historical textile

I’m continuing my research into medieval textiles and fashion, and there’s all this fascinating etiquette about wearing gloves in the middle ages:

  • Gloves were never worn when taking the hand of your dancing partner
  • The act of picking up the glove of one’s lady love was a sign of deep devotion. Men sought permission to pick up their lady love’s glove and return or retain it. 
  • The manner in which a man wore gloves and the way he removed them had to be given careful attention while he was paying court to his beloved. “There were subtle meanings in the manipulation of the glove, which might have serious consequences.”
  • Giving someone a gift of gloves was a special way to recognize one’s indebtedness to the recipient, or to acknowledge the receipt of a favor. Gloves were also given to guests by the host at a banquet or ceremony. 
  • If you were a fashionable noble in the 1400s, you carried your gloves slung in a belt around your waist, or in a pouch at your waist.
  • It was considered a great insult to address a high personage, or to greet a friend, without first removing the glove of the right hand. 
  • Gloves treated with poison were favorite gifts to send to your greatest enemy.

Costume Process: The Mad Hatter

New set of posts here at @sartorialonce! We’ve gotten a bunch of Eduardo Castro’s fashion sketches, and I’ve got a small group of pictures from an outside contractor who’s done some textile work for the production, so I’ll be going over them in the next month or so.

Up first is this beauty from the first season. Eduardo’s original design is very rooted in nineteenth century European styles, especially English. Even the orange plaid has its place in historical English textiles. The patterns, of course, are very much not from that period. The swirl and the paisley are rather jarring together, which is a clever idea for a character who’s not exactly stable.

What’s interesting to me is how the design changed. The top half in the sketch retains a bit more of the historical inspiration. The simple cuffs, single row of buttons, and Napolean collar eventually became double layers of ruffles, a double-breasted front, and a shawl collar by the time the final version was produced.

And after sewing was completed, it was sent to the Dye Department, a Vancouver-based shop which in this case produced the realistic aging and wear on the waistcoat.

Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings

Covering a period that witnessed the flowering of the Renaissance and the major expansion of the Italian silk industry, this volume examines the Italian silk fabrics depicted in paintings from Italy, England and the Netherlands over the course of 250 years. Lisa Monnas offers a masterly evaluation of these paintings as source material for classifying surviving textiles, giving particular attention to the identification of historic textile types and their weave structure.

Monnas examines a wide range of subjects, including silk as a marker of social status, the material possessions of artists and their ownership of textiles as props, the involvement of painters in silk design, and the repetition and transfer of patterns. She considers the evidence of paintings not only for the veracity with which the silks are depicted but also for their value as a historic source concerning the use of fabrics.


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Men’s Court Sash (patka)

India (Deccan), Mughal, 18th century

Cotton and silk

Man’s court sash (patka) of undyed plain-weave cotton with edges and ends embroidered with pink and red flowers within undulating stems; crosswise border (pallaka) at each end consists of a repeated pattern of individual flowers with curving leaves; fringe of gilt yarn at each end.

An important element of male courtly attire in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century India, the patka or girdle played a symbolic and decorative role comparable to the necktie today. Often the most lavishly decorated component of a man’s formal dress, the patka tied at the waist with the ends hanging toward the knees. The length of the ends and the position of the knot changed according to the fashions of the times. The ends of the patka, known as the pallakas, tend to be more elaborately and sumptuously ornamented than the central area, with lavish embroidery and metal thread. Because rulers often granted patkas as token of esteem, the sashes became symbols of political status as well as emblems of wealth and good taste.

Boys Coat

India, Mughal, late 18th or early 19th century

Brocaded wool, embroidered in silk and silver threads, lined with cotton and silk

Boy’s coat or shawl cloth of brocaded woollen cloth (pashmina) with facings of embroidered silk. Short body, tubular sleeves and full pleated skirt. Open in the front, and secured over the breast by a ball-and-loop and tying cord. The material is an orange coloured pashmina with a brocaded diaper of small flowerets in blue, yellow, green and black. The intervening ground is impressed with four-fold diagonal and intersecting lines forming a diamond trellis. The collar, cuffs and edges are ornamented with strips and panels of sage-green Lahore silk embroidered in coloured silks and silver threads with a delicate design of scrolling floral stems. Lined with a mixed fabric of cotton and silk with vertical stripes in red and pale pink.

This would have been worn in the winter months at several of the courts of North India with trousers.

Rare Egyptian Linen Pleated Tunic found near Meir, 6th - 11th Dynasties, c. 2300 - 1900 BC

Meir is a village in Upper Egypt located on the west bank of the Nile. Several ancient Egyptian tombs were discovered west of Meir, in a low slope leading on to the desert plateau. The most important of these rock-cut tombs belong to the men who were in charge of the 14th Upper Egyptian nome during the 6th and the 12th dynasties. For both these periods, the sequence of tombs is unbroken, and the hereditary office passed from one man to his son or younger brother. Most of the tombs were decorated in relief. Some of their scenes are astonishingly lively, such as the desert-hunt scene in tomb B.1 of Senbi, dating to the reign of Amenemhat I.

  • Wrapper (detail), Ghana, Ewe, 1940–50. L: 96.5 inches, W: 180.34 cm. TM 1975.17.1. Gift of Fred M. Fernald. 

This wrapper would have been worn by a chief or elite man for special occasions, festivals, and religious holidays. The cloth would be wrapped around his body, pass over the left shoulder and then brought around the body again (considered dirty and unseemly, the left shoulder and arm are usually covered). The wrapper is supposed to act as an extension of the wearer’s body, gracefully extending and contracting as he moves.

The bands are woven on long narrow strip looms, which often use a double-heddle.  This wrapper is composed of nineteen strips, each woven about 9.5 cm wide and sewn together by hand. The ground is plain weave cotton with warp stripes in white, light blue, burgundy, dark blue and green. The pattern blocks are created using continuous and discontinuous supplementary-weft float patterning.  The mottled appearance of the solid color blocks results from the grouping together of different colors of threads to make a single yarn, such as orange and yellow or yellow and green.


India, Mughal, 18th century

Cotton, embroidered with gold-wrapped thread and floss silk.

This elegant robe would have been worn by a man at one of the courts of northern India. The floor-length gathered skirt was popular in the 18th century, in contrast to the shorter robes of the previous century. The staggered floral design is typical of late Mughal design, and is often seen printed on textiles, as well as embroidered as in this example.