Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


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The 16th century working woman part 1- The research

This is a post about (one of) my 16th century outfits; and due to several years of research, work and sewing experiences it will probably be more than one post- with focus on different garments. In this, I will give you an overview and some background research. The outfit is already finished, worn, mended and in line for some redoing, so I will be able to share the whole process with you; both good and bad outcomes and what I could have done different.

My aim was to make a good recreation of a whole outfit for a woman from early 1500s German area. She is not poor, but works for her living- maybe on a larger farm or in a smaller city. She is well dressed; as is the ladies on all the art I have studied, but like other working women, she own practical clothing with a skirt short enough to stay out of her way, and a cut to the clothing that is both economical and practical. Contrary from the trossfraus (the women who follows the mercenary armies) she does not wear slashed and mismatched clothing, but items that belong to each other and to a certain class in society. She follows sumptuary laws (such as wearing her rosary in plain view) and does her hair in the braided fashion, or covers it with a simple cap and veils while working.

I wanted to show you some interesting images of 16th century women in art so I put together some examples for you;

Three women; wearing work tools but also lots of interesting clothing. The shoes are practical and the skirts reach the foot, not the ground. 

A painted glass piece showing the milking and making of butter. A (probably) younger woman has her hair in two braids, and a covering apron to protect her clothing. the older woman has a veil, a jacket and a dress hiked up in her belt.

This lady is described as a dancing farmer and has probably done her fine dress for a festive occasion, with her hair braided in a nice up do and what looks like a headband around them. She wears a dress, and a gollar that looks fur-lined or with a whole lining in fur.

Another dancing farmer- with a gollar fastened by her neck, and an apron around her waist. The shoes look sturdy and practical (not like the cowmouth shoes you can se on trossfraus) and she has some kind of decorative border at the hem on the skirt, and on her loose sleeves. No slashes though!

This piece shows the women working with flax, the process from plant to fabric demanded both time and hard work in numerous steps. The sitting lady wears a cap or veil around her head, with hair showing at the front. Her jacket is fastened at the front and is cut in the fashion of the time; low and square. The standing lady has her hair in braids around her head, and has rolled up her sleeves while working. The dress has a decorative guard at the front, and is hiked up at the waist. Clearly, she is doing some heavy work!

Dressed for cold weather? She has done her veils around her head, chin and neck, and wears a short cloak against the cold. She wears both shoes, socks and hose, and a bag at her belt.

Ah, time for cutting some fleece! The sheep does look dead, but is probably just laying at a convenient working pose for the woman, who use a shearing scissor for the work. She wears a simple cap or tied veil over her hair, and a dress with decorative guards at the front. It is hard to say if the brown skirts are part of her yellow dress, discoloured by time, an apron or a piece of cloth.

Festivities again! Do peasants and workers anything else than working and dancing? This lady has the common braids, a gollar and a dress. What is so interesting with this picture is that you can se the back of her dress, which is clearly more dense pleated than the sides. Uneven pleating in the skirts is visible in more pictures, and seems to be the result of a tailor work.

Summer time, and work in the fields this time. Now we can see her shift; a plain linen shift with a long sleeve, and either a high collar, or more believable, a thin gollar/linen cloth to protect her against the sun, as is seen on the woman with the red dress. She wears a straw hat, and her dress is sleeveless; it is a tight-fitting middle kirtle or under dress that gives you the bust support you need, without being in the way for hard work. This layer can be found on other women too, plan, sleeveless and intended to be worn under the woolen over dress. It is only during heavy outdoor labor such as field work, washing and shoveling it is openly worn, older omen and others always have their over dress on.

Based on my research, I have found that I needed the following items for a whole outfit:

  • linen shift
  • kirtle or under dress
  • wool dress as an over dress
  • apron
  • belt
  • purse (and maybe a rosary to)
  • cap, veils, a straw hat and/or a braided hairstyle
  • hose
  • shoes
  • gollar
  • jacket
  • cape/cloak

This much? I wanted to make a whole outfit, that would be practical during different kind of events with both cold and warm weather. I also wanted to try to make all the pieces of clothing and accessories that I have found during my research, to better understand how they worked together.

For more research, I have a Pinterest board on the theme if you want to learn more!