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Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 6:23 pm
by Catherine of Gwent
Does anyone have a reference for the Linen Kirtles or other dress types that re-enactors wear in the summer please?

Many thanks

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 7:03 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Which period of history, please?

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 9:29 pm
by Catherine of Gwent
Sorry, should have said - late 14th early 15th century.


Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Nov 30, 2014 11:03 pm
by Brother Ranulf

The short answer is no. The long answer could take more typing than I am up for just now, but I will aim to condense as far as possible.

The first problem is that the word kirtle, in various forms, was used from as early as the 9th century until the present day to indicate a variety of different garments worn by men and women, belonging to different steps on the social ladder. Clearly a Viking kyrtill or a Saxon cyrtel can not be the same thing as a 14th/15th century kirtell or cortyl - and in the latter case, the material used would depend on social status. Looking for surviving examples of the medieval garment is like looking for feathers growing on a horse - and even if an example did survive, how would we know that it had actually been called a kirtle and not one of the many other garment names?

There is linguistic and documentary evidence, but it is not at all easy to find. Luckily, the Lexis Project team at Manchester University have made that task a lot easier. One of the words they have been investigating is "kirtle" and they have come up with many examples of it being mentioned in datable texts. The next trick is to find instances where the word is accompanied by an adjective that may give a hint as to the fabric used.

In about 1275 we find:
Arður þe stronge warp he an his rugge a ræf swiðe deore, ænne cheisil [Otho: cheiselne] scurte &
ænne pallene curtel, ænne burne swiðe deore

Here the word pallene means "good quality, finest material", but this does not really help.

In 1377:
I kirtill de bokasyn

This is a real problem, since "bokasyn" can mean both expensive silk from the east, or a coarse linen.
Since it talking about aristocratic clothing, my money is on the silk.

In 1390 we find:
His moder..kytte an olde kirtel [vr. curtul] & made þerof clotþis

"His mother cut up an old kirtle and made cloths from it" - again not very helpful.

In 1393 there is this:
item in furrura duarum curtell' pro domino cum furr[a] agu[i] x s.

Here the meaning is a "fur kirtle for the lord", so not a woman's garment.

In 1413 there is mention of:
kyrtyl of blak velvet

Clearly not linen.

Other examples specify the colour, or kirtles made of wool or fur. I can find no specific mention of kirtles made of linen at the time you are interested in. For other time periods . . . but that's another story.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Mon Dec 01, 2014 8:46 am
by Brother Ranulf
Checking "The Medieval Tailor's Assistant" I notice that it becomes uncharacteristically coy when confronted with the issue you raised. Under the heading of Linen, Canvas and Cotton, it says on page 64:

None of these materials seem to have been used for visible outer garments such as surcotes or gowns, but were probably used for some kirtles and doublets.

When it looks at kirtles on page 86, it says:

Linen may also have been used and it is certainly cooler under a gown in hot weather.

The words "probably" and "may have" reflect the complete absence of any evidence to support the use of linen in kirtles at the time, but they may go some way to explaining the large numbers of such things seen among modern reenactors. Authenticity based on "probably" seems to be good enough for many people in the hobby.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Tue Dec 02, 2014 8:30 pm
by Catherine of Gwent
Thank you for your comprehensive answer, much appreciated.


Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 12:14 am
by frances
I enjoyed reading your comprehensive post, Brother.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 9:58 am
by de Coverley
As there is no probability of getting all the people assembled in front of judge and jury, then we have to make use of the best available informed guesses. Sometimes it's left to each of us to make the best fit of the evidence as we see fit, or as fits the group within which we perform.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Jan 25, 2015 2:13 pm
by Alice the Huswyf
What people are missing here are practical facts:

Linen may dry quickly but it wicks up moisture so it a very bad practical choice for a long overgarment in green, green England. Or even a long undergarment as I found out to my discomfort when I first started Xty X years ago. Shortened m'shift to mid calf pretty quickly after that.

