Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Petticoat Stats

"One Spanish cotton petticoat" for him - 1645 Manhattan 

Politics and the Landscape:

When I go through inventories I am not just thinking about a pair of shoes, a sword, or a dress. I often think of how the person would have worn it? Or what a garment is made of and how this is reflected in store records where fabric is purchased ? But I am also considering, How does the inventory influence what a house scene or a street scene or a market square would look like? 

The late 16th and early 17th Century is when a major shift happens on all levels whether politically, culturally or in clothing. In the Netherlands laws, politics, business and fashion are evolving at a steady pace between the 1550s-1690s. The biggest hump they got over was a shift from Spanish to Netherlander self governance. This affected fashion, the economy, politics and a variety of things. For New Netherland, the legal era starts in 1614 when the New Netherland company was chartered, a map of New Netherland was published and the first permanent settlement was built at Rondout on the Hudson River to when England gained legal ownership and sovereign control in 1667. Other dates are often referenced in publications, but legal control is like owning the title to one's home or car or a business... there is a beginning, middle and end. 

The "New Netherland" cultural era appears to be 1614 to the second seizing of the colony by the English in 1674. In 1674, politics and laws were being transferred from Dutch dominance to a deliberate application of English Common law. The deliberate part is the key, it forces a change from de facto powers (e.g. a person squatting in a house ) to de jure (the title sale of a house). 

The third instance is when one has de jure (legal control), but chooses not to enforce a change over which is what happened between 1667 - 1674. It is like continuing to live in the house though a person sold the title. This is what happened after 1667, the English do not enforce English common law until the year 1674 when the king changes his mind. 

Even then, the powers that be could not displace the common culture of the colonist from its continental mindset. Part of the issue was if they pushed too hard, they would loose tax revenue. We have to remember that from 1614 to 1674 the colonist had 60 years to incubate or over two generations. 

This continental mindset continues through to the 1710 - 1720 when large numbers of Scottish people emigrated but they are canceled out by the large numbers of Germans. While a political divide starts in the 1690s, it is not until enough British arrive during the 1720s that the culture is divided too. The province becomes split culturally British vs. Continental (Anglican, Presbyterian and large estate owning Huguenot vs. Lutherian, Dutch Reformed, Calvinist, Moravian, and working class Huguenot). The province will remain split for the entirety of the colonial era. 

What does this mean for reenactors? Most things whether French, Dutch, German, Swedish, English, Scottish and even Asian and some African styles are fair game. Dutch serge, English kersey, Scottish plaids, China silks, Japanese kimonos, Ottoman corded silks and raw mohair, Bengal cottons and even Egyptian alabaster are all in inventories. It is more of, "Was it an export?" if it was it probably made it to the ware houses of Amsterdam and then onto New Netherland and well into 18th Century New York. When I think of New York I am always amazed at the level of sophistication and worldly outlook. 

When picking out a fabric for a petticoat, consider doing something special. Pick a fabric that represents something important or dreamy for the era and sew it into a petticoat. Every time you wear it you will know it is not just a petticoat, it is made from fabric that connects the world and then tell somebody about it. Tell them how far the fabric had to travel to become that special garment just for you. 

Court Records reveal colors, materials and trims: 

1638 -  She took as payment for a hog, as much purple laken as was sufficient for a petticoat. 

1645 -  Red petticoat lined with blue and bound with cord. 

1648 - 2 kotten petticoats 

Early petticoats could be plain or trimmed with cord for people regardless of class. Fullness does not seem to be a factor, full petticoats are seen on wealthy and working class in paintings. 

The above cotton petticoats were made from cotton from plants, not the English use of cotton to mean either cotton from plants or brushed wool. Since the word cotton rather than "sits" was used it was likely a plain/solid colored cotton fabric. See article on solid colors cottons in New Netherland and New York Here.

As the century moves forward so do the description of petticoats: 

1685 -  
One redd cloth petticoat with black lace, One coloured druggett petticoat with redd linking [lace]. 

