Sunday, September 8, 2019

Colors the Peasantry wore in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Part Two

In part one, we looked at various paintings that show the poor were anything but monochrome. Now, we'll look at writings and archaeological evidence that further proves the poor had dyed clothing.

I'm going to go with the most obvious first.  Why and how could the poor have access to dyes to have colorful clothing?  The easiest way was to get hand me downs.   Just like now, giving clothing to the poor was very much a thing in the middle ages and renaissance.  Works of Mercy included giving away clothing to the poor. 

There were also second hand shops; basically pawn or thrift stores, in the middle ages.  Again, it wouldn't be the latest fashion but it would be a way for someone with a few extra pennies to get a nice dyed garment that is a season or three too old to be fashionable.  Second hand clothes shops were essential to medieval life.

However, probably the most compelling evidence that the peasantry wasn't monochrome comes from the archaeological evidence itself.  In a study of textiles from both bog and grave digs in Northern Europe, all time periods, including 8th-10th C, showed indications of blue dye being used.  Sometimes, the blue dyes were found in conjection with a yellow dye - meaning that green was a probable color.  In fact, red appears to only show up in the wealthier graves but both blue and green are in the archaeological remains.

More fun is a test of textiles found in the waste layers from Medieval Prague.  172 samples were taken for dye analysis based on a dig site that dates from between the 14th and 15th Centuries.  The entire paper is here and is a fascinating read on it's own.  The 172 samples are broken down into (34 silk and 138 wool samples - which is slightly disproportionate to the overall finds.  Only 4% of the textiles found were silk.  However, some of the textiles were also items such as rope or other non-clothing piece as well as the silk pieces possibly being larger or more easy to test for dyes than some of the wool fragments.

Taken from a presentation by Helena Březinová
Of the 172 pieces tests, only 27 or 15% of all the samples had no dyes detected.  85% of the samples had at least one dye at this medieval dump site.  The dump site would have pieces from across the classes; however, those with estates would dump items on the estate.  (I've been to one too many archaeological field schools where you are digging in the trash pit for the kitchen of some sort of manor/plantation house.)  So, for this dump site in the "New Town" area of Prague, it's pretty safe to assume you are mostly looking at the lower and middle classes with only a few upper class textiles involved in the dump.

The coccid is most likely polish cochineal which makes for a nice variety of orange, pinks, and reds depending on the dye bath and mordant used.  Madder is more oranges and reds.  Cochineal is brighter and more pinkish in it's hue while madder is more the color of a natural Ginger's hair.  :-)  Brazilwood is another red; this one is most likely the east Indian stuff and not from the New World.

Woad gives you a beautiful range of blues.  Tannin dyes, most likely walnuts, gives an array of browns; from khaki to almost black.  Weld will give you primary color yellow. Persian berries is the one outlier and also gives you a neat yellow.

Basically, in this pit, you have a range of reds, woad for blue, some browns, and two different ways to get yellow.  You have your primary colors so any color, pretty much, is possible.  Again, this is the waste layers of a city - you'd expect to find a high amount of items from a variety of classes but mostly the lower and middle classes.  Only 15% has no dye.  Everything else comes in a wide variety of color.

Want purple?  According to this archaeological report, madder (red) and woad (blue) together (purple!) account for 19 of the 60 double combinations; it's one of the most popular.  The tannis were most likely used to give the dye a darker overall hue so the 2 pieces that show woad (blue), weld (yellow), and tannis (brownish) probably came out to a lovely forest green.

Granted, this is just one archaeological report but it does show that the lower classes had color.  How popular that color was, based on the other archaeological paper focusing on digs further north and a few centuries older, depended on both time and location - just like everything else in the SCA period.  So wear that pink tunic with purple trousers as a serf, it's completely period.  :-)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Modern Sewing!

This is a very shaggy Abigail hiding where I had already taken off one cuff of the blue jeans.  :-)  I bought the jeans on sale for $3.49 at the store.   They were/are having a ridiculous sale because the entire store is about to undergo a remodel and they need to move EVERYTHING.  So, I saw these were my size and decided that, although I hate bell bottoms, I can just take the cuff off and put something else on the bottom.  Or make them into shorts if I royally screw up.  Either way, it's $3.49.  I can play with these without crying.  

