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Project events

Workshop 1 - Methods and Approaches
19 June 2007
Queen Mary, University of London

Maria Hayward; Catherine Richardson; Jenny Tiramani; Ulinka Rublack; Lesley Miller; Bridget Escolme; Viccy Coltman; Evelyn Welch; Chia-hua Yeh; Melissa Hamnett; Ros King, Alice Hunt; Sarah Bercusson; Una McIlvenna; Angelica Pediconi; Lisa Monnas, Hilary Davidson.
Patricia Allerston
Lesley Miller
Jenny Tiramani

Theme and Activities:

The theme for this session was what methods and approaches underpin the study of early modern dress?  As a mixture of historians (Allerston, Hayward, Rublack), Art Historians (Coltman, Welch, Yeh, Bercusson, Pediconi, McIlvenna), English literature scholars (Richardson, King, Hunt), curators and textile specialists (Davidson, Miller, Monas) and Drama specialists (Escolme and Tiramani), we shared the diverse backgrounds from which we drew our methodologies and were open about their strengths and weaknesses.
In the morning, the participants exchanged documentary, literary, material and visual evidence.  Patricia Allerston spoke about her investigations into the creation of early modern lace, including expensive and elaborate metal laces, by women in Venice’s convents. There was a rich and problematic paradox of the production of such material by women who were not allowed to wear the product.  This was something, however, that could only be recovered by archival investigation – little, if any, surviving material could be identified with a specific Venetian convent. Lesley Miller followed with a description of her interests as a scholar and curator in 18th century French silk.  By hunting in second-hand shops and stalls, she was able to locate materials that were often overlooked by traditional means – these materials, used, re-used and worn until they rotted, were very fragile ties to the past.  What we learned was that it is unusual to find any single type of evidence that is enough to provide an effective understanding of early modern dress in its own right. Documents such as inventories and wills record static moments and it is rarely a straight-forward process to link items listed with those depicted in images. Portraits and other images are often idealised versions of sitters and their possessions while surviving garments survive for particular reasons (primarily because of their high quality or their association with a special royal or religious figure).  
This combination of how we learn by reading documents and looking at surviving objects led into Jenny Tiramani’s demonstration on how to make and wear an Early Modern ruff.  Now Honorary Professor at the University of Nottingham Trent,  Jenny led a session in which we attempted to construct, starch and set a ruff, using both Jenny and Janet Arnold’s examples as models. The process has been fully described in Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion4: The cut and construction of line shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women, c.1540-1660 (with additional material by Jenny Tiramani and Santina M. Levey), London 2008. 
Having measured and cut out our pattern, we attempted to cut a thin strip of fine linen which could be attached to a neckband. This was passed over to the team who were starching, a process that would have been undertaken by a professional launder in the period.  There was no point in trying to set our own rather poor attempts; instead, we used examples which had been made earlier by Tiramani and her assistants. These needed to be pinned in place, a laborious process, and then set using a heated poking stick. 
What we learned from this exercise was a far greater appreciation of the many stages that were involved in making a ruff, particularly if fine lace or other ornaments had been involved. The sheer amount of fabric involved was also impressive, something that the Dutch writer, Constantijn Huygens had already mocked in his 1622 ‘t Kostelick mal’
‘The costly frippery of your ribbons and feathers;
Two shirts could be made from your curly ruff,
Four cloaks from your jacket, and three breeches from your sleeve.’ (Luijten, 1996, 143)

 But while the labour involved in making a ruff was substantial, maintaining it was even more problematic. By the end of the session, we had much a better understanding of the role that laundry played in early modern society.  Wearing a pristine, white, starched ruff and cuffs was a signal of investment, not only in elegant clothing, but above all in the upkeep of one’s wardrobe.  As detachable items, they needed to be unpicked from the main body of the chemise before washing; unpinned and laundered with some considerable care before being re-starched and set again.  In a pre-industrial age when heating water, making soap and starch were all laborious tasks, the need to outsource these activities to professionals (and the potential high cost of doing so) became very vivid.
The other remarkable feature was how posture changed when wearing ruffs and cuffs. It was impossible to stand with one’s arms stiffly by one’s side, to cross arms or assume a slumped position. The head has to remain erect; hairstyles go upwards not down and arms assume a more curved position in order to avoid flattening starched cuffs against the body. 

photos Photos from workshop 1

Workshop 2 - Physical Evidence
26 October 2007
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)

Maria Hayward; Catherine Richardson; Ulinka Rublack; Lesley Miller; Viccy Coltman; Evelyn Welch; Chia-hua Yeh; Melissa Hamnett; Ros King; Sarah Bercusson; Una McIlvenna; Hilary Davidson; Clare Browne; Susan North

Lesley Miller, Introduction
Clare Browne, Lace in the V&A collections  
Susan North, Gloves, bags and purses in the V&A collections

