Laces were an essential item in the medieval period for all walks of life. Used for fastening garments, drawstrings for purses, hanging items from a belt and numerous other applications, laces were an item always in demand.

The silkwomen produced laces by a variety of methods, the most common by braiding. Laces are very light in comparison to their length - an important issue when it is remembered that silkwomen bought their silk by weight - the more items that could be made from it, the more profit!

The fingerloop method of braiding is quick and results in a strong, flexible cord.

Fingerloop braids have been found using as many as 20 loops, requiring two people to work on them. Long braids, over a metre or so, also required two people.

Contemporary instructions for making them clearly describe several types designed to be woven in two, three or four colours.

Laces were also made by plaiting, using varying numbers of strands.

Another method of making laces was by tubular tablet weaving, where the weft is inserted from the same side of the warp each time and pulled through, causing the weaving to from into a tube. These laces were used to string the beads of paternosters and to attach seals to documents, as well as to lace garments.

Cords could also be made by twisting thrown silk, after the manner of a modern dressing-gown cord. These are built up by groups of threads twisted in either an S or Z direction; two or more of these twisted groups are then twisted together in the opposite direction to 'bind' the cord.

If the laces were to be used as points or other clothes fasteners, and therefore needed to have strengthened ends for repeated threading through eyelets, they would be sent to a point maker to have aiglets put on each end. Aiglets are small tubular rolls (or sometimes cones) of metal, usually of plain latten (brass) in the fifteenth century, punched with two small holes through which a tiny iron rivet was inserted and hammered in place to fix the aiglet to the end of the lace.

Tablet Weaving

Tablet weaving is an extremely ancient and often complex technique. Entire web sites could be (and are) devoted to giving a full account of the history and various techniques, and there are many excellent books on the subject.

Evidence of tablet weaving has been found in England dating from the second half of the first century, but it is believed to have been practiced in the Iron Age. Small thin tablets, pierced with between four and nine holes, are threaded with yarn and twisted and turned to manipulate the warp threads. This method of weaving can produce intricate colour patterns, lettering and complex weave structures.

By the fifteenth century tablet woven wares followed fashion, mimicking satin, velvet and damask, often in one colour. To the eye, these wares appear to be less complicated than the multicoloured bands woven in earlier periods, but the techniques are sophisticated and often challenging to master. Sometimes the sheer quantity of yarn and numbers of tablets is hard to handle; it can take over a hundred tablets to weave a woman's wide girdle.

he term corse seems usually to have denoted a wide woven band worn as a belt (or girdle) over women's gowns, high up under the bust, although the term also seems to have been used more generally to indicate any kind of woven strap intended to be used as a belt.

Documentary evidence shows that silkwomen sold various types of belts; it is not known whether these were supplied as finished items with buckle and strap-end, or whether the purchaser had to take them to a girdler to have these fitted. In St Eligius in His Workshop (also known as The Goldsmith and the Young Couple) by Petrus Christus (Flemish, 1449: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) a short length of belt hangs on the edge of a shelf in the goldsmith's shop, displaying a buckle and strap-end along with three decorative mounts. A long, wide belt lies across the counter, apparently waiting to be fitted with a buckle and strap-end.

The Wardrobe accounts of Edward IV show many types of silk ribbon and corses being purchased from London silkwomen for the household; they also show some of these purchases being delivered to a third party for the purpose of being made into other items - for instance, to decorate the king's chair or books.

Knights under the degree of lord were prohibited from wearing corses incorporating gold or gold thread; and esquires, gentlemen and others under the rank of knight, were prohibited from wearing corses 'like to velvet or sateyn frizery'.

Tabby weaving

Narrow wares could be woven in the usual way, most probably on a box loom held in the lap, rather than on a large and expensive full-scale loom of the type used for weaving widths of fabric for clothing.

A heddle would be used to raise alternative warp threads and create a shed; this heddle could be rigid (probably made of wood) or composed of a series of strings tied to the warp threads.

No surviving examples of fifteenth century looms or rigid heddles are known to us; ours are based on the very few contemporary illustrations.

Tassels, knoppes & fringe

Tassels were used during the medieval period to decorate various items, particularly for the rich. These included purses, cushions, hangings, ends of mantle cords, horse harness, falconry jesses, paternosters and books.

The silkwomen produced tassels from silk, gold, or mixtures of silk and gold, frequently to commission. 

In its simplest form, a tassel consists of three main elements; the head, neck and skirt. During the fifteenth century, tassels such as those were found on purses and paternosters were commonly of a simple design, monochrome and with no additional decoration. Using the simple tassel as a base however, the head can be decorated in a variety of methods, using gold or contrasting threads, knots, twisted cords and beads. These complicated, decorative tassels are often depicted on cushions or chairbacks in medieval art, particularly in depictions of royalty, high-ranking churchmen or the Madonna.

Fringe could be made of silk, silk and gold, or gold threads. The nobility and upper classes used fringe to decorate harness and saddles and to trim canopies and furniture. Fringe could be worked either in one colour or in a multi-coloured sequence, giving broad stripes of colour.

Great use was also made of fringe by the Church. It was used to edge altar cloths and canopies and to trim the vestments worn by priests of all ranks.