abendgules: (brocade)
15th c linen underwear from Lengberg Castle, East Tyrol, Austria

This talk was probably the highlight of the event, where we got to see hot new research, practically fresh out of the ground. Nothing like 500 year old undies to get textile historians excited...

Lots of people have seen the article in BBC history pages about the linen clothes found in this castle, and the article is pretty thorough, so you have the highlights already.

Beatrice's talk started with a timeline of the castle, covering its construction in late 12th century, and its longtime ownership by the archbishops of Saltzburg (not clear, I'm guessing it came with the job).

There was some remodelling done in the late 15th c, when a new storey was added, and the chapel was consecrated in 1485, which implies that the construction was complete - or the work on the new floor (what was previously the roof) was at least finished.

The new ceiling was vaulted, but the floor above it was flat - leaving a sort of triangular 3D space in the corners of the vaulting that was filled with dirt and organic matter, including the clothes. As far as she can tell, these are thrown-away scraps, discarded when they're fully used, and the dry stable conditions in the remaining fill has preserved the linen, but not the wool - the wool was eaten by moths.

First up were 14-16 scraps of shirts, particularly pleated necklines - several examples of different pleating patterns with sewn-down facings. Some were possibly linings of gowns, where the wool gown has been eaten away. Since they are just fragments, all Beatrice can do is speculate on the shape of the rest of the garment, and who wore them. 

She did consider one scrap to be a makeshift bonnet; a rectangle knotted together on one side, as if to fit over someone's head, but the edges were unfinished and torn.

There was a scrap of sprang, sewn to a piece of linen, but there was no clue as to what it was for:  all she could say was the sprang had 48 threads in the warp.

There was a short piece of fingerloop braiding (15cm) that had three different patterns in it visible - as if someone was practicing their techniques, or demonstrating to someone else. 

There are 800-1000 fragments of leather, including 10-15 complete shoes - again, worn through and discarded.

The linens have been carbon-dated, and all the fabrics date to late 15th c, which matches the suggestion that the space in the floor was filled with rubbish during renovations ending in 1485.

As for the undies:

First up was the hipster/bikini shape of a single thickness of linene, an oblong with basically 4 sides, wider at one end than the other, with ties on either side. Beatrice was definitive on calling them men's undies, and there's some contemporary artwork showing men stripping off to bathe (or be baptised), going down to their skimpy underclothes.

There is no equivalent artwork showing ladies' knickers, and in fact she says she could only find a novelty image of a 16th c Venetian courtesan wearing bloomers - a completely different shape from these bikini-cut bottoms.

The centre part, where the bulgy bit would be on a gent, had been patched twice, with linen the same fineness or finer than the original fabric (12-14 threads/cm for originals, 18 threads/cm for 1st patch, 11-12 threads/cm for second). The triple thickness of fabric made the crotch thick and probably not very comfy.

She was pretty critical of some reconstructions available commercially online - double thickness fabric (which would be easier to sew on the machine and not leave obvious machine stitch lines) with very thick side ties - she figured you were better off making your own in an evening rather than pay reenactment-merchant prices. 

They did check for DNA evidence on the fabric, in the hopes of finding out if it had been worn by men or women...but the only DNA that came up was Beatrice's own, from handling the fabric.

On to the bras:

All these bras were in fragments - some more intact than others - so the best that you could say about the first one was that it was made of linen, Z spun, tabby weave, 17-18 threads/cm, with very basic needlelace on the bottom edge (2 rows of scallop shapes, filled out with buttonhole stitches), and fingerloop lace on other edges. This bra had been patched once in the cup.

The lace edge possibly makes the bottom edge stronger, and might keep it from stretching, and keep boobs from sliding down your front.

The one described as a 'longline bra' really does appear to fit down the torso, well below the bustline, and has wide shoulder straps. It no longer has a back piece, but the lacing at the edge suggests that the back would be almost as high as the front.

If you've seen Eleanor de Medici's gown in JA's patterns of fashion, you'll remember her bodice lacing lines were on her back, below her shoulder blades, and angled, rather than straight down at her sides - the back of this longline bra would have laced similarly. The reinforced edge might have had eyes on the lacing edge, which you'd run a lace through, rather than eyelets sewn through the fabric.

