HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


Welcome!

Welcome to Handcrafted History, a small business located in the middle of Sweden. I am Linda, and have been handcrafting and travelling on historical adventures for 20 years! I offer made-to-measure historical clothing, lectures and workshops from Viking age to Late medieval period.

On my page, you can find information on How to order clothes, Book me for workshops or browse the free Tutorials on Sewing or Swedish Larping. Below, you find the blog that I’ve been writing for about 10 years. I share research projects as well as fun guides and inspiration for your handcrafting.

Please contact me by email at linda.handcraftedhistory @ gmail.com for invites to markets, ordering clothing, booking workshops or for collaborations regarding the blog.


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How to make a medieval linen shirt

Welcome to this step-by-step tutorial, perfect for beginners. It might seem long, but explains everything you need to know. Follow it as you go, or look up the section where you might need extra guidance!

This is a great project to begin with! Easy, straight forward and the fabric won’t be too expensive.

Examples of medieval shirts with slits, gores and seams.

Most people wore linen underwear during the medieval period, and a man’s kit was made up of breeches or a type of loincloth, and the shirt. While you are at it; make two shirts! It is really nice to be able to change and wash your clothes during longer events, and a pleasantly smelling shirt will make it easier to make new friends…

Linen shirt with a slit at the neckhole

Buying fabric:

The amount of fabric you need depends on your size and the width of the fabric. This example will use cloth 150 cm wide. To decide how much you need to buy, calculate the measures on your pieces and how much fabric you need for those, then add another 10% minimum to allow for shrinking or uneven edges. (Fast tip: just buy 2 meters up to XL, a bit more if you have a larger size. Extra fabric may always be used for other projects.)

Look for linen fabric of 120-180 gram, I prefer a thin and even weave. (That is more historical and comfortable than a coarse and lumpy weave.) Bleached or unbleached linen, according to the status you would like to aim at. Bleached linen was a bit more expensive, but don’t go for the super-white ones in modern stores.

Pick a shirt model of your choice

Preparing the fabric:

Zigzag the raw edges to prevent them from fraying while washing, or buy a bit of extra fabric if you don’t want to bother with machine work.

Pre-soak, wash and iron your fabric before starting to cut and sew your shirt. Washing will avoid future shrinkage, make the weave even and remove any pesticides. Pre-soaking the fabric will lessen the wrinkles and make it easier to iron. 40-60 degrees c machine washing, hang dry.

Things you will need:

Needle, linen thread, beeswax, scissor, measuring tape and something to mark your fabric with (fabric chalks or just a pencil). A ruler or straight piece to draw against is nice, but not necessary.

Tools for handsewing

Measure:

  • 1. Lenght of finished shirt from shoulder to hemline.
  • 2. Circumference around the widest part of your upper body, often the chest.
  • 3. Length of sleeve from shoulder to wrist.
  • 4. Circumference around your hand/wrist (make a loop with the measuring tape, and try to pull your hand through it, it should be big enough to be easy, in order for you to be able to take the shirt off.)
  • 5. Armhole (measure around your should/arm as the picture shows, then make the measuring tape into a loose circle, and when you find it comfortable-check the measurement.) I usually add about 25% extra from my body measure, from 40 cm body measure to making the sleeve hole 50 cm.

Example (with measures) so you can see how I do this:

  • 1. Lenght of finished shirt from shoulder to hemline: 100 cm
  • 2. Circumference around the widest part of your upper body, often the chest: 100 cm.
  • 3. Length of sleeve from shoulder to wrist: 70 cm
  • 4. Circumference around your hand/wrist: 28 cm
  • 5. Armhole: 60 cm. This means the sleeve base will be 60 cm, and the armhole on the body parts will be 30 cm on front and 30 on back.

Add ease of movement:

What is that? If you were going to cut out your pieces with the above measures, the shirt would fit tight along your skin, making it impossible to move, or take it on and off. Therefore, we will add extra space for movement. I usually calculate 6% of the circumference around your body, 10% if I want a loose fit.

Example: 100 cm + 6 cm (6% of 100 cm) =106 cm. Split this measure in 2 for front and back: 53 cm each.

That’s it! (we already added ease into the sleeve by making sure we could pull the hand through, and the sleeve base by adding extra room there)

Add seam allowance:

What is that? Seams always need to be a bit from the edge of the fabric in order to be durable. The space between seam and fabric edge= seam allowance. Short= SA. I will add 1 cm, between 1-2 cm is recommended.

Example: Add 1 cm to all edges around your pieces, like this:

Seam allowance can be added directly in your calculating and drafting the pieces, to paper pattern pieces, or drafted on the fabric outside the pattern. We use the first method here.

Example:

  • 1. Lenght of finished shirt: 100 + 2 cm SA= 102 cm (I like to add another 1 cm to hems; so 103 cm)
  • 2. Circumference around chest: 100 + 6 cm movement + 2 cm SA= 108 cm
  • 3. Length of sleeve from shoulder to wrist: 70 + 2cm SA= 72 cm
  • 4. Circumference around your hand/wrist: 28 + 2 cm SA= 30 cm
  • 5. Armhole: 60 + 2 cm SA = 62 cm sleeve base. Armholes: still 30 cm *2.

