HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Want to live in a Historical Tent?

I could call myself somewhat of a pro at living in historical tents, or more accurately, sleeping bad and freezing in historical tents… Therefore, I present to you a guide on how to choose your tent and live comfortable in that!

(This turned out to be a really long blog post- I have apparently missed talking to you. I marked all my personal thoughts and anecdotes with cursive, for easier reading)

Which period?

Different models are based on finds from different periods, so if you are going on viking adventures the Geteld or A-frame models are most often used. For medieval adventures, Getelds and Pavilions are good choices. Small shelters called “Soldier’s tents” are also often used.

When looking at websites selling tents, many will show you models that are not based on finds or pictures but called “historical” anyway. The openings could be placed in new ways, the seams made to save fabric widths or moved to be able to sew on a machine. The poles and ropes holding the tent up might be done in different ways that can not be seen in manuscripts and so on… These tents may still be good tents, but it is always good to know what you buy, and what it is based on for the future. If you are unsure about a model, ask!

A-frame tents at a viking market

What says finds and historical pictures?

Viking type tents are based on ship burials which have included a tent with a wooden frame and canvas. We don’t really know if people actually slept in these on land as well, and they probably did not bring them to different markets all summer… But what to do, when you are a modern person wanting some comfortable living?

Medieval type tents are seen in numerous manuscripts and paintings, both used by nobility and commoners. Brightly painted, large tents are used for festivities, tournaments and for avoiding that pesky sun, while small sleeping tents and shelters can be seen in military settings. A quick search gave me this board.

Round pavilions at Double Wars.

Where are you going?

Many events have lists or recommendations about what tent models are allowed on their events. Mostly, you can bring Getelds and A-frames to viking events, as well as small canvas pieces as simple roofs. To medieval events, Getelds are often allowed, as well as square, round and oval-shaped Pavilions. Materials may also be advised to be linen or wool.

Sleeping tent in the middle, and large pavilions in the background.

The event organizer will want to have as pretty a camp as possible, but at the same time, they know tents are really expensive and that guests will stay at home if their living investment is not allowed. The same is true with market tents; most of them are not strictly historical since a modern seller will need light loads to carry and transport, as well as a big enough tent to be able to bring enough products to earn a living. Not everyone can sell jewellery and candy, so some will need big, bright and roomy tents.

Other things to consider are the campgrounds; is it rocky and hard to put down tent pegs? Then an A-frame tent might be good. Is it often stormy and windy, then perhaps a smaller tent with a sturdy frame and long tent pegs is a good choice. Have you ever seen a jumping A-frame tent in a storm? I have, they can really get quite far…

Cotton, linen or wool?

Cotton is by far the most common tent canvas today since it is cheaper, lighter and easy to come by in the right thickness and waterproofing. I use cotton in my Pavilion to be able to lift the canvas pieces myself and to have a tent that is bright enough for customers to see my products, even if it is rainy outside. But oooh, my old linen pavilion was prettier!

Linen is heavier but more resistant to mold, and unbleached linen will keep your tent cooler and darker. Perfect for sleeping in, not so good if you are a market vendor selling fabrics. Linen gets bleached over time in the sun, giving the canvas a really good look.

Wool is mostly used in A-frames and a good, felted wool fabric will keep you dry, cool and comfortable in all kinds of weather. May be waterproofed with modern products, or with lanolin (wool fat) which is more historical.

Different types of fabrics; brown wool tent, white cotton tents and the unbleached linen pavilion in the background.

Consider this when choosing your model:

  • Packing space available (how much space do you have in your car for a tent canvas and wooden frame?)
  • Storing space (where will you keep the tent off season?)
  • How many people and how much stuff do you need to fit?
  • Is it important that you can put up the tent fast?
  • Is it important that the tent is easy to lift/carry? (consider a canvas in several pieces)
  • Should the door be big (welcoming/good shop) or small at one edge (more sleeping space)?

I have always been partial towards Geteld models since they are often economical, easy to transport and fast to put up and down.

With that said, after living for weeks in this model you will get really tired of the sloping walls, giving you almost no space to hang clothes for drying (except in the middle). Storing all your things around the base of the tent will save lots of space to allow you to walk around in the middle, but it will also mean you crawling around on your knees looking for things every day.

