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.
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.
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.
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.
I wanted to share some thoughts with you today; things I have learned and things I find important when I design medieval clothing. Both for myself and for customers. Being new in any branch of historical reenacting or costuming can be overwhelming, and just like with all other things in life there’s no simple answers or an ultimate guide. “Just read this book, and then you will know everything”… I haven’t found it at least.
But don’t feel overwhelmed! It is such an interesting journey you have ahead, exploring and experiencing other times and new handcrafting. And there are lots of others that love to share their knowledge in this field as well. Here are some great things I have learned over the years, that I like to share whenever I can!
Choosing materials is clearly one of the more difficult things when starting with historical handcrafting, and often the simplest way to succeed in making a good outfit is to pay the price for good material and buy the same as everyone else. Seems boring at first, right? But instead of wanting to make that perfect deal on super-cheap wool in a really unique colour; think about what historical look you want to achieve with your outfit, and what qualities you would like the garment to have.
The places that sell fabrics especially for reenactors often produce high-quality fabrics, and their customers will come back to buy more if they like it. The chance will also be that they are knowledgeable in historical fabrics so you can find materials, colours and qualities that resemble the historical originals, whilst giving you a fabric that will last for a long time at an affordable price.
The quality of the fabric will differ with manufacturers, places of origin, type of material etc so make sure to read up a bit on what material would be good for your individual project. Look at what others say about the seller and the different fabrics they offer and learn some useful words: tabby and twill are weaving techniques, and twill is often more stretchy. Felted means the fabric has been fulled and is often less stretchy, but more weather resistant and smooth. Thin, medium and heavy are different weights in wool fabrics, whereas 120 grams etc are the weight of an m2 fabric.
Fabric shopping at The historical fabric store
It is always best to be able to see and feel the fabric yourself, and now when we stay at home, fabric samples are a good choice. If you have friends, a group of other people around you that are good at different fabrics, ask them for advice (or use a forum online) and always state what kind of garment you would like to make (a kirtle) for what period (14th century) and for what kind of use (reenactment event during winter etc). That way you may save both money and effort instead of buying the first fabric you find, and then get disappointed.
Preparation of fabric
Wool and Linen
I always prewash fabrics before sewing, even for my customers. I know that many in the field claim that you can’t wash wool fabrics in water, but that’s just bullsh*t. Of course you can wash fabrics, at least good ones. Bad ones? Might shrink uneven, get too much wear or completely change the look, feel and even the colour in contact with water. But you know what? That is not ok for garment fabrics. They should be made to endure everyday wear and wet weather, washing, food stains and so on. Those things totally existed in the medieval ages, it would be strange if your medieval outfit couldn’t endure the same right?
Furthermore, prewashing fabrics will release the weaving tension in the warp, making it shrink slightly and give you the fall it will have after ironing/washing/a rainstorm. You could get the same result by steaming the fabric with an iron before sewing, but that won’t remove the…
Chemicals and anti-mould treatments. Fabric today needs to last for longer times during shipping and warehousing, and look good when arriving on the shelf in the fabric store. To achieve this most fabrics (and ready-made garments) are treated with different kind of chemicals, which will wash out in the washing process. Or rub off on your body… Not a good thought, right? Always prewash your fabrics!
Linen: soak in water a while before washing, to get a smoother fabric. Not necessary, but worth it. Fold it loosely in the bathtub for example. Wash the wet fabric in 40- 60 degrees C (the temperature you would like to wash your linen shift/shirt in later) hang to dry and then iron on a high temperature.
Wool: wash by hand or use the wool setting in the washing machine. Use cold to lukewarm water and wool detergent. If you don’t have that, use a little shampoo, because wool is hair, and will not look its best after strong detergents. Also, hot water might felt it and make it look dull.
Silk and silk velvets are the only fabrics I don’t wash before use, but rather iron very gently and hang out to air before use.
This dress has been washed several times in water, and still looks like new.
That depends on what fabric you want to use, and what you want to make. But I prefer natural materials and “same for same”: silk for silk fabric, linen threads for linen, and wool for wool fabrics. Oh, or silk and linen for wool fabrics too, because that is a historical choice and very easy to work with. If you prefer to use a sewing machine, cotton thread for linen and silk for wool garments work nice. A polyester thread is a bit too “sharp” and might lead to breakage in the fabric rather than the seam if you happen to get stuck in something with your garment. But yeah, it will work on a sewing machine if that is what you have, I just don’t recommend it.
