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Title: Textile Fabrics
Author: Rock, Daniel
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber’s Note: The Table of Contents was added by the Transcriber.




_These Handbooks are reprints of the prefaces or introductions to the
large catalogues of the chief divisions of works of art in the Museum
at South Kensington; arranged and so far abridged as to bring each into
a portable shape. The Lords of the Committee of Council on Education
having determined on the publication of them, the editor trusts that
they will meet the purpose intended; namely, to be useful, not alone
for the collections at South Kensington but for other collections, by
enabling the public at a trifling cost to understand something of the
history and character of the subjects treated of._

_The authorities referred to by the authors will be found named in the
large catalogues; where are also given detailed descriptions of the
very numerous examples in the South Kensington Museum._





  _Published for the Committee of Council on Education_



  CHAPTER I                                                   1

  CHAPTER II                                                  7

  CHAPTER III                                                14

  CHAPTER IV                                                 24

  CHAPTER V                                                  35

  CHAPTER VI                                                 49

  CHAPTER VII                                                70

  CHAPTER VIII                                               78

  CHAPTER IX                                                 88

  CHAPTER X                                                  95

  CHAPTER XI                                                104

  INDEX                                                     113


  Indian woman reeling silk                                  13

  Ladies in fifteenth century spinning and weaving           34

  Mortuary cloth                                             44

  Silk damask with imitated Arabic letters                   46

  Ladies in fourteenth century carding and spinning          48

  Byzantine Dalmatic                                         51

  Sicilian silk damask                                       57

  Florentine silk damask                                     62

  Part of the Syon Cope                                      84

  Embroidered saddle-cloth                                   87

  Ancient banner of the city of Strasburg                    91

  Embroidered hangings of a bed                              94

  Banner of the tapestry workers of Lyons                    97

  Tapestry of the fourteenth century                         98

  The weaver, in 1574                                       100

  Tapestry of the fifteenth century                         102

  State gloves of Louis the thirteenth                      112



Under its widest acceptation the word “textile” means every kind of
stuff, no matter its material, wrought in the loom. Whether, therefore,
the threads are spun from the produce of the animal, vegetable, or
mineral kingdom; whether of sheep’s wool, goats’ hair, camels’ wool,
or camels’ hair; whether of flax, hemp, mallow, or the filaments drawn
out of the leaves of plants of the lily and asphodel tribes of flowers,
or the fibrous coating about pods, or cotton; whether of gold, silver,
or of any other metal; the webs from all such materials are textiles.
Unlike these are other appliances for garment-making in many countries;
and of such materials not the least curious, if not odd to our ideas,
is paper, which is so much employed for the purpose by the Japanese.
A careful reference to a map of the world will show us the materials
which from the earliest ages the inhabitants of the world had at hand,
in every clime, for making articles of dress.

In all the colder regions the well-furred skins of several families
of beasts could, by the ready help of a thorn for a needle and of
the animal’s own sinews for thread, be fashioned after a manner into
various kinds of clothing.

Sheep, in a primitive period, were bred for raiment perhaps as much
as for food. At first, the locks of wool torn away from the animal’s
back by brambles were gathered: afterwards shearing was thought of
and followed in some countries, while in others the wool was not cut
off but plucked by the hand away from the living creature. Obtained
by either method the fleeces were spun generally by women from the
distaff. This very ancient daily work was followed by women among our
Anglo-saxon ancestors of all ranks of life, from the king’s daughter
downwards. Spinning from a distaff is even now common in many countries
on the continent, particularly so all through Italy. Long ago the name
of spindle-tree was given in England to the Euonymus plant, on account
of the good spindles which its wood affords: and the term “spinster”
as meaning every unmarried woman even of the gentlest blood is derived
from the same occupation. Every now and then from the graves in which
women of the British and succeeding epochs were buried, are picked up
the elaborately ornamented leaden whorls which were fastened at the
lower end of their spindles to give them a due weight and steadiness.

A curious instance of the use of woollen stuff not woven but plaited,
among the older stock of the Britons, was very lately brought to
light while cutting through an early Celtic grave-hill or barrow in
Yorkshire: the dead body had been wrapped, as was shown by the few
unrotted shreds still cleaving to its bones, in a woollen shroud of
coarse and loose fabric wrought by the plaiting process without a loom.

As time passed by it brought the loom, fashioned after its simplest
form, to the far west, and its use became general throughout the
British islands. The art of dyeing soon followed; and so beautiful
were the tints which our Britons knew how to give to their wools that
strangers wondered at and were jealous of their splendour. A strict
rule limited the colour of the official dress assigned to each of
the three ranks into which the bardic order was distinguished to
one simple unbroken shade: spotless white, symbolic of sunlight and
holiness, for the druid or priest; sky-blue, emblem of peace, for the
bard or poet; and green, the livery of the wood and field, for the
teacher of the supposed qualities of herbs and leech-craft. Postulants,
again, asking leave to be admitted into either rank were recognized by
the robe barred with stripes of white, blue, and green, which they had
to wear during the term of their initiation. With regard to the bulk
of the people, we learn from Dion Cassius (born A. D. 155) that the
garments worn by them were of a texture wrought in a square pattern of
several colours; and, speaking of Boadicea, the same writer tells us
that she usually had on, under her cloak, a motley tunic chequered all
over with many colours. This garment we are fairly warranted in deeming
to have been a native stuff, woven of worsted after a pattern in tints
and design like one or other of the present Scotch plaids. Pliny,
who seems to have gathered a great deal of his natural history from
scraps of hearsay, most likely included these ancient sorts of British
textiles with those from Gaul, when he tells us that to weave with a
good number of threads, so as to work the cloths called polymita, was
first taught in Alexandria; to divide by checks, in Gaul.

The native botanical home of cotton is in the east. India almost
everywhere throughout her wide-spread countries arrayed, as she still
arrays, herself in cotton, gathered from a plant of the mallow family
which has its wild growth there; and in the same vegetable produce the
lower orders of people dwelling still further to the east also clothed

Hemp, a plant of the nettle tribe and called by botanists “cannabis
sativa,” was of old well known in the far north of Germany and
throughout the ancient Scandinavia. More than two thousand years ago
we find it thus spoken of by Herodotus: “Hemp grows in the country of
the Scythians, which, except in the thickness and height of the stalk,
very much resembles flax; in the qualities mentioned, however, the hemp
is much superior. It grows in a wild state, and is also cultivated.
The Thracians make clothing of it very like linen cloth; nor could any
person, without being very well acquainted with the substance, say
whether this clothing is made of hemp or flax.” From “cannabis,” its
name in Latin, we have taken our word “canvas,” to mean any texture
woven of hempen thread.

Although flax is to be found growing wild in many parts of Great
Britain, it is very doubtful whether for many ages our British
forefathers were aware of the use of this plant for clothing purposes:
they would otherwise have left behind them some shred of linen in one
or other of their many graves. Following, as they did, the usage of
being buried in the best of the garments they were accustomed to, or
most loved when alive, their bodies would have been found dressed in
some small article of linen texture, had they ever worn it.

We must go to the valley of the Nile if we wish to learn the earliest
history of the finest flaxen textiles. Time out of mind the Egyptians
were famous as well for the growth of flax as for the beautiful linen
which they wove out of it, and which became to them a most profitable,
because so widely sought for, article of commerce. Their own word
“byssus” for the plant itself became among the Greeks, and afterwards
among the Latin nations, the term for linens wrought in Egyptian looms.
Long before the oldest book in the world was written, the tillers of
the ground all over Egypt had been heedful in sowing flax, and anxious
about its harvest. It was one of their staple crops, and hence was it
that, in punishment of Pharaoh, the hail plague which at the bidding of
Moses fell from heaven destroyed throughout the land the flax just as
it was getting ripe. Flax grew also upon the banks of the Jordan, and
in Judæa generally; and the women of the country, like Rahab, carefully
dried it when pulled, and stacked it for future hackling upon the roofs
of their houses. Nevertheless, it was from Egypt, as Solomon hints,
that the Jews had to draw their fine linen. At a later period, among
the woes foretold to Egypt, the prophet Isaiah warns her that “they
shall be confounded who wrought in combing and weaving fine linen.”

How far the reputation of Egyptian workmanship in the craft of the loom
had spread abroad is shown us by the way in which, besides sacred,
heathenish antiquity has spoken of it. Herodotus says, “Amasis king
of Egypt gave to the Minerva of Lindus a linen corslet well worthy of
inspection:” and further on, speaking of another corslet which Amasis
had sent the Lacedæmonians, he observes that it was of linen and had
a vast number of figures of animals inwoven into its fabric, and was
likewise embroidered with gold and tree-wool. This last was especially
to be admired because each of the twists, although of fine texture,
contained within it 360 threads, all of them clearly visible.

But we have material as well as written proofs at hand to show the
excellence of old Egyptian work in linen. During late years many
mummies have been brought to this country from Egypt, and the narrow
bandages with which they were found to have been so admirably and,
according even to our modern requirements of chirurgical fitness, so
artistically swathed have been unwrapped. These bandages are often so
fine in their texture as fully to verify the praises of old bestowed
upon the beauty of the Egyptian loom-work. We learn from Sir Gardiner
Wilkinson that “the finest piece of mummy-cloth, sent to England by Mr.
Salt, and now in the British museum, of linen, appears to be made of
yarns of nearly 100 hanks in the pound, with 140 threads in an inch in
the warp and about 64 in the woof.” Another piece of linen, which the
same distinguished traveller obtained at Thebes, has 152 threads in the
warp and 71 in the woof.

Although from all antiquity upwards, till within some few years back,
the unbroken belief had been that such mummy-clothing was undoubtedly
made of linen woven out of pure unmixed flax, some writers led, or
rather misled, by a few stray words in Herodotus (speaking of the
corslet of Amasis, quoted just now) took that historian to mean wool,
and argued that Egyptian textiles wrought a thousand years before
were mixed with cotton. While the question was agitated, specimens of
mummy-cloth were submitted to the judgment of several persons in the
weaving trade deemed most competent to speak upon the matter. Helped
only by the fingers’ feel and the naked eye, some among them agreed
that such textures were really woven of cotton. This opinion was but
shortlived. Other individuals, more philosophical, went to work on
a better path. In the first place they clearly learned, through the
microscope, the exact and never-varying physical structure of both
these vegetable substances. They found cotton to be in its fibre a
transparent tube without joints, flattened so that its inward surfaces
are in contact along its axis and also twisted spirally round its axis;
flax on the contrary is a transparent tube, jointed like a cane and not
flattened or twisted spirally. Examined in the same way, old samples of
byssus or mummy-bandages from Egypt in every instance were ascertained
to be of fine unmixed flaxen linen.


For many reasons the history of silk is not only curious but highly
interesting. In the earliest ages even its existence was unknown, and
when discovered the knowledge of it stole forth from the far east,
and straggled westward very slowly. For all that lengthened period
during which their remarkable civilization lasted, the older Egyptians
probably never saw silk: neither they, nor the Israelites, nor any
other of the most ancient kingdoms of the earth, knew of it in any
shape, either as a simple twist or as a woven stuff. Not the smallest
shred of silk has hitherto been found in the tombs or amid the ruins of
the Pharaonic period.

No where does Holy Writ, old or new, tell anything of silk but in one
single place, the Apocalypse xviii. 12. It is true that in the English
authorized version we read of “silk” as if spoken of by Ezekiel xvi.
10, 13; and again, in Proverbs xxxi. 22; yet there can be no doubt that
in both these passages, the word silk is wrong through the translators
misunderstanding the original Hebrew. The Hebrew word is not so
rendered in any ancient version: and the best Hebraists have decided
that silk was not known by the old Israelites. When St. John speaks
of it he includes it with the gold, and silver, and precious stones,
and pearls, and fine linen and purple which, with many other costly
freights, merchants were wont to bring to Rome.

It was long after the days of Ezekiel that silk in its raw form only,
made up into hanks, first found its way to Egypt, western Asia, and
eastern Europe.

We owe to Aristotle the earliest notice of the silkworm, and although
his account be incorrect it has much value, because he gives us
information about the original importation of raw silk into the western
world. Brought from China through India the silk came by water across
the Arabian ocean, up the Red Sea, and thence over the isthmus of
Suez (or perhaps rather by the overland route, through Persia) to the
small but commercial island of Cos, lying off the coast of Asia minor.
Pamphile, the daughter of Plates, is reported to have first woven silk
in Cos. Here, by female hands, were wrought those light thin gauzes
which became so fashionable; these were stigmatized by some of the
Latin poets, as well as by heathen moralists, as anything but seemly
for women’s wear. Tibullus speaks of them; and Seneca condemns them: “I
behold” he says “silken garments, if garments they can be called, which
are a protection neither for the body nor for shame.” Later still, and
in the Christian era, we have an echo to the remarks of Seneca in the
words of Solinus: “This is silk, in which at first women but now even
men have been led, by their cravings after luxury, to show rather than
to clothe their bodies.”

Looking over very ancient manuscripts we often find between richly
gilt illuminations, to keep them from harm or being hurt through the
rubbings of the next leaf, a covering of the thinnest gauze, just as
we now put sheets of silver paper for that purpose over engravings.
It is not impossible that some at least of these may be shreds from
the translucent textiles which found favour in the world for so long
a time during the classic period. The curious example of such gauzy
interleafings in the manuscript of Theodulph, now at Puy en Velay, will
occur perhaps to more than one of our readers.

It may be easily imagined that silken garments were brought, at an
early period, to imperial Rome. Not only, however, were the prices
asked for them so high that few could afford to buy such robes for
their wives and daughters, but, at first, they were looked upon as
quite unbecoming for men’s wear; hence, by a law of the Roman senate
under Tiberius, it was enacted: “Ne vestis serica vicos fœdaret.” While
noticing how womanish Caligula became in his dress Suetonius remarks
his silken attire: “Aliquando sericatus et cycladatus.” An exception
was made by some emperors for very great occasions, and both Titus
and Vespasian wore dresses of silk when they celebrated at Rome their
triumph over Judæa. Heliogabalus was the first emperor who wore whole
silk for clothing. Aurelian, on the other hand, neither had himself in
his wardrobe a garment wholly silk nor gave one to be worn by another.
When his own wife begged him to allow her to have a single mantle
of purple silk he replied, “Far be it from us to allow thread to be
reckoned worth its weight in gold.” For then a pound of gold was the
price of a pound of silk.

Clothing made wholly or in part out of silk, nevertheless, became
every year more and more sought for. So remunerative was the trade of
weaving the raw material into its various forms, that, by the revised
code of laws for the Roman empire published A. D. 533, a monopoly in it
was given to the court, and looms worked by women were set up in the
imperial palace. Thus Byzantium became and long continued famous for
the beauty of its silken stuffs. Still, the raw silk itself had to be
brought thither from abroad; until two Greek monks, who had lived many
years among the Chinese, learnt the whole process of rearing the worm.
Returning, they brought with them a number of eggs hidden in their
walking-staves; and, carrying them to Constantinople, they presented
these eggs to the emperor who gladly received them. When hatched the
worms were distributed over Greece and Asia minor, and very soon the
western world reared its own silk. In some places, at least in Greece,
the weaving not only of the finer kinds of cloth but of silk fell
into the hands of the Jews. Benjamin of Tudela, writing in 1161,
tells us that the city of Thebes contained about two thousand Jewish
inhabitants. “These are the most eminent manufacturers of silk and
purple cloth in all Greece.”

South Italy wrought rich silken stuffs by the end of the eleventh
century; for we are told by our countryman Ordericus Vitalis, who died
in the first half of the twelfth century, that Mainerius, the abbot of
St. Evroul at Uzey in Normandy, on coming home brought with him from
Apulia several large pieces of silk, and gave to his church four of the
finest ones, with which four copes were made for the chanters.

From a feeling alive in the middle ages throughout the length and
breadth of Christendom, that the best of all things ought to be
given for the service of the Church, the garments of its celebrating
priesthood were, if not always, at least very often wholly of silk;
holosericus. Owing to this fact, we are now able to learn from
the few but tattered shreds before us what elegantly designed and
gorgeous stuffs the foreign mediæval loom could weave, and what
beautiful embroidery our own countrywomen knew so well how to work.
These specimens help us also to rightly understand the description
of the splendid vestments enumerated with such exactness in the old
inventories of our cathedrals and parish churches, as well as in the
early wardrobe accompts of our kings, and in the wills and bequests of
dignified ecclesiastics and nobility.

Coming westward among us, these much coveted stuffs brought with them
the several names by which they were commonly known throughout the
east, whether Greece, Asia minor, or Persia. Hence when we read of
samit, ciclatoun, cendal, baudekin, and other such terms unknown to
trade now-a-days, we should bear in mind that, notwithstanding the wide
variety of spelling which each of these appellations has run through,
we arrive at their true derivations, and discover in what country and
by whose hands they were wrought.

As commerce grew these fine silken textiles were brought to our
markets, and articles of dress were made of silk for men’s as well as
women’s wear among the wealthy. At what period the raw material came to
be imported here, not so much for embroidery as to be wrought in the
loom, we do not exactly know; but from several sides we learn that our
countrywomen of all degrees, in very early times, busied themselves in
weaving. Among the home occupations of maidens St. Aldhelm, at the end
of the seventh century, includes weaving. In the council at Cloveshoo,
in 747, nuns are exhorted to spend their time in reading or singing
psalms rather than weaving and knitting vainglorious garments of many
colours. By that curious old English book the ‘Ancren Riwle,’ written
towards the end of the twelfth century, ankresses are forbidden to
make purses or blodbendes (which were narrow strips to bind round the
arm after bleeding), to gain friends therewith. Were it not that the
weaving especially of silk was so generally followed in the cloister by
English women, it had been useless to have so strongly discountenanced
the practice.

But on silk weaving by our women in small hand-looms a very important
witness, especially about several curious specimens in the great
collection at South Kensington, is John Garland, born at the beginning
of the thirteenth century in London, where many of his namesakes were
and are still known. First, a John Garland, in 1170, held a prebend’s
stall in St. Paul’s cathedral. Another was sheriff at a later period.
A third, a wealthy draper of London, gave freely towards the building
of a church in Somersetshire. A fourth, who died in 1461, lies buried
in St. Sythe’s; and, at the present day, no fewer than twenty-two
tradesmen of that name, of whom six are merchants of high standing in
the city, are mentioned in the London post office directory for the
year 1868. We give these instances as some have tried to rob us of John
Garland by saying he was not an Englishman, though he has himself told
us he was “born in England and brought up in France.”

In a kind of short dictionary drawn up by that writer and printed at
the end of ‘Paris sous Philippe le Bel,’ edited by M. Geraud, our
countryman tells us that, besides the usual homely textiles, costly
cloth-of-gold webs were wrought by women; and very likely, among their
other productions, were those blodbendes “cingula” the weaving of which
had been forbidden to ankresses and nuns. Perhaps, also, some of the
narrow gold-wrought ribbons in the South Kensington collection, nos.
1233, 1256, 1270, 8569, etc., may have been so employed.

John Garland’s “cingula” may also mean the rich girdles or sashes worn
by women round the waist, of which there is one example in the same
collection, no. 8571. Of this sort is that fine border, amber coloured
silk and diapered, round a vestment found in a grave at Durham; which
is described by Mr. Raine in his book about St. Cuthbert as “a thick
lace, one inch and a quarter broad--evidently owing its origin, not to
the needle, but to the loom.” In an after period the same bands are
shown on statuary, and in the illuminated manuscripts of the thirteenth
century: as instances of the narrow girdle, the effigy of a lady in
Romney church, Hants and of Ann of Bohemia in Westminster abbey may be
referred to; both to be found in Hollis’s monumental effigies of Great
Britain; for the band about the head, the examples in the wood-cuts in
Planchè’s British costumes, p. 116.

Specimens of such head bands may be seen at South Kensington, nos.
8569, 8583, 8584, and 8585.

They are, no doubt, the old snôd of the Anglo-saxon period. For ladies
they were wrought of silk and gold; women of lower degree wore them
of simpler stuff. The silken snood, used in our own time by young
unmarried women in Scotland, is a truthful witness to the fashion in
vogue during Anglo-saxon and later ages in this country.

The breeding of the worm and the manufacture of its silk spread
themselves with steady though slow steps over most of the countries
which border on the shores of the Mediterranean; so that, by the
tenth century, those processes had reached from the far east to the
uttermost western limits of that sea. Even then, and a long time after,
the natural history of the silkworm became known but to a very few.
Our countryman Alexander Neckham, abbot of Cirencester A. D. 1213, was
probably the first who tried to help others to understand the habits
of the insect: his brief explanation may be found in his once popular
book ‘De natura rerum,’ which has been lately reprinted by order of the
Master of the Rolls.

[Illustration: Indian woman reeling silk from a wheel.]


Of the several raw materials which from the earliest periods have been
employed in weaving, though not in such frequency as silk, one is gold:
which, when judiciously brought in, adds not a barbaric but artistical

The earliest written notice which we have about the employment of this
precious metal in the loom, or of the way in which it was wrought for
such a purpose, is in the Pentateuch. Among the sacred vestments made
for Aaron was an ephod of gold, violet, and purple, and scarlet twice
dyed, and fine twisted linen, with embroidered work; and the workman
cut also thin plates of gold and drew them small into strips, that
they might be twisted with the woof of the aforesaid colours. Instead
of “strip,” the authorised protestant version says “wire;” the Douay
translation reads “thread:” but neither can be right, for both of these
English words mean a something round or twisted in the shape given to
the gold before being wove, whereas the metal must have been worked in
quite flat, as we learn from the text.