The cups in the longline bra were formed from two oval or almond-shaped pieces of linen, seamed vertically rather than horizontally (most seamed bras today are horizontally or diagonally seamed). There wasn't much indication on how they were they attached to the bodice. 

This piece was carbon dated to 1410 at the earliest.

The niftiest piece was a remnant that now looks like a halter top in the photo, because the straps are now tied together. What's left of the bodice is shaped a bit like a tiny bolero jacket - the front edges curve up, and the middle where your cleavage would be is gone.  But originally Beatrice thinks the bottom front edge would again have needlelace edging, and the cleavage space would have been filled with sprang - there are fragments attached to the two remaining fronts, with 120 warp threads. There's also obvious small sprang inserts on the straps (might sit high on front shoulder), and it's not clear if these are decorative or functional (finishing edges) or both. They look like small lace inserts.

Sprang does stretch - it might have allowed a bit of stretch across the bustline, where even cutting linen on the bias would not 'give' enough for comfort. However, all these pieces of sprang are made of linen, not wool or cotton. Spun linen yarn would not stretch much, especially as fine as this. (Beatrice's article has excellent drawings of the sprang patterns.)

Surviving pieces of sprang from medieval Europe aren't hugely common. I know of its use to make hairnets and stretchy cord bags, but I know almost nothing else. It's awesome to find it in a completely new area, for a completely unexpected use.

To support the sprang idea, Beatrice had slides of 15th and 16th c artwork, of the Virgin 'weaving on a narrow loom' - but if you know what a sprang loom looks like, it's more likely sprang than woven narrow wares. She put it side by side with a photo of 1950s European peasants working on sprang, and the resemblance was clear. She also had examples of sprang table linens, something I'd never heard of, from Switzerland, dated to 15th/16th c.

Aside from the archeology, what really rounded out Beatrice's talk was the literature references - citations from German literature (and French) that I'd never heard of before - that describe women making breast-bags in their shirts, to hold sagging breasts, or to flatten breasts that are too big, when the medieval ideal is small, high and perky.

Eustache Deschamps (1346-1406) apparently wrote 'Balade sur les femmes qui troussent leurs tetins' ('Of women who bind up their boobs'). I'm hoping to find out more about him.

She also mentioned Henri de Mondeville (1306-1320 ish), a French doctor writing similar remarks, and a German writer Konrad Stolle (1480)  who moaned about women putting cups into their shirts - 'all indecent!' (unlike the days of his youth when people knew how to behave...) See the BBC article.

Doing literature searches is one area that practical history buffs (like SCA folk) are probably weaker on; some people have formal education in history or languages, but I'd say they were in the minority. We're red-hot on pictures, and will try lots of different ideas ourselves - but reading the poetry and books of the period is heavier going, and not our first option.

Beatrice proved to have an excellent sense of humour; bringing up evidence of medieval bras (400 years earlier than the first US patent), complete with lace (100 years before the best known examples) didn't go down easily with some professional costume geeks. Fortunately she could laugh at the people who assumed she'd gotten her dates wrong, that it was an elaborate hoax, that she didn't know what she was talking about, etc. - at least, could laugh now, especially after the carbon dating data came back confirming all items dated 1390-1485. She said she didn't really like requesting carbon dating, because it would require removing samples - but it's harder to argue with.

In the discussion afterward, Jenny Tiramani commented that these pieces looked home-made. They didn't have the look of professional linen-workers, such as sempstresses, broiderers. They have the feel of something you made for yourself, or for your family, as needed.

Personal musings (not part of the talk)

At the same time, the bras had touches of decorative work that we might call 'feminine', with the patterned sprang and the lace. So even though they're underclothes, and not made by professionals, these were still finished with care.

For me, it's perhaps akin to making your own menstrual pads, which women did routinely until commercial alternatives became common (and recycled-cloth pads have regained popularity for some women who are trying to reduce their contributions to landfill).

Perhaps until recently far more women made their own boob supports, as they needed them, from torso wraps to criss-cross slings (classical world solutions), to fitted 'shirts' with boob bags to stays, depending on social status, time of life, need, etc, and it's just our commercial culture that has specialised down to lingerie. It's also possibly the first time these scraps have survived and been recognised for what they are.

