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, 28 May 2012

New Clothing Guide

Sue Sampson has produced a very good guide to civilian clothes of the 1640s for her reenactment group. It's highly recommended and there are some nice illustrations included. There is a link to it on her blog ECW Living History Resources (link on the right hand menu), though you can go straight there by clicking on this link

Monday, 21 May 2012

Pointy Hats

I've noticed that some 1640s wood cuts show an odd shaped coif worn by women. The linen headcovering is normal at the front, but very pointy at the back, as is being modelled by the woman here. This picture is obviously a cartoon, the pamphlet from 1642 is basically about the guy on the right with the horns who has been cuckolded by his wife on the left. Perhaps the pointy coif is an echo of the rams horns which is the mark of the cuckold?

This seems to be borne out in this detail from The Coaches Overthrow, a broadside published by John Taylor in 1636. The man in the doorway is being menaced in a similar fashion to the first guy by a strange looking female in a pointed coif, although the person in the first floor window might have something to do with it!

Perhaps it was the badge of an old crone? This woodcut of the prophetess Mother Shipton from 1642 shows another pointy cap, though remember Mother Shipton was contemporary with Henry VIII. This could just be the origin of the pointed witches' hat.

However, this image from 1641, detail from The Sisters of the Scabard's Holiday also shows some "working girls" wearing pointed coifs, so it wasn't the preserve of old women presumably. Whilst this is not obviously a satirical cartoon, the publication was pointing fun at two "Reverent and vertuous matrons" and their views on the new laws that governed their profession. The rest of their clothes look quite authentic in their detail, so it may be reasonably assumed that the shape of these coifs are not exaggerated.

This one, also slightly satirical shows two more coifs with points being worn in reasonable detail.
1646, The Parliament of Women with the Merry Laws by them Newly Enacted.

The real meaning of this style is probably now lost in the mists of time but this image that appeared on a website last year of an embroidered example may probably provide a clue of how these caps were constructed. This came up for sale in late 2011 in H&H auction houses in Carlisle. It is actually a standard shaped coif, but ungathered at the back so that the back of the headdress stands proud in a rear facing point. It does look like one of the coifs in the woodcuts, but who knows? Possibly the ones in the pictures are exaggerated for comedic effect.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

How To Make Wool Buttons

There are several schools of thought as to whether cloth buttons were used for soldier’s coats in the Civil War, as none have ever been found, there is no way to know for sure. We know that inventories show that buttons were bought as part of the makings for issue coats, though presumably these were metal ones as cloth buttons can be made as I will demonstrate from the waste fabric left from cutting the coats. There are lists that make plain that there were not enough buttons were bought for a coat and breeches, so maybe the extras were wool, there's no way to tell for sure. 

There is however a long lineage of fabric being used as a cheap easy source of buttons. Buttons made in a similar way to the my personal method have been found in medieval London, on a woollen jerkin found on the Mary Rose and in several finds from after our period. The Gunnister Man from Shetland, late 17th century had these cloth made buttons on his waistcoat. As you can see (above), they conform to the period type, spherical and attached to the garment with a single shank. Although later than this period, the Gunnister finds are worth investigating.

If you follow this method, you will easily be able to make your own serviceable fastenings that match your coat. There are other ways I'm sure to make a button from wool fabric, but this is the one I like and it seems to work well.

Start with a square of woollen cloth and a nice long piece of well-waxed linen thread. You will need to experiment with the size of the square as the thicker the wool, the larger the piece needed to make a nice solid button. The wool I’m using makes a good one with 2” square, although I could have made them even smaller, these spaced out to 12 down the front of the coat I was making.

Sew a circle of running stitch within the square. Don’t make the stitches too small or the next step will be quite tricky.

Pull the end of the thread to make a loose bag.

Tuck in the corners and pull the whole thing together more tightly with the thread. Tucking in the edges in this way means you don’t need to stuff it with anything else as the corners provide the stuffing. Flatten it out with your fingers so you have a “mini bonnet”

Put another line of running stitches around the edge of the “bonnet” and use these stitches to pull the button tight a second time.

Sew across the gathering, crosswise, paying close attention to any lumps sticking out and taking a little more fabric every time.

Each time you put in a stitch, pinch the button tightly and pull the thread taut.

Use the end of thread to sew the button to the garment. When you’ve done that, reinforce the loops with buttonhole stitch to create a shank. As you move up the shank, the knots will pull the button tighter, although it should be pretty firm by this point. The button on the left is the finished one, the one on the right newly sewn on.