Draft your measures into a pattern:

Now you are ready to draft your pieces! I like to do this on paper first, to save as a reference, for future projects, and to determine how to save on fabric. I draw my piece of fabric onto paper, making 10 cm=1 square:

Nr. 1 is the front and back pieces, nr. 2 sleeves. As you can see; if you would like to have side gores instead of slits in your shirt, nr. 3 would be excellent to use. This is just an example, do a draft with your measures and lay out the pieces in a way that suits you.

I recommend drafting the front, back and side gores either along or across the length of the fabric (do all these in the same direction) the sleeve may go along or across, depending on what is more convenient (the shirt will look better with this method).

A note on sleeve measures: this sleeve doesn’t sit on top of the shoulder when finished, it hangs on your upper arm (see photo at the beginning), which makes this measuring method work. When measuring for a fitted sleeve, always measure around your bent elbow.

Design your neckhole:

These are my general measures: small-medium: 1 = 18 cm. large-xlarge: 1= 20 cm. The back I cut out around 5-6 cm deep, the front (2) is cut 10-15 cm deep. If I want a slit at the front (3) I cut it around another 10 cm deep. If you don’t want a slit, you might need to make the neck opening a bit deeper/wider in order to fit your head. You can always draw it out, cut a little, try it on, draw a bit more, cut and so on, until you are satisfied with the look.

Shape your armholes:

If you feel that the shoulders are a bit wide, you may shape the armholes a bit (common if you have a large chest but narrow shoulders). Cut 4 cm (small/medium) to 6 cm (large/xl) from the shoulder top (4) and create a gentle curve to the armpit, or draw a straight line from the top (4) to the armpit (see photo further below). Then sew the sleeves as described. The seam should still be hanging slightly below your shoulder, not at the top of it.

Cut out the pieces:

When you have drafted all your pieces on paper as above, you are ready to draft them onto your fabric! Iron the fabric and lay it down on a flat surface, draft all your pieces and check the measures with a measuring tape. Use a piece of chalk suitable for fabric, or if you don’t have that; a pencil. A ruler, a large book or a straight stick can be used to make the lines even. Everything seems good? Cut the fabric pieces out! (you may also want to mark them Front, Back, Sleeves if you are unsure.)

Sewing time!

The order of sewing is as following, I will walk you through every step below: shoulder seams if any, sleeves to shoulders, side gores if any, sew together sleeves and sides. Adjusting neck-hole, adjusting sleeve length to your wrist, hemming.

1. Start with pinning the shoulder seams. Putting in pins alongside the fabric edge makes it easier to avoid stabbing yourself when handling the project.

2. Cut a piece of linen thread, the length of your arm. Coat it with bee´s vax by pulling the thread over the vax piece a couple of times. Thread a needle (the needle should be as small as possible, but thicker than the thread to make it easy to sew), and make a knot at the other end.

The needle is thicker than the thread

3. Sew the shoulder seams with backstitches. 3 stitches/cm is a good guide, and 10-15 mm seam allowance depending on what you drafted on your pattern. If you find it difficult to make the seam straight, draw a thin line with a pencil where you want it to be.

4. Press the seam allowances to either side. Use your fingernail, a pressing tool or ironing. Fold the seam allowances double, and pin down.

5. Use running stitches (or whip stitches) to sew the folded edge down to the shirt. The stitching should only be visible at the right side as small dots.

6. Try out the neck hole by pulling it over your head. Cut out more if you need, and check in the mirror to see if you like the look. When you are satisfied, hem the neck opening. Start with folding the edge twice and pin it in place. Make the folds as narrow as possible, to make it easier to sew nicely, mine is 5 mm. Sew the edge down with whip stitches.

7. Pin one sleeve to the armhole of the shirt, right side against right side (this photo show a shaped armhole). Sew it in place, using running stitches or back stitches. Pin and sew the other sleeve in place. Press the seam allowance to either side.

8. Now we are going to save some time with a folded over seam allowance! (photos below in 10.) Trim one side of the seam allowance down to approx half-width (5-6 mm) and then fold the larger one over this, press in place. To avoid fraying and loose threads, fold in the edge of the fabric under the seam allowance. Press down, and pin in place. Now you have a neat looking fold, ready to be fastened down. When sewing the seam allowance down like this, you save time and make the seam more durable since the fabrics will be sewn twice to each other. I prefer whip stitching for this seam, it is easy and durable.

Which way should you press the folded over seam allowance? I often go for pressing and sewing down to the biggest fabric piece. So for the sleeve seam, the seam allowance will be pressed down onto the body parts. On side gores, the gores will be pressed out onto the body piece. It makes it easier to sew and gives the garment a nice drape.

9. Time to sew the side seams and sleeves! Lay the shirt down inside out on a flat space, and pin the side seams and sleeves. Make sure the fabric is smooth and the edges lays on top of each other. Mark where you want the seam to be if needed, and then sew from the sleeve wrist, all the way down the side seam. I like to leave the bottom 10-20 cm open on the side seams to create a slit in the shirt, if I don’t have side gores. Backstitching will make the seam durable, but if you are in a hurry a running stitch with some backstitching in the armhole will also suffice.

Slits at the bottom

10. Finish of the side seams by pressing the seam allowance flat, and make a folded over seam allowance. Press, pin and sew this down.

Folded over seam allowance, above the side slit in the shirt

11. Now it is time to fold the edges and sew them down. On linen fabric, I like to make a double fold to avoid fraying threads from the fabric edges. Start with the hem around the bottom of the shirt. Fold two times, around 0,5 cm each (or the SA you choose), and press the fabric in place with an iron or your nail. Sew with whipstitching, travelling on the inside of the shirt, which will make small dots of threads visible on the right side of the shirt.