Early Inventories: 

In 1640, Hester Symonrsen had "2 laken petticoats" and "1 black kersey petticoat". It is difficult to guess what the 2 laken petticoat colors were, except that they were not black. Had they been black the recorder would have written it in as significant. Fabric tended to be dyed in the Netherlands, so it is possible that they were blue, green, or even yellow. When clothing is black, red, scarlet or purple it is often noted. When another color, often it is simply labeled as "colored". Could they have been natural colors? Yes, especially because Hester had lived in England for some time, and natural colors were very popular there. Off-colors - such as reddish- are possible too. Hester also had 12 linen and purple aprons. 

Ides Stoffelsen had a blue kersey, a staal gray lined petticoat, and black coarse Camelot lined petticoat, 1 half worn red petticoat, two old black skirts” in 1641. Here we can see the colors; blue, gray, black and red being used all in one inventory. Here Stoffelsen probably had two black kirtles. She also had a purple apron and four blue aprons. Colored aprons were common at this time, as were white or black. 

The kersey in Stoffelsen's wardrobe is likely continental, however, Symonresen's kersey could also be from London as she and her husband had lived there prior to coming to New Netherland. As a side note, it was not unusual for Dutch women who traveled to England to sport an English broad rim wool hat which was an English fashion then. While Hester doesn't have one in her inventory a number of items are missing. Dutch women usually just wore a cap, but Bermuda straw hats were also popular for keeping off the sun. 

The staal is the word used for the small metal tab that has an impression of the city of origin on it. They were attached to new pieces of fabric. For instance if a piece of cloth had a seal, it means it was the exact length, width, number of warps and even the color tone according to the quality assurance standards of the city. In order for a gray cloth to be standardize one would need either perfectly matched sheep breeds, or dye. 

The 1646 inventory of Aeltje Jans had the following items; "black cloth skirt, half worn, 1 old petticoat of changeable silk". Silk was easily obtainable at fixed prices at the Dutch West Indies store. While changeable silk was not on the West Indies Company store's list, Italian silks were such as tours de Naples. The fix pricing ensured that colonist had access to goods at the cost of goods, plus import cost, plus small profit. It cost more than in the Netherlands, but was still accessible. 

Heavy fabrics are more common during the 1630s and 1640s, and wardrobes with more variety of fabrics during the second half. By the 1650s, wardrobes are well developed with light and heavy fabrics, many colors, and prints are more popular.  

His Petticoat Breeches:

The 1646 inventory taken of the "effects left by Jan Jansen of St. Obyn" in New Amsterdam included; one Spanish cotton petticoat. This petticoat probably belonged to Jansen and were petticoat breeches as he did not have a pair of breeches but did owned a pair of linen onderbroeken which were commonly worn under petticoat coat breeches in the Netherlands. The Spanish cotton is interesting because during the 16th and into the 17th century India was making cotton fabrics for specific markets. The purpose was to cater to the tastes of a specific nation or culture. Fabrics would have scenes, designs or prints favored by their people. There are a couple inventories where there is almost all men's cloths plus a petticoat and no wife or daughter to be found. These are likely the petticoat breeches which are as full and loose as a woman's petticoat. 

"One Spanish cotton petticoat" - 1645 

Doing the numbers:

Cotton and linen petticoats turn up in inventories, however of the 206 petticoats from 1638 to the year 1700, 115 list the fabric. 

Here is a list of the most common, there happens to be many "one offs" too.  

23.2 % - Cotton or Calico 
21.7 % - Silk  
14.5 %   - Laken (a winter only weight fabric) 
11.6 %   - Camelot (medium grade Grossgrain) 
11.6 %   - Serge  
5.8 %     - Stuff 
4.3 %      - Kersey 

These percentages may change as I add in more inventories but it gives reenactors a look at options that were available. If one would like to make a silk petticoat go with a stiffer fabric; cotton should be shirting weight. Laken is a serge that has been "fulled", Serge can be found at Joan Fabrics in the "sporting" section. Look for the fabric that has diagonal lines. They come in cotton (technically did not exist) but the look is good as are the colors. Camelot is made from silk, mohair, or silk-mohair blend if representing a Dutch, Flemish or person from New Netherland or New York. 

