website book blog tutorials noticeboard thegilbertcollection email

The Medieval Tailor's Workshop
Sewing samples from the 14th & 15th centuries

My Interactive Tailor's Workshop is often set up at events for members of the public to come and be educated about what tools people who sewed clothing might have used.

The entire thing is touchable! People may feel the weight of hand-forged scissors, touch samples of real ermine, look at linen sewing threads, traditionally dyed wools and discover that not ALL wool is scratchy or hot. There are samples of tailoring, items like buttons, needles and pins and samples of common medieval clothing.

Often through the day, free lucet classes or cloth button making workshops are held so sewers can learn textile skills for themselves to take home.

And of course, sewing help is available for people making their own outfits.

1. Measuring stick.
36 inch wooden measuring stick with inches marked.
Seen in the image from the 14th century, A Tailor's Workshop, Tacuinum sanitatis, MS 1673, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
2. Italian hand-dyed wools.
Wools which have been locally sourced in the Italian countryside, hand spun and dyed naturally using medieval techniques and dyestuffs.
Colour range includes the first, second and third dye baths.
Produced by Silvio Luciani, Italy.
- yellow - weld
- pinks - cocheneal
- browns - oak gall
- greys - ivy leaves
- blue -woad
- red - madder
3. Bentwood box.
Bentwood boxes can be seen in a variety of manuscripts as storage for small household items. These are made from Finnish poplar wood and are used for storage, transport and display of sewing threads.
bentwood boxes of this type can be seen in several images in the Tacuinum sanitatis, 14th century.
4. Hand-dyed wools for sewing.
Hand-dyed woolen threads fine enough for sewing garments.
Made by:
- Wool, woad dyed (Historical Textiles, Sweden)
- Wool, madder dyed (Historical Textiles, Sweden)
- Wool, undyed (Historical Textiles, Sweden)
- Wool, oak gall dyed (Historical Textiles, Sweden)
- Wool, undyed, hand spun (15th Century Spinning, Australia)
5. Linen threads for sewing.
Linen thread was used for sewing garments.
These samples are both dyed and undyed.

Black, brown, red, yellow and white commercially produced through Guterman.
Natural and white, hand-spun.
6. Hand-turned thread reels.
The design of these reels is based on an artifact find housed in the Museum of London.
Artifact fragment, Mary Rose 15th century based on a fragment cited in the Museum of London book "Medieval Finds from Excavations in London- The Medieval Household"- SWA81 Acc No 1342, page. 270.
Made by woodturner, Walter, Brisbane.
7. Rabbit fur sample.
Rabbit (or coney) fur was offten used my lower and middle classes for lining outer garments and hoods.

Many people are often surprised to see how soft and luxurious white rabbit fur is, as there is a popular modern belief that anything lined in rabbit fur must be not luxurious.

This sample has been recycled from vintage clothing.
8. Lambswool sample.
Wool was sometimes used for linings for the working classes.
This sample has been taken from a second-hand source.
9. Ermine fur sample.
Ermine was one of the favourite choices for the upper classes for lining and dress trimmings.

This sample has been acquired from vintage estate, and has not supported the fur industry. Its purpose is to provide a historically accurate teaching tool.
10. Beehive thimble.
Thimbles could be made from brass or copper alloy. The dimples were usually hand punched in the 14th century with machine drilled holes becoming more prevelant in the 15th century. Thickness was determined by the intended use.

This reproduction has been hand cast traditionally and matches for thickness and weight, a similar one in The Gilbert Collection.
11. Ring thimbles.
These were also used through the medieval period.
Dimples were usually round but in the 15th century, it was not uncommon for the dimples to be triangular or rectangular shaped.
The first one is pressed metal and lighter weight. The second is cast and sturdy.
12. Pewter needle case.
Based a design from a 14th century artifact from the Thames, held at the V&A.
13. Brass needle case.
Based on an artifact from the Museum of London as seen in the Museum of London Excavation book.
14. Pewter needle case with inscription.
Slightly adapted from a 15th c. needle case from the Netherlands (Schatten) and similar to an English example (MoL, Pilgrim Souvenirs, fig. 7). It has the names of the Three Kings of Cologne and an invocation to the Blessed Virgin on the lower part. The upper and lower parts are strung together on cords
Leather needle case
(not shown)

