Documentation Series Pt 1 – Getting Started

Starting is probably the most scary part of the documentation process. Knowing where to start, how to start, what comes first is most of the battle.


Starting is probably the most scary part of the documentation process. Knowing where to start, how to start, what comes first is most of the battle.  Today we will talk about jumping off points.

I am going to presume readers of this series have already done their research on the item they are looking to document.  If not, FULL STOP.  Documentation is all about gathering your data, both historical and actual. If you do not already have that data, there is nothing to compile and present with documentation. Throughout this series there will be information on the data you will want to try to collect so read on for that.

Gathering Data

As mentioned, there are 2 types of data you want to cover in documentation: Historical & project related (I will refer to it as “current data”). For each of these types if data you will want to have the 5 W’s and H covered as best you can; Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. For now know these are the questions you will want to have answers for in your documentation.  Below is a listing of questions that can be answered to cover these main points. Please note this list is not comprehensive, it is meant as a jumping off point. It is also “Item” specific, some of these questions would not be relevant to performance or research paper entries.

WHO (Historical) WHO (Your project)
·        Who owned it ·        Who made it
·        Who made it ·        Who contributed to the creation?
·        Who “did the thing”
·        Who requested it
WHAT (Historical) WHAT (Your Project)
·        What was it made of ·        What is it made of
·        What significance did it have or display (eg. role in society) ·        What were your goals in the making
·        What inspired it ·        What inspired it
·        What tools (if any) were used to create it ·        What tools (if any) were used to create it
·        What did it do ·        What is it supposed to do
·        What function does it serve ·        What function does it serve
WHEN (Historical) WHEN (Your Project)
·        When was it created ·        When was it created
·        When was it used ·        When was it presented
·        When was it displayed
·        When was it presented
WHERE (Historical) WHERE (Your Project)
·        Where was it made (both geographically and locally. ie. At home, in a studio, etc) ·        Where did you make it
·        Where were the raw materials sourced from ·        Where did you get the raw materials/resources
WHY (Historical) WHY (Your Project)
·        Why was it made ·        Why did you decide on this project?
HOW (Historical) HOW (Your Project)
·        How was it made ·        How was it made

Documentation Series – Preamble

Ambrosius Holbein – Signboard for a Schoolmaster c. 1516

Thus begins a series of posts about documentation in the SCA, my process for creating it and the expectations judges will have at various levels of competition.

I hope with this series, people will find some answers, tips and tricks to create documentation for competition in Arts & Sciences in the SCA.  I am a costuming artisan in the Kingdom of Avacal. I have received my Grant Level award from the Kingdom of An Tir for my artistry. I have also been the Avacal Champion of A&S, the Baronies of Montengarde and Borealis’ A&S champion and I am also a Courtier Sargent of Borealis.  I have won prize tournaments and judged every level of A&S competition possible. I LOVE entering competitions, not because I want to win but because I want the feedback given on entries. That feedback is valuable, it shows an artisan where they are at, where they can improve and how people are receiving their work.

Over the course of this series, we will look at the basic starting points of research and documentation. We will also go into detail with ways to ask and answer the relevant questions in A&S documentation.  Throughout this series I will be posting examples of mine (and hopefully others) documentation and talking about the level of competition as well as strengths of the documents.

This is the handout for a class I teach on Documentation in the SCA.  Enjoy!

Documentation Made Easy

Blackwork Embroidery – Sargentry Entry

This is the documentation for a blackwork embroidery entry I did for my Sargent Trials as a Courtier.

This is the documentation for a blackwork embroidery entry I did for my Sargent Trials as a Courtier.

Hans Holbien the Younger - Darmstadt Madonna (detail)
Hans Holbien the Younger – Darmstadt Madonna (detail of Anna Meyer in her wedding gown) 1526-1528


Blackwork embroidery is common on all classes of undergarments.  It is seen on hem lines, collars and cuffs.  Periodically, blackwork is displayed as trim on an article of clothing, as seen in Hans Holbein the Youngers Darmstdat Madonna c. 1528 (above).  Depending on the wealth of the owner, different materials and colours could have been used for the stitches.  Embroidery is almost invariably done on a linen base. It is thought the lower classes may have used blackwork to emulate the much more expensive lace trimming. Blackwork is often done as silk thread on a linen base, but the upper class may have used silk thread on a silk base.[1] Blackwork was common on both male and female undergarments.

The stitch type I have used is modernly called “Double Back” the style is often referred to as “Spanish Work”, presumably after Catherine of Aragorn who popularized it in Tudor England, it is documented much earlier as shown in Chaucer’s “Cantebury Tales” of the Miller[2]:

52   White was her smock, embroidered all before
53   And even behind, her collar round about,
54   Of coal-black silk, on both sides, in and out;
Hans Holbein - Jane Pemberton Small circa. 1540
Hans Holbein – Jane Pemberton Small circa. 1540

It is also called the “Holbien Stitch” due to its regular occurrence on the garments of Holbien’s subjects.  It is generally accepted that the style of small straight stitches on evenweave fabric, often counted, was brought to mainland Europe in the 14th century from the Moors and Arabs after the crusades.[3]

Patterns were often geometric or floral[4] in design and until the influence of the printing press, they were often guarded and treasured passed through generations of women.  Samplers exist of these designs, showing various motif and fill patterns in different colours and stitches.

