Confessions of a Costumier: Dress Warmly

Those that participated in Pennsbury Manor’s annual Holly Nights last week may have noticed a larger selection of winter wear for costumed interpreters.  That’s because our Sewing & Mending Society has been working hard the past couple months to create more cloaks, capes, and mitts for our clothing collection!  After last year’s bitterly cold event, we wanted to ensure that all our volunteers were as warm as possible. 


So I’d like to offer a little background on the 17th-century cloak and all the research that went into our reproductions!

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute

As with all clothing research, we use two main sources to find out how clothing was made and used.  They are both “primary” – meaning that they come directly from the period in history, rather than someone else’s later perspective on that period.  The first is 17th-century artifacts: garments that have survived from the time.  Often these are nicer, upper-class pieces, since they are made from valuable fabric that was inherited by descendents.  The early 18th-century piece seen above and below is from Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, which has a wonderful online collection of artifact images (the database can be found here).

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute. Notice the seaming on the bottom edge, seen above - fabric was typically cut in a half-circle or crescent shape, depending on how full they wanted to make the cloak. But if the fabric was not long enough, the remaining scraps could be sewn onto the sides to finish off the arc. Notice the way the back closure has been sewn into place, a variation on the styles seen below. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.