Elizabethan Interiors: the Walls, Part 3

It is difficult to trace the exact date that wallpaper was introduced in England. The British National Archives notes that wallpaper was introduced to England in the mid-sixteenth century from China (source 1). However, a reproduction of an earlier wallpaper that originally hung in the Master’s Lodgings, Christ’s College, Cambridge was donated to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The original piece was printed on the back of paper with references to the first year of Henry VIII’s reign (1509), the same year the building was constructed. The original paper was also printed by Hugo Goes, a printer known to be working in York in 1509 (source 2). In the same time-frame, the Metropolitan Museum of Art holds two woodcuts for wallpaper by (no images online, but accession numbers 22.674,22.675 and 22.67.4,5).

Also, “Fabric of Britain: The Story of Wallpaper” discusses the history of wallpaper in Britain.  If you can access the video, the 16th and 17th centuries are covered between 4:29 and 6:14.

Obviously, much of the problem dating the origins of wallpaper lies in its delicate nature and predilection to quickly deteriorate. The result of this nature is a scarcity of extant wallpaper from the sixteenth century. To date, I have found images of only six extant fragments online, two of the same design. Here’s what we have to date, arranged by similarity:

wallpaper1 Images of Tudor roses, the Tudor coat of arms, and various fruit and foliage springing from a vase, all within ornate frames (the duplicate of this pattern is here).

wallpaper2 Fragments of a vase of vines with, heraldic images (possible of a bird), and other unidentified motifs, all with ornate frames.

wallpaper3 Various flowers within strap work, made to imitate blackwork embroidery.

wallpaper4 Floral design to imitate brocade patterns popular in the 15th and 16th centuries.

wallpaper5 A repeating geometric pattern.

As usual, we have put together a Pintrest Board to capture these fabulous images!

A Pair of Game-Boards

In preparation for some upcoming projects and posts, I’ve been collecting images and creating some new Pintrest boards.  This week, I thought I’d share a few images from one of those collections.

Below are two beautiful game-boards from the sixteenth century.  Both boards are reversible, with a chess board on one side and either an unknown game board chess  or the Goose Game on the other side. The boards are also all heavily decorated with intricate inlay, in a variety of woods, ivory, dyed ivory, horn, gold and micromosaic. The similarities between both boards, especially in their design, are impressive, especially given the distances between their origins – one from India and the other Italy.

Italian Game-board for Chess and Goose Game
ItGoose ItChess

Indian Game-board for Chess and an unknown game
InChess InUnk

We’ve also started a Pintrest Page with more pictures of game boards.

Winter Warmth: Constructing the Elizabethan Nightcap, Part 1, Materials

Over the next few weeks, I’ll walk you through how to make an embroidered nightcap, like those featured in our post two weeks ago.


The first step is choosing materials.  The vast majority of nightcaps were linen, but some were also made of silk or velvet.  Some extant nightcaps are lined, generally in silk, and at least one cap has a different lining inside the brim than inside the upper crown.  Most caps are embroidered in silk and/or gilt thread, but wool is also a possibility.  In addition to embroidery, many caps have a band of lace around the edge of the brim, and paillettes or spangles can be used throughout the embroidery and/or lace.

For the cap in this example, I need one that will provide maximum warmth in below-freezing weather, so I am substituting modern materials.  I pulled a piece of embroidered cotton from my stash to simulate the embroidered portion of the brim and crown.  Like period examples, I will not waste the embroidered fabric on the portion behind the brim which will not show, so cotton broadcloth is being used for this section.  The interior lining will be white fleece.  At some point I may make a more period embroidered cap, but these materials better meet the purpose of this cap.

20141204_171629 embroidered cotton

Next, we’ll talk about patterns.

Don’t forget to check out our Pintrest Page for inspiration!

Holiday Traditions: Wassailing

As you prepare for the coming holiday celebrations, why not add a little historic tradition to your celebrations?

