The purpose of our website is to help 'lose yourself' in time. On this page we hope to provide recipes, songs, poems and all the little things that contribute to making the seventeenth century come to life.
Button holes were sewn in a number of different ways during the English Civil War period, but the way I know was used, and suits me best, is the one shown below. I spent so long trying to find this information, I thought I would make it available for those of us who like to pay attention to the often neglected hand sewn button hole.
The following diagram shows the process.
Measure the length of your button, and cut a slit slightly under the size by a couple of mm's. A seam shredder (a) is a handy tool for separating the threads but scissors would be OK too. Next sew all around the slit with running stitch (b). The running stitch will be sewn around later, so make it about 2mm away from the slit (c). Sew down one side vertically (d) to make the first upright of your intended stunted letter 'H'. It is a good idea to draw two parallel lines with a ruler down either side of the intended button holes, before sewing, so you have a line to follow. Sew along one of the horizontal lines (e) around the outside of the running stitch and the edge of the slit. All this stitching should be button hole stitch. Continue to sew around the slit (f and g). Finish off by disguising the loose thread by passing the thread under a line of stitching (h). The final row of button holes should look something like a ladder (i).
I recommend pinning above and below before cutting your slit, especially if you have multiple layers of material, or a silky/slippy fabric as one of your layers. You could sew around the area marked for the slit, with your running stitch, if you are especially worried about other layers of material moving before you cut.
You may be tempted to use double thread to save time. My experience is that this leads to unwanted loose pieces of thread.
After running stitches have been placed all around the 'slit', you can then bind the hole by inserting the threaded needle through the hole and then through the layers of fabric, following the line of running stitches, until, eventually, you have completely bound the edge of the hole. The hole is bound with very close button hole stitching, because there must be no fraying whatsoever: some prefer to stitch before cutting the slit so that a straighter edge is easier to achieve.
Should you peer through the glass cabinets designed to protect precious garments from molestation in costume museums, the actual sewing technique used would be virtually impossible to guess. There are some excellent books produced by the V&A, and the close ups of button holes, when inspected with a magnifying glass, do show small 'knots' along the edge of the button hole slit. Some use button hole stitch and some use blanket stitch to recreate this. It is easy to miss, and I thank Sandra Costello for pointing this out, and assume the stitching is a simple whip stitch all around the slit. When I raised this with Susan North from the V&A, she investigated the matter further and concluded:
After animated debate with several embroidery historians and tailors! I've been in touch with someone who has made reproduction early 17th century doublets for Shakespeare's Globe Theatre based on close examination of items from our collection. She......says buttonhole stitch is not blanket stitch. She very kindly sent a diagram of what she considers proper buttonhole stitch, which I attach:
The above diagram does not show the running stitch.
Some people will have some wonderful garments already made. The button holes are likely to have been machine sewn. There's no need to buy new, since it is very easy to oversew machine sewn button holes. Sometimes all you will need to do is sew the vertical 'ends' to improve the look. Why not experiment a little!
If you would like to see some examples of this stitching for yourself, take a look at 'Historical Fashion In Detail, The 17th and 18th Centuries' by Avril Hart and Susan North. If you would like to see examples of hand sewing techniques, please go to the 'Renaissance Taylor' on the 'Links' page.
On a slightly different, yet related issue, the buttons were often strung like beads on to a leather thong or other strong material. The thong was stitched to the inside of the doublet and the buttons themselves protruded through the holes on the button side. This way, delicate material was not pulled by the buttons as happens when they are sewn directly and it is easier to replace the buttons for occasions. The latter point has been suggested though I have no direct evidence of it but it does seem a good way to give a new look or perhaps even an easy way to renew/polish the buttons.
English Civil War colours are very large and sometimes the cloth can be quite heavy, especially when wet. In order to unfurl the flag spectacularly, the pole cannot be much longer than the flag itself. The pole must be tapered from handle to top, so some of the weight of the flagpole is reduced but still a weight is required at the bottom of the shaft.
Drill an 8mm hole into a tennis ball with a wood drill.
Melt 1ft of lead flashing into an old pan with ladle in the pan
Place ball into a plant pot filled with soil so that top half only is visible
Pour lead quickly via ladle into hole in ball but only half fill
Immediately insert bed fixing bolt through hole and a few mm into lead
Hold bolt until it stands alone
Pour in more lead via the ladle again, there should still be enough of a gap
Fill ball to the top
Leave until tennis ball is completely cool and rip off the ball
Drill 8mm hole in side of flag staff about 2 inches up but not completely through
Drill 8mm hole up the shaft aiming to cross the first hole.
Insert bed fixing cylindrical 'nut' in the first hole
Screw lead ball and bolt up the pole and into the 'nut'
I succeeded on this after the second attempt only. Don't worry about the lead as you can always re-use it. My first failure was due to using a pan to pour the lead. As the lead reached the top of the pan (the cooler part) it began to harden and became too difficult to pour accurately. It is very important the lead goes in the ball by the fastest route and via something that is at the same high temperature. My gas hob at home did the job well.
