Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles

Get access Subject: History
Edited by: Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth & Maria Hayward
The single volume Encyclopaedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles c. 450-1450 is a unique work that intends to bring together in 582 signed articles the latest research from across the range of disciplines which contribute to our knowledge of medieval dress and textiles.

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(6 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
See armour. Elizabeth Coatsworth


(333 words)

Author(s): Maria Hayward
The sable ( martes zibellina) is a species of marten from Russia and Siberia. The skins have very close, fine under-hair, with soft, silky guard hairs that are 3 to 5 cm (1.5 to 2 inches) long. The pelts range in colour from a pale yellow to rich dark brown. Darker furs were more highly prized. The pelts are approximately 32 to 46 cm (12.5 to 18 inches) long. They are very light-weight yet hard-wearing and the density of the fur makes them very warm. The winter pelts are thicker and darker than the summer pelts and so are …


(225 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
A sack was a measurement of capacity for dry products, varying from product to product. Zupko gives as examples 500 sheepskins (Scotland); or in England 364 pounds of shorn wool (165.107 kg) -- or 2 weys, 13 tods , 52 cloves or 26 stone of 14 pounds each -- each of these measures equivalent to 1/12 of a last . The first reference cited by Zupko dates to 1200, the earliest given by the Middle English Dictionary is 1275-6, from an account of the early English customs system: ' xl s…


(292 words)

Author(s): Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Very coarse textiles which are probably the remains of sacking have been found as archaeological remains throughout medieval Europe, generally on settlement sites, including York and London. Often loosely woven, with thread counts of only 2 x 2 to 4 x 4 threads per cm, they are frequently of tabby-woven wool, though finds from London include coarse goats' hair textiles which have been compared to Scandinavian wadmal. It has been suggested that, even after th…


(731 words)

Author(s): Maria Hayward
Saddles were usually provided for use on horses but mule saddles could also be made, especially for high ranking clergy. The medieval saddle consisted of a wooden saddle tree with bows at the front and back that were known as the pommel or bow (arçon) and cantle. The saddle tree was usually covered with leather or hide and the wooden frame could be reinforced with a steel plate called a gullet. A quilted, padded seat was placed in the middle of the saddle and padded or quilted panels were often …


(1,656 words)

Author(s): Miranda Wilcox
No textile evidence of sails has been identified in the British Isles between 450 and 1450. The oldest fragments of British sailcloth were found in Newport, South Wales, in 2002 with a clinker-built merchant ship that sank about 1467. The limited British archaeological, documentary, and iconographical evidence indicates sail usage in this period, but to understand how British sails may have been constructed requires comparison with contemporaneous Viking textiles and iconography. Archaeological discoveries reveal that sail technology was used in the Iron Age Channe…


(10 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
See iconography and symbolism of clothing. Elizabeth Coatsworth


(215 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
'Sarpler' could mean a large canvas sack, used especially for packing wool or fleeces. It could also signify a bale of wool containing two sacks; or the weight of a bale of wool. Two sacks were equal to 728 pounds, or 1/6 of a last. Zupko noted, however, that there were variations ranging from half a sack to two sacks. His earliest reference dated to 1208. Most references are to trade and its legislation (the Middle English Dictionary giving its earliest of such references as 1321-2). However it had a life in literature, as in a line from Chaucer's Boece: 'Our ledere draweth togidre his riche…


(319 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
The basic weave produces a smooth, lustrous, silken cloth; the term was also used to designate a piece of such cloth: satin doutremer (imported satin); satin figure, satin brocade; tinsel satin (satin brocaded with gold or silver). Surviving, or archaeologically-recovered garments…


(499 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth | Mark Chambers
The meaning of this word depends entirely on context, as two words of different origin, both referring to textile, could end up spelled the same. The first possibility is: sai , also spelled seu, saie , seie , , etc., variations of Old French soie , and Anglo-Latin seia , also of Medieval Latin seta. The meaning of this form is silk; thus sew worm, the silkworm ( Bombyx mori). This meaning is manifest in a Romance of Sir Firumbras ( c. 1380): 'Olyuer tok his mantel of say [French bliaut de soie]; gold peynt hit was wel fine'. On the other hand, sai(e), from Old French saie and Medieval Latin saia, a va…


(10 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
See weapons as items of dress. Elizabeth Coatsworth


(2,940 words)

Author(s): John Munro
None of the later medieval and modern European terms for 'scarlet', for either the textile or the colour (nouns and adjectives), has any antecedents in the ancient and early-medieval worlds. The first documented use of a word related to subsequent European nouns for the textile itself is found in the Old High German text Summarium Heinrici (1007-1032). In the section De diversitate vestimentorum, the author used the Old High German word


(6 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
See tools. Elizabeth Coatsworth

Sculpture: ante-1100 England, evidence for dress

(1,405 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
Such evidence, like that from manuscripts, must be treated with caution, partly because of the tendency of early medieval artists to copy from other, especially manuscript, models, rather than from life, partly because original painted detail and metal or other attachments or inserts (for both of which there is evidence) have been removed either deliberately or through wear or weathering. This said, there is evidence for innovation in the iconography of Anglo-Saxon sculpture, as in manuscript ar…

Sculpture: ante-1100 England, skeuomorphs of textile techniques

(719 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
Imitation of a method appropriate to one medium in another reflects the esteem in which the imitated medium is held. In the later medieval period, for example, the details of Gothic architecture are represented in sculpture, wooden furniture, and in needlework (see opus anglicanum ). In the period under consideration here, however, the arts in the highest esteem were metalwork (especially goldsmiths' work), and…

Sculpture: ante-1100 Ireland, evidence for dress

(2,044 words)

Author(s): Maria FitzGerald
The tradition of carving stone High Crosses and other monumental works emerged under the patronage of the Church. The earliest High Crosses were decorated with non-figurative ornamentation but from the 9th and 10th centuries onwards figurative carving became more prevalent. Early Christian art in the west was often copied from imported models from the east Mediterranean world and elsewhere and as a result the figural scenes are often iconographical in character and the dress styles portrayed are often archaic and eastern in style. It …

Sculpture: post-1100

(12 words)

Author(s): Elizabeth Coatsworth
See effigies and brasses and wood carving. Elizabeth Coatsworth

Seal bag

(873 words)

Author(s): Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Seal bags were often ornate and colourful. Like later medieval purses (see pouches and purses: purses post-1100) they might be made of prestigious cloth, or ornamented with embroidery, decorated with tassels, edged with cord or braid, and often lined. The attachment of a seal bag to a dated charter indicates the date of manufacture of the bag, but not necessarily of its cloth, since textile was sometimes re-cycled to make these small containers. For example, a heraldic seal bag in Westminster Ab…
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