Elizabethan Corset Generator Upgrade!

My girlfriend jokes that my main webiste , Elizabethancostume.net, looks like it was written in the 90s. That’s because it was; and I am guilty of leaving well enough alone, for the most part.

The Elizabethan Corset Pattern Generator was one of the first pages on my website. It’s been around for 20+ year now. It dates from a time before javascript and css, and is made of truly ancient perl calls to an even more ancient c graphics library.

It’s been in need of an upgrade for a very long time, and finally, at long last, it’s happened! The Pattern generator has been rewritten in javascript and svg. It now includes an option for centimeter measurements as well as inches.


The Brand-New Refurbished Shiny Elizabethan Costume Generator

Making Brigandine Leg Armor

For those who want to make custom-fitted armor but don’t have access to an armoring shop, these leather brigandine legs can be made using basic tools without any special equipment.

To make them, you will need the following supplies:


  • A silver sharpie for marking the leather
  • Posterboard for making the pattern
  • Garment-weight leather (5-7 oz), about 5 square feet
  • 1 yard of heavy fabric to line the leather legs: cotton canvas, denim or linen all work.
  • 12-oz aluminum sheeting for the plates
  • Lots of rivets, preferably  200 rivets so you have a few extra. We used the Medium Double-Cap Steel Rivets from Tandy Leather; others have used old-fashioned rivets with washers, or even roofing nails.
  • @3 feet of Leather strapping for the buckles and straps. We used black ¾ inch cowhide strips from Tandy.
  • 4 buckles for the straps. We used  center bar roller buckles from Tandy.
  • Brads (from Office max—they are the two-pronged metal things put through the holes in notebook paper to hold bunches of paper together)


  • A jigsaw with a metal-cutting blade
  • A good drill
  • A belt sander and 80-grit sandpaper
  • Tin snips
  • A reamer
  • A rivet setter
  • A sewing machine with a leather needle and heavy-duty upholstery-weight thread
  • A scratch awl
  • Leather contact-cement glue
  • Scissors

Step 1: Make the Pattern

Using posterboard, paper, cardboard or other material, wrap it around your leg and create a pattern for the leg armor. The highest point of the leg should come to the outside of the hip joint. Make sure that the top of the leg armor is low enough that it doesn’t dig into the top of your leg or crotch area at any point. The edges of the leg should meet at a point between the back of the leg and the inside of the leg. There should be about an inch of space between the edges of the leg.


Once you have your pattern, mark the front center line and the back center line. Wrap the pattern around your right leg and label the outside “right”. Flip the pattern around, wrap it around your left leg and label that side of the pattern “left”. This will be the pattern for the leather legs.

13781988_134108227023370_7457639959776475223_nTo create the pattern pieces for the metal plates, trace this pattern on some more poster board. Draw a line ½ inch inside the original pattern, and draw vertical lines dividing this into 8 roughly even pieces.  The metal plates should have ¼ to 3/8 of an inch of space between them. Cut out the pieces for the metal plates, numbering them 1 to 8. Label one side of a pattern 1L, flip it over, and label the other side 1R. Label the top and bottom of the pattern pieces as well. Then draw a line down the center of each piece and, starting ½ an inch from the bottom, mark a hole there. Measure up 1 inch and mark another. Continue marking a hole every inch until you get to the top.  Punch out the holes with a nail or needle, and expand the hole with a scratch awl.

Cut out the plate pieces and lay them on top of the posterboard pattern for the leather leg. There should be half an inch of space around the edges of the leather leg pattern, and ¼-3/8 of an inch of space between the plates.

Make the leather legs

13775604_134107867023406_6922475158702632202_nLay the leg pattern down on the inside of your leather and draw around it with a silver sharpie. If the side of the pattern pressed against the leather said “Right”, label this piece “right”. If it said “left”, label this piece “left”. Transfer the markings for the center front and center back from the pattern onto the leather.

Cut out the leather piece about half an inch outside the silver lines.

Lay the same leg pattern down on the lining canvas/linen fabric. Draw around the edges of a pattern with a pencil, and cut on this line. There is no seam allowance for the lining.

Cover the inside of the leather piece with contact cement, out to the silver sharpied lines. Lay the linen onto the inside of the leather leg piece, matching up the edges of the piece with the silver sharpie lines. Put a piece of saran wrap over both pieces and rest a heavy weight on them for at least 5 minutes. Take the saran wrap off and let the glue dry.



