12th and 13th Century Clothing Page 2

  • 12th and 13th Century Clothing Continued.
  • Textiles, fabrics.

    Again in her public lecture, Proffessor Barber showed remains of woven cloth with a rolled hem line. This was discovered in 6000BC, and it is still a popular hem line today. Also discovered around the same time, in Switzerland, was three colour brocade fabric. It consisted of varying shaped checkerboards and triangles and was surprisingly sophisticated. This was the first style of brocade used by man. The discovery of hemp and flax fabric and the cultivation of these plants for use as textiles began in Europe in 8000BC. Hemp and cotton grew and were cultivated in China at the same time, as was hemp and silk in the middle east. In the far northern parts of Europe and Scandinavia, nettle was also cultivated for weaving as fabric. So we can see that even as early as this, there were many varieties of fabric available to society.

    The first surviving shirte was found in Egypt. Dated at 3100BC, from the First Dynasty, it had a V neck line, and pleated sleeves and upper bodice. This is also the first evidence, archaeologically of pleats in the ancient world. Also discovered in Egypt, dating around the same time was weft looping in textiles. This resembles the pile of natural fibre velvet, and some synthetics. Elaborate beading was also first utilised as a decorative part of the garment around the same time in Egypt.

    After the sacking of Palestine and the Syrian coast, the Egyptians discovered a new fabric which became immensely popular with residents in the Meditteranean, middle east and near east, as well as in Egypt itself. It was around 2500-2000 BC, that the fabric known as tapestry fabric, woven on a tapestry loom was first known. While not as elaborate as fabric styles of the modern world, after the death of Christ, these fabrics were elegant and popular with many cultures, surviving into the middle ages.

    Twill and fabric woven designs such as plaid was also popular, especially in Sweden, Albania and what is now Chinese Turkistan. It is clear to see from these fabrics that originated in central Europe in the bronze age that the Scottish were not the inventors of the tartan motifs used in their kilts. The design comes from a much earlier period, and was used to add decoration to dress.

    The discussion on the existence of velvet has been a particularly heated one. Did it or did it not exist? There are many theories on this textile as well. It has been cited that silk and cotton velvet existed from about the 11th century. However, its also been cited as dating back as far as the 9th century. No-one seems to know exactly where or when it first originated. "Early velvets were good examples of supplementary warp pile textiles. Fragments of twill velvet have been dated to 9th century France, but it is not known where velvet was first woven, although it was probably Persia or Italy."10

    Then there are these two accounts of velvet. "Le samit et le velours furent connus en France, depuis le 13 siecle, commes des etoffes distinctes. Il vaut mieux s'en rapporter a l'opinion de ceux qui voient dans le samit un drap de soie serge" "The samite and the velvet were known in France since the 13th century, as fabrics of great distinction. They were likely to tell stories of people seen in cloaks of samite and silk."11

    Then, "Le chevaliers du Temple eurent a l'origine des manteux de cette etoffe. Dans leur superbe ils s'autoriserent plus tard de l'equivoque pur en porter de velours. Le velours rendait a merveille l'effet des couleurs appelees e maux dans le balson. " "The Knights of the Temple (Templars) were the originators of cloaks of this fabric. With these cloaks and other clothing of velvet, they looked superb. The velvet gave a marvellous effect of colours with their heraldry."12

    In Syria and Egypt, the Arabs took over the long textile traditions of the Byzantine Empire. The Umayyed Dynasty ruler Hisham, who ruled between 724-743AD was fond of robes and carpets in exotic fabrics and it was written that "striped silk, silk banded with inscriptions and velvets were made in his day."13 The earliest known velvet is from an archaeological site in Mawangdui, in the Hunan Province, dated at 145 BC. Fifteen samples of polychrome pile warp silks were found, which is the precursor to velvet.

    The Boston museum of Fine Arts Textile Collection has a large collection of woven silks, compound weaves, brocades, velvets and damasks which date from the 12th century in its collection. These extant sources are so fragile that they have to kept in specially prepared cabinets and are extremely sensitive to photography and climate changes.

    In conclusion to my discussion of velvet, is this description. "Velvet: Ancient weave in which pile is produced by raising the warps by the introduction of rods or wires during weaving. The loops may subsequently be cut. Velvet consists of three elements, a structural warp, a structural weft and a non structural or supplementary warp."14

    It can be seen then, that from various sources, archaeologically, artistically, and literally, that there were many sources and types of fabrics available to the nobility in the middle ages. I would surmise that this variety of fabrics and colours and designs of clothing showed a culture just as interested in its personal dress and outward appearance and variety of fabrics as they were interested in religion and stamping out heresy and reclaiming the True Cross in the Holy Lands.


    In conclusion, I have this to say. The astounding wealth of information to be found shows that there were large differences in styles of clothing, fabrics and hair throughout the 100 year period. However, while these variations in fashion trends were no means as large as they are today, they do show that there was a willingness among the nobility to show off, dress elaborately, and even the Knights Templar were not above dressing themselves in rich fabrics whilst they were in existence. I conclude that there is much more information about these items than previously thought.

    The following pages contain the bibliography of works, both primary, secondary and also tertiary that I have consulted.

