If you’re anything like me, you’ve always been fascinated by knowing what materials period garments were made of. Even the most basic of garments, like the farthingale. While listings of undergarments are few, it turns out that there are more accounts of farthingales than I would have expected.
I haven’t found much yet in the way of French and Spanish inventories, wills and accounts, but I have found quite a bit in English and Italian.
From the English perspective, Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe accounts are currently the most detailed and widely available source, but a few other sources are available.
Queen Elizabeth’s accounts record her farthingales across the length of her reign. With nearly 300 entries for making or repairing them, we can see how her preferences changed over time. Of those, 55 entries are clearly for new farthingales, rather than entries for remaking or repairing old ones. 1
Her early farthingales where predominantly satin, taffeta, tufted taffeta or buckram. In 1580, she added her first damask farthingale, and had her last buckram one made in 1582. In all, she had eighteen taffeta, thirteen satin, nine tufted taffeta, eight buckram, five damask, one silk fullocke (meaning unclear), and one fustian (a blend of linen, wool or cotton). 1
If you’re familiar with the period portraits and images showing farthingales, you know that most show the boning channels in a contrasting fabric.2 Despite this common feature, only nineteen of Elizabeth’s farthingales are noted to have a different fabric for the channels or hem. Her buckram farthingales all seem to have used a different fabric, including kersey, broadcloth, or black velvet. Of her silk farthingales, nine used velvet, while two farthingales, both of taffeta, had contrasting taffeta channels. Interestingly, only five farthingales in all are noted to have channels in a contrasting color. Three farthingales specifically noted the channels were made of the same fabric as the farthingale was made from, and the remaining thirty-three farthingales made no indication.1
Queen Elizabeth’s accounts also included three farthingales for ladies of her court, a highly unusual allowance. Twice, she had farthingales made for Anne Knollys, her cousin and a maid of honor. The first was of black buckram and the second of red mockado (“mock” velvet with wool pile and silk, linen or wool backing) with red broadcloth for the bottom. The second farthingale was made for the dwarf serving Elizabeth in 1579. Her farthingale was of straw-colored buckram, with channels of the same fabric.
The Ladies in Waiting of Mary, Queen of Scots had farthingales of similar materials. In the Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer, three of these ladies’ farthingales are listed, made of buckram, gray fustian, and taffeta.3
Dr. Jane Malcolm-Davies of the Tudor Tailor noted that “There are very few (11) mentions of farthingales in our database, which comprises items of dress mentioned in wills, accounts, inventories etc.”4 These items will be part of the Tudor Tailor’s next book, The Typical Tudor.
Finally, there is one additional account of a red worseted wool farthingale in the Petre Household Accounts.5
Moda a Firenze makes note of four farthingales, though none are for Eleanor of Toledo. The earliest, ordered in 1544 for the dwarf at her court, was made of red and white felt.
In 1565, one was made in sky-blue ermesino (light taffeta) with “flesh-colored velvet” channels for Eleanor’s neice, Dianora. The final two mentioned were made for Camilla Martelli and her daughter Virginia: one of panno (cloth) and the other of red taffeta. 6
Looking outside of Florence, the next notable inventory is that made at the accession of Honore II, Lord of Monaco in 1604 (yes, that Monaco). A number of women’s garments are included in the inventory, though their owner is somewhat unclear.7 Among these items are four farthingales: one of yellow damask with gray or ash-colored velvet channels, one of blue or turquoise and yellow rash (wool) with blue or turquoise velvet channels, one of green rash (wool) with black velvet channels, and one of peach ermisino (light taffeta).
Finally, there is an inventory of items included with the will of Galeazzo Alessi from San Fiorenzo da Bevignate. To Franceschetta, daughter of Antonio de Nervi and servant to Galeazzo Alessi, he left a pair of farthingales of tela di San Gallo (buckram).8
There is one extant farthingale in the Museo Etnográfico de Castilla y Leon, in Zamora, Spain.9 It is on a statue and appears to be about one-third scale, but it still gives us an insight to how they were made. The materials for the farthingale itself are not included on the display card, but it appears to be of an undyed heavy fabric, possibly linen, and stiffened with either rope or bents. The display card mentions esparto grass for the statue, so this is a good possibility for the boning.
So, what should we use now?
If you’re making a new farthingale (or even just your first one), you have a pretty wide range of choices. A heavy linen is a great choice, especially in black, with a thin wool or silk, or a velvet for the channels. Yet this can also make for a heavy farthingale. A fine wool twill, especially a worseted wool twill, makes a lighter, although somewhat warmer, option. If you need something lighter in both weight and temperature, look to silk taffeta, damask, or satin (if you can find a heavier, stiffer satin than charmeuse). For the wool or the silks, feel free to make your channels of the same fabric or contrast it with velvet or taffeta.
Next week, I’ll talk about what was used to stiffen the farthingale.
2 If you aren’t familiar with these images, check out the MRC Pinterest board for Farthingales here.
3 Drea Leed discusses these items in her article, The Spanish Farthingale, here.
4 Email from Dr. Jane Malcolm-Davies on September, 25, 2017.
6 See Moda a Firenze, 1540-1580: Lo stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza by Roberta Orsi Landidi and Bruna Niccoli, especially pages 77-78.
7 Because Honore II inherited at the age of 6, these items are listed as in the care of his maternal uncle and gaurdian, Federico Landi, prince of Valdetaro, or in the care specific servants. Included in this inventory are “Gowns and other [items] of the lady, in the custody of the Auditor.” While he had a sister, Maria Claudia Grimaldi, she was only 5 at the time of the audit. There is nothing among these items that suggests they were for a child, so it is more likely that they were garments of his late mother, Maria Landi, who had passed 5 years earlier.
8 This will is transcribed in Giornale di Erudizione Artistica (etc.), v.2, on pages 41-45.