A-frame tents also seem very practical and I am slightly jealous of my friends when we are putting up camp at rocky, hard grounds. While I am sweating and swearing trying to put down the tent pegs in the ground, they simply fold their tent in place, secure the canvas by the frame and move in. I usually get my revenge when the carrying distance between car and camp is long since I can carry my poles in one go…

A-frame tents are practical, economical and if you have the storage and packing space for the frame it is a good choice. It is also considered the easiest tent to make yourself.

Pavilions often have a roof with separate walls, allowing you to open up different sections of the tent if you want the breeze to get in, or want a nice display area. Straighter walls with poles or wooden wheels mean you can place furniture along the walls, and hang clothing from the wooden frame, which is both practical and pretty. More sloping walls on the other hand might ride out storms better.

Round and square pavilions may be sensitive to hard winds and storms; during the Medieval Week in Visby you may see knocked down tents of these models, or tents laid down by choice before a storm. If the round pavilion has a sturdy roof frame, you can remove the middle pole, fold the walls and secure the roof down to the ground covering all your furniture and belongings while you wait for the storm to pass. You might not fit inside, but your tent will survive…

If you only want a sleeping place, tents called “soldier’s tent” or one-man tents might be the right choice for you. I would advise you to get a tent big enough to fit a bed inside, then you will always have a dry space, and can store your things under the bed.

Will I get wet?

A good tent will keep you dry even in heavy rains, as long as you can stay of the ground (in a folded camp bed or wooden bed for example). Also, never put clothes or bedding up close to the canvas, ideally, nothing should touch the canvas walls except the framework.

Our oval pavilions have kept out heavy rains on several occasions, with the single drop or two from a slacking corner joint between roof and wall. During one event, the rain was so heavy that small runlets formed and travelled through the tent. Everything above ground kept dry, but a turn shoe almost floated away…

Look for a tent construction that has sloping roof/walls, and a canvas that is thick, sturdy and treated with a waterproofing agent. Even so, after some years out and about the canvas may need to get additional waterproofing.

How to care for a historical tent:

Let’s start at the beginning; oil all your wooden poles upon arrival, and once a year after that (or when needed). When you put up your tent; find the right way to do so without adding unnecessary tension to the pole, canvas or ropes. The same goes for taking down the tent; do so slowly and controlled, and get some friends to help you in the beginning. Always mend loose ropes, or broken seams at once. Make sure the tent canvas is really dry before folding it away in the storage, and that it is reasonably clean since rotting mud, grass and insects may cause damage to the canvas over time. Brushing away loose bits before folding the tent is good. I also brush off the dirt from the tent pegs and ropes. The canvas should be stored in a dry space, outdoor sheds are not ideally. I can give you several examples of people having their tents destroyed by mold and rats during winter…

More tips to be comfortable in the tent:

  • Furniture like a bed, table and chairs (so you don’t have to sleep and sit on damp ground)
  • A heater for those chilly events (if you live in an area with cold nights and rains). We have a portable gasoline radiator (the same type you might have in a trailer van).
  • A mosquito net to drape over the bed at night
  • Look for opportunities to hang things inside the tent; a lantern and a rope for drying clothes make life easier.

Things to ask (or look for) when buying a tent:

  • What material is the canvas made of, and is it waterproof? Treated to withstand mold? Treated to slow fire down?
  • How much does the canvas weight? Does it come in 1 or several pieces?
  • How long are the frame/tent poles?
  • Are rope and tent pegs be included?
  • How should you take care of the tent?
  • If the tent canvas breaks, is it possible to buy additional fabric for mending?

Pricing?

Historical tents are expensive. Or at least, there is lots of money involved. The cheapest way is often to make one yourself if you have the time, space and skill. The second-hand market is also a really good choice, when people get tired of their small, practical tents and want to level up, they will often sell them for a good price. But try to inspect the tent yourself before you pay for it (ideally put up) to avoid bad canvas, mold, rips or a cracked frame.

A short sneek view over the camping ground at Double Wars; here you can see many different kinds of tents!


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A look into my wardrobe; Veils!

Welcome! Today I’ll show you some of my favourites from my historical wardrobe and give you my best advise on what to choose for your own outfit. Let’s start with veils.

