Category Archives: Custom

Clothing Custom Household Women

Both a maker and a mender

These images come from a book of needlework patterns from the mid 17th century. In the introduction, the author waxes lyrical about the importance of the needle, and indeed it was an invaluable tool to the housewife. All women, including Elizabeth I herself, would have prided themselves on their needlework; not only because it was regarded as a sign of female piety, but because it enabled a skilled embroiderer to demonstrate her often considerable talents. The Countess of Bedford embroidered two ‘window turkey carpets’ [probably window seat cushions], and Bess of Hardwicke was famous for her large and sumptuous embroidered hangings. Needlemaking was a fast-growing industry in the 17th century, so much so that in 1656 a charter of incorporation of the trade was granted by Oliver Cromwell. The designs in this book would have had a wide range of applications, from lacy collars and fancy cushions, to luxurious embroidered detail on fine cloaks. The author here describes the importance of the needle:

The Needles sharpenesse, profit yeelds, and pleasure,
But sharpenesse of the tongue, bites out of measure.
A Needle (though it be but small and slender)
Yet is it both a maker and a mender;
A grave Reformer of old Rents decayde,
Stops holes and seames, and desperate cuts displayde.
And thus without the Needle we may see,
We should without our Bibbs and Biggings be;
No shirts or smockes, our nakednesse to hide,
No Garments gay, to make us magnifyde;
No Shadowes, Shapparoones, Caules, Bands, Ruffes, Cuffes,
No Kerchiefes, Quoyfes, Chin-clowtes, or marry-Muffes,
No Cros-cloathes, Aprons, Hand-kerchiefes, or Falls,
No Table-cloathes for Parlours or for Halls.
No Sheetes, no Towels, Napkins, Pillow-beares,
Nor any Garment man or woman weares.
Thus is a Needle prov’d an Instrument
Of profit, pleasure, and of ornament.


Below are two lovely examples of early modern embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Embroidery Exhibition.

Source on women and embroidery – Liza Picard.  See Useful Reading for details.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Clothing Custom

The Fann-Makers Grievance

Today’s fragments come from a 17th century text entitled The Fann-Makers GRIEVANCE.  It reveals some lovely details about the art of early modern fans and fan making, and also highlights the issues faced by an industry suffering the results of overseas out-sourcing.

‘The Manufactures of Fanns and Fann-sticks, tho’ it may seem slight to some, is certainly at this time of very great Consequence to a considerable breach of the Trade of England; for that it employs multitudes of Men, Women and Children in making the Sticks, Papers, Leathers, in ordering the Silk (which Paper, Leather and Silk is Manufactured in this Nation) likewise great numbers employed in Painting, Varnishing and Jappanning, and preparing abundance of Foreign Commodities, viz.of Whale-bone, Tortoise-shell, Ivory, Box, Ebony, which Wood is imported from Turkey and Russia, and is bought in Exchange for English Cloth.  Likewise several other sorts of Wood from the West-Indies to the great advantage as well of His Majesties Customs, as of the Woolen Manufacture; by which it is obvious that the King’s Customs and the Woollen Manufactures are very much advanced, and that great Numbers of Poor People may be continually employed in Work, who otherwise must inevitably perish; or, as some already are, become a burden to their Parishes, unless there be a stop put to the Importation of Indian Fanns, and Fann-sticks, of which vast quantities are daily brought over, and it can be proved, that Five Hundred and Fifty Thousand have lately been Imported, which Hundreds of Poor Artificers are too sensible of, by the general decay of their Trade, and are in great fear that they and their Families shall be reduced to the utmost Want and Misery, unless the Honourable House of Commons relieve their pressing Necessities by prohibiting the Importation of Indian Fanns and Fann-sticks.’

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Custom Food Household

To keepe Cherries all the yeare

These fragments come from a little book printed in 1610 which offers advice on the best ways to make jams and marmalades and other treats fit for a Lady’s table.

‘To make Marmelate very comfortable and restorative for any Lord or Lady whatsoever:

Take a pound and a halfe of suger, boyle it with a pint of faire water, then take three or four small Quinces, one good Orange, both very well preserved and finely beaten, & three ounces of almonds blanched, and beaten by themselves.  Eringus roots preserved, 2 ounces and a halfe, stir these with the suger till it will not sticke, and then at the last put in Musk & Amber dissolved in rose water, of each four graines of Cinamon, Ginger, Cloves & Mace, of each three drams; of oyle of Cinamon two drops.  This being done, put it into your Marmelate boxes and so present it to whom you please.

To keep Cherries all the yeare to have them at Christmas:

Take of your fairest cherries you can get, but be sure that they be not bruised, and take them and rubb them with a linnen cloth, and put them into a barrell of hay, and lay them in ranks, first laying the hay in the bottom, and then the Cherries, and then hay againe, and then stop them up close so no ayre may come neare them, and lay them under a fether-bed where one lies continually, for the warmer they are the better, yet neere no fire, and thus doing, you may have cherries at any time of the yeare.


