Tag Archives: Medieval Clothing

Making Medieval Clothes

Last week we had a look at what went under the clothes and this week we’ll take a look at the making of the clothes. The fourteenth century was a time of fast-changing fashion. It wasn’t quite as fast as it is today, with clothes being out of date almost before you’ve bought them, but there were noticeable changes over the years. And the women were as bad as the men.

The desire to be fashionable meant plenty of work for those who made clothes for the wealthy. Only they could afford both to follow fashion and to have their clothes made for them. Philippa of Hainault, Edward III’s queen, was a woman who liked clothes and spent a lot of her husband’s money on them. For the majority of women, though, making and maintaining clothes for the family was something they did themselves.

As today, clothes were made with needle and thread, but they were made, obviously, without the aid of a sewing machine. A few years ago, before I owned such a marvellous object, I made a very simple garment by hand and it took forever. Even as a beginner, I could have done it much faster with a sewing machine, but there was a certain amount of fun, and satisfaction, in managing without one. There are and were, however, people able to sew very quickly and neatly by hand. Like everything else, it’s a matter of practice.

Thread could be silk or linen, both of which could be died to match the colour of the cloth used.

Simple needles were made of copper alloy or iron and the eyes were punched or drilled, occasionally both. Drilled eyes were rounder and punched eyes were longer. I’m afraid that the needle in my photograph is not against a contrasting background, so it’s impossible to tell what kind of eye it has. I’ve included a photograph of the part of the display cabinet where it lives so that you can get an idea of its size.

Another necessity for hand sewing is a thimble. By the fourteenth century metal thimbles were used all over England. There is some debate as to whether or not they were in use before that, but that need not worry us. The thimble shown at the top of the post is on display in Winchester City Museum. Each of the dimples would have been drilled by a thimbler as in the picture above. I’m not sure who he’s making them for, though, as they’re rather large.

As you can see from the finished objects on his table, not all thimbles were rounded on top. Some were more like rings that would sit above the top knuckle on a finger. Since I tend to push a needle from the tip of my finger, such a thimble would be little help to me, but practice would probably make it less dangerous.

Sources:
The Medieval Household by Geoff Egan

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Medieval Underclothes

I’ve been doing some dressmaking this week and it made me think about what people wore in the fourteenth century and how it was made, not that I’m not thinking about such things all the time.

Everybody, whoever they were, wore some woollen garments. It was England’s largest export and items woven from English wool were highly prized all over Europe. Tunics, cloaks, dresses and stockings were all made from wool. The wealthiest people in the country also wore silk. Wool and silk were only what they wore on the outside, however. Everyone, regardless of how rich or poor they were, wore linen next to the skin.

Forget what you think you know about how filthy people were in the Middle Ages. They liked being clean as much as you do and they liked wearing clean clothes as well. Clothes get dirty, though, even if you’re not particularly active. If you are active, clothes get even dirtier. Bodies sweat, which isn’t too much of a problem for wool, but silk doesn’t always wash well.

Whilst you can wash wool, which actually copes quite well with some kinds of dirt, it soaks up a lot of water and takes forever to dry. You’ll know that if you’ve ever washed woollen socks or a jumper. If you have several items of woollen clothing and have to wash one of them, it’s not necessarily a problem, even in winter when the whole process of washing and drying takes longer. If you only have one, or even two, sets of clothes, it’s a real problem if you need to wash something.

The way in which people coped with this was by wearing linen next to the skin. The linen soaked up bodily fluids and could be washed and dried fairly easily and quickly. Outer layers could be shaken or brushed to get rid of the worst of the dirt.

Whilst the woman at the top of this post is, rather immodestly, naked, and has her hair uncovered, she would normally have worn a chemise just as the man fleeing (or perhaps approaching) her bed is. Unlike the man, however, she would not have worn anything beneath it. Men could also remove their chemises for more physically demanding work, something that a woman could not do. These undergarments were also made of linen. They were easy to wash and dried quickly.

Whether a man or a woman was wearing it, a chemise was long, about knee length on a man and calf length on a woman. It had sleeves.

This second woman is more demurely dressed. You can see that her chemise is tied at the neck and has long sleeves. The woollen gown that she’s removing wouldn’t touch her skin anywhere and could be taken off at night, shaken and hung over a rail, while she slept in her chemise. The gown would eventually need to be washed, but it could be at a time of her choosing, probably in the summer, when it would dry quicker.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB
TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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