After that, finish the sleeves in the same way. I like to try the shirt on before hemming, to be able to adjust the sleeve length. If they are a little too long, just create a deeper fold, or cut off the extra fabric. If you have made them too short you can sew on another piece of fabric and make a hem on that one. Piecing is always historical.

How to fasten the thread:

When there is about 10 cm thread left (approx the width of your palm), it is time to fasten the thread and take a new one. Sew another stitch, pass through that loop before pulling tight, and repeat at the same place a couple of times. Then you can pull the rest of the thread down into the fabric before snipping off the leftover, hiding the thread inside the seam. Neat! Take another thread, prepare, and start sewing at the same place you stopped.

Uhm, this is a lot of steps for a simple shirt? Yes, it is. Can you cut the corners, get a bottle of beer and sew it all on the sofa? Of course you can, but each step may not be as easy, and it will be harder to have a nice view of the process. What I mean is- this is just my way of describing the process as easy as possible for you, to allow a handcrafting process where each step is straightforward, and where the sewing will be as fast as possible to do.

General advice:

  • Always pin on a flat space to make sure your seams will be even.
  • Be nice to yourself; sit comfortable, take lots of breaks, use tools to make your sewing easier.
  • Remember to actually try out the fit, the length, the neck hole etc before finishing sewing. It is very easy to just continue sewing once in a flow, but if you end up with a garment you don’t like, you will have to redo lots of work.
  • Is the measuring a bit off? No worries; in this project, a 1-2 cm difference will not matter. You can probably go on sewing. I sometimes have wonky measures. Medieval finds are full of uneven pieces, wobbly seams or piercings. Don’t worry!

Other types of shirt models:

Shirt with side gores: adding side gores is easy, and give you extra movement on a longer shirt. Sew them in place before sewing the side seams closed. Use the same stitches and folded over seam allowance as above.

Shirt with sleeve gussets: small square pieces of fabrics get stitched in under the arm, to add more movement and to save on fabric instead of making larger sleeves. I usually sew these after the sleeve, while sewing the sleeve and side seams closed.

That’s it on shirt sewing! These techniques will also do well on a number of different projects, and is somewhat of a basic go-to. Enjoy sewing!


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What’s my life like?

Are you curious about what life is like for historical market sellers and historical interpreters? Let me show you how my workdays and life looks like during a normal market season! (you know, before the pandemic when we actually travelled and met friends)

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What everyone sees (hopefully); standing in the market stall in pretty clothing

What life is like, nr 1: Driving

I live in the middle of Sweden so all markets during the season are typically a 4-8 hours drive away from home, and about 12 hours if I want to reach the southern parts. 2 years ago I bought a small van that I can drive on my regular driver’s license and it gives me the opportunity to bring all my market things, sleeping arrangement, restocking items and food. I can sleep in the van if I have to, and a small field kitchen keeps me sustained so I don’t have to stay at expensive restaurants along the way.

Nr 2: Freedom

Driving may be boring and takes a lot of time, but it also gives me a great feeling of freedom, driving across the country, over mountains, and stopping at interesting places to see the view or buy a local drink. Being your own also means freedom to plan, to decide when to work and how, and how much…

But sometimes I plan poorly and end up having to pack away the whole market stall and all my belongings in the heat of summer before I can take the van to go and find food. That happened a little too often in 2019, I will definitely plan better in the future.

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Nr 3: Actual working clothing

Regular working clothing when packing the camp; shift (linen underwear) sturdy shoes, working gloves, sunglasses and not much more. Fashionable deluxe!

Or, half-clean pants (they never stay clean for long when packing…) and a sweaty t-shirt after driving for hours without a working AC in summer. We really do save the best looking clothing for visitors and customers!

Nr 4: Lots of really hard work

From unloading the van to the ready-to-open market stall several hours of hard work lies in between. Packing up, lifting, packing down, carrying… If someone would make an employment ad for my work, there would totally be lines like “You really enjoy carrying things around and loading vans”.

I do so much heavy lifting during summer that I need to keep my weight lifting up during the winter so I won’t hurt my back when the summer season comes. Who could have guessed?

Because I am a one-person business, I sometimes travel alone (though I like to bring Love or friends along- it’s so much more fun!) which means I need to do the work myself, and also find some helping hands to raise the tent. We often help each other out which means running around helping with several tents, but also laughter and company while working!

Nr 5: Simple living conditions

Living in a medieval camp. This is the most awesome, and the hardest thing all season. I absolutely love sleeping in the cosy medieval tent, listening to the wind and sounds of camp all around. In the morning there is a fire with fresh coffee, friends to talk with and birds singing all around.

It is also the hardest. 2019 was a really cold and damp year sleeping outside, I regularly wore double woollen dresses and in bed, I had two layers of woollen clothes, covets, blankets, woollen socks and a cap- and was still freezing. When I arrived late at a market I barely got the tent up before darkness, and then there was only a cold meal in a messy space before sleeping. It can be uncomfortable, dark, cold… or a storm threatening to tear your home down.

Still worth it!

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Nr 6: Tourists

Not the same thing as customers, or visitors. The tourist will ask you things like “Do you really live in there” (yes) “Is this ware really from the Viking age?” (no) “Where do you take a shower?” (…) and sometimes you can be really, I mean really, tired of those questions. But at the same time, meeting people and making new friends is the best part of travelling.

