Tuesday, 30 December 2008

16th Century Hat shapes - web search results

While watching nonsense on TV I decided to have a look for early 16th century hat shapes and came across the following links which you might also find of interest;

let me know if you find anything else!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

More on Monmouth (see post on 7th Sept 2008)

been a bit out of sorts of late so
not a lot of blogging (or much else
for that matter) but was mightily
cheered by Melody who, after
reading my plea for a knitter,
has knitted then felted a
monmouth cap, and Jon,
who is sporting the hat in the
photo's and agreed to them
being published here.

Even better Melody has offered
to knit one/some more for us to
have as props to work on next
year! Oh yes, for those of you who
don't already know, next year is
1535 - a big fashion change is on
the cards!

Thank you Melody and Jon (doesn't he look handsome!)

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Beavers were nearly hunted to extinction in Europe during the 16th century for their wool which was used in the manufacture of fine hats. Once the Americas were found, beaver skin was so prized that it was imported for the felt hat industry. Especially prized were beaver skins which had been worn, either by native American Indians or by early settlers, as it was found that once worn the fur itself would felt more easily. Those of us who were brought up with cowboy films probably all have an image of Billy Crockett and his beaver hat with the strange tail hanging down the back!

Here is a translation of what Plinius Secundus had to say about beavers in his book "The Historie of the World. Book VIII" written in 1601 http://penelope.uchicago.edu/holland/pliny8.html#b11

"The Bievers in Pontus gueld themselves, when they see how neere they are driven, and bee in danger of the hunters: as knowing full well, that chased they bee for their genetoires: and these their stones, Physicians call Castoreum. And otherwise, this is a daungerous and terrible beast with his teeth. For verily, hee will bite downe the trees growing by the river sides, as if they were cut with an axe. Looke where he catcheth hold of a man once, he never leaveth nor letteth loose untill hee have knapped the bones in sunder, and heard it cracke againe. Tailed hee is like a fish, otherwise he resembleth the otter. Both those beasts live in the water altogether, and carrie an haire softer than any plume or downe of feathers."

Master Pinchbeck can remember working with Beiver at his fathers workshop in London!

It looks like Beaver were also hunted for their genitals and they would bite them off rather than let the hunter have them! I like Pliny's description of the beast and how strong and ferocious it was deemed to be. They are a great talking point - even though the likely hood of actually getting hold of a beaver skin these days, let alone using it for felting is very slim!
p.s. just checked out "castoreum" and it seems that these are glands used in perfumery and for various remedies, the wearer will be irresistible!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

woolly wonderings

One of the things which has exercised my mind since setting up felting at Kentwell Hall has been that of wool.

The first year (2006) we just had the wool from the Norfolk Horn sheep that live on the Manor. We found this wool was difficult to work with which set me to wondering why it didn't felt easily; if we could make it easier; and what wool actually would have been used in earlier times.

The Norfolk Horn is a predecessor of the Black faced Suffolk Sheep, I have now found out that felters today generally consider working with this wool to be a wasted energy. With perseverence we have got it to felt albeit the results are springy and prone to pilling. However all things have their purpose and this has given great comfort to a number of feet (insoles) and backsides (seat pads). I also experimented and found that it was more suited to needle felting - not a lot of good for Tudor times but a handy 'mend it' option for when visitors have gone home!

The best sheep wool for felting has the right thickness, the right crimp and the right staple (I think I will do a seperate post about this another time).

Turning my thoughts to how can we make this easier I wondered about water; soap; and the wool.

With experimentation we found that the hotter the water the better - that was some progress.

Would it make a difference if the soap we used we more akin to that used in Tudor times? we made our own soap but found that although its a great talking point, it didn't make a lot of difference to the felting, its just very rough on our hands.

Was soap even used to create the right enviroment to get the wool to felt? don't know about that one yet!

I have heard of carrotting for other felting fibre (rabbit, beaver), is there anything that could be done to make this wool easier to work with. Recently I found mention of felters using short staple wool and felters choping wool to shorter lengths. We have yet to give this serious try.

