Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Elizabethan PolyChrome Waistcoat. Semi Documentation

Elizabethan Polychrome Embroidered Waistcoat
By Lady Elizabethe De Salisbiry
Kingdom of Ansteorra
Barony of Elfsea

Note: This Documentation is in rough form. I only have it here for learning purposes, it is not complete, but feed back is always welcome! When the waistcoat is finished. I will upload the entire finished documentation and sources. I won't be including all of theses pictures in the documentation, but for blog purposes I thought you may like them.

What is it?

An Embroidered Elizabethan Waist coat, Embroidered all over with colored silk on linen, with vines fine stitched with fine gold passing thread; further embellished with spangles; lined with red silk and closed with hooks and eyes, with gold bobbin lace on the edges.

Why did I choose to make it?

I chose to make this project after viewing the Laton Jacket on the internet and seeing it in several of Janet Arnold’s books. It was just something I had to have.

The History of the Garment.

Not much is known about the embroidered Jackets other than; they started to be immensely popular after Queen Elizabeth 1st had passed away in the early 17th century. As more portraits portray that kind of embroidery on jackets, waist coats and false panels. However it is my belief that they existed before her death in 1603.

One can ask why these waistcoats or Jackets were not popular at court in the period. The simple reason is that they were considered informal house garments. To be worn in the comfort of one’s own home, but also still rich enough in design and dress to be considered ‘highclass’ in the middling society or higher. If a lady had one of these, it was a show of wealth and favor.

One such example of a Polychrome waistcoat is worn in a miniature painted by Isaac Oliver, in ca. 1602 depicting Sarah Gheeraerts, Isaac’s wife. “She wears a white linen jacket with polychrome silk embroidery, similar to others in many English portraits. The coif and hairstyle resemble those in Dutch Portraits after 1600. The smock is worn with a flat turn down collar open at the neckt, in and informal pose. Private Collection.” (Citation 5 QE1 WU, Janet Arnold. Show picture bib)

Wardrobe accounts state that Queen Elizabeth’s Lady in waiting Mrs. Skydmore had a received several gift’s for Queen Elizabeth 1st by Mr. Phillip Sydney “a waistcoat of white sarceonet, quilted and enbrawdred with golde, siluer, and silke of diuers collors, with a pasman lace of golde and siluer rownde abought it.” received in 1578. (enter Citation 1 here. Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Uploaded (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/qewu.html). ©2011)

In 1589 Queen Elizabeth the 1st received “ a waistcoat of white taffety, inbrodered all over with twists of flowers of venis gold, silver, and some black silke.” By the Barones Lumley (Citation 2 here Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Uploaded (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/qewu.html ). ©2011)

1589 “By the Lady Leyton, a waistcote of white sarsnett , ymbrodered round about with a border of eglantne flowers, and ymbrodered all over with a twist of Venis gold .” (Citation Source Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Uploaded (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/qewu.html). ©2011)

1599 the wardrobe accounts record that Queen Elizabeth is also presented with a waistcoat. “By the Baronnese Burghley, one waistcoat of white sarcenett, embrothered whith flowers of silke and sondry colors.” (Citation 2 here Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Uploaded (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/qewu.html). ©2011)

All four waistcoats were given to Lady Skydmore as she was appointed as a Lady of the Privy Chamber with her life at court; Queen Elizabeth the 1st chief lady in waiting Elizabeth of Vernon having the infamous squabble where Queen Elizabeth the 1st had attacked her upon finding out one of her Ladies had married in secret. Supposedly broken finger was involved on Bess's end; but rumors were greatly exaggerated by servants.

(Janet Arnold The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c1560-1620. Picture 326)

The research of these sources particularly spurred a wild search to reach out and find more pictorial sources of these waistcoats, as there were very few court paintings in existence.

Modern research had proved next to fruitless with very few examples to be had. So I had emailed the textile expert that had worked in the Victoria and Albert Museum with my query. Asking questions that had peaked my interest. Such as, how long did a waistcoat like the Layton waistcoat take to be actually made?


Researching this waistcoat had started at the Layton jacket, and then branched out towards similar items in context, such as the Kyoto museum bodice, which is also known as the “Deveroux bodice.” Ca. 1600. It consists of elaborate embroideries which is seen on sweet bags of the period. Silver gobelin stitch ground, gold purl and detached floral motifs. Which clearly shows the quality of the professional embroiders that Queen Elizabeth the 1st employed in her court while she was Queen.