My current favourite is the semicircle veil in different sizes. It is easy to drape and style, and the semicircle cut gives it a smooth and flowing drape. Here are some examples:

large semicircle veil
medium veil from behind

The measures on my different veils:

small: diameter 85 cm (the straight front edge) length 55 cm (from front head to the back).

medium: diameter 100 cm, lenght 58 cm.

large: diameter 140 cm, lenght 60 cm.

small semicircle veil

This is a larger semicircle veil in wool muslin fabric, worn over braids, cap and wimple. Pinned in place by the temples and in the back of the neck:

winter wool veil

To make one: Use a thin tabby linen (90-120 gram/m2) with an even weave. Presoak and wash before sewing to avoid shrinking in the future. I draw the measures directly on the fabric; a semicircle shape following the measures above. The reason for not making a mathematical semicircle is more a matter of taste; how long you want the front edge to be and how much fabric you want in the back. Try it out and see what you like!

I make small double folded edges and whip stitch them with silk sewing thread or 60/2 thin linen thread, vaxed before sewing.

The rectangular veil is a very useful veil that can be worn in several ways. It has a straighter fall than the semicircle, but is ideal for wrapping or draping around the neck, like this:

rectangular veil
rectangular veil with decorative edge

If you make the rectangular veil longer it becomes what I call a Great veil:

great veil for wrapping

The great veil above measures 55*250 cm and is great for creating turban styles seen in the 15th century.

The measures of some of my veils:

Simple rectangular veil: 55*150 cm

Veil with a decorative edge in linen: 50*150 cm

Great veil: 50*250 to 55*350 cm

Use the same quality linen fabric as above, and the same seams.

Shorter Great veil (200-250 cm) worn wrapped around the head, the end folded over the head and resting on top.

When sewing veils for wrapping, I find it easier to use them if they are not to wide. 50-55 cm is enough.

silk veil

Square veils are the hardest to style in my opinion. This model was the first I tried out, but we never made a great team. I do have one left though; my silk veil with freshwater pearls. Silk veils are high status veils, and look great. They are also very light, so you barely feel them on your head.

If you want to make a silk veil for yourself, use a fabric with a heavy drape and thin enough to be a little transparent. Sew the edges double folded with running stitches or even better; make a rolled hem with invisible stitches. (Or buy one ready-made from me with an email/pm).

Measures for a square veil: 80*80 cm or bigger (the silk one above is around 90*90 cm.)

This style is actually two or three different pieces: a cap with a folded strip of fabric pinned on, and a great veil on top. It is a simplification of the large head dress the fashionable woman wore during a preiod of the 15th century. Painting shows headwear with many folds or layers, held in place with pins, basting (or some kind of magic). But since I live in a tent during summer events (and not a comfortable house with a maid) I need simplified ways to dress myself. This was one option that came out nicely, it is both easy to pack and manage during medieval camping, and easy to dress myself in. It should be more tightly pulled in the neck though- contemporary pictures shows no such fabric volume in the neck.

simple style turban

This is another way to style the Great veil, for that “I am hard working but yet fashionable” look. The veil is pinned directly around the head without any shaping braids, padding or cap, and wrapped around the head a couple of times. It is then pinned down to the layers below, and the end left hanging.

To avoid bulky fabric in the neck, I have found that it is better to pin all models of veils in place instead of tying them.

Veil measures: 55*250 cm, thin linen with double folded edges.

Buying fabrics for veils?

Thin linen 90-120 g/m2 with an even weave, a semitransparent and drapey silk, or a fine wool muslin fabric are the materials used above. There’s no find of wool veils, but I use the fabric when I need to stay warm, and for its beautiful colour tone and drape. It is hard to find linen good enough for veils today.

Threads: I use 60/2 thin linen thread for linen veils, and silk sewing thread for wool and silk veils.

Type of stitch: Hand stitching is a good choice for veils since they are very visible, and the drape will look very different with a machine seam. I always fold the hem twice, as narrow as I can before sewing. Whipstitching is always a good choice, but running stitching will do the work faster and create a more discreet seam. Perfect if you have a very thin fabric, or are in a hurry. Silk fabric edges I like to roll and sew with an invisble seam.

variations; linen rectangle worn double folded.

You can vary your veils in many different styles to fit different periods, fashion and status. Above is the rectangular veil with a decorative edge, folded twice and pinned onto a birgitta cap.

The best way to find your styles is to look at contemporary paintings and portraits and try to replicate the look in front of the mirror. When satisfied- take some photos to remember how you did it. I always end up in early spring wondering what veil style I should wear for which outfit…


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How to insert a small sleeve gore

14th c overdress

In this tutorial, a gore is a triangular-shaped piece of fabric sewn into the garment. A gusset is a square piece of fabric, sewn into the armpit to add movability and space, used on shifts and shirts to take a few examples.

