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.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Shirt off Your Back (part two)

In the seventeenth century, shirts were 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. The finest shirts could be almost white, the fabric was generally bleached by being left out in the sun, but the white of the 1640s was nowhere as bright as the 21st century brilliant white achieved by modern detergents and their additives that counteract the natural yellowing of fabrics that have been worn for a while. The haymaker on the right shows that it was the fashion to take off your coat and work in your shirt if it was a hot day. Notice the detail on his collar and neck opening.

They were cut square and long, with front and back usually made of a single piece of fabric, gathered into a narrow neckband. Gathers can be simple for a plain shirt or of extremely fine cartridge pleating for a high status one. The image on the left courtesy of Manchester Gallery of Costume is a surviving shirt from our period. It's described in more detail in another post below.

As you can see, they were generally long enough to reach mid thigh or even knee length. This rather saucy image from A Letter To Mr Marriot 1652 (Mr Mariott was a famous lawyer and notorious glutton of the time) shows the length of the shirt because his breeches are around his ankles. The side seams would be left open for about 12 inches to allow the shirt to fit comfortably down the legs when worn under a pair breeches.

The sleeves would also be 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. The sleeve is then sewn square onto the side of the shirt with gussets under the arms to provide some ease when you put it on over your head. There should also be smaller triangular gussets where the collar meets the shoulder seam, to give extra strength and prevent tearing. Photos of a shirt made by Tricia Webb.

At the front there should be a simple straight hemmed front opening large enough to let you put it on over your head. This opening was 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 would not have any more than a small standing collar of perhaps an inch and a half wide. 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. There are no images showing soldiers wearing knotted cloths or tied stocks for our period. A small plain collar seems to have been the fashion for just about everyone.

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.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Smocks (not shifts)

The basic item of underclothing for a woman in the seventeenth century the smock was a long T-shaped garment, made of linen with sleeves and reached down to below the knees. As with most linen garments of our period, the only surviving examples are of the best quality cloth and are highly embroidered. However, it’s probably safe to assume that the pattern was basically the same for everyone. The purpose was probably the same too, to protect the outergarments that would tend not to be washed as often from body oils and perspiration. Picture left from A Juniper Lecture by John Taylor 1635.

The extant smocks from the first third of the seventeenth century mostly have a standing collar, a single slit neck opening and long full sleeves. Sadly there are none exactly datable to the 1640s, but these examples are a good guide to what was worn.  This one in the V&A, picture from Drea Leed of Elizabethan Costuming is a nice one dated 1630 with a standard pattern and embroidered over the upper body. Much like a man’s shirt, they would be cut from a standard width of linen, anything from 30 to 36 inches wide. There is usually, like this example, a square gusset under the arms, but unlike a shirt there are either long triangular gores inserted in the sides or a looser cut to make the garment fuller and as such easier to walk around in. The V&A example also has a gusset inserted either side of the collar to provide strength.

 A few really high status smocks have lower necklines that are gathered and tightly stitched onto a narrow neck band (not with a drawstring). This clears the neckline for an off the shoulder look, but these are really ornate with acres of fabric requiring such finely detailed needlework that they should be only considered the preserve of someone of serious wealth, not a common serving girl or army follower. All the museum examples have lines of embroidery, very similar to those on surviving men’s shirts which is no surprise really as both garments, in fact anything made of linen, was considered women’s work. This image, from the Bath Museum of Costume, also photographed by Drea shows a woman's smock from 1610, and a man's shirt from the late 1500s. The smock is on the right. Below is a detail of the decoration.

Smocks were worn both day and night,high class people may have had a separate night smock to change into, but it can be safely assumed that most common folk slept in the smock they wore during the day.
Detail from Come Buy A Mousetrap. Pamphlet by Humphrey Crouch 1647

Picture on the right shows a plain (in the sense of undecorated) reproduction smock from Angela of Peggy's Necessities.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


Following a discussion that started over a picture from a 1640s publication showing a ballad seller, I asked a few experts their opinion of long shoes or startups that had no ties. Several images have appeared to suggest that this may have been the norm for agricultural workers and as such for any soldiers who may have come from the fields and worn their own shoes.

The informed opinion is that perhaps there were a number of this kind of shoe around but that it was not the norm as to wear something like this just for walking (rather than riding) would quickly prove very uncomfortable, and as such would not be at all practical for farm work or soldiery.

In fact the discussion threw up this quote from a poem published before our period but none the less informative:

A payre of startuppes had he on his feet,that laced were to the small of the legge,
Homely they were and mete,and in there soles fulle many a woden pegge’

From The Debate Between Pride and Lowliness, published in 1577.

This guy from Thirty and Two Extremes of These Times, published in 1647 appears to have fastenings on his boots and a nice coat over what looks like a doublet, though why the illustrator has drawn his left hand the wrong way round, I have no idea!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Knitted Hats in Copenhagen

Usually known for:

a. The Little Mermaid
b. the Tuborg Brewery
c. The Tivoli Garden,

Copenhagen is also home to a rather special museum, the Danish Nationalmuseet. In one of the galleries there is a selection of 17th century knitwear. The sign indicated that these items came from a excavations in Copenhagen in 1900. Two items from this collection have caught my eye. They seem to be almost untouched examples of 17th century brimmed monmouth caps, the only example of which was originally thought to be in a museum in Russia and to have belonged to Peter the Great. Have a look and see what you think. It is thought that these hats were exported to Europe from 17th century England, so they just might be contemporary for 1640s Civil War England. There's much more in the case, including gloves and mittens, but I'm hoping to hear from the museum first before I add any pictures. Big thanks to Kate for letting me use her pictures.

Here's a description from Poul Grinder Hansen who works in the museum:
The hat in question is on display in our renaissance exhibition together with a number of similar hats, gloves and stockings, all of them finds from the old moats which once encircled Copenhagen.  I know of nine such hats from Copenhagen, five of which are in the National Museum. They are described like this in an exhibitions catalogue from 1988 “Christian IV and Europe”, cat. 848: The hats are of high quality knitting techniques. Knit from above in one piece with the brim, which is double knit and cast off at the edge. Originally the hats have been fulled so that they resembled felt, and perhaps they were dyed.

Sally Pointer makes reproductions and sells the patterns for making these hats on her website.

Could the ballad seller on the right be wearing one of these hats? Who knows? It's certainly possible.