggests a recent action, though this would be tricky to prove.

 There is no evidence visible to suggest that sleeves were ever an integral part of the coat, or that it had fabric ones attached.  There are two holes punched in the right shoulder, but it is difficult to think that these had anything to do with a sleeve. There are no corresponding holes in the left shoulder, and no sleeve capping wings which were common on doublets of the period

The inner lining extends to line the 
tabs, the waist and a few inches in from the centre front on the left hand side. It is sewn to the inside surface of the jerkin with stitches that are wholly within the thickness of the outer leather. 

Each of the tabs is lined with one matching piece of finer leather apart from the left front tab which has a join close to the outer edge. This is the front right tab viewed  edge on.

Across the waistline, two pieces of the lining leather, about three inches wide are joined at the centre back and fixed to the jerkin. The right hand side section stops two inches from the centre front, presumably to join with the original front lining, which is now missing. On the left hand side it does not quite extend to the centre front lining as an irregular shaped piece is now missing here.

 Also on the left hand side, the lining piece extends from the waist to the collar, though a small section is missing from the top. Some of this lining has worn away from the edge, revealing rust patches where presumably hooks and eyes were attached to the lining to close the coat. This was a standard fixing for leather coats in this period.

On both centre fronts, sixteen holes have been punched down to the waistline and it is probable that cord laces were also used to fasten the front of the jerkin as indentations are obvious in the leather, running diagonally down from the holes to the edge. The edge has been slightly scalloped by the tension of the laces. This is consistent with laces as closing rather than decoration, perhaps as a belt and braces system with the hooks and eyes. This image is a close up inside the jerkin.

The construction of the is relatively simple though at first sight it looks as though it is made from more pieces than it actually is. On closer inspection it becomes evident that some of the apparent seams are false, made by forming stitches within the thickness of the leather giving the appearance of butt stitching.

  The constructional seams are identified by a join which is apparent between the rows of stitches, see right. This is missing in the blind seams. 

One seam, below the collar has been unpicked but the holes are still visible. This line of stitching extends from the centre front, all around the collar of the garment. The reason for removal of the sewing, which must have been tricky, is unclear. This sewing is more uneven than the rest of the work and moves away from a parallel line to the collar in a few places. Maybe it is a later addition?

 Each tab of the four lower skirts of the jerkin has a central blind seam and three seams that follow the outside edges. The central vertical seam of each tab is picked up above the waist leading to the armholes, the two front ones being decoration and the rear ones actual joins between the back and front panels. There is also a central rear blind seam which suggests a two-piece construction for the back section which is an illusion.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Sir Henry Slingsby's Shirt

Some recent googling for costume information turned up a shirt that has hung in the Knaresborough Castle museum in Yorkshire for many years. This is a plain linen shirt and is reputed to have been worn by Sir Henry (or Harry) Slingsby (left) on the day of his execution at the Tower of London, 8th June 1658. He was beheaded and his friends brought his body back to Knaresborough, for burial at the parish church. A simple marble slab, said to have come from St Robert's Priory in Knaresborough, covered his tomb. Somehow his shirt was removed and kept, presumably as a relic as it is just a basic linen man's shirt.

At first sight this seemed too good to be true, in this country, plain shirts from this period just don’t exist any more do they? So I asked around all the people I know who are interested if they knew anything about this shirt.  We drew a blank, although a contact on Facebook seemed to have seen it several years age and someone else might have some photos of it hidden away in their loft. The general consensus was that this was probably a modern copy, especially as the only photos showed the shirt on a clothes hanger, not the sort of treatment expected of such a rare exhibit.

I was aware that Susan North of the V&A museum, and editor of the estimable work Seventeenth Century Women's Dress Patterns (Vol 1) is on a sabbatical studying linen from  past centuries so I mailed her via a mutual friend to see if she had looked at Sir Henry’s shirt. To my surprise, Susan had not even heard of it and set off to have a look.
These are Susan’s initial findings, (PoF4 refers to Patterns of Fashion 4 by Janet Arnold):

“I went to Harrogate (shirt is at the Mercer Art Gallery before it goes back on display in April at Knaresborough) to have a look at it and I can confirm that Slingsby's shirt is mid seventeenth century.  I took PoF4 with me for comparision, and it is very close, although not exactly the same, as #15, as I mention below.
 I took a pattern and some photographs, which because the flash was turned off, and taken under ambient light conditions, are not great.