Reproduction decorated needlecase from 14th century Koln, Germany
Time Period: 14th century
Made by Frank Becker, Germany.
15. Hand-sheared, spun and woven cloth sample.
Sample made by my sister when she was a teenager with very little experience.
The fleece was home washed, spun and woven into cloth.
This sample shows what can be achieved by a young person without years of experience.
16. Wooden framed magnifying glasses.
By the 15th century, eyeglasses start to appear in manuscripts for tradesmen although they appear in written records and a few artworks from the early 14th century onwards.
Oak frames made by Malcolm Fraser, (Sweetness & Light, England.)
17. Eyelet sample.
Sample of hand-sewn eyelet for dress lacing.
18. Internal woolen fabric seam sample.
Sample of stitched down seam for woolen garment.
Wool sleeve sample showing buttonholes.
19. Wool clothing seam sample.
Sample of stitched down seam for woolen garment.
20. Bone lucets and cord.
Lucet based on multiple finds from Sweden housed at the Sigtuna museum.

Lucet at left, bone, bought from Etsy.
Lucet at right, made by me.
21. Cloth cutting shears.
Copy of 14th century artifact from the Thames, England. Housed at the VandA.
22. Metal thread snips.
based on a copy in the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology, Caboolture.
23a. 15th century scissors.
Reproduction from Novgorod Musuem, Russia.
Source 13th/15th C medieval paintings.
23b. 14-15th century scissors.
Copy from Novgorod Musuem.

Similar to a second pair in The Gilbert Collection.
Although dated to the early medieval period, 10th-12th century
Kiev, West Ukraine, they are typical of the kinds of scissors we see in contemporary manuscripts.
23c. 14th century scissors.
Based on the image from the 14th century,
A Tailor's Workshop
, Tacuinum sanitatis,
MS 1673, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
23d. 14-15th century scissors.
A copy of unnamed artifact.
A lso seen 15th century painting detail, The Holy Family.
24. Turned wooden box with raw fleece samples.
Sample of fleece straight from the sheep!
25. Beeswax.
I use beeswax prior to threading the needle for sewing to stop the thread from fraying.
26. Aglets.
Metal aglets were used at the end of dress or hose laces, much like the plastic end of shoe laces today.
27. Brass sewing needle and pins.
Thicker sewing pins for use on wools. Finds of pins from the medieval period are extremely common.

Hand made by Bero von Saeckingen (Bero Heftelmacher, Germany)
28. Pewter and cloth button samples.
Reproduction pewter buttons which are hand cast. Hand stitched fabric buttons.

- Cloth button - wool, hand made (Rosalie)
- Cloth button - wool, hand made (Rosalie)
- Pewter button, red centre (Lionheart Replicas, England)
- Pewter button, nipple type (Gesithas, Australia)
- Pewter button, large, glass stone (Steve Millingham Pewter Replicas)
- Pewter button, decorated
- Pewter button, conical (Gesithas, Australia)
29. Fine brass pins.
Used for sewing fine cloths for veils etc. Fine linens and silks.
30. Wax tablets in leather case with brass stylus. Hand made reproduction of a 14th century artifact, set of four wax tablets made from bone and decorated leather case in the Museum of London.
(not reproduction design on the leather case.)
These are very small but incredibly useful for taking measurements.
31. Bone awl.
Hand made bone awl for making eyelets.
Made by Jean the Hornmaster, Australia.
32. Bone needles.
Hand made bone needles which are good for sewing wool.
Hand made by Stag Inn, Australia.
33. Brass needles.
Hand made brass needles which are good for all sewing.
34. Linen-silk blend samples.
A selection of linen silk belnds suitable for undergarments or light outer garments.
35. Linen weight samples.
A selection of linens suitable for veils, aprons and underclothes.

36. Light-weight dress wool samples. Wool ssuitable to be used for summer clothing.
37. Woven patterned dress wool samples. Wools woven in stripes or herringbone.
38. Mid-light weight dress wool samples.
39. Wool samples to suit mid-weight clothing.
40. Wool samples to suit outers or surcotes. Thickish wools for cold weather for clothing.
41. Wool samples to suit hose or cloaks. Thick wools suitable for cold weather clothing or bedding.

42. Tailor's chalk
Turned wooden boxes
Tablet weaving samples
Woolen cloth sample
43. Niddy noddy
Niddy noddy based on the manuscript
Made by Rosalie Gilbert.

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.