A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - AT HOME
- BIRTHS - WEDDINGS - DIVORCE - DEATHS - MANNERS - EDUCATION - EMPLOYMENT
CLOTHES - ITEMS OF CLOTHING - DRESS ACCESSORIES FABRICS & SEWING BEAUTY, HEALTH & HYGIENE MY TALKS MY SEWING MY ARTIFACTS BIBLIOGRAPHY LINKS
Traditional Remedies & Recipes for Care & Management of Clothing
CLEANSING - WATERPROOFING - STAIN REMOVAL - RESTORING COLOUR - RE-HEMMING TO EXTEND WEAR
- IRONING - CARE OF FURS - STORAGE OF CLOTHING
We know that in medieval London, townswomen washed at a common wash-house. It was a woman's domain, where news and gossip was exchanged in addition to the laundering of clothing. In medieval Spain, any bridge leaving town was required to be wide enough for two women and their water jugs. Since men were not expected to be at places where woman washed, only other women were permitted to act at witnesses in disputes if they happened at the river or stream.
Fortunately, there is some information of clothing care which has been preserved for posterity. The best known examples of domestic instruction come from a treatise known as the Goodman of Paris which was written in 1393 by an elderly Parisian for his 15 year old bride. It is primarily concerned with good behaviour and on the running of a household. Here and there in other manuscripts, a snippet of information appears.
Cleansing of clothes
Soapwort saponaria officinalis (at right) was a herb used for cleaning cloth and clothing. Also known as bruisewort, dog cloves, fuller's herb and latherwort, soapwort grew originally in northern Europe until its introduction to England by Franciscan and Dominican monks. By the end of the 16th century the use of soapwort had become widespread in England for laundering, fulling and washing dishes. Many museums still use soapwort to this day for its ability to gently cleanse delicate fabrics. The use of the herb marjoram origanum vulgare (also known as organum or oregany) lent its scent in washing waters.
According to a British historian, washing at the wash-house was rinsed, twisted and beaten where the tongues are quite as active as washerwoman's beetles.
Recipes for the removal of grease and oil were somewhat more complex. One recipe is such:
To remove grease or oil stains, take urine and heat until warm. Soak the stain for two days. Without twisting the fabric, squeeze the afflicted area, then rinse. As an alternative for stubborn greasy or oily stains, soak in urine with ox gall beaten into it, for two days and squeeze without twisting before rinsing.
Chicken feathers were also recommended as a cleaning aid. Firstly they must be soaked in very hot water then wet again in cold water. The stain may then be rubbed with the feathers and it will be clean. Exactly how successful the feathers method was is unclear.
colour to faded garments
According to historians of domestic household appliances, it was during the 1300s that the tool we recognise as an iron first appeared in Europe. It was comprised of a flat piece of iron with a metal handle attached. The flatiron was held over or in a fire until it was heated, when it was picked up by the handle with a padded holder. A thin cloth was placed between the iron and the garment in order not to dirty the clothing whilst the ironing process took place. The iron above is described as having a salamander-shaped handle and dates to the 15th century.
In the fifteenth century, an improvement to the flatiron was introduced in the form of a box which could hold coals to retain radiant heat for longer than the old method of placing the flat iron in the fire. The hot box, also known as the slug or box iron, was constructed from a hollow metal box with a handle. Heating elements such as coals or hot metal inserts were placed inside. Both the flatiron and hot box were used for several hundred years.
Airing of dresses was encouraged to avoid moths and their larvae. This was a practice which must be done on a sunny day in the summer and dry months for if the dresses are put away in a chest after airing on a cloudy day, the cold air will be folded into the dress and encourage vermin. Roses of Provins were also considered the best for putting in dresses. The Goodman of Paris says that these must be dried in mid-August and sifted in a seive so that all the worms fall out and then the petals may be scattered on the dresses.
Many household washing and storing of cloth and clothing involved the use of herbs either to make the linen sweet-smelling or to discourage harmful insects. In the late 15th century, a mixture of powdered anise and orris iris florentina was used to perfume household linen in storage. Medieval linens were also scented with lavender lavendula vera by being stored with it or rinsed in lavender water.
Rue ruta graveolens also known as the Herb o' grace o' Sundays was used in linens to keep away bugs and noxious odors. The image at right from the Tacuinum Sanitatis shows two men collecting rue.
Wormwood artemesia absynthum was the most common element cited in recipes to protect medieval clothing from damage whilst in storage. It was often placed among woolen cloths to prevent and destroy moths. A mixture of wormwood, southernwood, the leaves of a cedar tree and valerian mixed together and put wherever clothes were stored was thought to help repel moths and other vermin.
Copyright © Rosalie Gilbert
All text & photographs within this site are the property of Rosalie Gilbert unless stated.
Art & artifact images remain the property of the owner.
Images and text may not be copied and used without permission.