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Historical Evolution and Use of Purses and
by Coryn Weigel of Mediaeval Miscellanea
Until pockets began being used in garment construction, people needed some other way to carry their small personal possessions. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance there was little secure storage for small valuables save for the upper classes, so may had to carry their belongings with them; others needed some way to free hands yet keep certain items of convenience or of their trade about their person. Items could be wrapped in a cloth and tucked into the sleeve or body of the garment, or the tail of the liripipe, but pouches were more efficient. They could be draped over or hung from the belt in many different ways, as suited the wearer's need and fancy.
Pouches and purses were divided into various categories depending on their use and elaborateness. The aumoner, usually very ornate and conspicuously displayed, was worn by the nobility and originally held alms for the poor. The belt purse was a later development of the pouch, and could be worn with a dagger attached. The script or wallet, large with a strap to sling it over the shoulders, was worn by pilgrims and laborers, and could carry not only their food for the day but all they needed on a pilgrimage or in their day's work. These were usually of leather to withstand hard usage, and pilgrims would decorate theirs with lead badges as a symbol of he shrines they had visited (the most common badge seen is the scallop shell of St. James, as Santiago de Campostella in Spain was a favorite shrine to visit). The budget, later called an account, was used for carrying papers, and the male was a leather bag eventually used to transport letters. Sachets or "Sweet Bags", stuffed with aromatic herbs and spices, could be very elaborate in fabric and decoration, and was very practical in an age of poor sanitary conditions (some had pincushions attached as well). The richest bag was the burse, usually decorated with the arms of the sovereign on the front and back in heavy bullion embroidery, with elaborate tassels-this held the royal seal. Game bags held food for rewarding hawk and hound, and were used to carry small dead animals back home after the hunt. Scholars used bags to hang a cherished book from the belt, very cleverly constructed to keep the book safe from the elements yet allow it to be read while still attached to the belt.
Hanging purses led to the rise of a new profession, the cut-purse, who could snip the strings or even the bottom of the pouch and be gone before the victim noticed his loss - "To have an open ear, a quick eyed and a nimble hand is necessary for a cut-purse" (Shakespeare, the Winter's Tale, act IV scene 4). To try to prevent this, as well as in eras when it was deemed to spoil the the looks of the fashionable outfit, the pouch or purse was often worn hung from a belt under the outer garment, reached through the front opening, slits in the outer garment, or simply by lifting the hem enough t o reach the pouch.
In the fifteenth century, purses with ornate metal clasps and hooks for hanging them on the belt became fashionable (this was more secure against cut purses and pickpockets; they could baffle a thief even further by having extra concealed compartments). the clasps were often very vertical in design, with elaborate miniature buildings, mostly churches. The purse could be hung from the belt directly or from an open or shut belt hook (metal clasps and hooks wend out of style, not to return for several centuries, when the fashions demanded the hiding of he purse in the 16th century). The gipser or gicperlere was another popular style in the 15th century, being a very richly decorated pouch which lasted until the time of Elizabeth. Gaming pouches became popular for holding counters as gaming became the rage. These were drawstring pouches with flat bottoms and very stiff sides. They were very ornate, often of white kid (sometimes perfumed) or velvet with rich metallic work and embroidery. Some had toggles to open them by.
In the sixteenth century, men stopped wearing pouches or purses on their belts and began tucking them into the sleeve, or in the trunk hose, reached through slits. This developed into real pockets, and y 1600 only elderly, country folk, or those with a definite need for one (i.e., hunters and Scotsmen) wore a purse or pouch on their belt. In the last quarter of the century women also used pockets in some cases, as shown by inventories of the gowns of Elizabeth I. Tie pockets, a pair of pockets sewn on a ribbon to tie around the waist, and reached as the hanging hanging pouch had been before, became popular by the beginning of the 17th century. There is a contemporary print of Oliver Cromwell preaching while a man in the crowd picks the pocket of an enthralled listener - her overskirts not deterring him in he least. Novelty purses and pouches, often totally impractical, were given as gifts by the upper classes. Sable purses were also popular, of flat leather covered with tiny glass beads on a dark silk mesh; diapered and acorn designs were favored, and the upper part often had the date and a motto. Elaborate tasseling also became very popular.
Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance pouches and purses were made and decorated both at home and by professional embroiderers and purse makers. many talented amateurs would take their embroidery to be made into purses. By 1600 the purse makers guild in England had merged with the fancy leather goods makers.