The use of gold for weaving, both with linen or by itself, existed
almost certainly among the Egyptians long before the days of Moses.
The psalmist describing the dress of the king’s daughter (that is,
Pharaoh’s daughter), not only speaks of her being “in raiment of
needlework” but that “her clothing is of wrought gold.” In order to be
woven the precious metal was at first wrought in a flattened, never in
a round or wire shape. To this hour the Chinese and the people of India
work the gold into their stuffs after the ancient form. In the same
fashion, even now, the Italians weave their lama d’oro, or the more
glistening toca: those cloths of gold which to all Asiatic and many
European eyes do not glare with too much garishness, but shine with a
glow that befits the raiment of personages in high station.

Among the nations of ancient Asia garments made of webs dyed with
the costly purple tint, and interwoven with gold, were on all grand
occasions worn by kings and princes. So celebrated did the Medes and
Persians become in such works of the loom, that cloths of extraordinary
beauty got their several names from those peoples, and Medean, Lydian,
and Persian textiles were everywhere sought for.

Writing of the wars carried on in Asia and India by Alexander the great
almost four centuries before the birth of Christ, Quintus Curtius often
speaks about the purple and gold garments worn by the Persians and more
eastern Asiatics. Among the many thousands of those who came forth
from Damascus to the Greek general, Parmenio, numbers were so clad:
“They wore robes splendid with gold and purple.” All over India the
same fashion was followed in dress. When an Indian king with his two
sons came to Alexander, the three were so arrayed. Princes and the high
nobility, all over the east, are called by Quintus Curtius “purpurati.”
Not only garments but hangings were made of the same costly fabric.
When Alexander wished to give some ambassadors a splendid reception,
the golden couches upon which they lay to eat their meat were screened
with cloths of gold and purple; and the Indian guests themselves were
not less gorgeously clothed in their own national costume, as they came
wearing linen (perhaps cotton) garments equally resplendent.

The dress worn by Darius, as he went forth to do battle, is thus
described by the same historian: “the waist part of the royal purple
tunic was wove in white, and upon his mantle of cloth of gold were
figured two golden hawks as if pecking at one another with their beaks.”

From the east this love for cloth of gold reached the southern end of
Italy, and thence soon got to Rome; where, even under its early kings,
garments made of it were worn. Pliny, speaking of this rich textile,
says: “gold may be spun or woven like wool, without any wool being
mixed with it.” We are told by Verrius that Tarquinius Priscus rode
in triumph in a tunic of gold; and Agrippina the wife of the emperor
Claudius, when he exhibited the spectacle of a naval combat, sat by
him covered with a robe made entirely of gold woven without any other
material. About the year 1840 the marquis Campagna dug up near Rome two
old graves, in one of which had been buried a Roman lady of high birth,
inferred from the circumstance that all about her remains were found
portions of such fine gold flat thread, once forming the burial garment
with which she had been arrayed for her funeral.

When pope Paschal, A. D. 821, sought for the body of St. Cecily who was
martyred in the year 230, the pontiff found the body in the catacombs,
whole and dressed in a garment wrought all of gold, with some of her
raiment drenched in blood lying at her feet. In making the foundations
for the new St. Peter’s at Rome the workmen came upon and looked into
the marble sarcophagus in which had been buried Probus Anicius, prefect
of the Pretorian, and his wife Proba Faltonia, each of whose bodies was
wrapped in a winding-sheet woven of pure gold strips. The wife of the
emperor Honorius died sometime about the year 400, and when her grave
was opened, in 1544, the golden tissues in which her body had been
shrouded were taken out and melted, amounting in weight to thirty-six
pounds. The late father Marchi also found among the remains of St.
Hyacinthus several fragments of the same kind of golden web.

Childeric, the second king of the Merovingean dynasty, was buried A. D.
482, at Tournai. In the year 1653 his grave was discovered, and amid
the earth about it so many remains of pure gold strips were turned up
that there is every ground for thinking that the Frankish king was
wrapped in a mantle of golden stuff for his burial. We have reason to
conclude that the strips of pure gold out of which the burial cloak of
Childeric was woven were not round but flat, from the fact that in a
Merovingean burial ground at Envermeu the distinguished archæologist
Cochet a few years ago came upon the grave once filled by a lady whose
head had been wreathed with a fillet of pure golden web, the tissue of
which is thus described: “Ces fils aussi brillants et aussi frais que
s’ils sortaient de la main de l’ouvrier, n’étaient ni étirés ni cordés.
Ils étaient plats et se composaient tout simplement de petites lanières
d’or d’un millimètre de largeur, coupée à même une feuille d’or épaisse
de moins d’un dixième de millimètre. La longeur totale de quelques-uns
atteignait parfois jusqu’à quinze ou dix-huit centimètres.”

Our own country can furnish an example of this kind of golden textile.
On Chessel down, in the isle of Wight, when Mr. Hillier was making some
researches in an old Anglo-saxon place of burial, the diggers found
pieces of gold strips, thin and quite flat, which are figured in M.
l’abbé Cochet’s learned book just mentioned. Of the same rich texture
must have been the vestment given to St. Peter’s at Rome in the middle
of the ninth century, and described in the Liber Pontificalis as made
of the purest gold, and covered with precious stones: “Carolus rex
sancto Apostolo obtulit ex purissimo auro et gemmis constructam vestem,

Such a weaving of pure gold was, here in England, followed certainly
as late as the beginning of the tenth century; very likely much later.
In the chapter library belonging to Durham cathedral may be seen a
stole and maniple, which bear these inscriptions: “Ælfflaed fieri
precepit. Pio episcopo Fridestano.” Fridestan was consecrated bishop of
Winchester A. D. 905. With these webs under his eye, Mr. Raine writes
thus: “In the first, the ground work of the whole is woven exclusively
with thread of gold. I do not mean by thread of gold, the silver-gilt
wire frequently used in such matters, but real gold thread, if I may
so term it, not round, but flat. This is the character of the whole
web, with the exception of the figures, the undulating cloud-shaped
pedestal upon which they stand, the inscriptions and the foliage; for
all of which, however surprising it may appear, vacant spaces have been
left by the loom, and they themselves afterwards inserted with the
needle.” Further on, in his description of a girdle, the same writer
tells us: “Its breadth is exactly seven-eighths of an inch. It has
evidently proceeded from the loom; and its two component parts are a
flattish thread of pure gold, and a thread of scarlet silk.” Another
very remarkable piece, a fragment (probably) of a stole, was also found
lately at Durham in the grave of bishop Pudsey, who was buried about
the middle of the twelfth century. This was exhibited at the Society of
antiquaries, in the present year, 1875. It is made of rich silk, with a
diaper pattern in gold thread.

This love for such glittering attire, not only for sacred use but
secular wear, lasted long in England. The golden webs went under
different names; at first they were called “ciclatoun,” “siglaton,” or
“siklatoun,” as the writer’s fancy led him to spell the Persian word
common for them at the time throughout the east.

By the old English ritual plain cloth of gold was allowed, as now,
to be used for white when that colour happened to be ordered by the
rubric. Thus in the reign of Richard the second, among the vestments at
the chapel of St. George, Windsor castle, there was “one good vestment
of cloth of gold:” and St. Paul’s, London, had at the end of the
thirteenth century two amices embroidered with pure gold.

This splendid web was often wrought so thick and strong that each
string, whether it happened to be of hemp or of silk had in the warp
six threads, while the weft was of flat gold shreds. Hence such a
texture was called “samit,” a word shortened from its first and old
Byzantine name “exsamit.” The quantity of this costly cloth kept in
the wardrobe of Edward the first was so great, that the nobles of that
king were allowed to buy it out of the royal stores; for instance, four
pieces at thirty shillings each were sold to Robert de Clifford, and
another piece at the same price to Thomas de Cammill. Not only Asia
minor but the island of Cyprus, the city of Lucca, and Moorish Spain,
sent us these rich tissues. With other things left at Haverford castle
by Richard the second were twenty-five cloths of gold of divers suits,
of which four came from Cyprus, the others from Lucca: “xxv. draps d’or
de diverses suytes dount iiii. de _Cipres_ les autres de _Lukes_.” How
Edward the fourth liked cloth of gold for his personal wear may be
gathered from his wardrobe accounts, edited by Nicolas; and the lavish
use of this stuff ordered by Richard the third for his coronation is
recorded in the Antiquarian Repertory.

A “gowne of cloth-of-gold, furred with pawmpilyon, ayenst Corpus Xpi
day” was bought for Elizabeth of York, afterwards queen of Henry the
seventh, for her to wear as she walked in the procession on that great
festival. The affection shown by Henry the eighth and all our nobility,
men and women, of the time, for cloth of gold in their garments was
unmistakingly set forth in many of the paintings brought together in
the very instructive exhibition of national portraits in 1866, in the
South Kensington museum. The price of this stuff seems to have been
costly; for princess (afterwards queen) Mary, thirteen years before she
came to the throne, “payed to Peycocke, of London, for xix yerds iii.
qřt of clothe of golde at xxxviij.š the yerde, xxxvij_li._ x_s._ vj_d._”
And for “a yerde and d^r qřt of clothe of siluer xl_s._”

As between common silk and satin there runs a broad difference in
appearance, one being dull, the other smooth and glossy, so there is a
great distinction to be made among cloths of gold; some are, so to say,
dead; others, brilliant and sparkling. When the gold is twisted into
its silken filament it takes the deadened look; when the flattened,
filmy strip of metal is rolled about it so evenly as to bring its
edges close to one another, it seems to be one unbroken wire of gold,
sparkling and lustrous. This kind during the middle ages went by the
term of Cyprus gold; and rich samits woven with it were allied damasks
of Cyprus.

As time went on cloths of gold had other names. What the thirteenth
century called, first, “ciclatoun,” then “baudekin,” afterward “nak,”
was called, two hundred years later, “tissue”: a bright shimmering
golden textile. The very thin smooth paper which still goes by the name
of tissue-paper was originally made to be put between the folds of this
rich stuff to prevent fraying or tarnish, when laid by.

The gorgeous and entire set of vestments presented to the altar at St.
Alban’s abbey, by Margaret, duchess of Clarence, A. D. 1429, and made
of the cloth of gold commonly called “tyssewys,” must have been as
remarkable for the abundance and purity of the gold in its texture, as
for the splendour of the precious stones set on it and the exquisite
beauty of its embroideries. The large number of vestments made out of
gold tissue, and of crimson, light blue, purple, green, and black, once
belonging to York cathedral, are all duly registered in the valuable
“Fabric rolls” of that church lately published by the Surtees society.

Among the many rich and costly vestments in Lincoln cathedral, some
were made of this sparkling golden tissue contra-distinguished in its
inventory from the duller cloth of gold, thus: “Four good copes of blew
tishew with orphreys of red cloth of gold, wrought with branches and
leaves of velvet;” “a chesable with two tunacles of blew tishew having
a precious orphrey of cloth of gold.”

Silken textures ornamented with designs in copper gilt thread were
manufactured and honestly sold for what they really were: of such
inferior quality we find mention in the inventory of vestments at
Winchester cathedral, drawn up by order of Henry the eighth, where
we read of “twenty-eight copys of white bawdkyne, woven with copper
gold.” Another imitation of woof of gold was possibly fraudulent. This,
originally perhaps Saracenic, was practised by the Spaniards of the
south, and was not easily discovered. The very finest skins were sought
out for the purpose, as thin as that now rare kind of vellum called
“uterine” by collectors of manuscripts. These were heavily gilt and
then cut into very narrow strips, to be used instead of the true golden

The gilding of fine silk and canvas in imitation of cloth of gold,
like our gilding of wood and other substances, was also sometimes
resorted to for splendour’s sake on temporary occasions; such, for
instance, as some stately procession or a solemn burial service. Mr.
Raine tells us he found in a grave at Durham, among other textiles, “a
robe of thinnish silk; the ground colour of the whole is amber; and
the ornamental parts were literally covered with _leaf gold_, of which
there remained distinct and very numerous portions.” In the churchyard
of Cheam, Surrey, in 1865, the skeleton of a priest was found who
had been buried some time during the fourteenth century; around the
waist was a flat girdle made of brown silk that had been gilt. In the
‘Romaunt of the rose’ translated by Chaucer, dame Gladnesse is thus

          --in an over gilt samite
    Clad she was;

and on a piece of German orphrey-web, in the South Kensington
collection, no. 1373, and probably made at Cologne in the sixteenth
century, the gold is laid by the gilding process.

Silver also, as well as gold, was hammered out into very thin sheets
which were cut into narrow long shreds to be woven, unmixed with
anything else, into a web for garments. Of this we have a striking
illustration in the Acts of the apostles, where St. Luke, speaking of
Herod Agrippa, says that he presented himself to the people arrayed in
kingly apparel, who, to flatter him, shouted that his was the voice
not of a man but of a god; and forthwith he was smitten by a loathsome
disease which shortly killed him. This royal robe, as Josephus informs
us, was a tunic made of silver and wonderful in its texture.

Intimately connected with the raw materials, and how they were wrought
in the loom, is the question about the time when wire drawing was found
out. At what period and among what people the art of working up pure
gold, or gilded silver, into a long, round, hair-like thread--into what
may be correctly called “wire”--began, is quite unknown. That with
their mechanical ingenuity the ancient Egyptians bethought themselves
of some method for the purpose is not unlikely. From Sir Gardiner
Wilkinson we learn that at Thebes were found objects which appeared
to be made of gold wire. We may fairly presume that the work upon the
corslets of king Amasis, already spoken of as done by the needle in
gold, required by its minuteness that the metal should be not flat but
in the shape of wire. By delicate management perhaps of the fingers,
the narrow flat strips might have been pinched or doubled up so that
the two edges should meet, and then rubbed between two pieces of hard
material a golden wire of the required fineness would be produced. In
Etruscan and Greek jewellery wire is often to be found; but in all
instances it is so well shaped and so even that it must have been
fashioned by some rolling process. The filigree work of the middle ages
is often very fine and delicate. Probably the embroidery which we read
of in the descriptions of the vestments belonging to our old churches
(for instance “An amice embroidered with pure gold”) was worked with
gold wire. To go back to Anglo-saxon times in this country, such gold
wire would seem to have been then well known and employed, since in
Peterborough minster there were two golden altar-cloths: “ii. gegylde
þeofad sceatas;” and there were at Ely cathedral “two girdles of gold
wire” in the reign of William Rufus.

The first use of a wire-drawing machine seems to have been about
the year 1360, at Nuremberg; and it was not until two hundred years
after, in 1560, that the method was brought to England. Two examples
of a stuff with pure wire in it may be seen in the South Kensington
collection, nos. 8581 and 8228.

The process of twining long narrow strips of gold, or gilt silver,
round a line of silk or flax and thus producing gold thread is much
earlier than has been supposed; and when Attalus’s name was bestowed
upon a new method of interweaving gold with wool or linen, thence
called “Attalic,” it was probably because he suggested to the weaver
the introduction of the long-known golden thread as a woof into the
textiles from his loom. It would seem, from a passage in Claudian, that
ladies at an early Christian period used to spin their own gold thread.
Writing at the end of the fourth century, the poet thus compliments

    The joyful mother plies her learned hands,
    And works all o’er the trabea golden bands,
    Draws the thin strips to all their length of gold,
    To make the metal meaner threads enfold.

The superior quality of some gold thread was known to the mediæval
world under the name of the place where it had been made. Thus we find
mention at one time of Cyprus gold thread; “a vestment embroidered with
eagles of gold of Cyprus:” later, of Venice gold thread, “for frenge of
gold of Venys at vj_s._ the ounce;” and again, “one cope of unwatered
camlet laid with strokes of Venis gold.” What may have been their
difference cannot now be pointed out: perhaps the Cyprian thread was
esteemed because its somewhat broad shred of flat gold was wound about
the hempen twist beneath it so nicely as to have the smooth unbroken
look of gold wire; while the manufacture of Venice showed everywhere
the twisting of common thread.


In earlier times, as at present, silks had various names,
distinguishing either their kind of texture, their colour, the design
woven on them, the country from which they were brought, or the use
for which, on particular occasions, they happened to be especially set

All these designations are of foreign growth; some sprang up in the
seventh and following centuries at Byzantium; some are half Greek,
half Latin, jumbled together; others, borrowed from the east, are so
shortened, so badly and variously spelt, that their Arabic or Persian
derivation can be hardly recognized at present. Yet without some slight
knowledge of them we hardly understand a great deal belonging to trade,
and the manners of the times glanced at by old writers; much less can
we see the true meaning of many passages in our mediæval English poetry.

Among the terms significative of the kind of web, or mode of getting
up some sorts of silk, we have _Holosericum_, the texture of which is
warp and woof wholly pure silk. From a passage in Lampridius we learn
that so early as the reign of Alexander Severus the difference between
“vestes holosericæ” and “subsericæ” was strongly marked, and that
_subsericum_ implied that the texture was not entirely but in part,
probably the woof, of silk.

_Examitum_, _xamitum_, or, as it is called in old English documents,
_samit_, is made up of two Greek words, ἑξ, “six,” and μίτοι,
“threads;” the number of the strings in the warp of the texture. It is
evident that stuffs woven so thick must have been of the best quality.
Hence, to say of any silken tissue that it was “examitum” or “samit”
meant that it was six-threaded, and therefore costly and splendid. At
the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries
“examitum” was much used for vestments in Evesham abbey, as we gather
from the chronicle of that house, published lately for the Master of
the Rolls. About the same period among the best copes, chasubles, and
vestments in St. Paul’s, London, many were made of samit. So, again
among the nine gorgeous chasubles bequeathed to Durham cathedral by its
bishop in 1195, the chief was of red samit superbly embroidered. And,
to name no more, we find in the valuable inventory, lately published,
of the rich vestments belonging to Exeter cathedral in 1277 that the
best of its numerous chasubles, dalmatics, and copes, were made of
samit. In a later document, A. D. 1327, this precious silk is termed

The poets did not forget to array their knights and ladies in this
gay attire. When Sir Lancelot of the lake brought back Gawain to king

    Launcelot and the queen were cledde
      In robes of a rich wede,
    Of samyte white, with silver shredde:

           *       *       *       *       *

    The other knights everichone,
      In samyte green of heathen land,
    And their kirtles, ride alone.

In his ‘Romaunt of the rose,’ Chaucer describes the dress of Mirth thus:

    Full yong he was, and merry of thought
    And in samette, with birdes wrought,
    And with gold beaten full fetously,
    His bodie was clad full richely.

Many of the beautifully figured damasks in the South Kensington
collection are what anciently were known as “samits;” and if they
really be not six-thread, according to the etymology of their name, it
is because at a very early period the stuffs so called ceased to be
woven of such a thickness.

The strong silks of the present day with the thick thread called
“organzine” for the woof, and a slightly thinner thread known by the
technical name of “tram” for the warp, may be taken to represent the
old “examits.”

No less remarkable for the lightness of its texture than was the samit
on account of the thick substance of its web, and quite as much sought
after, was another kind of thin glossy silken stuff “wrought in the
orient,” and here called first by the Persian name which came with it,
_ciclatoun_, that is, bright and shining; but afterwards _sicklatoun_,
_siglaton_, _cyclas_. Sometimes a woof of golden thread lent it still
more glitter; and it was used both for ecclesiastical vestments and
for secular articles of stately dress. In the inventory of St. Paul’s
cathedral, 1295, there was a cope made of cloth of gold, called
ciclatoun: “capa de panno aureo qui vocatur ciclatoun.” Among the booty
carried off by the English when they sacked the camp of Saladin,

    King Richard took the pavillouns
    Of sendal, and of cyclatoun.

In his ‘Rime of Sire Thopas,’ Chaucer says

    Of Brugges were his hosen broun
    His robe was of ciclatoun.

Though so light and thin, this cloak of “ciclatoun” was often
embroidered in silk and had golden ornaments sewn on it; we read in the
‘Metrical romances’ of a maiden who sat

    In a robe ryght ryall bowne
      Of a red syclatowne
        Be hur fader syde;
    A coronell on hur hedd set,
    Hur clothys with bestes and byrdes wer bete
      All abowte for pryde.

Knights in the field wore over their armour a long sleeveless gown
slit up almost to the waist on both sides; sometimes of “samit,” often
of “cendal,” oftener still of “ciclatourn:” and the name of the gown
itself, shortened from the material, became known as “cyclas.” Matthew
of Westminster records that when Edward the first knighted his son in
Westminster abbey he sent to three hundred sons of the nobility, whom
the prince was afterward to dub knights in the same church, a most
splendid gift of attire, fitting for the ceremony; among which were
clycases woven with gold. That these garments were very light and thin
we gather from the quiet wit of John of Salisbury, who jeers a man
affecting to perspire in the depth of winter, though clad in nothing
but his fine cyclas.

Not so costly was a silken stuff known as _cendal_, _cendallus_,
_sandal_, _sandalin_, _cendatus_, _syndon_, _syndonus_, as the way of
writing the word altered as time went on. When Sir Guy of Warwick was

    And with him twenty good gomes
    Knightes’ and barons’ sons,
    Of cloth of Tars and rich cendale
    Was the dobbing in each deal.

The Roll of Caerlaverock tells us that among the grand array which
joined Edward the first at Carlisle in 1300, there was to be seen many
a rich caparison embroidered upon cendal and samit:

    La ot meint riche guarnement
    Brodé sur sendaus e samis:

and Lacy, earl of Lincoln, leading the first squadron, hoisted his
banner made of yellow cendal blazoned with a lion rampant purpre

    Baner out de un cendal safrin,
    O un lioun rampant purprin.

When Sir Bevis of Southampton wished to keep himself unknown at a
tournament, we thus read of him:

    Sir Bevis disguised all his weed
    Of black cendal and of rede,
    Flourished with roses of silver bright, etc.

