HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Thoughts on making medieval garments

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’s lots of others that love to share their knowledge in this field as well. Here’s 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 frist, 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 sells fabrics especially to 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 resembles the historical originals, whilst giving you a fabric that will last for a long time to 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 a 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 or other people around you that are good at different fabrics, ask them for advise (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 to 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-mold 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 of 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 luke warm 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.

Which thread?

Thats 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. Polyester thread is a bit to “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 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

Other good tips 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, 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 to much or died, but nowadays I confess of having higher standards… Like, I want to both look like I fit in the historical context, being comfy, not getting to much mosquito bites, and not freeze during chilly evenings. I also like to change my linen underwear everyday to feel fresh, as well as having some change of outer wear/dresses just because I feel like it. Oh, now I’m babbling again. You would never guess hom much text I always have to delete because of babbling…

Getting dressed in the morning; linen shift, wool hose and leather turnshoes

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 estetically, 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.

Wear it!

Historical clothing should be worn, because it is awesome and comfy and look 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 mud. That will make the fabric last longer. Protect the handsewn leather turnshoes 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 season, I always wash, mend, air and look through all my garments before putting them into the wardrobe. For this 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 tshirt. If you are used to wearing stretchy clothing, you will need to be a bit more careful getting dressed and undressed with the 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!

Love, L


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Medieval pattens (research post)

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 non 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.

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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 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.

About pattens

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 around, 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 choise) but 1464 it was stated that it was allowed to make pattens of aspen wood not suitable for arrowshafts (Shoes and Pattens).

15th and early 16th century pattens, both wood and layers of leather was 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 have 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 of 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.

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Metal buckles and other fastenings

There are several examples of metal buckles represented in 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 was 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, Museum of London online collection is a great source to begin with.

Hugo van der Goes, The Portinari Altarpiece/Triptych, c 1475

Sources:

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.

Museum of London online collection (20200416) https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/search/#!/results?terms=medieval%20patten

Extant find at the top; Museum of London online collection. 15th c patten in wood with leather and iron nails.

A patten maker; (20200416) https://hausbuecher.nuernberg.de/75-Amb-2-317-106-v

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Alnö Medieval Church

Alnö is an island just outside the town were I live, and there is a really amazing church with medieval paintings inside. But for some reason, I have never visited the church before. Last year there was a small medieval event with a market I attended, and then I finally took the chance to look inside.

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Isn’t it funny, how we dream about going to faraway and amazing places to look at old things. But the viking age runestone and medieval church and ruins I drive by regularly fades into the background of everyday life. Taken for granted and maybe not appreciated as they could be.

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Anyway, I wanted to share my visit with you in this blog post, so you also may se all the beautiful paintings and sculptures inside the church. A taste of a faraway and old piece of art, but close for me. Also, I tried to take photos of all the amazing clothing in the paintings still visible, because I am a historical garments nerd…

The paintings mostly depicted different saints and their life and martyrdom, but with an interesting mix of contemporary fashion. This is very common in religious art from the medieval time period; historical scenes made alive with clothing and accessory from the time they were painted. This makes them into an interesting source for understanding and recreating clothing items, but there might be traps too; some saints were depicted in out of date-styles, as well as angels often wearing “some kind of draped clothing” instead of real clothes.

Most female saints were also virgins and therefore represented in art as young fashionable women with their hair worn loose. Therefore, if you want to work with religious paintings as a source for your planned historical outfit, it is wise to take this into consideration and look for more sources of clothing, as well as study the history of saint and how they were represented. There are many interesting books in art history on the subject, but a quick walk through google and wiki are a great start too!

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The oldest part of the church was built sometime in the 12th century, but the wall paintings, the altarpiece and the crucifix was made in the 15th century.

Of course I wanted to match the church art, wearing my 15th c outfit for the market weekend! The church is open during the summer and I also had the opportunity to get a short guided tour when I visited. Some parts of the church are more modern, and I really adore the mix of the very old church with its massive stone walls, and later added decorations, interiors and attributes which shows how people continued to build and care for the buinding for a really long time.

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Outside the churchyard we put up our tents, and had a relaxed weekend selling medieval goods, talking to visitors and enjoying the cozy setting.

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How to make a Herjolfnes pattern

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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)

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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.

