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At home with a tailor – a multifunctional workspace

In 1622, the tailor guild’s statutes in Elsinore stated that customers should ‘get their finished work in agreed time’ and tailors were not allowed to have unfinished work laying around for too long. If the tailor was too slow, the owner of the commission could complain to a guild meeting, and the master had to pay fine not only to the guild, but also the the guild’s poor. The only acceptable reason for slow work was ‘illness or other legal matters’.[1] In case of complaints from customers, the work was to be inspected by two other master tailors, and if the garment was found ‘poorly sewn’, damaged, or if the tailor had ‘taken too much off than necessary’, the tailor had to keep the work and pay the expenses himself.[2]

A tailor, from Das Ständebuch by Jost Amman, 1560. Image: Wellcome Collection.

These passages originate from the tailor’s guild statutes in Elsinore and illustrate how tailors in Elsinore aimed to be reliable, trustworthy, and perform their best work. But the 1622 statutes do not only state the process of working as a tailor, they also regulated how finished garments should be sold in town. According to the statutes, a tailor could only sell garments from the ‘one place where he himself lives’.[3] This could explain why the tailor Jacob Robbersen, who was a member of the tailor’s guild, had a wooden board hanging outside his door, but other than that artisan inventories do not give much evidence on the physical space around the production of clothing.[4]  


The place of work

In light of the Refashioning the Renaissance, inventories are especially good at illustrating artisan’s personal wardrobes. However, a unique inventory from a tailor in Elsinore gives us also insight into the work environment around the production of clothes.

Page from the tailor’s guild statues in Elsinore, 1622.

An insight into a tailors work environment in the household is demonstrated in the inventory of Peter Folckertzen, a tailor whose inventory was drawn up on a summer day in 1650.[5] The inventory does not only give us an understanding of the private possessions found in the household, but it also sheds light on the space that they occupied when the inventory was made. This can give us a sense of the daily life in the household, and how a tailor’s work was performed in this period.

Page from Peter Folckertzen’s inventory from 1650.

From the inventory, we see that prior to his death Peter lived in Elsinore, where he owned a property in Frands Skriverstræde and a garden in town. The house consisted of several rooms, including a small chamber, a steggers (a sort kitchen), sallen (a larger room) and a basement that kept six empty beer barrels. Peter did not live in the property by himself. He oversaw a household consisting of himself, his wife, their children, and his journeymen who also lived in his household. From the inventory we also get information on his family relations as it was noted that Peter’s heirs were in Holstein.


A room for daily life?

According to the inventory, it looks like sallen was a central space in the house. For example, it housed materials for household work, such as spinning: two old rock (spinning wheels), two haspel (thread winder), and a garnvinde (yarn winder). But it also seems to be the place where Peter and his two journeymen worked during the day producing clothing. This is illustrated by the furnishing of the room, which included two shredderstoele (tailor chairs) and a verckfad, an artefact to store needles and threads. Furthermore, it contained an elaborate measuring stick, an alen (ell-wand) that was made of ebony ‘with some silver and bone’, three tailor’s scissors, one for each of his journeymen and one for himself, and a prenn, an awl to create holes in fabric. There were also four old særke (shifts), but nothing suggest that these were commissioned work.

Figure 5: The Tailor’s Workshop, 1661, Quiringh van Brekelenkam. Image: Rijksmuseum.

The room was not only reserved for work, as the furniture of the room suggest that it had a multifunctional purpose. Children and apprentices slept there, and closets, benches, and leather chairs indicate that it was a central room for daily life. Being both the place for work and sleep, it is noteworthy that sallen was the most decorated room in the house, which could suggest that this was also the room where guest and customers could be received. On the walls were five unidentified but valuable contrafeier, (often a portrait), and an old piece which was described as ‘about Juno, Venus and Pallas’. This painting hung together with five other small tauffler (paintings). It is likely that the painting named ‘about Juno, Venus and Pallas’ was similar to the painting with the same title, painted by Hans von Aachen in 1593, that depicts the three goddesses (figure 6). It was not only paintings that adorned the room. Hanging above the table was a small angel, and on the wall was a small mirror. Sallen was also the place for reading, writing, and entertainment, as it housed items such as 12 small old books, a Luther’s bible in German (folio), a board game, and an inkhorn.