The first question at the lunchtable, amongst us, was, well, who's going to make one? :-)
abendgules: (brocade)

Documentary evidence from Florence in the mid 15th century

This talk was less about individual garments, and more about evidence of textiles in the household of Bernardo Machiavelli (the more famous Machiavelli's father), who was a meticulous diarist and record keeper. Jane has examined his diaries for a stretch of time in the late 15th century, when the family kept a house in Florence, and a country estate in Percussina 18 km outside the city.

The estate, probably maintained by tenant farmers, grew produce, had a vineyard, and also grew flax, and it was the references to flax and linen that was the focus of the talk. It seemed this wasn't a commercial venture, but simply a project to keep the household (more than just the family, but included the immediate retainers) in linens, and the house in indoor textiles. Not clear if 'household' included tenant farmer families as well or not.

Mssr Machiavelli's records talk mostly about the steps that require the exchange of money, rather than each step of the process (harvesting, retting, spinning). He picked up yarn from farmers? spinners? and takes it to local weavers and records the weight of the yarn left with them, and then what lengths he picks up from them a couple of months later.  Flax harvest seems to be in the spring, and the earliest you can collect your finished goods seems to be summer.

In some years, he buys additional materials, for ordering specific products: one example was from 1477, when he bought cotton yarn (imported from Syria or Cyprus) to add to his weaving order, possibly to make a blend fabric (what I'd call fustian) for quilts. Cotton was used as the weft, for items you wanted 'filled' or thickened like towels (though this is not a terrycloth, just a thick cloth).

Another time, 22lbs of yarn turned into 36m of cloth for household napery, possibly including what we'd now call Perugia towels (the table linens with indigo-coloured border patterns), which were made in lots of places in Italy, not just Perugia.  She had some examples of Italian terms for different items of napery, but it's still not clear which ones were which.

Specific orders included hand kerchiefs, literally, and head coverings woven with blue or black bands in them, both of which measured out to 56cm square. (Jane digressed to explain the weights and measures, Imperial and medieval.)

Very fine linen was required for specific items, like collars - these might have been separate collars that lined the gents' tight doublets, to protect them from wear around the neckline. The shirts of the period are collarless and wouldn't serve.

So basically: you order your linens in the spring and you get them in the summer. The weather can affect the schedule though, particularly in the bleaching step that needed good weather for laying out fabric in sunlight. Jane said there were letters from mothers, concerned that they could not make up new shirts for their (apparently dependent) sons, because the weather was bad, and the linen wasn't back from the bleacher yet; or complaints in a letter that 'I just can't get the right linen to make your collars'.

Jane illustrated the talk with photos from Tuscany - lovely lush green farmland even now.

Her blurb, from a book cover so you know who she is.

I know very little of life in medieval Italy, either rural or urban, and because I live in a money-centered economy, I forget that most people, effectively, lived off what the farm produced. I'd never stopped to think about a household growing its own linen (I had thought of raising sheep for wool, but mostly my imaginings ended with fleeces at market). My mental picture typically is of people buying fabric in town. 

I've known of people doing sheep-to-shawl projects, but in our current middle ages these are fun projects, not ongoing lifestyles. The grow-your-own aspect brings new life to the idea of making your own clothes.

abendgules: (brocade)
Robert and I are busy writing up respective notes from MEDATS at the British Museum - him the AGM notes, me my own. It was a splendid session, with 4/5 speakers showing up, and no dud sessions; one was chewier than most, because it had mostly text slides rather than shiny pictures, but the subject was still fascinating, and I scribbled down several references to go chase on the Intawebs.

The promised session about breastbags (medieval bras) and the last session about necklines and cuffs development in 15th c/16th c were both as brilliant as hoped. More TBA.

The Society (and friends) showing was strong: [livejournal.com profile] maryf, [livejournal.com profile] purplemermaid, [livejournal.com profile] edith_hedingham, Lady Margaret Woseley (new arrival from Atlantia), Lady Margareta [livejournal.com profile] m_nivalis and I hogged a row, fitting in Teddy and Caroline Yeldham between us. 