Of the ten silken albs which Hugh Pudsey left to Durham, two were made
of samit and two of cendal, or as the bishop calls it, _sandal_. Exeter
cathedral had a red cope with a green lining of sandal and a cape of
sandaline: “Una capa de sandalin.” Piers Ploughman speaks thus to the
women of his day:

    And ye lovely ladies
    With youre long fyngres,
    That ye have silk and sandal
    To sowe, whan tyme is.
    Chesibles for chapeleyns,
    Chirches to honoure, etc.

A stronger kind of cendal was wrought and called, in the Latin
inventories of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, “cendatus
afforciatus:” there was a cope of this material at St. Paul’s, and
another cope of cloth of gold was lined with it.

_Syndonus_ or _Sindonis_, as it would seem, was a bettermost sort of
cendal. St. Paul’s had a chasuble as well as a cope of this fabric.

_Taffeta_, if not a thinner, was a less costly silken stuff than
cendal; which word, to this day, is used in the Spanish language, and
is defined to be a thin transparent textile of silk or linen: “Tela
de seda ó lino muy delgada y trasparente.” Taffeta and cendal were
used for linings in mediæval England. Chaucer says of his “doctour of

    In sanguin and in perse he clad was alle
    Lined with taffeta and with sendalle.

_Sarcenet_ during the fifteenth century took by degrees the place of
cendal, at least here in England.

By some improvement in their weaving of cendal, the Saracens in the
south of Spain earned for this light web a good name in our markets,
and it became much sought for here. Among other places, York cathedral
had several sets of curtains for its high altar, “de sarcynet.” At
first this stuff was called from its makers “saracenicum.” But, in
Anglicising, the name was shortened into “sarcenet;” a word which we
use now for the thin silk which of old was known among us as “cendal.”

_Satin_, though far from being so common as other silken textures, was
not unknown to England in the middle ages; and Chaucer speaks of it in
his ‘Man of lawes tale:’

    In Surrie whilom dwelt a compagnie
    Of chapmen rich, and therto sad and trewe,
    That wide were senten hir spicerie,
    Clothes of gold, and satins rich of hewe.

When satin first appeared in trade it was called round the shores of
the Mediterranean “aceytuni.” The term slipped through early Italian
lips into “zetani;” coming westward this name, in its turn, dropped
its “i,” and smoothed itself into “satin.” So, also, it is called in
France; while in Italy it now goes by the name of “raso,” and the
Spaniards keep up its first designation.

In the earlier inventories of church vestments no mention can be found
of satin; but this fine silk is spoken of among the various rich
bequests made to his cathedral at Exeter by bishop Grandison, about
1340; though later, and especially in the royal wardrobe accompts, it
is very commonly specified. Hence we may fairly assume that till the
fourteenth century satin was unknown in England; afterwards it met with
much favour. Flags were made of it. On board the stately ship in which
Beauchamp earl of Warwick, in the reign of Henry the sixth, sailed from
England to France, there were flying “three penons of satten,” besides
“sixteen standards of worsted entailed with a bear and a chain,” and
a great streamer of forty yards in length and eight yards in breadth,
with a great bear and griffin holding a ragged staff poudred full of
ragged staffs. Like other silken textiles, satin seems to have been in
some instances interwoven with flat gold thread: for example, Lincoln
had of the gift of one of its bishops eighteen copes of red tinsel
sattin with orphreys of gold.

Though not often, yet sometimes we read of a silken stuff called
_cadas_, _carda_, _carduus_, and used for inferior purposes. The
outside silk on the cocoon is of a poor quality compared with the
inner filaments, from which it is kept apart in reeling, and set aside
for other uses. We find mention of such cloths as belonging to the
cathedrals of Exeter and St. Paul’s in the thirteenth century. More
frequently, instead of being spun, it served as wadding in dress: on
the barons at the siege of Caerlaverock might be seen many a rich
gambeson garnished with silk, cadas, and cotton:

    Meint riche gamboison guarni
    De soi, de cadas e coton.

The quantity of card purchased for the royal wardrobe, in the year
1299, is set forth in the Liber quotidianus.

_Camoca_, _camoka_, _camak_, as the name is differently written, was a
textile of which in England we hear nothing before the latter end of
the fourteenth century. No sooner did it make its appearance than this
camoca rose into great repute; the Church used it for her vestments,
and royalty employed it for dress as well as in adorning palaces,
especially in draping beds of state. In the year 1385, besides some
smaller articles, the royal chapel in Windsor castle had a whole set of
vestments and other ornaments for the altar, of white camoca; and our
princes must have arrayed themselves, on grand occasions, in the same
material; for Herod, in one of the Coventry mysteries--the adoration of
the Magi--is made to boast of himself: “In kyrtyl of cammaka kynge am I
cladde.” But it was in draping its state-beds that our ancient royalty
showed its affection for camoca. Edward the Black Prince bequeaths to
his confessor “a large bed of red camoca with our arms embroidered at
each corner,” and the prince’s mother leaves to another of her sons
“a bed of red camak.” Edward lord Despencer, in 1375, wills to his
wife “my great bed of blue camaka, with griffins, also another bed
of camaka, striped with white and black.” What may have been the real
texture of this stuff, thought so magnificent, we do not positively
know, but it was probably woven of fine camels’ hair and silk, and of
Asiatic workmanship.

From this mixed web we pass to another more precious, the _Cloth
of Tars_; which we presume to have been the forerunner of the now
celebrated cashmere, and together with silk made of the downy wool of
goats reared in several parts of Asia, but especially in Tibet.

_Velvet_ is a silken textile, the history of which has still to be
written. Of the country whence it first came, or the people who were
the earliest to hit upon the happy way of weaving it, we know nothing.
A very old piece was in the beautiful crimson cope embroidered by
English hands in the fourteenth century, now kept at the college of
Mount St. Mary, Chesterfield.

We are probably indebted to central Asia, or perhaps China, for velvet
as well as satin; and among the earliest places in Europe where it was
manufactured, were perhaps first the south of Spain, and then Lucca.

In the earliest of the inventories which we have of church vestments,
that of Exeter cathedral, 1277, velvet is not spoken of; but in St.
Paul’s, London, A. D. 1295, there is some notice of velvet with its
kindred web “fustian,” for chasubles. Velvet is for the first time
mentioned at Exeter in 1327, but as in two pieces not made up, of which
some yards had been then sold for vestment-making. From the middle of
the fourteenth century velvet is of common occurrence.

The name itself of velvet, “velluto,” seems to point out Italy as the
market through which we got it from the east, for the word in Italian
indicates something which is hairy or shaggy, like an animal’s skin.

_Fustian_ was known at the end of the thirteenth century. St. Paul’s
cathedral at that date had “a white chasuble of fustian.” In an
English sermon preached at the beginning of the same century great
blame is found with the priest who had his chasuble made of middling
fustian: “þe meshakele of medeme fustian.” As then wove, fustian had
a short nap on it, and one of the domestic uses to which during the
middle ages it had been put was for bed clothes, as thick undersheets.
Lady Bargavenny bequeaths, in 1434, “A bed of gold of swans, two pair
sheets of raynes (fine linen, made at Rheims), a pair of fustians, six
pair of other sheets, etc.” It is not unlikely that this stuff may have
hinted to the Italians the way of weaving silk in the same manner, and
so of producing velvet. Other nations took up the manufacture, and
the weaving of velvet was wonderfully improved. It became diapered
and, upon a ground of silk or of gold, the pattern came out in a bold
manner, with a raised pile. At last, the most beautiful of all manners
of diapering, namely, making the pattern to show itself in a double
pile, one pile higher than the other and of the same tint, now, as
formerly, known as velvet upon velvet, was brought to its highest
perfection; and velvets in this fine style were wrought in greatest
excellence in Italy, in Spain and in Flanders. Our old inventories
often specify these differences in the making of the web. York
cathedral had “four copes of crimson velvet plaine, with orphreys of
clothe of goulde, for standers;” “a greene cushion of raised velvet;”
and “a cope of purshed velvet (redd):” “purshed” means that the velvet
was raised in a network pattern.

_Diaper_ was a silken fabric, held everywhere in high estimation
during many hundred years, both abroad and in England. We know this
from documents beginning with the eleventh century: but the origin of
the name is uncertain. Possibly, in order to indicate a one-coloured
yet patterned silk, which diaper is, the Byzantine Greeks of the
early middle ages invented the term διαςπρὸν, diaspron, from διαςπαω,
I separate, to signify “what distinguishes or separates itself from
things about it,” as every pattern does on a one-coloured silk.
With this textile the Latins took the name for it from the Greeks
and called it “diasper,” which in English has been moulded into
“diaper.” In the year 1066 the empress Agnes gave to Monte Cassino a
diaper-chasuble of cloth of gold, “planetam diasperam.” This early
mention of the name seems to be a conclusive argument against those
writers who derive it from Yprès, in Flanders; a town celebrated for
linen manufactures at a somewhat later period: yet even then, according
to Chaucer, rivalled by workwomen in England. He tells us of the “good
wif of Bathe” that

    Of cloth-making she hadde swiche an haunt
    She passed hem of Ipres and of Gaunt.

In the South Kensington collection, no. 1270 shows how these cloths
were wrought; and it would seem that cloth of gold was often diapered
with a pattern, at least in the time of Chaucer, who describes it on
the housing of a king’s horse:

                      ----trapped in stele,
    Covered with cloth of gold diapred wele.

Church inventories make frequent mention of such diapered silks for
vestments. Exeter cathedral had a cope of white diaper with half moons,
the gift of bishop Bartholomew, in 1161. Sometimes the pattern of the
diapering is noticed; for instance, at St. Paul’s, “a chasuble of white
diaper, with coupled parrots in places, among branches.” Probably the
most elaborate specimen of diaper-weaving on record is that which
Edmund, earl of Cornwall, gave to the same cathedral; “a cope of a
certain diaper of Antioch colour covered with trees and diapered birds,
of which the heads, breasts and feet, as well as the flowers on the
tress, were woven in gold thread.”

By degrees the word “diaper” became widened in its meaning. Not only
all sorts of textile, whether of silk, of linen, or of worsted, but the
walls of a room were said to be diapered when the self-same ornament
was repeated and sprinkled well over it. Thus, in ‘the squire of low
degree,’ the king of Hungary promises his daughter a chair or carriage,

    Shal be coverd wyth velvette reede
    And clothes of fyne golde al about your heede,
    With damaske whyte and azure blewe
    Well dyaperd with lylles newe.

The bow for arrows held by Sweet-looking is, in Chaucer’s ‘Romaunt of
the rose,’ described as

                painted well, and thwitten
    And over all diapred and written, etc.

So now, we call our fine table linen “diaper” because it is figured
with flowers and fruits. Sometimes silks diapered were called “fygury:”
as the cope mentioned in the York fabric rolls, “una capa de sateyn

[Illustration: Ladies spinning and weaving; from a manuscript of the
fifteenth century.]


There are some very ancient names, distinguishing different textiles,
which require notice: such as “chrysoclavus,” “stauraccin,”
“polystaurium,” “gammadion” or “gammadiæ,” “de quadruplo,” “de
octoplo,” and “de fundato.” Textiles of silk and gold are, over and
over again, enumerated as then commonly known under such names, in
the ‘Liber pontificalis seu de gestis Romanorum pontificum:’ a book
of great value for every student of early Christian art-work, and in
particular of textiles and embroidery.

The _Chrysoclavus_, or golden nail-head, was a remnant which lingered a
long time among the ornaments embroidered on ecclesiastical vestments
and robes for royal wear of that once so coveted “latus clavus,”
or broad nail-head-like purple round patch worn upon the outward
garment of the old Roman dignitaries. In the court of Byzantium this
mark of dignity was elevated, from being purple on white, into gold
upon purple. Hence it came that all rich purple silks, woven or
embroidered with the “clavus” in gold, were known from their pattern
as gold nail-headed, or chrysoclavus; and silken textiles of Tyrian
dye, sprinkled all over with large round spots, were once in great
demand. Pope Leo in 795, among his several other gifts to the churches
at Rome, bestowed a great number of altar frontals made of this
purple and gold fabric, as we are told by Anastasius in the Liber
pontificalis. Sometimes these “clavi” were made so large that upon
their golden ground an event in the life of a saint or the saint’s head
was embroidered, and then the whole piece was called “sigillata,” or

_Stauracin_ or “stauracinus,” taking its name from σταυρὸς the Greek
for “cross,” was a silken stuff figured with small plain crosses, and
therefore from their number sometimes farther distinguished by the word
signifying that meaning in Greek, _Polystauron_.

The crosses woven on the various fabrics were sometimes of the simplest
shape; oftener they were designed after an elaborate type with a
symbolic meaning about it that afforded an especial name to the stuffs
upon which they were figured.

This name _Gammadion_, or _Gammadiæ_, was a word applied as often to
the pattern upon silks as to the figures wrought upon gold and silver.

In the Greek alphabet the capital letter gamma takes the shape of an
exact right angle thus, Γ. Being so, many writers have seen in it an
emblem of our Lord as our corner-stone. Following this idea artists at
a very early period struck out a way of forming the cross after several
shapes by various combinations with it of this letter Γ. Four of these
gammas put so;


fall into the shape of the so-called Greek cross; and in this form it
was woven upon the textiles denominated _stauracinæ_; or patterned with
a cross. Being one of the four same-shaped elements of the cross’s
figure, the part was significant of the whole: and as an emblem of the
corner-stone, our Lord, the gamma or Γ, was frequently shown at one
edge of the tunic worn by the apostles in ancient mosaics; wherein
sometimes we find, in place of the single gamma, the figure H; another
combination of the four gammas in the cross. Whatsoever, therefore,
whether of metal or of silk, was found to be marked in this or any
other way of putting the gammas together, or with only a single one,
was called “gammadion,” or “gammadiæ.”

Ancient ingenuity for throwing its favourite gamma into other
combinations, and thus bringing out pretty and graceful patterns to
be wrought on all sorts of work for ecclesiastical use, did not stop
here. In the Liber pontificalis of Anastasius we meet not unfrequently
with accounts of vestments, etc. “de stauracin seu quadrapolis”; or “de
quadrapolo”; or “de octapolo.” The author here evidently means to imply
a distinction between a something amounting to four, and to eight, in
or upon these textiles. It cannot be to say that one fabric was woven
with four, the other with eight threads; had that been so meant, the
fact would probably then have been explained by a word constructed like
“examitus,” p. 24. As the contrast is not in the texture it must be in
the pattern of the stuffs; that is, in the number of the crosses: and
we further see why “stauracin” and “de quadrapolis” are interchangeable

At the end of Du Cange’s glossary is an engraving of a work of Greek
art; plate IX. Here St. John Chrysostom stands between St. Nicholas
and St. Basil. All three are arrayed in their liturgical garments,
which being figured with crosses are of the textile called of old
“stauracin;” but there is a marked difference in the way in which the
crosses are inserted. The crosses are arranged upon the vestment of St.
John thus;


St. Nicholas and St. Basil have chasubles which are not only worked
all over with crosses made with gammas, but are surrounded with other
gammas joined so as to edge in the crosses, thus;


As four gammas only are necessary to form all the crosses upon
St. John’s vestment, we there see the textile called “stauracin de
quadruplo,” or the stuff figured with a cross of four (gammas);
while as eight of these letters are required for the pattern on the
others, we have in them an example of the “stauracin de octapolo,” or
“octapulo,” a fabric with a pattern composed of eight gammas.

A far more ancient and universal shape fashioned out of the repetition
of the same letter Γ, is that known as _Gammadion_; or, as commonly
called at one time in England, the _Filfot_. Several pieces in the
South Kensington collection exhibit on them some modification of it:
for example, nos. 1261, 1325, 7052, 829A, 8305, 8635, and 8652. Its
figure is made out of the usual four gammas, so that they should fall
together thus;


Of silks patterned with the plain Greek cross or “stauracin” there are
also several examples in the same collection; and though not of the
remotest period are interesting. No. 8234, perhaps wrought in Sicily by
the Greeks brought as prisoners from the Morea in the twelfth century,
is not without some value. In the chapter library at Durham may be
seen (as we learn from Mr. Raine) an example of Byzantine stauracin
“colours purple and crimson; the only prominent ornament a cross--often
repeated, even upon the small portion which remains.” Those who
have seen in St. Peter’s sacristy at Rome that beautiful light-blue
dalmatic said to have been worn by Charlemagne when he sang the gospel,
vested as a deacon, on the day he was crowned emperor, will remember
how plentifully it is sprinkled with crosses between its exquisite
embroideries, so as to make the vestment a real “stauracin.” It has
been well given by Sulpiz Boisserée in his ‘Kaiser dalmatika in der St.
Peterskirche;’ but far better by Dr. Bock in his splendid work on the
coronation robes of the German emperors.

Silks called _de fundato_, from the pattern woven on them, are
frequently spoken of by Anastasius. From the text of that writer, and
from passages in other authors of his time, it would seem that the
silks themselves were dyed of the richest purple and figured with gold
in the pattern of netting. As one of the meanings for the word “funda”
is a fisherman’s net, rich textiles so figured in gold were denominated
“de fundato” or netted. We gather also from Fortunatus that the costly
purple-dyed silks called “blatta” were always interwoven with gold.
This net-pattern lingered long and, no doubt, we find it under a new
name “laqueatus”--meshed--upon a cope belonging to the church of St.
Paul’s, London, 1295: where an inventory, printed by Dugdale, includes
a cope of baudekin with fir-cones “in campis laqueatis.” Modifications
of this very old pattern may be seen at South Kensington, nos. 1264,
1266, and 8234. In the diapered pattern on some of the cloth of gold
found lately in the grave of an archbishop, buried at York about the
end of the thirteenth century, the same netting is discernible.

_Stragulatæ_, striped or barred silks, were at one time in much
request. Frequent mention is made of them in the Exeter inventories;
for example, in 1277, there were two palls of baudekin, one
“stragulata.” The illuminations in the manuscript in the Harley
collection at the British museum of the deposition of Richard the
second affords us instances of this textile. The young man to the
right sitting on the ground at the archbishop’s sermon is entirely,
hood and all, arrayed in this striped silk; and at the altar, where
Northumberland is swearing on the eucharist, the priest who is saying
mass wears a chasuble of the same stuff. Old St. Paul’s had an
offertory-veil of the same pattern; “stragulatum” with the stripes red
and green.

At the end of the twelfth century there was brought to England, from
Greece, a sort of precious silk named there _Imperial_.

Ralph, dean of St Paul’s cathedral, tells us that William de Magna
Villa, on coming home from his pilgrimage to the holy land about 1178,
made presents to several churches of cloths which at Constantinople
were called “Imperial.” We are told by Roger Wendover, and after him by
Matthew Paris, that the apparition of king John was dressed in royal
robes made of the stuff they call imperial. In the inventory of St.
Paul’s, drawn up in 1295, four tunicles (vestments for subdeacons and
lower ministers at the altar) are mentioned as made of this imperial.
No colour is specified, except in the one instance of the silk being
marbled; and the patterns are noticed as of red and green, with lions
woven in gold. It seems not to have been thought good enough for the
more important vestments, such as chasubles and copes. Probably the
name was not derived from its colour (supposed royal purple) nor its
costliness, but for quite another reason: woven at a workshop kept
up by the Byzantine emperors, like the Gobelins is to-day in Paris,
and bearing about it some small though noticeable mark, it took the
designation of “Imperial.” We know it was partly wrought with gold;
but that its tint was always some shade of the imperial purple is a
gratuitous assumption. In France this textile was in use as late as the
second half of the fifteenth century, but looked upon as old. At York
somewhat later, in the early part of the sixteenth, one of its deans
bestowed on that cathedral “two (blue) copes of clothe imperialle.”

_Baudekin_ was a costly stuff much employed and often spoken of in our
literature during many years of the mediæval period.

Ciclatoun, as we have already remarked, was the usual term during
centuries throughout western Europe by which the showy golden textiles
were called. When, however, Bagdad or Baldak held for no short length
of time the lead all over Asia in weaving fine silks, and in especial
golden stuffs shot as now in different colours, tinted cloths of gold
became known, and more particularly among the English, as “baldakin,”
“baudekin,” or “baudkyn,” or silks from Baldak. At last the earlier
term “ciclatoun” dropped out of use. Remembering this the reader will
more readily understand several otherwise puzzling passages in our old
writers, as well as in the inventories of royal furniture and church

Kings and the nobility affected much this rich stuff for the garments
worn on high occasions. When Henry the third knighted William of
Valence, in 1247, he had on a robe of cloth of gold made of baudekin;
“facta de pretiosissimo baldekino.” In the year 1259 the master of
Sherborn hospital in the north bequeathed to that house a cope made of
the like stuff: “de panno ad aurum scilicet baudekin.” Vestments of
this material are frequently mentioned in the old church inventories.

These Bagdad or Baldak silks, with a weft of gold, known among us as
“baudekins” were often woven very large in size, and applied here in
England to especial ritual purposes. As a thanks-offering after a
safe return home from a journey they were brought and given to the
altar; at the solemn burial of our kings and queens and other great
people, the mourners, when offertory time came, went to the hearse and
threw a baudekin of costly texture over the coffin. We may learn the
ceremonial from the descriptions of many of our mediæval funerals. At
the obsequies of Henry the seventh in Westminster abbey:--“Twoe herauds
came to the duke of Buck. and to the earles, and conveyed them into the
revestrie where they did receive certen palles which everie of them did
bringe solemly betwene theire hands and comminge in order one before
another as they were in degree unto the said herse, thay kissed theire
said palles and delivered them unto the said heraudes which laide
them uppon the kyngs corps, in this manner: the palle which was first
offered by the duke of Buck. was laid on length on the said corps, and
the residewe were laid acrosse, as thick as they might lie.” In the
same church at the burial of Anne of Cleves in 1557, a like ceremonial
of carrying cloth-of-gold palls to the hearse was followed. So also the
religious guilds, or other companies, in the middle ages kept palls to
be thrown over the bodies of all brothers or sisters at their burial,
however lowly may have been their rank.