Pallas Athena, Venus and Juno, Hans Von Aachen, 1593. Image: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Other inventories give evidence on tools and property in relation to the craft, and few other inventories give evidence of textiles and unfinished work the tailors left when they died. However, in comparison they do not give such a vivid insight into the material surroundings of artisans working from home. Nevertheless, all these small evidences allow us not only to get insight into the household of artisans, but also—more importantly—show how work, such as making clothes, was an important task in the household occupying the central room in the house.

[1] Danish National Archives, Helsingør Rådstue, Tegnebøger 1626-1641, 74 v

[2] Danish National Archives, Helsingør Rådstue, Tegnebøger 1626-1641, 74 r

[3]Danish National Archives, Helsingør Rådstue, Tegnebøger 1626–1641, 74 r

[4] Danish National Archives, Helsingør Byfoged, Skifteprotokoller, 1621–1625, 521 v

[5] Danish National Archives, Helsingør byfoged, Skifteprotokoller, 1648-1650, 213 r – 215 v

What happened to the clothing? A case study of a glazier family

On a fall day the 15 October 1591, the worldly possessions of the deceased couple, the Elsinore glazier Morten and his wife Kirstine, were divided among their two kids, the son Morten Mortensen, and the daughter Anne Mortensen.[1] Unfortunately the inventory is not clear about whether the father or mother died first, only that their children were entitled to their common goods. [2] As a glazier, Morten worked on windows, and owned for example a casket with candles, a tool for rolling lead mullions for windows, and a chest and another box with glass ‘whole and half panes’.[3]

Glazier, woodcut artist Jost Amman Das Ständebuch, 1568. SLUB / Deutsche Fotothek / DDZ.

Sadly, their son Morten died not long after his parents’ inventory was made, leaving Anne alone at a presumably very young age.[4] We do not know what happened to Anne from the time of her parents’ death to the death of her brother, but we can see from her brother’s inventory that several costs for Anne were listed, indicating that she was taken into care from 12 October 1591 until Christmas, but by whom, and what happened after this, is unknown. Entries also indicate that she had new clothing made: the tailor was paid 2 marks and 4 shillings for two garments and  some mackaye, possibly a mixed woollen fabric that could contain linen, cotton or even silk.[5]

Despite these awful circumstances two rather interesting inventories survive from this family, documenting what happened to the clothing belonging to the parents, not only in terms of why and how it changed hands, but also how the descriptions of the garments changed.[6]  

First page of the common inventory of the parents Morten Glazier and his wife Kirstine.


The clothing of the parents

The apparel of the parents was first distributed to the two children. The heirs for the glazier Morten and his wife were Morten and Anne, represented by their guardians Michell Snøckill and Jørgen Shriffuer, who were responsible for naming the goods. Both children’s lots included numerous items of copper, brass, and pewter, as well as a number of household linens such as sheets, bed linens, and table cloths. The children also inherited all the household’s linen fabrics, adding up to 48 ells (ca. 30 meter) of linen fabric made of flax and 26 ells (ca. 16,3 meter) made from coarser blår (tow). It seems that it was mainly the mother’s clothing that was given to the children; the items Morten received included one woman’s brown kirtle, a black woman’s kirtle and a red skirt. In comparison Anne received a cloak with a velvet trim and a red woman’s kirtle.


Sales, payoffs, and giveaways

Some of Morten and Kirstine’s clothes were also sold, which could be a way of obtaining financial means to benefit the children or to pay for the funeral or the cost for having the inventory made. Father’s outfit, a black kirtle made out of English cloth and a pair of breeches, was bought by a man whose name was Jørgen Lichtt Hartt for 3 daller. He also bought a felted hat for 24 shilling, but since the estate of the glazier and his wife owed him 11 shillings he ended up paying only 13 shillings. But some of the clothing owned by the glazier and his wife was also used to pay people who had provided services to the couple. This included their servant-maids, who were given two of Kirstine’s trøjer (doublets), and a pair of stockings were given to a woman who had watched over ‘the corpse’.[7] Some of the father Morten’s clothes were also bequeathed to close family, for no costs it seems. This was the case with a pair of leather stockings, 2 leather livstøcker (a sleeveless garment worn over the shirt), and a pair of leather breeches which were granted to the children’s grandfather on their mother’s side. Additionally, a cloak, presumably also belonging to the father, was used to make new garments for his children. 