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Furthermore, the original clothing (and patterns) were made to a very different person, with a different life style than yours, a body marked by another way of living, and the clothes were being worn and as a 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 modeling.

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 waist line) and two integrated gores; middle front and middle back. On my standard dress pattern my back piece is whole (no seam along the spine).

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Step 2: I cut the front and back out, along with a side gore. This is the pattern for my red cotehardie.

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Step 3: Time to go sideways! I mean sidegores… I mean, just cut the pattern pieces apart like I did here. I place the cut where the arm holes start to bend, or around 10 cm in from the sides. The bigger size, the bigger piece you will get.

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Step 4: Cut the side gore in half, and tape each half to the new side pieces.

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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.

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Step 6: The front and back pieces also gets added width at the bottom hem. It’s illustrated by the orange part on the picture. The width gets added to both front parts and back parts. This will give you pieces that has no straight vertical lines on the skirt, but flared lines resulting in a lot of hem (fancy!)

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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= center 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 dress too.)

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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 waist line (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.

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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 gives 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 to 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.

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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 doesn’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 rahter than an inspired one, you might leave the dress a bit looser and skip the lacing.

Useful notes:

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 adressed.

You also have a lot of seams now were 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, instead 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.

Sources:

Woven into the earth, Else Ostergaard, 2004

Medieval garments reconstructed, Ostergaard mm, 2011

 

 

 


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My 10 best dresses

Hi! So nice of you to drop by to read! This time, I wanted to take you with me on a small tour to 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 sneeking 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.

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This early in my erhm, blogging career (can you call it a career if you are not making any money..?) I didn’t get much photos of my own outfits, but rather took photos of everything I saw, trying to capture those magical moments and that 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 forgot about this one; the green herringbone twill wool was a really expensive (in 2011) fabric in an 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.

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Oh, my green moy bog gown! Somewhere around 2010-2011 my real interest in medieval pattern construction techniques began and I wanted to try the moy bog 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.

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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 of…) 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 holds 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 to 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 a really thin wool, and decorated with silk cords and small freshwater pearls. I would like to redo it a bit as it doesn’t fit right know, and therefore I don’t use it. But I do feel a bit unsettled everytime 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 anyyy minute…

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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 gren 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.

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My red 14th century wool cotehardie, completly 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. Some time around here I also started to feel like handsewing a whole garment wasn’t such a big deal. Nowadays I handsew most of my wardrobe, with exceptions for some of my undergarments, and projects that has a short time frame.

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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.

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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 woolen cloth, lined with a silk fabric. On 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.

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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 everyday I would probably wear this one 9 out of 10 days.

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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. Sometime 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!

 

 


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Comfortable and easy outfit for the 15th C

I wanted to tell you about my blue 15th century dress. It is made in a thin twill wool fabric and super comfortable and easy to wear!

This is one of the dresses I wear most when it is hot outside, but made in a thicker wool it will give you a really cozy overdress for colder weather too. I have used lots of 15th century pictures as a start for the pattern drafting and over all look, and you can find some sources + more info at the end of the post. Also, there is lots of posts about 15th century garments and fashion here so click the tags for getting to know more. I made this one as a pattern experiment, and it turned out so nice that I am tempted to make another one…

The pattern is basically the same as the one I used for my coat. The skirts are longer, and closed in the front with the opening reaching to the waist (easy to get in and out of) and the sleeves are S-sleeves (the seams are in the back) with an option to save on the fabric by inserting a gore in the back of the sleeve. This is the pattern outlay from the coat; if you want to make it to a dress just give the skirts more length, and redraft the sleeves to S-sleeves if you want.

The measures you need:

  • Lenght of garment (from shoulder to floor for example)
  • Armhole (or use a toile or pattern that fits you, the armholes are made in “the regular way” but will be a little deeper due to the width of the garment starting already from the shoulder. If you use a toile as a start, place the neckhole around 20 cm (size s-m) from the selvage and draft neckhole, shoulder and armhole from the toile before continuing the sides in a straight line.)
  • Sleeve length and wrist circumference (for the sleeves)
  • Shoulder width (around 8-13 cm) from the neck hole to were the sleeve starts.
  • Upper body circumference. Measure your body, and split the measure in 4. Use this as a guide for drafting the start of the pattern; the neckhole, shoulder and armhole.