Where the leather curves in, cut snips in the leather just to the linen lining. Where the leather curves out, cut notches. Brush contact cement onto the edge of the leather, and fold it over the linen and press it into place. We used clips to help hold the leather down as it dried.





Once dried, sew the leather edging down. Use a leather needle in your sewing machine with heavy duty upholstery thread, and use a long stitch (4-stitches per inch or longer) to avoid perforating the leather overmuch. Stitch around the edges of the leg ½ to 3/8 inches in from the edge, stitching the leather edging down to the linen.


Make the Aluminum Plates

We used aluminum because we didn’t have the tools for cutting and shaping steel.

The aluminum sheeting will be covered with a layer of plastic on both sides. Leave this on until you’re actually riveting each piece to the legs.

For each pattern piece, lay it on the aluminum and trace around it with a sharpie. Mark the holes down the center of each piece with a sharpie as well.

Flip the pattern piece over and repeat. You should end up with sixteen pattern pieces. Where possible, line the pattern pieces up on the aluminum so that you can cut as many straight lines as possible.


Drill the holes before cutting out the pieces. We used a ¼ inch drill bit. Make sure that the rivets you have will fit through the holes without too much extra space, but not too tightly.

Cut out each piece with the jigsaw. Snip the corners with tin snips, and grind the edges with your belt sander, using 80-grit sandpaper. Ream out the holes with a reamer. You want to get rid of any sharp edges that could wear on the leather legs (or on you!)


Sand the edges and corners with a belt sander to remove rough edges


Use a deburring tool to remove  burrs from the drilled holes

Use a deburring tool to remove burrs from the drilled holes


If possible, you will want to curve each plate a bit for comfort and fit as it wraps around your leg. If you can find a wooden stump, create a groove in it with a belt sander and/or carve out the groove with a chisel. Take each piece, and hammer it into this groove with a ball peen hammer to shape it. (It’s best to try this on a couple of scrap pieces first to get the hang of it.)


Testing the fit

Lay the aluminum pieces down on the leather on top of a piece of wood. There should be some space between each aluminum piece, and a bit of room around the outside edges.

Using your scratch awl and a hammer, hammer through the top and bottom hole of each plate, through the leather, into the wood. With the awl, stretch the hole a bit. Then slip a brad through the leather and the plate at the top and bottom, splitting the two metal pieces of the brad to hold the two together. Once you’ve done this to all eight pieces, hold it up and wrap it around the leg. Make sure that the aluminum pieces fit and don’t bind or lock along the edges. If it is too stiff and won’t bend to wrap it around your leg you will need more space between the metal plates.


Riveting the metal plates

Once you’ve confirmed that everything fits, replace the brads with rivets. Rivet the top and bottom  hole of a plate. Then hammer the awl through the other holes, poke the awl back through from the leather side to stretch the hole, and put in the rest of the rivets for each plate.


Inventories, Warrants, Gifts and Day Books: the underpinnings of Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe

I have just begun my two week photography blitz at the National Archives.

There’s a lot there to photograph. My goal? To obtain photographic copies of all records relating to Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe that I don’t already have copies of, and to eventually transcribe them all and add them to Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded database.

The National Archives has changed dramatically in the 12 years since I’ve been there. Their document ordering system has evolved from slips of paper to the swipe of a card and a few clicks on a keyboard. And they now have photography stands available, which allowed me to tear through 1,563 photographs in seven hours! (My back doesn’t thank me, but I’m sure that posterity will.)

There are a lot of documents out there–a huge amount–and a lot of them are pretty obscure. So this is a post about that information: the inventories, warrants, day books and other surviving pieces of documentary evidence left by the blessedly bureaucratic clerks of Elizabethan England. What they are, what they contain, and how you can find them.

Wardrobe Inventories

Anyone who’s reached a certain point in their research of 16th century dress has acquired a copy of Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, by Janet Arnold. As well as being a masterpiece of scholarship, It contains the combined transcription of three inventories of Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe taken at (or a few years after) the time of her death.

inventorystowe The Stowe Inventory at the British Library (and the copy of it held at the National Archives, LR 2/121) and the smaller companion inventory kept at the Folger are one of the best known sources of information to modern costumers; largely because Arnold’s book is centered around it, drawing material for much of what she tells us about Queen Elizabeth’s Dress. And it is a staggering tribute to sartorial genius: 99 mantles, 67 french and round gowns, a hundred loose gowns, and kirtles, petticoats, farthingales, safeguards and cloaks by the gross. All of it described in loving detail that fires the imagination:

Item one rounde gowne of cloth of siluer wrought with purple and yellowe silke laide aboute and downerighte with a brode passamaine lace of venice golde and siluer with buttons and loupes of like golde siluer pipes and small seede pearle.