I added some heavy blue knit to the bottom with a pink trim at the seam.  The blue knit has a lovely constellation pattern.  

Close up of the pattern on the fabric.  The jeans aren't perfect but they are wearable and make great Saturday laze around the house jeans.  I might take the trim off and replace it with a stretchy lace because the trim does not stretch and I have fat calves, unfortunately.  

My other recent modern sewing project was a pair of trousers for work.

I cannibalized the 1972 Simplicity Printed Pattern 5357 and made it into one single pattern cut rather than a front and back.  I also made it a bit bigger because the original pattern called for a knit.  The cut became more straight than curved towards the ankle because I really do not like bell bottoms.  I wore these to a meeting at work and then a work dinner.  :-)

Some 1510's and 1580's pieces will be coming shortly!   I'm working on a few Renaissance outfits and then my dirndl in the next couple of weeks.   

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Little Shrug Jacket for Summer

The fabric! I bought some lovely constellation print heavy cotton knit from Fabric Mart a couple of months ago. It was in their as-is section. All the fabrics there do have issues, but, normally, you can work around them depending on the project. I just really liked the print and wasn't passing up $2 a yard knit. I needed knit at the time to enhance my work wardrobe.

I used out of print Simplicity 4334. I found out they re-released it at some point but this one is well over a decade old. Although I've used the skirt pattern before, I hadn't made the shurg, view D, and had to cut it out. Really, the pattern is a great wardrobe builder if you need a decent work wardrobe but are either a)lazy like me or b) new to sewing. None of the patterns are complicated and you get some nice pieces out of it.

The shrug! All the pattern is is the back on the fold, two front pieces, and two sleeve pieces. It took maybe a half hour to cut it out and sew it up. I didn't bother with directions - I just sewed the sleeves seam, hemmed the sleeve edge, sewed the front pieces to the back piece, hemmed that all the way around, and then attached the sleeves. For seams, I used a zigzag stitch but, for the hem, I just used a regular straight stitch. This was partly because the knit doesn't unravel but, also, because I'm lazy and only had a bobbin of light blue thread that I didn't want to show on the "fashion" side.

The back of the shrug! All perfect for the 50th Anniversary of the moon landing. :-) I didn't want to have the day pass without wearing something astronomical.

16th Century Style Italian Camica

Handsewn Late 16th Century Italian Style Chemise
By Lady Isabella D'Angelo

Figure 1 Close up of Chemise sleeves and embroidery

The chemise or camica was an undergarment worn by both men and women from the middle ages until fairly recently, historically.  It was made of either linen or cotton, with most extant garments being made of linen.[i]  The purpose of the garment was meant to have an undyed undershirt of sorts that could aborb the sweat and body oils, leaving the over garments clean.  No one wanted to clean their heavy wool or, if you were rich, heavy velvet garments every day; just as we today do not wash our winter coats every day.
The garments could be embroidered, typically using silk or linen thread.  Silk was domestically produced right here in Veneto between Vicenza and Verona.[ii]  Linen was common everywhere in the Old World.  The embroidery could be dyed or done with undyed silk – the latter called whitework.  Lace, which was only first developed in the 15th century, could also be added.[iii]

Extant examples
There are several extant examples of chemises from Italy located around the world.  Some of these are embroidered, some to these are not.  Both women and men would have their sleeves embroidered but, typically, only women had the bodies of the chemise with any decoration, if they wished. 

 Late 16th Century chemise at the Metropolitian Museum of Art in NYC[iv]
Figure 2 is one example of a late 16th Century Italian styled chemise.  The sleeves are heavily embroidered in purple silk and the body of the chemise is made up of thin panels that are then sewn together and the seams are embroidered over.   Because of the time it would take to make such a piece and the cost of the materials, this most likely belonged to an aristocrat.