The above shows how to attach only one 'ball' to the bottom of the shaft. In the accompanying picture by Jacob Duck in his painting 'Guardroom with soldiers playing cards' C1640 you can see there are two weights at the base of the pole. Following the same principle, two balls can be made with the middle ball having lead poured into a small hole in the top with two bolts pushed into the tennis ball from either side (looking like a cherry on a cocktail stick). The space between the two 'balls' looks just a little bigger than a hand grip length, and could be bound with strips of leather or cord. The hand grip could be a short piece of pole that is drilled and bolted at both ends, as described above.
Looking at the picture, it can be seen that the pole was around 10 foot long, or around twice the height of the standing soldier. This would make if fairly impossible to spin the pole as some do
This is really worth doing as the colours are much easier to carry and, when you spin them just past 12 O'Clock, the weight kicks in and whips them around. The tennis ball idea came from Nick Ireland so thanks for that Nick.
In the 1600s, Robert Herrick reminded young women that beauty is fleeting.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, The higher he's a-getting, The sooner will his race be run, And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer; But being spent, the worse, and worst Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry: For having lost but once your prime, You may for ever tarry.
THE FLEA. by John Donne
MARK but this flea, and mark in this, How little that which thou deniest me is ; It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee, And in this flea our two bloods mingled be. Thou know'st that this cannot be said A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ; Yet this enjoys before it woo, And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ; And this, alas ! is more than we would do.
O stay, three lives in one flea spare, Where we almost, yea, more than married are. This flea is you and I, and this Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is. Though parents grudge, and you, we're met, And cloister'd in these living walls of jet. Though use make you apt to kill me, Let not to that self-murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence? Wherein could this flea guilty be, Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee? Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now. 'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ; Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me, Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.
Where are all thy beauties now all hearts enchaining?
Whither are thy flatt'rers gone with all their feigning?
All fled, and thou alone still here remaining.
Thy rich state of twisted gold to bays is turnèd;
Cold as thou art thy loves that so much burnèd:
Who die in flatt'rers arms are seldom mournèd.
Yet in spite of envy, this be still proclaimèd,
That none worthier than thy self thy worth hath blamèd
When their poor names are lost thou shalt live famèd.
Cream Butter and sugar Beat eggs and stir them in Mix all spices Fold in sieved flour Make smooth stiff dough and form in to traditional shapes (pictures to follow)
Bake for 15 mins
Brought from the Dutch wars at the will, and great expense of my noble lord Molyneux, and charged with the duty of making warriors of soldiers in that they must, with push of pike, kill or maim their enemy in the quick of battle. Such men, I am in debted for the choosing. They are indeed the finest and strongest and bravest of all. Not one man small or weak and all able to march all day in full armour with corselets. All men of skill and trade and who have for years mustered on the common as militia.
Those of us from over seas who know the dual of pikes and the quick of the push, can target the face with remorseless ease. Such men as I have here will be killed for sure and the skewering of such honest and able folk would be a shame indeed. It is to this end that I have devised the hanging head.
Take a half yard of Hessian (Some say this was not available during the English Civil War however) such that the weave will contain small and otherwise useless scraps of cloth. Make a ball of head size proportion. Take a half pike and ram into the ground. Tie the head to the pole so that it dangles to the side. Take a pike shaft and lay it down on the floor. Stand a file of men ten paces from the end of the pike shaft. The spear head, but not other metal parts running down the shaft to repel sword cuts, should be removed from the shaft. This way we have a heavy end as normal but not a stabbing blade.
Each man must, in turn march at advance for two paces and then at charge for the remainder. They will march towards the head and, before touching the grounded pike, must stab at the head. All is done at the pace set by a good drummer. There must be no standing and stabbing. No careful alignment, indeed there must be no thought needed at all other than to stab the head. The first pikeman will advance towards and beyond the head and the next pikeman in the file shall attempt the task.
At first, only one man in six could even hit the head. Most did so by simply walking the pike into the head without stabbing, others needed to stop marching and take aim. None were at all aware that, an enemy who stabs at them will tilt his head to protect it with the helmet, after stabbing and indeed none of our good men saw the need for such a practise, such was their bravery or simplicity.
It is most necessary that such men are not put to the glory of battle until ready. Such men must kneel before live shot with head tilted to know they cannot be touched by the bullet when they are a wall of steel only. Such men must know the pike well and take care of the head. The protected shaft and long stabbing blade has been tried shortened and tried by musketeers but always failed. The pike is an ancient and noble weapon that is to be carried by the quickest, stoutest and tallest men such that they can out reach, hit harder and quicker than the foe.
I urge all charged with the training of others, to introduce ‘Stab the Head’ into drill.
As a final note. To the man in the grey coat and with a strange Scotch looking bonnette who stabbed so hard that he did snap the pike from out of the ground, I owe you a flagon. To all those who regularly missed the head or simply walked in to it, I can owe you the world and it will make not a jot since you will not be alive long enough to spend it after your first English Civil War battle .