But it is ok to be tired sometimes. And tell them you never shower… (On some events there are no showers. A lake or a bucket of water might be good for a couple of days, but every once in a while a girl needs a warm shower!)

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When the tourists leave… Ok, I admit that some of the best times during the market weekends are the evenings. The work is done, the market stall closed and you have time to cook, hang out with others at the market and enjoy entertainment, feasts, fire shows or just relax.

Nr 7: Moving from the modern world to the historical dream

The mix between the historical dream and the modern world.  Vans, heavy work and lots of things you need to build, carry, organise… But after that; a beautiful dress, a cosy area with medieval tents, cooking and that amazing feeling of visiting another time.

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Nailed it! Getting that perfect photo that shows you standing effortless in a beautiful surrounding, with your medieval outfit perfectly in order. The wind is right, the light is right. Not showing;

  • I was sick as a dog
  • There were one zillion visitors in the garden at the same time, appearing in the background and beside me
  • Battery remaining in camera; around 4%

Do you think this seems to be the most amazing job ever? (even after reading this whole post?) Well, here are my tips for starting:

  • Visit lots of markets to see what people want to buy, and what others are selling. Is there a gap in the market you might fill with products of your own? Thinking you can do the exact same thing as others, only cheaper/faster/better is not a good way to start- most markets and events want diversity in their sellers and won’t invite too many shoe/pottery/cake vendors.
  • What can you make/produce and what do you need to buy? If you have lots of costs (like importing fabrics) you will need bigger markets to sell more, whereas if you sell homemade cookies and honey you have lower costs but need more time preparing products.
  • Calculate costs; purchases, travel expenses and a salary for yourself, and then make a budget for the market season. How much do you need to sell to get a salary? To pay for all the costs going to a market? Many beginners make the mistake of not charging enough for their products and are struggling to make the ends meet until they get exhausted and quit. You need to charge enough to both cover your costs, get money for yourself and build a small amount for emergencies like a flat tyre or a broken tent.
  • Patience. No matter if you have a good budget and great products in place, the first season might not be great. It takes time to discover which markets suit your products, what customers want, how to sell things… Be patient. Have a backup plan to cover your living costs (like a side job, savings, etc) while exploring the market life.
  • Get to know people; everything is easier with friends. Maybe you can collaborate with someone, or help out somewhere in the beginning to make new friends. Being kind and helpful to others is a great first step!

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Fun fact about my business: Some time ago I got a call from a television show producer, wanting to know more about my life as a historical market seller and maker. She was very disappointed when I explained that I live my life like most people do, in a house, driving a car and eating everyday food for the better part of the year…

I am, after all, a pretty normal person with a business, that takes me out on adventures and travelling for the summer season, while I am living quite the normal life for the other half of the year.

traveling


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Camping inspiration

This post is a collaboration with Korps and contain advertisement for fabrics from their webpage.

Are you longing for some historically-inspired life and camping? Now is a great time to get inspiration and ideas for the next event and plan what you would like your living place to look like!

Look at this lovely place, I am longing to be outside in a camp again! Imagine sitting in that corner while it is raining, having cookies and wine and chatting with friends.

I spent lots of time at the beginning of my reenactment adventure life pondering over what I would need and what I would like to bring to different events. I also collected lots of photos of things that looked practical or just pretty and wrote lists of things that would be good to have next time. Kitchen towel, water flask, bucket and extra wool blankets are things that piled on those lists, helped there by experience or inspiration from other reenactors.

Mmm, look at this cozy place! Wouldn’t you love to eat lunch here? I would put the bread in a basket, have extra napkins and plates for guests ready and decorate the table with some fruits.

My main inspiration to improve my camping life have come from SCA events, since these often are quite long and you’ll meet lots of others that have been in the hobby for a long time, thus having created pretty and comfortable living areas.

Far from everything in these photos is as historically close as possible; most tents are machine sewn, furniture is made with modern tools and practical solutions mostly won over historical ones, when it comes to food prepping and hygiene. With that said, here are lots of options for camping life, with amazing handcrafting and historical techniques and materials.

Capturing all the good ideas

The feeling of homeliness; look at these camps! The furniture, the kitchenware, pennants, lanterns… Even if everything is not based on historical finds from a specific period, the overall look is awesome. The ropes and tent walls actually add to the feeling of spaciousness, of having a living place outside in the woods. (I like the table cloth, thinking about making one to my kitchen)



My best practical ideas;

A good blanket! I put my heavy wool blanket on top of my bed to keep it dry and warm, use it as a picnic blanket, and a cloak during cold evenings. To get a really big, affordable wool blanket; buy a good quality wool fabric and make one yourself! This fabric is a good choice, super thick and sturdy!

Get the fire up from the ground! On many sites, fire safety dictates that the fire pit should be 30-50 cm above the ground. Plan for that by building a fire bowl with legs, and you have a convenient cooking place so you don’t have to crawl on the ground to cook.

The drink’s on the house! Naw, you don’t have to give out free beer, but it’s good to have water available. Bring jugs and bottles for the stylish table, as well as tanks/containers that fit larger quantities of water. If you don’t have historical options, use a plastic one and hide it in a cloth sack.