Wassail comes from Old English and Norse, meaning “good health,” and the traditional response is “drink hail.”  Wassailing is a centuries-old practice, dating back at least to eighth century, of blessing one another for a good year, or blessing the land, especially orchards, for a good coming harvest.  By the late sixteenth century, the practice had also evolved into groups of youth taking a wassail bowl around the town, begging for wassail, food or money in exchange for singing carols.  These bowls were often became family heirlooms, especially among the wealthy.

The earliest wassail recipes were for a hot spiced ale or beer.  John Gerard’s Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, first published in 1597, describes wassail as a spiced ale or cider.   Modern recipes often add wine or other fruit juices, often orange or cranberry juice.

To read more about the tradition and the drink, check out these sites:

A History of the Wassail Bowl by Joanna Crosby, as presented at the Oxford Food Symposium July 2011

Wassailing through History by Robert Doares, from the Colonial Williamsburg website

More Christmas Revels by Maggie Secara, from the Elizabethan Compendium

Wassail from Wikipedia


Winter Warmth: The Elizabethan Nightcap

In keeping with our theme of items to keep you warm this winter, this week we’d like to show off some Elizabethan nightcaps.

The Elizabethan gentleman was keen to show off his wealth, status and morality through every aspect of his clothing, even in his more casual wear.  Even when staying home, he kept his head covered, often with a nightcap.  The nightcap was worn for informal wear, both day and night, but because it was a more casual head covering only few portraits show men sporting one.  Here are three, from almost a century apart:
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, c. 1533
Phineas Pett, c.1612
Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham, c. 1620

Nightcaps were a popular item to own, and many still exist from the sixteenth century through well into the twentieth.  In the sixteenth century, they were most often made of embroidered white linen, though other fabrics were sometimes used.  The embroideries could be a single color of silk thread – most often black – or polychrome silks, and might be accented with metal threads and paillettes, and edged along the brim with lace.  The embroidery could be work by professionals or amateurs, and numerous patterns were published for this purpose.  One such book of patterns was the Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608, published by Thomas Trevelyon and containing about 20 nightcap patterns.  The patterns worked are innumerable, but the most common theme was of scrolling vines and various flowers.

Here a few examples:

nightcapGlasgow an example of the common scrolling vines and flowers, accented with paillettes and lace, from the Burrell Collection in the Glasgow Museums

nightcapManchester a scrolling pattern, from the Manchester Art Gallery (not currently available online as they are upgrading their online collection)

nightcapRainbows a fun design of rainbows and raining clouds, snails and caterpillars, from the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Museum

Don’t forget to check out our Pintrest Page with more examples!

Winter Warmth: Late Elizabethan Gloves

The Textile Conservation Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art now has a Pintrest Page where they display items from their collection.  Each board examines an individual item, showing numerous angles and details in high resolution.

This week, I encourage you to check out their board for a pair of gloves from around 1600.  The leather gloves feature bobbin lace between the hand and the cuff, and have cuffs embroidered with silk and metal threads, sead pearls and small beads over a paper backing.


My favorite image is of the unrelated embroidery pattern printed on the paper backing.


Check out their Pintrest Page for all the fabulous details!

Elizabethan Interiors: the Walls, Part 2

Last week, I gave you a brief overview of the types of decorations Elizabethan did to their walls, but no images.  So this week I’ll start showing you some fabulous examples.

Amanda Poirier-Kratz has put together a fabulous Pintrest board already: Tudor and Elizabethan Painted Interiors.  Her board includes images of sixteenth-century painted plaster walls, painted oak paneling and painted ceilings.  Most of the images are English, but there are a few Continental examples as well.  I highly encourage you to check it out!

Here are a few of my favorites from her collection:

wallgeometric These painted geometric patterns set into “panels” are still bright, even in this worn and faded state.  Imagine how bright they were freshly painted!  From Canons Abbey in Northamptonshire.

wallproverb This wall is decorated with knots, scrollwork, flowers and proverbs.  This one reads, “Better is a dinner with greene hearbes where love is, then a fat oxe and hatred therewith.”  From a house in Ledbury, Herefordshire.

wallwood The paint on this wood paneling highlights the motifs well.  From a house in Exeter.

