CLOTHING PATTERNS & TUTORIALS
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 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 milk maid from
the late 14th century from London. The buttons down the front
of her kirtle and the entire length of her sleeves are clearly
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 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, backs and sleeves at various
periods of time. Lacings were also used by men to attach hose
and for arming, which we won't look at here.
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 the domain of the wealthy.
A working class woman who did not have a servant to help her dress
would not have been able to lace herself into her clothes unaided.
Many paintings and illuminations show women wearing garments which
have no apparent openings at the front or sides, and therefore
probably lace at the back.
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.