It is absolute right on for the 1650s, and correlates very well with the Swedish shirt of Claes Bielkenstierna, 1659 in PoF4 (#15).

And like the Swedish shirt, it seems (short of forensic testing) pretty evident that some poor soul died in it!  I had an intense but gruesome conversation with the curator about the possible 'aftermath' to Slingsby's execution.

It is unusual that it has a darted band and cuffs attached to the collar and wristbands respectively.  In other 17th c. examples, this usually means that the band & cuffs have been added later (see Tina Levey's article in Costume vol.44, 2010, pp.28-36).  But having looked at it, I am absolutely sure these are part of the original construction - linens have the same thread count and the band & cuffs are sewn into the collar & wristbands, not just whipped on.  I was discussing this with Jenny Tiramani and she says there are some like this on the Westminster Effigies, but these appear not to have been photographed (or at least not published) and are now back on display underneath other clothes (argh!).

There are the two 'fancy' mid-17th c. shirts in V&A & MoL, but this is the only plain (and I think more typical) example I've found - and a great find.”

I’m hoping eventually to see some decent images and Susan is putting together a pattern, which with permission from the Museum may be available sometime soon. In the meantime, here's a rather gruesome image of that June morning in 1658.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Montero Cap

I apologise for the blatant advertising, but I'm really pleased with the way this hat turned out.  This is the closest to 17th century sewing I've managed yet in a basic soldier's montero. The materials are white linen and belgian canvas for the lining and inner band and 100% undyed wool bought from Lindy Pickard of Cloth Hall, hand dyed to Oxford Red, the closest match Mulberry Dyer could get to the red madder dye used for the King's Army uniforms in 1643. It's hand sewn with linen thread, undyed on the inside and top sewn with madder red dyed linen on the exterior.

The wool is nicely fulled, so much so that I could leave the cut edges of the skirt and peak unhemmed, which accounts for the slightly rough edges, a method used for army uniforms in later centuries. This makes sense, as it results in less waste in the cutting and also means you don't create thick seams which makes fixing the peak easier as you're not sewing through so many layers.

The cap is lined with white linen and a strip of coarse belgian linen is used to form a band around the inner edge. This keeps the lining in place and forms an inner structure to the hat.

Folded down, the cap becomes a warm protector for the face to keep the wind at bay. There are pictures from the continent showing caps being worn like this in Winter.

I can make monteros in any size and authentic colour for a reasonable price. Feel free to get in touch via the email address on my profile on the right hand side

Monday, 6 February 2012

Woollen Gloves for Authentic Toasty Fingers?

Since the weather has been so cold recently I’ve been thinking about how folk kept their fingers warm in the 17th century. Although it wasn’t actually as cold during the 1640s as it got later in the century, there were cold snaps and times when it rained incessantly. However, while there are many surviving pairs of leather gauntlets from the 1640s,there is very little evidence of woollen ones.

It may be that gloves weren’t worn as much as we might think. Outdoor workers often toughen up their hands rather than opt for protection, which can get in the way and our forebears were hardier than we might believe. However several examples of woollen hand protectors have been found in excavations and are displayed in museums, notably in the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen. There is little from our period in Britain, but gloves and mittens have turned up from all across Northern Europe in the seventeenth century.

Considerable research activity in historical knitting groups has taken place recently and some interesting finds have turned up, mainly on the continent. It is becoming clear that woollen gloves and mittens were worn by the less well off during our period.  Fine leather gloves and embroidered gauntlets were more often the preserve of the upper echelons, although leather mittens may have been used for protection, perhaps when hedge laying or performing similar tasks that involve working with thorns or sharp edges.