How do they work?

A gore inserted in your sleeve will add space and freedom of movement. Depending on the placement of the gore in the sleeve, it will add space to different effects, like moving your arm up and forward or adjusting your sleeve to larger muscles in your arms.

Why do you want to use gores in sleeves?

Gores might have several reasons to be where they are:

To save fabric while cutting out your fabric pieces.

To add movability by cutting the gore on another grain than the rest of the sleeve.

To mend a broken sleeve or seam.

To enlargen a sleeve being to narrow.

Gores might be inserted while making your garment, but also afterwards if you feel a need to adjust the fit. This guide shows you how to put in a gore in a cut slit at the front of the sleeve, but you can also add gores to the seam on an S-shaped sleeve. The principle is the same; fitting the sleeve into the armhole and then adding as much gore as you need to make the sleeve ”whole”.

An example of how this method was used during the medieval period is the Moy Bog dress, which has a similar gore. Maybe an adjustment to add space to a new wearer that had more mass over arms and shoulders?

The easiest way to make well-fitted sleeve gores is to cut out a piece of fabric, pin/baste it on the inside of the assembled garment, and sew it in place. Here is a step to step guide on how I do:

14th-15th c short sleeved dress

This dress has a tight fit, and I decided on a small gore in the sleeve front to add a bit more flexibility and movement.

I started with inserting the sleeve in the armhole and then cutting up a slit in the front to make the sleeve fit all around (this means you will have to make a sleeve that has a slightly smaller measure than the armhole if you make a new dress.) When I am satisfied with the inserted sleeve and slit, I press the seam allowance to the inside and start with the pattern for the gore.

Put a piece of paper on the inside of the dress, and smooth the fabric on top of this. Draw a paper draft for the gore by tracing the ”hole” on your paper. Very easy!

Add seam allowance around the draft, and cut out.

Put the paper pattern onto fabric and draw + cut two gores, one for each sleeve. Remember to mirror the pattern and mark the gore with up/down and front/back.

Fit the fabric gores into the sleeve slits, and pin in place (here I worked on the inside, but if you find it easier you can work from the outside of the garment).

This is what it looks like from the right side of the dress:

With pins in place, baste or sew the gore into your garment. Here I used small whip stitching, not bothering with basting. But if you are unsure or want to test the fit before sewing, basting is a great way to do that. Fastening the gore from the right side of the garment makes it easy to get a good result, since you can see the result while sewing.

When I have inserted the gore, the seam allowance is most often pressed to either side (down to the sleeve) and whip stitched down. I always press the s.a towards the bigger fabric piece. For example, sewing it down onto the sleeve and/or body piece. After that, it is all done!

The new blue gown also has a gore in the front of the sleeve, barely visible but great for movement!


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How to take care of your historical shoes

At the end of each historical adventure-season I try to clean, mend and grease all our shoes. Outdoors in the autumn sun is of course the most enjoyable, but as long as you get it done it is fine. (Ideally, one would do this after each event to keep the shoes in top condition. But I am lazy…)

Shoe care: soft brush, leather grease with rag and paper.

After each adventure:

Treat your shoes with some grease after each event/market/adventure and also during longer trips. If the shoes get wet, dry them in room temperature or outdoors (never put them by the fire). You may fill them with paper to get them to dry quicker.

How to deep-clean your shoes before putting them away for the winter:

  1. Brush away loose bits and dust, and clean the space between leather and sole by separating these and brushing away small scraps in the crack. Use a soft brush.
  2. Wipe the shoes clean with luke warm water, and a bit of leather soap/regular soap if dirty. Scrub the soles clean with water and soap.
  3. Dry well, filled with paper to hold the shape better.
  4. Treat the leather parts with leather grease. I also grease the soles on turnshoes.
  5. Dry for a day or two, and then store the shoes in a dry space. I usually keep the historical shoes in the wardrobe.
Clean between the sole and leather
Now these pair are cleaned, dried and greased!

Before the next adventure, take out your shoes and grease them again before use!

Mend your shoes as soon as you discover they are broken! A ripped seam or a loose strap needs to be sewn (you can use vaxed linen thread) and a loose rubber sole needs to be glued in place. If you are unsure how to mend the shoe, the shoemaker you bought them from should be able to help you or give you advise. A modern shoemaker/cobbler could also be of help.

Shoes might not be as visible as other garments, but they add to the historical look and experience!