Money was often paid or given including the purse it is contained in, as when Viola refuses an offer of money, saying "I am no fee'd post, lad; keep your purse." (Shakespeare, 12th Night, Act I, scene 5). it was customary to give full purses to the sovereign at New Years, upon his visiting the town, or as a temper sweetener; by Elizabeth's time the amount each of her subjects was expected to give her was written, and the purse itself was merely a gift wrapper or camouflage for the mercenary nature of the transaction.
Button: 2000 B.C., Southern Asia
Buttons did not originate as clothes fasteners. They were decorative, jewelry-like disks sewn on men's and women's clothing. And for almost 3,500 years, buttons remained purely ornamental; pins and belts were viewed as sufficient to secure garments.
The earliest decorative buttons date from about 2000 B.C. and were unearthed at archaeological digs in the Indus Valley. Shells, of various mollusks, were shaped into circular and triangular shapes, and pierced with two holes for sewing them to a garment.
The early Greeks and Romans used shell buttons to decorate tunics, togas, and mantles, and they even attached wooden buttons to pins that fastened to clothing as broaches. Elaborately carved ivory and bone buttons, many leafed with gold and studded with jewels, were retrieved from European ruins. But nowhere in illustration, text, or garment fragment is there the slightest indication that an ancient tailor conceived the idea of opposing a button with a button hole.
The noun "Button" did not become a verb until the thirteenth century.
The practice of buttoning a garment originated in Western Europe. In the 1200's, baggy, free-flowing attire was beginning to be replaced with tighter, form-fitting clothing. A belt alone could not achieve the look, and while pins could (and often did), they were required in quantity; and pins were easily misplaced or lost. With sewn-on buttons, there was no daily concern over finding fasteners when dressing.
Another reason for the introduction of buttons and buttonholes involved fabric. In the 1200's, finer, more delicate materials were being used for garments, and the repeated piercing of fabrics with straight pins and safety pins damaged the cloth.
Thus, the modern, functional button finally arrived. But it seemed to make up for lost time with excesses. Buttons and buttonholes appeared on every garment. Clothes were slit from neck to ankle simply so that a parade of buttons could be used to close them. Slits were made in impractical places -- along sleeves and down legs -- just so the wearer could display buttons that actually buttoned.
And buttons were contiguous, as many as two hundred closing a woman's dress -- enough to discourage undressing. If searching for misplaced safety pins was time consuming, buttoning garments could not have been viewed as a time saver.
Statues, illustrations and paintings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries attest to button mania. The mode peaked in the next century, when buttons, in gold and silver, and studded with jewels, were sewn on clothing merely as decorative features -- as before the creation of the buttonhole.
In 1520, French King Frances I, builder of Fontainebleau Chateau, ordered from his jeweler 13,400 gold buttons, which were fastened to a single black velvet suit. The occasion was a meeting with England's Henry VII, held with great pomp and pageantry on the Field of Cloth of Gold near Calais, where Francis vainly sought an alliance with Henry. At this same meeting, Henry himself was proud of his jeweled buttons, which were patterned after his rings.
from Sewing Tools and Trinkets
by Helen Lester Thompson
There has been very little change in the design of the thimble since its discovery in the volcanic rubble of Mount Vesuvius, in the Roman ruins of England, and in other excavation sites around the world. The earliest example found is an open-ended thimble dating from 79 AD. The dome, or flat top thimble, dates from the thirteenth century and is marked with handmade indentations. The thimbles with messages and mottoes, as well as the very elegant thimbles, evolved in the sixteenth century. At the same time, steel thimbles, as well as needles, came into Europe from the steel manufacturers of the East. Porcelain thimbles were introduced in the nineteenth century, considered more decorative than useful, there were some who felt the smooth surface preferable when working with silk. Thimbles have been made of every conceivable material that would protect the finger or hand when sewing. some have been made just for collecting and were used to commemorate historic events, individuals , and other subjects of interest.
Holders for thimbles range from simple containers to more imaginative and elegant . The holders aided in retarding rust and/or tarnish, and they provided a safe storage place. For collectors, it is very rare to find the original thimble and its holder together.
Renaissance Reference: Thimbles of metal, bone, or leather were used as early as the twelfth century; in the thirteenth they were made of latten and later of silver.