As a reference, I started the neckhole 20 cm from the selvage/fabric edge and then drafted the pattern from there. To make sure you get the measures right and will fit in the dress; measure the width of the fabric pieces before cutting, especially if you have broad shoulders. Compare with the width needed over your shoulders.

It is easier to start from a corner, with the front piece and front sleeve gore 1.

If you are a beginner in drafting patterns, it really helps to start on a piece of paper with your measurements. Experiment until you feel more secure, and if you like, you can even cut the paper pieces out and tape them together to check the fitting. You dont have to make the pattern a full scale, you can work on a checkered paper with scale 1:10 (1 cm being 10 cm in reality)

The gores for the front and back skirts are just there to give some additional width to the skirt (F1,F2,B1,B2) and they should be half the lenght of the back/front seam. So they will get longer if you draft the skirt longer.

Give the pattern a try! This is one of those outlays that may seem more complicated than it really is.

After you have cut out all the pieces, sew them together:

  1. back seam and gores
  2. shoulder seams
  3. side seams
  4. sleeves
  5. insert the sleeves in the dress
  6. front seam and gores (leave the dress open from the waist or the chest area up)
  7. hemming and 1-3 small clasps at the front (if you like)

When I made the dress I tried different ways to achieve the folds; basting, gathering, and with a strip of fabric on the inside… But I like it best when it is loose and flowing so I removed all the stitching. Everytime I put it on now I arrange the folds after putting on the belt. They may slip around a little but is easy to adjust again to your liking.

Most of the fabric is gathered at the front and back to drape the skirt nice, without adding bulk on the sides. When choosing fabric, a thin but tight weave will give you a good fall and heavy drape to your dress.

There’s lots of pictures of this style of dress, with draped folds, and what appear to be sewn ones. The sleeves can be made rather tight or more loose, and the neckline higher or lower. Check out my pinterest for more inspiration!


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Working kirtle for the 15th century woman

This is a dress I made several years ago, to have as a simple working kirtle. I never got around to take photos and write a proper documentation about it, but now I got some feeling! In these photos the dress have been used for a couple of years and it has seen wear, washing machines and mending. So here’s my first tutorial for the autumn, and thank you for visiting and reading! (Both old friends and newcomers!)

This is a very simple working kirtle or dress, made to be practical as well as historically possible. The fabric is a plain wool weave, dyed to look like walnut dyed fabric. The skirt is partly pleated, partly flat sewn to the waist, and the upper part of the dress is fitted for bust support, side laced and has short sleeves.

I wear it with loose sleeves, pinned to the short sleeves and a gollar for warmth, under another fancier dress, or as it is if I am going to do lots of work or if the weather is warm.

The dress is hand sewn with wool thread in the same colour as the fabric, and it was one of my first garments made with wool thread instead of linen thread. I really recommend it! At first, I was a bit unsure if it was going to be durable enough, but after several years of using it, washing it in the machine (yeah, because lazy and dirty…) and treating it rather rough, it stays together really well, with only some minor mending.

I used running stitches on all long seams, and folded the seam allowances to one side before whip stitching them down. The waist seam and all edges was made with whip stitches, and the sleeves and upper body seams made with back stitches to be a bit more durable than the running stitch is. The running stitch is way more durable than many believe and common in extant finds, but for heavy support I like whip stitch and back stitching better.

The fabric is from Medeltidsmode, and I used around 3 meter for a dress. If you are much longer than me (1,6 m) consider buying another half metre. I did a quick pattern outlay for you, since it is old I’m not sure if I drafted the pattern along the selvage or across the fabric but you will get an idea of what pieces you need to make one for your self.

The dress was made using two front pieces (to have a supportive seam in the front was a good choice since I didn’t have any lining in the dress.) One back piece, two sleeves and the skirt panels. I drafted S-sleeves, but the dress is made with regular sleeves with the seam under the arm. That seems to be the most common in artwork from the time on short sleeves. Your choice!

Some thoughts on skirts:

Do you see that the skirt has way more fabric in the back, while the front is straight? This will give you a nice fall as well as enough width and volume, but if you bend forward to pick up things or work by the fire, this construction will make the skirts remain away from the flames closer to your body, rather than draping forward with your movement. Hard to explain, but try it! It gives you a very practical garment.