A fabric roof! Cheap, practical and good for both sunshade and rain. Make your own by sewing two pieces of fabric together (150*400 cm), and add some sturdy holes in them. To put up your new roof you also need some ropes and wooden poles with nails going through the holes. You can find good tent/canvas fabrics here. (You could also use these fabrics to sew your own tent on your regular sewing machine.)

Do you have any goals for your camp, or fun ideas you want to do? Here is my wish-list for improving our camp: (hopefully I will get around to these, and now when I have put them down here I think the probability will be even higher…)

A fireplace like this. Sooo practical! I wish someone would build me a square fire bowl. I would stack the wood neatly underneath, make coffee in the morning and feel like a queen while doing so!
Making the packing a bit less… plastic. It is convenient to store and transport lots of things in plastic bins, but they are Oh So Ugly. I am working on using wooden boxes instead, and cloth sacks.
Painted silk flags! It is so pretty, I want a whole bunch of them hanging by our camp, and then I will give everyone directions to our tent by telling them “just go to the big tent with all the pretty pennants”.


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Research post: Medieval straw hats in art

Introduction: Straw hats of different shapes got my interest a while ago, and I made some research around them. They seem to appear in art from around the 13th century onwards while changing design over the centuries.

My thoughts are that they are mainly seen in rural landscapes and working conditions; farmers and labourers working outside. They also appear on travellers, commoners being outdoors, harvest time etc. Some examples exist of straw hats on higher social status persons (but the artwork might be allegorical or symbolic rather than contemporary portraits).

Based on what I´ve seen in the artwork, I believe the straw hat to have been in use in a similar fashion as today; as an outdoors option for sunny weather, mainly to act as a sun barrier. They are often depicted in manuscripts like The labours of the months (Medieval calendars) during field labour in June, July and August on both men and women. Decorations are scarce, with the occasional headband in black or some other neutral colour the only decor visible.

15th century harvesting woman

Fashionable shapes? In art, the straw hat appears in many different forms. Some shapes seem to have been used for longer amounts of time (like the round one with a brim or the slightly unshaped hill form) while the conical shape of the 13th and early 14th century (seen in the Maciejowski bible) seems to be out of fashion later.

Maciejowski bible 13th c

During the second half of the 15th century and onwards you can spot a greater diversity in hat shapes and design, possibly mimicking the fashion for headwear during this period. The late 15th century is, after all, a rather crazy fashion period with lots of options in sizes, shapes, design and silhouettes! During the 16th century, heads with a flat top and flatter shaped hats become more common in the artwork I have looked through.

1519-28 man harvesting wines

The artwork in this blog post is mainly collected from today’s Germany, England and Italy, but this excellent webpage has a collection of more hats in period artwork if you are interested.

http://www.larsdatter.com/strawhats.htm

Differently shaped straw hats made by Handcrafted History

Materials: Based only on the artwork, it is impossible to determine which kind of straws were used to make hats, and my guess is that it also depended upon local traditions and what material was readily available to the artisans. It is not impossible to weave or braid straw yourself even if it takes practice to make it look good, and since the material is available for free in most areas I think it likely that these hats were commonly made in the local community rather than imported. Most hats are also seen on workers in the field (though the occasional more fashionable straw hat appears in city settings), supporting the theory on local manufacturing.

Detail from the Merode Altarpiece, Robert Campin

To continue on the line of guessing, both straw from agriculture, grass straw and wetland reed may be used to weave straw hats. If you want to find yourself a nice historical hat, look for something grown where your persona/character would live, and avoid exotic plants like palm leaves.

Book of hours, Morgan Library

Diffferent kinds of straw available today:

Wheat straw is soft, shiny (and if you ask my horse, super cosy come winter) and very possible material for hats, at least in those parts of Europe cultivating wheat regularly. Oat straw I have no handcrafting experience with, but the horse likes it in his bed, and there’s always some oats left to munch on. Barley was a common grain in Sweden during the Middle ages, and is a rather stiff and durable straw, like rye.

Rye straw is a traditionally used material in Sweden for making straw crafts because of it’s length and durability, and rye is a hardy crop. For handcrafting material today, rye is being grown for its straw and harvested before giving grain, whereas the medieval straw was probably taken during the grain harvest.

Wheat straw hat made by Handcrafted History

One important difference between the straw today versus the medieval straw is the mechanical machines munching up straw during harvest, making it usable mainly for animal bedding or farming. Before machines took over, the harvest was done by hand and a scythe takes off the straw at the ground without crushing it. After the grain was collected, you would have great amounts of material. Very handy!

How were straw hats made? I believe contemporary artwork show different methods in use for making straw hats. There seems to be evidence for different kinds of weaving techniques and patterns (when you braid the straw together until you have formed a whole hat) as well as sewn hats with braided straw tape as a base (when you first make a tape and then sew it into a hat shape). The find looks to be made from woven or braided tapes, layered on top of each other.

Several straw hats on female field labourers

I have only found one extant find of a straw hat from today’s Germany, rather beaten up but at least you can see what it is. Do you know of any more finds? I would love to check them out!

Kempten, Germany 15-16th c

Conclusions if you want to sport a straw hat yourself:

Go for a hat made with natural straw, such as those mentioned above. Handwoven in one piece, or made out of braided tapes sewn together depending on what you can find (avoid the obviously machine-stitched ones). Pick a shape that fits in with the period you would like to reenact, and don’t decorate it overmuch. Use your hat outdoors as a nice shade from the sun, but replace it with a smarter looking hat or veil/hairdo during winter and indoor festivities.