New meanings

When the young Morten died in March 1592 an inventory of his goods was made.[8] This inventory explains how Morten’s guardian sent for his sister’s guardian to collect the goods that he had received from the estate of their parents. Is not clear if Anne received all her brother’s goods, but the objects listed in the inventory drawn up after her parents are listed again, giving us new insights about their appearances and where some of them went after her brother’s death.

Emphasized in brackets were Mortens heirlooms that were inherited from his mother, but now their descriptions had changed slightly, including:  ‘1 black under kirtle, 1 red flesh coloured skirt and ‘1 brown under kirtle without upperpart’.[9]

The inherited clothing highlighted in brackets in the son Morten’s inventory.

Anne’s goods had also changed description: the black cloak was still decorated with velvet trim but instead of just being a kirtle, the red garment was now described as an under kirtle. These changing descriptions in the inventories indicate not only the difficulties of working with dress terminology but also how perceptions of clothing change from viewer to viewer, giving new information on shades of colours and the construction of garments.


Sale of the mother’s kirtles

It is not clear what happened to the red or flesh-coloured skirt belonging to Morten, but we see that two kirtles, presumably the ones he had inherited, had been attacked by moths. They were therefore not useful, and were given to a woman who in turn sold them for 24 shillings. This is an interesting information because it tells us that garments—even in bad condition—could be attractive on the secondhand market.

By investigating two inventories from the same family we are able to follow the many ways in which clothing could be obtained and disseminated into society as heirlooms, sales, gifts, or a way of paying for services. Hopefully further research will reveal more of these interesting cases.

[1] Helsingør byfoged, 1583–1592, 238 r–241 r.

[2] There is unfortunately no information on the time of death, where they lived in town, or the age of the children. 

[3] His tools and materials were left undivided and given to his children. 

[4] The inventory of her parents belongings was made up on 15 October 1591 and the inventory between the son Morten and his sister Anne is dated 10 March 1592.

[5] See e.g. Ulinka Rublack and Maria Hayward, eds., The First Book of Fashion. The Books of Clothes of Matthäus & Veit Konrad Schwarz of Augsburg (London & New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015)., 400,,

[6] On this topic see e.g. Patricia Allerston, ‘Clothing and Early Modern Venetian Society’, Continuity and Change 15, no. 3 (2000): 367–90, who discusses many of the ways clothes could be obtained and distributed in early modern society.

[7] If this was Morten Glazier or his wife is not mentioned.

[8] Helsingør byfoged, 1583–1492, 275 r–277 v.

[9] The inventory of the son Morten in general includes more clothing than he inherited, so we must assume that these were his personal textiles including a linen skjortekrave (shirt collar).

To remove Ink, Cherry Juice and Other Stains and Spots

In 1648 the book Flora Danica, det er: Dansk Urtebog. (Flora Danica, what is: Danish Herbal book), was published. The author of the book Simon Paulli (1603—1680) was a Danish doctor, botanist and anatomist. From 1643 to 1639 he was a professor of medicine in Rostock and in 1639 to 1648 he worked as a professor of botany, anatomy and surgery at University of Copenhagen. In 1650 he became a physician at the court and later on he became the private physician to the Kings Frederik III (1609—1670) and Christian V (1646—1699).[1]

Engraving of Simon Paulli from 1666 (Royal Library of Denmark)

Flora Danica was commissioned by Christian IV (1577—1648) in 1645 while he wanted a book for the general population.[2] This can also be seen in the introduction of the book where it is noted how the book was aimed for people such as ‘the ordinary Man who lives in the country./ who does not always have resources or money to seek Doctors against various illnesses and incidents…’[3]

The book is divided in two sections containing 384 plants: the first part describes information such as name, appearance, place and use, whereas the latter part contains woodcut illustrations of the species.

