Period Materials

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This page is the catch all for textiles, buttons and anything else!

There are a lot of misconceptions in regards to what period fabrics are acceptable, and what they should look like.  If your local fabric chain store is all that you have access to, then it will be difficult to get the best fabrics.

Ebay is a great place to find interesting fabrics.... if you know what to look for and where to look.

Linen is the bread and butter fabric for a sailors impression.  The fibers that make up linen come from the flax plant, and, until cotton became manufactureable in the western world in the mid-18th Century, linen was probably the dominant non animal textile.
Linen is good for: Shirts,, Slop hose, some waistcoats, some short jackets, some Justaucorps, underclothes, stays, handkerchiefs, cravattes, and lining material

The re-enacting community debates cotton's use in Europe and America for pre-1770 use, and a lot of it is due to the fact that, along with being a textile material, it was also a descriptive term for a type of wool in the 17th and 18th century.

Cottons were expensive to make in the Western world (except for when made by slaves) as the cotton fibers are relatively short and it was difficult to economically process these fibers into threads sturdy and long enough to be used as warp threads (the threads that go the length of a piece of cloth). The ability to make these long warp threads did not appear until the middle (and therefore after the GAoP)  of the 18th century.

India, on the other hand, where labor was (and still is) cheaper than in the west, produced by hand large, quantities of cotton textiles and often on shorter looms.  These textiles, when block printed, became very popular in England. 

An example of one of these imports was a cheap light cotton from Calcutta India, that soon became known as "Calico".

These cotton textiles flooded into the English market at the end of the 17th century.  The fabric was cheap and colorful and appealed to a wide audience.  The English domestic textile industry could not compete economically with with these imports and pressure was applied to the government, which resulted in a "ban" of their importation into England.  Of course, any time you ban something, it will only become more popular, and that was the case with these cheap cotton imports. 

To meet this demand, the English textile manufacturers began to make imitations of the Indian imports by block printing designs on linen. 

Sometimes, cotton fibers were used in a blend with other fibers (Cotton was was used as  the weft, or the threads that go the width of a piece of cloth).

How does this come into play in our 21st century interpretations of 18th century fashions? 

Well, using the above history of cotton in the west doesn't give the green light to buying 3 yards of calico cotton from Jo-Annes' fabrics and whipping up a shirt out of it.  Modern cotton, and modern calico are not the same as 18th century cotton and 18th century calico.  Just like a 1915 Ford and the 2005 Ford Mustang are both cars, but that is about where the similarities end.  The weaving process, quality of the thread, printing methods, and pattern are all very different.

You can't go wrong with wool.  But we are a modern society that is used to our air conditioned cars and houses.  Most pirate events are in the Summer.  Most places that host pirate events are pretty freakin hot in the summer.  Wool has a reputation of being awfully bloody hot.  Modern re-enactors thus do not want to wear wool.

Besides that, it really is a wonderful textile.  It could be made in to fabrics using all kinds of different manufacturing techniques resulting in different weaves and finishes.  The term "Worsted" comes up often and that generally means that the long wool hair fibers have been combed in the same direction prior to spinning and making into yarn.

Wool, in the UK, was one of the dominant textiles of the GAoP.  Not all wool is scratchy army blanket stuff.  There were tropical weights, stripes, checks, medleys of color, and a whole host of other weaves, textures and colors.  If you have trouble finding "the right" stuff, drop me a line and I can point you in the right direction.

SILK (more to come)


Buttons on sailors waistcoats and coats can be brass, pewter, bone, cloth or wood.  The Admiralty contract calls for brass, white Tinn, and black buttons for waistcoats, breeches, and jackets.  On gentleman's coats and waistcoats, button seem to be cloth cover wooden moulds with some type of embroidery on them.  There are some original examples that have been recovered from sunken Spanish treasure fleets that are very interesting at the excellent site Artifacts.Org


I often get asked "What are the best kind of buttons for...." and my answer is one of those wishy washy "it depends".  The Artifacts.Org. site  has a lot of information on period buttons.  I say depends because you need to have the right kind of buttons on the particular garment that you have in mind.

For a Justaucorps, if it is a nice gentlemen's coat, made of expensive silks, wool, velvet etc, then you will need buttons and trim that reflect the expensive nature of the coat.  I always snicker when I see someone's "fancy" Justaucorps made out of "velvet" with all kinds of braids and trims.  Inevitably, the coat will have some sort of simple brass or Pewter buttons. 

 If you look at period pictures or portraits, more often then not they have buttons that are called "passementerie" buttons.  These buttons have a wooden core and are wrapped with silk and/or metallic threads (gold or silver).

passementerie buttons

       From Deerfield Museum 

   Historical Fashion in Detail

Historical Fashion in Detail

If you don't have these kinds of buttons, your next best bet would be fabric covered buttons (preferably fabric from the coat material).  Again this would be a wooden mould with a circle of fabric cut and sewn around the wooden core.

But for a "common" man's Justaucorps of linen or wool, with little embellishments, metal, or fabric covered would be fine.

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