These days felters seem to favour Merino wool imported from Australia, I didn't think we would be importing wool from Australia in the 16th century so that option seemed to be out and I have been trying to identify other options. There has been mention of 'Estridge Wool'; 'Wool from Pollonia'; 'Spanish Felt Wool' in the OED on line (see 'F' words) and in the information about Monmouth caps there is reference to 'Ryedale Wool'. This year "one who knows much of such things" did say to me that much wool was imported from the Baltic areas? What other sheep would there have been around at the time?

In my modern life I was introduced to Blue Faced Leicester which felts beautifully in no time at all. I don't know if this wool would have been around at the time but we bought some, a beautiful soft brown colour and all ready prepared to use this summer - we had our most successful hat making outcomes yet. I am really proud of the hat I made, I will try and post a picture soon!

Since the summer I have been exploring options from the Baltic and was kindly sent samples of Finnwool and wool from the Gotland sheep by Rod Finland (http://www.rod.4felts.com/ just have a look at his web site for inspirational modern felting!). I have made some small samples and am most impressed with the results. I need to experiment with these a bit further.

I have recently found out that the modern Merino Sheep are descended from Spanish Sheep and am guessing that these were the sheep which provided the fine 'Spanish Felt Wool'. Maybe we can legitimately use Merino after all!

Next I want to try and get hold of the fleece of a Ryedale sheep and find out exactly what is Estridge Wool? - any ideas?

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Monmouth Cap

(a knitted and fulled, brown hat with a 'button' on top).

Now knitting has never been my strong point, in fact I would go as far as to say that I really do not like knitting. However it is clear that knitting was a skill practised in Tudor times and that one of the popular hats was in fact knitted and then fulled to make a durable, warm and water replellent head covering.
Knowing that from 1488 to 1597 legistation existed to protect the knitted cap industry and that people were knitting what became known as 'Monmouth caps' as early as the mid 15th century, the last time we went camping in Wales we visited the museum in Monmouth (and a very splendid castle) where we saw a real Monmouth Cap on display.
My subsequent investigations unearthed a web site which give a history and knitting instructions for the cap. It seems pointless for me to repeat any of what the author, Jennifer Carlson, has said so you may as well have a look for yourself
I would really love it if someone wanted to knit one or two of these hats for us to full and have on display at Kentwell - I don't mind buying the wool - hint hint!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

how to do everything!

found a great book when I was googling last night
"The Circle of the Mechanical Arts" written by Thomas Martin in 1813
there is a whole chapter on hat-making and chapters on just about everthing else you could possibly think of making. OK so its not Tudor how to do everything but its a lot older than most craft books you can find and has some great insights into much earleir methods of production than we would use these days and ... there is a great description of bow carding (you will already know that this is something that has been interesting me this year).
Its been scanned into the google on-line library so you can find it and download it for yourself if you google the name of the book.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Deliberately Concealed Garment

During the reformation someone went to the trouble of hiding a blue wool-felted hat made around 1350 in a cavity in a church in Little Sampford Church, Essex, UK. It was conserved in 1979 and is now displayed in a museum in Saffron Walden, Essex.
When I saw a picture of it I could hardly beleive how modern it looked with a rounded crown and flat brim all made in one piece. You too can see a picture and read more about it at http://search.concealedgarments.org/results.jsp?view=details&pos=2&id=1553
thanks to Karen Larsdatter for pointing me in this direction.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

'F' words

Feather band
A sort of HATBAND, presumably one designed to hold decorative FEATHERs, and fashionable in the seventeenth century as shown, for example, in the picture of the Gunpowder Plot Conspirators painted in 1605 by an unknown artist, and that of the Squire of Alsatia painted in1688 by Laroon [Cumming (1984, reprint 1987)]. The one example found in the Dictionary Archive is dated the same year as the Gunpowder Plot [Inventories (1605)].
Not found in the OED
Sources: Inventories (early). References: Cumming (1984, reprinted 1987).