The modern misunderstanding that wool is HOT. It does not wick up moisture as easily as plant fibres*, so is more practical in temperate and changeable climates like ours. Modern people think wool fabrics are hot to wear because nowadays it is most often used for winter garments in women's wear to keep us WARM. What is overlooked is that, like silk, wool is a natural fibre which breathes and that the meltons, coatings etc which we can easily source for wool-period clothing is a winter-weight fabric.

As recently as a few decades ago we had commerical Spring, summer, Autumn and Winter seasonal collections - not the Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter ones we have now adn go for the extremes of seasonal temperature requirement becuase 'commecical reasons'. Previously wool cloths came in a variety of weights and weaves suited to different climates, humidities and temperatures (flannel for colonial undies was a must, all year round). In the 1980's I was wearing fine swiss diaper-woven fine wool as a blouse - a delight to wear in most temperatures. Other woollen cloths - fine flannel and nun's veiling are even lighter-weight, whether close woven or not. And it takes a lot less effort to process wool fibre than to process flax to get at the fibres in the first place!

Wool also has the advantage of being less flammable: obviously anything will eventually burn if heated high and long enough - but wool will reek and smoulder first, so you get a warning to step away from heat - linen is flammable, which is why aprons are worn over belts and with a quick release knot, if you are wise.

Otherwise temperature control is simply wise dressing. Replace wool with linen on the head in summer, replace pin-on woolen sleeves with linen ones. (Please don't just leave them off in public unless you are doing dirty work).

(Yes, I know, you can cotton it, to make it more absorbant but I'm talking accessible basic tabby, twill or napped stuffs here)

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Jan 25, 2015 7:36 pm
by Brother Ranulf
Absolutely right, Alice - and the boring old linguisics definitely support this idea. Middle English and Anglo-Norman French both include a wide range of terms for woollen material of different "calibres", just as for silks - many of these are obscure terms where the exact meaning has been lost, but it clearly shows a wide range of different weights of material for different seasons and situations.

Anglo-Norman includes the words blanchet, burel, drap, duzeine, faldyng, frise, friseware, Galeis, kendale, kersey, laine, lange, lanu, lombart and mustviler - all have the meaning of "woollen cloth", but obviously each with its own individual characteristics.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Sun Jan 25, 2015 9:32 pm
by Alice the Huswyf
While I respect your knowledge base, you concentrate on the linguistic semantics: which as an academic exercise has its place - but you are throwing off tangents to the original question - albeit interesting ones.

The purpose of an inventory is to list for maintenance or valuation, so to specify that it is a kirtle for the lord actually implies a unisex garment, not only being distinguished as for male wear (much as the later cote, the cotehardie and gown would need to be) but listed furthermore by ownership as a quality garment of given status. This would be of particular need bearing in mind the introduction and continuous extension of sumptuary rulings.

I agree that what might have started as a relevant term denoting a very, very, much earlier male garment means that at one time it was gender specific; but as you well know, time, usage, fad and relevant social declivity corrupt terms and transfer meanings. Essentially so in the the case of fashion and signifiers in clothing. By the period of the original poster, I would argue that kirtle had skipped the fence to recognisably become a term of reference for a specifically female garment. Much as the terms "garter" and "suspender" are broadly now understood as a female-specific garments (bar Chaps and our colonial cousins).

ANN - most tellingly import embargoes to protect native cloth production are not just a high Tudor from broad social research, linen kirtles for the English in late C14th to early C15th would be an unusually singular item (and impractical).

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Mon Jan 26, 2015 8:10 am
by Brother Ranulf
Alice the Huswyf wrote
term denoting a very, very, much earlier male garment . . . . I would argue that kirtle had skipped the fence to recognisably become a term of reference for a specifically female garment.