Figure 3 Detail of a chemise with lace insertion, showing the upper part of the sleeve[v]

Figure 3 shows the underarm and the sleevehead to a late 16th Century style chemise.  Various laces are inserted between panels as well as around the neckline.  This is similar to what I attempted to do with the chemise on display.  The location of this extant chemise is currently unknown.

Figure 4 16th Century chemise close up showing needlework lace[vi]

Figure 4 is not a true lace as we would know it today but a very specific type of embroidery called drawnwork.   The embroiderer would cut out some of the threads from the base fabric and wrap the remaining threads to create designs.  Figure 5 shows and example of needle work where it is half finished. 
Figure 5 Sampler from the late 16th C/ Early 17th C showing various types of embroidery[vii]

The mix of blue silk hippocampus and white bobbin lace I chose for the chemise comes from a few different embroidery examples.
Figure 6 Strip of blue embroidery with drawnwork, 16th C Italy[viii]
Figure 6 is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It shows a mix of light blue embroidered flowers with cutwork or drawnwork. 
Figure 7 16th C textile showing lace insertion and dark blue silk embroidery

Figure 7 is closer to the techniques I used and shows both lace insertion and dark blue embroidery.  The base is linen with the blue thread embroidery being silk.  It is unknown what the textile itself was used for but most likely a table or alter cloth.
Figure 8 Seahorse or hippocampus, most likely done by Mary Queen of Scots
The hippocampus, or a mythical type of seahorse, was a popular motif throughout Europe in the late 16th C.  Not only does is show up in various drawings of the time, but, in Figure 8, there is an extant embroidery of one.  The embroidery is attributed to either Mary Queen of Scots or Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury.[ix]

Technical Details

The main base of the chemise is linen.  The embroidered bands in the sleeves are older – I did them almost a decade ago- which is why the color of the linen is slightly different.  The bobbin lace is out of cotton.  Both linen thread and silk thread were used to sew everything together.

Italian Chemise Pattern

Placement Guide

The above patterns aren't the best but it is pretty much what I used.  (Ignore the orange pattern, it really is rectangular and not with a small bit cut out).  The green is what I used for casing along the gathered neckline. 

The Art Show where the finished chemise was first on exhibit

Close up of the full exhibit

Another close up of the embroidery


Thursday, April 25, 2019

Elephant Skirt!

I saw this curtain at one of the thrift stores a few weeks ago and fell in love with it.  I'm a sucker for anything with an elephant print.  However, I thought it was a bit too much at €12 and let it slide.  I kept thinking about it for the next week.  When I went back, it was still there!  Yay!

This picture is really just to show the elephant print and that yes, it was a curtain and not a tapestry.  I mean, it's made out of the same type of cloth but the curtain was a bit longer.   

So, I took the border on all three edges and cut that off, cut it up slightly, and sewed it into one long strip.  It ended up being about 16.5" wide.  The center part of the curtain, I cut into two ~24" rectangles, making sure to get the max amount of elephants, and put the rest of the fabric to the side.  I ended up with two 36" by 24" wide rectangles.  This was a bit too wide at the waist for me so I cut it down by making them into trapezoids instead.  The top part of the trapezoid was 24" with the bottom staying 26".   

I sewed the trapezoids together at the sides, gathered the long border print and sewed that to the bottom of the skirt, and I folded the top of the skirt over a piece of elastic.  I sewed the elastic down to one of the seams but didn't sew it down to the fabric length ways.  I wanted the fabric to move irregardless of where the elastic was.  

The finished skirt!   It will be perfect for summer.   There is a ton of yardage in the border print and the fabric is a nice heavy cotton.  

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Dress!

For my Easter dress this year, I used McCall's 7804 with a linen cotton blend I bought at Fabric Mart.  The dress is actually even nicer than the photos and a LOT of fun to wear.  It's a pull over so it's a bit loose but very, very comfortable.

