October 2013

The Mystery of the Tronoy Needles

or “What happens when you take the blue research pill and find out just how far the rabbithole goes.”

tronoyneedlesIn transcribing Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Accounts (I’m currently up to 1592…10 years to go!), I come across obscure terms that went out of common usage centuries ago. Some of these mystery words are fairly easy to discover. I have my go-to books for identifying Pewke, Pampilion, Peropus, Philoselle, or Paragon: Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d is first, given that it covers the same types of documents that I’m working on, and I usually have some success with it, or with the books referenced by it in footnotes.

If I have no luck, my next stop is usually the section on Fabrics in Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and his Contemporaries and Stuart Press’s Textiles of the Common Man and Woman.

If I still come up empty, my next stop to roll up my sleeves and do a general Google Books search of the term. Progresses and Processions of Queen Elizabeth is now online and searchable there, as are Documents Pertaining to the Revels in the Time of Queen Elizabeth and several other obscure books on 16th century documents.

Using the odd spellings in the original manuscripts, combined with restricting Google Books search results to the 19th century, can turn up some real gems; Google Books has made once-obscure Victorian Journals like Archaeologia Cambrensis, Journal of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and The Gentleman’s Magazine not only available, but searchable. The Victorians loved their historical documents, and loved to transcribe bits of old manuscripts and make them available to “modern” readers, sandwiched between interminable geneaological expositions and careful drawings of rural priory ruins.

Google Books is also good at introducing me to obscure books I’d never have thought to look at for sources; The Walloons and their Church, for example, is hands-down the best source on varieties and names of late 16th and early 17th New Draperies made in Norwich available.

If even Google comes up dry, I then search post-period sources for fabric names and try to trace them back from there.Textiles in America 1650-1870 is a good source, as are 1700 Tals-Textil and A Lady of Fashion: Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics, two facimiles of 18th century manuscripts containing swatches of fabric and descriptions of them.

Sometimes, however, I come across a term which is obstinately, obdurately opaque. Like…

Tronoy Needles.  (more…)

Apparelling Orphan Heiresses

The Tasburgh Group, English schoolSay that ten times fast…

I have uploaded two more accounts:

Account Extracts for the Farmor Children

which contain clothing purchases made for Children Mary and Richard by their father’s Executor after his death; and

Clothing Extracts from the Sandwich Book of Orphans

Recording expenditures made by wardens for the orphans under their care.

The children in the Farmor account were fairly well off; they had clothing of taffeta as well as wool. Mary Farmor, for instance, received the following clothing in 1581:

a pair of shoes
a pair of knit hose
a petticoat of mockado, decorated with parchment lace, murrey sarcenet and fastened with hooks and eyes
a gown with yellow taffeta sleeves
another workaday gown of mockado
sleeves, partlets and coifs of holland
three cauls, two of silver and gilt, as well as a shadow

The other years are sparser in clothing references, but a couple of items caught my eye: Young Richard, at age 8, was given “a string to his myttens”, which immediately brought to mind images of my youth, with my mittens run on a string up one sleeve and down the other so that they wouldn’t get lost. He was also given wooden-soled pattens. I can just see an eight-year-old boy clattering down the halls of his house in them, making an unholy racket, scolded by the cook for wearing them inside.

Richard also had a doublet and venetians of popinjay green taffeta and yellow sarcenet made for him in 1586, when he was 11 years old. How adorable is that? He also received a shooting glove that year–for archery? This entry made me envision Richard’s first day at the archery butt, proudly and self-consciously wearing his new glove as he worked to pull a bow back and land an arrow in the target.

The most interesting orphan in the Sandwich Book of Orphans is Thomasine Walters, an heiress in a small way with an income of 10 £ a year in rentals. She lodged with a couple of people as well as going to a boarding school in Canterbury, and the account sheds some light on her wardrobe and other textile-related activities.

In 1591 she had a gown of 2 yards of violet broadcloth made for her, interlined and lined with 2 yards of bays and a yard of cotton, for her to wear at boarding school in Canturbury.

In 1592 she had a waistcoat made for her out of 7/8 of a yard of Devonshire Kersey, and a petticoate of one and a half yards of stamell cloth made for her as well. The next year she had another waistcoat of Devonshire Kersey made, this one of 1 1/4 yards; one can imagine she had grown quite a bit that year.

in 1593 she had another gown, more elaborate, made for her out of 10 yards of “lyle grosgrain”. The gown was stiffened with buckram and bent, lined with bays and had a pair of whalebone-stiffened sleeves. It was decorated with tawny bobbin lace. A petticoat of peach-colored broadcloth was made for her as well, bound with 3 yards of lace, decorated with 6 1/4 yards of black and red billiment lace (two rows of trim around the bottom?) and with statute fringe. Her smocks this year were, interestingly, made of buckram; a coarser cloth than one would expect with a gown and petticoat of this quality. However, in the same year that the gown was made, there’s a mention that she married a man named Harker; perhaps the gown and petticoat were for the wedding.

The account also illuminates Thomasine’s experience with needlework. Yarn is purchased for her on several occasions so that she might knit stockings. A sampler is also bought for her, as well as several purchases of “sylke”–presumably embroidery floss, given the cheap price. She is given two shillings to buy some silk to work a coif, and a “seame of French worke for a koyf” is bought at near the same time. in 1593, she also purchases “a cushen to make lace uppon” AND “36 stickes to make lace”. Possibly the ” fine Wight thrid to woork withall” that she purchased was intended for the same purpose.

