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Saturday, 26 November 2011

A brief history of printing cloth from the Medieval to Jane Austen’s time

Pictures mostly  taken from ‘English Printed Textiles’, V&A

Block Printing
Cennino Cennini of Padua wrote a treatise on the ‘Method of painting cloths by means of using moulds’ early in the 15th century.  The idea of painting cloths was already well established, as a cheap means to ape the expensively woven tapestries of the better off; bed curtains of the better off merchants were more likely to be painted than woven or embroidered.  This was the use of a wood block to print, and the method had been used in the Rhineland already for 300 years.
For furnishings it did not take long to apply glue instead of paint and powdered wool scattered on the glue aped voided velvets so popular in the early Renaissance.
These early printed cloths were not colour-fast and could not be washed as the colours would wash out.  Indian hand-painted cottons of the early 17th century  that were colour-fast showed that it could be done; but it took until the 1670’s to perfect, either fairly simultaneously invented in France, Holland and England, or somebody had an excellent industrial espionage in place. 
A crimp was placed in the printing industry by a series of legislations to protect weavers of fancy cloths in the early 18th century, prohibiting the printing of cotton cloth for home consumption, that was not to be removed until 1774. 
However despite this, the middle of the 18th century  saw the invention of the copper plate for printing, which permitted a greater size and complexity of the repeats available. 

Even on block printed fabrics, the use of different mordants printed on to the fabric could produce very different colours.  
A mordant is a ‘tooth’ to cause a dye to bind to cloth, and different mordants can affect the precise colour the dye turns out. This effect was used by roller printing a design onto a cloth with more than one different mordants, the cloth then dyed as a piece and the way the dye reacted with each mordant making a pattern of variants on the dye.  One of the popular colours treated this way was drab, a brownish yellow through to yellowish brown made of quercitron, from oak bark [after 1783].   Madder is another colour to which this technique can be applied giving a range of colours of red-orange, chocolate brown, black and lavender and it was the Indian techniques using this that were introduced into Europe.  Other colours might be added by hand.

Note that dyes are largely vegetable or animal  up to the introduction of mineral dyes in the mid 18th century – but more on dyes another time. For now a quote from the Household Cyclopaedia of 1881 shows that very little changed in broad:

Almost the only dye-stuffs employed by calico printers are indigo, madder, quercitron bark, or weld, ……… but weld is little used, except for delicate greenish yellows. The quercitron bark gives colors equally good; and is much cheaper and more convenient, not requiring so great a heat to fix it. Indigo, not requiring any mordant, is commonly applied at once, either by a block or by a pencil
The part removed mentions the coal tar colours of the great aniline revolution of the 1850’s

Block printed linen and cotton about 1750
printed in madder colours

Plate Printing
The first use of the engraved copper plate to print was in 1752 in Ireland, and rapidly spread.
The cheapest and easiest way to print was in monochrome, especially with the complexity that was available on an engraved copper plate where different densities of a colour might be achieved, generally either red or blue. Extra colours might be added with smaller wood blocks or by hand painting. The best known plate prints are the ‘toiles de Jouy’ from the works of Christopher-Philippe Oberkampf (1738-1815)

Early 19th Century fabric printed at Jouy-en-Josas in France – this piece is in the Victoria and Albert Museum and more about it can be found at

English examples include mythological and theatrical themes, but peculiarly English are the designs with large flowers and birds, usually printed in one of the colours derived from madder [rich purple, red, or sepia] or in indigo, ‘china blue’ which chemical process remained an English monopoly throughout the 18th century. Note these are furnishing fabrics not dress fabrics.
For designs the printers often  mixed and matched from disparate sources of other engravings without any seeming concern for the appropriateness of the mix.
Plate-printed cotton 1761 in red with scenes taken from disparate sources - pastoral scene from etching of 1652 by Nicholas Berchem, Peacock from engraving by Josephus Sympson 1740 after a painting by Marmaduke Craddock and stag and dog from 'animals of various species etc' by Francis Barlow.