First page of the Flora Danica

Although much of the information in the first section of the book relates to health and medicine, Paulli also offers tips on caring for textiles. For example he warns readers about walnut trees advising them not to: 

 … hang your [linen] Goods under Walnut Trees to bleach or dry: while the drops that fall down from the Walnut Trees / will stain the linen garments/ and the same stains will not go away easily It can therefore be concluded/ that Walnut trees are not beneficial in bleach fields.[4]

Engraving of a walnut tree (Flora Danica).

But in case of having stained garments, Paulli also explained how juice of Malus Limonia, lemons, could work as a stain remover:

With this same juice distinguished women also care for cloths and other linen garments by applying [it] / when they have Ink / Cherry Juice or other alike are becoming stained and spotted: Then spread it [the fabric]  out / and keep some lit Sulphur matches underneath / and if the spots are not too old/ then they will vanish with this Art.[5]

This was not the only purpose for lemons, which could help with several medical problems such as rotten teeth caused by scurvy, and were used in ointments against scabs and itchiness. The peel of the lemon was also advised to be used as ‘winter room’ refreshers in fine inns. The peel should be boiled in a pot or put in a fire pan and when soaked in rose water before boiling it would leave a ‘delightful scent’ so new guests could feel ‘recreated and be refreshed’. A sweeter scent could be achieved by adding nutmeg and Indian cloves.[6]

The plant Malus Limonia ( Flora Danica).

This stain removal instructions given by Paulli were tested on the 28th of November 2019, when I arranged a session for the students participating in the course ‘Textile Archaeology – A Hands on Approach’, based at the Centre for Textile Research and Department of Archaeology at the University of Copenhagen.

For the experiment I tried to use as authentic materials as possible, however some compromises were made. I for example used bleached medium-weight machine woven linen and in case of using svovlstikker (Sulphur matches), I used modern matchsticks. The svovlstikker (Sulphur matches) mentioned in the recipe would have contained smelly and poison Sulphur and would not have been self-igniting as the matches we use today.[7] I furthermore acquired organic unsweetened cherry juice made from sour cherries, organic lemons and ink, made from oak galls, iron sulfate and gum Arabic. Furthermore, I brought some organic cold pressed sunflower oil to test if the recipe could remove oily substances.

People are testing the stain remover.

We followed Paulli´s instructions, applying cherry juice, ink and oil on linen fragments. Shortly after we applied the lemon juice and lit a matchstick underneath. After the samples were  rinsed in water and left to dry.

Before and after pictures of the stained linen fabrics. Top: before the stain removal was applied: oil, ink and cherry juice. Bottom: after the stain removal process: cherry juice, oil and beneath cherry juice is ink.

The recipe did not remove the stains completely, but the stains were improved, and you can imagine, especially in the case of cherry juice and oil, that if the fabric was bleached afterwards it would almost become unnoticeable. In all, I think the experiment was a success, not only in terms of trying out the recipe, but also in introducing the students to how historians can make use of texts to reconstruct or materialize practices or processes, in this case contemporary textile cleaning practices. It also shows how we can get a deeper understanding of how people might have cared for their textiles and to what extent it worked.

[1]ø/Botanik/Botanikere_og_plantegeografer/Simon_Paulli, Salmonsens Konversations Leksikon, Christian Blangstrup, Bind XVIII Nordlandsbaad—Perleøerne (Copenhagen: A/S J. Schultz Forlagsboghandel, 1924)., 993


[3] Flora Danica, see introduction

[4] Flora Danica, p 94 Y

[5] Flora Danica, p 279 Y

[6] Flora Danica p 279 S – V, Z

[7] Self-igniting matches as we know of today were first invented in the 19-century. Svovlstikker ( Sulphur matches) is mentioned in Danish dictionaries from the sixteenth-century referring to them in Latin as Sulphurata, Fomes Sulphureus and Sulphuratum. Sulphur matches were first mentioned in England in the 1530s, see e.g. Nell DuVall, Domestic Technology: A Chronology of Developments (Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1988), 271.