Making rural clothing

Documentary evidence provides a wealth of information about types of garment, colour, fabric and accessories.  It allows us to get a much clearer idea of how the poor acquired their clothing and it also offers us an insight into what their clothing meant to them.  But the limitation of documentary sources is that whilst they might describe the sort of garment (‘a petticoat’), its colour (‘red’) and its fabric (‘russet’) they do not tell us anything about its construction.  In order to translate this research into actual garments, therefore, it needs to be used alongside other types of evidence such as pictorial sources and surviving garments. 

Barbara Painter's designs for female clothing c1630

Barbara Painter’s designs for female clothing c.1630.

Based on composite sources historic clothing consultant, Barbara Painter, produced designs for male and female outfits. The woman’s outfit includes a linen smock, ‘red’ woollen over-petticoat with ribbon or braid trim, a ‘red’ woollen under-petticoat, a pale green ‘fustian’ waistcoat (with separate, yellow woollen sleeves), a blue linen apron, neck cloth and coif and grass-green woollen stockings.  The neck cloth has been edged with ‘bone’ lace (lace made on bone bobbins from linen thread), handmade by one of the members of the Needlework Group.

The man’s outfit includes a linen shirt (with separate collar or ‘bands’), ‘fustian’ doublet, canvas breeches with detachable leather linings, a canvas ‘frock’ coat (the forerunner of the 19th century agricultural labourer’s smock) and ‘mingled’ woollen stockings.  

Barbara Painter's desgins for male outfit c1630.

Barbara Painter’s desgins for male outfit c.1630.

To produce the clothing we have had to translate 17th century fabric types into affordable modern equivalents.  For example, the male doublet and female waistcoat are made out of a wool cloth which approximates the appearance, feel and weight of fustian (a flax and cotton mix), the female petticoats are made out of lighter-weight wool cloth and the male canvas ‘frock’ and breeches are made from a heavy linen cloth.

Domestic Life Interpreter, Lesley Parker, has hand-dyed fabric on site using a range of natural dyes, including madder for ‘red’ over- and under-petticoats (different shades of red were achieved by using different mordants – alum for the over-petticoat and salt and copper for the under-petticoat), weld (with a copper mordant) for a green waistcoat and safflower for the detachable yellow sleeves.  The women’s woollen stockings will be dyed with weld and then over-dyed with woad, to produce a ‘grass-green’ colour; the apron has been dyed with indigo to produce a deep blue.

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