Clothing for Tudors at all levels of society was extremely expensive. We can compare it to buying a car today! The largest amount of a Tudor’s income was spent on clothing. Because of their valuableness, the linens and woolens for ordinary citizens and the fine silks and velvets for the nobility needed special care in order to last. Linens were washed by hand with soap and water, while more precious fabrics were spot cleaned with water and kept fresh by brushing and perfuming.
Even in the finest households, clothing was handed down through family members, restructured as fashion dictated, and finally used as rags. Basic sewing stitches and repair techniques were required knowledge for women. Period stitches included the running and back stitch for seams, whip stitch for raw edges, blind stitch for hems, and the slip stitch to join seams.
Darning stockings and hose was a constant job, as footwear saw continuous use. It wasn’t uncommon for a pair of hose to be worn footless later in its lifetime when repairs were no longer helpful. Darning is a method whereby a repair can be made without patching, thus being more comfortable for the wearer. Hand darning employs the darning stitch-a running stitch in which the thread is woven in rows. The fingers of gloves (which were worn by most Tudors) could also be successfully darned for longer wear.
Invisible darning uses unwoven threads from the original fabric to affect the appearance of the original garment. This was used in finer and more expensive fabrics like silk and taffeta. Below are two 18th century samplers of darning stitches. You can see how elaborate an “art” darning clothing could be!
Left: Darning Sampler, Eliza Broadhead, 1785, England. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Right: Darning Sampler, Gerarda Garritson, 1763, Netherlands. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Watch the video below to learn how to darn your own socks in an interesting and fun way!
Women of all classes were prepared to construct shirts and shifts (simple linen undergarments) for their families. Among families of modest means, clothes were constructed by the lady of the house, whereas those with more means could be clothed with the work of a household seamstress or market town tailor. At Agecroft Hall, Mistress Dauntesey and her daughters may have sewn special adornments or embroidery onto the family’s clothing or hired the work out to a specialist.
Embroidery stitches were also learned by girls and women. Blackwork embroidery was especially popular on collars and cuffs of even modest pieces of clothing like shirts and shifts. Again, elaborate embroidery could be done by Mistress Dauntesey, her daughters, and professional seamstresses.