Although these inventories are wonderful for providing a look under the skirts of the Queen’s wardrobe at a particular point in time and have provided an invaluable amount of documentary evidence,their snapshot nature prevents them from illuminating other aspects of the Queen’s wardrobe. Such as: how did it change? How did her color and style preferences shift over the years? How was everything made? How much of what materials were used? What percentage of her wardrobe was made new, vs. altered from older garments? To answer these questions, we turn to:

Wardrobe Warrants

The warrants are the workhorse of Elizabeth’s wardrobe records. They are full of information about countless aspects of Elizabethan court life and dress. To understand them, though, we first need to know a bit about how the whole paper trail of Elizabeth’s Royal Household worked.

Because the materials and fabrics used by the wardrobe were so expensive–a velvet gown, in the 16th century, was the equivalent of a wearable ferrari–everything had to be kept track of.  Whenever a garment was made or altered for the queen, the wardrobe clerk added a record to the ongoing record book describing the garment, what was done to it, and how much fabric of what kind was used, at what cost. When supplies were bought from drapers, clothiers and haberdashers, this too was noted: exactly how much of what kind of trim was purchased, and how much it cost. Even the linen used to make laundry bags made it into this comprehensive list. Any carpentry work or ironwork done on the coffers and chests that held the wardrobe’s clothing, the work needed to carry clothes back and forth from the wardrobe to the castle–all of this was carefully noted in the records of the Wardrobe of Robes. The clothing and shoes dispersed to poor women on Maundy was also listed.

And that’s not all. There was also the Wardrobe of Beds, which kept track of cloth and supplies used to make furniture, curtains, beddings, and other household textile goods. Stable warrants recorded every bit of leather, fabric and metal used to make caparisons and tack for the hundreds of royal horses: both working horses, like those used to carry supplies on progress, as well as the coursers and steeds for ladies and gentlewomen.

Any clothing made for the queen’s servants were also described and the amount and type of cloth used carefully noted: livery for yeomen, coachmen, littermen, footmen, gentlemen of the privy chamber, gentlewomen of the bedchamber–all received payment in part with cloth or clothing, and all of them ended up in the records. Many of these boilerplate warrants were called “warrant dormants”, which were written up and filled in with names and particulars when they were put to use. Give to _______ ___ yards of black satin for livery.”

The queen’s heralds and pursuivants were also dispensed clothing and cloth from the royal wardrobe store. And any time a lord was made a member of the order of the Garter, a set of garter robes was made up for him–all recorded in dutifully loving detail in the wardrobe clerk’s notes. Linen for the chapel alter and the choirboy’s robes? Hangings for the parliament chamber? These too were written up. Even clothing made for prisoners in the Tower of London, and clothing and furnishings made for visits by foreign royalty, make an appearance in the warrants.

And then there’s the one-offs. If a courtier or some other people was given a gift of a gown, or cloth for a gown, by the queen, a warrant would be written up and signed by her or one of her functionaries, to be delivered to the wardrobe staff. These warrants were also frequently transcribed into the clerk’s book; though sometimes they weren’t.

Let’s not forget the Revels Warrants for the plays and theatrical performances put on by the court. Although Elizabeth perferred plays, there were still tailors and artificers tasked with building the sets and costumes for various productions put on during the holidays, and their expenses, like those of the Wardrobe of Robes and Beds and the Stable, were catalogued in detail.
Needless to say, the 500+ large pages of paper ordered by the wardrobe every six months (with their purchase noted in the records) did not go to waste.

