The Case of the “French Vardinggale”: A Methodological Approach to Reconstructing and Understanding Ephemeral Garments | New Research Article

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Reconstruction of French Wheel Farthingale, c. 1610s

I’m delighted to announce that my new article was published on Friday! It’s about the experimental reconstructions I did as part of my PhD – some of which are documented here on this very blog. It talks about why historians should engage in experimental reconstruction, and what we can and can’t learn about artisanal knowledge and practices, as well as embodied experiences.

It is part of a bigger special issue in the journal Fashion Theory on the “Making Turn” edited by Professor Peter McNeil (UTS) and Dr Melissa Bellanta (ACU), with editor-in-chief Dr Valerie Steele (FIT NY).

So far, only my article is available on early view. However, if you are interested in historical reconstruction as a research practice, please make sure to check back to the journal over the next few weeks as my colleagues’ papers will also appear. I will link them in this blogpost as they are released:

Now that the article is out I’ll be doing a more layman’s blogpost series about how I made the French wheel farthingale. But if you’d like to read the article please click on the link below to get institutional access. If you don’t have access but would still be interested to read it please get in touch and I will see what I can do!

 

Abstract:

This article showcases experimental dress reconstruction as a valuable research tool for the historian. It presents a case study detailing how two underskirts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, French Farthingale Rolls and French Wheel Farthingales, were reconstructed using historical techniques and experimental methodologies. The first section outlines my methodological approach to reconstructing these ephemeral garments, exploiting archival and printed records, visual sources, and knowledge of seventeenth-century sewing techniques. The second section focuses on the experience of reconstruction and shows how this process allows the historian to form tacit knowledge. This section also raises questions and provides answers about artisanal design practices such as reflective rationality, embodied experiences, and tacit skills that cannot be accessed in other ways. Finally, this article shows how reconstruction can inform understandings of the embodied experiences of dressing and wearing. Dressing the female body in the reconstructed underskirts discussed in this article made it possible to observe the garments’ practical realities and challenge polemical historical sources concerning fashionable sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European dress.

Keywords: reconstruction, dress, farthingales, experimental dress methodology, embodied knowledge

 

Publication Details:

https://doi.org/10.1080/1362704X.2019.1603862

 

Click here to read the Article in Fashion Theory

Bodies or Stays? Underwear or Outerwear? Seventeenth-century Foundation Garments explained.

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Bodies and Stomacher of Dame Elizabeth Filmer (front), c. 1630-1650. Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester

What should we call the torso-shaping female foundation garments of the seventeenth century? Were they pairs of bodies? Bodices? Stays? Moreover, how were they worn? Were they underwear or were the outerwear?

This post was inspired by a question that I saw written on an Instagram post uploaded by the very talented Morgan Donner about a pattern from the new Patterns of Fashion 5:

“17th Century things are so 😍… one thing I’m curious about is that I’ve seen boned bodices for gowns, and then stays, and then stays with sleeves. I assume the latter are basically worn as “tops”, and that boned gown bodices obviously wouldn’t have stays under them… so are the stays only for under the lovely embroidered jackets and such?”

This question inspired me to make this post to clear the air, not just about terminology, but also in an attempt to answer this question as it is much more complicated than it seems!

 

Bodies or Stays?

As any long term followers of my blog and my research my have surmised, I rarely use the term “stays” when I talk about sixteenth and seventeenth-century foundation garments, even though museums and other publications almost always do. Randle Holme’s famous 1688 manual most famously makes the distinction between “smooth covered stays” and “stitched stays”, something which Jenny Tiramani emphasises in the new Patterns of Fashion 5: The content, cut, construction and context of bodies, stays, hoops and rumps c.1595-1795.

Why then do I not use the term stays when so many others do? Well, in my almost six years of archival research  I have never seen the term “stays” used in historical documents to refer to these garments until at least the 1680s.

The term stays does appear in the records from the middle of the century, however, it always refers to the stiffening in the garments that are being made – not to the garments themselves. Artisan’s bills will often quote a total price for the garment and then break down the price of each component of that garment. For example, a tailor’s bill might look something like this:

A pair of bodies of crimson satin bodies with silver lace ______ 00 – 00 – 00
for 1 yard 1/2 of silk at 11s the yard ________ 00 – 00 – 00
for calico to the lining __________ 00 – 00 – 00
for silver lace to them __________ 00 – 00 – 00
for stayes and stiffenings __________ 00 – 00 – 00
for making and furnishing ___________ 00-00-00

Therefore, “stayes and stiffenings” refers to the materials used to stiffen these garments like whalebone, not to the actual garment itself. Additionally, “stays” referring to stiffening does not just appear in women’s clothing bills. I have also found references to “stay and buckram” in tailoring bills for menswear, such as a suit and coat from 1680 on this occasion.

