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Embroidered linen, whalebone


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This doublet is made almost entirely from linen. Linen is now commonly associated with 17th-century undergarments, accessories and working dress rather than the finery of upper class gentlemen. However, there were many grades of the material. High grade linen canvas was imported from Europe at a premium, while lace was made from super fine linen thread which has no modern equivalent.

The monochrome bleached canvas and thread create an impression of simplicity that belies the technical skill of the embroidery. The fine canvas would have provided a firm texture on which to embroider the elaborate rinceau – the scrolling floral design.

Social Culture

This doublet dates from a period in Britain when civil war sobriety was giving way to the softer lines of the fashionable gallant. By the 1650s, a studied air of relaxed deshabillé – undress– in men’s fashions involved the exposure of under shirt at the waist and sleeves. Breeches were increasingly loose fitting, extending only to the knee. 

The doublet, and its original breeches, may also have been trimmed with luxurious ribbons. Worn with long hair or a curled wig, the linen doublet was possibly intended as summer attire. The short body and sleeves begin to approach the style of doublet worn by 1660, described by historian Aileen Ribeiro as ‘no more than a short-sleeved bolero.’

The doublet was originally in the collection of the Marquesses of Lansdowne and is thought to have been found along with other garments at the family home, Meikleour House in Perthshire. Research is yet to determine whether the doublet was worn by a member of the Lansdowne family, or who that may have been.

Craft Skills

The doublet is embellished with knotted cord, couched to outline and frame the floral rinceau design. French knots and padded satin stitch have been used to embroider the motifs, while the 25 buttons have been worked with a detached buttonhole stitch. Fine braid loops fasten the collar front buttons.

Hidden elements of the doublet include whalebone stiffening inside the collar and tightly rolled linen rag, which form the button cores. At the reverse waist are five metal bars which would have fastened to metal hooks at the trunk hose, securing both garments in place. There are only fragments of original fine lace attached to the hemline and sleeves.

With many thanks to Chris Berry. Chris is an independent scholar in embroidery and lives in Glasgow.