More images soon!

Elizabethan Interiors: the Walls, Part 1

Liza Picard’s Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan Period is fabulous starting point for the Elizabethan experience. In it, she outlines your experience were you to journey back to Elizabethan London, starting with the place and its contents, and then examining the people and their life experiences.

Her fourth chapter focuses on the interiors of London’s Buildings: how they were decorated and what they contained. Looking at the section on interior wall coverings provides a great example of the hierarchical manner in which she lays out her book and the fantastic detail and range she covers (p. 51-57). The options of decorating your walls included:

  • Plaster – It could be left “uncolored, [it] was a light creamy beige” or it could be colored with different colors of earth or vegetable dyes to give pinks, oranges, greens and blues (p. 52).
  • Wall paintings – Possible images included from geometric shapes, faux paneling, biblical stories, costumes of the world, and mythological scenes.
  • Wallpaper – Wood-blocked sheets were popular, and among the few extant pieces are heraldic images, floral themes, and strapwork outlines. They were often designed to be pasted on side-by-side to create a repeated or larger design. Printed in only one or two colors, they tend to look busy to the modern eye. For a cheaper alternative, tavern keepers could use unwanted broadsheets and ballads.
  • Painted cloths – These weren’t always the cheaper alternative to tapestries that we would expect from a modern perspective, though cheaper versions were available. Biblical scenes, with the characters usually in contemporary Elizabethan clothing, were most popular, but faux wood paneling or small repeated stencils were a popular less-expensive alternative. Painted cloths were usually brightly colored and weren’t always produced on a white or undyed cloth.
  • Gilt leather – Sets of leather panels with designs in paint and gilding – or more often with a varnish that closely resembled gilding – began in Spain and traveled through the Low Countries to England. This type of decoration reached its height in the seventeenth century, but the technique continued to be popular into the nineteenth century.
  • Embroidered hangings – From bed hangings to panels for room, the wealthy Elizabethan loved to be surrounded with embroidery. For a quicker or cheaper alternative, smaller motifs were often made and appliquéd to hangings. Bess of Hardwick even cut up old church vestments to reuse the embroideries for wall hangings for Hardwick Hall.
  • Tapestries – The hallmark wall decoration of the wealthy, the tapestry trade was booming in sixteenth-century London. Bright, colorful tapestries were all the range, though the extant pieces today have faded to muddy muted colors. Like wall paintings and painted cloths, the popular images included biblical and mythological scenes, florals, and heraldic motifs. Tapestries were so sought after that a second-hand market even thrived.
  • Wood paneling – The law dictated that anything affixed to the wall was permanent and therefore part of the landlord’s property, so it would seem that wood paneling would be installed more often by homeowners than renters. Yet given the number of court cases arguing over the ownership of “wainscoting,” even some renters preferred the look enough to decorate their homes with it. Designs could include the linen-fold patterns popular in the late Middle Ages, but now it was more popular to have panels in square, rectangle or oval frames, all around your family heraldry, heraldic motifs, portrait busts, or biblical or mythological scenes. Alternately, you could purchase ready-made pilasters and attach them to flat panels to imitate more intricate carvings.

Next week, I’ll provide you with some examples!

Medieval Mittens

As we move toward winter, we must all consider ways to keep warm.  Gloves are both a practical accessory to add to you kit and provide an excellent opportunity to make a statement about your persona.  Finding the pair that makes just the right statement can be a challenge, but making your own gloves is not as difficult as it may seem.  However if you remain intimidated, mittens are a perfectly appropriate alternative for all classes throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Extant mittens, made from both fabric and Nålebinding, have been found dating back well into the Viking Age, and mittens made from a range of materials still exist from the sixteenth century.  Check out our Pintrest Page to see some more examples.