[livejournal.com profile] maryf volunteered herself as treasurer (which caused the whole row of SCA folk to laugh out loud- what a surprise!). I think Mary shocked Jenny Tiramani by actually answering her request for a replacement; JT probably thought she'd have to ask several times, and keep having to do the job anyway. Robert vouched for M's ability to drive a spreadsheet like noone else. He hasn't yet told anyone she can actually do needlework... so the Society continues to hold a stake in MEDATS with its programme, newsletter and treasurer being populated by SCA folk, though we still miss Ynes terribly.

Lady Margaret was having the time of her life, much as I have, saying she hadn't had so much fun in years - seeing the authors of her favourite books live and in the flesh (Ninya Mikhaila and Sarah Thursfield were sat in front of us, Jenni Tiramani did a presentation and I saw Frances Pritchard in the group). MEDATS does sometimes have the feel of a tiny select textile-geek convention where you can mingle with your heroes.

On the organisation front, it has all the same issues that are familiar to me from the SCA: the website is now under new management (hurrah!) - so there were no moans about it this time; should the newsletter go electronic? (serious resistance here, because there are some members in this group who either have no e-mail, or no computer, but we did choose to make new members' default option for PDF rather than paper); and for the first time I can remember the bank account wasn't a major issue.

There's a new Chair, which is very welcome, and as he's a curator based in Edinburgh there was talk of holding a session outside of London(! shock! there will be mutterings I'm sure).

A total first: during the AGM, someone asked Robert, who was speaking into a microphone (doing his report on as programme secretary) to speak up and stop mumbling, she couldn't understand him. Being heard isn't usually one of Robert's problems!

To date I've fought off temptation to take on a volunteer role in this group (Ynes commented in the past that she could see me struggling in meetings to fight the inclination). The likely commitment is modest compared to my investment in the SCA. But it may yet come; TD wants to get out of the newsletter editor's role (whose main perk includes first pick of the books to review). We'll see...

Six of us had a very yummy lunch at the Korean noodle house on Museum Street, which has very cheap takeaway. The sit-down prices are a bit higher, but thanks to a recent dinner with Francois Estencele, when he was in the UK last, I knew what bibimbap the main dish of noodles served in a hot stone bowl was, and could recommend it all round.

We wrapped up at the Holborn Whippet for a post-conference pint, where we toasted an excellent day, and I took my all-conferenced-out sweetie home for careful unwinding.

It still surprises me (though it shouldn't) that the Central line is sardine-packed both morning and night on a Saturday. Though it takes me to some favourite places, I sitll haven't recovered my affection for it, after it was my only means of transport to a crap temp job for almost 2 years.

abendgules: (15thc_worker)
 I seem to be going through a lull in posting. This isn't because there aren't fun things happening (or even less fun ones), but that I'm finding less time to post from work. When I get home, the last thing I want to do is jump back onto the PC.

Some recent highlights:
- mid-Feb, Robert, Master Paul, Tom Monmouth and I went to a conference at the Wallace Collection, celebrating the life of Claude Blair, who was one of the leaders of medieval armour research. He worked at the Tower armouries, then the V&A, and evidently had inspired several generations of historians and colleagues. He remained active and engaged in research and correspondence to almost the very end of his life. 

The speakers were either colleagues who had collaborated with him, or folks he'd inspired, and all the talked had some link to his own work, or one of the topics he'd touched on over the years. It was fascinating stuff; if you have to die, it would be nice to have so many people remember you so fondly, with respect and affection even for the rough sides of your character. 

The fun part for me was watching the audience, which was about 70% academic to 30% reenactor. The reenactors are the 'young' ones, who are  wearing T-shirts, ponytails and earrings. I was one of maybe 5 women in a group of 80? 90? attendees.

- had a week off in late Feb/early March, just because - well, actually because I have leave to use up otherwise I lose it. I spent the week puttering around the house, scribing, sleeping in, visiting the British Museum, and hanging out with my sweetie. Embarrassingly, I did almost no exercise that week; evidently it's good use of time to go for a run at lunchtime when I'm at work, but I can find lots of other things to do other than run when I'm on my own time!

Going to the BM was an effort to work on my sketching skills - I want to draw more accurately what I see in museums.