    1 Planche, page unknown. 1876
    2 Boucher, pg 425. 1967
    3 Norris, pg 43, 1950
    4 d'Aucassin, circa late 12th century.
    5 Barton, pg 141, 1935
    6 Barton, pg 134, 1935
    7 Evans, pg 45, 1952
    8 Barton, pg 138, 1935
    9 Boucher, pg434, 1967
    10 Wilson, pg92, 1979
    11 Quicherat, pg 153, 1876
    12 Quicherat, pg 180, 1876
    13 Scott, pg 95, 1993
    14 Scott, pg 242, 1993

    *** I hope to add photos soon of garments made from this paper to help others as well as the written word. Please come back and check how things are going. Thankyou.


    Primary Sources.

    Angers Cathedral, West Portal, France, 1155-1160,
    Autun Cathedral, Main Portal, France, 1130-1155
    School of Auvergne, Virign and Child, France, 1250
    Proffessor Elizabeth Barber, Proffessor of Lingusitics, Textiles, and Archaeology, Occidental College Lost Angeles, Public Lecture: The World's Oldest Textiles, Adelaide, 1998
    Charoux, St. Sauveur, Center Doorway, West Portal, France, 1250
    Chateau-Sur-Naud, Left Jamb, France, 1160
    Chatres Cathedral, Left and Right Jambs, West Portal, Right Doorway, France, 1140-1160
    Chatres Cathedral, West Portal, Center Doorway, France, 1140-1160
    Chatres Cathedral, West Portal, Left Doorway, Right and Left Jamb, France, 1140-1160
    Etampes, Notre Dame, South Portal, France, 1140-1150
    Germigy l'Exempt, Parish Church, West Portal Lintel, France, 1240
    La Charite-Sur-Loire, Priory Church, Left Doorway, inner Lintel, West portal, Adoration of the Magi, France, 1140-1155
    Notre Dame de Corbeil, Jamb of West Portal, France, 1140-1150
    Prague, Vysehrad Codex (The Coronation Gospel Book), Czechoslavakia, 1085
    Reims Cathedral, Right Jamb, Right and Central Portal, West Facade, France, 1220-1255
    Rouen Cathedral, West Portal, Left Doorway, France, 1240
    Santa Maria de Barbara, Apse, Italy, late 12th Century to early 13th century
    Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain, late 12th Century
    St. Gilles du Garde, France, 1140-1209
    St. Nicolas, France, mid 12th Century
    Strasbourg Cathedral, statutes, France/Germany, 1240-1280

    Secondary Sources.

    Anon, The Illuminated Books of the Middle Ages, Bracken Books, London, 1989
    Barton, Lucy, Historic Costume for the Stage, Walter H Baker Co, Boston, 1935
    Brooke, Iris, English Costume in the Middle Ages: 10th -13th Centuries, A and C Black Ltd, London, 1972
    Boucher, Francois, 20000 Years of Fashion, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1967
    Bruhn, Wolfgang and Max Tilke, A Pictorial History of Costume, A Zwemmer Ltd, London, 1955
    Courtais, Georgine de, Womens Headdress and Hairstyles, B. T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1973
    Dodwell, C. R., Painting in Europe 800-1200: Pelican History of Art, Penguin Books, Victoria, 1971
    Dodwell, C. R., Pictorial Arts of the West 800-1200, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1993
    Evans, Joan, Dress in Medieval France, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1952
    Hill, Margot Hamilton and Peter A. Bucknell, The Evolution of Fashion, B. T. Batsford, London, 1967
    Holkeboer, Katherine Strand, Patterns for Theatrical Costumes, Prentice Hall Press, New York, 1984
    Lubell, Cecil, Textile Collections of the World Vol 1 US and Canada, Studio Vista, New York, 1976
    McLanathan, Richard, The Pagent of Medieval Art and Life, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1971
    Norris, Herbert, Costume and Fashion Volume 2-From Senlac to Bosworth, J.M. Dent and Sons, London, 1950
    Piton, Camille, Le Costume Civil en France 13th-19th siecle, Ernest Flammarion, Paris, 1964
    Planche, James Robinson Esquire, Cyclopedia of Costume Volume 1-2, Chatto and Windus, Piccadilly, 1876
    Quicherat, Jules Etienne J., Histoire du Costume en France depuis les Temps Plus Recules Jusque a la Fin du XVIII Siecle, Librairie Hachette, Paris, 1876
    Sauerlander, W, Gothic Sculpture in France 1140-1270, Thames and Hudson, London, 1972
    Scott, Phillipa, The Book of Silk, Thames and Hudson, London, 1993
    Snyder, James, Medieval Art: Painting, Sculpture , Architecture: 4th-14th Centuries, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1989
    Sronkova, Olga, Gothic Woman's Fashion, Artica-Prague, Czechoslavakia, 1954
    Stoddard, W. S., The Facade of Saint-Gilles-du-Garde: Its Influence on French Sculpture, Wesleyan University Press, USA, 1973
    Wilson, Kax, A History of Textiles, Westview Press, Colorado, 1979

    Tertiary Sources.

    The Crusader and Ayyubid Period (1099-1250 CE), History and Tourism Department of Jerusalem, 1996, (http://jeru.huji.ac.il/ef1.htm)
    Le Duc, Viollet, Encyclopedie Medievale, Inter Livres, Paris, 1972
    Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies, Carolyn Schriber, Rhodes College, 1998 (http://orb.rhodes.edu/)
    Romanesque, Tulane University, Tulane, USA, 1997 (http://www.Tulane.EDU/lester/text/Early.Christian.Period/Romanesque/Romanesque.html)
    Silby, Belinda, Reconstructing the Bliaut, Tournaments Illuminated #109, SCA publishing, USA, 1993
    t'Jong, Henk, The Bliaut, 18/4/98, 1998, H-Costume, H-Costume Mailing List