In medieval era, the way bodies were prepared for embalming included several steps:
1) spurging (washing)
2) cleansing (emptying of the bowels and plugging the rectum)
3) bowelling (removal of the intestines)
4) searing (cauterising of the tom cavity blood vessels),
5) dressing (the application of a resin mixture in volatile oils),
6) furnishing (wrapping the corpse in cerecloth).
It is the final step that is the most interesting. Cerecloth was supplied by the Grocers and used by the Apothecary as they prepared dead bodies. Cerecloth is cloth that has been soaked in wax with resins that created a moisture barrier around the body and kept out the elements.
The remains of that warlike Prince, Edward the First, repose in a plain tomb of grey marble, which has sustained but little injury. At the request of the Society of Antiquaries, this tomb was opened in the year 1770, and the royal body was found wrapped in a strong linen cloth waxed on the inside. The head and face were covered with a facecloth of crimson sarcenet, wrapped into three folds ; and on throwing open the external mantle, the corpse was discovered richly habited in all the ensigns of majesty. The body was wrapped in a fine cerecloth, closely fitted to every part, even to the face and fingers.
So how does this all tie to sugar work? I went searching for a material that I could use while working sugar, that wasnt plastic wrap. They had to have something for larger sculptures. Sugar paste will harden and crack when it is exposed to air. And it is probable they were not making a lot of small paste batches while working on a large project. It is more prudent to make a larger batch and not have to stop every 2 minutes to make more paste. Cerecloth is a product of the Grocers, used by the apothecaries. It creates an airtight, waterproof seal around things. This means it can be used to keep sugar paste fresh, in a medieval fashion, without using plastic.
For my first experiment, I made a 1/2 lb of sugar paste and kept it wrapped up in cerecloth for over a month. When I cracked open the waxed linen, my sugar paste was still fresh and pliable. It has proven effective as a tool, even in the humid NE summers.
I use a high quality mid weight linen that has been washed and ironed. Soak it in melted beeswax, until fully saturated. Hang to dry, Lay flat to store. If you need to clean it, use mild soapy water. You can rewax as needed.
EMBALMING AND THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF THE CORPSE IN CONTEMPORARY ENGLAND
A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Philip Stephen Gore
Department of Sociology, Brunei University December 2005
London scenes, or, A visit to Uncle William in town : containing a description of the most remarkable buildings and curiosities in the British metropolis ; illustrated by 78 copperplate engravings ([1824?])