The Middle English Dictionary gives the definition of the word kirtel (and its many variants) as:
1.A garment for men or boys, varying as to length, shape, and materials, usually (but not always) worn as an outer garment; coat, gown, tunic, cloak;
2.A garment for women or girls, often an outer garment, sometimes worn over a smock or under a mantle, gown, or pilch;

I am sorry to disagree, but you are 100% incorrect in your view. The fact is that the word kirtle (not the garment itself, which differed for the two genders) was unisex and remained so up to at least 1500 - and I can provide more than 100 examples of its use for the male garment in the 14th/15th centuries and beyond.

Just a few will suffice:

c1300 SLeg.Becket (LdMisc 108): Þe Abite of frere he nam..blac was is cope a-boue, is Cuyrtel ȝwijt blaunket. (He was called the abbot of friars . . . black was his cope above, his kirtle of white blanket)

1325 Heil seint Michel (Hrl 913) p.154: Hail seint Michel..Þou hast a rede kirtil anon to þi fote. (Greetings Saint Michael . . . you have a red kirtle reaching all the way to your feet)

1340 Ayenb.(Arun 57) 191/9: He yaf ofte his kertel and his sserte to þe poure uor god. (He often gave away his kirtle and his shirt to the poor for God's sake)

1387 Trev. Higd.(StJ-C H.1) 5.437: In his kirtel oon þat hadde a fende on hym was i-cloþed. (One of his enemies was dressed in his kirtle)

1390 Chaucer CT.Mil.(Manly-Rickert) A.3321: Yclad he was ful smal and proprelv Al in a kirtel of light waget. (He was dressed cheaply and properly in a lightweight kirtle)

1400 Cursor (Vsp A.3) 4161: His kyrtil sal we riue and rend, And blody til his fader seind. (We shall cut and tear his kirtle and send it bloody to his father)

1500 Ipom.(1) (Chet 8009) 660: His kyrtell covyrd not his kne. (His kirtle did not cover his knee)

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Mon Jan 26, 2015 11:46 am
by janet
you seam to have got stuck on the word Kirtles and not what the question was which was about if the kirtles where made of linen or just wool or silk.
yes the Kirtles where mainly wool or silk in the upper classes but the reference to the lower classes is unspecified

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Mon Jan 26, 2015 1:23 pm
by Alice the Huswyf
Go-Janet- GO! Exactly.

The "Can I wear / is it right to wear/ can anyone point me at provenance which supports me wearing linen kirtles in Late Medieval England" question comes up almost as regularly as Cosmopolitan's "Find Your G-spot" articles.

The original poster is asking for a primary or some secondary sources to support allowing her to wear a linen kirtle in hot weather.

The answer is not in England - becuase if nothing else there were protectionist rules to promote the infant wool industry and keep English wealth to be creamed off for state purposes - that'll be internecine armed squabbling, then.

You are answering " Please give a potted history of the word 'kirtle' in all it's evolving derivatives quoting any term of reference in contemporary records from the late 8th century to the onset of the First Tudors. You may quote from a range of fictional or theological literature and factual records without comparing the context of the quotes or the relevance to what is known of broader social usage or pertinent legal and trade requirements of the period ".

You cannot randomly cite bits of Chaucer (famed for his use of clothing to pigeonhole a character or satiricise his character's social aspirations), the bible (which translation, made by whom and for what reason?) and random records bereft of context or without citing the purpose for which they were prepared. As a simple example, the background context to the way items are described in a list matters: an item in a self-prepared inventory for taxation or legal redress and an adversary-prepared political seizure are going the described very differently (value played down) to the bridal wardrobe inventories prepared for dynastic marriages (played up for propaganda). - Meanwhile, only the last four of your mostly recently listed examples have any bearing on the date range Ann specified, and you appear to have over-read my point about the stated gender-specifity of the listed garment, telling me I'm wrong and then repeating my own conclusion.

