But What Do I Do With Those Dress Pins Part 2

So last time we discussed a little about dress pins and started looking at portraits that show pins in use as a dress accessory. One of the most important things that we have to look for when researching the use of pins is artists who do very precise and detailed portraits.

Rogier van der Weyden is definitely one of those artists. He painted a portrait known as Lady Wearing a Gauze Headdress (1445) that shows at least two pins being used for a complex headdress.

He also painted the Braque Family Triptych (1450). The right wing of the triptych shows Mary Magdalene, and it also clearly shows the use of a pin to hold a sleeve in place.

Another Rogier van der Weyden painting, also known as Portrait of a Lady (1455), shows several pins being used to anchor a fine veil to the top of a tall cap.

And this Portrait of a Lady by Rogier van der Weyden (1460) shows pins being used on both her headress to hold her veils in place and to anchor the sheer fabric of her neckline.

You may have noticed all of the paintings entitled “Portrait of a Lady” – all that means is that the name of the person in the painting has not been determined.

Ercole dé Roberti painted a portrait of Ginevra Bentivoglio (1480) that shows exactly one pin at the very top of her bun. You will definitely need to hit the “200%” button, but it is clearly there.

This portrait of Mary of Burgundy (1490), by Michael Pacher, shows a pin being used to attach a decorative pendant to her headdress.

Quentin Massy’s portrait, The Moneylender and His Wife (1514) shows a pin used to hold a veil in place under a hat.

Lucas Cranach the Younger painted a portrait of Katharina von Mecklenburg (1545), that shows a number of pendants or earrings hanging off the bottom of her hat. Unfortunately it is impossible to tell how these items are attached, but there are other portraits that show pins holding the pendants/earrings in place. My friends and I used to joke about the Italian women sending earrings to their cousins in Germany, but they didn’t have pierced ears, so they would just hang them on their hats. There is no way to know if this is true or not, but the lack of women in German portraits without earrings is notable.

A Portrait of Martha Thannstetter by Bernhard Strigel (1515) shows a pin being used to hold a wrapped veil.

And of course there are tons of portraits where we assume that there is a pin being used, but the artist has not painted them. Pieter Aertsen’s and Joachim Beuckelaer’s paintings of women working in the marketplace show several examples of what appears to be pins in use to hold on sleeves and partlets, but there are no actual pins showing in the paintings.

And then this post 1600’s painting by Louise Moillon shows two women in a marketplace. Both of them have pins holding their partlets in place.

We know that pins could also be used to pin the front plackets into women’s dresses. I could not find any portraits that show this, but records show that they were still doing this in Colonial America.

People used dress pins to close or decorate their clothing the same way that we would use safety pins, or velcro, or even a zipper.

But What Do I Do With Those Dress Pins?

For anyone who follows me on Facebook, my Etsy shop, or in my actual shop, you probably already know that one of my big selling items is dress pins. I have been getting enough questions about these pins lately that I decided it was time to write another blog about them. I originally wrote a basic blog about dress pins a couple of years ago, called Pins, Pins and More Pins, and another called Authentic Dress Pins about the fact that we make spiral headed dress pins.

Now I do make the early period dress pins that are three to five inches long – the kind that are usually used to clothes shawls and brats and such. But right now I am talking about the small wire spiral headed dress pins that appear in the archaeological record in the 1200’s and are made the same exact way solidly into the Victorian era.

For those who may not be certain exactly what I am talking about, here is a picture of the two sizes of dress pins that I sell in my shop. In pre-1600 Europe they came in a virtually infinite selection of sizes, from really short (about 3/4 of an inch) to ridiculously long (three or four inches long), but these two sizes seem to work for most people.

two pinsAnd here is a link to some pre-1600 pins that were found in Great Britain. They find thousands of these all over Europe.

So the most common question that I am asked is, “what are they used for?” And my semi-wise-guy answer is: holding your clothes together. This is actually an understatement, since they are used for holding clothing, hats, veils, and just about any other dress accessory that you can think of in place.

How do we know what pins were actually used for? Well, they show up in inventories, but they also show up in a fair number of paintings and portraits. The earliest portrait that I could find is dated to about 1410 – A Portrait of a Lady. If you zoom in on her head coverings there is no attempt to disguise the use of pins to hold everything in place.

I should mention, that several people have told me that men also used these dress pins to hold their clothing in place. I have not spent a lot of time actually looking for pins in men’s portraits, but so far I have not found any. This does not, of course mean that they did not use pins, only that they did not either show, or that the artists did not paint the pins into the portraits.

The Portrait of Marie de Pacy (1425) also clearly shows the use of pins, a fancy one in the middle and many smaller pins on other parts of her headcovering.

The Master of Flémalle painted the Merode Alterpiece in 1427 and this detail of the left wing of the alterpiece shows a woman with several pins in her headpiece. A couple of years later he painted a Portrait of a Woman (1430) which shows several pins being used to hold a lady’s complex, multi-layered veil system in place.

Next time we will look at a couple of very prolific artists and some of the things that they showed pins being used for!

What Size Were Brooches in the Middle Ages – Part 10 – More Medieval vs. Modern Construction Techniques

Last time I asked, “How could they make cast and formed pieces look heavier than they really are?”

One of the things that I noticed when I first actually handled the pre-1600 artifacts that I own was the extremes that they would go to make it LOOK like the piece was solid and thick.

The biggest tricks that were used involved carefully cast, or formed, pieces of metal, that were riveted together to create hollow structures. Even if a buckle or belt end looks very solid, like the belt end form that was common to both my husband’s belt and one of the artifacts, the originals were actually hollow.

belt end collageThis set of pictures compares my hubby’s belt end, on the left, to the period belt end. The graphic overlay on the right picture shows some common options for the inside piece of the belt end. Remember, the artifact belt end is actually a sandwich of three pieces of metal, two exterior pieces and a center cast piece. The most common form that I have seen for this central piece of metal is a combination of the blue and green areas, but I have also seen larger belt ends with the green portion of the cast piece removed. In either case having the center of the belt end hollow uses a lot less metal, and also makes the belt end lighter.

hollow back belt fitting collageThis chunky looking Byzantine buckle front may look heavy, but as the picture on the right shows, it is actually hollow. The back plate is missing, and would have had a hook to actually close the belt.

Another square belt buckle fitting that I have is actually a carefully cast hollow form. The leather belt fills the entire inside of the hollow belt, and the metal is carefully riveted to the leather. The metal wraps down around the sides of the leather. The only way to tell that the belt buckle fitting is hollow is to turn it over and look at the back – a perfect fake heavy buckle.

Going back to manufacturing techniques, one of the most common differences between pre-1600 belt fittings and modern ones is that many of the modern versions of belt fittings are soldered.

Soldering was NOT common for non-precious metals on jewelry and accessories that were made prior to 1600. They did not have all of the fancy matching solders that we have today. And they certainly did not have oxy-propane torches.

Precious metals, like gold and fine silver can be fused, either in a furnace or soldered with a lamp and a blow-pipe, but base metals were generally riveted. Precious metals have different properties – they can be spot heated, but with base metals you have to heat the entire piece in order to solder them.

One of the important exceptions to this rule is the soldering of the heads of dressing pins. There was a decree during the reign of Henry VIII requiring that the heads be soldered. The solder that was used was lead based, and would show up badly – like the solder on my buckle below. (The decree was actually a form of trade sanction to make it more difficult for pins from the Low Countries to compete with British made pins.)

my buckle sideviewSo what are my theories on where these misconceptions came from, and what else is not as big as we might think? We will talk about that next time!