Plate printed cotton about 1770. The original of the photo was in red but I have colourised it blue to give an impression of the indigo version which it was as likely to be as red.
Another technique was to print a pattern onto the warp yarns so that when the fabric was woven it appeared misty.  This fabric was called ‘cloud’ or ‘clouded’ and Jane Austen makes a reference to it in one of her letters, speaking of yellow and white cloud. This example is a modern piece from my own collection of fabrics.

Roller printing of fabrics

See also

As mentioned in my post about the new craze for cotton, roller printing enabled the familiar regency stripe that could also place a diagonal stripe on fabric.  Roller printing was developed in 1780 and one roller machine could print as much as twenty block printers. 

roller printed cotton about 1815. Original printed with indigo discharge and solid green; I've made a best guess. This one could well be a dress fabric
Roller printed cotton about 1820 in red
Roller printing is performed using a machine with a cast iron cylinder mounted on bearings beneath which an engraved copper cylinder picks up colour from a wooden roller revolving in a colour box, excess colour being stripped from it by a blade. The cast iron cylinder is a pressure cylinder to force the cloth onto the engraved copper, and is wrapped in a special material of wool and cotton lapping to allow for some give.  The copper cylinder contains one complete ‘repeat’ of the pattern so that when the fabric is passed through it, the whole length is duly printed.  In the earliest and simplest forms, for additional colours the fabric must be registered precisely onto the fabric; at first this was done by hand applied colour on block prints. Because of this, like the copper plate printing, much is monochrome.  

Later, not until after 1800, machines enabled other rollers bearing different colours; obviously the fewer the colours, the cheaper the cloth.  Block printing did not however disappear, since the size of the pattern repeat was governed by the practical size that a copper roller could be, and so larger designs were still printed by woodblock up to the middle of the 19th century [dying out in time to be revived by William Morris].  Early roller prints could be no more than 16” for the repeat, the maximum practical circumference of the roller, whereas flat copper plates could be up to 45” square [Barbara Brackman ‘Clues in the Calico’ who does not, however know her diameter from her circumference.  Knew what she meant though.]

Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Guest Blog - Mike Rendell with a Georgian Treasure Trove

Mike Rendell, author of the Diary of a Georgian Gentleman has kindly agreed to give us a bit of background on how researching his extraordinary ancestor started and to share some of the amazing ephemera that he collected such as the wonderful paper cut outs of which the above is but one example
I remember, just after I got married and had moved in with my wife, carrying a horse-hair chest up three flights of steps to her top floor apartment in Bristol. “What’s in there?” she asked. My response “Family papers” seemed to pacify her although the disdainful look on her face suggested that she was not too keen on my addition to her furniture. ”It can go behind the door in the Hall where it won’t be seen”