Store your shoes:

Shoes should be kept in a dry space, and can be filled with paper to better hold their shape. Wardrobes, airy shelves or paper boxes are good. Shoes might get moldy if kept damp or squashed together.

How to use your shoes:

Leather turn shoes (with a leather sole) wears out quickly if you walk with them on gravel and asphalt. If you are walking a lot on those grounds, consider to bring a pair of pattens (wooden soles with straps) to protect your shoes. Or change to modern shoes if walking longer distances. I do that during Medieval week in Visby to spare both shoes and knees.

Mud is equally bad for your shoes; try to avoid it, wear pattens, or brush your shoes clean as fast as you can after a muddy experience.

When walking, remember to not drag you feet against the ground, but properly lift your feet to spare the sole. Avoiding glass and sharp stones is also good. If the shoes get a bit large, use an inner sole, a pair of extra socks or leather straps to keep the shoe firmly on your foot. A shoe that moves on your foot will get uncomfortable and wear out faster.

Buying or making historical shoes can be expensive, but with the right use and treatment they will last a long time. I use mine approximately 30 days a year, and they are several years old now!

(Want to make your own shoes? I have a weekend workshop in shoemaking planned for 13-14 November 2021 in Sundsvall, Sweden. Send me an email if you want to know more and join us!)


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How to mend your straw hat

You really like your straw hat, but it´s starting to look a little worse for wear? Here is how I mended love’s hat!

The poor hat looks alright on the head, but take a closer look and you will find several holes and broken straw. The thread around the head was put in to be able to adjust the size of the hat to the head and make it fit snugly. It was a great idea, but have also put some strain on the straw around the head, causing it to break at several points. Time to put in some reinforcements so it will last longer! (Note that this particular material is not the one I am selling, the grass straw I use is a bit different. This hat is several years old by now)

A straw hat doesn’t need any fancy materials, it is after all mainly a working hat. I used unbleached linen, linen thread (waxed) and a little glue. When working with your hat; be gentle if the straw is thin/dry and sensitive. I will make a hatband around the outside to support and protect this area, then glue broken parts together. Lastly, I will put a ribbon inside the hat to make it more comfortable, since the broken straw tends to poke inside.

I started with measuring around the hat and cutting out a strap of fabric 4 cm longer than the circumference and 6 cm wide. This will give me a fabric piece of 60*6 cm.

Fold in the seam allowance (1 cm) and press it down on the inside of the strip, and then pin it around the hat.

Be sure to stretch the fabric carefully and evenly, to keep the size of the hat as it was before. Fold the end of the strip inside to finish it off, and then stitch it into place with linen thread. Use a thin, sharp needle and pull gently on the stitches so you don’t damage the straw while working.

You need two rows of stitches, at each edge of the fabric. Start with the one at the base of the hat.

If the straw is very broken, try to find some whole pieces to sew the fabric onto. Here you can see the seam on the inside of the hat, and me trying to find something to sew the fabric onto.

Add the second row of stitching, and sew the fold down onto the fabric for a nice finish. These steps you may use for decorating or reinforce your new hat if you like, using for example linen or black wool fabric. If the hat is a bit big, pulling the fabric around the hat will make it fit better. Remember to try it on after the initial pinning or first row of stitches so the fit is good.

Fabric strip done! Both decorative and supportive, and great if you want to pin or fasten straps or a badge to your hat!

Let’s move on to the next step! Here I use modern glue to mend rips and broken sections in the brim. Braid the straw together over the broken parts or just gently push the edges together, apply a thin coat of glue and let it sit and dry. Pick a glue that is transparent when dry, and a bit flexible (trying it out on a small piece of the hat is always a good idea). A glue that gets rock hard when drying will only put stress on the straw on the side of the mended hole, causing more damage in the future.

Here is another good method for adding support to your hat; a thin ribbon on the inside. This is loosely glued around the base, covering broken pieces and adding a softer base for the head. After the glue has dried, baste or sew the ribbon to the other fabric layer (not all the way through, use the seam allowance) and you´re done!

If the hat is a bit loose, you could use this ribbon the same way as the fabric on the outside; putting it in with a bit of strain to adjust the size of the hat.

And done! Now the hat is ready for some more adventures. Remember to always take good care of your hats so they may accompany you to many adventures in the future, clean them when necessary and store them in a flat and dry space. Good luck!