Looking to represent a dairy farmer or cheese maker? One can use all these fabrics. The silk petticoat would have been reserved for church and holidays, the Camelot too. Laken is winter ware. And the Serge would have been one's work horse fabric. Kersey is a very reasonable alternative and more affordable for those muddy days. Are you a poor farmer who raised peas and corn? Or selling pancakes out of her home for extra cash? Use serge as your best fabric for church, which is a respectable fabric because even wealthy people keep a serge suit because it is 1) made of Spanish wool 2) very durable and practical which is a trait respected by people of all classes in NY. 


Of 69 Petticoats with the color or descriptor listed from the 1630s to the year 1700:

Number of: 

19   Black 
17  Red 
5   Scarlet  
5   Blue 
4   Green  
4   Colored (blue, green, yellow, gray, brown) 
2   Purple 
1   Gray 
1   White

Not included in the numbers above...There are two cotton petticoats without the color listed, they were likely plain white which was rather cheap and affordable in NN. There are also "colored" petticoats with red or green lining. Striped, brocade, velvet and "farridine" were also present in small numbers. Ferridine, has other spellings, but it is the affordable version of Camelot. Both Farridine and Camelot are made of a mohair and silk blend, but farridine is a plain weave and Camelot is a grosgrain. The petticoats that are black are sometimes lined in a bright color of red, green, blue, etc. when wearing them, a person could wear them with part of the skirt folded up to show off the lining. Interestedly, there are a few petticoats that will say the fabric but not the color but will then list the color of the lining but not the fabric... these are not included in the numbers but I am guessing they were common black. 

Under petticoats:

A 1657 inventory had a "red under petticoat" and a 1685 inventory had "one under petticoat with a body of red bay, one under petticoat scarlet". 


A quick point on homemade fabric. It did exist. There are some men's garments mentioned as being made from homemade fabric as were storage bags and I think one of the slaves were mentioned as having homespun. However, these are usually very very humble inventories. Homespun sometimes shows up in store inventories. The issue is that the fabric available at the store was so affordable, homespun fabric was usually coarse and reserved for other purposes. Knitting yarn is another story. It seems very fine yarn was being made and was popular. I get the impression that women were more likely to be sewing smalls such as handkerchiefs and aprons or knitting rather than sewing large garments. Loose wool, linen, mohair and cotton is sold in stores. Wool cards and wool or linen spinning wheels are common in English and Scottish homes. Looms are rare everywhere. This is not to say that a reenactor should not make fabric for a petticoat; New York tended to have trained people who were specialist. So, if you can do it, you would. Many people had more than one skill or job. 

Walking down the Street:

When walking down the street roughly a third of petticoats will be black with a bright color lining that is folded back to be seen. Another third could be calico, brocade, or have some kind of pattern. The last third would be the greens, blues, and purples. There would be a couple gray and while the inventories do not mention yellow it is in some 17th Century paintings, and turns up in other garments in NY inventories. I would give yellow the go ahead as a petticoat because other women's garments were yellow.. but it would be a Indian mustard cotton or China yellow silk to be in sync with the era. How do I know yellow cotton existed? Because I happen to own a yellow cotton French dressing gown from the 1720s. 

Petticoats are one of those things a sew-a-long is great for. There is so much fabric to make a properly full 17th Century petticoat chatting is a must. Each person can pick a fabric that really means something and can be a topic for conversation with tourist. Let them guess what it is made of, where it was imported from and why the fabric was used rather than a different fabric. Let them know just how small the world was. 

Sorry for no images, In the guide book I am putting together there will be images. 

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