Early 15th c Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry

Some practical tips from this very experienced hat-wearer:

Straw hats during summer will shade you from the sun and help you avoid sunburn and heatstroke. If it is really hot, use a cap, coif or linen wrap drenched in cold water under the hat. A ribbon may be pulled through your hat at the base to hold it in place on your head, or you could use pins to secure it to your linen layer underneath. If your hats get a bit crooked or bent, spray it with some warm water and set it to dry in the shape you want.

Harvesters, man wearing a straw hat, Tacuinum Sanitatis

Feel the need for a good straw hat? I am currently making and selling different models; check out my FBpage to look at the different hats and place an order! This last bit is totally advertising my own business. Yep. Send me your money.

Deutsche Bibel, 1463


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Lacing on medieval dresses

Lacing is a really easy solution when you would like to make a tightly fitted garment and need an opening to be able to get in and out easily. During the medieval period, lacing comes and goes as a popular fashion and practical solution choice, so if you aim for a historically believable garment make some research first to determine if the lacing is the best option!

Historical garments may also be closed with fabric or metal buttons, hooks and eyes, pins or a regular whip stitch.

spiral lacing with a lucet woven wool cord, on a 14th century dress

Lacing can be seen on male and female clothing, but today I wanted to show you how I make lacing on a dress. The most common lacing method is spiral lacing; one cord for closing the open space by going through lacing holes spaced a little uneven from each other. This is easy and quick, and you only need one cord.

Fastening the lacing; a double round at the top prevents gaping.

To unlace; thread the point back again, or as below: use a loose knot at the start of the lacing (at the bottom) and unravel the lacing from the bottom up.

Use a knot at the start of the lacing, on the inside of the dress.

I place the lacing holes like this; the first two and the last two are aligned but the rest is spiralled. This gives you a tighter lacing, that looks better and is historical. By making the first and last pair even you will get the front panels even to each other. This kind of lacing can be seen in paintings by Weyden for example.

Lacing holes needs to be quite close to each other; between 1,5 to 2,5 on one side, depending on the fabric and the amount of support you need. A tighter gown supporting a heavy bust needs a closer lacing, while a looser garment might have more space between the holes.

To make lacing holes I use a sharp awl to make a small hole, and then a fitting thicker awl in metal, wood or bone to make the hole bigger. I do have real awls, but since they seem to always be “somewhere else” a bunch of different objects has been used; needle binding needles, hairpins, chopsticks… You don’t need anything fancy, was my conclusion. Yeah…

After the hole is made the right size, I sew around it with a buttonhole silk thread or a waxed linen thread (depending on social status, period, colour etc) I never bother with any fancy stitch, just sew around like this, and cover the hole equally with thread. Practise makes perfect; don’t bother if your first holes are a bit uneven, if you start from the bottom and work your way up they will look really nice by the time you reach the area others actually look at.

A tip for making the hole more even is to first sew one round of stitching around the hole, and then another turn, dense enough to cover any gaps.

On the inside of the lacing, you can see a thin strip of tabby woven, sturdy linen fabric. I always use a piece of fabric on the inside (if I don’t have a whole lining in place) to strengthen the edge and make the lacing look better. You can use linen fabric scraps: cut it in a straight piece, fold in the raw edges and sew in place with whip stitches or slip stitches.

I prefer to make the cord in either wool or silk thread. The wool thread is cheaper, flexible and will stay put. The silk one gives a nice shine, is very strong and easy to lace with. Decide based on your project. To finish the cord (this one is done with a lucet but they could also be braided or tablet woven) I like to use a point. That will make it easier to lace the dress, but if you don’t have one a thick needle will do the trick too! Just thread the cord on a needle, and use that to lace yourself in. Another option is to make a cord long enough to just loosen up, without having to lace up the whole garment.

the green dress in the tutorial


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Care for clothing from Handcrafted History

This is a guide covering the usual pieces of garments and accessories you may order or buy from Handcrafted History. I always aim to create garments for actual reenactors who will be playing, working and eating in their outfits, living life and going to parties! With this said- garments that can take the wear of everyday life and get washed afterwards!

Some notes:

  • Remember, garments from other vendors might have other caring instructions, as well as bespoke items ordered from me. Always follow the personal care instructions received with your items if more than one caring option is available.
  • I wash almost all my clothing in my washing machine, including wool clothes. Because I am lazy. The garments will get a little more wear from the machine washing, and it would be kinder to the wool fabrics to wash them by hand, and because of that, I recommend hand washing to my customers, so they will get the most use out of every single garment!
  • Wet garments are more sensitive than dry ones, so always handle your clothes with care when wet. Bring them out from the machine gently, and don’t put a strain on sensitive parts like a smocked collar or sleeve details by pulling or hanging the garments from these.
  • Oh, no! Blood or red wine on your party outfit? Rinse immediately with bubble water if you can find any. For small blood stains; your saliva might be used to remove these. Silk fabric, however, might get stained by these too, so you will have to decide if a water stain or a red stain would be more visible…
  • Sunlight will bleach even modern dyes if you hang the garments out to air or dry. Don’t leave garments out in the sun for too long, or hang them inside out. But a white shirt with stains might be bleached in the sun intentionally; leave it out for a couple of days to let the sun take care of stubborn stains that didn’t disappear in the wash.