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The Ultimate Cloak Guide

This post is a collab with Korps and contains advertisement for fabrics

Want to own a really nice cloak? Who doesn’t? (yeah, it was a leading question)

Here is my guide to the perfect cloak; we are going to look at different styles, periods, how to wear it and how to choose the best fabric.

Sources:

Let’s start with some local finds, and the oldest one first: The Gerum cloak is dated to 360-100 BCE and is an oval cloak, worn folded over the shoulders. It is a great cloak woven in a patterned twill, and wearing it folded in the middle, it will look a bit like a semicircular cloak. Wearing a big cloak folded in half, is a good way to add warmth if you don’t have a thick fabric or a lining in your cloak.

Rectangular shawl in tabby wool to a simple viking dress

Viking age cloaks can be seen on runestones, decorations, small figurines and are also mentioned in written sources. I usually call it cloak for a man’s outfit and shawl for a woman’s, but since they have the same function we will just call everything cloaks in this post.

If you fold a square piece of fabric into a triangle and wear it, it will look similar to some female figurines. Rectangular cloaks are another option, where figures are shown wearing an outer garment with corners. If you want to learn more about Viking age cloak theory; check out Viking clothing by Ewing, 2007.

Woad blue cloak or shawl, tabby woven wool fabric

The cloak from Leksand was found in a woman’s grave and is dated to the period 1100-1200. It was made from diamond twill wool, and most likely was a semicircular cloak with an opening at the front, it was also decorated with tablet woven bands at the opening (along the straight side).

The cloak worn by the Bocksten man was also semicircular with a cut hole for the neck, and a seam over one shoulder (the opening was not centered at the front) The cloak was made of several pieces of fabric, pieced together. (Kläderna och människan i medeltidens Sverige och Norge, Eva Andersson, 2006.)

How to draft a semicircular cloak on 150 cm wide fabric; it is really easy!

The cloak that supposedly belonged to St Birgitta of Sweden was also made of several pieces of fabric, but this garment is believed to have been remade from a dress.

During the 13th century, you can see lots of cloaks in contemporary sources (such as the Morgan bible), as the cloak was an important part of the outfit. During the 14th century, there are some really pretty examples of statues with buttons down the front or over one shoulder, and in 15th c paintings, they are often artfully draped in biblical scenes, but not very common in everyday portraits.

Simple semicircular travelling cloak in brown wool twill

16th century cloak patterns from Drei Schnittbucher shows examples of circular cloaks with a front opening, slits, collars and even sleeves sewn onto the cloak.

Full circular cloak pattern, look at that piecing!
Full cloak with sleeves, collar and decorative borders

Interesting thoughts:

In written sources, cloaks go under many different names depending on the time, period, appearance and who the wearer is. There is also evidence of cloaks lined with fur or fabric, cloaks with slits or trains, and of different lenght. Clearly, the garment was both used in a religious context as well as an everyday travel item.

I have not found evidence of hoods or head covering sewn onto the cloak in any finds, and when a hood is shown in contemporary art it is commonly separate from the cloak, even though it might be in the same colour as the larger garment. So if you want to make an outfit close to historical sources, make a cloak and a separate hood that correspond with the fashion of the time. (Hoods on cloaks can be seen in 18th c fashion, but let’s leave that century to another time)

Cloaks may be fastened with a seam, pin, clasp, strings, ribbons, brooch, ring brooches or buttons. Choose your method based on which period you would like it to reflect. Cloaks are fairly common in period art sources, so if you browse through a bunch of paintings you might get the idea on what to choose.

The length of the cloak seems to vary with the wearer; a travelling cloak between the knee and below the calf on men, and a bit longer on women, with ceremonial cloaks trailing behind the wearer. But paintings and prints show evidence of shorter cloaks too, with everything from decorated court cloaks to simple peasant women cloaks. Pick the length that suits your need; too much length and fabric will only weigh you down if you want a practical garment.

example of a semicircular cloak

And as always; piecing is very ok to make use of the fabric!

Different models of cloaks:

Oval cloak, square cloak, rectangular cloak, semicircular cloak (or 1/2 circle cloak), cloak with shoulder seams (or 3/4 circle cloak) and full circle cloak. The Viking age square cloak folded in half is not based on finds but more of an experiment, as is the shoulder seam cloak ( I included that in the picture though, so you may see what I am talking about). The latter I often use when I need to make a larger cloak than the semicircular one but don’t have fabric or historical evidence for a full circular cloak. The seams or piecing could as well be made on other parts of the cloak.

