ERC EU logo

Blog

New Research in Dress History Conference, 24 May 2019

Man’s doublet, possibly Italian, c. 1550-60. Red satin lined in canvas, trimmed with handmade silk buttons. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh boasts a wonderful collection of clothing and textiles, like the Italian doublet pictured above. This made it the perfect venue for the New Research in Dress History Conference, which took place on Friday the 24th of May. This is an annual event organised by the Association of Dress Historians, and this year it featured seventeen presentations on research spanning the late medieval period to today, and covering North and South America, Europe and Asia.
 
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to present my paper, ‘Books of Secrets and Artisans’ Dress in Italy, 1550–1650′, in the first panel of the day. The paper brought together my research on recipe books and the results of the workshop that the Refashioning the Renaissance project hosted in April. I spoke about the considerable investment that average people living in early modern Italy had to make in order to obtain clothing, drawing on examples from the inventories of artisans’ household that Stefania has been gathering and transcribing over the last 18 months. I then presented some ideas about ways that people might have cared for their clothes – to keep them in good condition and to help them keep their value – based on evidence from recipe books. I then spoke about the project’s ‘Dirty Laundry’ workshop, where we recreated different recipes for stain removers, simple dyes and a perfume for linen chests. As I explained at the conference, recreating the recipes helped us to ask new questions about artisans’ dress, look at things from new perspectives and recognise the importance of socialising and relationships in shaping the ways that people cared for their clothing.

A slide from my presentation showing our team admiring the results of our efforts at the workshop alongside an image of washing day from a German manuscript. Both show the importance of collaboration. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

I was on the same panel as Astrid Pajur, a PhD student that the Refashioning the Renaissance team met on our trip to Uppsala University last year. In her paper, ‘Clothes, Practices, and Social Relations in Seventeenth Century Tallinn, Swedish Baltic Empire’, Astrid also spoke about the importance of social networks in relation to dress. She presented the wonderful example of an organ builder who did not feel he was provided with the outfit ‘in the latest fashion’ that he had requested from a local tailor and decided to take action against him. This resulted in a long and complicated dispute between the two men, each leaning on their colleagues and fellow townspeople for support. As Astrid demonstrated, the value of the clothes also had a social aspect, as the organ builder felt he would face ridicule and damage to his honour if he wore the unfashionable outfit provided by the tailor.

A slide from Astrid Pajur’s presentation. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

The panels in the afternoon featured presentations on a range of interesting topics, including the female suppliers of clothing and accessories to the nineteenth-century French court, metallic bobbin lace from Sweden’s royal wardrobe, dress for cycling in the First Brazilian Republic and the problem of women’s hats in late nineteenth-century American theatres. I was quite intrigued by Eliza McKee’s paper, ‘Landed Estate Clothing Societies in Rural Ulster, Ireland, 1830–1914′, which explored the dress of the poor through evidence around clothing clubs. As part of these clubs, the wives and daughters of wealthy landowners brought together donations that provided their impoverished tenants with clothing, especially for winter. The details of these garments and lengths of fabrics were captured in detailed account books and registers kept by the club members, monitoring this important aspect of their tenants’ lives.

Eliza McKee presenting her research. Photo copyright Refashioning the Renaissance Project.

I also saw some interesting connections between my paper and that of Leren Li, titled: ‘Japanese Boro and the Designing of Frugality in Contemporary Fashion’. Leren explained the Japanese terms boroand boroboro, which refer to tattered garments and soft furnishings. In the past, when many Japanese people lived in rural areas with very little money, women mended and created new garments clothing through the recycling of pieces and patches from other textiles.

Robe worn by a Japanese peasant or fisherman and pieced together with indigo-dyed cotton, c. 1850-1900. Cotton, 115x120cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Today, at least in urban centres in Japan but also Europe and North America, garments are still patched up in this way, but for reasons of fashion rather than poverty. For instance, the jacket pictured below, which features hand-stitched ‘boro’ patchwork, can be purchased for just under 1400 Euros on Etsy! Leren also spoke about workshops that teach people to mend their clothing in the borostyle, and in some instances, participants bring new t-shirts with purposely cut holes, which they patch with vintage fabric.

Although the papers presented at the conference were many and diverse, they were unified by the importance all placed on how meaningful dress is and was in the past. Each paper, in its way, highlighted the multiple ways that different people and groups develop or derive meaning from clothing – whether their own, that for their families, friends or customers and through production, consumption or even just spectatorship. Most importantly, as each paper demonstrated, clothing takes its multiple, complex meanings from the social realms in which it lives.

Sense and Matter in Early Modern Europe: A Conference in Honour of Evelyn Welch

Sixty is a very important birthday indeed. To mark that of Evelyn Welch, Professor of History as well as Provost & Senior Vice President at King’s College, London (not to mention advisory board member for the Refashioning the Renaissance Project), a one-day symposium was held on 9 March 2019. The event, ‘Sense and Matter in Early Modern Europe’, brought together speakers that have worked with Evelyn over the course of her career. The day was divided into three parts: Fashion and Textiles, Consumption and Body and Medicine, highlighting some of Evelyn’s primary research interests over the years. There was also a great round of lightning talks by early career researchers, intended to reflect Evelyn’s longstanding role as mentor to those at the start of their academic journeys.