General care:

  • Soak or rinse stains at once to avoid permanent marks on garments. Avoid bleach and heavy detergents, as well as chemicals, flame… Well, you get it.
  • Air your clothing after every use to reduce how often you need to wash them. Steaming will let wrinkles out easy. Mend holes or broken seams at once.
  • Store your garments in a dry place, check them for vermin every season and fold or roll them gently in place. Never hang heavy garments while storing, they might stretch or get marks from the hanger.
  • Have a care when getting dressed or undressed, look at your historical clothing more like a suit than a sweatshirt set. Your clothing will last much longer if you don’t jump into your hose or rip the shirt off in a hurry.

Linen garments:

I always use prewashed linen when sewing clothing for customers, this means that the linen fabric has been pre-shrunk and is safe to water wash for years to come. Wash your linen fabric in 40 degrees C, and pre-soak stains that have dried in or chunky pieces of mud. Use a regular mild detergent, no bleach.

Afterwards, gently take out your garments from the machine (or handwashing tub) and gently stretch the fabric lengthwise, especially the sleeves. Even prewashed garments may “shrink” (the fibres will pull together) which may cause, for example, the sleeves to appear shorter. After this, hang lighter garments or flat dry heavy pieces.

Ironing your underwear such as shirts and shifts make them look nice, feel smoother and resist sweat and dirt stains for longer. Use the recommended settings on your iron (normally 3 dots) and steam.

Wool garments:

I always prewash all wool fabrics before sewing, which many others don’t bother with. Instead, they tell their customers to never wash their historical clothing. I guess they have never come home from an event covered in sweat, dirt, food stains and wine? I have. And I want to be able to wash my clothing. So I make this a standard for all my customers too!

Start with airing out your garment, brush of dirt with a brush and close lacings, buttonholes etc.

Handwash your wool garments in cold to lukewarm water, with a wool detergent. Handle with care; do not knead, twist or pull violently on the garment. Rinse several times to get all the detergent out of the fabric. Lift carefully, press out excess water (with a clean towel) and arrange on a flat surface to dry. Smooth out the fabric so it looks neat and has the form it had before washing.

Iron on 2 dots with steam, and a pressing cloth (a kitchen towel or cotton sheet will do)

Silk, silk brocade, silk velvet etc

Silk is a fabric that doesn’t like water washing. But if you need to remove food stains, mud and such you don’t have much choice. If you soak your silk fabric, soak all of it to avoid water stains or lines. Follow the wool washing instructions and use a natural fibres/silk detergent (I use the same on both wool and silk) and always use a pressing cloth when ironing. Airing and steaming your fabric will make it look nice longer.

Silk fabrics are the only fabrics I do not wash before sewing, I only steam them to loosen up any weaving tension to avoid shrinking later.

Other materials:

If your garment has tin/pewter or bronze buttons, removing these will make them stay shiny for longer. Fur does not like water washing, so removing this and then stitching it back might be good. Otherwise, the fur will be dry and a bit brittle with a papery feel after a couple of washes. Or maybe you can wash the garment leaving the fur hanging outside the tub?

Jewelry, Viking age wire posaments, brocaded silks, straw and real pearls don’t do good with washing, try to avoid that for as long as possible, remove these pieces if you can before wetting the garment.

Leather doesn’t like being water washed either, but can usually take a wash or two. Just remember to grease it up afterwards.

Hats:

Wool hats: try not to crush, but if they have gotten a fold or dent you can steam them with an iron or boiling water, reshape and put the hat to dry in the shape you want. Might be handwashed the same way as wool fabrics in cold water, handle gently and always shape and store standing on a flat surface. Brush of loose dirt and dust.

Wool hats treated with shellack: do not crush, wet or wash with water. Carefully brush surfaces, leave them out to air and store standing on a flat surface. Stains might be carefully removed with a damp cloth.

Straw: Clean by airing or gently rub stains with a damp cloth. If folded/crushed and the fibres are intact; soak in lukewarm water, reshape when soft and put to dry in the exact shape as before. Use weights and support to make the hat dry in the wanted shape. Crushed fibres are damaged but might be supported by a hatband, or reinforced with a decorative fabric border being stitch on, so you may get more use out of the hat.

There you go! With the right care, you will be able to enjoy your historical garments for many years to come. And if you are uncertain about a specific piece of clothing you’ve got from me, always feel free to ask for caring advice!

I also do mending and size adjustments on garments I have made myself, just seek me out and we’ll see what we can do to make your garments more useful, and last longer!


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15th century inspo

Here’s an alternative look for you 15th-century geeks out there! I took the photos in 2018 but apparently put them in that “good to have” pile on the computer, and they were forgotten. This happens quite often for me…

Linen shift closest to the body, wool socks and leather shoes. Over the shift I wear the easy 15th century dress, here used as a middle layer/kirtle. I like to be able to use my clothes in different layers, and this dress is a perfect summer over dress, but also works as the middle layer once it gets colder.

The overdress is a wool houppelande, lined with silk and with openings in the sleeves. This style is popular by the 50s and 60s, and can be seen in Rogier van der Weydens paintings. I keep the dress closed with a broad belt with a bronze clasp; a copy from an original find. This is one of my favourite dresses, since it is comfortable to wear but looks fancy. It is quite heavy with the high-quality woollen cloth draping around my body, but hey- you have to give a little effort to fashion sometimes?

The temple braids and turban-looking great veil is perhaps a bit “simple” for the dress, and I could also pair it with elaborate headwear. But I really like this look since it is comfortable and, above all, I can manage it myself in 15 minutes by the mirror. If you want to see how I do them; I have a braid tutorial here and a paper on the 15th-century veils I use here.