I have found no evidence for the cloak with vertical sections/seams to create a fit (which is popular when buying modern cloak patterns) instead, I would recommend you to choose a simple cut and then drape it on your body to your liking. Small shoulder seams or darts can be made as a more modern solution to make the cloak stay over your shoulders.

The cloak does not need to have an even hem, many examples are just draped over the body or longer back. If you want to make a full circular cloak more even by the hem, you may cut the neck hole nearer the front hem than the back hem (my full cloak is 70 cm at the front, and 80 cm long at the back). Putting the cloak on the body and adjusting the hem afterwards is another method.

Decorations:

Finds, paintings and statues indicate that embroidery, woven bands, silk or a combination of these were used to decorate the cloak, however, these examples are mainly seen on religious or high-status garments. For an everyday cloak, I would go with a sturdy, fulled fabric without decorations. If you want to decorate your cloak; try to find artwork from the period you want to recreate.

Fabric choises:

Wool, unlined or lined with wool or fur is both practical, and the most used material in cloaks during the medieval period. There are examples of velvet and silk cloaks, but only for ceremonial or high-status wearers. A sturdy, dense wool fabric that has been fulled would do well for a cloak, and beyond that, it is more a matter of when you need it (a lined winter cloak or a thinner, fashionable draped summer cloak?) There are examples of both twill and tabby woven cloaks, so again- to find the perfect cloak fabric for your period, status and adventure you would have to do some research for yourself.

Generally speaking, the right kind of fabric and the way you drape your cloak is more important than which model you choose, if you want to look dramatic. Buy enough fabric to give you the size of the cloak you need!

If you just want a good, affordable fabric right now; I include some links here to Korps.se that sells good thick woollen fabrics for cloaks. Very thick and warm fabric, or a softer and warm choice.

Colours:

The best colours for your cloak is: “yeah, it depends on..” you are starting to get this right? Period, area, status, wearer… like with all the other garments the medieval person would buy or make a garment according to what they could afford and what was available/allowed for them. Use artwork again; blues, reds and browns are seen often, and during the late medieval period dark hues and black seems to be popular. A commoner or person living in rural areas maybe had an undyed homemade cloak, while a fashionable burgher would wear something bought, dyed and cut to their taste. The cloak also differed between a garment of fashion and an everyday outer wear for bad weather; let this reflect the colour you choose.

Or, if you prefer, use this information to inspire you into making an awesome fantasy cloak for your next fantasy adventure!



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Martebo bag in linen fabric

This is one of my favourites; the “Fässing” (in Swedish), Martebo-sack (from Martebo church on Gotland) or a Wallet (18-19th century). It is a simple, practical linen bag made for carrying loads. I have seen medieval examples worn over your shoulder like below or larger ones strapped over a donkey.

I actually have several of these for my medieval adventures; for grocery shopping, for the picnic, for my showering things like schampoo…

martebo_01
Martebo bag

The bag is made with a piece of sturdy linen or hemp canvas (chose a sturdy tight-woven fabric in linen, or a piece of tent fabric for a large sack).

Cut out a rectangle with the measure 140 * 70 cm, to make a bag suitable for a picnic and your warm hood. Or design your own measures by laying a measuring tape over your shoulder and let it hang down on either side. Adjust and decide on a length you like on the bag, and then decide on the width; between 60-100 cm (makes a bag that is 30-50 cm wide) might be nice. Add 3 cm of SA (seam allowance) to each measure.

Sewing instructions:

1. Mark out the opening on the long sides on the rectangle. It should be in the middle, and between 30-40 cm wide.

2. Put the long sides on top of each other, and sew a seam on either side of the opening. Backstitches with waxed linen thread (if you are using the sewing machine, start with zigzagging the whole fabric piece, then sewing this seam).

3. Press and fold down the SA and whip stitch it down to one side for extra strenght.

4. Hem the opening with whipstitches, working from the inside. It is also good to reinforce the edges of the opening by sewing a couple of extra stitches through each fabric piece to make it less prone to rip open.

5. Now you have a tube, adjust it so the seam is in the middle of the fabric piece inside out, and pin the short edges closed.

6. Sew the edges with backstitching, and repeat the pressing and folded down SA. Done!

The sack may be carried over your shoulder, or wrap it around your wrist and hand to carry it like a grocery bag. If you have valuables in it, you can also make a knot in the middle over the opening to prevent anything from falling out. Very convenient!


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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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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