The horse-hair trunk bought in 1782 for half a guinea (I still have the receipt!).
Next followed six extremely old and dilapidated Tea chests, with sharp, jagged metal binding strips. “And what are those?” she intoned. “Not sure, more family papers I think” I replied tentatively. And it was at that point that I discovered that there was no such thing as ‘Love me, love my Tea chests’ because I was met with the ultimatum to ‘use them or lose them’.
And so, over the intervening 24 years I have started to do just that, discovering that this was not just one time capsule but a whole series of time capsules, all muddled together, and reflecting the fact that for generations we have been incorrigible hoarders!
There were some things I recognized immediately – my father’s handwriting on bundles of letters to my mother, written from Burma; my grand-fathers letters from the trenches in the First World War; copies of newspapers recording royal births marriages and deaths for the last few centuries. Then there were the confusing items –unnamed diaries dating back to the 1600’s, shopping lists from the 1790’s, a contemporary account of the Great Fire of London, all of them dotted about amongst early back numbers of the Illustrated London News, Punch, and so on.
Unlocking the puzzle came about when I located a manuscript booklet entitled “Family and Personal Recollections” dated around 1800. It was written by my great great great great grandfather Richard Hall and outlined his life and what he had been told about his ancestors. It explained that the family had owned lands in what is now Wiltshire but which was then in an enclave of Berkshire. Obviously well-to-do, with their own coat of arms, they had prospered until one day in 1720 when their world collapsed. Their land had been pledged as security for loans enabling them to buy South Sea Stock. The stock collapsed in what became known as The South Sea Bubble and the only son (Francis, aged 25) was suddenly faced with the prospect of finding a trade and making a living.
Francis became a hosier (i.e. he made silk stockings) in unfashionable Southwark. His son Richard was born in 1729 and I have many of his school books including his Maths, English and French exercise books. Richard also became apprenticed as a hosier, and married well i.e. to the daughter of a wealthy business-man who had retired to Evesham. The parents-in-law died in quick succession; Richard inherited a large estate; and soon had plans to move the business across the river Thames to a much more salubrious address within the City boundaries - Number One London Bridge. It was the very first time the address had been used officially - street numbering did not come in until 1765. Nowadays it is the address  of a glass and concrete structure south of the river, but in the 1760’s it was the very first shop people encountered as they crossed into the city, immediately alongside Fishmongers Hall and St Magnus the Martyr Church.
I still have Richard’s accounts for the construction of the building (£850), his insurances in the Bird in Hand Insurance Company for trade goods and personal effects (£2,800), as well as his window display cards showing that he had branched out into selling not just stockings but silks, fabrics and general haberdashery items. And whenever he bought in a consignment of lace or calico he would place an advertisement in the day’s paper, buy a copy, put a ring around the relevant passage in pencil, and put the paper in the bottom drawer. I still have them along with his accounts, his daily diaries, and the general ephemera of everyday life.
Richard prospered and he had three children. The eldest was taken into partnership when he was 25, but almost immediately disaster struck. Richard’s wife died of a heart attack and Richard did what most people did at that time if they were widowed and with a young family who had yet to leave home - he re-married almost immediately. His choice of bride was met with dismay and then outrage by his children because he chose to marry their “aunt” (more accurately the sister of Richard’s brother-in-law), a woman who was nearly young enough to be their own sibling. More to the point they could see their inheritance going out the window if she were to have children. She did so almost immediately, but not before the three older children had ganged up on their father with an ultimatum: you can marry who you like but you will never stay with that woman under the same roof as us. This was unacceptable to Richard, who walked out on the business and on his three children and went to live with his new bride and family at Bourton-on-the-Water.

The family papers then show the differences between life in the City and life in a Cotswold village. I have his shopping lists showing what he had sent down on the  wagon ( a pianoforte, numerous pipes of port, as well as oranges and other treats and special groceries i.e things not available in the local shops). He jotted down his favourite recipes and, since he “enjoyed ill health” he itemised his symptoms and his medicines. He describes going “to be cupped at the bagnio” (an alternative medicine designed to increase blood flow and rid the body of toxins). He describes the weather in great detail (the country was enjoying a mini Ice Age and it was not unusual for there to be snow on the ground from mid-November onwards, for weeks and weeks on end. Some of his descriptions are succinct (‘a dribbling sort of a day’) and others highly descriptive (‘Exceeding sharp. Snow. Froze very Hard. Froze the water in the chamber pot’). He describes seeing the aurora borealis in Gloucestershire. He mentions small pox as the real dreaded killer disease, and records when he had his family variolated (an early form of inoculation). This was still prior to the research of Edward Jenner which led to the development of a vaccine based upon cowpox.
He also bought and read many books, which remain today. I have his Bible (it has been in the family for 460 years now!) and I have a fascinating little guide to travellers in France from around 1750. It is full of wonderful advice to travellers - how to avoid being man-handled by French customs officers, how to seal your trunk to stop people stealing things from it, and how to avoid the French custom of putting sheets on the bed while still damp. It also offers helpful advice to travellers about what not to eat in France. I just love the bit about cheap wines in Paris giving you 'a violent looseness' and stating that nowhere else in the elegant or delicate world is so ill provided with conveniences. Ring any bells?

Richard was clearly adept with a fine pair of scissors and amused himself (and, I suspect, his children) by making paper cut-outs. Some are incredibly detailed and many of the features are barely thicker than a human hair. Shown here is the ‘In Memoriam’ which he cut out when his wife died – I wonder if it was intended to go into the back of his fob watch since it is just about the right size. 

