This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Friday, 31 December 2010


Thanks to Chris Thomas for the bulk of the text here. I've just added some pictures. 

17th century buttons were not pierced with two or four holes like those found now. Instead they had a shank on the back of the button, and the single attachment hole passed through that. This image courtesy of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Metal buttons were common, often made from lead, pewter tin or alloys of the same. These were usually cast, and the shank could be formed as one piece with the button, or could be in the form of a twist of copper alloy or iron wire set into the casting. Metal buttons could also be made from copper alloy, either cast as above, or in the case of flat buttons, punched from sheet with a loop soldered on the back.  Buttons could also be made from wood, bone etc, but these styles were also shanked not pierced. Upper class buttons could be in silver, gold, or precious stones.

Another style of buttons used a core, often of wood, covered in a wrapping of threads. The threads also formed an attachment shank. They could be fairly plain and simple, or use expensive silk or silver and gold thread.

Cloth buttons were also common: formed from scraps of cloth, or a wooden core, wrapped in a piece of cloth, these also had a shank formed by binding and stitching.

Here's a link to a nice piece about how to make your own thread wrapped and cloth buttons.
Two images of thread wrapped buttons made by Gina B

Some repro buttons here in a modern workbox, hence the specs. There is a selection of cloth and thread covered ones here, by Gilly Morley, photo by Tom Aldwinckle

Here, again by Gilly is a row of cloth covered buttons on a soldiers brand new, bright blue coat. Photo by Tom again.

On modern clothes buttons are normally sewn to the face of a garment. Although this style of attachment was used in the 1640s there were other methods. Buttons, especially those with long shanks, could be pushed through the cloth (sometimes between the threads, sometimes through a stitched eyelet) and secured by a cord or thong running through all the shanks at the back. Buttons could also be sewn into the edge of the garment by pushing the shank between the outer fabric and the lining. They could then be thonged or sewn in place.

In the 17th century the fashion was for large quantities of usually small buttons. On fashionable garments the buttons could be very close together, frequently almost touching. Simpler garments used fewer buttons but in general it is true that we generally use too few, too large buttons on our garments.

Things to avoid:

Plastic Buttons. 

These are clearly not correct: plenty of authentic buttons are available and are frequently cheaper than buying modern buttons.

Wooden Beads.

They were not used as buttons in our period, although they could form the core of thread buttons or cloth buttons.

Pierced Buttons. 
Period buttons always seem to have some form of shank.

Wooden or other buttons which are very shiny, non native woods etc.

Wooden buttons would probably be small scale rural production. As such they would not be highly finished or use exotic woods.  Ordinary grade metal buttons would not have a modern machine polished high gloss finish.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Authentic Shoes?

The shoe that was worn most by Civil War soldiers is generally accepted to be what is now known as the latchet shoe. As far as we can tell they were issued in their thousands, ideally three or four times a year, possibly in one of four sizes, which is a clue to the reason they had open sides. A closed sided shoe might seem more practical as it keeps the weather out, but the open sided style is better able to fit a variety of foot shapes as it has a built in adjustment.

What you need to look for first in a good quality latchet shoe is sturdy all leather construction. A hand made shoe has butt stitched side seams, whereas a machine made example will generally have overlapping seams. There are no inherent problems with non hand stitched shoes, but there are some pitfalls to avoid. Try to find a pair that has a reasonable thickness of leather and pay attention to the side seam positioning as this is an easy mistake to make in construction and results in a poorly fitting and ill-shaped shoe.

This is a picture of an actual 17th century open sided shoe from a book called The Romance of the Shoe as far as I can work out and is ideally what you should be looking for. Although this is not a cheap option, a well made pair of latchets should last you a long time if they’re looked after. The square toe isn’t necessary, in fact most shoes of the period had round toes and the theory is that they were more sturdy and harder wearing than square toed examples. The side seam is level with the fastening and also notice the shaping around the heel.

And here is a photo of my latchets that I use for reenactment. They were made by Sarah Juniper to replace a pair of hers that I had worn for twenty years. This is the ideal to aim for in a soldier’s shoe. They are also fine in a pike push. I can vouch for that personally.

In this detail from a french engraving, cropped to show the legs of a pikeman, you can see the construction, the back seam, the closing method all in the one image. Although the French soldier has ribbons to fasten his shoes, they are in every other respect what would have been worn on the field of battle in the 1640s. Etching by Abraham Bosse, Paris 1632

Two really nice images showing latchet shoes from our period. The first one is an archer, from slightly later, judging by the coat and the second a rather gruesome woodcut from 1647

Making a Snapsack (here's one I made earlier)

This piece courtesy of Tom Aldwinckle who also supplied the photos.