The word “baudekin” itself became at last enlarged in its meaning. So
warm, so mellow, so fast were the tones of crimson which the dyers of
Bagdad knew how to give their silks that, without a thread of gold in
them, the mere glowing tints of the plain crimson silken webs won for
themselves the name of baudekins. Furthermore, when they quite ceased
to be partly woven in gold and from their consequent lower price and
cheapness came into use for cloths of estate over royal thrones, the
canopy hung over the high altar of a church acquired and yet keeps the
appellation (at least in Italy) of “baldachino.”

How very full in size, how costly in materials and embroidery, must
have sometimes been the cloth of estate spread overhead and behind the
throne of our kings, may be gathered from the privy purse expenses
of Henry the seventh; wherein this item occurs: “To Antony Corsse
for a cloth of an estate conteyning 47½ yerds, £11 the yerd, £522
10_s._” Canopies of this kind are still occasionally to be seen in the
throne-room of some of the Roman palaces, whose owners have the old
feudal right to the cloth of estate.

The custom itself is thus noticed by Chaucer:

    Yet nere and nere forth in I gan me dress
    Into an hall of noble apparaile,
    With arras spred, and cloth of gold I gesse,
    And other silke of easier availe:
    Under the cloth of their estate sauns faile
    The king and quene there sat as I beheld.

This same rich golden stuff had a third and even better known name, to
be found all through our early literature as _Cloth of Pall_.

The state cloak (in Latin pallium, in Anglo-saxon paell), worn alike
by men as well as women, was always made of the most gorgeous stuff
that could be found. From a very early period in the mediæval ages
golden webs shot in silk with one or other of the various colours,
occasionally blue but oftener crimson, were sought for through so many
years, and everywhere, that at last each sort of cloth of gold had
given to it the name of “pall,” no matter the immediate purpose to
which it might have to be applied or after what fashion. Vestments for
sacred use and garments for knights and ladies were equally made of it.
The word is common enough in the church inventories.

As to worldly use, the king’s daughter in the ‘Squire of low degree’ had

    Mantell of ryche degre
    Purple palle and armyne fre:

and in the poem of Sir Isumbras--

    The rich queen in hall was set;
    Knights her served, at hand and feet
        In rich robes of pall.

For ceremonial receptions our kings used to order that every house
should be “curtained” along the streets which the procession would have
to take through London, “incortinaretur.” How this was done we learn
from Chaucer in the ‘Knight’s tale’;

    By ordinance, thurghout the cite large
    Hanged with cloth of gold, and not with sarge;

as well as from the ‘Life of Alexander:’

    Al theo city was by-hong
    Of riche baudekyns and pellis (palls) among.

Hence, when Elizabeth, queen of Henry the seventh, “proceeded from the
towre throwge the citie of London (for her coronation) to Westminster,
al the strets ther wich she shulde passe by, were clenly dressed and
besene with clothes of tappestreye and arras. And some strets, as
Cheepe, hangged with rich clothes of gold, velvetts, and silks, etc.”
Machyn in his diary tells us that as late as 1555 “Bow chyrche in
London was hangyd with cloth of gold and with ryche hares (arras).”

Both in England and abroad, it was customary in the middle ages to
provide richly decorated palls with which to cover the biers of dead
people: more especially the members of various guilds. Some of these
are still existing; one, belonging to the London fishmongers’
company; another, of the fifteenth century, is in the museum at Amiens.

[Illustration: Mortuary Cloth from the church of Folleville (Somme),
now in the museum at Amiens.]

A celebrated Mohammedan writer, Ebn-Khaldoun, who died about the middle
of the fifteenth century, while speaking of that spot in an Arab
palace, the “Tiraz,” so designated from the name itself of the rich
silken stuffs therein woven, tells us that one of the privileges of
the Saracenic kings was to have the name of the prince himself, or the
special ensign chosen by his house, woven into the stuffs intended for
his personal wear, whether wrought of silk, brocade, or even coarser
kind of silk. While gearing his loom the workman contrived that the
letters of the title should come out either in threads of gold, or in
silk of another colour from that of the ground. The royal apparel thus
bore about it its own especial marks, and distinguished not only the
sovereign but those personages around him who were allowed by their
official rank in his court to wear it; or those again upon whom he
had bestowed rich garments as especial tokens of the imperial favour,
like the modern pelisse of honour. Before the time of Mahomet the
eastern princes used to have woven upon the stuffs wrought for their
personal use, or as gifts to others, their own especial likeness, or at
times the peculiar ensign of their royalty. But afterwards the custom
was changed and names were substituted, to which words were added
foreboding good or certain formulas of praise. Wherever the Moslem
ruled the practice was introduced; and thus, whether in Asia, in Egypt,
or other parts of Africa, or in Moorish Spain, the silken garments for
royalty and its favourites showed woven in them the prince’s name, or
his chosen text. The robes wrought in Egypt for the far-famed Saladin,
and worn by him as caliph, bore very conspicuously upon them the name
of that conqueror.

In the old lists of church ornaments frequent mention is found of
vestments inscribed with words in real or pretended Arabic; and when
St. Paul’s inventory more than once speaks of silken stuffs “de opere
Saraceno” it is not improbable that some at least of those textiles
were so called from having Arabic characters woven on them. Such,
too, were the letters on the red pall figured with elephants and a
bird, belonging in the fourteenth century to the cathedral at Exeter.
Somewhat later, our trade with the south of Spain led us to call such
words on woven stuffs Moorish: thus, Joane lady Bergavenny bequeaths
(1434) a “hullyng (hangings for a hall) of black red and green, with
morys letters, etc.”

[Illustration: Silk damask (Sicilian) with imitated Arabic letters.]

The weaving of letters in textiles is neither a Moorish nor Saracenic
invention; ages before, the ancient Parthians used to do so, as we
learn from Pliny: “Parthi literas vestibus intexunt.” A curious
illustration of the frequent use of silken stuffs bearing letters,
borrowed from some real or supposed oriental alphabet, is the custom
which many of the illuminators had of figuring on frontals and altar
canopies, evidently intended to represent silk, meaningless words; and
the artists of Italy up to the middle of the sixteenth century did the
same on the hems of the garments worn by great personages, in their

The eagle, single and double-headed, may frequently be found in the
patterns of old silks. In all ages certain birds of prey have been
looked upon by heathens as ominous for good or evil. Upon the standard
which was carried at the head of the Danish invaders of Northumbria
was figured the raven, the bird of Odin. This banner had been worked
by the daughters of Regnar Lodbrok, in one noontide’s while; and it is
recorded by Asser that if victory was to follow, the raven would seem
to stand erect and as if about to soar before the warriors; but if a
defeat was impending, the raven hung his head and drooped his wings.
Another and a more important flag, that which Harold fought under at
Hastings, is described by Malmesbury as having been embroidered in
gold with the figure of a man in the act of fighting, and studded with
precious stones, woven sumptuously.

In still earlier ages the eagle, known for its daring and its lofty
flight, was held in high repute; as the emblem of power and victory
it is to be seen flying in triumph over the head of some Assyrian
conqueror, as may be witnessed in Layard’s work on Nineveh. Homer
calls it the bird of Jove. Quintus Curtius says that a golden eagle
was carved upon the yoke of the war chariot of king Darius, as if
outstretching his wings. The Romans bore the bird upon their standards;
the Byzantine emperors kept it as their device; and, following the
ancient traditions of the east and heedless of their law that forbids
the making of images, the Saracens, especially when they ruled in
Egypt, had the eagle figured on several things about them, sometimes
single at others double-headed, which latter was the shape adopted by
the emperors of Germany as their blazon; in which form it is borne to
this day by several reigning houses. It is not strange, therefore, that
eagles of both fashions are so often to be observed woven upon ancient
and eastern textiles.

As early as 1277 Exeter cathedral reckoned among her vestments several
so decorated; for instance, a cope of baudekin figured with small
two-headed eagles: and Richard king of Germany, brother of Henry the
third of England, gave to the same church a cope of black baudekin with
eagles in gold figured on it. These are recorded in the inventories
printed by Dr. Oliver; and many like instances might be noticed in
other lists.

[Illustration: Ladies carding and spinning; from MSS. of the fourteenth
century, in the British museum.]


Hitherto no attempt has been made to distribute olden silken textiles
into various schools; but the numerous specimens in the admirable
collection at South Kensington enable us to separate them into several
groups--Chinese, Persian, Byzantine, Indian, Syrian, Saracenic,
Moresco-Spanish, Sicilian, Italian, Flemish, British, and French. We
shall now especially refer to that collection.

The Chinese examples are not many: but, whether plain or figured, they
are beautiful in their own way. From all that we know of the people,
we are led to believe that their style two thousand years ago is the
same still; so that the web wrought by them this year or three hundred
years ago, like no. 1368, would differ hardly in a line from their far
earlier textiles; of which Dionysius Periegetes wrote that “the Seres
make precious figured garments, resembling in colour the flowers of the
field, and rivalling in fineness the work of spiders.” In these stuffs,
warp and woof are of silk and both of the best kinds.

Persian textiles, as we see them at South Kensington, must also have
been for many centuries very much the same in design and character.
Sometimes the design is made up of various kinds of beasts and birds,
real or imaginary, with the sporting cheetah spotted among them; and
the “homa” or tree of life conspicuously set above all. In such cases
we may conclude that the web was wrought by Persians, and generally
the textile will be found in all its parts to be of the richest

No. 8233, may be referred to as an illustration of the Persian type.

A school of design sprung up among the Byzantine Greeks, from the time
when in the sixth century they began to weave home-grown silk, which
retained not a little of the beauty, breadth, and flowing outline of
ancient art. Together with this, a strong feeling of Christianity
showed itself as well in many of the subjects which they took out of
holy writ as in the smaller elements of ornamentation. Figures, whether
of the human form or of beasts, are given in a much larger and bolder
size than on any other ancient stuffs. Though there are not many known
specimens from the old looms of Constantinople there is one, no. 7036,
showing Samson wrestling with a lion, which may serve as a type. In the
year 1295 St. Paul’s cathedral would seem to have possessed several
vestments made of Byzantine silk. A very splendid dalmatic of Byzantine
silk, probably of the twelfth century, is preserved in the treasury of
St. Peter’s at Rome. The colour is dark blue, and the embroidery in
gold and colours.

The specimens at South Kensington from the Byzantine and later Greek
loom are not to be taken as by any means first-rate examples of its
general production. They are poor both in material and, when figured,
in design. There are, however, many pieces: nos. 1241, 1246, 1257,
1266, etc.

Indian ancient silks and textiles have their own distinctive marks.

From Marco Polo, who wandered much over the far east some time during
the thirteenth century, we learn that the weaving in India was done by
women who wrought in silk and gold, after a noble manner, beasts and
birds upon their webs:--“Le loro donne lavorano tutte cose a seta e ad
oro e a uccelli e a bestie nobilmente e lavorano di cortine ed altre
cose molto ricamente.”

[Illustration: Byzantine Dalmatic: preserved at Rome.]

Several of the South Kensington mediæval specimens from Tartary and
India show well the truthfulness of the great Venetian traveller,
while speaking about the textiles which he saw in those countries. The
dark purple piece of silk figured in gold with birds and beasts of the
thirteenth century, no. 7086, is good; but better still is the shred of
blue damask, no. 7087, with its birds, its animals, and flowers wrought
in gold and different coloured silks. India, also, has ever been famous
for its cloud-like transparent muslins, which since Marco Polo’s days
have kept that oriental name, through being better woven at Mosul than

The Syrian school is well represented at South Kensington by several
fine pieces.

The whole sea-board of that part of Asia minor, as well as far inland,
was inhabited by a mixture of Jews, Christians, and Saracens; and all
were workers in silk. The reputation of the neighbouring Persia had of
old stood high for the beauty and durability of her silken textiles,
which caused them to be sought for by the European traders. Persia’s
outlet to the west for her goods lay through the great commercial ports
on the coast of Syria. Persia was accustomed to set her own peculiar
seal upon her figured webs, by mingling in her designs the mystic
“homa:” and, naturally, this part of the pattern became in the eyes
of Europeans, at first, a sort of assurance that those goods had been
made in Persian looms. By one of the tricks of imitation followed in
that day, as well as now, the Syrian designers threw the “homa” into
their patterns. Borrowed perhaps originally from Hebrew tradition, this
symbol of “the tree of life” had in it nothing objectionable either to
the Christian, the Jew, or the Moslem: all three, therefore, took it
and made it a leading portion of design in the patterns of their silks;
and hence it is that we meet with it so often. Though at the beginning,
it may be, done with a fraudulent intention of palming on the world
Syrian for Persian silks, the Syrians usually put also into their
fabrics a something which declared the real workmanship. Mixed with
the “homa,” the “cheetah,” and other elements of Persian patterns,
the discordant two-handled vase or the badly-imitated Arabic sentence
betrays the textile to be not Persian but Syrian. No. 8359 exemplifies
this. Furthermore, probably in ignorance about Persia’s superstitious
use of the “homa” in her old religious services, the Christian weavers
of Syria put the sign of the cross by the side of the “tree of life:”
as we find upon the piece of silk, no. 7094. Another remarkable
specimen of the Syrian loom is no. 7034, whereon the Nineveh lions come
forth conspicuously. As good examples of well-wrought “diaspron” or
diaper, no. 8233 and no. 7052 may be mentioned.

Saracenic weaving, as shown by the design upon the web, is exemplified
in several specimens at South Kensington.

However much against what looks like a heedlessness of the teaching of
the Koran, it is certain that the Saracens, those of the upper classes
in particular, felt no difficulty in wearing robes upon which animals
and the likenesses of created things were woven; with the strictest
of their princes a double-headed eagle, possibly borrowed from the
crusaders, was a royal heraldic device. Stuffs figured with birds and
beasts, with trees and flowers, were not the less on that account of
Saracenic workmanship, and meant for Moslem wear. What, however, may
be chiefly looked for upon Saracenic textures is a pattern consisting
of longitudinal stripes of blue, red, green, and other colour; some of
them charged with animals, small in form; some written, in large Arabic
letters, with a word or sentence.

Moresco-Spanish or Saracenic textiles wrought in Spain, though
partaking of the striped pattern and bearing words in real or imitated
Arabic, had some distinctions of their own. The designs shown upon
these stuffs are almost always drawn out of strap-work, reticulations,
or some combination of geometrical lines, amid which are occasionally
to be found different forms of conventional flowers. Sometimes, but
very rarely, the crescent moon is figured as in the curious piece, no.
8639. The colours of these silks are usually either a fine crimson or
a deep blue with almost always a fine toned yellow as a ground. But one
remarkable feature in these Moresco-Spanish textiles is the presence of
the ingenious imitation (before spoken of) of gold; for which shreds
of gilded parchment cut up into narrow flat strips are substituted and
woven with the silk. This, when fresh, must have looked very bright,
and have given the web all the appearance of the favourite stuffs
called here in England “tissues.” The fraud, as already explained, if
fraud it were, is not easily discovered without a magnifying glass. A
guide may be found in the blackness of the gold. Nos. 7095, 8590, and
8639, are examples of this gilded vellum.

The Sicilian school strongly marked wide differences between itself and
all the others which had lived before; and the history of its loom is
as interesting as it is varied.

The first to teach the natives of Sicily how to rear the silkworm
and spin its silk were, as it would seem, the Mahomedans, who coming
over from Africa brought with them, besides the art of weaving silken
textiles, a knowledge of the fauna of that vast continent--its
giraffes, its antelopes, its gazelles, its lions, its elephants. These
invaders told them also of the parrots of India and the hunting sort
of leopard,--the cheetahs; and when the stuff was wrought for European
wear both beast and bird were imaged upon the web, and at the same time
a word in Arabic was woven in. Like all other Saracens, those in Sicily
loved to mingle gold in their tissues; and, to spare the silk, cotton
thread was not unfrequently worked up in the warp. When, therefore,
we meet with beasts taken from the fauna of Africa, such, especially,
as the giraffe and the several classes of the antelope family, with
perhaps also an Arabic motto, and part of the pattern wrought in gold,
as well as cotton in the warp, we may fairly take the specimen as a
piece of Sicily’s work in its first period of weaving silk.

The second epoch was when in the twelfth century Roger, king of Sicily,
took Corinth, Thebes, and Athens; from each of which cities he led
away captives all the men and women he could find who knew how to weave
silks, and carried them to Palermo. These Grecian new comers brought
fresh designs which were adopted sometimes wholly, at others but in
part and mixed up with the older Saracenic style. In this second period
of the island’s loom we discover what traces the Byzantine school
impressed upon Sicilian silks, and helped so much to alter the type
of their first designs. On one silk, the pattern is a grotesque mask
amid the graceful twinings of luxuriant foliage, such as might have
been then found upon many a fragment of old Greek sculpture; this may
be seen on no. 8241; on another, a sovereign on horseback wearing the
royal crown and carrying a hawk upon his wrist, as in no. 8589; on a
third, no. 8234, is the Greek cross, with a pattern much like the old
netted or “de fundato” kind which has been described, p. 38.

But Sicily’s third is quite her own peculiar style. At the end of the
thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century she struck into an
untried path. Without throwing aside the old elements employed by the
Mahomedans Sicily put with them the emblem of Christianity, the cross,
in various forms, on some occasions with the letter V. four times

From the east to the uttermost western borders of the Mediterranean
the weavers of every country had been in the habit of figuring upon
their silks those beasts and birds they saw around them: the Tartar,
the Indian, and the Persian gave us the parrot and the cheetah; the
Africans, the giraffe and the gazelle; the people of each continent,
the lions, the elephants, the eagles, and the other birds common to
both. From the sculpture of the Greeks and Romans the Sicilians could
have easily copied the fabled griffin and the centaur; but it was
left for their own wild imaginings to figure such an odd compound in
one being as the animal--half elephant, half griffin--which we see
in no. 1288. Their daring flights of fancy in coupling the difficult
with the beautiful are curious; in one piece large eagles are perched
in pairs with a radiating sun between them, and beneath are dogs,
in pairs, running with heads turned back; in another, running harts
have caught one of their hind legs in a cord tied to their collar,
and an eagle swoops down upon them; and the same animal, in another
place on the same piece, has switched its tail into the last link of a
chain fastened to its neck; on a third sample are harts, the letter M
floriated, winged lions, crosses floriated, crosses sprouting out on
two sides with _fleurs-de-lis_, and four-legged monsters, some like
winged lions, some biting their tails. Hardly elsewhere to be found
are certain elements peculiar to the patterns upon silks from mediæval
Sicily; such, for instance, as harts, and demi-dogs with very large
wings, both animals having remarkably long manes streaming far behind
them; or harts lodged under green trees in a park with paling about
it. The hawk, the eagle, double and single headed, or the parrot, may
be found on stuffs all over the east; not so, however, the swan, which
was a favourite with Sicilians and may be seen often drawn with much

The Sicilians showed their strong affection for certain plants
and flowers. On a great many of the silks in the South Kensington
collection from Palermitan looms we see figured upon a tawny coloured
grounding beautifully drawn foliage in green; sometimes vine leaves,
sometimes what looks like parsley, so curled, crispy, and serrated are
its leaves. Another peculiarity is the introduction of the letter U,
repeated so as to mark the feathering upon the tails of birds; or to
fall into the shape of an O; as in nos. 8591, 8599.

Whether it was that the crusaders made Sicily so often the halting spot
on their way to the holy land, or that knights crowded there for other
purposes, and thus dazzled the eyes of the islanders with the bravery
of their armorial bearings, it is certain that the Sicilians were
particularly given to introduce many heraldic charges--wyverns, eagles,
lions rampant, and griffins--into their designs. The occasions in which
such elements of blazoning come in are so numerous that one of the
features belonging to the Sicilian loom in its third period is that,
bating tinctures, it is decidedly heraldic.

[Illustration: Silk damask--Sicilian: fourteenth century.]

All this beauty and happiness of invention, set forth by bold, free,
spirited drawing, were bestowed too often upon stuffs of a very poor
inferior quality, in which the gold if not actually base was always
scanty, and a good deal of cotton was wrought up with the silk.

Till within a few years past the royal manufactory at Sta. Leucia,
near Naples, produced silks of remarkable richness; and the piece, no.
721, does credit to its loom, as it wove in the seventeenth century.
Northern Italy was not idle; and the looms which she set up in several
of her great cities, in Lucca, Florence, Genoa, Venice, and Milan,
earned for themselves a good repute and a wide trade for their gold and
silver tissues, their velvets, and their figured silken textiles. Yet,
in the same way as each of these free states had its own accent and
provincialisms in speech, so also had it a something often thrown into
its designs and style of drawing which told of the place and province
whence the textiles came.