There’s another tidbit of information in Thomasine’s accounts that interested me: one of her renters was a tailor of modest means, a dutchman named John Martin. The book records income for her renters, and I was able to discovered that Martin paid 20 shillings a year for rental of his house. Useful information in my ongoing quest to find out just how much an average tailor made in profit a year.

Alcega: Farthingale of Silk


Farthingale of Silk. This pattern takes 5.5 yards of 22″ wide fabric

Silk Farthingale

Made by Mathew Gnagy


When viewed from the side, you can see that the front lays rather flat and the manipulation of grain lines and placement of the hoops makes the back stand out a bit more. With the bum pad underneath, it helps , keep this proper angle. Alcega specifically shows in his draft that the straight edges of the back panels are to be sewn to the fronts…the result is a MUCH more period look.


My interpretation of the Verdugado. you can see that front line is rather narrower than our modern versions of a hoop skirt


My style of bum roll that goes UNDER the Farthingale


Alcega: Ropa Romano (Roman Gown)

Shawl collar dressing gown with regular hem. this has a long hanging sleeve….similar to the Persian coats with long narrow hanging sleeves. Sometimes in portraits, you see the sleeve left unsewn and hanging open, sometimes its sewn closed and hangs down the back of the arm

Shawl collar dressing gown with extra full hem.

It’s the same gown as the previous, but with a lot of extra fulness in the hem. It is possible that the softer drape of wool required a wider hem to achieve the same look as the narrower hem in silk.

Alcega: Ropa Espanola (Spanish Gown)

spanishrobe Spanish dressing gown/loose gown. This is the same shape as the other gowns, but when the collar is complete, it looks rather like a high upright doublet collar. This gown takes 3 1/5 yards of 22-inch wide fabric.


Spanish Saya

by Mathew Gnagy


This is the pattern in Alcega for the woman’s Ropa. I merely changed the sleeve design to resemble the one in POF even though the cut is different. It still looks and wears very similarly.


Alcega: Mongil Trançado (16th c. Sack-backed Gown)

This gown is my favorite. It is a loose backed gown with a doublet style front. In Alcega’s own words, it has lacing strips, at the side back seams, or a false back that holds the doublet style front tight against the body. Rather like a precursor to the 18th century Watteau gown.

This gown takes 13 1/8 yards of 22-inch wide fabric.

Mongil Trancado

by Mathew Gnagy


The mongil trançado with hanging sleeves



front view


Alcega: Women’s Doublet of Silk


Women’s Doublet of Silk. This pattern takes 6 feet 10 1/2 inches of 22 inch wide fabric.


Here is a simple working class version of the alcega Suits. Interesting note…these two outfits were made in a day…by hand, with a very skilled and dedicated team of people


Back view of these fine clothes and dear friends.


Alcega: Single and Double-layered cloaks

doublewoolcloak Double tier heavy wool felt traveling cloak. The double tier is rather like a duster style coat. This pattern takes 4 yards of 44″ wide fabric.

The pieces on the lower right are actually the collars of the lower layer. The hood is attached to the lower layer. The upper layer has a  the gathered neck, but the collar pieces shown in the middle are actually attached to the upper layer inside the neck of the hood. This is the only garment in Alcega that is shown with a single layer layout. The felt only comes in specific dimensions. You are also looking collars and collar facings.


A single-layered wool traveling cloak. This cloak takes 4 yards of 44″ wide fabric.



Here is an extant  double tiered felt traveling cloak. The hood is amazing. When properly closed it actually resembles a fighting helmet


Alcega: Women’s Kirtle/Vasquine

womenskirtle This is a low neckline gown. Literally translated as ‘skirt and bodies’ of silk. It requires 5 yards of 22 inch wide silk.
It has become my assumption of the years of working with this book that this is the layer which is intended to give all the support. I believe that corsets were less common than we assume.

It is logical to assume that the front skirt would be cut to shape during construction. In the Pfalzgrafin gown in Arnold’s <em>Patterns of Fashion</em>, they have simply folded back the excess and left it hanging inside. In later manuals, Burguen, for example, the shape of the center front of the skirt is shown with the point shape trimmed out already.

It’s also clear from the way it’s laid out in the book that there is a seam at CB and at CF…you could have the opening at either location.


White brocade low-necked gown

Made by Mathew Gnagy


A gown with the low bodice of this pattern and the trained skirt of the Women’s High-bodied trained gown with hanging sleeves pattern.


Nice back view of the skirt


Alcega: Woman’s High-Bodied Trained Gown with Hanging Sleeves

Full womans gown with large pointed style hanging sleeves. It takes 17 1/8 yards of 22-inch wide fabric.
Note, The center back length of the skirt is 99 inches in this draft…its VERY long and the hem width of the back is insanely wide. It looks SOOO very rich when made up.

Blue Brocade Gown

Made by: Mathew Gnagy


Saya skirt with the 99″ center back skirt length…the puntigada sleeves and exact proportional cut for her height. In this shot, her skirt has been hooked up like a bustle.