So: Wardrobe of Robes warrants. Maundy warrants. Livery warrants. Warrants Dormant. Stable Warrants. Revels Warrants. Warrants for the Order of the Garter. Warrants for Heralds dress. Warderobe of Beds warrants. Warrants for the chapel and parliament chamber. Still with me?

latinwarrantIf you are, and if you want a look at some of these toothsome documents, you’re in luck. Every year, the working copies kept by the various wardrobe clerks for all of these departments were carefully transcribed into a bound book, in full detail; all of the information described above was included. (Aside from the Revels warrants.) The copies were signed by the clerk or assigns, and these books, due to a wonderful stroke of fortune, are available to us today at the National Archives. They are LC 9/53, the warrant for 1558-1559, through LC 9/95, for the last year of Elizabeth’s reign.

The catch? They’re in Latin. All of them. So if you do want to find out exactly how much material was used for a petticoat in 1570, or who the ladies of the bedchamber were and how much fabric they received, you’re going to have to reach for that Latin Dictionary.

englishwarrantBut don’t lose hope! these yearly compilations were themselves condensed and transcribed into english, and these documents, too, are at the National Archives.  LC 5/32 holds the qcollected warrants for Queen Elizabeth’s reign up to 1560; LC 5/33 has 1560-1567, LC 5/34 1567-1575, LC 5/35 is 1575-1585, LC 5/36 is 1585-1593, and LC 5/37 is 1593 through the end of the reign.
Although the sense remains, the detail of the english warrants doesn’t match that of the Latin warrants. The English transcription also discards some of the livery information, such as the fabric given to the gentlemen of the privy chamber and the gentlewomen of the bedchamber.
For example, a Latin Warrant of 1568, in LC 9/60, has the following:

To Walter Fish for making a gown of the french fashion of murrey tissue welted with murrey velvet…the edges edged with fringe lace of gold and silver of our store, lined with crimson sarcenet with bayes in the pleats, with vents of fustian and frieze in the ruffs of our great warderobe. 40 shillings. For 8 yards of crimson sarcenet for lining the same at 6 shillings the yard. For 2 yards of baies for lining the pleats at 4 shillings the yard For a yard of fustian for the vents 16 pence  for  7 yards of frieze for lining the ruffs 12 pence

While the English transcription from LC 5/34 reads:

To Walter Fyshe our Tayler for makinge of a Frenche gowne of murrey Tissue welted with murrey veluet of our store…laied on the edges with Frindge lace of gold and siluer lyned with Crimsen Sarcenet and baies in the plaites with ventes of Fustian and frize in the ruffs of our great warderobe.

And these English transcriptions of the Latin transcription? The 1568-1585 warrants from the LC series were themselves transcribed into a larger volume, now called MS Egerton 2806. This book, combined with the Stowe Inventory, forms the backbone of Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, and together are the source for the great majority of the primary evidence contained in the book. This is browseable online as well.

New Years Gifts

giftrollNot everything the queen wore was made by her artificers. The traditional New Years’ Gift Exchange was also an avenue into the wardrobe. Usually courtiers gave the Queen gold coins in a decorated pouch, but some gave her items of clothing: smocks, partlets, sleeves, handkerchiefs, scarves, petticoats, foreparts. Most of the gifts were smaller items of clothing, suited to being highly decorated but not requiring a real fit. Some of these garments were accepted and worn; others were accepted and kept for years without seeing any use, until they were listed in the posthumous inventory of Elizabeth’s wardrobe as

“Item one foreparte of white Satten embrodered allover with venice gold syluer and Carnacion silke in squares and flowers Chevernewise unmade.”

We don’t have a full record of all the New Year’s gifts received by the queen. The records, one roll per year, are now scattered about the globe; A couple at the National Archives, one at the Folger Library, and one even turned up in the Dallas Public Library. Some of them have been made available online. And thanks to the Herculean research and saintly persistence of Jane Lawson, the information from all known Gift Rolls–26 of them–are gathered together in her recently published book,The Elizabethan New Year’s Gift Exchanges, 1559-1603

The Day Book

daybookAnother record exists of what went on in the wardrobe: specifically, how items left the wardrobe. a single existing Day Book remains from the wardrobe of robes, containing detailed records of all gowns and cloth given out of the wardrobe (usually to one of Elizabeth’s Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber or Maids of Honor) as well as a listing of each and every item found missing from one of her garments. Given the number of pearls, spangles and jewels loaded on gowns like her “frenche gowne of riche golde tissue with a border of purple satten allouer enbrodered with…pearle lined with purple Taphata”, these entries were frequent: buttons, pearls, jewels, hairpins, aglets, all of them accidental largesse distributed by the queen during her daily round. This document is also in the National Archives, listed as C 115/91, and published by Janet Arnold as Lost from her Majestie’s Back.

