HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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The Ultimate Cloak Guide

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

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

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

Sources:

Let’s start with some local finds, and the oldest one first: The Gerum cloak is dated to 360-100 BCE and is an oval cloak, worn folded over the shoulders. It is a great cloak woven in a patterned twill.

Rectangular shawl in tabby wool to a simple viking dress

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

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

Woad blue cloak or shawl, tabby woven wool fabric

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

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

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

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

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

Simple semicircular travelling cloak in brown wool twill

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

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

Interesting thoughts:

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

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

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

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

example of a semicircular cloak

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

Different models of cloaks:

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

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

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

Decorations:

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

Fabric choises:

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

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

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

Colours:

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

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



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Martebo bag in linen fabric

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

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

martebo_01
Martebo bag

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

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

Sewing instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How to make a medieval linen shirt

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

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

Examples of medieval shirts with slits, gores and seams.

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

Linen shirt with a slit at the neckhole

Buying fabric:

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

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

Pick a shirt model of your choice

Preparing the fabric:

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

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

Things you will need:

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

Tools for handsewing

Measure:

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

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

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

Add ease of movement:

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

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

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

Add seam allowance:

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

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

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

Example:

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

Draft your measures into a pattern:

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

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

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

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

Design your neckhole:

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

Shape your armholes:

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

Cut out the pieces:

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

Sewing time!

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

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

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

The needle is thicker than the thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slits at the bottom

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

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

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

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

How to fasten the thread:

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

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

General advice:

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

Other types of shirt models:

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

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

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


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Research post: Medieval straw hats in art

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

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

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

15th century harvesting woman

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

Maciejowski bible 13th c

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

1519-28 man harvesting wines

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

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

Differently shaped straw hats made by Handcrafted History

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

Detail from the Merode Altarpiece, Robert Campin

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

Book of hours, Morgan Library

Diffferent kinds of straw available today:

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

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

Wheat straw hat made by Handcrafted History

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

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

Several straw hats on female field labourers

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

Kempten, Germany 15-16th c

Conclusions if you want to sport a straw hat yourself:

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

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

Some practical tips from this very experienced hat-wearer:

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

Harvesters, man wearing a straw hat, Tacuinum Sanitatis

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

Deutsche Bibel, 1463


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Lacing on medieval dresses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the green dress in the tutorial


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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 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.

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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 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.

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 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.

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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

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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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 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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 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)…

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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 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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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 every day 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. 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!


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Tales from Double Wars

We went to the SCA event Double Wars in southern Sweden (Skåne) and traveled from early snowy spring to full summer in a day. Magical event on a beautiful site, and a really large historical camping ground. The drive took about 15 hours, so we divided it in two days and made some small stops and side trips along the way, like visiting historical buildings and eating ice-cream.

I am working on photos from the event, so the following blog post will be about the event, site, camp and lots of inspirational photos for you- hope you enjoy it!

The new red dress, late 14th century, in red wool with pewter buttons and front lacing. Since the event took place in early May, a warmer dress like this was a good choice. Being photographed in the camp site

Out new tent from Tentorium; we are really satisfied with the quality and the rainproof fabric, it kept us dry and comfortable living during the week-long event. Took the photo one morning, getting dressed in the late 15th c green kirtle (I will come back to this outfit later in a separate blog post)

One day we went for a short stroll down to the lake, through magical green forests with woodgarlic and birdsong

Do you remember my green houppelande with rabbit fur? I sold it, and tried out a new  model (how else to learn?) in a green high quality wool, lined with silk and trimmed with the same silk fabric, to imitate a painting I got inspired by. I call it the Weyden outfit; and I will write more about it when I got the time.

Love is feeling very well now, and was spending most of his time hanging around the archery, practicing or just having a good time. He is wearing a 14th century outfit, made of wool.

I also like archery, and discovered that most of my outfits was wearable for shooting and handling the bow. Even the fancy new red dress, with large veil was ok. What I didn’t like? My straw hat and the temple braids; they got in my way.