Theme and Activities:
This session asked how we learn about Early Modern dress and textiles by looking and handling museum objects. This day took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  In the morning we examined lace under the guidance of Clare Browne who described her early training under the guidance of Santina Levey; much of her experience was been gained by close observation of numerous pieces both in the collection, but also through interaction with lace brought in by the public. In most cases, the latter was industrially produced lace which appears after the eighteenth century, but in some cases the highest quality convent lace made in 19th century Ireland was very difficult to differentiate from earlier versions.  We looked at a range of ways in which lace ornament was made from cutwork to needle and bobbin lace, differences which are well explained in Santina M. Levey, Lace: A History, London 1983. Needle lace was built up following a design drawn out on a parchment pattern. When complete, the tacking threads could be removed and the completed lacework could be lifted off and attached to a garment.  Bobbin lace was also built up above a parchment pattern but in this case the threads are plaited, twisted or woven together using threads fastened to a small bobbin.  Cutwork, which remained dependent on a woven ground, was also considered as was metal-lace.  
In the afternoon we examined gloves and ‘sweet bags’ under the guidance of Susan North.  There were considerable overlaps between the two sessions as metal thread and metal lace appeared on all these objects.  
What we learned from this session was an appreciation of the way in which skill in lace-making was taught at a very early age (some of the most impressive samples were probably made by 8-9 year old girls) and the care with which one needs to undertake close observation before dating or making assumptions about the origins of a piece of lace. Similarly with the gloves and sweet bags, we learned about the wide range of materials and skills required to make a single item. The gloves were particularly elaborate examples of mixed media, with metal lace, sewn pearls, couched embroidery and (later in the seventeenth century), loom-woven ribbon.  The examination of these objects helped contextualise comments such as Ben Johnson’s concerns about effeminacy (which he associated with sweet bags amongst other objects.  ‘Nothing is fashionable, til it be deform’d. All must bee affected, and preposterous as our Gallant’s cloathes, sweet bags, and night-dressings: in which you think oure men lay in, like Ladies: it is so curious.’  Ben Johnson, Timber (583-6) (quoted in: J. C. Vaught in Masculinity and Emotion in Early Modern English Literature, Ashgate, 2008,p.65). It also fed into a discussion about how much you could learn without the guidance of the curator whose experience was often condensed into short display labels.

photos Photos from workshop 2

Workshop 3 - Conservation and Restoration
14 December 2007
Textile Conservation Centre, Winchester

Rosie Baker, Jane Bridgeman, Hilary Davidson Maria Hayward, Paul Garside, Rachel Jardine, Lesley Miller, Susan North, Catherine Richardson, , Ulinka Rublack, Evelyn Welch,  Joelle Wickens,

Paul Garside, An Introduction to Metal Threads
Joelle Wickens, Paul Garside and Lisa Monnas, Object Lessons: Two Hearse Cloths associated with Henry VII
Rosie Baker, The Deliberately Concealed Garments Project
Mary M. Brooks, X-radiography: 17th century embroideries

Themes and Activities:
Having looked at documentation, reconstruction and object-based analysis, this workshop focussed on what you could tell through scientific examination of textiles.  Having looked at metal thread in lace and embroidery in the V&A collections, Paul Garside introduced us to the use of the electron microscope to analyse metal threads in textiles. Metal threads were created by drawing gold and silver wires which were then beaten to a high level of fineness before being sandwiched together and wrapped around a yellow silk core. The high levels of magnification permitted identification of the different qualities and methods used to produce the high level of shimmer in garments under study. We saw, for example, how the highest quality work might be wrapped three or more times around the thread, ensuring that it caught the light from which ever angle the rays appeared. The fragility of this material and issues with tarnishing of silver work were discussed. We then moved on to look at a particular project, the Tudor Hearse Cloths which were restored at the TCC. Lisa Monnas took us through her analysis of the weaving while the conservators then explained the processes involved in the restoration. Finally, the TCC was the home to a major AHRC funded research project, ‘The Deliberately Concealed Garments proejct’. As the award holders explained, ‘builders, owners or residents appear to have hidden clothing and other objects in the fabric of buildings, intentionally sealing the space afterwards. The tradition of concealing clothes can be related to the practice of concealing other objects such as dried cats, witches’ bottles and charms in buildings. These types of object have been discovered hidden in similar places. The concealing of these items including garments can be related to folklore and superstitious traditions relating to the ritual protection of a household and its inhabitants. More information on this project can be found on: http://www.concealedgarments.org/.   Finally, we looked at a range of projects that were underway at the Textile Conservation Centre, University of Southampton and heard from the specialists responsible for conservation of objects that belonged to a range of public and private collections.  The objects examined in detail included a 16th century tapestry, a set of late 18th century upholstered chairs, embroidered fragments of a 9-10th century bishop's stole, selection of Deliberately Concealed garments, a display of fragments of textiles with metal thread, metal thread samples under microscopes.