Miscellaneous Warrants

miscwarrantThese are found everywhere, in a variety of manuscripts. A good number are collected at the British Library in MS Add 5751a: Individual, one-page warrants directing the queen’s tailor to make gowns for her Maids of Honor, or a night gown for her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, or to make six petticoats of various rich crimson fabrics. The content of some of these individual warrants may show up in abbreviated form in one of the Latin or English compiled wardrobe accounts; or they may not.


And finally, there is correspondence. Nuggets of information on Elizabeth’s wardrobe can be found here, though truly interesting information is rare. The well known letter from the young Elizabeth’s nurse to the King begs him to give her charge money for apparal,

for she hath neither gown, not kirtle nor sleeves, nor railes, nor body stitchets, nor handkerchiefs, nor mufflers nor biggins.

In 1577, Sir Amias Paulet sent Walsingham a letter mentioning that he

Sends a farthingale such as now used by the French Queen and the Queen of Navarre

…most likely a french farthingale, which first makes its appearance in the Queen’s wardrobe accounts three years later.

There are always more bits of information showing up here and there…but the above sources are the main ones available for serious students of dress. My goal to provide complete coverage of Elizabeth’s wardrobe throughout her reign is progressing; some of the inventories from the end of her reign are available, as are copies of the warrants from 1568-1593. I’m currently working on finishing a transcription of the 1593-1603 warrants, and will then turn to the beginning of her reign and transcribe the warrants from 1558-1568.

And then? Get a copy of the full Stowe Inventory and the Day book transcribed, as well as all of the wardrobe records relating to the Queen’s coronation; and then, perhaps, I’ll start on some of the Latin accounts.

All of which will be in my camera by the time I leave England…


Queen Elizabeth in Cyberspace

As you may or may not know, I am–by day–a mild mannered computer programmer, whose job is to devise ways for billions of records to be processed, sorted, analyzed, linked and visualized using the latest and greatest supercomputing technology.

A far cry from Historic Dress, one might be tempted to think. But I’ve found ways to merge my two interests: the Elizabethan Corset Pattern Generator was one of the earlier ones, and my forays into Synonym and Sounds-like searching of historic texts is another.

My most recent all-consuming synthesis of costume and computing is my Wardrobe Concordance. This is a cunning master plan which, at its current rate, should see completion somewhere around 2030.

Cunning Plan Step the first: Here, take this shovel.

Find, Transcribe (or get transcriptions by others) of all the original manuscripts describing Elizabeth I’s wardrobe, and load them into Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Uploaded. Enter in new synonyms for words (like “verdingall” for farthingale, “crammoisy” for crimson, etc) into the glossary as I come across them, so that odd or unusual words are highlighted with their definition available if one hovers over the word.

This step is coming along; I’ve gotten, I would say, about half of Elizabeth’s wardrobe accounts entered so far. As well as a couple of her inventories and a handful of Gift Rolls. There’s about 6,000 individual entries so far. I’m  halfway through the corpus; I still have to transcribe, upload and glossarize the 1593-1600 wardrobe warrants, a good copy of the Stowe Inventory, and the wardrobe warrants from 1558-1568 (which are in Latin. That’s going to be fun to learn).

It’s difficult, though; I come across so many other interesting texts and ideas for research that I’m continually distracted from my goal. I have, however, acquired a minion who also enjoys transcribing wardrobe warrants. Little did she know how addictive it would be! Which helps bring my goal a bit closer.

Cunning Plan Step the Second: Open the Wardrobe Doors, Hal.

Find a way to extract information from each entry so that they can be usefully analyzed.earched, analyzed, linked and visualized. What this means is taking an entry like:

Item to the said William Jones for makinge of a highe bodied gowne of greene veluet (for Thomasine our woman dwarf) laied with Siluer Lace the sleuis cut in panes the bodies styffened with canvas and buckeram and laied aboute with buckeram bordered with fustian and pocketts of fustian the bodies faced with Satten cut and lyned with sarcenet the playtes Lyned and a role of cotton with a paire of sleuis of Satten, cut and Lyned with Sarcenet

And turning it into the following:

Action: making. Garment: High bodied gown. Material: velvet. Color: green. Made by: William Jones. Made for: Thomasine de Paris. Date:1588. Lining: sarcenet. Facing: satin. Stiffening: canvas, buckram. Decoration: Silver lace. Garment sections: Sleeves, material satin, lining sarcenet, cut in panes. Bodice: stiffened with canvas,buckram. Roll, made of cotton.