The pattern pieces were straight forward and I didn't bother with directions.  The only real change I made was I forgot to cut out the back facing piece so I just zigzagged the back neck hem.  No biggie.   
The bib front can be a bit tricky but I just ironed everything in the middle of putting the dress together and it came out fine.  I also used a frixon marker to mark where the neck opening should be and sewed around that before cutting.  That seemed to help a lot.

The lace at the bottom hem is a vintage lace I had in my stash.  I wanted a bit of lace added to the dress but nothing too overly frilly.  

Overall, I'm going to use this pattern again.  The dress is comfy and looks nice on.  I might try the longer version of the pattern - I almost did with this fabric but I didn't feel like cutting out three curved flounces, each on a fold, and then gathering that up when I already had to gather the skirt itself to the waist.  Too much gathering.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Mega Big Post of Random Things I've Sewn Lately

So, I have been sewing.  I just haven't been posting.  Once my sewing/computer/guest room is better organized, I'll post what that looks like and be able to work on more projects.

I finally found my sewing mojo again.  I've been sewing modern stuff lately but will get back into the historical stuff next week (I need a dress for the Mayday Renn Fest!!!).  I think I've just been overwhelmed by the amazingness that is Italy.

This is a simple tiered corduroy skirt I made back in February, I think.  I used Simplicity 4334 which is OOP.

I think I got the corduroy off of ebay and the guy said it was velvet.  It clearly wasn't when I got it.  It's a lovely teal corduroy that doesn't show well in the photos.  I've worn the skirt a few times to work - it's a nice spring/fall skirt.

Next are the trousers I made for Saint Patrick's day!   I ordered one of the 6 yard bundles from Fabric Mart when they were having one of their "free bundles if you spend over X amount!" sales.  This tight, heavy green knit came as part of the bundle.  It looks like twill until you have it in your hands, practically.  

I used an old pattern I recently acquired from a lady who was selling a whole bunch of patterns dating from the 1960's until the 1980's.   It's Simplicity 5357 from 1972!   I narrowed the leg at the ankle because I did not want bell bottoms.  Other than that, I pretty much followed the pattern.   

The next up is a lavender skirt I didn't make but I did make a minor adjustment to.  

The skirt is a linen cotton blend that I got from the thrift store for €4.50!  I immediately fell in love with it when I saw it and noticed the waistline would fit.  Yay! Right?  Nope.  Turns out the zipper only went down a few inches on the side.  I couldn't get it up past my bum.  

Ignore the fading henna on my hand.  I was holding the zipper open as far as it would go to show how bad it was.

Luckily, there was a good amount of zipper left on the inside!  So, all I had to do is rip open the seam and resew the zipper down, right?

Sort of.  The way the skirt was sewn, I had to open it up a bit in order to get rid of this "ridge" and make the seam open for the zipper.

Before I sewed the zipper down with the fully open seam.

The lovely lavender skirt once the zipper was redone.  It's not a perfect job but it fits!   Yay!

I've also made a black cardigan sweater out of some sweater knit I bought years ago.  I need to post that one was well.  

My Easter Dress will be done soon.  It's a linen cotton black background floral that I love.  I've cut out the pattern; I'm using McCall's M7804.  We'll see how that comes out.  

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Colors the Peasantry wore in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Part One

So, I ran across a post on the superiority of chemical dyes over natural dyes that stated the lower classes didn't even have access to colors before chemical dyes.  ......  The individual honestly believes that everyone who wasn't rich or upper middle class only wore white, brown, and black before the 19th C.   Now, I put that up in the "we didn't have color before the 1930s.  Haven't you seen the old films?!?" category.  I just found it rather strange that anyone would actually believe that old joke.

To help put an end to the idea that peasant=boring, drab colors, I figured I'd put a new compilation together regarding colors in the middle ages and Renaissance.  Here's the first post to the series I did last time on fabric types and colors available in the middle ages and Renaissance.  In that, I went over what was available to show that, for the SCA, there really isn't such a thing as "that color didn't exist yet!!!!".   If you can document it, you can wear it.  I documented everything from hot pink to lime green and eye blinding yellow.

