Book Review: Textiles and Clothing c. 1150 – c. 1450

This is another book that I’ve conjured out of the library, and figured I’d share my thoughts on before I send it back to its humans. It’s from the Medieval Finds from Excavations in London series, number 4. Textiles and Clothing c. 1150 – c. 1450 written by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard and Kay Staniland and published by The Boydell Press in 1992, with a second edition in 2001.

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As you may have guessed from the series it is in, it’s got a rather narrow focus on a selection of finds from London itself, primarily carried out in the 1970s and 1980s, and within about a 300 yr time scale. My personal interest falls both before and after those 300 years, but that’s besides the point. I don’t mind that it’s got a moderately tight focus, it feels as if it can do a better job of looking at what it’s got rather than try and be all things to all people.

They spend a chunk of time discussing the challenges of textile archeology and the digs themselves, and then devote themselves to many chapters of fairly typical examination. Fibre content, weave structure, details on the spinning of the fibres, and speculation on dyes. It is delightfully detailed, and the wool chapter alone is a good read, but the addition of a chapter about goathair is an unexpected delight.

They do an excellent job of putting the finds into context of every day life, not just looking at the textile alone, but also mentioning where such textiles were found in inventories and wardrobe accounts to discussions of the various textile industries in their focus time period. This is not uncommon in various textile accounts, but is always welcome.

Probably my favourite chapter from the book is the one on sewing techniques and tailoring. How were the seams put together? What thread did they use? How long did it take to make a certain garment? It’s these niggly details that I appreciated someone gathering up and trying to make basic sense out of, and those are the ones that many who are interested in as close to re-enactment as possible want to work with. It’s an excellent chapter, and if you read only one out of the book, that’s the one to start with. (Also the last chapter, it was rather like dessert).

The book has no index, but rather a glossary and an extensive bibliography, as well as a concordance of all of the finds from each dig categorized by fibre, if you prefer to look things up that way.

All in all, another book that I was very happy to spend some time with. Another book that I’m not sure I need to have on hand at all times, but one that I appreciate having access to. I wish it was slightly closer access than borrowed from the library of another city, but that’s not so bad, all things considered.

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