This is why in my own research I use the terminology “bodies” or “pair of bodies” when I refer to these garments that would later come to be called stays and corsets. For me it is important to use the terminology that was used at the time, otherwise we are placing slightly anachronistic modern assumptions onto this clothing. This becomes especially important when it comes to answering the next question of this blog entry regarding the ambiguity of bodies as under or outer wear in the seventeenth century.

 

Underwear or Outerwear?

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As you can probably tell the early modern term “bodies” sounds an awful lot like the modern term “bodice”, and that is because the term bodice is derived from bodies! Anybody that has read early modern English sources before knows that was little to no standardised spelling at the time, and so words were regularly spelled different ways (even when they were only sentences apart). Thus, these are terms that are regularly conflated and used interchangeably in the archival sources from this century, there appears to be no rhyme or reason for most of the century as to what a “bodie” is vs a “bodice”, or whether one is an under garment or an outer garment.

In the seventeenth century there was not as firm of a distinction between under and outer wear as we see in later centuries when it came to bodies, or other items of women’s dress like petticoats. So “bodies” could be either outerwear or underwear, it all depended on a woman’s social status, the occasion she was dressing for, or maybe her own personal taste. Some surviving bodies from this century contain detachable sleeves (that are laced on with points), indicating that the uses of this garment were flexible, and its use could be easily manipulated depending on the situation it was worn in.

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Bodies with detachable sleeves, pink watered silk trimmed with pink silk taffeta ribbons, English, c. 1660-1670. Victorian and Albert Museum, London

For example, for a formal event these pink bodies from the Victoria and Albert Museum may have been worn with sleeves and a skirt, but on other occasions the sleeves may have been taken off and the bodies worn underneath what we would now call a jacket (but at the time was known as a waistcoat). The use of detachable sleeves was probably borrowed from their use in sixteenth-century petticoats (which consisted of a skirt that was attached to a bodice, ie. “petticoat bodies”). For example, in the Dutch genre painting by Pieter de Hooch below, the woman standing in centre wears a waistcoat possibly over a pair of bodies, the woman sitting in front left wears a boned bodice and skirt, and finally the household servant in the background wears what appears to be a petticoat that contains a pair of attached yellow petticoat-bodies over her smock.

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Figures in a Courtyard behind a House, Pieter de Hooch, c. 1663 – c. 1665. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The particular decade of the seventeenth century being investigated is also important. For example, the 1660s saw the rise of the very rigid bodices that were retained for court wear in countries like France well into the eighteenth centuries. The highly boned nature of this garment meant that separately boned bodies were not needed or worn underneath. However, I would be hesitant to claim that this means that under-bodies were discarded during these centuries – as this highly boned style was not universally worn, nor would it have been worn all the time, even by elite women.

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Ivory Satin Bodice, English, c. 1660-1669. Victorian and Albert Museum, London

Overall, there doesn’t seem to have been any hard or fast rules for how to wear bodies during the seventeenth century, and there definitely was not the major distinction between underwear and outerwear like there is in regards to stays later in the eighteenth century. However, there is still a lot to uncover, and I hope to tackle this question in my book that I am currently working on, so who knows, maybe soon I will have a better answer!

 

The Farthingale, Gender and the Consumption of Space in Elizabethan and Jacobean England | New Research Article

Abstract:

Farthingales were large stiffened structures placed beneath a woman’s skirts in order to push them out and enlarge the lower half of the body. During the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in England criticisms of these garments increasingly focused on their spatial ramifications, decrying their monstrous size and inconvenience. Nonetheless farthingales served important social and cultural functions for women in early modern England, shaping and defining status and wealth in both court and urban spaces. Using surviving textual and visual sources, as well as engaging with the process of historical dress reconstruction, this article argues that spatial anxieties relating to farthingales were less about the actual size of this garment and more related to older fears concerning the ability of farthingales to create intimate personal spaces around the female body, mask the appropriation of social status, and physically displace men. In turn, these anxieties led to the establishment of a common and enduring trope regarding the monstrous size of these garments as women in farthingales were perceived to be challenging their social and gendered place in the world.