The front panels are marked C at the center front. The back piece is “upside down” to use as much of the fabric as possible. You could of course piece the skirt together with more panels if you like. On my dress the front panels lies smooth in the waist, with only a couple of pleats to allow room for hips and stomach, while the back part is pleated around the back.

Other ways of construction would be to make more panels/gores (see my green 15th c kirtle) or pleat the skirt fabric to the waistseam all the way around (like my 16th c trossfrau dress in purple and blue). Or just make a few decorative folds in the back, like on my blue Weyden kirtle. This is simply one possible way of interpreting contemporary art.

A tip on bust support:

This is (I think) my only wool garment so far that has bust support, but no lining whatsoever. This is possible only because of the plain weave, since it is not very flexible across and along the threads in the fabric. A twill weave would not have worked without lining.

The front piece has two arrows marking out small details in the fronts seams. At the center front there is a small bend going in under the bust, and at the side seams there’s another, making the seam run in a bend, and then changing direction after the bust and running straither over the stomach. This way of sewing will make the bust stay better in place, allowing for bust support without lots of sturdy layers. But the bust will have a rounder form and not as much steadyness as a garment with lining.

I did however put in a narrow strip of linen around the neck opening on the inside, to avoid it getting stretched. There is plenty of ways to make hems sturdier, such as a narrow strip of fabric, running or stab stiching or using another layer or quality of fabric on the inside, for example. You can find this in extant finds such as Herjolfnes and finds from 14th c London, as well as in paintings. It is an easy way to finish of your garment, make it last longer while being historically made.

The side lacing is made with sewn holes and a lucet braid in plantdyed wool thread. A wool thread will be a bit stretchy, and wont run as smoothly as silk, which makes it a bit slower to lace, but the cord will stay in place. On this photo you can see the lacing which starts by the sleeve and reaches to the waist seam, a gap were the shift is visible (did I have to much good food this winter?) and also some mending done on the sleeve. After the waist seam I tie the cord (I lace it from sleeve to waist) and the skirts are opened another 15 cm to allow for easy undressing. The skirt is not laced, it stays closed anyway, and by sewing some folds in the sides, the opening will not be very visible.

A note on fitting a dress like this:

I always make a fitting for every single item I make, and that is especially important if it is supposed to be tight fitting. I do have a basic pattern, drafted on my own body (a toile) but after I have basted the pieces together I need to try them on before sewing the garment. Every fabric you work with is slightly different, some more stretchy, some supportive and stiff, and by trying the pieces on you can adjust the garment to your taste.

The method for adjusting and fitting a dress like this is the same as I use while making a supportive upper body toile, and you achieve the support by taking in the upper body in the sides and front, sometimes also by stretching the shoulder seams upwards a bit.

A front laced kirtle is a bit easier to adjust to a bigger bust, but you can make it work with a side lacing as well, just remember to make the same adjustments to the laced side as the sewn together side, and maybe lacing it double one turn just below the bust for greater support.

For a complete outfit; linen shift, wool hose and leather shoes under the kirtle. A simple belt to hang the money purse from (change is very important for todays trader) and a veil on the head. Here I have a simple cap under the Great Veil, to have a base to pin it on. The veil can then be worn in many different ways, depending on how you like to wrap or fold it. 2-3 brass pins secure the veil to the cap under it.

Whoho! Finally documented this dress a bit, so now I don’t have to feel “bad” about forgetting it all the time. As you have noticed, this is not a complete step-to-step tutorial but rather a post with guidiance if you want to make a similar dress.

Many readers ask me to share more sources and such material on the blog, but according to copyright laws I am not free to post all the stuff that inspires me on the internet, and therefore you will often find links, reading tips and pinterest notions where you can find artwork and resources of your own. Hope you understand my take on this!

 


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For Sale

I am putting up some items for sale, mostly things I have been making as projects, for tutorials and such. Good historically clothing, everything is worn and priced after their condition. Most items you might have seen already here on the blog, and now they are looking for new homes to give room for new projects and tutorials!