Actual size about one and a half inches across

I have also included a scene showing the fate which befell highway robbers (hanging from the gallows)

and a rather impressive formal sword (about 5 inches long).

I appreciate that my problems are very different to those of many people - I have too much information, not too little! But I have edited the material and made it into a book so others can see what daily life was like in the second half of the 18th Century. It is intended not just as the story of one man (who happens to be my 4xGreat Grandfather) but the story of anyone living through those fascinating times.


Mike’s book ‘Journal of a Georgian Gentleman’ is published by the Book Guild and is available on Amazon at

He also blogs on a more-or-less daily basis on anything and everything eighteenth century at

Friday, 18 November 2011

So this is how I did the cover for Death of a Fop, an Austen sequel

I wanted to have a very Regency feel, not a glossy painting, largely because I tend to associate glossy paintings with bodice rippers.  Jane is a sedate, serene and classy lady.
My immediate thought therefore was to start off with an Ackermann fashion plate and see what I could come up with.
I browsed a lot around 1816 to see what I liked.... and this was the one I decided to work with.

January 1815 Ackermann's Repository

I figured that Jane might not be in the highest kick of fashion - but in any case, I could always tweek that when I came to paint. So I lightened it to as pale as possible while still able to see some detail and printed it out on heavy cartridge paper
Then I was ready to add a background and overpaint the picture. I liked the expression of the girl, so I had to work hard when painting over it to retain as much of that as I could. I had to put her into mourning and add some hint of Caleb Armitage, the Bow Street Runner in the background

And this was what came out of it.  Jane's hastily dyed gown, her modest downcast gaze, and Mr Armitage respectfully in the backgound by a window - a window on the rest of Jane's life that she can choose to use to look further.

So on to the sequel - as yet to come
I stuck to the theme of using an Ackermann print; I wanted Caleb Armitage more prominent here so I needed a male figure.  I decided to use an 1809 fashion print of a gent to use for him as fashions for men changed less, and a 1816 walking gown for Jane.

I wanted to lose the muff, so I did it a bit brute force by cutting and pasting [not needing to have it perfectly formed in the computer pic, merely a guide]
I wanted Jane in half mourning and a little bit pregnant; and I wanted her expression less constipated looking; and Caleb had to be blonde.  I picked a country house to copy to put in the background to suggest Enscombe - or indeed any other country house Jane visits during this set of 3 novellas.

So now all I need to do is to drop it into a cover and add text etc.....

I'm Published!!!!!

Mrs Jane Fairfax, who married Frank Churchill at the end of Jane Austen's 'Emma' discovers that her husband has been mudered. Jane joins forces with a Bow Street Runner to find the killer of her husband and why he should have been killed.  This is the first of a series of Jane and the Bow Street Runner stories

Renaissance Artist Roberto [Robin] Robertini and his apprentice Felicia find themselves voyaging with a most unpleasant person who manages to upset all the other passengers.  When he turns up dead they must find the culprit in order to protect the innocent.  This the first in the Felicia and Robin series.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The new craze for cotton

 This is a slightly expanded version of a guest blog I posted on 'Prinny's Tailor' a couple of months ago

 Up to the 1790’s the way to show off wealth had always been with sumptuous silks and beautiful brocades, the stiffer and more covered with brocading, embroidery, gold threads and so on the better.
Then along came the French Revolution and a sudden craze for neo-classicism.  Portraits of the likes of Madame Recamier showed women in skimpy lawn and muslin looking sexy; and gone were panniers and brocades.

Mme Recamier 1800 by J. L. David

The centre of the cotton industry was to beManchester, which had been the northern centre of the textile trade since Tudor times.  However cotton had hitherto been an import, Indian chintz and printed calico being brought by the Honourable East India Company [also know as the ‘John Company’].  Over the century from 1701 to 1801 cotton went from being largely imported to being a major export, this revolution in production taking place dramatically from the mid 1790’s.