Where to start?
It is always good to start with underwear like a shirt, shift and breeches. They will make up the base, are often easier to make and linen is not as expensive as wool. Also, you’ll get to try out the fit, the seams and some techniques.
After that, it is more a question of what you need versus what you are inspired to start with. Remember, handcrafting should be fun and not only practical! I like to make a middle/base layer next, often in wool, to be worn on warm events or when I work. After this is done, I adjust and finish of necklines at under-garments so they are not visible (if that is not fashionable) and start with some accessories and another layer for warmth and weather protection. The medieval period (and others too) often have an outfit made up of several layers, and that is really practical when going to outdoor events!
Wearing a thin wool gown on a summer event. Photo taken by Catrine Lilja Kanon
Another good tip is to make a mock-up or toile, basically a try out on the garment you desire, made in a cheap/recycled cotton fabric. It might seem as you are doing the work twice, but this is really handy as you get to try out the pattern, fit and look on the garment without risking that really expensive fabric. And if the mock-up gets really good, you just pick apart the basted seams and use it as a pattern!
Basting is also a good investment; long-running stitches will hold together your fabric pieces enough for a final fit before sewing and will make it both faster and easier to sew all the seams by hand. I will confess, when I started sewing medieval clothing I NEVER basted anything and rarely pinned the seams, but after several surprises (Whot, how come I got this fit?) I learned it was both better and faster to check the fit, before sewing the final seams…
How to decide on social class and status?
Ohh, don’t ask me, I always change between working-class garments and fancy party outfits depending on the event, place and what I feel like… But generally, just go for whatever catches your fancy! Or pick clothing after your preferred activities; are you going to stroll around a market fair with friends? Visit a fancy banquet? Or do you prefer mud wrestling, archery, beer taverns or outdoor cooking? Not only will you look much better with the right kind of clothing, but you will also find that your activities will be much more fun with the right garments! A short dress and practical hood for the forest archery, or a thin and cool kirtle with hose for the indoor festivities.
A well of working-class doublet, perfect for active events…
And a silk brocade doublet for those fancy strolls in the garden
Garments you need
This is always a tricky question, as it depends on the weather, the type of event and the gender and social status you want to portray. I thought I did great at my first events wearing a linen tunic, shoes and a cloak, I neither froze too much nor died, but nowadays I confess to having higher standards… Like, I want to both look like I fit in the historical context, being comfy, not getting too many mosquito bites, and not freeze during chilly evenings. I also like to change my linen underwear every day to feel fresh, as well as having some change of outerwear/dresses just because I feel like it. (Oh, now I’m babbling again. You would never guess how much text I always have to delete because of babbling…)
Getting dressed in the morning; linen shift, wool hose and leather turn shoes
1. You generally need linen underwear and a change for longer events. Several changes, if you’re not going to wash the clothes during the event. We want to look medieval, not smell medieval…
2. A thin or medium warm wool layer for summer events, for working or for indoor events.
3. An outer layer for cold evenings, if you get wet or want to look well dressed. I recommend another layer of kirtle/dress/coat rather than a cloak to get more use out of your clothing.
4. Headwear like hats, veils, hoods etc. Both to complete the outfit esthetically, but also because it gives you cover from weather and bugs.
5. Shoes! Don’t forget shoes, make or buy a pair that is looking good and feels comfortable. Hose (long or short) with thin leather soles is also workable on warm events, paired with pattens.
6. Accessories, both fancy and practical: belt, garters, bags, purses, cloaks, headwear, gloves… You name it. These can really set the style and time period, so check out sources before you decide on what to add to complete your outfit!
A 15th c outfit in 3 layers; shift, middle kirtle and overdress complete with shoes, headwear and accessories.
Historical clothing should be worn, because it is awesome and comfy and looks great… You know that you’re allowed to wear it around the house right? Or take the great cloak for that chilly walk, or use the apron when doing gardening work. You shouldn’t need to be super careful with your garments, they will look even better when you have worn them a couple of times. My favourite shift is 6 years old and worn transparent thin over my shoulders and back after months of wearing, but I love it.