Here with love, practicing archery

Strolling around the camp groundsMarket day, love is jumping in to help some customers, while I had a snack and talked about clothing with friends.

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Me and Aleydis by the lake, she was swimming in the cold water, while I was minding the sun…

Do you like what you see? SCA is a big organisation that is active in lots of European countries, USA, as well as other places around the world. Google SCA and your country or city to find out if you have a local group to join- SCA is friendly for beginners and there is lots of help and friends to have if you want to join in and journey with us to long-ago-times!


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Slashing and cutting fabric- a tutorial

During the 16th century it became high fashion to slash or cut fabrics in a decorative manner, and this was taken up by mercenary landsknechts and women working and living in the armies as well. Being a fashion for richer or high-born persons, it was quite the dare for mercenaries to wear, but such a good way to show that you were a high earner with lots of status and gold on your pocket…

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So, I wanted to share with you all my best tips for getting that slashed and cut look that you may want for your outfit!

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But first, some good things to know:

  • The most important thing is the material to work with; wool is by far the easiest. In finds and manuscripts, you will also find garments made by silk or silk/linen and silk/wool blends, but those garments will have very small cuts (also called pinking) made with a specific tool and is a whole different story. So; chose a wool fabric. A felted, dense and tightly weaved wool is the best, this will give you a sturdy garment that won’t fray easily.
  • The slashing is not hemmed. I know many people do this because they chose a sensitive fabric, they are afraid it will fray and tear, or they have just been told that all raw edges should be hemmed or sewn. The standard is to not hem or sew the slashes, they should be raw, made with a very sharp tool, and yes- they might wear out faster than a garment that is not slashed. There are garments made with other techniques, for examples doublets with sleeves that are being made out of strips of lined/hemmed fabrics. These might look similar to cut garments, but the making is different.
  • Slashed and cut garments may not last as long as more sensible ones, or look very pretty after using for a while, that is the point with this fashion! You’ll have to be rich enough to order fine materials, pay a tailor to sew it for you, pay even more for the slashing and cutting, and then don’t mind that you will have to exchange the garment once it looks worn. If you are a more economically laid modern person, pick a wool fabric for your outfit, since this lasts longer than silk or linen.
  • Almost all slashed garments that I have seen have been lined with a second layer of unslashed fabric. This could be a regular lining or a whole garment that holds together the one laying over, providing stability and fit. I often use a linen fabric lining for wool and silk fabrics, but in the case with slashed guards (strips of fabrics) I place the guards on top of the main fabric, to make it visible through the slashing.

Feeling ready for some slashing now?

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The pictures are mostly from my trossfrau dress project, this from a woodcut that I have copied and coloured to get a feeling for the dress to be.

I usually wash my wool fabrics, iron them and then cut out the pieces I want for the garment. Before I sew them together I draw out my slashes on the wrong side with a fabric marker and then cut them before I put the garment together. If you are not sure about the fitting, it is good to baste the garment together and try it on before this, since it is difficult to adjust fitting after the slashing is made.

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I usually also draw out helplines during this stage; everything that helps you make good sharp lines placed exactly where you want them is good. A ruler, some mathematics and a marker go a long way. I also like to make a template to use while drawing out the slashes.

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Do not slash all the way to the edges, remember the seam allowance and leave 2-3 cm along the edges to make it easier to sew the pieces together.

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This is a larping outfit (only inspired by historical fashion) as an example of a durable slashed garment. The arms have slashes, but not the armpits or body, and the slashes ends some cm before the seams. Sewn in a medium-heavy twill, slightly felted.

If you want the garment to be sturdy and hold together, slash less along the armpits, side seams and crotch; all areas where the fabric gets more wear. If you look at historical woodcuts and painting, you may notice that tight fitted pants have no slashes at the backside of the legs near the seams, neither over the butt (there might be exceptions, as always)

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The finished dress, a hot day in Visby a couple of years ago