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FABRIC PRINTING IN THE RENAISSANCE
By Lady Anastasia
Reprinted from The Renaissance Herald

Today, I answer questions from two readers. The first is from Pam Bilosoly of Coalton, West Virginia. She asks if, since paper marbling was done in Italy and France in the 1500s, was fabric marbling, or some other sort of printing on fabric done at this time, also?

Very good question, Pam. Various methods of applying colored dyes to fabrics to create patterns have been used in Europe since around 450 BC, perhaps as early as 2000 BC. Records of the 1500s indicate that cloth printers of that time printed books as well, (probably using the direct ink block print method for both cloth and paper). However, I can find no mention of marbleized fabric during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance in any textile history books, nor any mention or illustration of such fabric in any costume history books. Since marbleized fabric does not seem to ever have been illustrated in any way, it seems highly unlikely that it was ever done.

The reproduction of brocade-like prints, on the other hand, is a slightly different matter. It seems the craft of block printing on fabric in more than one color, including silver and gold, arose, "primarily out of the desire to produce cheap imitations of the rare and expensive textiles that came over the caravan or sea routes from the Near and Far East." (Stuart Robinson, A History of Textile Printing, Studio Vista Ltd, U..K., 1922, and M.I.T. Press). Stuart goes on to explain:

A document issued in Nuremburg about 1450 gives clear instructions on the copying of flowers and animals from cloth of gold. The cloth of gold fabrics were magnificent brocades from the Orient and Italy. Prints copying these rich designs provided cheap substitutes for the lesser monasteries, churches and middle-class house. . . To economize further the number of small blocks was kept to the minimum by inserting touches of colour with a brush, or painting in solid areas of colour within printed outlines. Gold and silver dust was often scattered over the printed pigments before they had time to dry. Velvet effects were obtained by spreading powdered wool on the gummed ink pattern while it was still wet, and powdered selinite was sometimes applied to the whole of a hanging to enrich the lustre.

He mentions only hangings in this passage because these processes of printing on fabric were not fast to washing, so were not suitable for clothing. They were used primarily for tapestries, table furnishings for religious rituals, and, perhaps, church vestments which were seldom soiled and, therefore, need never be washed.

Although the practice of printing on fabric through wax resist and mordants was common throughout India and China long before the 1500s, according to Robinson the dyes available in Europe at this time were not suitable for this method. Insoluble pigments such as Indigo ground with lead and water, gold and silver metallic powders, ruddle or red ochre, and black pine soot ground in oil and mixed with varnish, were successful colorants used in the wax resist process at this time, but these colorants could, again, only be used for wall hangings as they were fast to light but not to washing.

So, although it seems that techniques for what we would term "flocking" and "printing" were available at this time, it would probably be historically inaccurate for us to use flocked or printed fabric in our period attire.

The second question comes from O. G. Caballero of Sacramento, CA. O. G. writes, "In a future article I'd like to see [the area of period footwear] touched upon since I've not been successful locating much material about this subject."

This is such a vast subject, requiring such numerous and detailed illustrations that about all I can do in this space is "touch upon" this subject. The variety of bazaar footwear worn throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance boggles the mind. Instead of attempting to describe the whys and wherefores of even some of the contraptions people wore on there feet, let me suggest to you some excellent books on the subject.

The first is "The Mode in Footwear" by my favorite costume historian, Turner Wilcox, (Charles Scribner and Sons). His illustrations are marvelously detailed and show a wider variety of styles than most other costume books. The text is brief but rich in description, never-the-less.

Another wonderful little book goes by the wordy but informative title, "The Romance of the Shoe, being a History of Shoemaking, in all Ages, and especially in England and Scotland", (by Thomas Wright, C.J. Farnscombe and Sons ltd., London, 1922). This fascinating book tells the history of shoes through anecdotes, stories, and wonderful historical tidbits. It is best read cover to cover, because if one opens to just any page, one must search about a bit for a date to find one's bearings. The illustrations are excellent and include line drawings, cuts from original art of the period, and wonderful photos of museum pieces. To whet your appetite, here is a sample of the text:

Revilins. The Scotch gashed their cuarans, "though new made," in order that the water might run out after they had crossed a river; and it is said that the ornamental punctures in the toe-cap of today are a survival of this practice. In the wilder parts people went barefooted; and to wear cuarans was to give one's self airs. One evening a messenger came to Tongue House (Sutherland) from Dunrobin Castle, and showed his importance by placing his cuarans on the dresser. The cook was indignant, but she said nothing. When, however, next morning he asked for them just before leaving, she enquired how he liked his breakfast. "I never enjoyed a better," said he. "Then you have the satisfaction of knowing that you carry your cuarans inside, instead of outside, this time. And never you again take upon yourself to place your upstart Gowar cuarans on the dresser of gentlefolk."

Yes, yes, I know, the correct term is "Scottish", not "Scotch". No reference is perfect, but each has its attributes. My last recommendation is not perfect, either, but is a good reference for those who like it brief and simple. "Footwear - a Short History of European and American Shoes", (by Iris Brooke, Theatre Arts Books, NY, 1971), is short and simple. However, it is sufficient for anyone who is looking for examples of footwear designs. The illustrations are clear line drawings, and the history is to the point. Here is a sample:

Spanish fashions were adopted in England during the few years that Philip endured the English climate and tolerated Mary's moods and manners. When he returned to Spain the extravagances and fantasies of the Spanish courtiers remained in vogue and Elizabeth, new from her imprisonment, and her ladies, indulged in an orgy of fashionable excesses. The Spanish shoe was foot-fitting and though still slashed and decorated, it was to all appearances a comfortable fitting slipper, see Figs. 18 B, C and D. The front of the shoe came well up over the instep and to enable the wearer to put it on or take it off without undue strain, the sides were often cut down to the sole so that the heel could be pulled back. (See Fig. 18 B).

These books are a bit off the beaten path, but you should be able to find them in a good college library. I believe the Wilcox book is still in print and so may be ordered through your local bookstore.

I would also like to recommend, if I may, an excellent bootmaker, Shrader Bootmaker. John Caulder, the craftsperson behind the name, does top quality work, and has lead me to believe he loves a challenge. He has worked out an excellent system for taking accurate measurements via the U.S. postal system, quite a feat in itself, if you'll pardon the pun. His address is 1508 San Anselmo Blvd., San Anselmo, CA 94960.

I hope these references are helpful to you. As always, if any of you out there have references to contribute to the subjects discussed in this column, please forward them to Ask Lady Anastasia, c/o the Renaissance Herald. Until next time, I wish you Happy Feet.


1 "Where the colour was applied directly from a block this was done by inking the block from a a pad and pressing it on to the cloth by hand or by striking the back with a wooden mallet. If a starch or wax resist was used, the printed portions kept white whenthe fabric was later dipped in a dye vat. If, however, a mordant was printed [on the fabric], only the mordanted parts took the dye when immersed in the dye vat, later rinsing removing the surplus dye from the background areas." [A mordant is a chemical that reacts witht he liquid dye to produce a colour. Without a mordant, many dyes will not bond with fabric, or will bond in a completely different colour.]

 

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