Publication Details:

https://doi.org/10.1111/rest.12537

 

Click here to view Read-Only Version

* Please note that the read only link only works on desktops and laptops.

This read-only version has been shared in accordance with Wiley’s article sharing policy

Preparing raw wool for use in Early Modern Historical Dress Reconstruction

Man shearing a sheep, early sixteenth century. The British Library, Egerton 1147, f. 11v.

 

Wool was a commonly used natural material in early modern Europe. Besides being spun for use in cloth production and knitted garments (such as men’s felted flat caps), wool was also commonly used in structural garments as stuffing. My construction of a French farthingale roll and French wheel farthingale, made as part of my PhD research, required the use of wool as stuffing.

We know that some sort of stuffing like wool was used in the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries in the garments because wardrobe warrants, such as one for Elizabeth I dating from April 1581, specified its use:

“Item to Robrt Sipthorpe for making of a half verthingale and a rolle of peache color satten stuffed wt cotten woll whale bone and bent: for making of a half verthingale and a rolle of oringe tawnye & watchett damaske stuffed wt cotten woll whale bone & bent…”[1]

Like most early modern sources, terminology often becomes an issue when trying to decipher what materials were used and how. For example, in this wardrobe warrant it is not 100% obvious as to what “cotton wool” refers to. The fibre cotton as we know it was not unheard of in the sixteenth century, but it also was not very commonly used in garment production (although elite women like Elizabeth I would certainly have had access to this raw material from the Indian subcontinent).

Further compounding this uncertainty is that ‘cotton’ often referred to a type of woollen cloth in the sixteenth century.[2] Although these entries might certainly refer to raw cotton, it was probably more common for structured garments in England to be stuffed with wool, a natural fibre that was very readily available and a staple of English industry. As a result I chose to use wool instead of cotton to stuff the rolls of my French farthingale reconstructions.

Not only did I choose to use wool due to its ready availability in early modern England, but it was also easy for me to obtain because I was raised on a sheep farm in rural New South Wales, Australia.  So I asked my dad to put some wool aside for me next time he was shearing.

Raw, unwashed lambs wool

 

Preparing the Wool

One of the downsides of using this raw material though, especially when it comes from rural Australia, is that it contains a quite a lot of dirt and organic matter. So in order to use it for my reconstructions I had to wash and prepare it. However, as anyone who has ever worked with wool can attest, it is a temperamental fibre to wash. The first difficulty is that if wool is agitated too much in water it has a tendency to felt; great if that is your intention, but a pain if you just want to wash it. Secondly, wool fibres shrink at the high temperatures required to wash it correctly, so I ended up having to use twice as much wool as I thought I would need to allow for this shrinkage.

After chatting to other costumers I decided that the best way to wash and prepare my wool would be to buy some large laundry wash bags, stuff them with the wool and allow them to soak in a tub of hot soapy water (oil removing dish-washing liquid seems to be the best option here).

While these bags were soaking in the hot water I slightly agitated them every now and then, but not too much in case the wool felted together.

As you can see from the pictures the wool did shrink after being immersed in the hot water and A LOT of dirt came out. In fact, I had to repeat this soaking process about three times for each bag of wool in order to get it to a satisfactory state.

After getting the wool as clean as I possibly could, I laid it out on pavement in the hot summer sun to dry.

As you can see in the image above, the wool was still full of burrs and other organic plant matter. I did my best to pick out as much of this as possible, but I’m certain that some of it is sitting in my reconstructions, which is fine.

The wool when stuffed into my French farthingale roll reconstruciton

I hope this post has been helpful to anyone thinking of preparing their own raw wool for spinning or stuffing. If you have any tips or tricks that you use to prepare your wool, feel free to comment below and let us know!

[1] Wardrobe Warrant of Elizabeth I, 6 April 1581. The British Library, Egerton MS 2806, fol. 166r.

[2] Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth-century dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 36.

 

Rebato Collar, c. 1600-1625 | Part One: Pattern and Materials

William Larkin, Portrait of Grey Brydges, 5th Baron Chandos, of Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, c. 1615, Yale Center for British Art.

 

The structural fashions of the early modern period in Europe reached a peak at the turn of the seventeenth century. Women wore farthingales, whaleboned bodies and wired sleeves, whilst men donned puffy hose and peascod-bellied doublets. Whilst the ruff, a gathered and starched linen frill that was worn around the neck, was still widely worn, at the beginning of the seventeenth century a new type of standing linen collar became fashionable. Like the ruff before them, these accessories forced the wearers, both male and female, to keep their head held high as they slightly impeded normal neck and head movement. These standing collars also halo-ed the head with bright white, sometimes translucent, linen or silk that was often trimmed with expensive bobbin lace. As a result, early modern neck wear such as ruffs and standing collars  projected aristocratic ideas of wealth, power and prestige.