Lucca at an early period made herself known in Europe for her textiles;
but her workmen, like those of Sicily, seem to have thought themselves
bound to follow the style brought by the Saracens of figuring parrots
and peacocks, gazelles, and even cheetahs, as we see in the specimens
no. 8258 and no. 8616. But with these eastern animals she mixed up
emblems of her own, such as angels clothed in white. She soon dropped
what was oriental from her patterns which she began to draw in a
larger, bolder manner, and showing an inclination for light blue as a

As in other places abroad so at Lucca cloths of gold and of silver were
often wrought, and the Lucchese cloths of this costly sort were in much
request in England during the fourteenth century. In all likelihood
they were not of the deadened but the sparkling kind, afterwards
especially known as “tissue.” Exeter cathedral, in 1327, had a cope of
silver tissue, or cloth of Lucca:--“de panno de Luk.” At a later date,
belonging to the same church, were two fine chasubles--one purple,
the other red--of the same glittering stuff: “de purpyll panno.”
York cathedral possessed many copes of tissue shot with every colour
required by its ritual, and among them were “a reade cope of clothe of
tishewe with orphry of pearl, a cope with orphrey, a cope of raised
clothe of goulde,” making a distinction between tissue and the ordinary
cloth of gold. In the wardrobe accounts of Edward the second the
golden tissue, or Lucca cloth, is several times mentioned. Whether the
ceremony happened to be sad or gay this glittering web was used; palls
made of Lucca cloth were, at masses for the dead, strewed over the
corpse; at marriages the care-cloth was made of the same stuff: thus
when Richard de Arundell and Isabella, Hugh le Despenser’s daughter,
had been wedded at the door of the royal chapel, the veil held spread
out over their heads as they knelt inside the chancel during the
nuptial mass was of Lucca cloth.

About the same time velvet became known, and came into use both for
vestments and for personal wear; and Lucca probably was among the first
places in Europe to weave it. The specimens at South Kensington of
this fine textile from Lucchese looms, though few in comparison with
those from Genoa, still have a certain historical value for the English
workman: no. 1357, with its olive green plain silken ground and trailed
all over with flowers and leaves in a somewhat deeper tone, and the
earlier example, no. 8322, with its ovals and feathering stopped with
graceful cusps and artichokes, afford us good instances of what Lucca
could produce in the way of artistic velvets.

Genoa, though in mediæval times not so conspicuous as she afterwards
became for her textile industry, encouraged over her narrow territory
the weaving of silken webs. Of these the earliest mention we have found
is in the inventory of vestments belonging to St. Paul’s cathedral,
London, in 1295: besides a cope of Genoa cloth that church had, of the
same manufacture, a hanging patterned with wheels and two-headed birds.
Though this first description be scant, we may reasonably gather that
the Genoese cloths must have resembled the textiles wrought at Lucca.
Genoa still keeps up her old reputation for beautiful velvets.

In the collection at South Kensington there are examples of every
kind of Genoese velvets; some with a smooth unbroken surface, some
elaborately patterned and showing, together with wonderful skill in
the weaving, much beauty of design. Some are raised or cut, the design
being worked in a pile standing well up by itself out of a flat ground
of silk, either of the same or of another colour, and not unfrequently
wrought in gold. No. 7795 is an example of a very costly kind; in
which the ground is velvet, and again of velvet is the pattern itself
but raised one pile higher than the other, so as to show its form and
shape distinctly. No. 8323 shows how the design was worked in various
coloured velvet. This last was a favourite in England and called
motley; in his will, 1415, printed in Rymers Fœdera, Henry lord Scrope
bequeathed two vestments, one, motley velvet rubeo de auro; the other,
motley velvet nigro, rubeo et viridi, etc.

Venice does not seem to have been at any time, like Sicily and Lucca,
smitten with the taste of imitating in her looms the patterns which she
saw abroad upon textile fabrics, but appears to have borrowed from the
orientals only one kind of weaving cloth of gold: the yellow chasuble
at Exeter cathedral in 1327, figured with beasts, is the only instance
we know where she wove animals upon silks. Venice, however, set up for
herself a new branch of textiles, and wrought for church use square
webs of a crimson ground on which were figured, in gold or on yellow
silk, subjects taken from the Scriptures or the persons of saints and
angels. These square pieces were employed, sewed together, as frontals
to altars, but when longwise more generally as orphreys to chasubles,
copes, and other vestments.

There is a remarkable similarity between the drawing of the figures
upon old Venetian silks and the woodcuts in books published at Venice
in the early part of the sixteenth century; such as the fine pontifical
by Giunta, or the “Rosario” by Varisco. We find in both the same style
and manner; the same broad fold and fall of drapery; the same plumpness
and outline of the human face and figure. So near is the likeness in
design that we may almost believe that the artists who supplied the
blocks for the printers sketched also the drawings for the looms.

By the fifteenth century Venice knew how to produce good damasks in
silk and gold: if we had nothing more than the specimen, no. 1311,
where St. Mary of Egypt is so well represented, it would be quite
enough for her to claim for herself such a distinction. Nor can there
be much doubt that Venice wrought in velvet; and if those rich stuffs
were made there, sometimes raised, sometimes pile upon pile, in which
her painters loved to dress the personages, men especially, in their
pictures, then Venetian velvets were certainly beautiful. Of this any
one may satisfy himself by one visit to our National gallery. There, in
the “Adoration of the magi” painted by Paulo Veronese, the second of
the wise men is clad in a robe of crimson velvet, cut or raised after a
design in keeping with the style of the period.

No insignificant article of Venetian textile workmanship were her laces
wrought in every variety; in gold, in silk, in thread. The portrait
of a Doge usually shows him clothed in his dress of state. His wide
mantle, with large golden buttons, is made of some rich dull silver
cloth; and on his head is the Phrygian-shaped ducal cap bound round
with broad gold lace diapered, as we see in the bust portrait of
Loredano, painted by John Bellini, in the National gallery. Not only
was the gold in the thread particularly good but the lace itself in
great favour at the English court at one time; bought, not by yard
measure but by weight, “a pounde and a half of gold of Venys” was
employed “aboute the making of a lace and botons for the king’s mantell
of the garter.” This was for Henry the seventh. “Frenge of Venys gold”
appears twice in the wardrobe accounts of Edward the fourth. Laces in
worsted or in linen thread wrought by the bobbin at Venice, but more
especially her point laces or such as were done with the needle, always
had, as they still have, a great reputation.

Venetian linens, for fine towelling and napery in general, were in
favourite use in France during a part of the fifteenth century. In the
‘Ducs de Bourgogne’ by Laborde, more than once we meet with such an
entry as “une pièce de nappes, ouvraige de Venise.”

[Illustration: Silk damask--Florentine: fifteenth century.]

Florence, about the middle of the fourteenth century, obtained a place
in the foremost rank amid the weavers of northern Italy. Specimens of
her earliest handicraft are rare; there are two at South Kensington.
One of these, no. 8563, shows the excellence of her work in secular
silks. Other pieces witness to the delicacy of her design at a later
time, the sixteenth century. The orphrey-webs of Florence are equally
conspicuous for drawing and skill in weaving, and in beauty come up to
those made at Venice, far surpassing anything of the kind ever wrought
at Cologne.

But it was of her velvets that Florence was warrantably proud. Henry
the seventh bequeathed “to God and St. Peter, and to the abbot and
prior and convent of our monastery of Westminster, the whole suit of
vestments made at Florence in Italy.” We may yet see how gorgeous
this textile was in one of these Westminster abbey copes still in
existence, preserved at Stonyhurst college. The golden ground is
trailed all over with leaf-bearing boughs of a bold type, in raised or
cut ruby-toned velvet of a rich soft pile, which is freckled with gold
thread sprouting up like loops. Though not so rich in material nor so
splendid in pattern, there are at South Kensington, nos. 7792 and 7799,
two specimens of Florentine cut crimson velvet on a golden ground, like
the royal vestments in their kind and having the same peculiarity, the
little gold thread loop shooting out of the velvet pile. These pieces
are a full century later than the cope at Stonyhurst.

That peculiar sort of ornamentation--the little loop of gold thread
standing well up and in single spots--upon some velvets, seems at times
to have been replaced, perhaps with the needle, by small dots of solid
metal, gold or silver gilt, upon the pile: of the gift of one of its
bishops, John Grandisson, Exeter cathedral had a crimson velvet cope,
the purple velvet orphrey of which was so wrought: “purpyll velvette
worked with pynsheds” of pure gold.

Milan, though now-a-days she stands in such high repute for the
richness and beauty of her silks of all sorts, was not, we believe,
at any period during mediæval times as famous for her velvets,
her brocades, or cloths of gold, as for her armour, so strong and
trustworthy for the field, so exquisitely demascened for courtly
service. Still, in the sixteenth century, she earned a name for
rich cut velvets as may be seen in the specimen, no. 698; for her
silken net-work, no. 8336, which may have led the way to weaving silk
stockings; and for her laces of the open tinsel kind once in great
vogue for both sacred and secular use, as in no. 8331.

England, from her earliest period, had textile fabrics varying in
design and material; the colours in the woollen garments worn by each
of the three several classes into which the Bardic order was divided,
and of the chequered pattern in Boadicea’s cloak, have been already
mentioned. It would seem from John Garland, whose witness is referred
to above, p. 12, that the lighter and more tasteful webs wrought here
came from women’s hands; and the loom, one of which must have been in
almost every English nunnery and homestead, was of the simplest make.

In ancient times the Egyptians wove in an upright loom, and beginning
at top so as to weave downwards sat at their work. In Palestine also
the weaver had an upright loom, but, beginning at bottom and working
upwards, was obliged to stand. During the mediæval period the loom in
England was horizontal, as is shown by that figured in the Bedford
book of Hours (preserved in the British museum), fol. 32; at which the
blessed Virgin is seated weaving curtains for the temple.

There are several examples at South Kensington of the work of English
women, showing the excellence of their handicraft as well as elegance
in design during the thirteenth century. Nos. 1233, 1256, and 1270
may be referred to. But for specimens of the commoner sorts of silken
textiles and of wider breadth, which began to be woven in this country
under Edward the third, it would be hazardous to direct the reader.
Recent examples, velvets among the rest, may be found in the Brooke
collection. To some students the piece of old English printed chintz,
no. 1622, will not be without an interest.

For the finer sort of linen napery Eylisham or Ailesham in
Lincolnshire was famous during the fourteenth century. Exeter
cathedral, in 1327, had a hand towel of “Ailesham cloth.”

Our coarser native textiles in wool or in thread, or in both woven
together, formed a stuff called “burel.” St. Paul’s in 1295 had a
light blue chasuble, and Exeter cathedral in 1277 a long pall of this
texture. Burel and, in short, all the coarser kinds of work were
wrought by men: sometimes in monasteries. The old Benedictine rule
obliged the monks to give a certain number of hours every week-day to
hand-work, either at home or in the field.

The weaving in this country of woollen cloth, as a staple branch of
trade, is very old. Of the monks at Bath abbey we are told by a late
writer, “that the shuttle and the loom employed their attention (about
the middle of the fourteenth century), and under their active auspices
the weaving of woollen cloth (which made its appearance in England
about the year 1330, and received the sanction of an act of parliament
in 1337) was introduced, established, and brought to such perfection
at Bath as rendered the city one of the most considerable in the west
of England for this manufacture.” Worcester cloth was so good that, by
a chapter of the Benedictine order held in 1422 at Westminster abbey,
it was forbidden to be worn by the monks and declared smart enough for
military men. Norwich also wove stuffs that were in demand for costly
household furniture; and Sir John Cobham, in 1394, bequeathed “a bed of
Norwich stuff embroidered with butterflies.” In one of the chapels at
Durham priory there were four blue cushions of Norwich work. Worsted, a
town in Norfolk, by a new method of its own for the carding of the wool
with combs of iron well heated, and then twisting the thread harder
than usual in the spinning, enabled our weavers to produce a woollen
stuff of a peculiar quality, to which the name itself of worsted was
immediately given. To such a high repute did the new web grow that
church vestments and domestic furniture of the choicest sorts were
made out of it. Exeter cathedral among its chasubles had several “de
nigro worsted” in cloth of gold. Vestments made of worsted, variously
spelt “worsett” and “woryst,” are enumerated in the fabric rolls of
York minster. Elizabeth de Bohun, in 1356, bequeathed to her daughter
the countess of Arundel “a bed of red worsted embroidered;” and Joane
lady Bergavenny leaves to John of Ormond “a bed of cloth of gold with
lebardes, with those cushions and tapettes of my best red worsted.”

Irish cloth, white and red, in the reign of king John was much used in
England; and in the household expenses of Swinford, bishop of Hereford
in 1290, an item occurs of Irish cloth for lining.

English weavers knew also how to work artificially designed and
well-figured webs. In the wardrobe accounts of Edward the second is
this item: “to a mercer of London for a green hanging of wool wove
with figures of kings and earls upon it, for the king’s service in
his hall on solemn feasts at London.” Such “salles,” as they were
called in France, and “hullings” or rather “hallings” the name they
went under here, were much valued abroad and in common use at home.
Under the head of “Salles d’Angleterre” among the articles of costly
furniture belonging to Charles the fifth of France, in 1364, one set
of hangings is thus entered: “une salle d’Angleterre vermeille brodée
d’azur, et est la bordeure à vignettes et le dedens de lyons, d’aigles
et de lyepars.” Here in England, Richard earl of Arundel in 1392 willed
to his dear wife “the hangings of the hall which was lately made in
London, of blue tapestry with red roses with the arms of my sons,”
etc.; and lady Bergavenny, after bequeathing her hullying of black,
red, and green to one friend, left to another her best stained “hall.”

Flemish textiles, at least of the less ambitious kinds such as napery
and woollens, were much esteemed centuries ago; and our countryman
Matthew of Westminster says of Flanders that, made from the material
which we sent her, the wool, she sent us back precious garments. So
important was the supply of wool to the Flemings in the fourteenth
century that the check given to it by the wars between England and
France at that time led to a special treaty between Edward the third
and the burghers of the Flemish communes under the guidance of James
van Artevelde.

Though industrious everywhere within her limits, some of the towns
of Flanders stood foremost for certain kinds of stuff, and Bruges
became in the latter end of the fifteenth century conspicuous for
its silken textiles. The satins of Bruges were used in England for
church garments. Haconbie church, in 1566, had “one white vestmente of
bridges satten repte in peces and a clothe made thereof to hange before
our pulpitt;” and in 1520 York cathedral had “a vestment of balkyn
(baudekin) with a crosse of green satten in bryges.” Her damasks silks
were equally in demand; and the specimens at South Kensington will
interest the student. Nos. 8318 and 8332 show the ability of the Bruges
loom; while the favourite pattern with the pomegranate in it betrays
the likings of the Spaniards, at that time the rulers of the country,
for this token of their renowned Isabella. No. 8319 is another sample
of Flemish weaving, rich in its gold and full of beauty in design.

In her velvets Flanders had no need to fear a comparison with anything
of the kind that Italy ever threw off from her looms, whether at
Venice, Florence, or Genoa. Not to name others one example, with its
cloth of gold ground and its pattern in a dark blue deep-piled velvet,
is not surpassed in gorgeousness even by that splendid stuff from
Florence of which the Stonyhurst cope, just spoken of, was made.

Block-printed linen toward the end of the fourteenth century was
another production of Flanders. Though existing examples to the eyes
of many may look poor or mean, yet to men like the cotton-printers
of Lancashire they will have a strong attraction; and to the scholar
they will be deeply interesting as suggestive of the art of printing.
Such specimens are rare, but it is likely that England can show in the
chapter library at Durham the earliest sample of the kind as yet known;
a fine sheet wrapped about the body of some old bishop found in a
grave opened by Mr. Raine in 1827, within the cathedral. Several pieces
of ancient silks and English embroidery were found at the same time.

What Bruges was in silks and velvets, Yprès, in the sixteenth century,
became for linen; and for many years Flemish linens were in favourite
use throughout England. Hardly a church of any size, scarcely a
gentleman’s house in this country, but used a quantity of towels and
other napery that was made in Flanders, especially at Yprès.

French silks, now in such extensive use, were not much cared for until
the end of the sixteenth century in France itself, and seldom heard
of abroad. The reader, then, must not be astonished at finding so
few examples of the French loom in any collection of ancient silken

In France, as in England, women in mediæval days, old and young, rich
and poor, while filling up their leisure hours in-doors used to work
on a small loom, weaving narrow webs, often of gold and diapered with
coloured silks. At South Kensington, nos. 1250, 7062, and 7064 are
examples of such French wrought stuffs belonging to the thirteenth
century. In damasks, the earliest French productions are of the
sixteenth century; and no. 8352 is a favourable example of what this
manufacture then was in France; everything later is of the type so
well known to everybody. In several of her textiles a leaning towards
classicism in design is discernible.

Like Flanders, France knew how to weave fine linen which here in
England was much employed for ecclesiastical as well as household
purposes. Three new cloths of Rains (Rennes in Brittany) were, in 1327,
in use for the high altar in Exeter cathedral, and many altar cloths of
Paris linen. In the poem of the ‘Squire of low degree’ the lady is told

    Your blankettes shal be of fustyane,
    Your shetes shal be of cloths of rayne;

and, in 1434, lady Bergavenny devises in her will “two pair sheets of
Raynes, a pair of fustians,” etc.

Cologne, the queen of the Rhine, became famous during the whole of
the fifteenth and part of the sixteenth century for a certain kind of
ecclesiastical textile which, from the very general use to which it has
been applied, we may call “orphrey web.” The productions of Cologne,
however, are every way far below in beauty the similar works of Italy.
Italian orphrey-webs are generally worked in gold or yellow silk upon
a crimson ground of silk. Florentine are often distinguished from the
Venetian by the introduction of white for the faces; those of Cologne
vary from both by introducing blue, while the material is almost always
poor and the weaving coarse. In England this orphrey web was in church
use and called, as we learn from the York “wills and testaments,”
“rebayn de Colayn.”

The piece of German napery, no. 8317 (of the beginning of the fifteenth
century), will be to those curious about household linen an acceptable

If in some old inventory of church vestments we find an entry
mentioning a chasuble made of cloth of Cologne, we should understand it
to mean not a certain broad textile woven there, but merely a vestment
composed of several pieces of this kind of web sewed together; like the
frontal made of pieces of woven Venice orphreys, no. 8976.


The countries whence silks came to England are numerous; we find early
notices of Antioch, Tarsus, Alexandria, Damascus, Byzantium, Cyprus,
Trip or Tripoli, and Bagdad, and later of Venice, Genoa, and Lucca. To
fix the localities of others would be but guess work.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century a silk called “_Acca_”
is occasionally mentioned: and, from the description, it must have
been a cloth of gold shot with coloured silk, figured with animals:
William de Clinton, earl of Huntingdon, gave to St. Alban’s monastery
a whole vestment of cloth of gold shot with sky-blue and called cloth
of Acca. It would look as if this stuff took its name from having been
brought to us through the port of Acre: and Macri, in his valuable
Hierolexicon, says that the name of the ancient Ptolemais in Syria was
so written.

What in one age and at a particular place happened to be well made and
therefore was eagerly sought for, at a later period and in another
place was better wrought and at a lower price. Time, indeed, changed
the name of the market, but did not alter in any great degree either
the quality of the material or the style of the design wrought upon it.
Throughout the kingdom of the Byzantine Greeks the loom had to change
its gearing very little. The Saracenic loom, whether in Asia, Africa,
or Spain, was always Arabic, though Persia could not forget her old
traditions about the “hom” or tree of life, and cheetahs, and birds
of various sorts. With regard to the whole of Asia, its many peoples
from the earliest ages knew how not only to weave cloth of gold but
to figure it with birds and beasts. In later times, Marco Polo in the
thirteenth century found exactly the same kinds of textile known in the
days of Darius still everywhere, from the shores of the Mediterranean
to the far east. What he says of Bagdad he repeats in fewer words
about many other cities. In finding their way to England these fabrics
received, if not in all at least in most instances, the names of the
seaports in the Mediterranean where they had been shipped.

For beautifully wrought and figured silk, one of the few terms that
still outlive the mediæval period is Damask.

China, no doubt, was the first country to ornament its silken webs with
a pattern. India, Persia, and Syria, then Byzantine Greece, followed,
but at long intervals between, in China’s footsteps. Stuffs so figured
brought with them to the west the name “diaspron” or diaper, bestowed
upon them at Constantinople. But about the twelfth century the city of
Damascus, even then long celebrated for its looms, so far outstripped
all other places for beauty of design that her silken textiles were in
demand everywhere; and thus, as often happens, traders fastened the
name of Damascen or Damask upon every silken fabric richly wrought and
curiously designed, no matter whether it came or not from Damascus. At
last, samit, having long been the epithet betokening all that was rich
and good in silk, was forgotten, and diaper, from being the very word
significant of pattern, became a secondary term descriptive of merely a
part in the elaborate design on damask.

Baudekin, that sort of costly cloth of gold spoken of so much during so
many years in English literature, took (as was said before) its famous
name from Bagdad. Many specimens of baudekin in the South Kensington
collection furnish proofs of the ancient weavers’ dexterity in their
management of the loom, and especially of the artists’ taste in setting
out their intricate and beautiful designs. An identification between
very many samples there brought together of ancient textiles in silk
and the descriptions of similar stuffs given us in those valuable
records, our old church inventories, might be carried on if necessary
to a very lengthened extent.

Dorneck was the name given to an inferior kind of damask wrought of
silk, wool, linen thread and gold, in Flanders. This was manufactured
towards the end of the fifteenth century mostly at Tournay; which city
in Flemish was often called Dorneck--a word variously spelt as Darnec,
Darnak, Darnick, and sometimes even Darness.

The guild of the blessed Virgin at Boston had a care cloth of “silke
dornex” and church furniture. The “care cloth” was a sort of canopy
held over the bride and bridegroom as they knelt for the nuptial
blessing, according to the Salisbury rite, at the marriage mass. At
Exeter dorneck was used in chasubles for orphreys. A specimen of
dorneck may be seen, no. 7058. It is several times mentioned in the
York fabric rolls.

Buckram, so called from Bokkara where it was originally made, in the
middle ages was much esteemed for being costly and very fine; and
consequently fit for use in church vestments and for secular personal
wear. “Panus Tartaricus” or Tartary cloth is often spoken of. John
Grandison, bishop of Exeter in 1327, gave to his cathedral flags of
white and red buckram; and among the five very rich veils for covering
the moveable lectern in that church three were lined with blue
“bokeram.” As late as the beginning of the sixteenth century this stuff
was held good enough for lining to a black velvet gown for a queen,
Elizabeth of York. The coarse thick fabric which now goes by the name
is very different from the older production known as “bokeram.”