The difference this time around is that I'll explore a specific class in the medieval society to see what they were wearing.   Yes, the poor wouldn't have been wearing the expensive dyes but they weren't wearing monochrome either.  I'm looking at paintings, written evidence, and archeology to show what colors were possible. 


Now, I know a few people will say "paintings?! But those were highly stylized and meant to be pretty for the people viewing them, not true representations of life!"  However, I call bupkis on that idea.  First, there are just too many different illuminations and paintings that show colorful garments for the beggars and peasants that it just doesn't hold water. Second, as I will show with the archaeological and written evidence, the poor were wearing colorful garments.

St Stephen Distributing Alms by Fra Angelico, 1440's
Above is a popular motif in the middle ages and Renaissance - a saint distributing alms.  Any time a saint's life is shown, this is likely to show up at some point.  There are manuscripts, paintings, and drawings showing various saints handing out alms.  Since the alms are always being handed out to the poorest of the poor, it gives us a chance to look at their clothing. 

In the background, we can see the donor who commissioned the painting in a lovely green, with his hands in prayer.  However, in front of him are some examples of the poor in the mid 15th century.  The lady is wearing a peachy pink dress with a light blue scarf around her waist and arm.  The child in front of her is wearing a dusty mauve tunic.  Behind the lady is a poor man wearing a nice blue shade.   They may not be the brightest colors but they aren't monochrome either.

Saint Lawrence giving alms, Fra Angelico, 1450s
Just a few years later, the same artist depicted a different saint, Saint Lawrence, giving alms.   Here, one of the beggars wears a rather rich red. The little girl with the little boy to the right of the saint is wearing an old green dress.  The baby in his/her mother's arms on the left is also wearing green.  Although there are beggars wearing gray, black, and brown, there are also blues, greens, and reds.  Check out the guy wearing blue on the right's burgundy hosen.  Again, it might not be the best of colors but they aren't colorless either.

"Catherine of Cleves Distributing Alms" by the Master of Catherine of Cleves, circa 1440
Although the two paintings by Fra Angelico might have been considered a bit low key on the color, this one is anything but!  This illumination shows a lady wearing a worn green cloak, a rather nice rose pink hood, and a mauve dress.  The man begging besides her has on a very bright blue doublet and an orange boot.  In front of him is a guy with an older styled, patched up doublet in a light green with rose pink collar and cuffs.  These are nice, BRIGHT colors but given the holes and patches, they are all clearly beggars.

Saint Lucy giving Alms circa 1435

The gentleman at the front of the beggars may be wearing gray but check out the lady behind him!  She is wearing a rather nice wine purple with her black veil.  And the gentleman next to her?  A good orange outfit with a green cap.   Even the beggar wearing gray as blue hosen on.  These aren't boring colors.  They are very much dyed garments.

The Alms of St. Anthony', oil on wood painting by Lorenzo Lotto, 1542. Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
This one is pretty much 100 years later than the others but, again, we see green on the bottom left and yellow, orange, and red.  Although there are some blacks and browns, the over all colors are pretty much like what, really, you'd see today on the street.  It's a good mixture. 

Now, the giving of alms isn't the only time we see the poor depicted in medieval and Renaissance artwork.  Another common theme is one of my favorites for other reasons: shepherds.  Anyone who knows me, knows about my love for Shepherd's huts.  Shepherds were not rich by any means; they were the working poor.  Often, they are shown in rags; but, mostly, they are shown in common, peasantry outfits.

I love these guys. Mister mis-matched hosen and his ruined hemmed shirt.  Look at what the shepherds are wearing.  Yeah, the one guy on the right is wearing gray...but with lots of red.  Mister mis-matched hosen has yellow, red, and blue.  He's wearing primary colors!  The lady in the back who has her shepherds purse with her is wearing a lovely shade of red as well.  Theses are not boring colors at all!

Heures à l'usage de Rome Bellemare, Noël (14..-1546). Enlumineur
In this, yes, the guy in the back is wearing boring brown and gray but the lady sheering the sheep certainly isn't.  She's wearing a lovely deep red and a blue overdress. 

