Friday, July 05, 2013

knitting in Europe circa 1280



Paul Lacroix quoting  French historian and archaeologist. Jules √Čtienne Joseph Quicherat (13 October 1814–8 April 1882) :

"Towards the year 1280," he says, "the dress of a man--not of a man as the word was then used, which meant serf, but of one to whom the exercise of human prerogatives was permitted, that is to say, of an ecclesiastic, a bourgeois, or a noble--was composed of six indispensable portions: thebraies, or breeches, the stockings, the shoes, the coat, the surcoat, or cotte-hardie, and the chaperon, or head-dress. To these articles those who wished to dress more elegantly added, on the body, a shirt; on the shoulders, a mantle; and on the head, a hat, or fronteau.

The braies, or brayes, were a kind of drawers, generally knitted, sometimes made of woollen stuff or silk, and sometimes even of undressed leather. .... Our ancestors derived this part of their dress from the ancient Gauls; only the Gallic braies came down to the ankle, whereas those of the thirteenth century only reached to the calf. They were fastened above the hips by means of a belt called the braier."

By chausses was meant what we now call long stockings or hose. The stockings were of the same colour and material as the braies, and were kept up by the lower part of the braies being pulled over them, and tied with a string."



Lacroix and Quicherat were both experts on the middle ages and anybody that wants to disagree with both of them had better have all their arguments in good order.


Manners, Custom and Dress During the Middle
Ages and During the Renaissance Period has been reprinted by Skyhorse Publishing, in which the quote above starts on page 529. It is also available as a 
Project Gutenberg EBook and the quote is adjacent to fig 417.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand where does it say anything about the stockings being knitted. Have I missed something?

I see a reference to woollen stuff silk and leather

Aaron said...

"The stockings were of the same colour and material as the braies, . . . "

The braies were knit, and the stockings were the same . . . .

chathamh said...

Noted. But I could use some clarification: what is this quote saying that isn't already well-known? I'm lazy, so I went to the Wikipedia History of Knitting article. It has knitting documented as extant in Christian Spain by 1275. For French men of means to have their own knitted garments by 1280 proves, as far as I can tell, that there was trade between Spain and France. What is there here for people to disagree with?

Anonymous said...

It's quite possible they weren't. Nalebinding is very difficult to distinguish from knitting -- and it's a technique that many early archaeologists and historians were unfamiliar with.

Aaron said...

Jules √Čtienne Joseph Quicherat lived when there was still wide-spread professional hand knitting. He knew what could be produced using a knitting sheath and either gansey needles or swaving pricks.

Do you?

Textile experts who know how to nalbind and who have seen and handled many samples of (modern) nalbinding are surprised at what I produce using a knitting sheath. The curious thing was that I found textile judges that were more familiar with nalbinding than than with fabrics knit with a knitting sheath.

How about I send you a gansey knit sock, you nalbind a replica and send both socks to an impartial textile expert. If the expert can tell the difference, then you send me $5,000? If the expert cannot tell the difference than I send you $6,000? Or, lets have a little "rodeo", where everybody gets together and knits or nalbinds a good pair of cold weather socks (tested by having the knitter/nalbinder keep their feet in a tub of ice water for 30 minutes while wearing their socks). Winner takes all the entry fees.

It takes me much less than 20 hours to knit a pair of 6" high socks that will pass that test. Can you nalbind (in only 20 hours) a pair of socks that will pass that test?) Try it!!! Remember, you need to keep ice floating in the tub, or it is not really ice water. (To put this in perspective, commercial downhill, all wool ski socks from Any Mountain are good for about 6 to 10 minutes.)

Nalbinding is likely older. However, gansey knitting and swaving are faster, cheaper, and produce denser and more uniform fabrics. We can be sure that knitting/swaving rapidly displaced nalbinding for the routine production of functional clothing. A wife/mother that needed socks for her family would produce them in the fastest way that she knew how. Knitting is faster. If she knew how to knit, she knit rather than nalbinding. The economics are for knitting and against nalbinding, except where ladies at court needed a status display of how much leisure time they had.

Aaron said...

Iamknittinguk & Dianne,

2 experts say in plain language that they were "generally knitted, sometimes made of woollen stuff or silk, and sometimes even of undressed leather"

Argue with them, not me.

chathamh said...

One, from my reading, nalbound and knitted artifacts can be very hard to differentiate because they tend to be fragmentary and degraded, not just because they can look similar. This is especially true for items worn by common folk.

Two, nalbinding is much more ancient than knitting in Europe, with documented examples in Viking archaeological sites. They wore nalbound socks, with woven wool leg wrappings and leather shoes.

Knitted working garments aren't reliably accounted for in the European archaeological record until the 14th century. Before that, all artifacts indicate either woven or nalbound construction. I know you hypothesize knitwear was in Europe before the 13th century, but as long as the evidence isn't there it's a hard argument to give credence.

Dianne said...

Experts in the middle of the nineteenth century. There's been a bit more research done since then, Aaron, you might want to take a look at some of it. Start with "Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince", or "Woven into the Earth" by Else Ostergaard. Take a look at the writings of Kass McGann of Reconstructing History, who has handled medieval garments in person.

Or this article by Julie Theaker, which discusses research in Rutt's History of Hand Knitting and includes a pair of naalbinding socks.http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEspring06/FEAThistory101.html

Really, Aaron, do you want to walk around in "undressed leather" underpants? Neither did medieval people.

Aaron said...

My gansey socks are $200/pair for plain hiking boot socks and $300 for plain ski boot socks. I only take orders from guys that have have saved my life (e.g., caught me on belay while rock climbing), and still there is a waiting list.

My knit objects get passed around the guild meetings. If you want to touch and feel, come to a guild meeting.

http://treadles2threads.blogspot.com/

Aaron said...

We know that they had excellent tanning in the time of Charlemagne, and that his inexpensive otter skin tunic was more comfortable and practical than the wool and silk clothing worn by his fashion conscious courtiers.

Bark tanned rabbit, otter, beaver and similar pelts are easy to prepare, durable, and very warm. This tanning process has been known from Neolithic times around the world. Worn with the soft fur against the skin it is very comfortable - no underwear required -- in very cold conditions. Bark tanned leather against the skin is more comfortable than most knit wool under similar conditions of hygiene. Seal skin in particular is very water proof, and the only fur that is suitable for extended continuous wear in wet conditions (e.g., at sea). In moderate conditions, furs are too warm. Caribou pelts remain the warmest clothing material known.

Dianne said...

Again, braies and other undergarments were made of linen, to protect the wool and silk outer garments from body odors and soils. Linen undergarments can be washed and then laid out in the sun to dry and bleach. Not a treatment you wanted to give a wool or silk garment, especially the fur-lined ones!

Aaron said...

In wet weather, linen will wick liquid water toward the skin, heat from the skin will vaporized the water, which will then condense on the outside of the clothing releasing the heat while the water is wicked back to the skin.

This process will result in hypothermia and death.

Wool underwear will help avoid hypothermia and death in wet weather.

K A Archer said...

"In wet weather, linen will wick liquid water toward the skin, heat from the skin will vaporized the water, which will then condense on the outside of the clothing releasing the heat while the water is wicked back to the skin.

This process will result in hypothermia and death.

Wool underwear will help avoid hypothermia and death in wet weather."

Yes, that is all correct. However, it still doesn't change the fact that historically, undergarments were made out of linen.