Burdalisaunder, Bordalisaunder, Bourde de Elisandre, with other
varieties in spelling, is a term often to be met with in old wills and
church inventories. In the year 1327 Exeter had a chasuble of Bourde de
Elisandre of divers colours: and from the Yorkshire wills we find that
sometimes it was wide enough for half a piece to form the adornment of
a high altar.

“Bord” in Arabic means a striped cloth; and we know, both from
travellers and the importation of the textile itself, that many tribes
in north and eastern Africa weave stuffs for personal wear of a pattern
consisting of white and black longitudinal stripes. St. Augustin,
living in north Africa near the modern Algiers, speaks of a stuff
for clothing called “burda” in the end of the fourth and beginning
of the fifth century. It is not impossible that the curtains for the
tabernacle as well as the girdles for Aaron and his sons, of fine
linen and violet and purple and scarlet twice dyed, were wrought with
this very pattern, so that in the “burd Alisaunder” we behold the
oldest known design for any textile. This stuff in the middle ages
was a silken web in different coloured stripes, and specimens also
may be found at South Kensington. Though made in many places round
the Mediterranean this silk took its name, at least in England, from

Fustian, of which we still have two forms in velveteen and corduroy,
was originally wove at Fustat on the Nile, with a warp of linen thread
and a woof of thick cotton, so twilled and cut that it showed on one
side a thick but low pile; and the web thus managed took its name of
Fustian from that Egyptian city. At what period it was invented we do
not rightly know, but we are well aware it must have been brought very
early to this country; for our countryman St. Stephen Harding, when a
Cistercian abbot and an old man about the year 1114, forbade chasubles
in his church to be made of anything but fustian or plain linen. The
austerity of his rule reached even the ornaments of the church. From
such a prohibition we are not to draw as a conclusion that fustian was
at the time a mean material; quite the contrary, although not splendid
it was a seemly textile. Years afterwards, in the fourteenth century,
Chaucer tells us of his knight:--

    Of fustian he wered a gepon.

In the fifteenth century Naples had a repute for weaving fustians; and
our English churchwardens, not being learned in geography or spelling,
made some odd mistakes in their accounts about this as about some other
continental stuffs: “Fuschan in appules” for fustian from Naples is
droll; yet droller still is “mustyrd devells,” for a cloth made in
France at a town called Mustrevilliers.

Muslin, as it is now throughout the world so from the earliest
antiquity, has been everywhere in Asia in favourite use both as an
article of dress and as furniture. Its cloud-like thinness and its
lightness were not the only charms belonging to this stuff: it was
esteemed equally as much for the taste with which stripes of gold had
been woven in its warp. As we learn from the travels of Marco Polo, the
further all wayfarers in Asia wandered among eastern nations the higher
they found the point of excellence which had been reached in weaving
silk and gold into splendid fabrics. The silkworm lived and thrived
there and the cotton plant also was in its home, its birth-place, in
those regions.

Like many cities of central Asia, Mosul had earned for itself a
reputation of old for the beauty of its gold-wrought silken textiles.
Cotton grew all around in plenty; the inhabitants, especially the
women, were gifted with such quick feeling of finger that they could
spin thread from this cotton of more than hair-like fineness. Cotton
with them took the place of silk in the loom; and gold was not
forgotten in the weaving. Their work, not only because it was so much
cheaper but from its own peculiar beauty and comeliness, won for itself
a high place in common estimation: and the name of the town where it
was wrought in such perfection was given to it as its distinctive name.
Hence, whether wove with or without gold, we call this cotton web
muslin, from the Asiatic city of Mosul.

Cloth of Areste is another term for woven stuffs, to be found in our
old English deeds and inventories. The first time we meet it is in an
order given, 1244, by Henry the third for finding two cloths of Areste
with which two copes were to be made for royal chapels. Again it comes
a few years later at St. Paul’s, which cathedral A. D. 1295 had, besides
a dalmatic and tunicle of this silk “white silk of Areste diapered,” as
many as thirty and more hangings of the same texture.

From the description of these pieces we gather that this so-called
cloth of Areste must have been both beautiful and rich, being for
the most part cloth of gold figured elaborately; some with lions and
double-headed eagles, others, for example, with the death and burial of
our Lord.

We are not disposed to agree with the suggestion that this cloth was
a kind of arras. Arras had not won for itself a reputation for its
tapestry before the fourteenth century. Tapestry itself is too thick
and heavy for use in vestments; yet this cloth of Areste was light
enough for tunicles, and when worn out was sometimes condemned at St.
Paul’s to be put aside for lining other ritual garments. Among the
three meanings for the mediæval “Aresta” one is any kind of covering.
It seems, therefore, probable that these cloths of Areste took their
name not from the place where they had been woven, but from the use to
which they were generally put; namely, for hangings about churches.
Moreover, tapestry or Arras work, being thick and heavy, could never
have been employed for such light use as that of apparels nor would
it have been diapered like silk, yet we find “Areste” to have been so
fashioned and so used.

Silks also were distinguished through their colours and shades of
colours: and the men who drew up the mediæval inventories seem to have
been gifted with a keen eye for varieties of shades and tints. For
instance, a chasuble at St. Paul’s is set down, late in the thirteenth
century, as made of samit dyed in a purple somewhat bordering on a
blood-red tone. Tarsus colour is often mentioned: and it was, probably,
some shade of purple. The people of Tarsus no doubt got from their
murex, a shell-fish of the class mollusca and purpurifera family to
be found on their coast, their dyeing matter; and when we remember
what changes are wrought in the animal itself by the food it eats, and
what strong effects are made by slight variations in climate, even
atmosphere, upon materials for colouring in the moment of application,
we may easily understand how the difference arose between the two tints
of purple.

“Cloth of Tarsus” itself was of a rare and costly kind, of fine goats’
hair and silk. The tint was some shade of royal purple. Chaucer tells
us that

    The great Emetrius, the king of Inde,
    Upon a stede bay, trapped in stele,
    Covered with cloth of gold diapred wele,
    Came riding like the god of armes Mars.
    His cote armure was of a cloth of Tars,
    Couched with perles, etc.

Other cities besides Tarsus gave their names to various shades of
purple; according as they were dyed at Antioch, Alexandria, or Naples.
Each place had a particular shade which distinguished it from the
others. It is not now possible to ascertain what were the exact
distinctions of tint. Sky-blue was a colour everywhere in church use
for certain festivals throughout England. In the early inventories the
name for that tint is “Indicus,” “Indus,” reminding us of our present
_indigo_. In later lists it is called “Blodius,” not sanguinary but
blue. Murrey, or a reddish brown, is also often specified.

Silks woven of two colours, so that one of them showed itself unmixed
and quite distinct on one side, and the second appeared equally clear
on the other--a thing sometimes now looked upon as a wonder in modern
weaving--might occasionally be met with here at the mediæval period:
Exeter cathedral had, in 1327, a silk cloth “of red colour inside and
yellow outside.” At York, in 1543, there was “a vestment of changeable
silke,” “besides one of changeable taffety for Good Friday.”

Marble silk had a weft of several colours so woven as to make the
whole web look like marble, stained with a variety of tints. There were
many such vestments in old St. Paul’s. During full three centuries
this marble silk found great favour among us; for Henry Machyn, in his
curious diary, tells us how “the old qwyne of Schottes rod thrught
London,” and how “then cam the lord tresorer with a C. gret horsse and
ther cotes of marbull,” etc., to meet her the 6th of November, 1551.


We must now speak of embroidery. The art of working with the needle
flowers, fruits, human and animal forms, or any fanciful design, upon
webs woven of silk, linen, cotton, wool, hemp, besides other kinds of
stuff, is of the highest antiquity.

Those patterns, after so many fashions, which we see figured upon the
garments worn by men and women on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, but
especially on the burned-clay vases made and painted by the Greeks in
their earliest as well as in later times, or which we read about in the
writings of that people, were not wrought in the loom, but worked by
the needle.

The old Egyptian loom--and that of the Jews must have been like
it--was, as we know from paintings, of the simplest shape, and seems to
have been able to do little more diversified in design than straight
lines in different colours; and at best nothing higher in execution
than checker-work: beyond this, all was put in by hand with the
needle. In Paris, at the Louvre, are several pieces of early Egyptian
webs coloured, drawings of which have been published by Sir Gardner
Wilkinson in his work ‘The Egyptians in the time of the Pharaohs.’
There are two pieces wrought up and down with needlework; the second
piece of blue is figured all over in white embroidery with a pattern
of netting, the meshes of which shut in irregular cubic shapes, and
in the lines of the reticulation the mystic “fylfot” is seen. Sir
J. G. Wilkinson says of them: “They are mostly cotton, and, though
their date is uncertain, they suffice to show that the manufacture
was Egyptian; and the many dresses painted on the monuments of the
eighteenth dynasty show that the most varied patterns were used by the
Egyptians more than 3000 years ago, as they were at a later period by
the Babylonians, who became noted for their needlework.”

It is clear from the book of Exodus that the Israelites from very early
times, having learnt the art in Egypt, embroidered their garments;
although the word “embroidery” which occurs so frequently in every
English version probably sometimes means merely weaving in stripes, and
not work with the needle. The embroidering also of the sails of vessels
was not uncommon in the east; boats used in sacred festivals on the
Nile were so decorated; and the prophet Ezekiel says to the people of
Tyre, “Fine linen with broidered work from Egypt, was that which thou
spreadest forth to be thy sail.” The reader will here also remember
Shakspeare’s description of the barge of Cleopatra;

    The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne
    Burned on the water:
    Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that
    The winds were love-sick with them; she did lie
    In her pavilion, cloth of gold, of tissue, etc.

Pliny says that the Phrygians invented embroidery, and that garments
so ornamented were called Phrygionic. Of such a fashion were “the
art-wrought vests of splendid purple tint” brought forth by Dido, and
the cloak given by Andromache to Ascanius. Hence, an embroiderer was
called in Latin “Phrygio,” and needlework “Phrygium” or “Phrygian”
work. When the design, as often happened, was wrought in solid
gold wire or golden thread, the embroidery so worked was named
“auriphrygium.” From this term comes the old English word “orphrey.”

While Phrygia in general, Babylon in particular (as Pliny also tells
us) became celebrated for the beauty of its embroideries. All who have
seen the sculptures in the British museum brought from Nineveh, and
described and figured by Layard, must have remarked how lavishly the
Assyrians adorned their robes with the needlework for which one of
their greatest cities was so famous. Up to the first century of our era
the reputation which Babylon had won for her textiles and needlework
still lived. We know from Josephus, who had often been to worship at
Jerusalem, that the veils of the Temple were Babylonian; and of the
outer one that writer says: “there was a veil of equal largeness with
the door. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue and fine
linen, and scarlet and purple, and of a texture that was wonderful.”

What the Jews did for the Temple we may be sure was done by Christians
for the Church. The faithful, however, went even further, and wore
garments figured all over with sacred subjects in embroidery. We learn
this from a stirring sermon preached by St. Asterius, bishop of Amasia
in Pontus, in the fourth century. Taking for his text “a certain rich
man who was clothed in purple and fine linen” he upbraids the world for
its follies in dress, and complains that some people went about arrayed
like painted walls, with beasts and flowers all over them; while
others, pretending a more serious tone of thought, dressed in clothes
depicting the doings and wonders of our Lord. “Strive,” St. Asterius
exhorts them, “to follow in your lives the teachings of the Gospel,
rather than have the miracles of our Redeemer embroidered upon your
outward dress.” To have had so many subjects shown upon one garment
it is clear that each must have been done very small, and wrought in
outline; a style which is being brought back, with great effect, into
modern ecclesiastical use.

The discriminating accuracy with which our old writers noted the
several kinds of textile gifts bestowed upon a church is as instructive
as praiseworthy. Ingulph did not think it enough to say that abbot
Egelric had given many hangings to the church at Croyland, the great
number of which were silken, but he explains also that some were
ornamented with birds wrought in gold and sewed on; in fact, of
cut-work; others with those birds woven into the stuff; others quite
plain. We find the same care taken in old inventories.

By the latter end of the thirteenth century embroidery obtained for
its several styles and various sorts of ornamentation a distinguishing
and technical nomenclature. One of the earliest documents in which
we meet with this set of terms is the inventory drawn up, in 1295,
of the vestments belonging to St. Paul’s cathedral, printed by
Dugdale: herein, the “opus plumarium,” the “opus pectineum,” the
“opus pulvinarium,” “consutum de serico,” “de serico consuto,” may be
severally found.

“Opus plumarium” was the then usual term for what is now commonly
called embroidery; and was given to needlework of this kind because
the stitches were laid down longwise and not across: that is, so put
together that they seemed to overlap one another like the feathers in
the plumage of a bird. This style was aptly called “feather-stitch”
work, in contradistinction to that done in cross and tent stitch, or
the “cushion-style.”

The “opus pulvinarium,” or “cushion-style,” was like the modern
so-called Berlin work. As now, so then it was done in the same
stitching with pretty much the same materials and generally, if not
always, put to the same purpose; for cushions, to sit or to kneel
upon in church or to uphold the mass-book at the altar; hence its
name of “cushion-style.” In working it silken thread is known to
have been often used. Among other specimens, and in silk, there is a
beautiful cushion of a date corresponding to the London inventory at
South Kensington, no. 1324. Being well adapted for working heraldry
this stitch has been used from an early period for the purpose; and
emblazoned orphreys, like the narrow hem on the Syon cope, were wrought
in it.

The “opus pectineum” was a kind of woven work imitative of embroidery,
and employed to supply it. John Garland, in his dictionary, explains
that it was made by means of a comb, or some comb-like instrument:
and from this the work itself received the distinctive appellation
of “pectineum,” or comb-wrought. Before John Garland left England
for France, to teach a school there, he must have often seen his
countrywomen at such an occupation; and the amice given by Katherine
Lovell to St. Paul’s, “de opere pectineo,” may perhaps have been the
work of her own hands.

Women in the middle ages were so ready at the needle that they could
make their embroidery look as if it had been done in the loom, really
woven. A shred of crimson cendal figured in gold and silver thread
with a knight on horseback, armed as of the latter time of Edward
the first, was shown to us some time ago. At first sight the mounted
warrior seemed to have been not hand-worked but woven; so flat, so even
was every thread. Looking at it however through a glass and turning it
about, we found it to have been embroidered by the finger in such a way
that the stitches laid down upon the surface were carried through into
the canvas lining at the back of the thin silk. In this same manner
all the design, both before and behind, upon the fine English-wrought
chasuble at South Kensington, no. 673, was probably worked.

At the latter end of the thirteenth century our countrywomen invented
a new way of embroidery. Without giving up altogether the old “opus
plumarium” or feather-stitch, they mixed it with a new style, both of
needlework and mechanism. So beautiful was the novel method deemed
abroad that it won for itself the complimentary appellation of “opus
Anglicum,” or English work. In what its peculiarity consisted has long
been a question and a puzzle among foreign archæological writers; and
a living one of eminence, M. Voisin, noticing a cope of English work
given to the church of Tournai, says: “Il serait curieux de savoir
quelle broderie ou quel tissu on designait sous le nom de _opus

But if we examine that very fine piece of English needlework, the Syon
cope, at South Kensington, no. 9182, we find that the first stitches
for the human face were begun in the centre of the cheek, and worked
in circular lines; falling (after the further side had been made)
into straight lines, which were so carried on through the rest of the
fleshes; in some instances, also, through the draperies. But this
was done in a sort of chain-stitch, and a newly practised mechanical
appliance was brought into use. After the whole figure had thus been
wrought with this kind of chain-stitch in circles and straight lines,
then with a little thin iron rod ending in a small bulb or smooth knob
slightly heated, those middle spots in the faces that had been worked
in circular lines were pressed down; and the deep wide dimples in the
throat, especially of aged persons. By the hollows thus lastingly
sunk a play of light and shadow is brought out, which at a short
distance lends to the portion so treated the appearance of low relief.
Chain-stitch, then, worked in circular lines and relief given to parts
by hollows sunk into the faces and other portions of the persons,
constitute the elements of the “opus Anglicum,” or embroidery after the
English manner. How the chain-stitch was worked into circles for the
faces, and straight lines for the rest of the figures, is well shown by
a woodcut, after a portion of the Steeple Aston embroideries, given in
the archæological journal, vol iv. p. 285.

Although not merely the faces and the extremities but the dresses also
of the persons figured were generally wrought in chain-stitch, and
afterwards treated as we have just described, another practice was to
work the draperies in feather-stitch, which was also employed for the
grounding, and diapered after a simple, zigzag design; as we find in
the Syon cope.

[Illustration: Part of the orphrey of the Syon cope.]

How highly English embroideries were at one period appreciated by
foreigners may be gathered from the especial notice taken of them
abroad; as we may find in continental documents. Matilda, queen of
William the conqueror, carried away from the abbey of Abingdon its
richest vestments, and would not be put off with inferior ones. In his
will A. D. 1360 cardinal Talairand, bishop of Albano, speaks of the
English embroideries on a costly set of white vestments. A bishop of
Tournai, in 1343, bequeathed to that cathedral an old English cope,
as well as a beautiful corporal “of English work.” Among the copes
reserved for prelates’ use in the chapel of Charles duke of Bourgogne,
brother-in-law to John duke of Bedford, there was one of English work
very elaborately fraught with many figures, as appears from this
description of it: “une chappe de brodeure d’or, façon d’Engleterre,
à plusieurs histoires de N.D. et anges et autres ymages, estans en
laceures escriptes, garnie d’un orfroir d’icelle façon fait à apostres,
desquelles les manteulx sont tous couvertes de perles, et leur
diadesmes pourphiler de perles, estans en manière de tabernacles, faits
de deux arbres, dont les tiges sont touts couvertes de perles, et à la
dite chappe y a une bille des dites armes, garnie de perles comme la
dessus dicte.”

While so coveted abroad, our English embroidery was highly prized
and well paid for at home. We find in the Issue Rolls that Henry the
third had a chasuble embroidered by Mabilia of Bury St. Edmund’s; and
that Edward the second paid a hundred marks to Rose the wife of John
de Bureford, a citizen and mercer of London, for a choir-cope of her
embroidering, and which was to be sent to the Pope as an offering from
the queen.

English embroidery afterwards lost its first high reputation. Through
those years wasted with the wars of the Roses the work of the English
needle was very poor, very coarse, and, so to say, ragged; as, for
instance, the chasuble at South Kensington, no. 4045. Nothing of the
celebrated chain-stitch with dimpled faces in the figures can be found
about it: every part is worked in the feather-stitch, slovenly put
down. During the early part of the seventeenth century our embroiderers
again struck out a new style, which consisted in throwing up the
figures a good height above the grounding. Of this raised work there
is a fine specimen in the fourth of the copes preserved in the chapter
library at Durham. It is said to have been wrought for and given by
Charles the first to that cathedral. This red silk vestment is well
sprinkled with bodiless cherubic heads crowned with rays and borne up
by wings; while upon the hood is David, holding in one hand the head
of Goliah; the whole done in highly raised embroidery. Bibles of the
large folio size, covered in rich silk or satin and embroidered with
the royal arms done in bold raised-work, are still to be found in our
libraries. More than one of these volumes is said to have been a gift
from the king to a forefather of the present owner.

This style of raised embroidery remained in use for many years. Not
only large Bibles but smaller volumes, especially prayer-books, had
bindings enriched with it. Generally such examples are attributed,
and in most cases wrongly, to the so-called nuns of Little Gidding.
The same kind of work is sometimes found on the broad frames of old
looking-glasses: setting forth perhaps, as in the specimen no. 892, the
story of Ahasuerus and Esther, or a passage in some courtship carried
on after the manners of Arcadia.

Few people at the present day have a just idea of the labour, the
money, and the length of time often bestowed of old upon embroideries,
which had been sketched as well as wrought by the hands of men, each
in his own craft the ablest and most cunning of his time. In behalf
of England plenty of evidence has been produced already: as a proof
of the same labour elsewhere a remarkable passage may be quoted,
given, in his life of Antonio Pollaiuolo, by Vasari: “For San Giovanni
in Florence there were made certain very rich vestments after the
design of this master, all of gold-wove velvet with pile upon pile
(di broccato riccio sopra riccio), each woven of one entire piece and
without seam, embroidered with the most subtile mastery of that art by
Paolo da Verona, a man most eminent of his calling, and of incomparable
ingenuity. This work took twenty-six years for its completion, being
wholly in close stitch (questi ricami fatti con punto serrato); but
the excellent method of which is now all but lost, the custom being
in these days to make the stitches much wider (il punteggiare piu
largo), whereby the work is rendered less durable and much less
pleasing to the eye.” These vestments may yet be seen framed and glazed
in presses around the sacristy of San Giovanni. Antonio died in 1498.
The magnificent cope before referred to, now at Stonyhurst, is of one
seamless piece of gorgeous gold tissue figured with bold wide-spreading
foliage in crimson velvet, pile upon pile, and dotted with small gold
spots; probably it came from the same loom that threw off these famous
San Giovanni vestments.

[Illustration: Embroidered Saddle-cloth of the sixteenth century.]


The old English “opus consutum” or cut-work, called in French
“appliqué,” is a term of rather wide meaning, as it takes in several
sorts of decorative accompaniments to needlework.

When anything--flower, fruit, or figure--is wrought by itself upon
a separate piece of silk or canvas and afterwards sewed on to the
vestment for church use, or article for domestic purpose, it comes to
be known as cut-work. This kind of work was employed for dresses and
vestments; but we find it most commonly on bed-curtains, hangings for
rooms and halls, and other items in household furniture.