Felt [ffelt; felte]
A TEXTILE made from WOOL or mixed fibres compressed, rolled or fulled to bind them together. Either FELT WOOL, of which there were many types, was used, or the fur from the BEAVER SKIN, CONY SKIN or RABBIT SKIN.
Felt was used mainly to make FELT HATs, and by association the term indicated both hats made of felt and, on occasion, hats in general. Many of the terms that might be expected as descriptors for felt hat are found in association with felts. Some of these denote the WOOL from which the hat was made, hence 'estridge womens felts' made from ESTRIDGE WOOL [Inventories (1604)], 'Spanish or Portingale felts' made from SPANISH FELT WOOL [Rates (1582)], or 'pollonian feltes' made of POLONIA WOOL [Inventories (1604)].
OED earliest date of use c1000 as a fabric; c1450 as a hat
Found described as with BANDs, without bands, brayed, COARSE, COLOURED, DUTCH, DYED, FINE, FRENCH, NEW, pollonian, PORTUGAL, SMALL, SPANISH, lined with TAFFETA, undyed, unlined, untrimmed, lined with VELVET, WHITE, WOOL Found made in sizes or styles suitable for BOY, CHILDREN, GIRL, MEN, WOMEN, YOUTHFound in units of DOZEN Found rated by the DOZEN
See also FELT WOOL, HAT, RABBIT FUR. Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Patents, Tradecards.

Felt cloak [felt cloke; cloakes of felt]
In the late-sixteenth century and the early seventeenth, CLOAKs made of FELT became fashionable. Both the cloaks themselves and pieces of felt of the appropriate size were apparently imported from FRANCE, where the making of FELT HATs had first been established. The entry in the Book of Rates of 1660 went into some detail, describing such felt pieces as 'for Cloaks, French-making, three yards and an half long, one yard and an half broad the felt' [Rates (1660)].
OED online earliest date of use: 1599
Found in units of PIECESources: Rates.

Felt hat [ffelt hatt; felte hatte; felte hatt; felte hat; felt or wool stuff or beaver hat; felt or beaver stuff hats; felt hatt]
The term was often abbreviated to FELT. HATs made of FELT seem to have been developed as a manufacture in Normandy in the mid-fifteenth century from whence they were introduced into London. Their manufacture spread rapidly throughout England with an important centre just north of Bristol. Making felt hats required special short-fibred carding wool, sometimes called FELT WOOL. Much of this was imported from Spain and Portugal (SPANISH FELT WOOL), and later from Austria (ESTRIDGE WOOL) and Poland (POLONIA WOOL). Their manufacture involved several processes: carding, basining, felting, dressing, pouncing or pounding, blocking and dyeing. By 1609 the BEAVER HAT or CASTOR had been introduced using BEAVER WOOL. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the Huguenots of Wandsworth (SW London) introduced yet another type called the Caudebac hat after the place they came from near Rouen. These hats were made of a fine, waterproof felt using a mixture of fine vicuna wool and rabbit wool [Kerridge (1985)]. Often all types were lumped together regardless of origin as 'Felt or Wool, Stuff or Beaver Hats' [Acts (1784)].
Once the basic shape had been made, a felt hat could be LINED with fashionable SILK fabrics like SARSENET, TAFFETA or VELVET [Inventories (1598)], or left UNLINED, and decorated with a HATBAND.
OED earliest date of use: 1457
Found described by NEWFound in units of DOZEN, PIECE
Sources: Acts, Inventories (early), Newspapers, Patents. References: Kerridge (1985).

Felt wool
A type of short-staple WOOL, often imported, for making FELT, particularly for HATs, felt wool is not to be confused with WOOL FELL, which was often known as 'Fell wool'. Topsell (1607), cited by the OED, gave it as an alternative name for Feltriolana, which would seem to be a term with much the same meaning. Felt wools were imported from Spain and Portugal, hence SPANISH FELT WOOL, and later from Austria as ESTRIDGE WOOL and from POLAND as POLONIA WOOL [Kerridge (1985)].
OED online earliest date of use: 1609
Found imported and rated by the POCKET
Sources: Houghton, Rates. References: Kerridge (1985).


Hatters Bow/ Bow Carding

Various sources indicate to me that it was highly likely that wool was carded, ie prepared for felting and spinning in different ways including with a carding bow. This is an aspect of working with wool that I wanted to bring to the felt-makers workshop at Kentwell Hall this year. I have compiled this information from a variety of sources most importantly my felt-makers yahoo group who have been very generous with their information and experiences. I hope you find it of interest.

The bow is suspended from the ceiling and there is a pile of locks on the workbench below the bow that look like they have been loosely opened. When the bow is plucked the vibrations pick up some of this fibre and "open" it up more and then deposit it on the other side accumulating a downy pile as the process proceeds. The person who told me about this could not understand how it would work until she saw the process and then of course it all made sense and she says it really is a simple thing.