Workshop 4 - Hair
29 February 2008
Queen Mary, University of London

Evelyn Welch, Hilary Davidson, Maria Hayward, Christopher Breward, Emma Markiewicz, Emma Tarlo, Angus Patterson, Chia-hua Yeh, Catherine Richardson,  Jenny Tiramani, Vicky Coltman.

Emma Tarlo (anthropologist, Goldsmiths), Contemporary Head-covering
Angus Patterson (V&A), Hair, Helmets,  Armour
Chris Breward (V&A), Why Hair?
Emma Markiewicz, National Archives,  Eighteenth-century Wigs

Themes and Activities:
An emerging theme from our first three workshops was the importance of re-enactment and we decided to use this session to explore the strengths and weaknesses of this technique, one often ignored as anachronistic by academics working in university and museum settings. We combined re-construction with research undertaken by anthropologists, curators and historians to ask how hair was managed and displayed between the 15th and 17th centuries, particularly in England.  The session began with Emma Tarlo, an anthropologist from Goldsmiths College, who described contemporary veiling practices amongst young women in London. She emphasised that veiling the head could emphasise a woman’s hair, rather than disguise it, suggesting a voluminous and rich head of hair hidden beneath.  She was followed by Angus Patterson, curator of armour at the V&A, who noted the close connection between hair-styles and helmet forms. This was both to accommodate the wearer’s beard or long/short hair but also to follow contemporary fashions, including a desire to imitate Roman forms. Chris Breward, who was then engaged in writing a chapter for the Van Dyck exhibition, spoke on the ways in which the English Civil War was partly stereotyped and defined in terms of hairstyles. Cavaliers were seen as having the lock flowing locks and ‘Van Dyck’ beards of Charles I while the Puritans were categorised as round-heads for their short hair.  Finally, Emma Markeiwicz, who is completing her PhD at the University of Warwick described the market in human hair in eighteenth-century Europe.
In the session that followed, Hilary Davidson and Jenny Tiramani led us through a series of exercises designed to demonstrate how coifs, veils and turbans were heavily dependent on how hair itself was structured below the fabric itself. This might involve elaborate systems of braids which would never be visible to the viewer, but would allow for a smooth and even arrangement of linen above.   

photos Photos from workshop 4

Workshop 5 - Accessories
9 June 2008
Museum of London, London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN

Maria Hayward; Catherine Richardson; Susan North; Rachel Jardine; Elizabeth Currie; Patricia Allerston; Christopher Breward; Evelyn Welch; Lesley E. Miller; Ulinka Rublack; Jenny Tiramani; Lisa Monnas; Aimee Payton; Geoff Egan; Elizabeth Currie; Bridget Escolme; Dr Viccy Coltman; Giorgio Riello; Marta Ajmar; Barbara Behlen

Giorgio Riello, An introduction to Early Modern Shoes
Hilary Davidson, Shoes at the Museum of London
Geoff Egan, Archaeological Shoes at the Museum of London

Themes and Activities:                
This workshop continued the focused exploration of objects, now moving into archaeology. Giorgio Riello described his long-standing work on eighteenth-century shoes while Hilary Davidson and colleagues from the Museum of London demonstrated the way in which shoes and other forms of footwear were made between the sixteenth and eighteenth century. Using a ‘sacrificial shoe’ which could be taken apart, she explained how shoemakers worked from the inside out – a process of stitching that required a high level of physical strength and dexterity. Heels were generally made of multiple pieces of leather or from cork. Early modern wearers might slip a more fragile shoe into a steel or wooden patten to leave the house.
This was followed by a presentation by Geoffrey Egan of leather items found during archaeological digs undertaken primarily in Southwark.  This was a useful comparison to the more upmarket museum pieces as these items were generally from lower social groups.  As he explained (and is described in greater detail in his publications and those of Francis Grew), leather survives in anaerobic conditions and London’s muddy banks proved excellent places to recover this material.

photos Photos from workshop 5

Workshop 6 - Underwear
17 October 2008
Queen Mary, University of London

Natasha Awais-Dean, Sarah Bercusson, Barbara Burman, Hilary Davidson, Susan North, Rachel Jardine, Lisa Jardine, Jennifer Tiramani, Evelyn Welch, Hattie Prust (QM undergraduate)

Barbara Burman, The  Pockets of History Project
Rachel Jardine, Wearing Period Underwear
Jenny Tiramani, Linen undergarments