If you want to research the 15th c yourself, feel free to use my Pinterest as a starting point! This fashionable period has much interesting things to offer!


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2020 in review

There’s a lot to say about this year, but at least I’ve been having plenty of time for sewing. Unfortunately, a bad shoulder gave me some pains, but with rest and a training program, I think we are mostly friends again!

I thought it would be fun to share some projects with you here, as an inspiration and a kind of journal to myself: I always forget what I have been sewing, and find myself longing to finish yet another personal “small project” but not understanding why I don’t make any progress…

72 garments finished during 2020; both for customers, friends and myself. I am not going to write about them all, and many have not been photographed yet. I also have a whole bunch of things not yet ready; commissions, old projects known as UFOs (unfinished objects) and some rather new ideas I have been working on.

Easy, simple and comfortable blue Viking dress. Want to make a similar? Use the Shift-making tutorial and the Insert a Gore-tutorial to make a long shift with 4 gores.

It was time to make some new viking clothes and I managed this blue dress, the red apron dress and some matching items, like the handwoven and woad plant-dyed shawl. I am really pleased with how the outfit turned out, even if the outfit might not be sexy to the modern eye… I love experimenting with different historical cuts that could have been in use, trying out how they look and feel when I make and wear them.

Later I made this early 14th century outfit as I finally, after a long period of 15th century-romance, have laid my eyes on new conquests. The 13th and 14th centuries are very nice, and I want to get to know them a little more. The next project will be something from the Maciejowski/Morgan Bible.

I have made several complete outfits for customers based on viking age and medieval clothing, and this was the year when I only met GOOD CUSTOMERS! I kid you not! Everyone has been polite, fun to work with and sent their payments. For those of you working regularly in customer service; you know my feeling here! How did I get to be so lucky? And, will this continue during 2021?

A hand-sewn 16th century shirt inspired by the Sture shirt (without decorations and embroidery). This shirt took over 40 hours to make, more than most dresses… Is it pretty? Yes. Was it worth it? Give me another year before I answer…

I have also worked on 18th century clothing, learning more about the period and the methods in use. There’s a couple of skirts, a jacket in wool and one in printed cotton, as well as a small linen cap. I am looking forward to going to new kinds of events and trying out the kit to see if it will work.

I made a new short-sleeved kirtle with a waist seam, similar to the blue Weyden-inspired dress from years ago. This dress is rather loose (I might need to take it in a bit in the side seams) and it’s made with a curved front seam. It is going to be a great working kirtle! The long-sleeved green 15th c dress also got sold, they mysteriously shrank in the wardrobe during last winter)

Apart from sewing I also dived into some video making, filmed lectures for the digital Medieval Week as well as setting up a new Youtube channel, and working with content for my Patreon page. Video editing and voice-overs still make me sweat, but my plan is to continue to improve in these new areas, creating more and better content for you readers. Patreon makes this possible since I get support to work with my content, and my hope for 2021 is that my page will continue to grow, inspire and teach handcrafting ideas to everyone interested!

It feels like it is early yet to plan for this year, but of course, I am hoping for a market season of some kind, and I have so much new content for sewing workshops and material for a new viking lecture as well. As for the blog, there is a long list with tutorials to make, as much as I have time for. All concluded, it really feels like 2021 will be a Great Year!


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How to put in a gore in a medieval garment

Remember my latest spring green wool dress? I took lots of photos during the process so I could show you how I made it, and share some great hand sewing tip if you want to hand sew a garment yourself. This post is a step-by-step on inserting gores in a garment, like front and back gores, small sleeve gores and gores for a hood.

The pattern? Here is a tutorial on how to make one.

Here’s an old post about a recreated Herjolfnes dress.

Let’s start with my favourite way of inserting gores! With this method, you will always get a gore that looks nice and ends in a smooth top.

Start with cutting up the back panel, make it around 1,5 cm shorter than the side of your gore.

Press the sides (the seam allowance) of the cut on the inside/wrong side of the dress.

Pin or baste the gore into place. If you are a bit new to hand-sewing, working on the inside might be easier, but you can also do this from the front/outside of the dress. The photo above shows the inside.

Start sewing from the outside, with a version of the whip stitch. Here you can see the bottom of the gore where I start, and the waxed linen thread going in from under the folded seam allowance to hide the knot. Waxed linen thread (35/2) or a thin 2-ply wool thread are my favourite choices, but for an upper-class garment silk is also an option.

To make the seam as invisible as possible, sew it like this; making my progress upwards on the inside of the fabric. The result is a seam that is only visible by small dots.

When I reach the point of the gore I just continue around, sewing small whip stitches all the way around the cut. The result is a set in gore that looks tidy, like this! But we are not finished yet, the seam needs to be finished on the inside to be durable and neat.

This is what the inside of the garment looks like now.

Time to trim and fell the seam allowance! I start with cutting the seam allowance of the back panel down a bit, so the overlaying gore covers it. This looks tidy and makes it easier to sew down.

When I have cut all around, I press the seam flat and whip stitch it into place. This will give me two seams holding the fabrics together, creating a very durable garment.

And the finished gore at the back of the dress. The small shadowed hollows around the gore are where the whip stitch from sewing down the seam allowance shows, these are nothing to be afraid of; it is a result of hand-sewing.