Ground fabric would be stretched on a wooden frame[5], and a design could be counted, traced or prick & pounced onto it.  The design could then be stitched onto the ground fabric with an even tension.  There were ordinances in some cities that embroidery could only be worked during daylight hours as this type of fine work would damage the eyes.  Blackwork was likely a woman’s craft done by the ladies of a household, but men of the embroiders guild could be commissioned.[6]

This piece of blackwork embroidery will become the waist band of a pair of fitted drawers.[7]

Linen Drawers C. 1600
Linen Drawers embroidered in silver and silver-glit thread. c. 1600 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


5.3oz 100% linen – white

100% silk Gutterman sewing thread

Wooden stretcher frame

Small embroidery needle


The pattern is from Zimmerman, Jane D. The Art of English Blackwork. Zimmerman: USA, 1996. Print. It has 2 elements, the larger and small flowers connected by a straight base line.  I have attempted to design a stitch pattern below for one arm of the large flower and the small flower.  The alternating colours denote different directions.  I teach a class on the doubleback or Holbein stitch and will post the handout in another blog article.


I cut the linen 4” wide and 49.5” long. The linen strip was zig-zagged on a sewing machine to keep it from fraying during the embroidery process.
Period Practice: In period the edges would have either been selvage because the fabric was woven to width, or possibly waxed to prevent fraying.  Most often embroidery was done on a larger piece of fabric with selvages intact and then cut out and used in its final garment.

I then sewed the linen with a whip stitch onto a stretcher frame and tensioned it by wrapping the long ends around the stretcher bars until I had a taught working surface.

Beginning with an away knot, I began working the design with a double thread of black silk and weaving the working end back under the pattern at the end of a thread.

As the pattern moved to the edge of the frame, I loosened it off and rolled it to the next un-worked section to make a continuous design.

When the design is complete, I will go back through the away knots and weave them back under the pattern.

Note: This item has been in progress for a number of years and recently through a drastic weight change. I now have sufficient embroidery to complete the drawers, which will be another post at another date.

[1] Zimmerman, J. 2

[2] Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. The Miller,

[3] De Holacombe, C. 1-3

[4] Mikhaila & Malcolm-Davies, N & J. 43

[5] Arnold, J. 5

[6] Watt, M.

[7] Arnold, J. 51


Victoria & Albert Museum. 29 July 2014. South Kensington, London, England (

Watt, Melinda. English Emberoidery of the Late Tudor and Stuart Eras. Met Museum

Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of linen shirts, smocks, neckwear, headwear and accessories for men and women c. 1540 – 1660. London: Macmilan, 2008. Print

Mikhaila, Ninya & Jane Malcolm-Davies. The Tudor Tailor. London: B T Batsford Ltd, 2006. Print

Wilkins, Lesley. Beginners Guide to Blackwork. Search Press Limited: Kent, 2002. Print

Zimmerman, Jane D. The Art of English Blackwork. Zimmerman: USA, 1996. Print

Web Gallery of Art. 29 July 2014 <

De Halcombe, Christian. “The Roots of Blackwork Embroidery” Filum Aureum, Spring 2008, Electronic




Back on the Bandwagon

Just a little update. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sewing. I am not sure if I was burned out, or frustrated with my ever-changing size, or something else. But this weekend, dear friends of mine won Crown and another was put on Vigil for the Order of Chivalry. This means I get a make a whole ton of viking garb. This excites me huge! Onward and upward to stitching. I will try to keep track of the plans and progress here.

Review – Dressed in Blue: The Impact of Woad on English Clothing, c. 1350-c. 1670

There are some persistent assumptions myths among historical costumers regarding clothing colours.  Fictions such as purple was only worn by Royalty, or pink is not an achievable colour in period continue to be handed down from one costumer to another.

It has recently come to my attention that there are some persistent assumptions myths among historical costumers regarding clothing colours.  Fictions such as purple was only worn by Royalty, or pink is not an achievable colour in period continue to be handed down from one costumer to another.


Virgin and Child with Saint Anne Artist: Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg) Date: 1519 Medium: Oil on wood Dimensions: 23 5/8 x 19 5/8 in. (60 x 49.8 cm) Classification: Paintings Credit Line: Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913 Accession Number: 14.40.633


If the goller on the girl in Virgin and Child with Saint Anne Artist: Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)  from the Met isn’t pink, I’m a monkeys uncle.

Often these tidbits are passed on with little thought to their veracity or how much harm they are doing the costuming community.