And make it last longer:
If you have long skirts, fold them up or pull them up into your belt when walking so you don’t step on the hem, or drag it through the mud. That will make the fabric last longer. Protect the handsewn leather turn shoes with pattens when walking through rain or mud, and always mend holes and rips as soon as you find them on your garments. At the end of the season, I always wash, mend, air and look through all my garments before putting them into the wardrobe. For this covid-year though, I recommend taking them out for airing a time or two to avoid dust and bugs.
Getting dressed in historical clothing is actually a bit different than getting dressed in your favourite comfy pants and T-shirt. If you are used to wearing stretchy clothing, you will need to be a bit more careful getting dressed and undressed with woven natural fibres. Imagine it more like a suit, pull it carefully over your head, always open lacing and buttons before removing the garment, and never “jump” into your medieval joined hose. Another tip to make your hose last longer is to always pull them up before kneeling or sitting and to wear garters under the knee to make them stay in place.
Early 14th c outfit with accessories
Yeah, I think I got the most parts down here, and it became quite the long blog post. Maybe I am tired of sitting at home, talking to the cats and love all the time? Who am I kidding? I am REALLY tired of sitting at home, I miss events, adventures and being able to go out and do fun stuff. But most of all, I miss you friends, readers and fellow history travelers! Stay safe and take care so we can meet each other soon!
I wanted to buy myself a pair of really nice wooden pattens to protect my handmade medieval shoes during events, like 6 years ago. I didn’t find any, so then I tried to trade for a pair with some woodworking friends, but none knew how to make a pair or didn’t want to, so I set out to fix my non-pattens-problem on my own. That took a while, and believe me, I have gone through some bad options before I ended up happy.
Making a wooden sole with a leather strap, and then put it on your foot seems like a simple task, but in the end, I didn’t get it right before I researched the extant finds, looked at the artwork and then tried making a pair with some serious hands-on experimenting. I wanted them to both look good, feel right and be comfortable to move in. Now I have finally made a pair I am satisfied with, so I wanted to share my research and process with you! Because of the amount of research, text and pictures I ended up with, I am splitting the posts into research and step-by-step. Easier to read!
Period: Europe, mainly 14th to 15th century.
Pattens are a pair of soles with straps, to wear with your everyday medieval shoe to raise the foot above the ground, avoiding snow, dirt and water. Though they might look like sandals their purpose was to protect the wearer and the expensive shoes all year round, and the thick soles meant you came up from the ground, keeping you dry and warm as well as making the shoes last longer. Pattens were shaped after the foot and the leather shoe, changing form as the shoe fashion did.
They may also be referred to as clogs or galoshes, all names for a medieval overshoe meant to protect the leather shoe, though I will use the term pattens like Grew and Neergaard does in Shoes and Pattens. There are finds of pattens from the 12th and 13th century, making them an useful accessory for the medieval person. Finds of 14th century pattens in London are often decorated for the higher classes and gets more common later in the century. In the 15th century, they become increasingly popular, with many different models and variations. Lots of extant finds show this trend, as well as the pattens being frequently showed in contemporary art. Based on this knowledge, I decided to focus mainly on the late 14th and 15th century variations of pattens.
Materials and models
Pattens can be found with soles in joined layers of leather, as well as wood, and with a solid sole or a two-pieced variant, joined with leather almost like a hinge. Examples with a wooden platform on top of stilts or wedges in wood or metal can also be found.
Examples of wood being used in finds; alder, willow, poplar and one example of beech. Aspen was prohibited for use in England in 1416 (which tells us it was probably a popular choice) but 1464 it was stated that it was allowed to make pattens of aspen wood not suitable for arrow shafts (Shoes and Pattens).
15th and early 16th century pattens, both wood and layers of leather were used for soles.
Straps made of leather
All extant examples I have studied have straps made of leather (vegetable tanned cowhide seems to be the choice), though there are lots of different strap fastenings. Some pattens have one strap over the front part of the foot, almost like flip flops, while others also have straps at the sides or behind the heel, joining in a strap around the ankle. The heel straps can be first seen in late 14th century finds.
Looking at contemporary artwork, many working persons from the period wear practical pattens with a sturdy strap over the foot, while higher classes have more formed soles with delicate straps, sometimes decorated, and sometimes with a buckle.