This is harder than it sounds; I'm a bit crap at fast sketching unless there's a time limit. I did succeed in sitting down to draw two of the Lewis chessmen (bishop and a knight), and I was really, really pleased with the result, but each one took about 30 mins, which isn't really sketching, it's drawing. It's also brain-demanding; after each drawing, I couldn't settle down again to draw anything else the same way.

Drawing, I've found, has a very calming and centering effect on me. I came away almost in a relaxed and meditative state of untroubled peace, happy with myself and with the world. I had had little idea it would be so powerful. I think it's the effect of having to focus so closely and carefully on a specific task, to the exclusion of almost everything else, that enables that peace. 

- at the end of that week, I went to MEDATS' most recent seminar day about 'Making it', which mainly focused on weaving skills. It had a higher proportion of speakers who had actually re-created the skills they talk about, rather than researchers and academics who knew the records, but had not attempted the skills.

Most impressive to me were the weavers and spinners; one Danish speaker had woven an entire sail on a warp-weighted loom for a reproduction Viking ship, from wool. Another weaver was working at Eindhoven, the recreated Dutch village, to recreate 15th c broadcloth on a four shaft loom; a third was a spinner who had worked extensively to develop the vocabulary to explain handspinning.  There were also demonstrations of techniques of cardweaving, spinning with a very early spinning wheel (the style shown in the Luttrell Psalter) and warp-weighted loom.

At this event, picking the reenactors out from the academics was harder work. :-) And the crowd was about 90% women.

- In amongst all of this, I'm scribing. I'm working on some of my weaker skills of sketching, painting and gilding with Nerissa, who comes over every couple of weeks to play. I'm always amazed at how much better I understand illumination techniques by demonstration, even though I read lots of instructions, and can learn well on my own - I learned to knit mostly by myself. But some handwork, it seems, is just better in person.

Nerissa has lent me a pen to practice left-handed scribing (I'm naturally a leftie). I'm pleasantly surprised at how well I've done with it, even though I've never practiced it. She insists it's perfectly do-able, and certainly with her pen I can 'push' the nib more than I expected to.

I'm not convinced it's my favourite though - there's a part of me peversely proud that I've learned right-handed, 'against' my own writing hand, simply because, well, right-handedness is traditional, regardless of inclination, and most calligraphy tools are intended for right-handed users.

I'm working on a variation of my favourite bastard secretary hand, for a 16th c backlog scroll. I'm modelling it on a period Tudor grant, and would like to get it as close as I can. The more I practice it the more I see how it's different from my 'standard' hand, and so the more work I see!
abendgules: (Default)

Next up was Hilary Davidson, curator at MoL, talking about the Quilted Brial of Dona Teresa Gil
cut for length )ETA: forgot to mention: Davidson does sew and make costumes, so she had a test re-creation of the sleeve shape, made of two layers of twill-woven silk (same indigo colour) testing out different quilting shapes. The layers produce a much more drapey fabric than you might expect - and so some depictions of draped clothing might possibly *be* quilting, that we haven't recognised as such in the past.

The sleeve was much fondled and admired! in part because not all of the academics actually re-create items. So bringing in samples is always welcome, and generates a lot of comment.
abendgules: (downhill)
Maria Hayward spoke about the 'Rothwell Jack: cut construction and conservation'. She's author of the recent book about Henry VIII's wardrobe, in the spirit of Janet Arnold's Elizabeth's wardrobe unlock'd, and she's based in Leeds, where I think she works in the armory, but I'm not sure.

Read more... )
abendgules: (Default)
Second session was with Lisa Monnas, independent scholar. My contact from MoL describes her as 'Ms Silk Lampas' doing extraordinary detailed studies of silk textiles, and mentions that Monnas has a book coming out about silk that should become 'the standard' about silk for coming years.

What is a pourpoint? cut for length  )Overall this was a splendid rigourous and well documented talk, though I'd have benefitted from more time to record references! 
abendgules: (15thc_worker)
Not all notes are created equal, in part because not all speakers are the same, and not all topics are as easy to cover. But we had an awesome mix of theoretical and conjectural, against physical, measureable and quantifiable examples, which made for a very well-rounded day, topped off with drinks with the MoL textiles curator. How cool is that? Cut for length )
abendgules: (attention)
Just back from MEDATS, one of the most splendid, info-rich, and satisfying sessions yet.
Topped off with drinks with Ynes, our splendid A&S minister and secret real-life costume historian.