Cotton prices were also falling dramatically: Cuenca Esteban [quoted in C. Knick Harley ‘Cotton Textile Prices and the Industrial Revolution’ JSTOR] claims that prices fell by  one third  between 1770 and 1801 and by a further 50% before 1815.  This was due in great measure to increases in technology that permitted greater amounts of very fine cotton to be woven that rivalled the fine Indian muslins and therefore permitted the production of the same at home without import costs.
Lawn had always been a fine, sheer fabric woven from linen, but over the last years of  the 18th century there was a gradual shift from linen as the lightweight yarn of choice to cotton, at first in union, calico for example being made with a warp of linen, woven with a weft of cotton; but gradually all cotton lawn and calico appeared. 

Muslin, the finest of plain weave cottons was king; it could be sheer enough to see through as a gauze through which silk petticoats could be viewed in an ever shifting cloud of fabric; or even worn by the more daring, perhaps wetted to be even more transparent, over the knitted pink undergarments that were totally shocking to the older generation and too daring even for many of the younger.  It could be woven with stripes or checks of heavier yarn in the weave, or spots, or patterns figured in floating picks to appear on the surface; or it could be embroidered.  It could even have metallic threads woven in or be embroidered with metallic threads, and an Indian technique could apply patterns of gold or silver foil. 

These are all modern fabrics but show some of the woven effects that were extant including one with metallic threads included.

These are all modern Indian embroidered muslins but again of similar nature to what would be found in the regency including the one with gold embroidery.

Wherein lay the hidden conspicuous consumption?
In the laundering – or rather in the difficulty of laundering.
Linen could be boiled to get rid of stains, but the delicate muslins, before deodorants, would pick up in a hot ballroom all those unpleasant stains under the arms that would turn them yellow.  Could this be why the colours Primrose, Straw, Jonquil and canary yellow were popular, because they did not show the stains as badly? 
White muslin does not stay white for long.  It does not wash white easily without modern washing powders; and there wasn’t even Reckitt’s bluebag until 1850.  So to be able to afford to wear a fine white fabric was of itself a status symbol.

Cotton also came as calicos, which could be readily dyed and printed.  The printing techniques using rollers meant that the ‘Regency stripes’ we associate with the period were readily available, often with  stems of leaves in stripes; there were also diagonal stripes.  One technique I find particularly fascinating is the printing of the cloth with different mordants [a mordant helps a dye cling to the cloth, different mordants can change the colour of a dye] that was then dyed as a piece with quercitron, from oak bark, to make a pattern of different shades of drab.  Hard wearing calico was less high status than muslin but both practical and pretty with the varieties of patterns becoming available and justly never lost popularity. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Names that became undesirable in the late middle ages.

Nowadays Roger has certain overtones; and in America, John might feel he was being made a convenience of, but the use of proper names to indicate other things is nothing new.

The feminine form of the name ‘John’, variously expressed in the Middle Ages as ‘Jehanne, Jeanne, Johanna, Joan and Jane’ was by the later centuries most commonly ‘Joan’.  So common indeed that ‘Jumping Joan’ was an euphemism for a prostitute or a girl of lax morals.  With the sixteenth century therefore the variant Jane became more prevalent. 

Another feminine form, that of ‘Peter’, was formally ‘Petronilla’; one of the pet forms was ‘Pernel’.  By 1500 this was beginning to be used as a nickname for the mistress of a priest.  This being so, those of surname Pernell or Parnell might be descended from a woman of that name…..or from a priest with a mistress.

‘Julian’, used for male and female alike, often became ‘Jillian’ and thence ‘Jill’ in the female form, this being the middle English pronunciation of it; and became synonymous with a frivolous girl likely to play the field with her swains; hence the term ‘jilt’ was born. By the 1670’s it had overtones of harlotry….

One of the pet names of ‘Mary’, via the common change of r to l, was ‘Malkin’, but ‘Grimalkin’ [Grey Mary] became a name associated with cats and hence with witchcraft. The combined name gives a beginning that is Grim which doubtless added to the association of this cat name with witchcraft, as does the sound ‘mal’ meaning evil or ill doing in Old French and Latin.   The double diminutive to ‘Mally’ then ‘Malkin’ became safer if massaged into ‘Molly’.

