Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seeing what you're looking at

I have, for some months, had a rotating series of military engravings by DeGheyn and Goltzius as the screensaver and desktop on my work computer. This has afforded me the chance to study the costume and weapons depicted in great detail and I've come to the conclusion that I need to re-examine any previous assumptions I might have had regarding military dress of the 1580s and 90s.

To this end I decided start with the most basic item of male dress in the period, the shirt. We have owned a copy of Patterns of fashion 4 : the cut and construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c.1540-1660, conceived & illustrated by Janet Arnold. Quite Specific Media Group, c2008, pretty much since it was published but aside from browsing through it, I hadn't sat down to really study the garments. When I finally go around to taking a look, I found several shirts which were spot on in terms of dating (as much as one can actually date garments of this period) and of roughly similar dimensions. In addition there is a shirt of Gustavus Adolphus which can firmly dated to 1627. Although it is more recent, it has some similarities to shirts being worn by military men of 40 years earlier, especially in size and ornamentation of the collar and cuffs which could be worn simply turned over the doublet collar and sleeve cuffs. They are small enough though for a separate ruff and wrist ruffles to be pinned on over them.

Needless to say I have been reflecting quite a bit about Luke's shirt supply - how many did he own - where did he procure them from, etc., etc. When he was a boy and up though the time he went into service, his Mother, sisters and his Mother's maids would have made his shirts. While in Norreys' service he would probably have gotten some of his shirts as part of his livery with the remainder coming from home. Then later after he was on his own with his own men and military establishment he probably would hire a seamstress in London to make him the bulk of his shirts. His Mother still makes him some shirts and they are beautiful examples of the needlewoman's art.

I decided to model the shirt I was going to make on numbers 10 and 12 from Patterns of Fashion. Both are from the last quarter of the 16th century and are of similar dimensions. The originals were quite long, shirts could be used for sleeping and receiving visitors in one's bedchamber and we have no way to know if these shirts solely served that purpose but had I made them to their actual length, I would be tripping over the bottoms. They also were wrapped about one's nether regions and did the office of jockey shirts of the day. I decided to shorten the shirt to my shins, still plenty long but not so much that I would fall on my face. They are both highly decorated and with reluctance I am dispensing with most if it, save for some bobbin lace edging around the collar, front opening, cuffs and hem. I feel like I want to get a good pattern worked out to fit me well before expending the time and effort on a highly ornamented shirt. I have cut out the fabric and will begin turning and sewing down all the edges. When that's done, I'll try to remember to post again with an update on my progress.

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