To make Syrup of Violets:

Take your Violets and picke the flowers, and weigh them, and  put them into a quart of water, and steepe them upon hot embers, untill such time as the flowers be turned white, and the water as blew as any violet, then take to that infusion four pound of clarified suger, and boyle it till it come to a syrupe, scumming them and boyling them uppon a gentle fire, and being boyled put the Syrup up and keepe it.

To make a fine Chrystall Gelly:

Take a knuckle of veale and four calves feet, and set them on the fire with a gallon of faire water, and when the flesh is boyled tender, take it out then let the liquor stand till it be cold, then take away the top and bottom of that liquor, and put the rest into a cleane Pipkin, and put into it one pound of clarified sugar, foure or five drops of oile of cynamon and Nutmeg, a graine of muske, and so let it boile a quarter of an hour leasurely on the fire.  Then let it run through a gelly bagge into a bason with the whites of two egges beaten, and when it is cold, you may cut it into lumpes with a spoone, and so serve three or foure lumpes upon a plate.

To make conserve of red and damask Roses:

Take of the purest and best coloured buds you can get, and clip off the whites from them, and to every pound of leaves you must take three pounds of Barbarie suger and beat them together, till they be very fine.  And then with a wooden spatter take it up, and set it on the fire till it bee hot, and then presently put it up, and it will be an excellent colour.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved


Every man would walke into the sweet meadows

Today’s snippets are on May Day celebrations in early modern England. The traditions of dancing around a maypole are routed in European paganism, and the maypole has a troubled history. Observed by the Romans to celebrate Flora, the goddess of Flowers, May Day celebrations were strongly aligned with the arrival of spring and fertility, and the act of dancing around a maypole was symbolic of bringing the community together in thanksgiving. After the Reformation, during the reign of Edward VI, Protestants denounced the maypole as idolatrous and many were burned, but it was not until the Interregnum that May Day practises were abolished, labelled, along with much else, as dangerous superstition. Despite this, with the Restoration came the return of the maypole, and May Day traditions were once more observed. Edmund Spenser, in The Shepherd’s Calendar, describes people going out into the countryside to collect hawthorn (‘may’) branches, which they would bring home to celebrate the arrival of summer:

Yougthes folke now flocken in every where,
To gather may buskets and smelling brere:
And home they hasten the postes to dight,
And all the Kirke pillours eare day light,
With Hawthorne buds, and swete Eglantine,
And girlonds of roses and Sopps in wine

The Puritan Philip Stubbes writes with damning criticism of the annual May Day celebrations in 1583 – a sharp contrast to the fondness with which Shakespeare includes aspects of May Day in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

All the young men and maides, olde men and wives run gadding over night to the woods, groves, hills & mountains, where they spend all the night in pleasant pastimes, & in the morning they return bringing with them birch & branches of trees, to deck their assemblies withall, and no marvaile, for there is a great Lord present amongst them, as superintendent and Lord over their pastimes and sports, namely, Satan prince of hell. But the chiefest jewel they bring from thence is their May-pole, which they bring home with great veneration. They have twentie or fortie yoke of Oxen, every Oxe having a sweet nose-gay of flowres placed on the tip of his hornes, and these Oxen drawe home this May-pole (this stinking Idol rather) which is covered all ouer with flowres, and herbs bound round about with strings from the top to the bottome, and sometime painted with variable colours, with two or three hundred men following it with great devotion. And thus being dressed up with handkerchiefs and flags hovering on the top, they strew the ground rounde about, binde green boughes about it, set up summer bowers and arbors hard by it. And then fall they to dancing about it like as the heathen people did at the dedication of the Idols.

John Stow, Elizabethan England’s great surveyor, describes May Day celebrations in London:

In the Month of May, May games namely on May day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walke into the sweet Meddowes and green woods, there to rejoyce their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet Flowers, and with the harmonie of Birdes, praising God in their kinde. And for example hereof, King Henry the eighth, as in the third of his reigne, and divers other yeeres, so namely in the seventh of his reigne, on May day in the morning, with Queene Katharine his wife, accompanied with many Lords and Ladies, rode a Maying from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooters-hill: where as they passed by the way, they espyed a company of tall Yeomen, clothed all in greene, with greene hoods, and with bowes and arrowes, to the number of 200. One, being their Chieftaine, Robin Hood, required the King and all his company to stay and see his men shoot: whereunto the King granting, Robin Hood whistled, and all the 200 Archers shot off, loosing all at once; and when he whistled againe, they likewise shot againe: their Arrowes whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and loud, which greatly delighted the King, Queene, and their company. Moreover, this Robin Hood desired the King and Queene, with their retinue, to enter the greene Wood, where, in Arbours made with boughes, and deckt with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine, by Robin Hood and his men, to their great contentment.

I find also, that in the month of May, the Citizens of London (of all estates) lightly in every Parish, or sometime two or three Parishes joyning together, had their severall Maynings, and did fetch in May-poles, with divers warlike shewes, with good Archers, Morice-dancers, and other devices for pastime all the day long; and towards the evening, they had stage-plaies, and Bonefires in the streets.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

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