To adjust the fit of the straps there are examples of metal buckles, ties and leather strips secured with a piece of leather or a nail among other varieties. The leather used for straps are generally thinner than the one used to join a split sole, and to make it sturdier a seam, a binding or a folded edge has been used. Two layers of leather sewn together is another method. The leather could be decorated with dyes or edges of contrasting colours and stamps or cut-outs in patterns.
To fasten the leather to the soles iron nails were used, both for the straps and the sole hinge. Sometimes a second leather strap was nailed down around the sole to finish the look and protect the foot straps from wear. Other words used for the nails are dubs, pins and pegs but I choose to follow the item descriptions on the online database of the Museum of London naming them nails. It also seems that the medieval examples have the same shape and size as nails to other kinds of work.
Metal buckles and other fastenings
There are several examples of metal buckles represented in the artwork on pattens from the 15th century, and finds from the 14th and 15th century of similar buckles made in iron, brass, bronze and copper allow to mention some examples. Because most buckles are found loose it is hard to say which ones were used for belts, shoes, pattens and purses. I opted for some examples from contemporary artwork to show you, and if you want to further examine buckles from the period there are lots of finds on online museum collections as well as in Dress Accessories.
Examples of metal buckles in contemporary artwork
There are several finds from sites in Europe like London and Amsterdam as well as examples from Germany. If you want to see more extant finds, the Museum of London online collection is a great source to begin with.
Hugo van der Goes, The Portinari Altarpiece/Triptych, c 1475
Grew and Neergaard (2001) Shoes and pattens p. 91-101
Egan and Pritchard (2002) Dress Accessories 1150-1450
Goubitz (2011) Stepping Through Time: archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800.
This is my early 14th century outfit, hand-stitched and made with inspiration from medieval manuscript sources, like the Luttrell Psalter from early 14th c England.
I made the dress for my video project and wanted to put together a whole outfit that would fit in the same time period. It turned out super comfy, maybe I could wear it instead of my comfy pants indoors..?
I also made it so it would be usable in the viking outfit if I would be in need of a thin woollen dress/kirtle under the apron dress. Hence the looser sleeves, shorter length and not so wide neckline. It is certainly not the most fashionable 14th c outfit, rather an outfit for work, like in my market stall. (Uhum, much suitable, very nice thinking there…)
This dress will be featured in my online lecture about Medieval Dress (only in Swedish right now!) and as I know that many of you readers are Swedes or understand Swedish, I will post a link to the lecture here. For you non-Swedish speakers; I have not forgotten you, and will strive to translate interesting parts of the video to English and post it on a Youtube channel in the future.
Until then, here’s a list of the materials used in the outfit if you get interested in making your own.
What items do you need?
For my outfit in size small-medium, based on fabrics 150 cm width
Linen shift, 2 meters. Linen thread and beeswax for sewing.
Wool kirtle as the visible layer. 2,6-3 meters of wool fabric. Wool, linen or silk thread for sewing.
Birgitta cap + linen half circle veil. 60 cm thin linen. Thin linen thread and beeswax.
Linen apron. 100*80 cm of sturdy linen, linen thread and beeswax.
Wool hose/socks. Around 70*100 cm wool twill.
Leather turn shoes.
Garters in wool or silk for the hose. Fabric scraps, woven ribbons or braids can be used.
Purse, here in brick stitched silk with silk tassels and a silk tablet woven band. Made by my friend Jenny!
I promised you some insights into the Herjolfnes dresses with the many side gores, and here’s my take to understand the patterns!
(This guide is a “make it work for you” guide, if you want to make a dress as similar to the extant finds as possible, you might want to use the published materials mentioned below instead)
First, if you have “Medieval Garments Reconstructed”, it might be fun to try these patterns out. But remember that these are just general patterns, and they are not made for your body, nor your measurements. The risk is therefore that they will not fit very well, and you will be kept wondering what to do with this new and mysterious pattern.
Furthermore, the original clothing (and patterns) were made to a very different person, with a different lifestyle than yours, a body marked by another way of living, and the clothes were being worn and as the last thing, used instead of coffins for the dead last rest. Translating these clothing into patterns is important to understand the general pattern construction, but after this, I believe it to be more useful that the dress you finally make is going to fit you well.
To achieve this, I recommend you start with a personal pattern; a mock-up or toile. Once you have this one, you can then transform it into a pattern with as few or many side gores as you wish. To demonstrate this I made a model in paper for you. You can try out this method in regular paper first if you want, or go straight for patterning paper and 1:1 modelling.