One web site has some pictures from Panouckes Encyclopaedia. These very old sketches illustrate various aspects of felt hat making including this "ancient" form of bowing. http://www.hatshapers.com/Felting%20Info.htm (the hatshapers web site has some other interesting stuff about felting that you may want to look at as well).

There is evidence of bowing taking place in Britain. To give you an idea (although later in history) here is a link to a woodcut of a bow in use in Britain during 19th century.
http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/Qv3p15UwIQI86QU6odMAEA?authkey=sz9Ih_BXCK8 . You can see that the bow is longer than the person holding it, it is suspended from above and it is held at a slight angle. You can also see the "pick" held in the figure's right hand. This is used to pluck the string and the vibrations of the string assist the fibres to separate. The text indicates that the "hatter's" bow used in hat-making factories was "essentially the same as the bow used in Turkish workshops".
In Turkey the bow is called a yay (I sort of like that – it sounds happy!) There are all sorts of fantastic web sites with examples of felting but Theresa May-O’Brien has a dedicated album with pictures of a bow carder in action
It shows Turkish felt-maker, Mehmet Girgic, preparing wool with a yay that he had made. This gives you the idea of size. You can see that the bow itself is quite thick and rigid, not at all like an archery bow. It is not expected to be flexible rather as a base to hold the gut string. The dimension of the bow is thick to allow the person using it to hold it comfortably or has a strong handle to rock it back and forth.
The yay is suspended from the ceiling (by the handle part if there is one) and there is a rocking motion involved in its use. Remember this is a repetitive action, the handle needs to allow the user to slip their hand in but be tight enough allows the user not to have to expend energy holding the yay.The gut string needs to be quite thick (I have been given various suggestions of between 5 and 12 strands of gut plied together). There is a special way of tensioning the string around the wood piece; you need to be strong for this!
Another essential part of the tool is the mallet with which you tap the string to create the vibration to pluck the wool apart. Mehmet uses a heavy, round mallet with a lip around the top for plucking at the string.
Mongolia is another cultures still using this technique for carding. In Mongolia the bow is called a “num”. The num is strung with animal intestine and includes a wooden hinge permitting the movement of the string. The device is pegged down at one end and the wool piled on top of it, and then the bow string drawn back and forth to separate using the bow, the wool becomes even softer and whiter than when beaten with sticks according to the more traditional method. The bow is made from birch and 10 - 15 cm in length (I think this means the distance from the wooden part of the bow to the string) , the bow string's length should be 2 metres."(Mongolian traditional methods of feltmaking" by B. Erdenettseg 2004)

One felt maker told me that in Hungary, the felt hat makers use a bow to break down the carded merino into finer fibre length. The bow is suspended above the worktable by a strong cord. The bow is held in the hatters left hand parallel to the table. The bow is heavy, even though it is supported, so it takes great strength to hold it like this.
When she saw this being done the string was several inches above the pile of fibre. The gut string was plucked with a wooden "pick" rather than a mallet. The tool had a pointed spinning top-shaped knob on the end and was about 6-8 inches long with a handle was large enough for a man's hand to hold comfortably.
She says that the string was taut enough to make a sound like an upright bass being plucked and had about the same deep note as a bass. The Hungarian Hatter she saw plucked his bow in time to the jazz music he was listening to on the radio! The string vibrated and caused the fibres below it to shake apart. In this case, it didn't touch the fibre at all, but the fibre fluffed out into the air and onto the table. The fibre was fluffed this way several times. It caused the fibres to break down into smaller pieces. Eventually the hatter used the vibrations to throw the fibre across the table into the bell shape of the hat he was going to make. She tried this herself, but her arm wasn't strong enough to support the bow. It dipped down into the fibre, getting it all stuck to the string. This was considered quite bad to the Hungarian hatter.

