October 16, 2016

Pies and petticoats

Women’s petticoats (1558-1603) specified by fabric in wills and inventories: 353 of 1,479 (24%)

The Tudor Tailor is happy to announce that the search for a source of frizado fabric has at last proved successful! But the quest has not been easy – there have been quirks and queries along the way …

The Tudor Tailor team decided that garments based on their newest research were essential items to pack for the Tailored to a New Worldconference at Jamestown Settlement in Virginia last June. Barbara Bundock (aka Ninya), Margery Trollope (aka Jane) and Lettice Lane (aka Kendra) all needed new petticoats to reflect the latest findings from 16th century wills and inventories.

Details from the team’s expansive (and expanding) data analysis are planned for each of patterns to be published in the next book – The Typical Tudor. Both men’s and women’s garments will be complemented by a pair of pie charts showing the most common fabrics and colours. The Jamestown event offered an opportunity for attendees to enjoy a sneaky peek at some preview pies and petticoats.

The focus of the Jamestown event was the turn of the 16th to the 17th centuries which made the data from 1558 to 1603 most relevant for Jane and Ninya’s presentation set in 1574. Just under 1,500 petticoats are bequeathed in wills or listed in inventories between these dates. Half of them are described by colour (46 per cent), nearly a quarter by fabric (24 per cent) and almost as many by both (21 per cent).

The majority of the petticoats were red (which will come as no surprise to readers of The Tudor Tailor) at 54 per cent. More than a third was interpreted as sheep’s colour because “russet” usually indicates an undyed fabric reflecting the colour or colours of the sheep from which the wool came. A mere ten per cent were other colours: white (37), black (16), blue (8), violet (3).

The 353 petticoats for which a fabric is given show that an overwhelming majority (73 per cent) was russet, with cloth (15 per cent) and frizado (five per cent) being the other two descriptions of note (see pie chart below).

The petticoats described by both colour and fabric (307) were mostly russet – probably a range of natural creams, browns and greys, which were sometimes described as white or black, such as Joan Bradlye’s “new petticoat made of white russet” (1570) and Margaret Browne’s “black russet petticoat” (1575).

These data suggested Kendra and Jane’s working-class petticoats be red and white russet respectively, and that Ninya’s middle-class version be red frizado, as was Maud Craknell’s “petticoat cloth” left to her daughter in 1584.

Russet is a simple, sometimes homespun, woollen fabric but it is not yet clear from the evidence available whether the weave was usually plain or twill. Kendra’s petticoat was made from the Tudor Tailor’s 2/2 twill (red is currently out of stock, although other colours are available) and Jane’s from a newly-sourced plain weave Sheep’s Colour.

The russet for the two working-class petticoats came off the shelf in The Tudor Tailor shop but the frizado for Ninya to be a cut above Jane and Kendra was more difficult to find. It proved such a challenge that her alter ego Barbara Bundock never had the opportunity to parade her prized frizado petticoat in Jamestown. She had to make do with an old one, which Margery Trollope (see photo above – right) was kind enough not to notice.

Frizado was “a fine stuff” in the 16th century, according to a later account, and as illustrated by a contemporary inventory of James Backhouse’s stock at Kirbye-in-Lonsdaile in 1578, which included red frizado priced at 6s 6d a yard. He had two other qualities of frizado dyed different reds too which were cheaper at 4s and 2s a yard.

Frizado was probably similar to frieze with a fuzzy surface created by raising the nap. But frizado was finer and lighter in weight than frieze, often commanding a higher price. There was a duty to pay on frizado too, according to a source of 1592, which says “Frisadoes of Pennystones wrought and frised, two goeth for a cloth, and being unwrought, four to a cloth, payeth custom £0 6s 8d”.

A suitable frizado was found – much closer to home than expected and in time for the transatlantic trip. The lovely people at the Yorkshire mill who make The Tudor Tailor’s 2/2 twill cloth also weave a lightweight 100 per cent woollen cloth with a raised fuzzy surface. When the sample arrived in the post, it matched up to the 16th century description. But before it could be made into a petticoat, Barbara Bundock’s tailor needed more than a swatch. An order was placed. A package arrived. The frizado was unwrapped and a fatal flaw was revealed – it was flat. The fuzzy surface had mysteriously disappeared.

It took a while to discover where it had gone. The mill usually sends all its fabric to the finishers, who smooth the surface and flatten the fuzz. So, the frizado had to go back to the mill for the process to be reversed and the nap reinstated.

The new petticoat finally made its debut at the annual recreation of Tudor life at Kentwell Hall in Suffolk in August where Ninya worked as a baxter (female baker) in the year 1592 (see photo above – left). The frizado proved comfortable rather than cosy, being surprisingly lightweight and breathable even for work in a hot bakehouse in summer, and very similar to other woollens.

The good news is that women of all ranks can compare and contrast the new Sheep’s Colour Plain Weave (£36 a yard) and the Red Frizado (£30 a yard), which are now available to purchase in the Etsy shop!

Click the gallery thumbnails to view the full images