This process is going to require several steps. First: standardizing spellings and terms across the corpus. This is fairly easy, using the glossary I’ve put together already. In fact, I’ve already done this.

The next step: parsing the text. Identifying words as garments, materials, colors, etc.; and, once that’s done, finding a way to figure out what is related to what. (lining material sarcenet, facing satin, sleeves are made of satin, etc.)

If I was rich, I would do what the EEBO did and farm the 10,000 entries like the above out to an offshore transcription company to crunch through.  But I’m not rich. I am something even better: a programmer.

A programmer who was graced by extraordinary serendipity in the past few weeks. At work, I was tasked with learning about Natural Language Processing, and figure out how to integrate it into our supercomputer platform so that we could run it against thousands of free texts simultaneously. This increased my knowledge base about how the heck one would parse this wardrobe data by a factor of ten in the first week alone, and brought me a lot closer to figuring out how it would have to be done.

And at the Folger Library last week, when I popped in to their 4 pm tea and chatted about this project with some of the people there, I was tipped off about two software programs: Morphadorner and Vard. Both of them were built to parse, standardize spelling, and extract meaning and entities from early english texts. I smacked myself on the head for forgetting the cardinal rule of problem-solving: the answer you seek is always available somewhere on the internet.

Cunning Plan Step the Third:  That’s not a moon, that’s a space station

I want to be able to link together all the records for a given gown.  This will  answer so many questions. How many gowns and garments did Elizabeth truly have, and in what proportions by type?  What sorts of alterations were most frequently done? How often were gowns altered? Were certain garments altered more frequently or mentioned more often, and could this be used to identify her preferences in clothing: favorite colors, styles, etc? Were there certain spans of time where a particular type of alteration was far more frequently seen than other times–like c. 1590, where “lengthening and widening” of skirts starts showing up with remarkable frequency, echoing the change in fashionable silhouette?

I could do this by hand, by starting at the beginning of the corpus, searching the database for all garments with similar descriptions, and eyeballing them to see if they really are the same gown, or different. Here’s an example of one such pattern found:

1572: Item for making of a french Gowne of russett and white damaske garded with carnacion taphata layed with bone lase of golde and silver the bodies and slevis garded very thicke lyned with carnacion and white taphata the Gowne borderid with carnacion taphata with a rolle of white cotten & rolls in the slevis coverid with white fustian all of our greate Guarderobe.

1574: Item for alteringe the bodies of a Gowne of russett and white damaske with a garde of carnacion taphata with a bone lase of venice golde and silver upon it of our greate Guarderobe.

1579: for lyninge of a gowne of russett and white damaske lyned with blak unshorne vellat in the forequarters with a newe steye of sarceonett

But this approach has problems, and not only the cripplingly huge amount of sorting and comparison that would need to be done. the 1572 and 1574 records are clearly the same…but is the 1579 record? It mentions black unshorn velvet. Is there another record for, say, a french gown of orange and white damask lined with black unshorn velvet, that would be a closer match?

Fortunately, performing automated fuzzy linking like this is exactly what I do at work. My employer takes 360 billion public records and links them together using some extremely iterative, arcane and impressive fuzzy matching and statistical algorithms. Once I have all the data parsed out into separate fields for material, color, gown type, etc., I’ll be able to run it through some matching algorithms that will link it all up as nice as you please, providing confidence scores about the certainty of the match into the bargain.

The other thing I want to do is to be able to take the parsed data and build a visualization front end for ad-hoc quering and charting of data.

In English, that means creating a webpage where someone can say, “give me a line chart of the number of spanish farthingales made and altered between 1558 and 1602, grouped by year.” And then they can add another line to the chart for the number of half farthingales made and altered, and another line for the number of rolls made and altered, and voila: the transition from Spanish to French farthingales over the course of Elizabeth’s reign is laid out as neat as you please.  What would have taken hours and days of poking through records is shown in 5 minutes.

Once I have this, I can answer idle questions like “I wonder how Elizabeth’s color preferences changed over her lifetime” or “were her garment linings switched out between fur and lighter fabrics based on time of year?” with a few clicks of a button. Spotting trends in different types of garments, different sorts of decoration, and different materials become trivial.