Pins, Needles, and Thimbles
In the early Middle Ages steel needles were introduced into Europe by the Moors. Steel needles were first produced in England in 1545. The cases in which these needles were kept usually hung from the girdle by a cord.
Pins of Bronz were made at Nuremburg as early as 1365. Those made in England during the 14th century were of brass and highly esteemed, and their manufacture became so extensive that import was prohibited in 1483. In Elizabeth's reign, the value of the annual importation of pins amounted to nearly L 4,000.
"A nedell case of cristall garnyshed with silver gilt, with twoo thymbles in it' was a New Year's gift to Queen Elizabeth."
Pincushions have been made and given as tokens of love for centuries, their main purpose of keeping precious pins and needles safe from breaking long since supplanted by this more affectionate role.
from Making Fabulous Pincushions by Jo Packham
In the past, one never know when a pin or needle would come in handy during the course of a busy day. And so it was necessary to carry them along. However, sharp objects do not sit well in unprotected pockets or loose in a pouch or purse. It became necessary to have them secured and kept to themselves.
Long before metal pins, the first sewing utensils were fashioned from sharp thorns and fish and animal bones. These were fragile and needed protection. And so, they were placed in a case. Native Americans used folded pieces of soft skins, called thorn cases.
The 1300s record small cases which were made to house pins and needles to be carried on a person or in a pouch or purse. These were made of bone, ivory and silver. They were usually cylindrical and took upon them names such as pin keeper, pin-poppet, pincase, and tuffet.
By the end of the 16th century, sewers used "pin pillows" of finely embroidered satin, canvas, and linen.
Drawstring purses used from the late 1500s to the early 1700s were accompanied by a matching pincushion that hung from the bag by a cord.
The 1700s saw the transition from pin pillows to mounted cushions. These were mounted on silver and wooden strands or found in the lid of a trinket box.
In the mid-1700s the pincushion, a seemingly undemonstrative tool of the tailor, suddenly became the medium of the voice of rebellion. Women showed their support to a cause by stitching a verse of political dissent or propaganda on the cushion, attaching it to a ribbon, and hanging it from their garter.
Historical events, such as the death of a member of royalty, were commemorated in the decoration of pincushions.
Pinwheels were designed to be carried in pockets. Some were made of cloth and were lightly decorated. Others were made of wood, ivory, mother-of-pearl, Tonbridge Ware, and leather.
Pin-stuck pincushions were all the rage from the 17th century through the 19th centuries. These cushions were more decorative than useful. Their decoration was made up entirely of pins. The pins could not be removed without spoiling the patterns of the decoration.
These held great social significance and were used in courting, marriage, and maternity. Inscribed with messages of love, wishes for a newlywed couple, or the name and date of a child's birth, these keepsakes superceded social class and standing. No couple did without one for their new child.
Pin-stuck cushions with beads became very popular for decorating but were not very practical.
Pincushions were given as gifts and were valued as a status symbol. Any occasion was suitable for giving a pincushion.
from Sewing Tools and Trinkets by Helen Lester Thompson
Waist-hung items have been identified in artifacts that date to 2000BC. The waist hung chatelaine dates from 427-721 AD. The earliest recorded information on the "true chatelaine" is found in the April 1828 issue of "The World of Fashion." The January 1829 edition of the same periodical states that chatelaines "are a very expensive article of jewelry," describing examples that were decorated with gold buckles and chains. Interestingly, the cut steel chatelaines of the late eighteenth century were superior in terms of workmanship and beauty of design when compared to the mass produced, utilitarian chatelaines of the mid and late nineteenth century. The chains were made of different metals, fabrics, yarns and leathers. As clothing styles began to change in the late 1800s, a chatelaine with a finger ring was introduced. they were often worn. but sometimes were looped over a dress or suit belt.
Chatelaine accessories are numerous and have a variety of purposes. Economic climate, styles, and trends dictated the function and design of the accessories. The craftsmen, artists, scribes (letter writers), tailors, nannies, nurses, and ladies of the house carried their tools on a belt clip with chains, the number of chains dictated by the requirements of their profession. Chatelaines, their practical function, and intricate beauty provide a fascinating study that seems to have no end.
On the Queen's accession, she artlessly let it be known that the most acceptable gift that she could receive from her subjects was a fan - although she did not decline presents of other kinds. The City Fathers did not need a second hint: on every New Year's Day they brought their Royal mistress, with becoming humility, a rich and beautiful fan.
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