17th century, Jacobean, Stuart

Sittingbourne Bodies, c. 1630-1650 | Part One: Pattern and Materials

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I recently announced that my first research monograph, Shaping Femininity, is now under contract with Bloomsbury Academic. Featured in the book will be the reconstructions of bodies that I did during my PhD (and began blogging about on this site in 2015!), as well as some newer reconstructions. My reconstructions, including farthingales, feature predominately in chapters on making and wearing.

One of the additional reconstructions that I am doing for the book are a pair of bodies dating to the first half of the seventeenth century from the town of Sittingbourne in Kent. These bodies were found under the floorboards of an old tavern called the Plough Inn in Sittingbourne and form part of a larger body of deliberately conceal garments that were found in the building when it was demolished, such as a breeches, shoes and felt hat. They have been heavily worn and contain multiple patches and repairs.

 

The Pattern

The pattern that I am using for my reconstruction is one that was taken by Armelle Lucas and Jenny Tiramani from the School of Historical Dress and can be found in the recently published Patterns of Fashion 5: The Content, Cut, Construction & Context of Bodies, Stays, Hoops & Rumps c. 1595-1795.[1] The Sittingbourne bodies consist of four parts: three main sections plus a stomacher. There are a total of five tabs that spread over the hips. The shoulder straps fasten the same way as the effigy bodies at the front, but these straps sit more on the edge of the shoulders keeping in fashion with the off-the-shoulder fashions of the late 1620s onward.

My understanding of the pattern taken by the School of Historical Dress is also informed by my own examination of the bodies in Sittingbourne. As PoF 5 points out, there was definitely a stomacher that accompanied the bodies, only a fragment of which survives. As we only have this small fragment, I have based the shape and design of the stomacher on it and the stomachers of two bodies that are somewhat contemporary to this pair – the Dame Filmer Bodies and the Pink bodies at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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Bottom of the stomacher
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Pair of silk stays c. 1660-1680 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

The Materials

The Sittingbourne bodies are made from two layers of twill woven linen and are double bound in leather, sewn in linen thread. They are boned with whalebone, which is visible in various places where the bodies have been damaged.

As all the reconstructions detailed on this blog are primarily for academic research and experimentation, rather than for actual wear (everyday, costume, cosplay, or otherwise), in this reconstruction I decided to experiment by using two types of linen. The first is a plain weave natural linen that I have used for both the lining and outer of the stomacher and one panel of the bodies, and a twill-weave linen for the lining and outside of the rest of the garment pieces.

My main reason for doing so was because I wanted to test how the weave of the fabric affects the garment – both in making and wearing. As most sewers and historians who are familiar with later nineteenth-century corsets would know, it was common for a strong twill woven cotton like coutil to be used. These thicker, twill woven fabrics lend themselves more to everyday wear (there’s a reason denim, a twill cotton fabric, was originally work wear!), especially garments that are worn tightly on the body and prone to strain, such as corsets.

For all my reconstructions of all the pairs of bodies documented on this blog I chose to use a modern plastic dressmaking boning and plastic cable ties. Both of these materials mimic baleen’s properties, which is why I have chosen to go the synthetic whalebone route over the more historically accurate bents/reeds.

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Raw Baleen

The widths of the whalebone channels in the original are very narrow (1/8″ or about 3 mm), with some larger bones around the eyelets 3/8″ wide (9.5 mm).[2] Due to the constraints of the sizes that modern plastic “whalebone” come in, each boning channel will be 6 mm-wide to accommodate this 5 mm boning and 11 mm wide to accommodate 10 mm-wide boning strips. These are similar channel widths to those found on the 1603 effigy bodies, so although not completely accurate for this particular reconstruction they are somewhat accurate for the century.

The original bodies have also been double bound with sheeps leather. Taking inspiration from this garment and the effigy bodies at Westminster Abbey, that were bound by strips of green leather with a suede finish, I am using a soft un-dyed suede lambs leather to bind my reconstruction.[3]

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Make sure to stay tuned for part two!

References

[1] Janet Arnold, Jenny Tiramani, Luca Costigliolo, Sébastien Passot, Armelle Lucas and Johanne Pietsch, Patterns of Fashion 5: The content, cut, construction and context of bodies, stays, hoops and rumps c. 1595-1795 (London: School of Historical Dress, 2018), 46-7.

[2] Arnold, et al., Patterns of Fashion 5, 47.

[3] Janet Arnold, ‘The ‘pair of straight bodies’ and ‘a pair of drawers’ dating from 1603 which Clothe the Effigy of Queen Elizabeth I in Westminster Abbey’, Costume, Vol. 41 (2007), p. 1-3/

 

16th century, 17th century, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Research Publications, Stuart

Shaping Femininity – Forthcoming monograph with Bloomsbury

I have recently signed my contract so I am so delighted to announce that my first book based on much of the research that this blog showcases will be published by Bloomsbury Academic/Visual Arts.

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Shaping Femininity is the first large-scale study of the materiality, production, consumption, and meanings of foundation garments for women in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. The desirable body during this period was achieved by using four types of foundation garments: bodies and busks and farthingales and bum-rolls. It was this structured female silhouette, first seen in sixteenth-century fashionable dress, that existed in various extremes in Western Europe and beyond until the early twentieth century. By utilising a wide array of archival and early printed materials, visual sources and material objects, as well as historical reconstruction, Shaping Femininity reorients discussions about female foundation garments by exploring the nuances of these items of material culture in the context of their own times. It argues that these objects of material culture shaped understandings of the female body and of ideas of beauty, social status, health, sexuality, and modesty in early modern England, and thus, enduring western notions of femininity.

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I’m very excited to be publishing with Bloomsbury and to bring audiences an accessible academic book. At the moment it is early stages, but make sure to keep an eye on this space for more details about release date, etc.