The men did not get away scot free either.

‘Theobold’ was commonly rendered ‘Tybalt’, and in its short form, ‘Tyb’,  was another popular name for a cat, whence still we have the recognisably feline ‘Tibbles’.

A ‘Gibb’ cat was another name for a male or ‘Tom’, though ‘Gilbert’ and ‘Thomas’, the roots of each, do not seem to have suffered any opprobrium. 

Religion had a part to play as well

The name ‘Pagan’ was occasionally given through the Middle Ages, which custom died out when the religious fervour of the sixteenth century became more rabid.

With the Reformation, names associated with particularly Catholic festivals also tended to disappear; ‘Pascal’ [male or female] is rarely found in England though its variants are common in Catholic countries eg ‘Pasquale’; ‘Sidony/Sedonia’ [female] equally disappeared.  These are two of the Easter names; and though ‘Easter’ itself tended to disappear, it was replaced in some cases, for girls at least, with the similar sounding and Puritanically Old Testament ‘Esther’.  Sidony did come back into fashion but nowadays, as with so many female names with similar sounding counterparts is confused with Sidney, which has a different root being a corruption of ‘St Denis’ in its French pronunciation.
‘Noel’ [male or female] does not seem to have suffered in the same way, possibly because it was the heavy Catholic symbology of the Pascal Lamb and the Holy Winding Sheet [Sendon] to which the early Protestants objected. 

Equally, names like ‘Deodata’ [female], ‘Deodonata’ [female] ‘Deodatus’ [male] and ‘Deodonatus’/’Donatus’ [male], meaning in each case ‘given by God’ and ‘given to God’ became unpopular as being superstitious – and the practice of giving a child to the church as an oblate at an early age finally died out. 

With the arrival of Protestantism in force, the use of the name ‘Creature’ also disappeared as obsolete. Commonly in the Middle Ages, with the preached belief that a baby who died unbaptised would go to Hell, the name ‘Creature’ was picked for a sickly baby, if a name had not been decided upon, after which, if the poor brat lived, he or she was saddled with it. Without the belief that an unbaptised baby was doomed to perdition, so hasty a baptism was unnecessary.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Millinery Irons aka Flower Irons

Information courtesy Serena Dyer and Carole & Larry Meeker who kindly gave me permission to use their pictures - visit them below.

Miniature flower Irons

Leaf irons

I have been unable to discover an earliest date for the use of these irons; those I shal depict are, I believe, mid 19th century but considering the complexity of flowers on bonnets in the Long Regency and the flowers that decorated the dresses, especially after 1815, I would not be surprised to find they are from at least the Regency period.  Larry Meeker, who has a well respected antique business is of the opinion that they may not have been long following ordinary sad irons. The pictures below will show how prevalent was the need for artificial flowers.  Jane Austen records in her letters to her sister Cassandra that she paid 3/- for a sprig of artificial flowers for her bonnet in 1799 remarking that ‘flowers are much worn and fruit is still more the thing’  Jane Austen's Letters
-Jane Austen’s letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye.  I assume the fruit was made of wax

Some floral bonnets from January 1817, Ackermann’s Repository

Ball gown December 1815, Ackermann’s Repository

Godey’s ladies’ book 1846 [thanks Serena] gives a method of making flowers; here are the basic requirements.

The materials should all be kept ready prepared for use. They consist of white and colored cambrics, prepared thread stiffened and dyed green gauze, green raw silk, very fine yellow mohair, wires of different thicknesses, green and brown tissue paper, cotton wool, green cotton, gum water, flour, semolina, dyeing balls or saucers, vermilion, carmine, ultramarine, and indigo in powder. The requisite tools are a pair of pincers A; a lead weight to hold the reels of silk, B;half a dozen goeffoirs, or cupping instruments, C, of various sizes, from the dimensions of the head of a pin to that of a small apple; the veining tool, D; and a large cushion stuffed with bran: also a stretching frame for straining the cambrics. The muslin to be used is fine cambric, or clear Scotch cambric; let it be as fine and even as possible.

