It’s All About Closure


Eleanor le Brun


Once clothing became more fitted and could no longer be slipped over ones head it became necessary to tightly close gowns and tunics.    This hand out is intended to give an overview of how and where to close clothing through the centuries.  And to give some practical advice of how to “get it done.”

 

Buttons:

In early periods buttons have been found in Anglo-Saxon tuinics, but it is thougth that they were used for decorative purposes rather than for actually fastening the garments. Buttons started to be used as acutal working fasteners in the mid 13th century.

 

Copper Alloy Ball Style Button Date 1300:1400
Nationality: English
Found In England
(Original Image)
Copper Alloy Ball Style Button Date 1300:1400
Nationality: English
Found In England
(Original Image)
Lead Button Date 1400:1500
Nationality: English
Found In England
(Original Image)

Metal:

Metal buttons were generally ball and shank type buttons, the shank had a hole in it to sew to the fabric. The common metals used to make buttons were pewter, lead, copper alloy and silver. The most common shape was a ball type but there were other shapes used such as; acorn shapes and buttons that had a flat top with “scroll work” patterns on the face.
Resources:
Strong Collection Web Site

Bone:

These buttons were mostly the disk variety with two holes to sew to the fabric.  The buttons were made from strips of bone and drilled out with an iron drill.  These buttons could be dyed or polished.  Sometimes they were also covered in fabric.
http://www.baac.nl/bonebead.htm http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/nwh/ART24601.html

Cloth:

Cloth buttons can be made from small squares of fabric.  To make a button cut a square and sew a line of stitches in circle about 1/8 to ¼ inch from the edge of the fabric.  The larger the button is going to be the larger the seam allowance needed.  A small button will need very little seam allowance.  The seam allowance becomes the stuffing for the button.  When you are done make sure the thread is coming out on the right side of the fabric.  Draw up the thread about half way to make a little cup, you may want to put your little finger in the cup to give it some shape.  Tuck in the 4 corners into the cup and turn the edges inside toward the center as best you can.  Pull the running thread very tight.  Next sew the edges of the button closed, use a star pattern sewing from one side to the next.   Make sure to pull all the stitches tight.  Add extra stitches to pull in the “bumps” to make the button round.    You may want to use a double thread to make the thread stronger so it does not constantly break.

Eyelets:

Eyelets are an easy and efficient method of closing a bodice.  In period sometimes the eyelets are re-enforced with a metal ring.  This is not necessary for most applications as eyelets are extremely durable.  To make an eyelet put a hole in the fabric with a sharp tool like an awl.  The awl will spread apart the fibers of the fabric and then thread is worked around the hole to keep it open.  The spread fibers become part of the new hole and are much more durable than grommets that cut the fabric making a weak point.  The image below shows the eyelet being worked with button hole stitch, catch stitch or whip stitch will work just as well.  Another tip work the hole with the inside facing you then work the hole with the right side facing you.  As you work keep using the awl to keep the hole open.


Lacing Rings:

Small rings were also used to lace a gowns bodice closed.  This method was very popular in the 15th century.  In Italy the lacing rings became very ornate. To use lacing rings simply sew a ring onto the bodice opening at the same point that you would sew in an eyelet. The rings can be sewn on the inside or on the outside. You can use small jewelry rings or you can also use drapery rings.


Painting of Mary Magdeleine by Carlo Crivelli
Nationality: Italian
(Original Image 1) (Original Image 2) (Original Image 3)

Hook and Eye

Late 15th century hook and eyes started to become popular. A note on using hook and eye they need to be under moderate pressure to stay closed, but they are not durable enough to with stand extreme pressure. One thing that you may look for is hook and eye tape; it comes in strips like Velcro that can be sewn on in a strip rather than each hook and eye individually.

Pins

Pins were a very common method of holding clothing closed, or attaching items to ones clothing or to hold veils or sleeves in place.  These pins were made from different types of metal commonly copper alloy and some from steel.  Some of the pin heads are a ball type and some are made from wrapped wire.


Grommets:

Grommets are a modern method of putting in eyelets, cotton fabric do not stretch as much as linen and wool making eyelets difficult to put in these fabrics.  There are many different kinds of grommets, sizes, to get the best results choose a double sided grommet one that has a piece that goes on the front and a piece for the back.  The one piece grommets that curl over to the back are not durable, and pull out very easily.  I do not recommend any of the pliers type for application grommets, the hammer set works best.  The pressure applied to the grommet from the pliers is uneven and one side will close and the other will not.  They also have a tendency to jam, with your gown stuck in the pliers, and then you have to rip out the grommet leaving a large hole in your garment. not what you had in mind.  If you make a mistake while putting in grommets or eyelets use a patch if you have to.  An eyelet might be able to darn the whole closed, grommet when you have cut the hole for the ring you will need to patch it. 

Where to close your gown:

            14th Century

Center Front

                        Left Side

15th Century

Center Front

                        Left Side

16th Century

            Center Front

                        Center Back

                        Side Back

 

Lacing patterns:

 

In the 14th century when gowns became fitted and very tight the closure was generally done up the center front in a spiral lace fashion or Z lacing.   Later in the 15th century and into the 16th century X lacing is seen as well as Z lacing Spiral lacing differs from X lacing in this way; in X-lacing the holes on either side are directly across from each other, in Z or spiral lacing the holes are offset from each other so that the hole on one side is ½ way between the two holes on the opposite side.   In Z lacing there is one lace going from top to bottom in X lacing there are two working ends and are tied together from opposite sides.  Z lacing applies the pressure from side to side, X lacing applies pressure from top to bottom.

Resources:

 

Medieval finds from Excavations in London: 3 Dress Accessories 1150-1450 Geoff Egan and Frances Prichard


Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4 Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450 Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Prichard and Kay Staniland

http://www.bymichelle.com/historicalnotes.html#Buttons
http://www.florilegium.org/files/CLOTHING/fasteners-msg.html