Of cut-work in embroidery those pieces of splendid Rhenish needlework
with the blazonment of Cleves, sewed upon a ground of crimson silk,
nos. 1194–5, at South Kensington, and the chasuble of crimson
double-pile velvet, no. 78, are good examples. In the last, the niches
in which the saints stand are loom-wrought, but those personages
themselves are exquisitely worked on separate pieces of fine canvas and
afterwards let into the unwoven spaces left open for them. A Florentine
piece of cut-work, no. 5788, is alike remarkable for its great beauty
and the skill shown in bringing together both weaving and embroidery.
Much of the architectural accessories is loom-wrought, while the
extremities of the evangelists are all done by the needle; but the
head, neck, and long beard are worked by themselves upon very fine
linen, and afterwards put together in such a way that the full white
beard overlaps the tunic.

Other methods gave a quicker help in this cut-work. For the sake of
expedition all the figures were sometimes at once shaped out of woven
silk, satin, velvet, linen, or woollen cloth as wanted, and sewed upon
the grounding of the article: the features of the face and the contours
of the body were then wrought by the needle in very narrow lines done
in brown silk thread. At times, even this much of embroidery was set
aside for the painting brush, and instances are to be found in which
the spaces left uncovered by the loom for the heads and extremities
of the human figures are filled in with the brush. Sometimes, again,
the cut-work done in these ways is framed, as it were, with an edging,
either in plain or gilt leather, hempen, or silken cord, like the
leadings of a stained glass window. Perhaps in no collection open
anywhere to public view can a piece of cut-work be found so full of
teaching about the process of this easy way of execution as no. 1370
at South Kensington: and we earnestly recommend the attention of our
readers to that example.

For the invention of cut-work, or “di commesso” as Vasari calls
it, that writer tells us we are indebted to one of his Florentine
countrymen: “It was by Sandro Botticelli that the method of preparing
banners and standards in what is called cut-work was invented; and this
he did that the colours might not sink through, showing the tint of the
cloth on each side. The baldachino of Orsanmichele is by this master,
and is so treated, etc.” But Vasari is not correct: the piece just
spoken of, no. 1370, was made half a century before Botticelli was born.

There are other accessories in mediæval embroidery which ought not to
be overlooked.

In some few instances, gold and silver gilt star-like flowers are to
be found sewed upon the silks or amid the embroidery from Venice and
other provinces in Italy, and from southern Germany. Some fragments of
silk damask, no. 8612, are curious examples of Italian taste. These
at one time have been thickly strewed with trefoils cut out of gilt
metal but very thin, and not sewed but glued on to the silk: many of
the leaves have fallen off, and those remaining turned black. Precious
stones also, coral, and seed pearls were sewed upon textiles; and, not
uncommonly, small coloured beads and bugles of glass. Belonging to St.
Paul’s, in 1295, among many other amices there was one having glass
stones upon it, both large and small.

Another form of glass fastened by heat to gold and copper, enamel,
was extensively employed as an adornment upon textiles. The gorgeous
“chesable of red cloth of gold with orphreys before and behind set with
pearls, blue, white, and red, with plates of gold enamelled, wanting
fifteen plates, etc.,” described in Dugdale’s Monasticon, and given
by John of Gaunt’s duchess to Lincoln cathedral, shows how this rich
ornamentation was applied to garments, especially for church use, in
very large quantities.

In England the old custom was to sew a great deal of goldsmith’s work,
for enrichment, upon articles meant for personal wear. When our first
Edward’s grave in Westminster abbey was opened in 1774 there was seen
upon the body, besides other silken robes, a stole-like band of rich
white tissue about the neck and crossed upon the breast: it was studded
with gilt quatrefoils in filigree work and embroidered with pearls.
From the knees downwards the body was wrapped in a pall of cloth of
gold. Henry the third gave a frontal to the high altar in Westminster
abbey upon which, besides carbuncles in golden settings and several
large pieces of enamel, were as many as 866 smaller ones: perhaps the
“esmaux de plique” of the French.

In the Norman-French silken stuffs thus ornamented were said to be
“batuz,” that is, beaten with hammered-up gold. The Treasury calendars,
edited by Palgrave, tell us that Richard the second gave to the chapel
in the castle of Haverford “ii rydell batuz;” two altar-curtains beaten
(probably with ornaments in gilt silver; like an amice so described
which belonged to St. Paul’s). For the secular employment of this same
sort of decoration we have several curious examples. Ladies’ dresses
were so adorned, as we may see in these verses:

    A coronell on hur hedd sett,
    Hur clothys wyth bestes and byrdes wer bete,
    All abowte for pryde.

[Illustration: Ancient banner of the city of Strasburg: see next page.]

King John in 1215 sent an order (extant in the Close rolls) to Reginald
de Cornhull and William Cook to have made for him, besides five
tunics, five banners with his arms upon them, well beaten in gold:
“bene auro batuatas.” A very remarkable example attributed to the
fourteenth century “the banner of Strasbourg” was preserved there until
very lately, when it was unhappily destroyed in the bombardment of that
city in 1870.

Dugdale (in his Baronage) gives the original bill for fitting out one
of the ships in which Beauchamp earl of Warwick, during the reign of
Henry the sixth, went over to France. Among other items are these:
“Four hundred pencils (long narrow strips of silk, used as flags) beat
with the raggedstaff in silver; the other pavys (one of two shields
probably of wood, and fastened outside the ship at its bows) painted
with black, and a raggedstaff beat with silver occupying all the
field; one coat for my lord’s body, beat with fine gold; two coats for
heralds, beat with demi gold; a great streamer for a ship of forty
yeards in length and eight yeards in breadth, with a great bear and
griffin holding a raggedstaff poudred full of raggedstaffs; three
penons (small flags) of satten; sixteen standards of worsted entailed
with the bear and a chain.” The quatrefoils on the robe of Edward the
first, the silver lions on the Glastonbury cope, the beasts and birds
on the lady’s gown, the bear and griffin and raggedstaff belonging
to the Beauchamp’s blazoning, and all similar enrichments put upon
silken stuffs, were cut out of very thin plates of gold or silver,
so as to hang upon them lightly, and were hammered up to show in low
relief the fashion of the flower and the lineaments of the beast or
bird meant to be represented. Such a style of ornamentation in gold or
silver, stitched on silken stuffs, was far more common once than is now
thought. It had also a technical description: in speaking of it people
would either write or say, “silk beaten with gold or silver;” as, for
example, Barbara Mason used the term when in 1538 she bequeathed to a
church “a vestment of grene sylke betyn with goold.”

Spangles, when they happened to be used, were not like those now
employed but fashioned after another and artistic shape, and put on in
a different manner. A fragment still exists from the chasuble belonging
to the set of vestments wrought, it is said, by Isabella of Spain
and her maids of honour; and used the first time high mass was sung
in Granada, after it had been taken by the Spaniards from the Moors.
Upon this are flowers, well thrown up in relief, done in spangles on a
crimson velvet ground. The spangles--some in gold, some in silver--are,
though small, of several sizes; all are voided; that is, hollow in the
middle; with the circumference not flat but convex, and are sewed on
like tiles, one overlapping the other, producing a rich and pleasing
effect. Our present spangles, in the flat shape, are quite modern.

Another kind of embroidery for garments was in gold, worked sometimes
by itself, sometimes with coloured silk thread laid down alternately
beside it; so as to lend a tinge of green, crimson, pink, or blue to
the imagined tissue of the robe, as if it were made of a golden stuff
shot with another tint.

This gold “passing” was sewn on. The workwomen taking thin silk, while
fastening the passing, dotted it all over in small stitches set exactly
in a way that showed the same pattern. With no other appliance they
were thus enabled to lend to their draperies the appearance of having
been not wrought by the needle but actually cut out of a piece of
textile; for which they have been sometimes mistaken.

Anciently, also, in England another mode of embroidering articles,
either for church use or for household furniture, was by darning or
working the subject upon linen netting. This was called net-work,
filatorium, as we learn from the Exeter inventory, where we read that
its cathedral possessed in 1327 three pieces of it for use at the
altar: one in particular for throwing over the desk. These thread
embroideries were chiefly wrought during the fourteenth century; but as
early as 1295 St. Paul’s had a cushion of the kind.

[Illustration: Embroidered hangings of a bed; from a MS. of the
fifteenth century, in the British museum.]

Crochet, knitting done with linen thread, and the thick kinds of lace
wrought (chiefly in Flanders) upon the cushion with bobbins, were much
employed under the name of nun’s lace from the sixteenth century and
upwards, for bordering altar-cloths, albs, and every sort of towel
required for church purposes.


Tapestry is neither real weaving nor true embroidery, but in a manner
unites in its working those two processes into one. Though wrought in
a loom and upon a warp stretched out along its frame, it has no woof
thrown across those threads with a shuttle or any like appliance but
its weft is done with many short threads, all variously coloured and
put in by a needle. It is not embroidery, though so very like it, for
tapestry is not worked upon what is really a web, having both warp and
woof, but upon a series of closely set fine strings.

From the way in which tapestry is spoken of in Holy Writ we may be sure
that the art is very old; and if it did not take its first rise in
Egypt, we are led by the same authority to conclude that it soon became
successfully cultivated by the people of that land. The woman in the
book of Proverbs says: “I have woven my bed with cords. I have covered
it with painted tapestry, brought from Egypt.” We find, therefore, not
only that it was employed as an article of household furniture among
the Israelites, but that the Egyptians were the makers.

From Egypt through western Asia the art of tapestry-making found its
way to Europe, and after many ages at last to England. Among the other
manual labours followed in religious houses this handicraft was one;
and monks became some of the best workmen. The altars and the walls of
their churches were hung with tapestry. Matthew Paris tells us that
among other ornaments which, in the reign of Henry the first, abbot
Geoffrey had made for his church of St. Alban’s were three reredoses;
the first a large one wrought with the finding of the body of St.
Alban; the other two figured with the parables of the man who fell
among thieves, and of the prodigal son. While in London in the year
1316 Simon abbot of Ramsey bought looms, staves, shuttles, and a slay:
“pro weblomes emptis xx^s. Et pro staves ad easdem vj^d. Item pro iiij
shittles pro eodem opere ij^s vj^d. Item in j. slay pro textoribus
viij^d.” Collier, in his history, quotes a letter from Giffard, one of
the commissioners for the suppression of the smaller houses, written
to Cromwell; in which he says, speaking of the monastery of Wolstrope
in Lincolnshire: “Not one religious person there but that he can and
doth use either imbrothering, writing books with very fair hand, making
their own garments, carving, painting, or graving, etc.”

We may collect from Chaucer that working tapestry was not an uncommon
trade; among his pilgrims he mentions in the prologue,

    An haberdasher and a carpenter,
    A webbe, a dyer, and a tapisser.

Pieces of English-made tapestry still remain. That fine though greatly
damaged specimen at St. Mary’s hall, Coventry, representing the
marriage of Henry the sixth, is one; a second is the curious reredos
for an altar, belonging to the vintner’s company; this last is figured
with St. Martin on horseback cutting his cloak in two that he might
give one half to a poor man, and with St. Dunstan singing mass. A
third piece, of large size and in good preservation, is in private
possession, and hangs upon the wall in a house in Cornwall. It is one
of four pieces, of which two have been lost, representing the marriage
of Henry the seventh and Elizabeth of York; and was probably made about
the year 1490.

The art of weaving tapestry was successfully followed in many parts of
France and throughout ancient Flanders; where secular trade-guilds
were formed for its especial manufacture in many of the towns. Several
of these places won for themselves an especial fame; but so far, at
last, did Arras outrun them all that arras-work came to be the common
word, both here and on the continent, to mean all sorts of tapestry,
whether wrought in England or abroad. Thus the fine hangings for the
choir of Canterbury cathedral, now at Aix-en-Provence, though probably
made at home by his own monks and given to that church by prior
Goldston in 1595, are spoken of as arras-work: “de arysse subtiliter

[Illustration: Banner of the tapestry workers of Lyons.]

Arras is but one among other terms by which, during the middle ages,
tapestry was called. Its earliest name was Saracenic work; “opus
Saracenicum;” and, at first, tapestry was wrought as in the east, in
a low or horizontal loom. The artisans of France and Flanders were
the first to introduce the upright or vertical frame, afterwards
known abroad as “de haute lisse,” in contradistinction to the low or
horizontal frame called “de basse lisse.” Workmen who kept to the
unimproved loom were known, in the trade, as Saracens, for retaining
the method of their paynim teachers; and their work, Saracenic. In
the year 1339 John de Croisettes, a Saracen-tapestry worker living
at Arras, sells to the duke of Touraine a piece of gold Saracenic
tapestry figured with the story of Charlemagne: “Jean de Croisettes,
tapissier Sarrazinois demeurant à Arras, vend au duc de Touraine un
tapis sarrazinois à or de l’histoire de Charlemaine.” The high frame,
however, soon superseded the low one; and among the pieces of tapestry
belonging to Philippe duke of Bourgogne and Brabant many are especially
entered as of the high frame; one of which is thus described: “ung
grant tapiz de haulte lice, sauz or, de l’istoire du duc Guillaume de
Normandie comment il conquist Engleterre.” A very fine example is still
to be seen in the collection at the Louvre, representing the history of
St. Martin.

[Illustration: The legend of St. Martin.--From a piece of tapestry of
the fourteenth century in the Louvre.]

With the upright, as with the flat frame, the workman had to grope in
the dark a great deal upon his path. In both, he was obliged to put
in the threads on the back or wrong side of the piece, following his
sketch as best he could behind the strings or warp. As the face was
downward in the flat frame it was much less easy to observe and correct
a fault. In the upright frame he might go in front, and with his own
work in open view on one hand and the original design full before him
on the other, he could mend as he went on, step by step, the smallest
mistake, were it but a single thread. Put side by side, when finished,
the pieces from the upright frame were in beauty and perfection far
beyond those from the flat one. We can scarcely particularize the
details in which that superiority consisted, for not one single flat
sample is to be identified as certain from evidence within our reach.
It is possible that at South Kensington the specimens nos. 1296 and
1465 are “Saracenic;” that is, wrought in the low flat loom, or “de
basse lisse;” but all the rest are of the “de haute lisse,” worked in
the upright frame. The “weaver” is among the trades engraved in the
curious volume printed at Frankfort in 1574, _de mechanicis artibus_,
with plates by Amman.

When the illuminators of manuscripts began to put in golden shadings
all over their painting the tapestry-workers did the same. Such a
manner cannot be relied on as a criterion whereby to judge of the exact
place where any specimen of tapestry had been wrought, or to tell its
precise age. To work figures on a golden ground and to shade garments,
buildings, and landscapes with gold, are two different things.
Upon several pieces at South Kensington gold thread has been very
plentifully used, but the metal is of so debased a quality that it has
become almost black.

The use of tapestry for church decoration and household furniture, both
in England and abroad, was for a long period very great. Many large
pieces, mostly of a scriptural character, were provided by cardinal
Wolsey for his palace at Hampton court. In the next generation, a very
famous set was made in Flanders, which for many years decorated the
walls of the House of Lords: it represented the defeat of the Spanish
Armada. This magnificent memorial was destroyed in the fire of 1834.
One fragment only is known to exist. This piece was cut out to make
way for a gallery at the time of the trial of queen Caroline, and was
secreted by a German servant of the Lord Chamberlain. The relic was
bought some years after for £20 and presented to the corporation of
Plymouth, who still possess it.

[Illustration: The Weaver; from the engraving by J. Amman.]

The most beautiful series now in the world is in the Vatican at Rome,
and may be judged of by looking at a few of the original cartoons (at
present in the S. K. museum). Duke Cosimo tried to set up tapestry work
at Florence but did not succeed. Later, Rome produced some good things;
among others, the fine copy of Da Vinci’s Last Supper still hung up on
Maunday Thursday. England made several attempts to re-introduce the
manufacture: first at Mortlake, then afterwards in London, at Soho.
Works from these two establishments may be met with. At Northumberland
house there was a room hung with large pieces of tapestry wrought at
Soho, and for that mansion, in the year 1758. The designs were by
Francesco Zuccherelli and consisted of landscapes composed of hills
crowned here and there with the standing ruins of temples or strewed
with broken columns, among which groups of country folks are wandering
and amusing themselves. Mortlake and Soho were failures. Not so the
Gobelins at Paris, as every one well knows.

In many English houses, especially in the country, good samples of
late Flemish tapestry may be found. Close to London, Holland house
is adorned with some curious specimens, particularly in the raised
style. An earlier example (engraved on the next page) of the fifteenth
century, representing the marriage of Louis XII. and Anne of Brittany
is in a foreign collection.

Imitated tapestry existed here long ago under the name of “stayned
cloth,” and the workers of it were embodied into a London guild. At the
beginning of the sixteenth century Exeter cathedral had several pieces
of old painted or “stayned” cloth: “i front stayned cum crucifixo,
Maria et Johanne, Petro et Paulo; viij panni linei stayned, etc.” The
great use at that time of such articles in household furniture may be
witnessed in the will, 1503, of Katherine lady Hastings who bequeaths,
besides several other such pieces, “an old hangin of counterfeit arres
of Knollys, which now hangeth in the hall and all such hangyings of
old bawdekyn, or lynen paynted as now hang in the chappell.” We may
also remember that Falstaff speaks of it as an illustration easily
understood; he says that his troops are “as ragged as Lazarus in the
painted cloth.”

Carpets are akin to tapestry, and though the use of them may perhaps
be not so ancient yet is very old. Here, again, we must look to the
people of Asia for the finest as well as the earliest examples of
this textile. Mediæval specimens are rare anywhere, and we are glad to
recommend attention to two pieces of that period fortunately in the
collection at South Kensington, no. 8649, of the fourteenth century,
and no. 8357, of the sixteenth, both of Spanish make.

[Illustration: Marriage of Louis XII. and Anne of Brittany.]

The chambers of our royal palaces and the chancels of our parish
churches used to be strewed with rushes. When however they could afford
it the authorities of our cathedrals, even in very early times, spread
the sanctuary with carpets; and at last old tapestry came to be so
employed, as now in Italy. Among such coverings for the floor before
the altar Exeter had a large piece of Arras cloth figured with the life
of the duke of Burgundy, the gift of one of its bishops, Edmund Lacy,
in 1420; besides two large carpets, one bestowed by bishop Nevill in
1456, the other, of a chequered pattern, by lady Elizabeth Courtney:
“carpet et panni coram altari sternendi; i pannus de Arys de historia
ducis Burgundie; i larga carpeta, etc.” In an earlier inventory we
find that among the “bancaria” or bench-coverings in the choir of the
same cathedral, one was a large piece of English-made tapestry with a
fretted pattern. It is very probable that as the work of the Record
Commission goes on, and our ancient historians are printed, evidence
may be found that the looms at work in all our great monasteries among
other webs wrought carpets. From existing testimony we believe that
such must have been the practice at Croyland, where abbot Egelric (the
second of the name) gave to that church, before the year 992, “two
large foot-cloths [so carpets were then called] woven with lions to be
laid out before the high altar on great festivals, and two shorter ones
trailed all over with flowers, for the feast days of the apostles.” The
quantity of carpeting in our palaces may be seen by the way in which
Leland tells us that “my lady the queen’s rooms” were strewed with them
“when she took her chamber.”


The value of such a collection of textile fabrics as that at South
Kensington can scarcely be overrated. Without such aid it is not
possible for the painter or the historian to bring before his own mind,
much less bring before another’s, a true representation of ancient
ceremonies and pageants. Whether his subject be a coronation or a royal
marriage, a queen’s “taking her chamber,” a progress, or a funeral,
he cannot correctly set forth the splendour or the details of the
occasion, unless he can refer to existing examples of the cloths of
gold, the figured velvets, the rich embroidery, or the splendid silks,
which used to be worn of old. Take for example nos. 1310 and 8624. Upon
these are figured stags with tall branching horns, couchant, chained,
upturning their antlered heads to sunbeams darting down upon them amid
a shower of rain; and beneath the stags are eagles. This Sicilian
textile, woven about the end of the fourteenth century, brings to
one’s mind the bronze recumbent figure of a king in Westminster abbey.
It is that of Richard the second; made for him before his downfall,
and by two coppersmiths of London, Nicholas Broker and Godfrey Prest.
This effigy, once finely gilt, is as remarkable for its beautiful
workmanship as for the elaborate manner in which the cloak and kirtle
worn by the king are diapered all over with a pattern, copied from
the silken stuff out of which those garments must have been cut for
his personal wear while living. The pattern consists of a sprig of
the planta genesta, the humble broom plant--the haughty Plantagenet’s
device--along with a couchant hart chained and gazing straight
forwards, and above it a cloud with rays darting up from behind. These
were Richard’s favourite cognizances: the one from his grandfather
Edward the third; the other from his mother Joan of Kent. It is very
probable that the king’s dress was of the same kind of silk Sicilian
textile as the examples just referred to: and that those very examples
are portions of pieces wrought, perhaps at Palermo, for the court of
Richard. They are of the same date and they show his devices; the
chained hart and the sunbeams issuing from a cloud.

The seemliness, not to say comfort, of private life was improved by
the use of textiles. Let the historian contrast the custom even in a
royal palace, during the middle ages, with that now followed in every
tradesman’s home. Then straw and rushes were strewed in houses upon the
floor in every room; and Wendover, in his life of St. Thomas, speaks of
the king’s courtiers platting knots with the litter, and flinging them
with a gibe at a man who had been slighted by the prince. Not quite
a hundred years later when Eleanor of Castile came to London for her
marriage with our first Edward she found her lodgings furnished, under
the directions of the Spanish courtiers who had arrived before her,
with hangings and curtains of silk around the walls, and carpets spread
upon the ground. This offended some of the people; more of them, as
Matthew Paris records, laughed at the thought that such costly things
were laid down to be walked upon.