Today I’m going to focus on my experience from replicating mittens of the early Middle Ages.  The Baltic Knowledge Pages has an article detailing five mittens (one pair of a child’s mittens and three individual mittens for adults) from the early Middle Ages, including drawings of several mittens and a conjectured pattern for the child’s pair.  The pattern there works fairly well, but I made modifications to better fit my hands.  First, because the pattern is squared around the hand, the final mitten was very loose around my fingers and yet difficult to pull over a sleeve cuff.  Since I will be wearing these mittens over several layers of gowns, I need the mittens’ cuffs to be roomy.  Tapering the pattern easily accommodated both of these problems.  Second, because the seam for the thumb is straight on both the thumb piece and the hand, it pulled the mitten uncomfortably across the width of my hand (this problem is more likely to occur if you have a meaty thumb).  Rounding the bottom edge of the thumb piece gave it the necessary give to accommodate my thumbs.   Additionally, I tapered the thumb pieces to more closely fit my thumbs and on the final mittens I angled the thumb slit because I found the placement a bit uncomfortable.  Finally, I moved the folded edge to the side with the thumb slit so I didn’t have to deal with the seam so close to the thumb.

After making all of these adjustments, my own pattern looked like this:
mittens pattern
Your hand may not be the same size or shape as mine, so you will need to adjust the pattern.  I have included my own measurements on this pattern as a guide.

All of the mittens from this period were whip-stitched together, some with obvious, contrast threads and others with thread less likely to be seen.  None still have a lining, but one mitten seems to have had a woolen pile lining. Like many of my clients, I often find modern wool uncomfortable and itchy, so I added a linen lining to my mittens.  The seams were then whip-stitched with fine black thread, resulting in seams invisible to the naked eye.  I wanted to add a personal touch, but nothing too bold, so the hem of the mittens is embroidered with heavy black thread in a stepped blanket stitch.  I also added ties of the same thread braided into a cord, which I can use to tie the mittens tight around my wrists or pin to my sleeves so I don’t misplace my mittens.

mittensmittens detail

Happy sewing!

Tales of Robyn Hoode

The origins of Robin Hood have long been debated, as they will continue to be, but like today, his reputation was of such note by the sixteenth century that he was a permanent fixture in plays, poems and ballads throughout England.  It was during this time that much of Robin’s tale began to acquire the details we associate with him today, such as his association with Richard the Lionhart and the Black Prince, or his skill with the sword.  Yet while his tale and traits changed, he always remained the well-beloved outlaw.

The oldest known tales written down date to somewhere between about 1450 and 1500, though references to his tale exist from as early as the 1370s.  The fifteenth and sixteenth century works widely vary in their tales about Robin, and provide a great study of the use of stock characters of this period.  If you would like to learn more about the early tales, Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw by R.B. Dobson and J. Taylor is an well-recommended starting place.

One tale, called “Robin Hood and the Potter,” was probably written in the early sixteenth century.  Unlike earlier tales, it is less suspenseful and more comedic, and no one dies in the tale.  Eighty-three stanzas in length, it was probably written to be read aloud to an audience.  Below is a synopsis of the tale.

Robin Hood and the Potter

A potter, who has often passed through the woods Robin Hood inhabits, is demanded by Robin to pay for passage.  Upon his refusal, they fight and the potter wins.  After the battle, Robin agrees to change clothes with the potter and take his wares into Nottingham to sell.  Robin sells the pots cheaply and quickly, and attracts the attention of the sheriff and his wife, while still in disguise.  The sheriff and his wife show Robin good hospitality and Robin demonstrates that he can shoot the bow.  He then claims to know Robin Hood, and so leads the sheriff into the forest to find Robin Hood.  Once in the forest, Robin and his men surround the sheriff, but because he showed Robin such great hospitality, Robin and his men let the sheriff and potter go free.