The rebato, also known as a piccadill and underproper (in England) and a suportasse (in France) was a stiffened support for a standing ruff or collar. These accessories were often made from wire or pasteboard that was covered in silk. Although “piccadills” or “piccadilly collars” appear commonly in English sources, it seems that “rebato”, an Italian term, was most commonly used in England to refer to those collar supports that were made from wire.[1] Unlike the structures made from board and silk, the rebato, with its intricate wire motifs, loops and scallops was both a collar support and a decorative neck ornament.[2]

There are well preserved examples of these stiffened collar supports in many museums in Europe. For example, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has three examples of piccadills and supportasses made from pasteboard or cardboard.

Fig. 1 Picadil of silk satin, pasteboard and silk thread. English, c. 1600-1615, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Fig. 2. Supportasse of linen, silk, whaleboe, card, wire and linen thread. English, c. 1595-1615, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Fig. 3. Supportasse of cardboard, silk, linen, silk and linen thread. English, c. 1600-1625, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Tutorials on how to recreate two of these collar supports, the piaccdill in figure 1 and the supportasse in figure 2, are featured in Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two for anyone who is interested in constructing these particular types of collar support.

At least three examples of the wired rebato exist in European and American collections:

Fig. 4. Rebato of wire, metal-thread bobbin lace, cotton, French, c. early 17th-century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Fig. 5. Rebato or supportasse of wire, bobbin lace, silk and metallic thread. French, c. 1625-1640, Musée national de la Renaissance-Chateau d’Écouen, Paris. [2]

Fig. 6. Rebato of wire and embroidered silk, German?, c. 1615-1625, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich. [2]

Pattern

As no patterns for these wire frames exist (as far as I’m aware) my rebato is based on a pattern drafted by myself using the rebato from the Musée national de la Renaissance-Chateau d’Écouen in Paris (fig. 5) as inspiration.

The linen standing collar was based primarily on a portrait of a young French woman by an Unknown painter (if you know who painted this and where it currently held please let me know!).

Painting of a Young Woman, unknown, c. early seventeenth century

I also used the standing collar pattern in The Tudor Tailor as a guide and took much inspiration from the rebato made by the Couture Courtesan on her blog.

Materials

Rebatos in museum collections are made from varying types of metal wire, including iron wrapped in silver gilt or gilded copper wire. So, for the outer frame of my rebato I decided to use a relatively thick galvanised tie wire that I picked up from my local hardware store. This was to make sure that the rebato would be sturdy and keep its shape.  For the intricate loops and inner frame I chose to use two sizes of copper jewellery wire, as this was easy to bend and mould into any desired shape.

Ruffs, standing collars, and later, falling bands, were usually made from fine linen or silk. So for the collar I chose to use a lightweight linen fabric. As I was making this for an event I didn’t have enough time to buy period accurate lace from the somewhere like the Tudor Tailor Shop. Instead I found some period-looking 3cm wide guipure lace, which is a type of bobbin lace and was known as Genoese lace in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and used this instead.

Additional tools needed were: pliers and a wire-cutter, as well as thread (I used a cotton thread; silk or linen would be more period accurate). As I was pushed for time I also cheated a little on the linen collar and machined sewed parts where a straight running or back stitch would have been used.

Make sure to stay tuned for my next blog post as I’ll be outlining how I constructed the metal rebato frame.

 

[1]  Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, eds., Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two (London, V&A Publishing, 2012), p. 100.

[2] Denis Bruna, ed., La Mécanique des Dessous: Une Histoire indiscrete de la Silhouette (Paris: Les Arts Décoratifs, 2013), pp. 75-78.

Early Modern Upcycling: Eighteenth-century shoes from the Joseph Box Collection at MAAS

The Museum of Arts and Applied Sciences (MAAS) in Sydney, formerly the Powerhouse Museum, has an amazing collection of shoes that range from medieval work shoes to modern haute couture. The Joseph Box shoemaking archive forms the core of the collection, and when I was a curatorial volunteer in the design and textiles department I was able to view one of the more interesting pieces from this collection.