And then I can turn my attention to all of the other topics of research that have been queuing up…


Domestic Needlework Book Online

I have had images scanned in from the 1927 edition of Domestic Needlework for years now, and finally–now that I have a blog with a decent content management system–am making the pages available. Lots of cool stuff: gloves, stockings, hats, etc.


Book Review: The Inventory of Henry VIII: Clothing and Textiles

The high point of this Christmas was the appearance of  The Inventory of Henry VIII: Textiles and Clothing under the tree. My husband had ordered it years and years ago for a gift, and it had been delayed and delayed again until both of us had completely forgotten about it.

The book itself costs an arm, leg and kidney. If I’d had to buy it for myself before Christmas, I’d have refrained. But now, having read through it, I have to say that it’s worth every penny I didn’t have to pay for it; and if I hadn’t got it for Christmas, I’d be saving up for a copy even now.

So, in the spirit of enablement, I’m passing on the details of just what’s in this book to all y’all, so you have an idea of whether or not you need to buy it.  I initially intended to make it a facebook post to my historic costume list. two typed pages later, I had to reconsider; each one of the articles in the book deserves its own review.

The book is a series of essays, each one based upon the information on a particular topic to be found in the various inventories of Henry VIII, each written by a person at the top of their game in that particular field. The first is on King Henry’s Tapestry collection, written by Thomas Campbell. Then comes the section on the clothing of King Henry, and his hunting equipment, by Maria Hayward.  She also writes the following section, on the textiles, tents, flags and costumes that were in the care of the Office of Tents and Revels.

This is followed by an article on table carpets and coverings for tables, seats and floors by the esteemed late Donald King, “The Art of the Broiderers” by Santina Levey, and a section on table and bed linens by David Mitchell. Then comes an article focusing on the textiles in Henry’s Store, by Lisa Monnas, another essay by her on the ecclesiastical textiles and costume in the inventory, and finally, an article on Furs in Henry’s wardrobe by Elspeth Veale.

A solid block of knowledge, indeed! 365 pages of brand new research on Tudor textiles and costume and I was determined to go through every page, even the sections I didn’t really expect to enjoy, like the articles on tapestries, carpets, table linens and ecclesiastical textiles. Even if they were dry, or ancillary to my interests, they were bound to be extremely informative and I was duty-bound to read them.

I had forgotten something, however. When a person is truly and whole-heartedly obsessed with a particular subject, and when they can write well, their love of it becomes infectious. They pass on the contagion of their passion via the written word, captivating the unsuspecting reader and carrying them along into unexpected areas of research.


The Folger Files

I spent Friday in that particular circle of academic heaven known as the Folger Library in Washington, DC.

photoThe Folger Library is beautiful and absolutely uplifting to walk through. It smells divinely of dust and old paper and leather. The Folger’s reading room is full of Tudor woodwork and Tudor manuscripts and their basement holds  an enticing array of microfilms from the British Library.

The Folger is also rather exclusive–unlike the plebeian British Library, British Museum and National Archives of England, which require a mere driver’s license and a couple of forms signed before allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to handle as many 12th-century charters as they wish, the Folger insists upon a letter of intent describing precisely what the person wants to view, plus two references from professional academics (sent from an institutional address) before allowing non-academic-affiliated researchers to view items in their collection.

This exclusivity bemused me the first time I encountered it. But I suppose it’s understandable; one can’t be too careful when it comes to those independent researchers. Turn your back on them for two minutes, and they start folding Queen Elizabeth’s letters into paper airplanes and running naked with them through the stacks.

But! I can definitely tell you that their collection is worth the hoops that one must jump through to get access to it.

I initially went to follow up on a lead of possible tailor’s bills in the Stiffkey Estate Papers collection. A dead end, alas. However, I did get to see and photograph my own copy of the 1600 Inventory of Elizabeth’s wardrobe of robes. The ink was a faded brown, hard to read in many cases, but oh, the mouthwatering descriptions of petticoats, kirtles and cloaks! I can’t wait to transcribe them all and start linking them to entries in the wardrobe accounts in DressDB

I also got a look at Freyle’s 1588 tailor’s book.  Unlike Alcega, Freyle includes several patterns for breeches laid out alongside doublets, jerkins, sayas and ropillas. I’m looking forward to making a pair up to see how they look in wool and silk.

