To be fair I love doing research, I love looking at the tiny details that help me tell the story I want to tell with recreated garments and objects. I do not on the other hand enjoy typing it up into a readable format for others to consume….
Aping your betters
Clothing a man on the make in the last years of the 16th century
Ethereal Seamstress 2021
By: Bartholomew Sharpe
“For a Cutt fustian Dublet and a paire of kersey hose, with one silk lace iii li is iid”
The above quote comes from the receipt book of a “gentle youth” and the money they paid for their fashionable clothing at the dawn of the 17th century. The entry covering a suit, consisting of a double and hose, spurred my imagination and allowed me to form the idea and design of what I wanted to achieve with the Ethereal Seamstress competition. To that end my entry will compromise a complete outfit of a sort worn by the aspiring middleclass who sought to display their wealth through their clothes.
The Fabric and Materials
In England at the end of the 16th century the fabrics which were used, while made in a wide array or colors and weaves, all consisted of natural materials falling into three categories, plant-based fibers (primarily linen, hemp), and animal-based fibers (wool and silk), and mixtures of the previous 2 (fustian). Each of these two types of fibers can be further broken down into styles of fabric made from them. The following is a breakdown of the fabrics which I used for each layer of the outfit and the use of similar fabrics in the socioeconomic levels of late Tudor and early Jacobean England.
Linen fabric was a staple of European clothing dating as far back as the bronze age. By Tudor times linen fabrics came in a wide array of qualities, ranging from very coarse, to the exceptionally fine. Like modern times the income of the consumer dictated the quality of fabric used for garments. For example, in the account book of poor relief in Ipswich in the 1580s-1590s, linen canvas was purchased to make shirts. At the other end of the social spectrum, linen cambric (a high-quality linen) makes frequent appearances in the Warrants of the Robe of her Majesty Elizabeth I. Linen was used extensively as both a top fabric, lining, and structural fabric within different types of garments. In the garments I am making for this project linen is used for the making the shirt, as a lining to the doublet and hose, as well as structural and decorative interlining on the doublet. The shirt is made of 2 different qualities of linen. The body and sleeves of the shirt is a midweight linen, while the tall collar is created from a “handkerchief” (in the period probably referred to as a cambric or lawn) linen. The use of different qualities of linen in a shirt can be seen in several portraits of the period.
In the doublet I have again used several types of linen. The interlining layer of linen is made from a heavy weight canvas linen. This type of linen provides the necessary structure for doublets to retain their shape. The use of linen, or hemp, canvas as an interlining can be seen on several surviving doublets from the late 16th and early17th century. One example is known as “the Reigate doublet”, found concealed in a wall in Reigate, England. The doublet is of made of various weights of linen and the coarse canvas interlining can clearly be seen (Clothes of the Common People, Peachy pa. 54 & 55). Similar construction can also be seen on a high status doublet made of green velvet in the Victoria and Albert museum (17th Century Men’s Dress Patterns, pa. ). The lining of the doublet, as well as the hose, are made from a lightweight linen.
Woolen cloth held great significance in Tudor and Jacobean England. The production of wool, and wool fabrics formed the backbone of the English economy throughout the period. Like linen, wool fabric came in a wide array of weaves, colors, and quality. In several surveys of wills and inventories dating to the second half 16th century, wool is shown to have been worn by all social classes and used to create a wide variety of garments (Clothes of the Common People, Peachy pa. 6) (). In these surveys’ wool shows up commonly as a material for the creation of hose, breeches, coats, cloaks, jerkins, and occasionally doublets. While the written records can be confusing (names for garments, colors, cloths were not standardized), and often incomplete (many garments are named, but the color and cloth used are not listed). We can still confirm that wool seems to have been one of the most common choice for the creation of hose and breeches. Of the wool listed for the making of hose, russet, frieze, and kersey wool are all mentioned. For this project, I will be focusing on kersey wool. Kersey wool was a twill weave wool cloth, which was fulled to produce a dense and substantial fabric. Like all cloths discussed, kersey came in a variety of qualities and colors. On the low end of quality scale, it could be priced at 1 shilling 4 pence a yard (bought for making hose for the poor of Ipswich, 1597) to 4 shillings a yard (bought to make hose for liverymen of the Royal household, 1596). The wool I have chosen to use exhibits some of the qualities listed above. It has the correct twill weave and has been fulled to give it a denser quality. How close is this wool to period kersey? I have no idea, and my gut says that it has not been fulled enough to pass for the kersey of the period.