“The dress of woman in the Tudor Era was equally elaborate, and by the early seventeenth century, embroidered garments were included in the wardrobes of woman of the gentry and middling classes, as well as the aristocracy As a Monarch, Queen Elizabeth had the largest and most expensive wardrobe in England, and the inventory taken in 1600 provides extraordinary descriptions of the garments, their materials, and their decorations. Embroidery in colored silks, gold and silver was the prevailing type of embellishment described, and this is corroborated by the garments illustrated in portraits of the queen. Gowns, kirtles, petticoats, foreparts (the front panel of a petticoat), jackets, doublets, cloaks, mantles, shoes, and mules, made by the artisans of the Royal Wardrobe and embellished by her embroiders, constitute the majority of more than twelve hundred entries.” (Citation 4 Met museum book)

Historical Embroidery Guilds

While there are very few mentions of Embroidery guilds in Elizabethan time, due to a fire that happened in the 17th century, destroying nearly all the documents that guild housed; making it exceedingly hard to learn about embroidery during that time. However Queen Elizabeth the 1st Employed numerous “silkwomen” to embellish and embroider her garments. Descriptions of these “Silk Women” can be found in Drea Leed’s online resource of Leed, Drea. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Uploaded (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/qewu.html). ©2011

However research points out that the Silk women were not embroiders, while they did some blackwork. Their main occupation would seem that they were more of a fiber art and sewing. Acquiring silks and items like a small merchant, even though it was very much a craft; from small things like ribbons, and passamerie lace. Silkwomen were more of a Merchant class and a “Guild in all but name Honoring the Mistress and Apprentice system.

After a short amount of time, the craft was taken over by men due to gender, marriage, the dissolution of monasteries and religion. Even going so far that men had made a law to not “bind or bound” a woman to their art. (Cite Locating Privacy in Tudor London)

During the Reign of Queen Elizabeth the 1st, she reinstated the Worshipful Broideres Guild in ca. 1561. Although the guild has existed since the 14th century, this allowed the guild to train servants in the art of embroidery. Thus the ability for rich households to employ them to embroider on garments.

“Embroidery in Tudor times became more confined to wealthier households, on court dress and home furnishings. Servants were often hired because of their skills with a needle. Popular designs included floral motifs with twining rose stems and other English flowers entangled with birds and butterflies. Many used expensive silk, which had to be imported from the Levant.

Aristocratic ladies hired master designers to make pieces, while they devoted themselves to their handiwork. Mary Queen of Scots is known to have studied in France and had two master designers. The Elizabethan period also saw two splendid silver cups given to the Broderers by two of their most significant members, John Parr and Edmund Harrison.

By the 1600s and 1700s, samples and pictures were in vogue and the craft was increasingly a domestic product.”

(Citation: http://www.broderers.co.uk/TheCraftOfEmbroidery )

Historical Bobbin Lace Guilds – (Refer to books for historical sources on English Bobbin Lace Guilds)

Methods of making it.

There are several steps of making a Waistcoat. Historical methods are as follows. A tailor to draft a waist coat pattern. A master patterner to pattern the design. Often designs came from popular books of the period. The first pattern book for embroidery published in England was Moryssche & Damaschin renewed & encreased very popular for Goldsmiths & Embroiderers by Thomas Geminus ca. 1545.

Using the prick and pounce method (Cite prick and pounce, light, and ink) and the, with what is modernly known as the light table method, using windows instead to trace patterns. In extent examples ink lines can still be seen today.

After the master patterner has drawn out the design on the tailored waistcoat. Ladies would employ the services of professional embroiders, silkwomen for supplies or small jobs, or use her bevy of house hold servants to do the bulk of the work. We know that Bess of Hardwick was one of these ladies who had owned a waistcoat. (Provide picture figure 1)

“In the Elizabethan period the new tradition of domestic embroidery came to full flower and now for the first time the work of amateurs assumed an equal importance with that of professionals. Indeed it is often impossible to distinguish between them.” (Citation Guide to English Embroidery)

“Often a noble household would include a professional embroiderer to direct the work, even though the bulk of it might be done by the mistress of the house with the aid of her maids or even the grooms and boys of the household, whom Bess of Hardwick is known to have pressed into the service of the needle.”

(Citation- G.F. Wingfield Digby, Elizabethan Embroidery, London, 1963, p. 62. )

Materials and Sourcing, A history of discovery

During the reproduction of the Plymouth Plantation Jacket, textile experts, fiber experts and stitch experts had reversed engineered some of the fibers to discover what was needed to reproduce the waistcoat. They had discovered that the silk thread was a three ply twist silk, the metal thread was a passing thread, with a silk core, wrapped in finely hammered flattened gold.

They had reversed engineered or taken apart a piece of coif that was too badly damaged to be considered salvageable. To discover how the Plaited Braid stitch was worked, as at the time the stitch seemed a mystery.

Without this valuable research, a lot of this would be unknown today, and reproducing colorful polychrome garments would still be largely a guessing game.

Spangles or O'es. Small flattened pieces of gold, punched out, and then punched out again. Forming a small hole in which to sew onto polychrome pieces of work; they vary in size and shape, sometimes being in a droplet shape, and Oval or a simple O, or in rare cases a flower which was used on bobbin lace. Modernly we can find similar ones known as sequins. The idea I so add more glamour.

(Cite cheap spangles and who said it in period. Will find source)

Historical Sources –

Silk thread came from the Levant, they were acquired by The lady of the house, the broiders guild or Silk Women. Although little no documents found can support the broiders guild or silk women, but we do know that we can largely support Bess of Hardwick pressing of the needle to create her embroidery.

Often times Masquerades were attended and lavish embroidered costumes were commissioned. (Cite Resource. Elizabethan Costuming ladies and QEWU)

The broiders guild also worked fine metals, so it isn’t a stretch to acquire the spangles or finely wrapped gold passing thread as it was both made by Silkwomen and the members of the Broiders guild.

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