Take, again, the famous Syon cope. Not only is it full of interest to
writers upon liturgies and rituals but of even more to the herald and
genealogist. Covered as its orphreys are with armorial bearings, this
cope carries with it evidences as important and as valuable as any
contemporary roll of arms; and no inquirer into the pedigrees of the
ancient families of the Percies or Ferrers, of Cliffords or Botelers,
and of many others, can afford to neglect it.

We have several records of evidence in courts of law taken from
heraldic embroideries upon robes and vestments. In the famous
controversy between the houses of Scrope and Grosvenor, in the
fourteenth century, inquiries were made and proofs were offered on both
sides as to the right of bearing upon their shields the bend _or_ upon
a field _azure_. Witnesses produced at Westminster corporas cases,
copes, and albs embroidered with the arms of Scrope. Chaucer was one of
the witnesses; and said he had seen those arms on banners and vestments
and commonly called the arms of Scrope. Again; the fact that in her
wardrobe was found a vestment embroidered with the royal arms was
brought forward to prove the charge of treason against the old countess
of Salisbury, the mother of cardinal Pole; and for which crime she was

Collections of ancient textiles are of still greater use to students
of ecclesiastical history and church rituals than even to the secular
historian. It is probable that the greater number of the specimens
which now exist formed originally portions of sacred vestments and
furniture for altars. Formerly so common, fragments even of such cloths
and robes have become of very great rarity, especially in England;
where for the last two or three centuries the use of the numerous old
church vestments and decorations has entirely ceased.

Again, for example: the three cases nos. 5958, 8329, and 8327 are of
the kind known as the “capsella cum serico decenter ornata” of the
mediæval writers; small cases or boxes decently fitted up with silk;
or the “capsula corporalium,” the box in which were kept the corporals
or square pieces of fine linen, required for service during holy week.
The name as well as the use of this appliance is very old, and both are
spoken of in the very ancient ‘Ordines Romani’ edited by Mabillon. One
of these, in the rubric for Good Friday, speaks of the Host as having
been kept in the corporal’s case or box: “in capsula corporialium.” In
England, such small wooden boxes covered with silks and velvets richly
embroidered were once employed for the same purpose: and several are
mentioned in the Exeter inventories.

The two pyx-cloths, nos. 8342 and 8691, have an especial interest for
the student of mediæval liturgy. There was a custom during the middle
ages in England, as well as in France and several other countries on
the continent, of keeping the Eucharist hung up over the high altar
beneath a canopy, within a pyx of gold, silver, ivory, or enamel,
mantled with a fine linen cloth or veil. This veil for the pyx was
sometimes embroidered with golden thread and coloured silks. Such an
one is mentioned in the records of the Exchequer, edited by Palgrave:
among the valuables belonging to Richard the second in Haverford castle
and sent by the sheriff of Hereford to the exchequer, at the beginning
of the reign of Henry the fourth, were “i coupe d’or pour le Corps Ihu
Cryst. i towayll ove (avec) i longe parure de mesure la suyte.”

Several names were given to this fine linen covering. In the inventory
of things taken from Dr. Caius, and in the college of his own founding
at Cambridge, are “corporas clothes, with the pix and ‘sindon’ and
canopie.” This variety in nomenclature doubtless has led some writers
to state that before Mary queen of Scots laid her head upon the block
she had a “corporal,” strictly so called, bound over her eyes: as it is
given in one of our histories of England, “a handkerchief in which the
Eucharist had formerly been enclosed.” But this bandage must have been
the veil for a pyx. As Mary wrought much with her needle, and specimens
of her work yet remain at Chatsworth and at Greystock, this piece may
have been embroidered by her own hand and perhaps also had been once

One of these old English pyx or Corpus Christi cloths, was found a few
years ago at the bottom of a chest in Hessett church, Suffolk. As it
is a remarkable specimen of the ingenious handicraft of our mediæval
countrywomen it deserves description. To make this pyx-cloth a piece of
thick linen, about two feet square, was chosen, and being marked off
into small equal widths on all its four edges, the threads at every
other space were, both in the warp and woof, pulled out. The checquers
or squares so produced were then drawn in by threads tied on the under
side, having the shape of stars, so well and delicately worked that,
till it had been narrowly looked into, the piece was thought to be
guipure lace. An old alb, no. 8710, and an amice, 8307, having the
apparels yet remaining upon both, are well worth attention on account
of somewhat similar curious ornamental needlework in an intricate
manner. In the middle ages in England it was not unusual to suspend
upon pastoral staffs, just below the crook, a piece of fine linen. We
see them represented on effigies and in illuminations; but existing
examples are of the utmost rarity. Two are at South Kensington: nos.
8279 A, and 8662.

There are also there several specimens of the christening cloaks,
anciently in use. These were not only conspicuous in royal christenings
but, varying in costliness according to the parent’s rank, were handed
down in inventories and wills. At the christening of Arthur prince of
Wales, eldest son of Henry the eighth, “my lady Cecill, the queen’s
eldest sister, bare the prince wrapped in a mantell of cremesyn clothe
of golde furred with ermyn,” etc. Shakespeare makes the shepherd, in
the Winter’s tale, cry out, “Here’s a sight for thee; look thee, a
bearing cloth for a squire’s child!” A well-to-do tradesman, whose will
is printed among the Bury wills, bequeathed in 1648 to his daughter
Rose his “beareing cloath, such ... linnen as is belonginge to infants
at their tyme of baptisme.”

Small square pieces of embroidered linen are sometimes found in country
houses in some old chest, of which the original use is said not to be
now known. But in most cases these were made for children’s quilts; and
very often have the emblems of the evangelists figured at the corners:
reminding us of the nursery rhyme, once common both in England and

    “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
     Bless the bed that I lie on.”

The quilts also for grown people were ornamented in the same way. At
Durham, in 1446, in the dormitory of the priory was a quilt “cum iiij
or evangelistis in corneriis.”

Very few examples now exist of the ceremonial shoe anciently worn by
bishops. These were of velvet, or damask, or strong linen embroidered.
One is preserved at South Kensington, no. 1290: another, once worn by
Waynflete bishop of Winchester, is still at Magdalen college, Oxford.
We learn from the York wills that these shoes were a part of the
episcopal vestments: bishop Pudsey left his mitre, staff, and sandals,
“et cætera episcopalia” to Durham cathedral in 1195. Later the name of
“sabatines” was given them; and archbishop Bowet’s inventory mentions
two pairs: “pro j pare de sabbatones, brouddird et couch’ cum perell’;
pro j pare de sabbatones de albo panno auri.”

Collections of textile fabrics are of the highest value to the
artist. There is none, anywhere, so rich or complete as that at South
Kensington; and before it was purchased for public use, painters were
glad to refer to any scanty collection in private hands, or to old
pictures or illuminated manuscripts, or engravings.

But, now, artists may see pieces of the actual stuffs represented in
the pictures, say, of the national Gallery. For example: in Orcagna’s
coronation of the blessed Virgin the blue silk diapered in gold, with
flowers and birds, hung as a back ground; our Lord’s white tunic
diapered in gold with foliage; the mantle of His mother made of the
same stuff; St. Stephen’s dalmatic of green samit, diapered with
golden foliage, are Sicilian in design and copied from the rich silks
which came, in the middle of the fourteenth century, from the looms
of Palermo. While standing before Jacopo di Casentino’s St. John our
eye is drawn to the orphrey on that evangelist’s chasuble embroidered,
after the Tuscan style, with barbed quatrefoils, shutting in the
busts of apostles. Isotta da Ramini, in her portrait by Pietro della
Francesca, wears a gown made of velvet and gold like the cut velvets at
South Kensington.

So, again, instead of copying patterns taken from the rich cloth of
gold worn by St. Laurence in Francia’s picture, or from the mantle of
the doge in that by Cappaccio, or from the foot-cloths on the steps
in the pictures by Melozzo da Forli, he may find for his authorities
in the same collection existing specimens of contemporary and similar

Not merely artists of a higher class but decorators also may be equally
benefited by the patterns and examples preserved of old wall-hangings
and tapestry. From early times up to the middle of the sixteenth
century our cathedrals and parish churches, our castles and manorial
houses, in short the dwellings of the wealthy everywhere, used to be
ornamented with wall-painting done not in “fresco” but in “secco;”
that is, distemper. Upon high festivals the walls of the churches were
overspread with tapestry and needlework; so, too, those in the halls of
palaces, for some solemn ceremonial.

Warton, in his history of English poetry, gives a passage from
Bradshaw’s life of St. Werburgh written late in the sixteenth century,
from which a few lines are well worth quotation. He is describing how a
large hall was arrayed for a great feast:

    All herbes and flowers, fragraunt, fayre and swete
    Were strawed in halles, and layd under theyr fete.
    Clothes of gold and arras were hanged in the hall
    Depaynted with pyctures and hystoryes manyfolde,
    Well wroughte and craftely.

The story of Adam, Noe, and his shyppe; the twelve sones of Jacob; the
ten plagues of Egypt, and--

    Duke Josue was joyned after them in pycture,

           *       *       *       *       *

    Theyr noble actes and tryumphes marcyall
    Freshly were browdred in these clothes royall

           *       *       *       *       *

    But over the hye desse in pryncypall place
    Where the sayd thre kynges sat crowned all
    The best hallynge hanged as reason was,
    Whereon were wrought the ix orders angelicall,
    Dyvyded in thre ierarchyses, not cessing to call,
    _Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus_, blessed be the Trynite,
    _Dominus Deus Sabaoth_, thre persons in one deyte.

Specimens of tapestry of the later mediæval period may not uncommonly
be found: but not so pieces of room hangings, “hallings,” such as those
at South Kensington, nos. 1370, 1297, and 1465. Similar examples are,
we believe, unknown.

We will add a few words only on one other, and that not a trivial,
part of ancient dress; namely, gloves. Formerly these were much more
ornamented than now; and, when meant for ladies’ wear, sometimes
perfume was bestowed upon them. Among the new year’s day presents
to queen Mary, before she came to the throne, was “a payr of gloves
embrawret with gold.” A year afterwards “x payr of Spanyneshe gloves
from a duches in Spayne” came to her; and but a month before,
Mrs. Whellers had sent to her highness “a pair of swete gloves.”
Shakespeare, true to the manners of his day, after making Autolycus
chant the praises of his

    Lawn as white as driven snow;
    Cyprus, black as e’er was crow;
    Gloves, as sweet as damask roses;

puts this into the mouth of the shepherdess: “Come, you promised me a
tawdry lace, and a pair of sweet gloves.” We may find a pair of such
gloves in the South Kensington collection, no. 4665.

It may be proper to add, in conclusion, that the greater part of the
very valuable and extensive collection of mediæval textile fabrics at
South Kensington was collected by Dr. Bock, a canon of Aix la Chapelle;
and purchased from him about the year 1864.

[Illustration: State gloves formerly belonging to Louis XIII.]


  Acca, silks,                                                        70

  Amasis, his linen corslet,                                           5

  Anne of Cleves, her pall of cloth of gold,                          41

  Areste, cloth of,                                                   74

    „     not Arras,                                                  75

  Aristotle first mentions silk,                                       8

  Arras, a name for tapestry,                                         97

  Aurelian, refuses his wife a silk robe,                              9

  Babylon, embroideries,                                              79

  Baldachino, from baudekin,                                          42

  Banner of Strasburg,                                                92

    „    at Lyons,                                                    97

  Bath, famous for weaving,                                           65

  Baudekin, a costly stuff,                                           40

     „      origin of name,                                           40

  “Batuz,” its meaning,                                               90

  Block-printed linens,                                               67

  Blodbendes,                                                         11

  Blodius, blue colour,                                               76

  Boadicea, her cloak,                                                 3

  Bordalisaunder, explained,                                          72

  British bards, distinction of dress,                                 3

  Bruges, her looms famous,                                           67

  Buckram, why so called,                                             72

  Byzantine textiles,                                                 50

     „      not good examples at South Kensington,                    50

  Cadas, or carduus, a silken stuff,                                  30

  Camoca, or camak, how used,                                         30

  Canvas, origin of name,                                              4

  Care-cloth, explained,                                              72

  Carpets,                                                           101

  Cecily, Saint, her robe,                                            16

  Cendal explained,                                                   27

  Chasubles of stauracin,                                             37

      „     not to be made of fustian,                                73

  Childeric, his burial garment,                                      16

  Chinese textiles,                                                   49

     „    patterned silks,                                            71

  Chrysoclavus explained,                                             35

  Ciclatoun,                                                          18

  Cingula, explained,                                                 12

  Cloaks for christenings,                                           108

  Cloth of gold, two kinds,                                           19

    „   “stayned”,                                                   101

  Cloths of estate,                                                   42

  Copper used to imitate gold thread,                                 21

  Cotton, native home,                                                 3

  “Colayn” ribbon,                                                    69

  Cologne orphrey webs,                                               69

  Colours of silks, mediæval,                                         75

  Corporal, said to be used by Mary of Scotland,                     107

  Crochet, or “nun’s lace”,                                           94

  Cyclas, a splendid garment,                                         27

  Dalmatic of Charlemagne at Rome,                                    38

     „     Byzantine,                                                 50

  Darius, his dress described,                                        15

  Damasks, French,                                                    68

     „     why so named,                                              71

  “De fundato,” a pattern on silk,                                    38

  Diaper, a silk,                                                     32

     „    possible origin of name,                                    32

     „    the meaning extended,                                       33

  Dorneck, explained,                                                 72

  Durham cathedral, vestments,                                    25, 28

  Eastern princes, insignia on their robes,                           45

  Eagle and other birds, woven on standards,                          47

  Edward the first, his gift of “cyclases”,                           27

  Episcopal shoes,                                                   109

  Egyptian work of the loom,                                           5

     „     silver and gold wire,                                      22

     „     loom,                                                      79

  Embroidery,                                                         79

      „      covering ancient dresses,                                80

      „      raised on book covers,                                   86

      „      involved great labour,                                   86

  English textiles,                                                   64

  Exeter cathedral, vestments,                 25, 28,  29, 31,  33, 46,
                                                      48, 58, 63, 65, 73

  Eylesham, famous for linen,                                         64

  “Filatorium,” its meaning,                                          93

  Filfot, explained,                                                  38

  Flax, grows wild in Britain,                                         4

   „    earliest history,                                              4

  Flemish textiles,                                                   66

  Florence, her silks and velvets,                                    63

     „      specimens at South Kensington,                            63

     „      cut-work,                                                 88

  French silks,                                                       68

  Frontal, at Westminster,                                            90

  Fustian, known in 13th century,                                     31

     „     originally from Egypt,                                     73

     „     woven at Naples,                                           74

  Fygury, silks so called,                                            34

  Gammadion, explained,                                               36

  Garland, an Englishman,                                             11

  Gems, etc., sewn on textiles,                                       89

  Genoa, her silks,                                                   59

    „    specimens at South Kensington,                               60

  Gilding, used for textiles,                                         21

  Gloves, embroidered,                                               111

  Gold, used in weaving,                                              15

   „    cloths made of gold alone,                                16, 17

   „    see “copper”

  Greek monks, first bring silkworms,                                  9

  Haconbie church vestments,                                          67

  Hebrew word used improperly for silk,                                7

    „    embroidery,                                                  79

  Heliogabalus, first wore whole-silk,                                 9

  Hemp, native home,                                                   3

  Heraldic charges on Sicilian silk,                                  56

  Herod, his dress of woven silver,                                   22

  Holosericum, explained,                                             24

  Honorius, his wife’s robe,                                          16

  Hullings, _i.e._ hangings,                                      46, 66

  Imperial, a rich silk,                                              39

     „      meaning of the name,                                      40

  Indian, ancient splendour of dress,                                 15

    „     textiles,                                                   50

  Italy, northern, mediæval silks,                                    58

  Irish cloth, in King John’s time,                                   66

  King Henry the third orders cloth of Areste,                        74

   „   Edward the second orders English embroidery,                   85

   „   Richard the second, gifts to Haverford castle,                 90

  Lama d’oro of Italy,                                                15

  Letters woven on textiles, an ancient practice,                     47

  Liber pontificalis, a valuable book,                                35

  Lincoln cathedral, vestments,                                       23

  Looms, upright and horizontal,                                      64

  Lucca, her silks,                                                   58

    „    cloths of gold,                                              58

    „    specimens at South Kensington,                               59

  “Marble” silk,                                                      76

  Milan, her textiles,                                                63

  Moresco-Spanish textiles,                                           53

  Mortuary palls,                                                     43

  Mummy cloths,                                                        5

    „   unmixed linen,                                                 6

  Muslin, long used in the east,                                      74

  Muslin, origin of name,                                             74

  Neckham, first describes the silkworm,                              13

  “Network” on linen,                                                 93

  Nuns, anciently, exhorted not to weave coloured robes,              11

   „    English, employed in weaving,                                 64

  “Opus” plumarium,                                                   81

    „    pectineum,                                                   81

    „    Anglicum,                                                    82

    „    consutum,                                                    88

    „       „     good example at South Kensington,                   89

  Organzine, explained,                                               26

  Palls, of rich stuffs,                                              41

    „    cloth of,                                                    42

  Paul’s (St.) cathedral, vestments,        25, 39,  45, 50,  60, 65, 75

  Paper, employed by Japanese for clothing,                            1

  “Passing” for embroidery,                                           93

  Persian textiles,                                                   49

  “Phrygian” work,                                                    79

  Plaited woollen stuff among the Britons,                             2

  Polystauron, why so called,                                         36

  Pyx cloths, at South Kensington,                                   107

   „  curious example,                                               108

  Queen Matilda takes the Abingdon vestments,                         83

  Quilts for children,                                               108

  Rayns (Rennes) cloths,                                              68

  Rhenish cut-work,                                                   88

  Samit,                                                          10, 19

    „   explained,                                                    24

  Sandal, explained,                                                  27

    „     of bishops,                                                109

  Saracenic textiles,                                         46, 58, 99

  Sarcenet, explained,                                                28

  Satin, not unknown in middle ages,                                  29

    „    early names,                                                 29

  Sicilian textiles,                                                  54

     „     three styles,                                              54

  Silk,                                                                8

   „   unknown in ancient Egypt,                                       8

   „   in South Italy, 11th century,                                  10

  Silk, its use at first condemned for garments at Rome,               8

  Silver, woven into webs,                                            21

  Skins, employed for clothing,                                        1

  Snood, of the Anglo-saxons,                                         12

  Spangles, how anciently used,                                       92

  Spindle tree,                                                        2

  Spinning, ancient daily work of women,                               2

  Stauracin, origin of name,                                          36

  Stragulatæ, explained,                                              39

  Street hangings,                                                    43

  Subsericum, explained,                                              25

  Syndon, explained,                                                  28

  Syon Cope, peculiar work,                                           83

   „   its historical value,                                         105

  Syrian textiles,                                                    52

  Taffeta, explained,                                                 28

  Tapestry,                                                           95

     „     Egyptian and Jewish,                                       95

     „     English at Coventry and in Cornwall,                       96

     „     two kinds of frame,                                        97

     „     of the Spanish armada,                                    100

     „     imitated,                                                 101

  Tars, cloth of, probably cashmere,                                  31

     „      „                                                         76

  Textile, meaning of the term,                                        1

     „     the value of collections,                            104, &c.

  Tiraz, of an Arab palace,                                           45

  Tissue,                                                             20

  Translucent silk, used in MSS.,                                      8

  Thread, gold, varieties of quality,                                 23

  Tram, explained,                                                    26

  U, the letter, used in Italian silks,                               56

  Velvet, its history obscure,                                        31

    „     vestments, first mentioned in England,                      31

    „     origin of the name,                                         31

    „     varieties of weaving,                                       32

    „     a peculiar ornament,                                        63

    „     of Flanders,                                                67

  Venetian textiles,                                                  60

     „     characteristics,                                           62

     „     linens,                                                    62

  Warwick, earl, his banners of satin,                                29

     „     and dresses,                                               92

  Westminster copes, preserved at Stonyhurst,                         63

  Wire, gold and silver, for weaving,                                 22

   „    machine for drawing first used,                               23

  Worcester, famous for cloths,                                       65

  Worms, (silkworms) first brought to Europe,                          9

  Worsted, in Norfolk, a new method of carding wool there,            65

  York cathedral vestments,                                       67, 72

   „   Princess Elizabeth of, her velvet gown,                        72

  Yprès, not origin of name of diaper,                                33

    „    linens,                                                      68



    1. TEXTILE FABRICS. By the Very Rev. DANIEL ROCK, D.D. With
         numerous Woodcuts.

         numerous Woodcuts.

         POLLEN. With numerous Woodcuts.

    4. MAIOLICA. By C. DRURY E. FORTNUM, F.S.A. With numerous

    5. MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS. By CARL ENGEL. With numerous Woodcuts.


Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were made consistent when a
predominant preference was found in the original book; otherwise they
were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalanced quotation
marks were remedied when the change was obvious, and otherwise left

The index was not fully checked for proper alphabetization or correct
page references.

In the List of Woodcuts, the reference to the illustration on page 94
was added by the Transcriber.

Page 19: “ř” represents an “r” with a tilde “~”; “š” represents an “s”
with a tilde “~”.

Pages 19 and 96: Letters preceded by “^” are superscripts.

Pages 36, 37, 38: the illustrations on these pages are multi-part
symbols. In the original book, they were printed in-line with the
surrounding text, but in this eBook, they are shown on lines of their

Page 110: “Isotta da Ramini, in her portrait by Pietro della Francesca”
was printed that way, as was “Cappaccio”.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Textile Fabrics" ***

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