He also had a layout for a farthingale that was slightly different than Alcega’s, though the pieces looked to be about the same when laid out, and some patterns for women’s sayas that had high necked doublet bodices with a distinct fish in the front seam under the bust. All in all, a fascinating find!

After these two highlights, the rest of the day passed fairly quickly in inventory-fishing. I’d requested a large number of inventories and household accounts in the hopes that some of them would include apparel in the inventories. I struck out with most of them; they included napery, drapery, bedding and household textiles, but no apparell. One item of interest was the prevalence of red-and-green fringe in the decoration of furniture and bedding; it brought to mind the remarkable amount of red and green fringe sold by the haberdasher William Wray. Red and green, much more than red fringe, green fringe or black fringe, was a popular item in his inventory.

There were only two docs that repaid my investigation. The first  were the Inventories of Elizabeth Berkeley, a set of three wardrobe inventories of her wardrobe taken in 1605, 1611 and 1617. I’d transcribed them in haste the last time I’d been here, and hadn’t had the wherewithall to photograph them. The three inventories themselves are intriguing; not only do they illustrate the evolution and change in a woman’s wardrobe over time (more waistcoats and jackets as the years went on, no farthingales bought but the three she had retained for 20 years, night gowns referred to as loose gowns in some inventories, and other interesting linguistic wardrobe hints, but the garments themselves reveal much about a woman’s wardrobe of the early 17th century. Striped canvas bodies, for one.

The second were the household inventories of the Townshend Family. Almost all of the inventories focused on household furnishings, but there was an inventory of my “Lord’s Apparel” and my “Ladies Apparel” which will be interesting to transcribe.

Other than that, it was merely the odd mention of a shirt, or ‘His wearing apparell, 4 pounds.’

Except for one curious entry in the Inventory of the goods of George Cope taken at the time of his death (1572). It was a long inventory, with only a few lines devoted to his clothing. But take a look at the last line:

Item in the same chest, ii gownes of cloth thone garded with velvet thother with black silke buttons     vis viiid
Item ii Clookes vis viiid
Item a rede taffitye dublet xs
Item a doublet of rewed canvas iiis iiiid
Item iiii letherne Jerkins xiiis iiiid
Item iiii payre of hose xxs
Item ix shertes wherof iiii whyte sherts ii blacke a blewe one edged with golde & one with silver xis

If I’m reading that right, George had two black shirts and a blue one as well. Something I’d never see before in inventory entries.

After finishing with the various inventories, I went downstairs to try my luck in the microfilm room. I had two references to Harleian manuscripts from the British Library that I hoped to get a look at: One was the Probate Inventory of Leicester, and one was a wardrobe account. Unfortunately, all I had were the manuscript numbers and folios, and the 126 rolls of microfilmed Harleian manuscripts were organized by manuscript volume. I didn’t have the means to find out what manuscripts were in which volume just then, so instead I picked a roll of Lansdowne manuscripts at random, sat down and started scrolling through.

Talk about luck! I happened upon the 1559 household inventory of Thomas Cawarden, King Henry VIII’s Master of Revels. It was fairly disorganized, hats and crossbows and furniture and kitchen supplies following eachother higgledy-piggledy, but a couple of entries caught my eye while I was photographing: A reference to a farthingale of satin de bruges, for one. I look forward to transcribing this one, definitely.

I’m going  back tomorrow to try my luck in their card catalog and see what I can find amongst the catalog that hasn’t yet made it into their online catalog, Hamnet. I’m told there’s a considerable number of interesting items from the continent hiding in there.

And here, to make you all terribly jealous, is a Short panorama of the glory which is the Folger Library Reading room.

The sleeves were laced to the kirtle. I stopped the puffs at bicep level, and just above the elbow on the underside, to reduce bulk and wear and tear when it was worn with an overgown.
The gown works equally well without a farthingale. The stiff layer of additional lining around the bottom third of the inside of the kirtle, combined with the layer of velvet guarding around the bottom edge, gave a lot of body to the bottom of the skirts.
Another pic of the gown without a farthingale. It was more likely to be worn without a farthingale by women of the merchant classes than with.

Kirtle and Gown, c. 1570

Item a gown of russet worsted guarded with blak vellat with bent to the sleeves the bodies lined with brown linen styffened …