Dress and Textiles III: New Analyses of Old Evidence
Sponsor: DISTAFF (Discussion, Interpretation, and Study of Textile Arts, Fabrics, and Fashion)
Organizer: Robin Netherton, DISTAFF
Presider: Robin Netherton
Scarlet Blue: Elite versus Peasantish Clothing in Nordic Ballads Sandra B. Straubhaar, Univ. of Texas–Austin
Not talking about sagas here but sung ballads, usually used for dancing. They often have connections to rhymed metrical romances. Today’s example is the ballad about Ramund the Young. Ramund is a hero of lowly origins. Before he can go out on an adventure, he must gain a set of clothing from a female figure (mother, girlfriend, queen, etc.). His clothes are depicted as ridiculously large. The general outline of his adventures is: Ramund comes form the countryside to court in “peasantish clothing” and bust be properly outfitted to go out and battle giants or trolls. There are dozens of variants of the Ramund ballad. We now get a catalog and classification of the ballad variants. [We get a Danish rock band illustration of one stanza.] The opening motif is that Ramund must be given better clothes than he has to beome a better man. He is offered rough clothes of “blue bast and leather” and rejects them and asks for better, then he’s offered better clothes (silk and samite). The various sets of clothing are desribed in terms of material and color, though evidently not cut/type. Collating the descriptions, we seem to get the impression that peasants wear coarse blue clothing, while nobles wear scarlet/red. But looking at a variant, “blue” (from “blågarn” blue yarn) may be an adaptation of “blorgarn” meaning “bast yarn” that is, a coarse plant fiber. Other versions specify the poor clothing as “ugly weaving” made of nettles and root fibers, compared to the better clothing of scarlet. Another specifies nettle cloth which is rejected in favor of the king’s daughter making him clothing of silk. In one version, the “scarlet” cloth is expanded to “scarlet red”, for “scarlet” comes in a number of different colors, including blue. (Scarlet blue occurs in other unrelated ballads as a noble fabric.) We also get “scarlet green” for a cloak. And “scarlet white” for a page’s or servant’s clothing. But in general, a combination of scarlet green and scarlet red indicates rich clothing (or maybe they just provide useful rhymes). Or you can add in also scarlet blue with yet another rhyme option. Behind all this, of course, is the origin of “scarlet” as a type of luxury fabric, not a color. The word as used in the Scandinavian languages may have more than one origin, either from Arabic siklat (for a decorated fabric) or for OHG scarlachen for a shaved/shorn fabric. Ramund’s final acquisition after the main clothes are sorted out is appropriate trousers, where he needs fifty ells or more of cloth to cover his frame. So how much information on medieval clothing cut can be retrieved from these ballads? Very little, though possibly some information on color symbolism.
Hemp and Hemp Cloth in the Medieval Rus Lands Heidi Sherman, Univ. of Wisconsin–Green Bay
This speaker was not able to attend due to her department getting a major state award.
The Tree of Jesse and the Royal Adulterers: An Examination of Two Fourteenth-Century German Appliqued Hangings Lisa Evans, Independent Scholar
Late 14th c appliquéd tapestry of the Tree of Jesse, similar to a tapestry in the V&A similar in technique but depicting Tristan. This paper will compare the two to determine if they are connected in origin. Appliqué is well suited to large public display textiles as the labor is much less than for embroidery. The tree of Jesse motif shows the genealogy of Christ depicted as a literal “family tree” springing from the sleeping figure of Jesse. There is a large central rectangle in deep blue with the tree motif itself surrounded by a border in red with floral motifs. The central panel is a single piece of fabric while the border is crudely pieced of multiple pieces. The designs are of multiple colors of wool couched down with thin strips of gilded leather and are lightly padded. The human figures show no signs of embroidered facial features. Among the floral motifs filling in the background there are also captions in blackletter, also done with appliqué. Many of the figures have gold crowns also made of gilt leather. The depicted prophets wear clothing contemporary to the work. The border has enthroned kings associated with the letter S and unicorn head motifs. Except for a section of wear that may represent a fold, the work is in excellent condition and the colors are little faced. The V&A Tristan hanging is cut down from its original size (maybe a quarter of the original size). Despite many stylistic similarities, the author argues that the two works are only coincidentally similar and unrelated. The human figures are shown in arcades, with the scenes distinguished by different color background fabrics. The materials are similar to the Jesse piece (wool with appliqué done using gilded leather strips). The stitching, however, is not quite as fine. The clothing is in a different style, being more fitted. The work is more damaged than the Jesse piece, being faded and worn. Unlike the Jesse piece, very little is known about the Tristan piece due to its ownership history. The previous owner, Franz Bock, was an antiquarian collector rather than a conservator and notorious for modifying or separating pieces for distribution or display. The Tristan piece may have had a twin in different materials but a similar technique and with similar layout, that was described in the 1930s but is now lost.
Teletta: Discovering the Origins of This Late Renaissance Italian Textile Dawn A. Maneval, Independent Scholar
”Teletta” is a type of cloth of gold. This paper is intended to identify the structure and origin of textiles described with this term. Due to trade, silk textiles were often known by “international” names that don’t always indicate origin clearly. Various types of records may provide evidence: account books, inventories, guild regulations. Dictionaries define teletta as a cloth woven primarily with gold or silver. Textile scholarship defines it as a tabby weave of silk with pattern wefts of metal threads. But its unclear how the scholars came up with this definition. Etymologically, the word is a diminutive of “tela”. But “tela” is a general term for cloth. It can mean a tabby weave, but has other meanings. It can mean a lightweight silk, a drawn-wife silk, or a type of a griccia velvet (referring to a type of design). A griccia velvets were extreme luxury fabrics associated with the wealthy and powerful. A griccia refers to an asymmetric design in the weave. There was no symmetric repetition therefore they were more laborious to create. Usually created as a figured or voided velvet. Surviving examples of these have pile and a taffeta (tabby) ground in the “voided” areas. These velvets were also enriched with metal threads (metal lamina spun around a silk core). The metal thread could either be used in loops among the pile, or as brocading wefts. The paper now analyzes how the historical record for the use of the word teletta aligns with the various proposed features/definitions in the academic definition. This analysis eliminates the proposed “ground of the a griccia velvet” definition as not matching the word’s use. The definition as a “lightweight silk”. But again, this does not align with the term’s use. Another possible definition is “cloth using drawn-wire for cloth of gold. This technique can be used in combination with other techniques such as loops and brocading and pile. If teletta refers only to the use of drawn wire in a silk fabric, then it does align with the uses of the word in historic sources. The problem is that we don’t have enough clear correspondences of surviving items and a contemporary description of the fabric as teletta that could confirm the conclusion.