A 15th c coat in brown woolen twill. Handsewn with linen thread. Made after historical models, edged with white rabbit fur from an environmentally and animal friendly farm. Clasp in neck in bronze after 15th c finds. European size 36/38, or small. Bust measure recommended between 80-100 cm. Loose and flowing, lots of fabric. Price: 240 Euro/ 2500 kr. Want to order a new one in a colour of your choice? 335 Euro/ 3500 kr.

More info; https://handcraftedhistory.blog/2018/11/29/the-15th-century-coat/

 

A green woolen dress/kirtle in a thin twill, linen lining inside. Handstitched with linen thread, closing with hooks and eyes. After historical models, 1450-1470. Size: Europeian 36/38, waist around 78 cm, bust 90 cm (a couple of cm in difference is ok, can also be sewn in by the side seams) for a 160-165 cm long wearer.  380 Euro/ 4000 kr ,machine washable.

More info: https://handcraftedhistory.blog/2018/11/21/making-a-15th-c-dress-with-a-waist-seam/

 

A blue woolen dress/kirtle with short sleeves, after paintings by Rogier van der Weyden, 1450-1460. Handsewn, lined with linen on the upper body. Short sleeves, lacing at front. Size: eu (34) 36, Waist 76 cm, bust measure up to 90 cm/65 EE, supportive upper body. Can be taken in by the side seams. Lenght of wearer: 160-165 cm. Machine washable, good condition. 380 Euro/ 4000 kr.

More info: https://handcraftedhistory.blog/2018/11/18/kirtles-and-dresses-during-the-15th-century/

 


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15th c clothing for men

Love got some new garments for his 15th c outfit this autumn. Do you remember the wedding outfit he had, with the silk doublet?

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It is a bit fancy for the everyday outdoor event, so now I made him a wool doublet with linen lining. It is based on period artwork, such as this painting by Rogier van der Weyden (St. John Altarpiece ca 1455-1460)

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The doublet has a couple of bronze buttons in the sleeves so he can open them if he needs to pull up the sleeves when doing dishes, and the front is closed with lacing in silk. It is not as tight fitting as the silk doublet, giving him more freedom of movement (or adding some weight in the gym)

He also got a wool coat with linen lining and fur trimming, based on several paintings by van der Weyden, like this one that is a portrait of Nicolas Rolin (Beaune Altarpiece ca 1450)

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The black, fur trimmed coat seems to be one of the most fashionable garments during this period, you can see it on several men in portraits and religious scenes.

The belt is similar to the one in the painting, made in bronze and black leather. It was mostly this detail that made me do the coat, and since the belt set was a wedding gift from our friend H-G it seemed like a good combination.

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In combination with his black pilgrim hat the outfit gets quite striking, but maybe a bit black. A red hat or chaperone perhaps would do the trick? Or red pants?


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Getting dressed in the morning

Follow me on one of my historical adventures and take a look inside our medieval pavilion, to find out what I do in the morning to get ready- medieval style! (Yeah, just like a regular blog person I post getting-ready photos and todays-outfit. I just do it in my way… super serious, promise!)

When the sun rises it gets bright, and during summer it also gets quite warm in the tent, if the sun shines on the roof. Our new tent is a little better; you can easily sleep until 9 if you don’t have to rise early for breakfast duty. We have curtains to create a sleeping area in the tent, and here I sit on the bed, dressed in a linen shift.

Combing out my hair before braiding it. I could say that I get pretty every morning before going out for breakfast and coffee, but the truth is that most often I just put on a simple kirtle or my brown coat over the shift to have my breakfast as soon as possible. But let’s pretend this is a morning with plenty of time…

Then I put on my woolen hose, my medieval shoes, and the garters that holds the hose in place.

After that it is time to put on the dress or kirtle. This is my green woolen 15th c dress, fastened with hooks and eyes at the front. An apron is good to protect the clothes and to finish of the outfit. Under the shift I sometimes wear a lengberg bra, a modern bra or a sports bra to get the support I need. They all work well, but the lengberg bra or a balconette model will give you the 15th c silhouette. If you have smaller breast, going natural works well too!

Then I usually braid my hair, and/or pull a cap and veil over it, or a cap and straw hat if I am working outside in the sun. The hairdo I will post in a separate blog post, with a DIY guide. This photo is from Double wars, being out in the forest in really nice and warm weather.