Step 1: The shadowed picture is my toile/mock-up for my upper body. I have made a start pattern with the skirt attached to these (by the waistline) and two integrated gores; middle front and middle back. On my standard dress pattern my back piece is whole (no seam along the spine).
Step 2: I cut the front and back out, along with a side gore. This is the pattern for my red cotehardie.
Step 3: Time to go sideways! I mean side gores… I mean, just cut the pattern pieces apart like I did here. I place the cut where the armholes start to bend, or around 10 cm in from the sides. The bigger size you have, the bigger piece you will get.
Step 4: Cut the side gore in half, and tape each half to the new side pieces.
Step 5: To make it easier, I draw the new side pieces on a piece of paper, and add some width to the other “side” of the side gore; where it is straight. I don’t need a lot, between 30-40 cm on a full pattern.
Step 6: The front and back pieces also get added width at the bottom hem. It’s illustrated by the orange part in the picture. The width gets added to both front parts and back parts. This will give you pieces that have no straight vertical lines on the skirt but flared lines resulting in a lot of circumference around the hem (fancy!)
Step 7: Now I have a pattern with added side gores, 2 on each side. The gores at the front and back pieces have been added as a part of the pattern to simplify, but you could also piece everything together.
CF= centre front (where my lacing is on the green dress) and CB on this pattern means you will have a seam along the back since the gore is integrated. You could also keep the back piece whole, and insert a gore in the middle. I will show you how I do this in another post. (Also note that I show you a half dress in these photos; when you do your dress there will, of course, be another half of the dress too.)
Step 8: Want more side gores? Not a problem! Repeat the cutting-party, and cut each of the side gores in two. Here I have done it on the front side gore. I recommend marking your pieces with front, back, and arrows to show where they belong, and I also keep my waistline (dotted line). It can get confusing otherwise…
After this, you can add more width at the hemline to each of the new gores, drawing out more width from the straight side like shown above. You can also add A Lot More Width as shown below if you want to have a fancy dress with a great amount of fabric.
Step 9: Very important. After you have cut all your pieces and redrawn them, it is time to add the seam allowance. Add 1,5-2 cm of seam allowance around all pieces, either on paper or directly on the fabric. If your starting mock-up had seam allowance integrated, do not add more to those lines that you have not touched this time.
Step 10: Whoho, a new Herjolfnes based pattern has emerged! Cut it out in mock-up cotton fabric to try out the fit, or just do like I did and cut out all the pieces in wool, with a bit of extra seam allowance. Extra? Just to be able to baste the dress together and try out the fit + if you are satisfied with all the new side seams. I did not need the extra seam allowance, but I intend to use the photos to make even another tutorial on the subject of fitting a dress pattern.
Remember that the side seams are not “princess seams” which are put over the bust to give it a modern form. The Herjolfnes seams are more on the side of the bust and give you movement, a good drape and lots of hem.
I made the sleeves based on a regular S-sleeve pattern I already had, and for this construction method you should not need to adjust the sleeves much (if you have a working pattern), just check so the armhole doesn’t get too wide; measure your seam allowance when making the dress, and then insert the sleeves after sewing all the side gores and front + back panel together.
The finished dress in medium thick twill wool fabric. The dress is actually quite loose, and I cut the sleeves short, and the hem above the ground, to make it into a good working kirtle for historical markets.
The original Herjolfnes patterns don’t have lacing, but I decided to add that and take in the dress a bit to get a fit I am comfortable with. I also hate pulling a tight dress over my head as I always mess up my hairdo and cap, so the laced ones are my favourites. Once again, if you aim for a recreated pattern rather than an inspired one, you might leave the dress a bit looser and skip the lacing.
Remember to add seam allowance to your new pieces, I like to add a bit extra (2-3 cm) in order to easier make adjustments during the fitting.
When you have achieved your new pattern in mock-up fabric (or cut it out in your wool fabric) baste all the side pieces together to try out the fit. The many side gores will adjust the weight and fall of the fabric and there might be more stretching that needs to be addressed.
You also have a lot of seams now where you can make adjustments to make the dress fit perfectly to your body. If you need to take it in; don’t take in all the extra width in just one seam, but spread it out between the seams.
