English Embroidery 1600-1699 Part One

Stuart Kings
James I 1603
Charles I 1625
(Oliver Cromwell 1653-1658)
Charles II 1660
James II 1685
William III & Mary II 1689

James I of England (VI of Scotland) was the first king to rule Scotland and England. James I had a troubled reign which included the “Gunpowder” plot (where Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the houses of Parliament and the government). When King James died the country was close to war with Spain.

Coat worn by James I at his marriage in 1603

The Reign of Charles I saw civil war and the beheading of the king. This is the time of puritans who took part in colonizing the America’s, an unsettled time.

The monarchy was restored with Charles II in 1660. William III was the head of the protestant cause in Europe and took the throne on 1689.

Like the Tudor Kings the Stuarts placed great emphasis on public, flamboyant displays of clothing to enhance their status. James I, although not particularly flamboyant himself admired good looking, well dress courtiers. A preoccupation that led to court fashions of great extravagance.

His daughters wedding outfit was described as “a rich white Florence cloth of silver… Embroidered all over with silver purl, purl purl and plate, lined with taffeta and trimmed with rich purled lace and goldsmiths work”.

The Coat of Arms of Charles II, worked in gold, silver and coloured threads. c1670

For men, by the 1630 the exaggerated, padded doublet was replaced with a more slimming, elegant look. The waistline of the doublet was raised and the skirts lengthened. Decoration was still lavish but was made up of less expensive materials – bows, buttons and braids replaced gem-studded fabrics. Cloaks continued to be used to make a fashion statement.

Cloak embroidered with silver gilt thread c1670

About 1610 women’s fashion developed into a jacket or waistcoat becoming a fashionable alternative to the rigid busked bodice. It fitted closely to the waist and then flared. Ribbons, buttons and hooks and eyes were used as fasteners. The jacket was usually heavily embroidered with a circular coiling stem that enclosed birds, flowers, fruit, small animals and insects.

Lady Elizabeth Powis, early 1630's.
The bodice is embroidered with a coiling pattern encircling flowers, insects and fruits. The larger designs on the skirt include a pineapple tree, birds, butterflies and flowers.

Female dress in the early 1620’s had a narrower, more elongated line, a higher waistline, less bulky skirts and long hanging sleeves. Brocaded silks were seen rather than the busy floral embroidery of the previous decade.

When Charles I ascended the throne in 1625 and married a French princess the court fashions were influenced by French taste leading to slashed or paned doublets, large brimmed hats and long tapering breeches for men and a shorter bodice for women.

Plain silks and satins were used in preference to heavily embroidered fabrics.

During the Civil War the puritans (who were in charge of Parliament and the laws), wore very plain clothes and it was often necessary to appear with little embellishment and embroidery to retain ones status. The lavish embroidered, beaded and gem studded clothes of the last few centuries were now outdated (for a while at least).

There are records at this time, of women designing their own embroidery projects but these were more often household furnishings than clothes. Professional embroiderers travelled from house to house designing and working embroideries. The complex style of Jacobean embroidery and the lavish use of silver and gold thread made ready made items expensive.

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 once again led to an extravagant show of costumes by the King and courtiers. Ribbons were a popular accessory - often used in large quantities. The fashion industry, which suffered during the civil unrest began to grow again. Charles II interest in fashion led him to promote changes in male dress, a course of action he hoped would stimulate native industries and simplify dress at court.

Portraits from this time often show nobles wearing “nightgowns”, underwear and informal dress and so there are few paintings of formal attire to show any possible embroidery.

Gentleman's cap 1620

The plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 again had an adverse effect on the fashion industry as a significant part of the London population was affected.

By the end of the century the male tailors position as the only person who made clothing was challenged by the female seamstresses. Seamstresses took on the making of gowns as well as underwear and accessories.

Part Two following soon, please check back (Helen September 2010)

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