May I please grope your houppelande?

By | January 28th, 2014|costume, language, medieval, SCA|

Medieval statue of a man wearing a long houppelande…a question I asked a gentleman wearing a houppelande made of luscious-looking fabric at the Pennsic War, a Society for Creative Anachronism event last summer.

It came out more suggestive than I intended, but luckily the gentleman was also a fabric geek so he understood!

However, it once more made me aware that the English language needs a word that accurately describes that cloth-feeling gesture so familiar to every fabriholic – that gentle touch/rub/squeeze that tells so much about a fabric.

While there is something sensual about fabric, both “grope” and “fondle” – with their unfortunate associations with unwanted sexual touching – miss the boat.

In Czech – my first language – there’s a word that does the job nicely. In English it transcribes as “shmatat” and it specifically implies touching. Not groping, not fondling. At worst, pawing – as in “get your paws off that yardage”.

And I’ve often wondered whether there’s a connection between “shmatat” and “shmata”, the Yiddish word for rag – as in “rag trade”, aka the clothing industry. I’d be very surprised if it were a coincidence.

Any etymologists of Yiddish out there who can help with this one?

The image is a statuette of a Dutch count in a long houppelande from the Dam chimney-piece, Amsterdam, ca. 1475. From ‘A History of Costume in the West’ by Francois Boucher.(photo Giraudon)

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beautiful beetles & a costume collection

By | October 26th, 2013|books, embroidery, insects, museums, stumpwork|

A book on beetle embroidery I picked up yesterday pointed me to a costume collection I’d never heard of before at the Narrya Heritage Museum (hadn’t heard of the museum before, either)!

The book, The Stumpwork, Goldwork and Surface Embroidery Beetle Collection, mentions a Victorian dress from the Narrya collection. The dress is trimmed with net embroidered with beetle wing cases – and manages to be gaudy in spite of being full coverage and made from a somber black silk.

The most interesting thing about it is that the scraps of trim left over from making it came to the museum along with the dress! That’s pretty much unique.

I’d love to hear whether any other collection has a garment and its scraps!

As for the beetle embroidery book, it’s beautiful and it’s set ideas for incorporating beetles in a design for an Elizabethan embroidered jacket or doublet – or maybe a vest – running around in my head.

More on that later, when I’ve finished reading the book & decided what I’m actually going to make…




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