Godey’s goes on to explain how to make petals to mount after starching the fabric will without the use of the very specialist irons that were available.  With the specialist irons however the shapes of the leaves and flowers can be readily pressed into coloured or white starched muslin that may have extra colour added by hand, and be cut out around the shape, the starch holding it from fraying as well as helping to hold the shape in place.  Getting the iron to exactly the right heat to shape them without burning must have been quite a feat.

Large Flower Irons

More leaf irons

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Some odd phrases and their origins

Some of these phrases were extant in the Regency as well as in the Renaissance/Middle ages; some, like ‘currying Favel’ had disappeared and the modern version, ‘currying favour’ had replaced it.  The ‘twinkling of a bedstaff’ had become ‘twinkling of a bedpost’ being no more than an expression used without meaning. My thanks to Brewer’s ‘Phrase and Fable’; an excellent book.

Curry Favel
To curry is to groom a horse, in this case the horse is a centaur named Favel, from one of the many fables of the middle ages, a fourteenth century satire.  Favel symbolises cunning and bestial degradation and to curry this ill natured creature is to murmur flattery or to act in a sycophantic fashion.

Twinkling of a bedstaff
A typical medieval bed was a frame raised on legs, the middle of the bed filled with ropes woven back and forth, which would have been pre-stretched, ie used ropes so they did not stretch and sag but provided some give. Above this would be a tick filled, according to the status of the owner, with hay, straw, flock or down.  The flock would be throwster’s waste, the ends cut away from a loom, or poor quality wool not suitable for weaving, or ends of cloth too small or poor quality to use as patches and shredded.  This palliasse was held in place at the sides of the bed by bedstaffs, which were removable, to allow removal and turning of the mattress, and were also used to beat the mattress as both flock and down are inclined to clump; the removal of an uncomfortable lump in the bed was dealt with in the twinkling of a bedstaff. 

To know a Hawk from a Heronshaw
A Heronshaw [aka harns’aw [Suffolk], heronsew, hernshaw] is the English mangling of the Old French herounçel, a young heron [Chambers English Dictionary and several Medieval cookbooks]; this is obviously a prey animal: the hawk is as obviously a raptor.  To know a hawk from a heronshaw means not to be fooled by the fact that both have feathers and to see further than a specious argument or seeming fact.  Shakespeare’s version is to know a hawk from a a handsaw [Hamlet] suggests that either the word had fallen into disuse with the saying remaining, or it had just become further mangled; note the Suffolk dialect version which could easily be so mangled.  Later reintroduction of the word heronshaw is confused by the ‘shaw’ part [‘strip of wood at edge of field] to define it as a place where herons nest.

The saints go marching in for several phrases:

To follow like a Tantony Pig
St Anthony was patron saint of pigs among other things, and his followers were also hospitallers.  They were customarily gifted the cab pig [runt] of a litter which was permitted to root around freely in towns, and would follow around anyone they thought might feed them. 

Bartholomew poppet [doll]/pig/baby
St Bartholomew’s Fair [24th August and surrounding days, usually a three day fair, later stretching to 2 weeks] was where one might buy many fine goods like dolls usually over-dressed to attract little girls [so no different to Barbie and Sindy then]  leading to a Bartholomew poppet, later baby, later doll, being a term for a tawdry [see below] overdressed woman.   A Bartholomew swine/hog/pig is a very fat person as the swine were fattened for Bartholomew’s Fair.   The later term ‘Bartholomew baby’ for a young, overdressed man superseded its use for a woman.

 A contraction of St Audrey, which name is itself a contraction of the Saxon saint Etheldreda.  Audrey is the name used from the end of the 15th century/beginning of the 16th so the word dates back no further than that. It probably stems from the fashion in the late 17th century of selling cheap lace necklaces at St Audrey’s Fair which have association with the saint who is supposed to have died of a neck tumour [goitre?] as God’s punishment for a youthful addiction to showy necklaces [Bede].