One of these “facts” recently came to me from a very reliable source (as in, they’ve written books on the subject matter and are professional historical costumers specializing in 16th century England). This “fact” was that blue was not a common colour in period and that only servants wore blue.  Since no one would want to be confused with a servant, no one wore blue who didn’t have to. Well, I can think of more then a few images of blue gowns in 16th Century German art and I’ve made a few myself.  The article Dressed in Blue: The Impart of Woad on English Clothing, c. 1350-c. 1670 by Maria Hayward addresses these assertions and assumptions using many period sources to support her claims.

Summary and points of interest:

  • In the late 14th and early 15th centuries, blue was so popular that dyers specializing in other colours launched a smear campaign against it.
  • Despite high import value and traffic, only 5% of extant pieces of textile were dyed with woad, indicating that either woad dyed textiles were less popular then trade suggests or it’s hard to detect.
  • The York livery colours were blue and murrey. Ms. Hayward speculates that this may have caused blue to go out of fashion during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Edward VI. Those monarchs would want to distance the House of Tudor from the House of York.
  • The French love affair with the colour blue remained constant throughout the time covered. The author cites the twelve French Ambassadors attending Henry and Anne Boleyns wedding  having worn an abundance of blue velvet and silk.
  • The decline in blue worn by the nobility can be directly linked to the decline in wool worn by that class of persons. The colour never went totally out of fashion, it transitioned out of everyday ware and into costumes and uniforms using more expensive fabrics such as silks and velvets.
  • Although blue wasn’t worn by the monarchy, other members of the aristocracy are noted for it, especially in their household staff. Often the closest staff of the nobility were minor aristocrats in their own right.
  • By the Seventeenth century, city constables, town watches, and apprentices are all noted for blue apparel and uniforms.
    • Apparently the term “Blue Collar worker” goes back much farther then I originally realized.
  • Blue represented Loyalty in a highly superstitious world.
  • Court entertainment often included the colour blue in it’s costuming. The Blue Knight was a feature in tournaments beginning in the mid 14th century. The concept was so well entrenched that even Henry VIII and his team wore blue uniforms on the tilt yard in 1511, 1516 and 1524.
  • Later Masques became all the rage for court entertainment. Blue was a common colour seen in those costumes. It was said to look good in candlelight and often signified the ideals of Chivalry.
  • chatsworthinigojonesdesignsforOS59.jpg
    Drawing of a Lady Masquer by Inigo Jones c. 1613

    Vestments for the clergy were often blue even at the highest level of noble clergy.




Ms. Hayward addresses the cycle of popularity of the colour blue in the late middle ages and early modern era of England in a straight forward manner.  She neither attempts to convince the reader that blue was or was not fashionable but instead provides documentation of who was wearing it, when and why. This paper provides a very solid basis for further research into the use of the colour Blue and it’s fashionableness across England and beyond.

Aprons – A Historical Overview

Aprons can be seen everywhere, on everyone in the 15 and 16th Centuries.  Worn by both men and women at work and at play, they appear to be a standard attire throughout the early modern era.

Worn by the lowest classes as working garments to offer some protection for their dearly owned clothing underneath, aprons were also worn by the highest classes as a show of status in extravagant embellishment and fine work.  Even women of the gentry would need some protection of their clothing when doing the various household tasks not trusted to the staff.

Clothing cost money.  Lots of money.  The poorer classes would have 2 maybe 3 outfits.  One for church, one for the rest of the time. They ate, drank, worked, and even slept in the same small wardrobe.  In order to maintain the best condition of their clothing, protective layers (both inside and out) were made of cheaper materials. Items such as the hemd (English: smock, Italian: chemise) and the schürze (English: apron) were generally made from linen and served this purpose.  I believe there are some records of wool aprons, but I am lacking a citation at the moment. It would make sense, since wool was nearly as cost effective as linen, although harder to clean.

Aprons in 16th century Germany are standard to a few different styles.  I will explore these designs in detail in future posts.  For now I will refer to them as “Front Aprons”, “Full Aprons” and “Shoulder Suspended”

Image 1, Center: Full Apron, Right: Front Apron
Image 2: Left: Shoulder Suspended Apron

Aprons were often smocked with either basic or elaborate embroidery, displayed cutwork and pulled thread work. The colours ranged from undyed to black, reds, blues, greens and yellows can be found in imagery of the time.  Most often, aprons were white presumably for ease of cleaning and re-bleaching for reuse.

Like head coverings, aprons are something we often neglect in our portrayals of persons in history. In our modern recreations of historical dress, we go for the flashy, big picture. Accessories are the details that blur the lines and make our garb more authentic and feel more real.

Image 1:  Costumes and moral images of the 16th century from Western and Eastern Europe, Orient, the New World and Africa – BSB Cod.icon. 361

Image 2: The Sächsische Stammamuch – Mscr.Dresd.R.3