Paula Hohti, Refashioning the Renaissance’s principal investigator, was one of the speakers featured in the session on consumption, where she presented her paper, ‘Did ordinary Italians have a ‘Renaissance’?’ Paula was able to draw on both past and current research to show that working people in Siena owned objects and garments usually associated with the wealthy and elite. She was also able to highlight the important contributions of members of the public, who are knitting silk and wool stockings for our project based on historic patterns and examples as part of the Citizen Science Project. Bruno Blondé and James Shaw also spoke on this panel; Blondé demonstrated the critical role of cultural value in shifting patterns of consumption, particularly around silver in the Low Countries, while Shaw suggested the complexities of valuing goods and arriving at final prices, which sometimes resulted in financial ‘lesions’.

Attendees were also treated to presentations on the history of dress and fashion by Ulinka Rublack, Maria Hayward and Lesley Miller, which highlighted the power of dress objects to represent social stresses (and even cause riots!) and to help wearers curry favour with prospective patrons. We also learned the incredible value of reconstruction as a research method and the importance of failure in such experiments. This is particularly important advice for the Refashioning the Renaissance team as we move deeper into the experimental phase of the project.

Jenny Tiramani and Ulinka Rublack with the reconstruction of a costume owned by Matthäus Schwarz. Photo © Graham CopeKoga.

The day was rounded out with a series of lightning talks by early career researchers Rose Byfleet, Abigail Gomulkiewicz, Anna Parker and Annie Thwaite, and presentations on the theme of Body and Medicine by Tessa Storey and Hannah Murphy, which encompasses Evelyn’s current area of research, Renaissance Skin. Finally, John Styles offered closing remarks that brought all of the sessions and papers together.

In addition to the fascinating research presented by all the speakers at this symposium, ‘Sense and Matter’ also demonstrated how critical collaborative funding is to the humanities – and the long-lasting results it can have; many participants in Evelyn Welch and Michelle O’Malley’s ‘The Material Renaissance’ project were present to share new research, support colleagues and celebrate a dear friend’s birthday. Happy birthday Evelyn!

Museo del vino, Málaga, Spain

19 October 2018

Spain is of course well-known for its production of wine and that from Málaga gained the status of ‘the cardinal of wines’ (second only to ‘the pope of wines’ from Cyprus) in a poetic ‘battle of the wines’ in 1224. While I was in Málaga for Digital Art History Summer School, I had the chance to visit the local wine museum to think about how their collection can help support the research we are doing for the Refashioning the Renaissance project. Although wine might not seem to have much to do with fashion in the sixteenth century, there were – and are today – some surprising connections between the two!

One of the most interesting to me is the use of wine dregs, the sediment you sometimes find at the bottom of your wine glass or the bottom of a wine barrel (then called lees), which can be purified to make potassium bitartrate, or what we usually call cream of tartar.

One of the components of dregs of wine, potassium bitartrate – or wine crystals – on a cork. Potassium bitartrate can be purified to make cream of tartar. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is very often used in cooking as a thickening agent or stabiliser, but tartar – in various forms – was also an important ingredient in other kinds of recipes, found in books of secrets, during the Renaissance. For example, in Isabella Cortese’s compendium, I secreti (Venice, 1584), tartar is a component of a wide range of recipes related to textiles, including: ‘For washing old satin cloths [so that they] appear new’, ‘To lift every stain of oil and grease from woollen cloth’, and ‘[For making] little balls of soap for lifting stains’.

The museum also had information about the use of wine as medicine in the past, with many beautiful labels from bottles and crates advertising Málaga wines for different ailments.

Wine label.

Wine was also important in medical treatments in the Renaissance, and again, books of secrets give instructions for curing and preventing diseases with the drink. The English translation of Girolamo Ruscelli’s The secrets of the reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont offers: ‘a thing proved and experimented to be very true against [kernels in a man’s throat]’ (28v), where polipodium (‘which is an hearbe like unto Ferne’) is prepared as a powder and served to the patient with wine or honey.

Recipe for curing problems with the throat from Girolamo Ruscelli, The secrets of the reverend Maister Alexis of Piemont translated from French by William Ward (London: P. Short for T. Wight, 1595).

Finally, although it’s not related to fashion, books of secrets also offer us many recipes for keeping wine sweet, stretching it a little further, or magically making it from water. Here is what Lorenzo Leandro suggests in his Tesoro di varii secreti (Brescia and Verona: Bortolamio Merlo, 1613):

To make from water wine: Take one part tartar from a wine barrel, and four parts brazilwood; make it into a powder and put it in a bowl to infuse. And to that add some water, that will make it wine. More water will make it clearer and if you want white wine, add a little vinegar.

It doesn’t sound very appealing but might be necessary in a pinch!