Livre d'heures du Maître du Bréviaire de Jean sans Peur (Paris ou Bourgogne, vers 1413-1419
Again, some brown but lots of blues and reds.  This is pretty common through everything I've found - lots of blue and lots of red.  Other colors are less frequent.  There is a good reason for this and I'll show later in the writings and archeology of the period. 

MS M.1004, fol. 044v ca. 1420-1425
There is no question these guys are poor.  Look at the tatters the shepherd's clothing is in.  However, they have fabulous colors!  Pink, blue, yellow, and an orangy red as well as brown.  Another example of not boring colors. 

MS M.0179, fol. 076r ca 1480-1500
Tell me that isn't lavender purple the lady is wearing.  Again, blues, reds, and now lavender purple.  The shepherds are pretty colorful.

MS H.5, fol. 059v ca 1500
I had to include these guys too because more lavender purple but also that fabulous "dear me!" orange on the guy to the left. 

Despite the amount of evidence here that poor did not mean boring colors in the least bit, I know there will still be people who will claim "but these are paintings!  They are meant to be pretty!  It's not what was really worn!"   So, in the next post, I'll show some of the written evidence and the archaeological evidence of the poor wearing colorful garments in the middle ages and renaissance. 


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Christmas Dress

This is what I wore for Christmas Mass 2018!  :-)   The dress is out of a plaid silk and the jacket is out of black cotton velor.  The jacket closed well but it turned out the bodice of the dress was a bit too big and closing the jacket meant the neckline of the dress bunched up. jacket it is!


McCall's M6953 - The dress pattern
McCall's M7315  - The base to make the bolero


The only real changes I made to the pattern were to make the bodice an inch longer and make the skirt a bit fuller.   Other than that, the pattern is pretty much exactly the same.   I'm glad I made the bodice longer - it's a bit short and I could have probably gotten away with an inch and a half.   I wanted a full skirt because I have a lovely black petticoat to go with the dress. 

The dress is made out of silk I got from Fabric Mart a few months ago.   It was on sale for $9.99 a yard.   It was sold as dupioni, I think, but it's really more of a shantung.   The bodice is lined in striped white cotton and interlined in duck.  I didn't bother reading the directions - the pattern pieces are all pretty basic- so I don't know if the pattern calls for an interlining or not.  However, if you do make this pattern, having the interlining in a heavier material helps a lot.  The only notion I used for the dress was a 22" long black invisible zipper.


I wanted black velvet but the cotton velor was on sale so...cotton velor it is!  I used the dress pattern M7315 as a base because I loved the side dart and I am terrible at drafting side darts.  However, the pattern proved to be nothing but trouble.  I knew something was wrong when I looked at the sleeve.  The sleeve pattern for M7315 for a size 12 (I went up from my normal size because jacket) is only 14" across at it's widest point.  That's including the seam allowance.   Ummm.....

Yeah.  No.   My bicep is about 17" snuggly.  The shoulder (ie, going around the armpit and over the shoulder) is 19"~.  There was no way the sleeve would fit.  Still, I was curious if they meant this to be an off the shoulder number or something else was going on. 

The first mock up looked abysmal.  I couldn't fit it past the "end of the t-shirt sleeve" length on my arms.  I took the sleeve off figuring something like that would happen and marked the mock up with a new armsyce (it was a good inch and a half off).   The mock up already had the curved front and the solid back that should have worked.   It did but it was just a bit too short.

Once I made all the changes, I tried a new mock up and it looked like it would work.  However, I didn't try it over the finished dress.   Turns out that the neckline of the bolero would be too tight over the dress and cause a bunch of bunching.   I ended up leaving the bolero unhooked like in the photo.

The bolero is lined in what I think is a poly blend satin lining...thing?   It was €3 a meter at the thrift store and I think it was one of the Ralph Lauren fabrics so I didn't ask too many questions.  It's lining. 

Anyway, that was the last project of 2018!   Hopefully, I'll sew a lot more in 2019 now that the sewing room is pretty much finished.