Also; remember to wear your medieval supportive garment or modern bra of choice when fitting the dress so the dress will fit the bust nicely.
Woven into the earth, Else Ostergaard, 2004
Medieval garments reconstructed, Ostergaard mm, 2011
Hi! So nice of you to drop by to read! This time, I wanted to take you with me on a small tour of my virtual wardrobe, showing you some of my favourite dresses I have made so far. Be prepared to see some really old stuff now, because it wouldn’t be very fun if I just posted photos of the 10 most recent, high-quality dresses I made right?
(Yeah, you wouldn’t think it was as nice sneaking a peek into my actual wardrobe, it’s quite full and maybe not in the best order. Have you seen my sewing box? Then you’ll have a feeling for what my wardrobe looks like…)
Let’s start at the beginning; my first buttoned cotehardie. This one is an old dress (the photo is from an event in 2010) long gone to someone else. It was my first try doing a 14th century dress with a closer fit. I can’t say I really knew how to make medieval fitted garments but somehow I managed this one and I was sooo happy with it. I remember looking up to others at the event, pondering how to make such awesome garbs like they wore, and how to manage a really good sleeve.
This early in my erhm, blogging career (can you call it a career if you are not making any money..?) I didn’t get many photos of my own outfits but rather took photos of everything I saw, trying to capture those magical moments and the cool things others wore. Like these outfits- I still remember thinking I would totally want to be that skilled when I grew up!
Oh, I had completely forgotten about this one; the green herringbone twill wool was a really expensive (in 2011) fabric of awesome quality, and I made some kind of Herjolfnes dress with lots of gores in the side and skirt. It was so comfy, fitted me well and I used it quite a lot before selling it. Actually still missing it. Here I am wearing it as a middle dress under my viking apron dress. Couldn’t find any good photo of just the dress.
Oh, my green Moybog gown! Somewhere around 2010-2011, my real interest in medieval pattern construction techniques began and I wanted to try the Moybog sleeves. I remember that I first made a short-sleeved one, wore that for a while and then remade it with long sleeves and better fitted gores in the skirt. Another dress I was really satisfied with at the time I finished it and wore a lot over several years. Then I wanted to make new experiments and sold it to be able to afford new fabrics.
The 16th century trossfrau dress is one of my oldest that I still use (I tend to get tired of old projects and sell them off…) But I still like it. I put a lot of effort into research and actually making it historically accurate and fun at the same time and finished it in early 2015. It is hand-sewn, the pattern and construction methods still hold up to my standard, and the colour is just sooo… fugly. The purple hue is actually based on a natural dye, so the thing that is least accurate with the whole outfit is the slashing on the hat; I was too fast and made it pretty rather than historical believable.
My wedding dress from 2017. This has a special place in my heart, I don’t know if it is the dress itself (it is rather plain) or the event it got used at… It’s a 15th century silk dress with open sleeves below the elbow, lined with really thin wool muslin, and decorated with silk cords and small freshwater pearls. I would like to redo it a bit as it doesn’t fit right now, and therefore I don’t use it. But I do feel a bit unsettled every time I take it out from the wardrobe and think about cutting it apart to redo it. Maybe I am lazy, or a bit nostalgic. Yeah, I will probably remake it any minute (year)…
I loved this one! It is a 15th century houppelande (overdress) in black velvet with moss green edges. The sleeves got lined with my last pieces of green silk that I owned, and they made for a very good contrast to the rest of the dress I thought. The dress was only worn once during this photoshoot in 2017, and then I sold it to a happy customer abroad. I loved it, but I didn’t need it. I mostly made it to practice sewing in velvet and to try out the pattern, as it was my first try to make a full circular houppelande.
My red 14th century wool cotehardie, completely handsewn, and with 20 pewter buttons in each sleeve. What is not to love? It is red, fancy, a really serious try on reenactment clothing and I feel Amazing every time I get dressed in it. Sometime around here I also started to feel like hand-sewing a whole garment wasn’t such a big deal. Nowadays I hand sew most of my wardrobe, with exceptions for some of my undergarments, and projects that have a short time frame.
Ok, I know, it’s a whole outfit rather than just a dress (I can cheat right?) but I couldn’t leave this one out. The amber dress project was just that; a very serious and creative project which was so much fun to make. The process actually took several years, but somehow this outfit came to be a milestone where I felt that I had learned new things and evolved as a handcrafter.