Themes and Activities:
This session mixed a range of research techniques in its focus on what lies beneath the top layers of a woman’s dress. In her presentation on her AHRC-funded research project, ‘Pockets of History’, Barbara Burman explained the methodological difficulties of accessing information on very common, inexpensive items of clothing such as the tie-on pocket. The nursery rhyme ‘Lucy Locket lost her pocket’ refers to just such an oval piece of fabric (often embroidered) which was tied around a woman’s waist and hidden beneath her skirt. While some survive in museum collections, they are difficult to date. Nonetheless, they form a key resource for understanding how women were able to keep important private possessions about their person from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. For further information see http://www.vads.ahds.ac.uk/collections/pocketsofhistory.html

We then heard from Rachel Jardine, a long-time reenactment specialist about the experience of wearing early modern garments over several weeks. While there was general fascination about issues to do with bodily functions and ease of dressing and undressing (assistance was usually given by fellow re-enactors), Rachel stressed how comfortable a number of garments such as the corset proved to be. Far from the tight-laced, Victorian versions, early modern corsets were primarily stiffened with reeds or whale bone and were light and flexible. They flattened the chest and gave a more rigid quality to the upper body which changed posture and movement but was not uncomfortable. Side-panniers (which had slits that could act as pockets) provided width for the skirt as did the bum-roll.

Jenny Tiramani concluded the session by describing her research into early modern linen undertaken in order to complete Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion series on the topic. She emphasized that undergarments were not simply shifts but also included a wide range of hose (including the very elaborate pluderhosen that was popular in Northern Europe in the sixteenth century). Slippery silk stockings required elaborate ties at the knees in order to stay up while boot hose was an important part of the male wardrobe.  Lisa Jardine, who attended the session, later used this debate as the focal point for one of her Radio 4 ‘Points of View’ broadcasts which she later elaborated in the BBC News Magazine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7689554.stm.

photos Photos from workshop 6

Workshop 7 -Cosmetics and Perfumes, Queen Mary University of London (with additional support from the Department of English, Queen Mary, University of London and the CNRS-GDRE, Versailles)

Natasha Awais-Dean, Sarah Bercusson, Sandra Cavallo, Hilary Davidson, Madeline Dewhurst,  Hazel Forsythe, Barbara Furlotti, Catherine Lanoë, Susan North, Tessa Story, Evelyn Welch, Jo Wheeler  

Tessa Story, A database of early modern recipes
Jo Wheeler, Trade Secrets: Recipes for Perfumes and Cosmetics between books of secrets and the Italian courts
Hilary Davidson, Recipes and their Reconstruction

Themes and Activities
This last workshop (which was not planned in the original grant) emerged from an opportunity to collaborate with a French CNRS-funded research project, Les cultures de cour : pratiques, normes et représentations dans le monde curial entre XIIe et XVIIIe siècles. L’exemple du corps
We were interested in exploring how helpful early modern recipes were in understanding the nature of cosmetics and hygiene in Italy, England and France. Tessa Story detailed a database that she has created as part of the Wellcome Trust funded project on the Cultures and Practices of Health. This database contains the recipes concerned with medicine, hygiene and cosmetics drawn from a wide range of Italian ‘Books of Secrets.’ It aims to provide scholars with detailed insight into these texts in a way which is searchable and can therefore be used for comparative purposes.  The database is structured around three main tables. The first, the Recipe table, contains information about the aims and purposes of the individual recipes  and how they are intended to be used. Linked to each of these is an ingredient table, listing every ingredient and their quantities and the instructions for making the recipe. There is a further linked table which contains an Italian/English glossary of ingredients used. At present the database holds 1,950 recipes and  the glossary refers to some 1,721 ingredients. The text which forms the centre of the database is De' Secreti del Reverendo Donno Alessio Piemontese, one of the most important and substantial of the sixteenth century Italian recipe books, first published in 1555, rapidly reprinted many times, and translated into most European languages. We collectively considered how this database might be used by scholars to investigate the growing use of different ingredients or to understand how recipes were collected and disseminated.

In the second presentation, Jo Wheeler described his forthcoming book (published in conjunction with the V&A) on trade secrets which included recipes for cosmetics. He discussed how important it was to understand the publishing history of these works, rather than see them as ‘windows’ into the early modern world. Many were plagiarized versions of earlier texts, most were compilations put together by printer/publishers who were interested in profiting from a growing market.

Finally, Hilary Davidson led a workshop where we took some of the published recipes and attempted to reconstruct them. This was very successful in demonstrating the relative ease with which many of the very basic processes could be undertaken with limited facilities. It made it clear that much of the difficulties involved lay in obtaining rare and exotic ingredients (such as musk and ambergris) rather than in the recipes themselves. Thanks to Hazel Forsyth were able to smell the dramatic difference between true musk and the now common synthetic version. She brought in a perfume vial which she had made up almost ten years ago; the continued strength of this smell made it clear why it was so highly valued in the early modern period.   


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