You have read but not understood the thrust of the question. You are still pursuing a semantic and whopping, tangent. Nor will I split hairs over whether I have included every single fact I know. Heavens to Betsy, some things I actually forget are not givens - some I actually leave out so that people enjoy the achievement of locating the missing - and sometimes new - information themselves! Knowledge can be drip-fed*, developing a conversation that others can contribute to and which broadens with further questions. Force-feeding Pankhurst-stylee shuts down any conversation and puts genuine enquirers off completely.

* I except long detail in the case of technical advice on carrying out a process safely without wastage.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Tue Jan 27, 2015 11:02 am
by Tod
Does this mean that all the dresses made of linen that female re-enactors wear are wrong then?

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Tue Jan 27, 2015 11:23 am
by Alice the Huswyf
I know what I know, I know what I do and I hope I know enough to learn from others what I can.

Some might argue that there is no point breeding the correct sheep, shearing, spinning, weaving, dying, hand sewing and wearing the correct cut of fabric if you can't publically share the end result. Some would argue that mastering the processes would alone be reason enough.

Re-enactment is a very broad church, it depends on what your manifesto is - see de Coverley's earlier point. Just don't state any fudge as authentic - as long as you know your facts, explaining why the fudge is often a more engaging and informative Q and A "compare and contrast" for a modern public audience than 30 minutes of pure academic fact.

That and you never know exactly who is listening: sometimes they are wrong and rude despite your diplomacy, sometimes you are wrong - and I've seen enjoyable and mutually enlightening conversations ensue. Sometimes they wrote your source material............

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Wed Jan 28, 2015 10:26 am
by Tod
Some times this forum needs a like button, this is one of those times.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Tue Mar 17, 2015 2:22 pm
by Colin Middleton
I'd avoid linen kirtles. Wool can be very light weight (woolen suiting), as well as heavy and scratchy. I'm not aware of any evidence to support linen kirtled in 15th C England. Given that linen was expensive to buy (more so than cheap woolens) and difficult to dye, I think that it is unlikely to be viable for any of the pictures of kirtles. That and what Alice said about wool in her first post

As I understand it, it has been over 20 years since Sarah started writing the Medieval Tailor's Assistant and her research has progressed considerably since then (which is why the new edition is being printed). Also recall that the book was aimed at helping people get as good an interpretation as they can and that it was harder to get the variety of wool that we can now when the book was first published. So, Sarah was coy about linen kirtles, not wanting to forbid them when alternatives were difficult and when she couldn't be 100% confident I the supporting research. I believe that since then, she has come down on the side of 'don't use linen for kirtles'.

Alice, Ranulf, you agree. Stop squabbling about how much you agree, you're scaring the new members!



Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Tue Mar 17, 2015 5:41 pm
by Alice the Huswyf
It is about approach, method and construed argument - not content.

Shame on you, youngling; society expects my cohort to be scary. In suggesting anything else you're throwing the government's conceptualised demographics off and bringing down Ragnarok.......

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 2:01 pm
by Colin Middleton
Mmm... Blackpool Ragnarock.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 3:55 pm
by Alan E
Real Ragnarock

Giants vs Gods and Pick Your Side ....

about bl@@dy time too IMHO

mutter mutter, dunno what the world's coming to.. wool not good enough any more

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Mon Mar 23, 2015 5:02 pm
by Alice the Huswyf
......are you commenting on m'size or the touch of theomorphism (which the tablets are sorting, thank you very much)? Either way, that's the cost of another stamp you're saving me this Christmas.

Re: Linen Kirtles

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:03 pm
by mem001
I've just read this thread, and I think I'm a little bit in love with you all now.

Up with pedantry!

In our household we had a system of Pedant Star Awards:
Bronze - reasonable/accurate pedantry
Silver - interesting pedantry
Gold - impressive pedantry
Platinum - Pedantry that goes above and beyond

and never forget ...
Brown - pedantry that is just wrong ;-)

My younger daughter had a fine collection of brown pedant stars.

Anyway, I'm about to make my first late 13th century commoner's outfit, so thank you for your expertise.