Yes, I have a thing for green. But you knew this one would show up here right? It is green, comfy, dramatic and 15th century. What is not to love? This was actually my latest houppelande after making several tryouts to explore drape, patterns, construction methods and different fabrics (you can see them below) and it is handsewn in a high-quality woollen cloth, lined with silk fabric. In this photo, I wear it full “Weyden style” to portrait a well of woman from the middle 15th century, dressed in rich fabrics to the height of fashion of the time.
Mmm, this is not a clear participant in this post just by the look of it. It is a really simple dress with panels and gores, handsewn in undyed ecological wool (in 2018 like so many of my other dresses). But it is one of those dresses that makes you feel awesome, comfortable and just warm enough whenever you wear it. It’s magical. If I was going to wear medieval/viking clothing every day I would probably wear this one 9 out of 10 days.
So, there you have it! Some of my projects over the years. It was a bit challenging to pick out favourites, and I know I left my new 15th century wardrobe out (but hey, you’ve seen that one a lot lately) as well as my viking apron dresses I’ve made that I really liked. Sometimes I’ll have to put together another Viking-wardrobe post maybe.
What do you think? You have any favourites that you would like to make a version of, or do you already have “the best dress ever” in your wardrobe? I would love to see it!
I took some quick pictures to show you how I make my braids for the 15th century outfit. I do not make them to all events, and they end up looking a bit different each time, but this is the basics for the look! (this is not a historically accurate way, but it is one that really works for me during work and camping events so I wanted to share)
You will need:
Longer hair, or hair extensions.
Brush, comb, hair wax (optional), rubber bands or thread, 2 bobby pins.
First, I divide the hair into two sections and brush them out. Then I usually add some natural hair wax to get the hair a bit easier to work with. The hair is pulled to the front, and the braid is a regular 3 strand braid that begins over the ear.
Look at the start of the braid, it is really high up and almost at the front of my hairline:
Braid both sides, finish them off with a small rubber band or thread. I always use rubber bands, because I am lazy…
After this, it is time to fasten up the two braids in loops. I usually do this by pulling a bobby pin through the rubber band, so the pin hangs at the end of the braid. This is the hair from behind; you don’t have to make it perfect, but try to pull the braids tight from behind to avoid the hair falling down your neck.
After that, grab your bobby pin, fold the braid back and put in the bobby pin at the start of your braid. If you have extensions, you can pin it through the base of one of these for extra firmness. Make sure the pin is secure, give it a small “twist” to secure it inside the braid.
Then it should look something like this. The loose hair ends lies against my head, behind the braids and under any cap or veil, I will wear. The bobby pin and rubber band is also hidden. Note the lenght of the braid in different paintings when deciding how long yours should be. I like them to reach the line of my nose, it makes my face look cute.
And from behind
There, all done! I have discovered that the best way to hide the loose hair and the small hairs at the neck is to use a modern, thin hairband in fabric, that I pull over my head and smooth away the hairs with. I didn’t use that this time, and you can use hair spray, wax, bobby pins or whatever you fancy to hold your hair in check.
The result? This is what it looks like when styled with the 15th c great veil.
This is my method for attaching pewter buttons to a garment. It is easy, simple and makes it doable to remove the pewter buttons before washing or to use on another garment, and then re-attaching them quick afterwards. Another great thing with this method is that you will not lose your buttons as easily as if you sew them onto the garment one by one, since you will have a secure ribbon to hold them in place.
Here is where I start; the sleeve at the top is finished, and the sleeve at the bottom already has its buttonholes and hems. You will need to make S-sleeves (with the seam at the back of the arm, going just over your elbow) and then fit them snugly over your underarm. I recommend doing a mock-up sleeve first in a cheap fabric to try it out. Do you notice the curved edge of the bottom sleeve? That will create room for the wrist and the start of the hand which are also inside the sleeve.
Start by marking out where to place the buttons, use a pen and compare with the already made buttonholes. Work on the inside of the sleeve. Depending on the size of your buttons you will need different seam allowances, I had small buttons and used 1 cm, but recommend that you use at least 1,5-2 cm.