The two styles of snapsack illustrated are both based on the `duffle bag` type that would be worn across the back, with a strap or cord going round the chest. It is believed the snapsack was a basic item of military kit, to carry victuals and any spare kit such as shoes or shirts.

The New model snap sacks were made out of leather, costing 8-9d at the time. For the leather example thin soft leather of suitable colour is used and a tube is sewn out of it. Always face the `buff` side of the leather out. Rather than a complicated end piece getting sewn in at the bottom, both ends are secured and tied with cords. The top end is made easier to open by using cords threaded through a series of holes. The bottom end is tied with cords and made so that the cords cannot come off. This item has a leather strap made from the same piece of leather as the body. Again the buff side of the leather is the face on show when worn.

Another version uses canvas or linen and troops in Ireland were often sent bread `sewn into bags that could then be used as snap sacks`. Using a linen bag that has a corded draw string at the top, the bottom can again be tied as a bundle using the cord from the top opening. Worn across the shoulder, this type of bag can hold a surprising amount of gear. To assist with weather proofing once made the whole item was soaked in linseed oil and allowed to dry – which takes a surprising amount of time to dry (around two to three weeks) hung in a shed as the linseed does drip.

The snap sack is a very versatile piece of equipment. At times I use one to carry a fully authentic set of cheese, bread and beer, plus spare shirt etc. Very lumpy items inside the snap sack can be uncomfortable, and ideally the load follows the curve of the bag across the back.

Tom Aldwinckle 29/12/10    


A snapsack is an important piece of equipment for a 1640s soldier, as it provides a means of carrying food, any spare clothing and personal items. The armies usually carried additional equipment in a baggage train. This meant the troops were not encumbered, though this probably had something to do with the meagre amount of possessions a common soldier would own. Snapsacks were issued and they may have been provided when other items, like coats and breeches, were not.

When Parliament raised an army to fight the Irish rebels, before the outbreak of the War, contract clothing was shipped, wrapped in canvas which was then made into snapsacks. Others were made up and placed into store in London and Portsmouth. Some of these were used to equip the survivors of the Lostwithiel campaign.

These images from Stuart Peachey & Alan Turton's book Common Soldier's Clothing in the Civil Wars

Royalist troops were also issued with them. In some cases these were acquired from captured Parliamentarian supplies. A list in the Royalist Ordnance papers dated October 1643 details:
'Stores ... at Dartmouth at the Surrendering of the Towne to Prince Maurice'.
These included '350 snapsacks' of which 44 had been issued to the Royalist Army.

Illustrations show that the snapsacks were of a standard pattern, consisting of a tube of canvas or leather closed by cords at each end like a duffle bag. The cords also served as a carrying strap.  It is quite easy to reproduce a period snapsack. The size can be varied, but all you have to do is be able to sew together the edges of a rectangle. A snapsack can be of leather or linen canvas. The cords can be made up from sash cord. A leather or linen piece sufficient to make one snapsack can be picked up quite cheaply if you look around. A few traders sell readymade examples. 

Monday, 27 December 2010

The Standard Shirt

Just  to start it all off, a few thoughts about the 17th century shirt:

A seventeenth century shirt was made of unbleached linen, the fabric varying from coarse canvas to fine weave, and ranged from brown to off white in colour, although unbleached linen could take on a grey or even greenish tinge.
It should be cut square and long, with front and back each made of a single piece of fabric, gathered into a narrow neckband. It should also be long enough to reach mid thigh or even knee length. Notice Mr Marriot wears his shirt to below the knee. The side seams are left open for about 12 inches to allow the shirt to fit comfortably under a pair breeches.
The sleeves are cut square and gathered to a narrow cuff, which may be secured by ties, small buttons or a t-bar (like a fabric cuff link) if it's posh, with square gussets under the arms. There may also be smaller triangular gussets where the collar meets the shoulder seam, to give extra strength.
At the front there is a simple straight hemmed front opening large enough to let you put it on over your head. This opening is secured by a pair of ties, sewn to the collar or passing through a single sewn eyelet on each side at the neck. Here is a nice repro pair of posh ties by Gina B
The shirt as such should not have any more than a small standing collar of perhaps an inch and a half. To this a falling band may be tacked on. Shirts were not generally made with integral collars in our period. For common soldiers a small band can be used, just large enough to cover the standing collar on the coat.
This is one I made earlier, with a posh vicar's collar attached:

Here are a set of sleeves made up for a copy of a blackwork embroidery shirt in the Warwickshire Museum. Note the construction and the gussets. The picture comes from a blog that tells the story of how it was made. Well worth a look.

Here's another link to a page about an original shirt in the Gallery of Costume in Manchester.


This is the webpage of a discussion group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Unfortunately this is not an exact science as there is much that is missing in the detail that we have to fill in using guesswork and intuition. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I intend to keep the discussion lively and ongoing