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In May 2013, I travelled with my Ph.D. student Tuulia Lampinen to the city of Turku in Finland, to visit the historical textiles and clothing collections of the Cathedral Museum. This collection is special, because it is one of the few places in Finland to find surviving historical clothing artefacts dating back to the early 17th-century. After a friendly chat with the kind lady at the entrance of this beautiful Medieval church, we were given access to the narrow staircase that led us upstairs to the museums’ storerooms.

Up to the storerooms Velvet, 17th century

The knowledge that I had gained a few weeks before at the Intensive textile course in Leiden was immediately put to test, as we started opening the clothing and textile drawers to discover a whole range of silk, linen and woollen clothing and dress accessories from the 17th-century. The labelling was old and the information about the textiles and the origin of the clohting was imprecise. Luckily, my brilliant student Tuulia is a textile designer and a real expert on fabrics. Together, we were able to examine in detail the precious fragile artefacts that had survived for centuries, through several wars, famines and plague outbreaks!

The collections inlcuded a whole range of clothing items, from skirts and trousers to caps, linen scarves, knitted stockings and fans, in varying quality and conditions. Most of the clothing was recovered from tobms. This plain, relatively basic white taffeta dress was discovered in the tomb of Elisabeth Buren (d. 1668).

White taffeta dress, 1667Detail

Some of the dresses were striped. According to the information, this late 17th-century dress once belonged to one of the women of the Wittfoth family, a trading family from Turku engaged, for example, in salt trade.

17th century burial dressdetail

Some of the dresses were emboridered or decorated with borders, ribbons, or braid,  made from silks and metal thread. Look at these amazing decorative details!

Ribbon, 17th century dress, TurkuDetail, women's cap, 17th century Turkudetail, 17th-century child's burial dressIMG_6844

The collecitons also included a variety of dress accessories, such as knitted silk stockings and women’s caps. While most of the actual clothing was made from white or brown fabric, the caps included a whole range of colours, from reds and blues to yellows and gold. The reason is associated with cost. Deep colours were expensive to produce in this period and small caps, obviously, required a much smaller quantities of silk!

Women's caps, 17th century TurkuKnitted silk stockings, 17th century Turku

The collections also included some delicate linen scarfs, some with beautiful lace borders!

Linen scarf, 17th century, Turku17th-century lace border, Turku

Once we had examined the storerooms, we made our way back downstairs, to the museums’ exhibition space to see the velvet chasubles that were made from fabrics dating back to the 14th- and 15th-centuries. Did you know that chasubles in this period were made from second-hand clothes? As the fashions changed, the wealthiest families tended to leave their outdated garments to the Church. Thanks to this practice, many valuable velvet and silk fabrics have been preserved up to our day. Look at these deep, red amazing colours of the centuries old velvets!

Chasubles, Turku Cathedral Museum

I was excited to see all these beautiful items but left the colletions wondering what stories were associated with these clothes and textiles. As I sat on the stairs afterwards with a cup of coffee in my hand, I though to myself, who were these families? How did the clothes end up in this museum? Where were the fabrics made and who sew up the clothing? I really must go the archives to find out more information! If I am lucky, some of the family account books or household inventories survive!

At the Cathedral stepsTurku Cathedral, Finland

We ended the day with a late lunch-buffet and a peaceful walk along the river Aura in a sunny but slightly crispy Spring weather. We found these trees on the banks of the river, dressed in colourful patches of wool, celebrating the rich craft culture of the city. These trees really made me smile!

by the river Aura, 2013IMG_6787