Fustian, also known as jean cloth, was a fabric made of a linen or worsted wool warp, and cotton or wool weft (Tudor Tailor, pa. 37). It was produced in a wide array of qualities and finishes, the finest being produced in Milan or Naples. Fustian shows up in numerous accounts of the period across the social spectrum. In a survey of wills and probate accounts conducted by Ninya Mikhalia and Jane Malcolm-Davies (the Tudor Tailor), 21 percent of doublets listed were made of fustian. The fustian fabric I have used for this project is sold as a jean cloth for 19th century tailoring. It has a warp of cotton and a weft of wool. While it does not line up exactly with the way jean fustian of the 16th century was woven, it is about as close as I have been able to find available today. Fustian of the 16th century was said to have a raised nape (created by brushing the soft wool or cotton weft) and this fabric has that quality, while also having a smooth tight thread in the warp (in this case cotton rather than a linen or worsted wool). Overall, this is still a fairly coarse fabric, but as the outfit I am trying to create is not of a noble or high class, this fabric seems more in line with what would have been available to the working classes.
Silks were a staple of high fashion in the time, it was used as both the primary material for garments at the top of the social hierarchy, and as minimal decoration by the lower sorts. Silk was primarily an imported fabric in England, although there was some weaving of silk cloths done domestically (citation needed). Taffetas, satin, sarcenet, and silk velvets were all available to those who could afford them. In keeping with a garment owned by the merchant class I have kept the use of silk limited. I have used silk taffeta to create the stripes running down the legs of the hose and as a binding on the top of the waistband. This small quantity of silk is in keeping with many tailors bills from the time.
Colors of fabric
The range of fabric colors which can be achieved with natural dyes available to people in the 16th century is wide and varied. While many shades and colors were attainable at the time, for the most part the Tudor color pallet was limited by social status. When fabric color is recorded in the written record the vast majority are black, white, russet, blue, and red (What Essex Man Wore, pa17). White in this case could have meant either bleached white or a natural white of sheep’s wool. And for this reason, I chose to use a natural white in both the fustian fabric for the doublet as well as the wool for the hose and yarn for the hat. While the afore mentioned colors are by far the most referenced, other colors and shades are also recorded in the written record as well as the artwork of the period. In the survey by Mikhalia and Malcolm-Davies violet was also recorded and listed as the color or 29 garments (What Essex Man Wore, pa17). For most of the population violet would have been created with a mixture of madder (red dye, derived from the root of the madder plant, Rubia tinctorum) and woad (blue dye, derived from the leaves of the woad plant, Isatia tinctoria).
Violet was also achieved by dyeing with the dried carcasses of the cochineal (scale insect native to Central America, Dactylopius coccus), dyes derived from lichen, and logwood (Central American tree species, Haematoxylum campechianum). Logwood was readily imported by the Spanish empire from Central America in the 16th century, however it was banned as a dyestuff in England in 1581. The reason for the ban was said to be that the dye was not at all color fast, my personal feelings is that I had more to due with it being a Spanish monopoly. As illustrated by the modern black market for illicit drugs, just because a thing is banned, if there is profit to be made people will smuggle it. Records from the House of Commons in June of 1607 indicate that logwood dye was still in common use in England despite the ban placed on it over 20 years earlier (Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 1, 1547-1629). Because of this evidence for the use of logwood dyes in use in England at the time, I choice to dye some of the linen I used for the doublet, as well as the silk thread for the buttonholes. The linen and silk thread were dyed at the end of last year (when the weather was still agreeable). The fabric and thread were first soaked in with alum mordant to act as a color fixer. The powdered logwood was then added to a pot of hot water and the fabric and silk simmered in it. To achieve an even color on the fabric I dyed it twice in the logwood bath. Once dry the fabric was washed to remove any loose dye and prevent bleeding.
While green is not as well represented in the surveys already referenced, it non the less is present in both the written records and artwork. Green came in many shades and was referred to by a host of names like mallard green, goose turd, olive, seawater, and French green. In one receipt from the Warrants of the Robes (for James I) in 1603 lists sage green silk, green satin, and olive velvet all being used in the creation of doublets (1603: Warrant for the Robes, September 28, JR 1). While green dyes in period seem to have most derived from dying fabrics and yarns first with weld (Reseda luteola) and over dying with woad. There is some evidence that the berries of the buckthorn plant (various members of the Aesculus genus) were also used (Clothing the Common People pa. ). The green wool which I have chosen for the hose is dyed with a modern dye but has a color which is very achievable with natural dye stuffs.
