Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Woolen Frock!

For a long time now I have been researching the woolen frock, also known as a "Guernsey Frock". Information has not been forthcoming with many emails and letters sent overseas and no replies recieved. Even so I have managed to find bits and pieces here and there and I have slowly been piecing them together.
So for those of you looking for period woolen clothing to wear for winter, here is what I have on the woollen frock.
French frocks, the one at top is probably either linen, or a course tow cloth. The one below looks like a woollen frock.

"Those who inhabit the North are more rude, homely and unruly, and for this reason are called "wild". They wear like the Irish a large and full shirt, coloured with saffron, and over this a garment hanging to the knee, of coarse wool, after the fashion of a cassock."-1583, Nicolay d'Arfeville.


There was a skipper hailing from far west
He came from Dartmouth so I understood
He rode a farmed horse as best he coud
In a woollen gown that reached his knee.
Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ 1380s.

When the garment was to be used as an ‘overall’ a rather different textile was used. The smock that was worn in the summer was made of strong hardwearing cotton or linen twill, and the frock worn in winter was made of heavy woollen molton. Both these textiles were imported into Guernsey. The nearest modern equivalents are the material from which men’s boiler suits are made, for a summer smock, and the woollen cloth used for duffel coats for a winter one.

A Guernsey Frock.

The English frock, whilst having the same basic idea of protecting clothes, became heavily embroidered during the 19th century with significant patterns. The Guernsey frock has never had this type of decoration, and the feather stitch embroidery sometimes found on the woollen frock is not significant. According to oral tradition the frock has always been made in two lengths, a shorter version for the man doing the work and a longer version for the man in charge.

However, the local Guernsey French names for the garments are quite distinctive, and leave no room for doubt. The long woollen molton frock, worn during the winter particularly by fishermen as it was both wind and to a great extent water proof, was called a ‘cheminsole’ or ‘un froc’, and the Norman word ‘frot’ means thick woollen material. The shorter cotton frock worn in summer was known as ‘aen blaouse’, which in French means a loose protective over-garment.

Another French Frock.

So, references to a Guernsey frock, a Guernsey shirt, a smock-frock, or fishermen’s frocks are basically one and the same garment, made out of different material when worn for different purposes by different people, but made to the same design.

The frock is made from a series of squares, oblongs and triangles cleverly put together to make a garment which gives fullness where needed, that is across the shoulders and at the elbows, but does not get in the way when one bends or leans forward. The back and front of the cotton frock are gathered at the collar, and the sleeves are gathered at armhole and cuff. It is sewn together with linen thread. The woollen frock is pleated at the armholes and cuffs, and is sewn together with the same wool from which the Guernsey jumper is made. The buttons are made of bone.

Made from three yards [2m 70cms] of material the body of the garment takes two yards [1m 80cms] of 36 inch wide [90cm] material. The rest of the garment is cut from the remaining yard, by cleverly folding the cloth into squares which are then further cut into oblongs or triangles.
Blog author in his English style linen frock.

"… every one retains the same garb their ancestors wore in the days of Hugh Capet and King Pippin, each man religiously preserving his vast blue trunk breeches … and a coat almost like a Dutch froes vest, or one of your Waterman liveries …"‘The Fief of Sark’ by Ewen & De Carteret Mid 17thc.

Hugh Capet and King Pippin were French kings of the 700s, but the expression came to mean anything old or unfashionable. Frieze was a napped woollen cloth, and a Dutch frieze vest was a coat which reached down to the knees, with sleeves. Even today the livery of the Watermen on the River Thames in England is identical to the short Guernsey smock.

"Men’s everyday clothes during the 18th 19th and early 20th centuries consisted of fustian trousers, a woollen guernsey covered by a plain or striped smock, still called a cheminsole as in earlier times. This cheminsole had none of the intricate stitchery found on the English smock."[4] Marie de Garis.

Frocks and short breeches to which were attached long stockings with heavy shoes.' Guernsey people emigrating to the New World.

Gillian Lenfestey
Costume Curator, NTG Guernsey Folk & Costume Museum

1. Extentes of Guernsey 1309.
2. Jersey French Dictionary. Le Maistre.
3. The Fief of Sark. Ewen & De Carteret. Guernsey Press Co. Ltd. 1969 p.75
4. The Garments they wore. M de Garis. Review of the Guernsey Society. Vol. XXXII No.1. Spring 1976. p.6.

I would like to thank Gillian Lenfestey, costume curator at the Guernsey Folk and Costume Museum UK, for the article and information above.

Images and editing by Le Loup.


Bob Mc said...

You have an extraordinarily fine blog. I can see I’ll be spending a lot of time here.

Le Loup said...

Thanks for the kind words Bob, much appreciated. I am glad you find my blog interesting.
Take care.