The Lexis of Cloth and Clothing Project at the University of Manchester is a major AHRC-funded project, headed up by Professor Gale Owen-Crocker and a dedicated team of academics and researchers, which will provide interdisciplinary research into the terminology of medieval dress and textiles in Britain (c.700-1450). Their website offers the following introduction to the project:
While the importance of cloth and textiles to medieval culture cannot be denied, researchers must currently look to a diverse range of disciplines, specialist dictionaries, artefacts and texts in order to explore the meanings and significances of a particular term or object. The Lexis Project is intended to offer an analytic corpus of the lexis of clothing and textile, and to offer a significant exploration of the development of this vocabulary. The project continues to assemble and examine citations and terminology in all the early languages of Britain and to provide a database of definitions, artefacts, images and technical processes.
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.
I've been fortunate enough to already benefit from this project - despite the fact that my research is not primarily focused on medieval textiles. Last year, while working on the fourteenth-century werewolf poem William of Palerne, I gave a paper about a knight who has sex with a pillow. (ed. - How strange my life is sometimes!) I have become quite fixated on this knight and his relationship with his soft furnishings, and Professor Owen-Crocker was kind enough to encourage me to consult the Lexis database. In hardly any time at all, I was able to access a bank of information about medieval pillows, their uses and their connotations. The detail was fascinating - and certainly helped me to understand exactly what that poor knight was doing to the upholstery!
In addition to the database, The Lexis Project will also be producing The Encyclopaedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles, which will be published by Brill. The encyclopedia will comprise of essays and short pieces from research scholars from all over the world. The contents cover a vast array of subjects. I've co-written a piece on 'Cross-Dressing' with Professor Owen-Crocker, and other entries include armour, the wool trade, various literary texts and religious dress.
I'd strongly encourage anyone interested in medieval culture to check out the project website. The Word of the Month is a great feature, and is guaranteed to give you some insight into the significance of medieval cloth and clothing, as well as the continuation of these ideas beyond the Middle Ages.
For more information, click here.