Linen shirts formed the base layer of all male clothing during the Tudor period. Unlike today underwear (as we know it) was comprised of a long linen shirt which reached almost to the knees. The shirt I chose to make is a more fashionable example, but still follows the basic pattern that would have been seen in the period. From extant garments that survive in museum collections shirts were assembled from a variety of different sized squares and rectangles of linen. The shirt I have made was created of 1 body piece, 2 sleeves, 2 gussets, 2 cuffs, and 1 collar. All of the proportions were based off of the bara patterning system described in The Modern Maker (volumes 1 and 2). The body and sleeves are made of a midweight linen, with the collar being of a much finer grade of linen.
Instead of relying on a basic sewing stitch to join the pieces together I decided to use a decorative seam stitch. All parts of the shirt which were to be joined with the decorative stitch were first hemmed. They were then joined with decorative stitch (essentially a modified blanket stitch) in 20/2 silk thread.
The doublet was the basic in men’s outerwear for several hundred years. It formed the primary outer layer of a man’s body covering.
Appearance and layout
The doublet is of a rather generic style which seems to have been in use from the 1590s and persisting till the 1620s. In the middle of the 16th century the doublet had a flat front. Beginning in the 1580s the “peascod” style, with exaggerated stomach, became fashionable. But by the end of the 1590s the doublet had begun to lose the exaggerated peascod, and by the first years of the Jacobean age a flat fronted design was again in vouge.
The overall shape and design for the doublet was drawn from a variety of period images, as well as the cut and construction of a doublet found concealed above a fireplace in Reigate England in 1990. The doublet has been dated to the early 17th century (https://www.concealedgarments.org/2002/08/the-reigate-cache/). While being slightly later than the SCA timeline, its style is remarkably similar to artwork from the end of the 16th century.
In the original receipt that began the project the doublet was referred to as “cutt”. In the context it probably meant that the doublet was decorated with small cuts and slashes in the exterior fabric, to show off an interlining of some kind. The design was laid out and cut prior to the layers being basted and sewn together. It was done with 2 different “pinking irons” which I forged several years ago.
Drafting the pattern
The pattern for the doublet was created using the “Bara” system. This system stems from a Spanish tailor’s manual first published in 1588 by Jaun De Algeca (Modern Maker vol. 1). It is a proportional system which utilized tapes created off the wearers body. The tapes divided into ½ 1/3, 1/4s. These tapes and its division allow the tailor to then layout a pattern to best fit the wearer. The patterns which appear in Libro de Geometria, Practica y Traça, have been published with information on their construction by Mathew Gnagy in his book series The Modern Maker Vol 1 and 2. I utilized the pattern published in Vol 2 for a basic doublet dated from 1618. This pattern had the flat fronted profile that best matched up with the period art. I have made some changes to the pattern to incorporate some elements of the Reigate doublet, like having the back piece cut in one with the collar.
The doublet is created using nothing by hand sewing techniques. I tried to stay as close to period construction as possible with this doublet. All of the seams are done using either a backstitch using either silk or linen threads. The doublet is suported with heavy linen canvas interlining (dyed with logwood), and reenforced with wool melton, which was pad stitched to the canvas. Once the layers were ready they were basted together. The buttonholes on the front are done using logwood dyed silk thread. The buttons are glass ones made by Heart of Oak Crafts. These buttons are based on a number of finds from both English and Dutch archeological sites dating from the 1590s to 1620s.
Venetian hose was a staple of Tudor fashion in the last quarter of the 16th century, as well as still being in fashion up till the 1620’s. They were popular across the social spectrum, being made from wide variety of fabrics. This pair is based on examples found in numerous period artwork as well as two extant pair examined in Patterns of Fashion 3 and 17th Century Men’s Dress Patterns 1600-1630. I used these as a basis for my reconstruction. My reconstruction hose is created from a twill wool fabric and stitched with linen and silk threads.
The pattern for this pair of hose was created using the same bara system described in the Modern Maker, as well as pattern diagrams featured in Patterns of Fashion 3, and The Tudor Tailor
The exterior wool exterior was first stitched together using backstitching. The pockets are made of a soft oil tan leather and installed into a cut made just forward of the side seam. While I have not come across the use of leather pockets in the 16th century, there are several surviving early 17th century examples covered in Patterns of Fashion 3 which have leather pockets. In this case the leather is actually chamois leather I purchased at an auto parts store, it closely matches the description given of the leather used in the extant garments. The edges of the pockets were bound in a silk, binding on pockets and raw edges can be seen on an extant suit studied in 17th Century Men’s Dress Patterns 1600-1630 . I have added long stripes of silk ribbon along the side seams, this type of vertical decoration shows up quite frequently in period art. Once the exterior fabric and pockets were complete the waist was gathered to fit the waistband. The gathering was secured to the waistband with a strong backstitch. The linen lining was then installed. After the lining was done, the buttonholes and eyelets were cut with pinking tools and an awl, then stitched. The buttons were made from the same wool as the exterior of the hose. The top of the waistband and edge of the fly are bound in silk.