Others have seen pictures of the bow being used in Kashmir to fluff the fibre for the numnah felts and the bow is also used in North Africa and India to card cotton fibre. There is a story about M.Ghandi and his carding bow while in prison somewhere.
http://www.weaversstudio.com/products/handwovens/khadi/Khadi%20Presentation.ppt this is a really beautiful power point presentation about preparing cotton fibres which you might just enjoy for the sake of it.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

guilds, fraternities and companies associated with felt making

The FRATERNITY OF ST JAMES, (or Hatmakers' Company) (later the Haberdashers' Company) was a religious fraternity with records now held in the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/18i.htm

I haven't actually seen the records but the Guildhall Library, London holds constitutional records for
  • Worshipful Company of Weavers dating back to 1155
  • Haberdashers Company dating back to 1446
  • Hatmakers/ Hatters Company from 1501 (they joined the Haberdashers in 1511)
  • Worshipful Company of Woolmen dating back to 1549
  • Worshipful Company of Feltmakers from 1667

Livery companies evolved from the medieval guilds, religious foundations or fraternities of the City of London. These were religious and social in origin, but many also acquired an economic function by forming links with and eventually monopolising a particular craft or trade in the City. They became known as livery companies because of the distinguishing special costumes, or livery, worn by some or all of their members. http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/18ii.htm

The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers of London is still in existence and you can link to their history page http://www.feltmakers.co.uk/content/view/12/26/ to read their story to present day. I include quotes from the web site about their early history here

"The first known reference to Feltmakers as a distinct craft association is in London in 1180, although it is not known how long this lasted. In 1269 the Cappers became officially established. Hurers made shaggy and bristly caps at that time and in 1311 the Hatters are found carrying out an examination of hats at the Guildhall. Faced with the need to combat imports, obey the new Act of 1488 restricting sales prices and enforce the ordinances controlling the trade, the Hurers and the Cappers amalgamated with the Hatters and then merged with the powerful Haberdashers in 1502. Many of the feltmakers were already members of the Haberdashers and, as the Haberdashers controlled the retail outlets and the raw materials, this unification of the hatting trade, no doubt, seemed a sensible step. The Feltmakers were the only group to survive in name and became synonymous with hatters and is today the Livery Company of the hatters.

In the middle of the 16th century discord developed between the Feltmakers and the Haberdashers from whom they were forced to buy their raw material of wool in ‘sacks unseen’. This led to much unrest and in 1583 they petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for their own Charter... One of the historical stories of the Feltmakers refers to Queen Elizabeth I who, on her journey to Tilbury in 1588 (at the time of the destruction of the Spanish Armada), was passing down Holborn Hill when she was met by a cheering crowd of well-dressed men wearing polished beaver hats; these were the hatters from Blackfriars and Southwark, the then centre of the hatting industry in London. It is reported that Her Majesty, much struck by their lusty demonstration of loyalty as well as their appearance, enquired who “these gentlemen were?”. On being told they were journeymen hatters, she replied “then such journeymen must be gentlemen”. The description stayed and journeymen hatters were referred to as “the gentlemen” until well after the First World War."

Patron Saints

Where better to start than with our Patron Saints?
not where I really did start but where my web wanderings took me last night - did you know there are at least 6 patron Saints of "felt making, fulling, hat making, milliners"?
These include Saints Barbara; Clement; James the lesser: Michael the Archangel; Philip the Apostle and Severus of Aranches. http://saints. sqpn.com/ pst00350. htm
The bit that is interesting me at the moment is the story around St James who was beaten to death with a club. Because of this the club became his symbol and this led to him being the Patron Saint of professions which use a club ... this includes fullers. You can see a picture of him holding a spikey wooden club on http://saints. sqpn.com/ pst00350. htm
Just hoping somebody out there has an idea what and how a club such as this might have been used for!


Having spent hours and hours trying to find out about historical aspects of feltmaking, felt hats, fulling and all things related and then never being able to easily retrieve previously found information I decided it was about time I put it all together and the idea of this blog was born.

There is limited historical evidence of feltmaking and I combine this with information about traditional methods of feltmaking in countries where it still exists today and general knoweldge and experience to make educated guesses about how it would have been ...

To begin with I will be putting together stuff I have found over the last three years since setting up a feltmaking workshop as a Tudor period, social history/ historical reenactment experiment at Kentwell Hall. http://www.kentwellhall.co.uk/

It will be a place where I put stuff as I find it rather than a blog that is studiously added to each day. Where possible there will be references and or links to other web sites and I will reflect on my experience of feltmaking as 16th Century Good Wife Joan.

I am not an expert, if you have any information that you think will add to and complement or even contradict what I have here then feel free to contribute. Many thanks to those of you who have helped me get thus far.