As a result am somewhat tipsy, cheery and unsuited to doing long detailed and thoughtful LJ posts.
Hopefully will not pay for this endlessly tomorrow, when I post details, and try to do some commissioned scribing (invitations for a coworker's kid's first communion).

Tonight: treats! in the form of home-dressed nachos (don't laugh, they're like hens' teeth in this country) and Wallander at 9pm. I much prefer the Swedish Wallander, with relatively (to me) anonymous actors who can completely inhabit their roles, rather than the nice but not convincing K. Branagh as Wallander, who I keep expecting to break out in iambic pentameter.

And the landscape reminds me wonderfully of Attemark. Sigh. Next year, in Ystad...
abendgules: (Default)
Like the talk about Irish textiles, this was a 'survey' of specific items and collections in Sweden: a pleasant introduction to major Swedish finds, and a colourful slide show of pretty things.

Dress and textiles from Sweden's Royal Armoury in Stockholm
Henrik Andersson, "Bibliotekarie", at Livruskammaren 

The Royal Armoury started as s true armoury, where armour was stored ready for distribution to troops. However, its purpose changed when Gustavus Adolphus (1594-1632) donated the clothes he wore during a decisive battle, 'as a perpetual memorial'. After that, the armoury became more of a historic collection, and now holds clothing, armour and artifacts from 15th century onward. Its 'hallmark' is the collection of "blood-stained costumes preserved to bear witness to royal valour" (text from English website).

There's just a handful of photos on the Livrustkammaren website. A bit disappointing - possibly more on the Swedish site, not sure.
However, my friend [profile] terafan posted some pictures from a trip to Uppsala Cathedral and its treasury; includes pics of the golden gown, and some medieval wall paintings.
abendgules: (Default)
Continuing my writeup of notes...

Latvian Archeological Textiles, 7th-13th centuries
Hilary Davidson, Museum of London

Reference text ISBN: 9984-653-25-0
Beautiful full-colour book documenting finds and providing reconstructions; text is in Latvian

Welcome to Latvia - info site aimed at visitors

Lots of other links off the Wiki entry at top.
abendgules: (15thc_worker)
Elizabeth Heckett, University College Cork
Raths to Riches
A whistle-stop tour of Irish textiles

This survey was mainly visual, with about 40 minutes of slides illustrating the discussion of pieces that Heckett is familiar with, some of which she has examined herself. She called it a whistle-stop tour, and I don't think she was introducing many completely new items to (most of) her listeners. 

All I can really provide from that talk is a list of artifacts and locations that she mentioned, along with some small comments about them, in the hopes that if Irish is your thing, you can chase up individual finds yourself.

A 'rath', BTW, is an Irish ring fort. It was misprinted 'rags to riches' in the handout, and she commented that for most textile finds, they actually come out of the ground as rags, and only later prove to be riches... 

abendgules: (hunh?)
...because when I sat down to write up the next part, I turned a page in my notebook and found some more scribbles! D'oh. 
Addition is marked in red.
abendgules: (15thc_worker)
Recent finds and scholarship: medieval archeological textiles in NW Europe

Frances Pritchard, Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Winchester
An enigmatic late 9th century 'shirt' from the Kingdom of Brycheiniog, Cymru
abendgules: (Confesse)
I was awash in smugness this weekend, riding a wave of textile academic geekiness. 
Along with [profile] frrsawyer , [profile] jahanara , and [profile] edith_hedinghamI attended a conference where Else Ostergard,  (Woven into the earth) Frances Pritchard (MoL Textiles and clothing), and Geoff Egan (MoL Dress Accessories) were speaking. 
Kay Staniland (also MoL Textiles and clothing), Sarah Thursfield  and Jenny Tiramani were also there. Jenny is the former head of design and costume at the Globe Theatre '96-'05. (She and the costume staff quit en masse when the artistic director of the Globe changed, and decided that recreating accurate costumes was no longer of interest.)

I'll be posting my notes shortly.



abendgules: (Default)

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