The knitted and fulled (felted) hats and caps were a ubiquitous sight in Tudor England. It was one of the most basic items of clothing which would have been owned by most of the population. In fact, knit woolen caps and hats were even mandatory for most people to own under English law.
The wool trade in England made up a great part of the English economy, both domestic and export. To ensure that the wool trade was protected laws had been enacted starting as early as 1488 (prohibiting the wearing of foreign made caps) to encourage the domestic and foreign markets of English wool. In 1571 Parliament, under Elizabeth I, issued a series of laws on dress and apparel. Included in that law as one section stating that all persons above the age of 6 years, and below a specific station (e.g. knights, lords, gentlemen and women) had to wear a knit, and fulled cap of English wool on Sundays or risk a fine of 3 shillings 4 pence.
Knitting was a common way of producing caps and hats in the 16th and 17th centuries. Caps and hats would have been worked in the round in a basic stocking knit (Before the Mast Vol. 1, pa 31). Once the caps had been knitted, they were heavily felted through warm water, and agitation. Once the hat had felted together a nap would have been raised and then shorn to produce a soft velvetlike finish. Several tall hats have been found in archeological sites in the Netherlands, and Dutch related sites, and can be seen in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The pattern for this hat is a bit of an amalgamation of several patterns, one by Mathew Gnagy (Knitting with the Modern Maker), and one by Sally Pointer.
My reproduction is knit with a “bulky” 2 ply wool on modern cable needles. Once it was knit, I used a hand felting technique to shrink the hat to its desired shape. Once the hat had been felted, I raised the nape with a stiff bristled brush, and trimmed down the nape with scissors. The hat band is made of a 6 strand braid of wool (commercialy dyed). I have also included a decorative stitch along the brim. This stitching was found on a fragment of a hat brim in a filled in moat in the Netherlands, and dates to the 3rd quarter of the 16th century.
Shoes at the end of the 16th century were made primarily in a “welted” style. Welting was the process of sewing a strip of leather to the upper parts of the shoes and then stitching it to the soles. With welted shoes all of the stitching is done with the pieces facing the “right” side out. Earlier turnshoes, from the medieval and beginning of the 16th century have upper parts and soles sewn together inside out then turned so the seam is on the inside of the shoe. The shoes I have chosen to reproduce are based on a pair recovered from a Dutch shipwreck, which sank in 1591 in the Waden Sea. The shoes and their construction is wonderfully illustrated in Stepping Through Time, by Olaf Goubitz.
The shoes are made from 4 different weights of vegetable tanned leather. The process of tanning hides using vegetable materials, has not changed substantially over the course of history. Using vegetable materials high in tannic acid, preserve and soften the leather. The upper parts of the shoes are made from a softer tanned leather, this allowed me to stretch the pieces over a wooden shoe last I purchased. The insole and welt are attached to the upper parts by stitching through the bottom of the insole and out through the sides, using a strong heavily waxed linen thread. Once the upper parts were together the sole (made from a heavy weight leather was joined by stitching through the welts. The heel was both glued and then nailed to the rest of the sole. The one part of the shoes not made using period materials are the rubber crepe sole material I added to the bottoms.
The decoration on the upper parts of the shoe is based on the extant ones. It is a combination of incised lines, and small cuts. This was done using a scratch awl and small chisels.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 3: the Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women c1560-1620. Drama Book Publishers, 1985.
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“House of Commons Journal Volume 1: 20 June 1607.” British History Online, 24 Jan. 2021, www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol1/p386#highlight-first.
Fowler, J. T. The Account-Book of William Wray. Publisher Not Identified, 1896.
Gardiner, Julie, et al. Before the Mast: Life and Death Aboard the Mary Rose. Oxbow Books on Behalf of the Mary Rose Trust, 2013.
Gnagy, Mathew, and A. LaPorta. The Modern Maker. Printed by Creativespace.com, 2018.
GOUBITZ, OLAF. STEPPING THROUGH TIME: Archaeological Footwear from Prehistoric Times until 1800. SPA UITGEVERS, 2011.
Kelso, William M., and Beverly A. Straube. Jamestown Rediscovery, 1994-2004. Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, 2004.
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