COMMERCIAL PATTERNS &
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM
FUR & LEATHER NAMES
Buttons & Gown Lacings
BUTTONS - LACINGS - FRONT LACING - BACK LACING
- SIDE LACING
and gowns closed either one of two ways- with buttons or with
lacing. Some closed at the front, others at the back, others at
the side seams depending on what the garment was used for and
whether it was an overgarment or worn underneath. By the mid 13th
century, buttons were in everyday use for clothing, although the
materials they were made from and the number of them on any one
garment varied greatly.
Some illustrations show buttons from wrist to elbow or right up
the back of the upper arm. Buttons were usually set very closely
together. Seen at right is a pewter badge of a woman and bucket
from the late 14th century from London. The buttons down the front
of her kirtle and the entire length of her sleeves are clearly
visible. I am a little doubtful that a milkmaid would have worn
an outfit with as many buttons up the arms as it seems excessive
for the social status of the wearer. The belt, also seems to be
indicative of an upper class woman, so the bucket is a bit of
a mystery to me, although the badge is often refered to as "a
Buttons down the front of a lady's kirtle could be made from matching
cloth of the gown they were intended for or of metal or semiprecious
stones set into metal clasps. Cloth
buttons were almost always ball-shaped. As with almost every other
aspect of medieval clothing, it depended on what occasion the
gown was to be worn and who was wearing it.
Lower classes would have to be content with matching cloth buttons,
while the upper classes would have preferred yet another chance
to display their social superiority on their clothing with metal
Above left is a beautiful example
of a late 14th century tin button with glass stone set into it.
It has a shank and is from the collection at the Museum of London.
right is pictured a round, gold button from the 10th century which
also looks similar to the Uppsala Gown buttons.
Shown at right is a garment fragment
from the 1400s from the Museum of London showing the sleeve and
cloth buttons. Unlike modern buttons, they were set at the very
edge of the garment opening and not set in from the seam like
today, as shown at right. Flat, modern buttons with two or four
holes drilled right through seem to be unworn at that time. Toggles,
however, appear known but not generally worn on clothing except
as cloak fastenings.
In medieval clothing terms, the word lace refers to lacing,
like our modern shoe-lacing, not of fancy, frilly lace. Lace was
used extensively to close gown fronts, in some cases, sides and
only in two cases that I know of on sleeves.. Lacings were also
used by men to attach hose and for arming, which we won't look
the 15th century, lacings were coloured to match the gown or kirtle
it was worn on, thus making the closure fairly invisible. 15th
century Italy led the way in leaving gorns unlaced widely across
the bust, and at this time, lacing cords were often an entirely
different colour to the dress as it was now a feature of the dress,
not merely a way to fasten it closed.
Cord produced on a lucet produced a square braid or lace.
This lace was strong, durable and didn't easily slip when used
for garment fastenings. Many other braids and laces are made using
the fingerlooping method- that is a method of looping the thread
around the fingers to form a kind of knotted braid. Plaiting is
also another method of making laces for clothing or shoes.
Front lacing on kirtles and gowns can be seen abundantly in paintings.
Many images of the Madonna breastfeeding show the front of her
kirtle unlaced. Shown at left is a detail from Bouquet'sVirgin
and Child Surrounded by Angels, dated 1450. Other
images which show front lacing gowns on noble women are the 1387
Bearosin Getting Engaged detail at right from a Prague
manuscript and the Kathryn de Mortimer funeral effigy.
Lacing holes seem to be very close set to avoid gaping on the
front of the dress. Lacing eyelets could be somewhere between
2cm and 2.5cm apart but no more. An upper-class woman's under-dress
would almost certainly be laced. A buttoned dress under another
buttoned overgown would not only be uncomfortable but cause unsightly
lumps down the front of the outer layer.
A working class women would have been likely to wear a front-lacing
kirtle, as she would be able to dress herself relatively quickly
and without assistance. Lacing also provides a very solid closure,
affording a fair amount of structural support which is not possible
with buttons which gape and give way at the buttonholes when too
much pressure is exerted.
Back lacing on kirtles and gowns are not particularly documented,
altough it is one possibility for a fitted gown where no other
closure is visuble. No surviving examples of this type survive
and none are seen in art that I have seen which are conclusive.
books on historical costuming, including Herbert Norris's Medieval
Costume and Fashion and Dion Clayton Calthrop's English
Costume cite back lacing in the early medieval period. In
the early period, lacing seems only to shape the dress from between
the shoulder blades and down the upper to mid back. This kind
of lacing did not extend all the way to the top of the garment
as became common later in the 14th century.
Side lacing on garments is usually seen on images of young mothers-to-be.
The ability to loosen a garment at the side seams to accommodate
an expanding stomach and then pull it tight again after the birth
of a child, made special maternity clothes unnecessary.
There are some images
which show side lacing on domestic garments also- in the manuscript
shown at the right, we see a side laced pink gown and in a 15th
century painting we again see a side lacing on a woman mourning
Christ on the cross.