According to the museum’s curatorial notes the construction of these shoes is as follows: “Women’s pair of straight laced shoes of rand construction with visible stitching and upcurved blunt pointed over needlepoint toe and covered Louis heel. Uppers consist of embroidered linen, lined with silk and leather, featuring a high cut vamp with square tongue, under latchets tieing in centre front, oblique side seams, centre back seam and leather soles. Edges bound in pink silk and uppers decorated with silver scrolls and silk flowers embroidered in the centres.”[1]

Interestingly the design of these shoes leans to a production date in England in the early eighteenth century, around 1705-1715. Now, I’m sure any of my readers that are familiar with seventeenth and eighteenth-century fashions will note that the embroidery motifs on these shoes certainly do not resemble those of the eighteenth century. On close inspection you can see that the embroidery detail features strawberries, rosehips, carnations, thistles and cornflowers that are framed by metallic-thread scrolls.

Indeed when footwear specialist June Swann was invited to view them at the Museum she noted that: “Although shoes were made “straight” and would normally have been swapped daily to equalise wear, each shoe has been pieced at the bunion joint where wear would be greatest, if worn continually on the same foot. There is no evidence the piecing was done after the present soles were attached. This suggests that the uppers were either made into shoes on a previous occasion (probably not before the late 17th century when women’s toe shapes change to a point) or, less likely, that the uppers were pieced during the making of this pair.”[2]

Pair of embroidered linen laced shoes, c. 1710, English. Sydney: Powerhouse Museum, H4448-7

The presence of piecing in the fabric of the shoes indicates that they were most likely made from another older garment. Going purely off the embroidery, it seems that these shoes have been made from an early seventeenth-century garment, possibly a coif, but it is more likely that they were made from an Elizabethan or Jacobean embroidered waistcoat, of which many examples have survived.

Take for example the embroidered motifs on these linen waistcoats from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

This woman’s waistcoat dates from 1600-1625 and features silk embroidery with spangles that depict “honeysuckle, pansies, carnations, foxgloves, borage, strawberries, cornflowers, rosehips, thistles, columbine and vine leaves.”[3] Silver-gilt thread scrolls frame these floral motifs which was characteristic of this style of Jacobean design.

Waistcoat (detail), c. 1600-1625, English. London: Victorian and Albert Museum, 1359-1900

The second waistcoat has a slightly larger date range of 1590-1630 but contains the same sort of silk floral embroidery motifs of “spring sweet peas, oak leaves, acorns, columbine, lilies, pansies, borage, hawthorn, strawberries and honeysuckle.”[4]

As with the previous waistcoat and with most embroidered garments from this period, the floral motifs are framed by embroidered scroll work.

Waistcoat (detail), c. 1590-1630, English. London: Victorian and Albert Museum, 919-1873

How an intricate embroidered waistcoat came to made into a pair of shoes in the early eighteenth century remains a mystery. However, as all dress historians of the early modern period will attest, there are few surviving extant clothing examples, not only due to the age and fragility of these items, but also because many were often remade into other items.

Fabric, particularly silk embroidery, was extremely expensive during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and so early modern people were the thriftiest up-cyclers. Embroidered shoes were also highly fashionable at the start of the eighteenth century, as this other pair of shoes in the Box collection shows. However, as you can see from this example, the style of embroidery, while still focused on floral designs, is much different to that other the early seventeenth century.

Instead of paying for a brand new pair of shoes then, clearly for the original owner of these thought it was cheaper to remake a family heirloom into some fashionable eighteenth-century footwear.

 

References

[1] ‘Pair of embroidered linen laced shoes’, MAAS Museum <https://collection.maas.museum/object/239814&gt;

[2] ‘Pair of embroidered linen laced shoes’, MAAS Museum <https://collection.maas.museum/object/239814&gt;

[3] ‘Jacket, c. 1600-1625’, Victoria and Albert Museum <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O15345/jacket-unknown/&gt;

[4] ‘Jacket, c. 1590-1630’, Victoria and Albert Museum <http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O80226/jacket-unknown/&gt;

 

 

 

Apologies & an update!

I just realised that it has been ages since I last posted anything, so apologies to all my blog followers! The last four months has been so hectic and now I’m only a few weeks away from submitting my PhD!
After I submit my PhD and mark my students exams I promise to continue writing my tutorial on making a French farthingale roll.

But until then, here is a blog post on my reconstructions that I wrote for the University of Sydney History Department’s blog.

As well as a sneak peek of the awesome photos of my reconstructions by my friend Georgie Blackie, as well as a behind the scenes video!

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