Use an awl and make small holes in the fabric, for the buttons to go through. If you have a thin or sensitive fabric, you need to reinforce the sleeve before you begin, otherwise, the buttons may rip through the fabric when put under stress, such as moving or lifting when wearing the dress. A simple piece of fabric would do the trick, like on the sleeve above where the buttonholes have a strip of silk (sturdy linen is better to work with). Sew it into place before making the holes.
Do you see my trick now? I do not sew each button in place separately, but pull them through the holes I made with the awl. When I have them in the right place, I thread a sturdy ribbon (this one is in linen, but a braid, twisted linen threads or anything similar will go) through each buttons loop, to keep them in place.
The ribbon makes the buttons stay in place, and makes it impossible to lose them. Note that the ribbon is twisted from left to right to pass through each button from the same direction, this will give you a smoother seam later. The buttons are placed with the flatter side towards the sleeve.
When the whole set of buttons are attached and the ribbon threaded through them, fold the ribbon back, and leave a piece of it lying under the loops to keep it in place.
Final step! Fold the seam allowance over the buttons stem, loop and the ribbon, and whipstitch it in place. To remove the buttons, you will just have to rip the whip stitch open, remove the ribbon and take out the buttons to wash the dress in the machine, or use them elsewhere on another garment. To replace the buttons, repeat the steps above (the marking and holes should be left so you don’t have to redo them).
It takes me about 30 minutes to reset a sleeve, so quite doable instead of having to buy new buttons for each garment you make. This also works on bronze buttons of course, but fabric buttons I usually sew onto the garment one by one as is visible in finds from London (Dress Accessories 1150-1450). Also, note that you need the typical medieval button with its long stem, most modern buttons are flat and don’t work with this technique.
Some time ago I made a medieval bathing dress in unbleached linen, and I wanted to share it with you. It is a simple project, perfect for an evening or if you want to practice hand sewing.
There are plenty of bathing dresses in paintings from the late 14th to 16th century in Europe, they can also be seen in different cuts and models, and some are clearly supportive shifts that you could wear under your medieval clothing. Mine is very simple but with an intake under the bust to allow some support, but still being easy to get in and out from. No lacing is acquired.
Left; Bohemian, Codices vindobonenses 2759-2764 in the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, in Vienna, Austria. Right: The Bathhouse Attendant, Bible of Wenceslaus IV. 1389.
This find is from A History of Costume, Kohler and is dated 14th century and described as a lady’s chemise or undergarment, the photo is old but you get the general idea.
Most of the pictures I have found seems to be dated to the late 14th to early 15th century, there are lots on the internet and I have a Pinterest folder on Medieval underwear so I won’t go into more historical sources today.
The cutting out; prewash your linen, fold in double in the length you would like, and then cut the A shape. I used the leftover fabric for gores in the sides (and at centre front + back if you like, it is optional) but this of course depends on your measures.
The first pictures show the general cut, the second the additional front and pack gores, the third the intake under the bust that give me the support. Do not take in too much, because then you won’t be able to get in and out of the dress.
About measures: The length of the dress measures from armpit to hem. The width is your measure around your bust divided in two (for front and back) add seam allowance but nothing more. Start the gores at your natural waist (if you are unsure, rather place them higher than lower) and pin the intake under your bust while wearing the dress with gores and side seams sewn/basted. Add shoulder straps last, mine is just double-folded linen cloth, whip stitched together and then fastened at the same position as I would have worn bra straps.
If you sew your dress by hand, use waxed linen thread and running stitches, and then fold the seam allowance to one side and whipstitch in place. This gives you a sturdy seam that is also quick to make. Hem the dress with running stitches or whip stitches, after your choice.
Making the dress in unbleached linen made it opaque even when it was wet, good for modesty. In artwork the dress seems to be white, may be visible nipples was a thing, or you would have to pick a very dense fabric. In some pictures, it is very clear that the fabric is transparent, but I chose the more sturdy and practical look. (update spring 2021: I have found that if you start with unbleached linen fabric, and sun bleach it yourself you will get an almost white fabric that is not as transparent as the modern bleached options in stores.)
The result? All considered, I am satisfied with the cut, sewing and look of the dress. It is also easy to swim in. Historically, being out in public in a bathing dress was not a thing, they can be seen on bathhouse attendants or in rare cases during the dressing/undressing at home or during dirty labour. Wearing it to the beach was certainly not a thing, but I liked to have a more historical dress instead of wearing a modern bikini when going for a swim at events.