This is a post about (one of) my 16th century outfits; and due to several years of research, work and sewing experiences it will probably be more than one post, with different subjects. In this, I will give you an overview and some background research. The outfit is already finished, worn, mended and in line for some redoing, so I will be able to share the whole process with you; both good and bad outcomes and what I could have done differently.
My aim was to make a good recreation of a whole outfit for a woman from early 1500s German (or possibly southern Scandinavian area, since this was influenced by German fashion at the time). She is not poor but works for her living, maybe on a larger farm or in a smaller city. She is well dressed; as is the ladies on all the art I have studied, but like other working women, she owns practical clothing with a skirt short enough to stay out of her way, and a cut to the clothing that is both economical and practical. Contrary to the trossfraus (the women who follow the mercenary armies) she does not wear slashed and mismatched clothing, but items that belong to each other and to a certain class in society. She follows sumptuary laws and does her hair in the braided fashion, or covers it with a simple cap and veil while working.
I wanted to show you some interesting images of 16th century women in art so I put together some examples for you;
Three women; wearing work tools but also lots of interesting clothing. The shoes are practical and the skirts reach the foot, not the ground.
A painted glass piece showing the milking and making of butter. A (probably) younger woman has her hair in two braids, and a covering apron to protect her clothing. The older woman has a veil, a jacket and a dress hiked up in her belt.
This lady is described as a dancing farmer and has probably done her fine dress for a festive occasion, with her hair braided in a nice updo and what looks like a headband around the head. She wears a dress and a gollar that looks fur-edged or with a whole lining in fur.
Another dancing farmer- with a gollar fastened by her neck, and an apron around her waist. The shoes look sturdy and practical (but nothing like the cowmouth shoes you can see on trossfraus) and she has some kind of decorative border at the hem on the skirt, and on her loose sleeves. No slashes though!
This piece shows the women working with flax, the process from plant to fabric demanded both time and hard work in numerous steps. The sitting lady wears a cap or veil around her head, with hair showing at the front. Her jacket is fastened at the front and is cut in the fashion of the time; low and square. The standing lady has her hair in braids around her head and has rolled up her sleeves while working. The dress has a decorative guard at the front, and is hiked up at the waist. Clearly, she is doing some heavy work!
Dressed for cold weather? She has done her veils around her head, chin and neck, and wears a short cloak against the cold. She wears both shoes, socks and hose, and a bag at her belt.
Ah, time for cutting some fleece! The sheep does look dead but is probably just laying at a convenient working pose for the woman, who use a shearing scissor for the work. She wears a simple cap or tied veil over her hair, and a dress with decorative guards at the front. It is hard to say if the brown skirts are part of her yellow dress, discoloured by time, an apron or a piece of cloth.
Festivities again! Do peasants and workers anything else than working and dancing? This lady has the common braids, a gollar and a dress. What is so interesting with this picture is that you can see the back of her dress, which is clearly denser pleated than the sides. Uneven pleating in the skirts is visible in more pictures and seems to be the result of tailored work.
Summertime, and work in the fields this time. Now we can see her shift; a plain linen shift with a long sleeve, and either a high collar, or more believable, a thin gollar/linen cloth to protect her against the sun, as is seen on the woman with the red dress. She wears a straw hat, and her dress is sleeveless; it is a tight-fitting middle kirtle or underdress that gives you the bust support you need, without being in the way for hard work. This layer can be found on other women too; plain, sleeveless and intended to be worn under the woollen overdress. It is only during heavy outdoor labour such as fieldwork, washing and shovelling it is openly worn, older women and richer women always have their overdress on.
Based on my research, I have found that I needed the following items for a whole outfit:
- linen shift
- kirtle or underdress
- wool dress as an overdress
- purse (and maybe a rosary too, it is mentioned in some written sources but doesn’t appear on peasants often)
- cap, veils, a straw hat and/or a braided hairstyle
This much? I wanted to make a whole outfit, that would be practical during different kind of events with both cold and warm weather. I also wanted to try to make all the pieces of clothing and accessories that I have found during my research, to better understand how they worked together.
For more research, I have a Pinterest board on the theme if you want to learn more!
06/04/2018 at 21:42
As usual, I find your posts so informative! And your sewing is so exemplary!!
This post is particularly fascinating to me, with the inclusion of so much of your research and examples of the art works you’ve consulted. I’m very interested in the reenacting of working women, since even though my main character is what we would now consider an “upper middle class” Icelandic woman of the 900s, still she, and everyone else who lived on the “farm,” or estate, that she administered for her late husband while awaiting its takeover by either a nephew or a son (I haven’t decided yet which, or when), had to work to keep things going.
However, work in 900s Iceland was quite stratified by gender, with the women mostly working inside, and the men outside, except for slave women, and with the additional major exception of summer work tending herds in the mountains, where everyone of every class, but especially the young men and women going up in the hills with the herds (usually supervised by a few older chaperones, such as my own character). Nonetheless, so far two of the three outfits I have made are quite sturdy, although still ornamented with trim or embroidery, the latter which I’m also just beginning to learn.
My third outfit is the exception: it is pretty fancy and not very practical at all, and that is because it is specifically intended to be worn at the beginning of May at our group’s Spring Coronation. The new King and Queen are not only from my local subgroup of the SCA, but also have Norse personas like me! So I must splash out. 🙂
My blog is at timitownsend51.me, if you want to take a look. Search by category probably. I am mostly a musician, but as I said, I’m now a neophyte seamstress, as well!
p.s. I loved your posts about the Viking encampments at Arsunda! Is that in Sweden?
08/04/2018 at 13:04
Hi, thanks for your thoughts =) I actually already read your blog- and hopefully there will be new ones finding you to! Yes, Årsunda lies about a 3-4 hour drive from our house, quite doable for a weekend event! You should come and visit some times, there are lotes of viking markets and events here!