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The Lexis of Cloth and Clothing Project

‘The lexis of cloth and clothing in Britain c. 700-1450: origins, identification, contexts and change’

Introduction and background information

Cloth and clothing have been integral to life for every person since civilization began.

In the Middle Ages dress was an identifier of occupation, status, gender and ethnicity; textiles ranged through opulent, symbolic, utilitarian and recycled. Cloth production and international trade constituted a major sector of the economy of medieval Britain.

Evidence for medieval textiles and clothing is sought in diverse academic disciplines: archaeology, archaeological textiles, art history, economic history, literature, languages.

The vocabulary of the various languages spoken and written in the British Isles is documented in different specialist dictionaries, yet geographical proximity and interaction through labour and trade would argue that this evidence should be categorised and analysed together.

The Arts and Humanities Research Council made an award of £765,576 within the Research Grants (Standard) Scheme to fund a 5-year Project to undertake a trans-disciplinary study with the purpose of  producing an analytical corpus of medieval dress and textiles terminology of the British Isles in the form of a searchable database, innovatively illustrated.

At its centre was the assembly and examination of textiles/clothing lexis in the early languages of Britain (Old and Middle English; Welsh, Old Irish and minor Celtic languages; Anglo-Norman/French, Medieval Latin, Anglo-Norse), investigating the genesis and subsequent development of the vocabulary.

The terms and their citations from both documentary and literary texts have been analysed in awareness of surviving textiles/dress accessories and graphic images in medieval art.

Encyclopaedia of medieval dress and Textiles

Planned as an adjunct to the project was an Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles, separately funded, and published in 2012, before the completion of the electronic database that comprises the Lexis itself. The Encyclopedia was produced by Brill Publishers of Leiden.

The Editorial Board was headed by Professor Gale R. Owen-Crocker with Assistant Editors Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward.

The Encyclopedia is a comprehensive survey of textiles, dress and ornament with textile connections, covering the same period as the Lexis word project and is made up of pieces of varying length from 3000 word essays down to 150 word 'short factual entries'. Scholars from all over the world were invited to furnish articles and the list of contributors represents the best scholarship available today on matters as disparate as armour trappings and religious dress, the wool trade and costumes worn in the drama of the period.

The resultant book helps to round out the archaeological, historical and cultural contexts, which the Lexis itself has uncovered in its analysis of the trans-linguistic vocabulary of textiles and dress in Medieval England.

The hardback book was published in 2012 and an electronic version was also published. The latter is to be developed further with three annual continuations, beginning in 2016.

[PDF Lexis Project outline - PDF document - 13.3KB]

[Lexis Project outline - Microsoft Word document - 35.0KB]