Archive for March 18th, 2014

March 18, 2014


For the serious reenactor who eschews the wearing of boxers, budgie smugglers or even Y-fronts beneath his (or her) breeches, there are two choices: go commando or invest in a pair of drawers. Now we all know what we are talking about here I assume, baggy old pants with a tape tie or drawstring to hold them up. The kind of thing we all imagined Norah Batty wore above her wrinkled old hose. Well maybe yes, but also maybe no. The estimable Mr Peachey has done some digging in the vaults and emerged with a new theorem that you can investigate further if you invest in his new book Male Drawers, Linen & Aprons, Volume 17 of the new series.

He has found, as I did that searching for references to drawers is tricky as there are several meanings for the word. It Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 16.22.55could mean wooden drawers, a pillowcase, an occupation (wire drawers) or an item of clothing. There are some references to russet or cotton drawers which may be a form of over breeches and several that mention night drawers for use in bed. In fact there are very few real references to the use of drawers that we would recognise, leading to the thought that they weren’t really worn at all by common folk in seventeenth century England. I would like to differ here, I feel here are enough references to indicate this was at least worn by some and there are actually a few images that show what they looked like. In this picture from 1647 showing an Anabaptist baptism ceremony, the two participants are wearing what look like linen drawers.

Furthermore, this reference from  Londons wonder being a most true and positive relation of the taking and killing of a great whale neer to Greenwich from 1658 is very plain about what was being worn:

“UPon the third of June this present year 1658. a huge whale came swimming up the Thames and was first seen by a boy at black-Wall being of a mighty bulke and bigness, which something frighted the boy to see such a Monstrous fish: the boy presently revealed it to some Water-men thereabouts, who instantly got Harping-irons: Spits, Hatchets, Bills and Axes, & fell a striking the Whale as far as they durst venter. The Water-men stripping off their Doublets and Breeches, and went only in their Shirts and drawers to be light and nimble at their worke; and to escape the danger of drowning in case the Whale had over-turn’d them, they struck the Harping-irons all at one time into her body, but she quickly remov’d them out again.”

It has been suggested that this suggests that drawers were only worn by sailors and watermen. What is does show is that drawers were worn beneath the breeches and that they were not restrictive in any way.

Here are a couple of photos of drawers made by the 1642 Tailor. The pattern is based on an extant pair examined by 1976911_620413088029130_1160654359_nJanet Arnold and printed in her Patterns of Fashion 4. In this case we went for tapes sewn to the edges rather than drawstrings and an opening fly as on the original. There is another possibility for no fly and a drawstring, but that just sounds a tad too impractical to me. The pair on the right are decorated with blanket stitch in red linen thread outlining the run and fell seams.1620958_611356438934795_758705088_n

March 18, 2014



Screen Shot 2013-02-01 at 09.18.3017th century buttons were not pierced with two or four holes like those generally used now. Instead they had a shank on the back of the button, and the single attachment hole passed through that.

The picture shows a typical 17th century pewter button on the portable antiquities site. Metal buttons were common, often made from lead, pewter tin or alloys of the same. These were usually cast, and the shank could be formed as one piece with the button, or could be in the form of a twist of copper alloy or iron wire set into the casting. Metal buttons could also be made from copper alloy, either cast as here, or in the case of flat buttons, punched from sheet with a loop soldered on the back.  Buttons could also be made from wood, bone etc, but these styles were also shanked not pierced. Upper class buttons could be in silver, gold, or precious stones.

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Another style of button used a core, often of wood, covered in a wrapping of threads. The threads also formed an attachment shank. They could be fairly plain and simple, or use expensive silk or silver and gold thread. The plain example on the left is attached to a possibly 17th century coat in Colchester Museum, and is wrapped in linen thread. The right hand example from the Museum of London, a doublet from the Isham Collection. This is silk and metallic thread wrapped.

Cloth Buttons

Cloth buttons were also common: formed from scraps of cloth, or a wooden core, wrapped in a piece of cloth, these also had a shank formed by binding and stitching. None have survived as far as I know, but here is a row of buttons on a reconstructed soldier’s coat.

Here’s a link to a nice piece about how to make your own thread wrapped and cloth buttons and another here

Two more original examples of thread wrapped buttons. The left hand button a detail from a boys doublet in Abingdon Museum. This button has been wrapped in a chevron pattern. The right hand picture is of an embroidered linen doublet in the Manchester Costume Collection in Platt Hall. The wrapping here starts with 5 or 6 guide threads around which the rest of the thread is anchored. Notice on both buttons that there is a centre knot. This is the top end of the anchoring threads that pass through the fabric of the doublet and form the shank holding the button up.

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These buttons on a doublet in a museum in London have lost some of their top threads, showing how they were made, satin wrapped threads around the bead and embroidered over the top.


Have a look at this portrait of Nicholas Lanier. The knots on the top of his buttons can be seen clearly.

And here are some more examples of nice reproduction buttons.

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Silk wrapped ones for a rather garish costume at Shakespeare’s Globe by Karl Robinson


Linen thread wrapped one by the 1642 Tailor

Metal buttons

Reproduction pewter buttons on a soldier’s coat from Christophu

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And last, but by no means least, some chevron wrapped ones by Gina Barrett