Knitted gloves with four fingers and a thumb have turned up in datable finds from the mid 16th up to the mid 17th century in Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany as well as written references of gloves being exported from England to Europe. The Hereford Museum has a pair of knitted cotton ones from 1660.  There are slits in the fingers and thumb to make coin counting easier. Thanks to Herefordshire Heritage Services, Hereford Museum and Art Gallery for permission to use this image. 
There is also a surviving pair of woollen ones from Britain, found in an excavation on the Shetland Islands and are associated with a man whose burial can be dated by coins found in his purse to 1694 or later.

 This pair were unearthed in a recent excavation in Luneburg in Germany and has been dated to the first half of the 1600s from shards of pottery found with them. The researchers made the assumption that the gloves belonged to a woman because of the size. They are knitted from wool in the round.

This case from the Museum in Copenhagen has several excellent examples from Northern Europe from the mid seventeenth century.

This glove is from Upsala, Sweden in the sixteenth century and by tradition it was worn by Captain Sten Svantesson Sture when he died in a battle 1565, against the Danish. The words Frevchen Sofia are worked in knitting across the palm.  The Stures kept this glove for many years in a vault along with other garments of  family significance .

One style of knitted mitten has two thumbs on opposite sides of the hand. They are heavily fulled and are associated with mariners, especially fishermen. Even today Icelandic fishermen wear similar mittens. Fulling is the term for when knitted woollen items are deliberately washed and agitated in order to make the fibres shrink a little and mesh together more firmly. It is easy to slip a hand into this form of mitten and always find a thumbhole. Alternatively, and much as in modern examples, the second thumb may have been used as a back up in the event of wearing through the first. The extremely long hand part above the thumbs could have acted as extra warming, with an air pocket for insulation.

Fred Hocker of the Wasa museum in Stockholm, also an experienced sailor has a theory:
The excessive length of these mittens may be related to a similar practice among Grand Banks fishermen, who did a lot of winter rowing on the fishing grounds. Their mittens were made similarly long, and the extra length was folded over to provide a second layer on the palm, so that even if it wore through, their hands were still insulated.”

 This two-thumbed style of mitt is still in use today in the far Northern countries, often made of leather. Single-thumbed leather mittens were found on the Swedish ship Wasa that sank just outside Stockholm in 1628. Interestingly they were provided with woollen liners made in a technique known as naalbinding, a possibly even more ancient way of making fabric from yarn than knitting, using one needle rather than two.

Mittens may have been connected with various craft activities, though currently we have no knowledge of who actually wore them. All the examples in museums have been heavily fulled and have long wide gauntlet type wrists, often decorated with garter stitch or thrumming. Sailors mittens as we have seen can be double-thumbed whilst mittens for general wear have just a single thumb. A knitted one-thumbed, heavily fulled mitt may be the answer for a pikeman with frozen fingers. They might even be waterproof. 

In this picture by Dutch artist Adriaen van de Venne, painted around 1626, the skating peasants can be seen wearing single-thumbed mittens tied at the wrist for protection from the cold.

This guy in a detail from a picture entitled January by another Dutch artist Sebastiaan Vrancx is also wearing practical mittens.

All gloves of this period were knitted as a whole, like a sock, rather than as a flat piece sewn together to make the hand. The stitches would be worked in a circle, producing the round shape of the body of the glove as the knitter worked. In this way stocking stitch is produced if you just keep going with plain stitch. If you are knitting flat, you have to alternate plain and purl with each row. In the round when you insert rows of purl, you produce a kind of garter stitch decoration. This can be seen on some period gloves, see above.

There is one style of knitted glove from Britain, which just may be authentic for the 1640s, but there is no direct evidence. The gloves found with the body in a peat bog in Gunnister, Shetland are dateable to the 1694 at the earliest, but the clothes found with him were old, well worn and the gloves may have come from a long traditional pattern. They are of a similar construction to the earlier examples we have seen, knitted in the round and fulled.

All of these gloves can be knitted using basic techniques. Hopefully before too long patterns for making the gloves will be available for general use. They are in the development stage at the time of writing.

Grateful thanks for all the help in writing this article, to those in the 1640 textiles group, notably Laura and Malcolm. Thanks also to Kat and Kate C (gravity_tester @attdotnet) and the Nationalmuseet for permission to use some of the pictures shown