Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Garments for Ghosts?

The creamy shirts on my drying ground have a very deja vu look - but they are sturdy, hand -made shirts as worn by many generations of hard-working French peasants. This lot, all of a similar shape and design, all came to me done up with hemp string, in lots of 5 and wrapped in blue 'sugar' paper. They had obviously been made for some girl's dowry -the women brought such things, including grain sacks, seed bags and much else, to the marriage contract. All was stored in special cupboards (armoires) and the marriage documents kept with the bridal crown (a very pretty affair of pearls, wax orange blossom flowers and fine metal decorations). I used to find similar parcels of unused linen nightgowns all beautifully initialled, but often in rather scratchy, coarse linen. I once bought 72 identical unused nighties from an old lady, and she told me that very often the brides put on weight and were continually pregnant or nursing babies, so the gowns were too small and slim and were hardly used. The same thing happened with the men's shirts - the workers grew large muscles, broad backs and maybe large bellies and the clothes stayed in the armoires too small to work in. I don't suppose the nuns who usually made these garments had much idea of sizing and just copied the original pattern which Mother Superior told them to copy. Look at the tiny gussets (triangular insertions for 'give') at vital stress points, sleeve openings, shoulder seams, underarms and tail seams and you must marvel at the skill and industry of those bygone needlewomen.

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