At the end of each historical adventure-season I try to clean, mend and grease all our shoes. Outdoors in the autumn sun is of course the most enjoyable, but as long as you get it done it is fine. (Ideally, one would do this after each event to keep the shoes in top condition. But I am lazy…)
After each adventure:
Treat your shoes with some grease after each event/market/adventure and also during longer trips. If the shoes get wet, dry them in room temperature or outdoors (never put them by the fire). You may fill them with paper to get them to dry quicker.
How to deep-clean your shoes before putting them away for the winter:
Brush away loose bits and dust, and clean the space between leather and sole by separating these and brushing away small scraps in the crack. Use a soft brush.
Wipe the shoes clean with luke warm water, and a bit of leather soap/regular soap if dirty. Scrub the soles clean with water and soap.
Dry well, filled with paper to hold the shape better.
Treat the leather parts with leather grease. I also grease the soles on turnshoes.
Dry for a day or two, and then store the shoes in a dry space. I usually keep the historical shoes in the wardrobe.
Before the next adventure, take out your shoes and grease them again before use!
Mend your shoes as soon as you discover they are broken! A ripped seam or a loose strap needs to be sewn (you can use vaxed linen thread) and a loose rubber sole needs to be glued in place. If you are unsure how to mend the shoe, the shoemaker you bought them from should be able to help you or give you advise. A modern shoemaker/cobbler could also be of help.
Store your shoes:
Shoes should be kept in a dry space, and can be filled with paper to better hold their shape. Wardrobes, airy shelves or paper boxes are good. Shoes might get moldy if kept damp or squashed together.
How to use your shoes:
Leather turn shoes (with a leather sole) wears out quickly if you walk with them on gravel and asphalt. If you are walking a lot on those grounds, consider to bring a pair of pattens (wooden soles with straps) to protect your shoes. Or change to modern shoes if walking longer distances. I do that during Medieval week in Visby to spare both shoes and knees.
Mud is equally bad for your shoes; try to avoid it, wear pattens, or brush your shoes clean as fast as you can after a muddy experience.
When walking, remember to not drag you feet against the ground, but properly lift your feet to spare the sole. Avoiding glass and sharp stones is also good. If the shoes get a bit large, use an inner sole, a pair of extra socks or leather straps to keep the shoe firmly on your foot. A shoe that moves on your foot will get uncomfortable and wear out faster.
Buying or making historical shoes can be expensive, but with the right use and treatment they will last a long time. I use mine approximately 30 days a year, and they are several years old now!
(Want to make your own shoes? I have a weekend workshop in shoemaking planned for 13-14 November 2021 in Sundsvall, Sweden. Send me an email if you want to know more and join us!)
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.
Let’s start with some local finds, and the oldest one first: The Gerum cloak is dated to 360-100 BCE and is an oval cloak, worn folded over the shoulders. It is a great cloak woven in a patterned twill, and wearing it folded in the middle, it will look a bit like a semicircular cloak. Wearing a big cloak folded in half, is a good way to add warmth if you don’t have a thick fabric or a lining in your cloak.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This is a short, and hopeful, encouraging guide to get you started with historical sewing and adventuring.
There are many paths down this hobby, depending on your interests and where you live. Look for local groups and events and what they do, and try out different things.
Some examples on activities/groups to try:
SCA (Society of creative anachronism).
Reenactment groups that specialise in different periods.
Friend-based groups that accept new members.
Larping (live-action role-playing).
Markets/fairs that focus on a period you are interested in.
Landmarks like castles, ruins or museums might have groups helping them create a living environment.
Online meetings, workshops, groups etc.
In some areas, you will find lots of different, open activities to choose from. In others, not so many. Remember; many time travelling enthusiasts travel a lot to get to their favourite activities so even if you don’t find the best parts close to you, there might be others living nearby that you don’t know yet.
If you find anything of interest, be sure to reach out to them, tell them that you would like to join and ask about the requirements. Some groups are open to visit, others are invites only or require you to have a certain standard to your gear before joining. Remember that most groups are voluntary based so you will meet other enthusiasts working for free, not some big business with staff readily available!
What outfit do you need?
This depends on where you are going and what groups you would like to join. Before sewing, it could be a great idea to first scout your options for activities. Some group/fairs/events require you to wear a specific time period for attending. Or if you just love to sew; start with doing different outfits and then go to events where you can enjoy wearing them!
Generally speaking; when planning your first outfit for going to an event over a day or so linen underwear (shirt/shift) under some kind of wool clothing, maybe with a hat/veil/headwear and a belt with some kind of bag will be enough. A cloak, if you want to stay during the evening, might be good. Shoes are often hard to find at first, but if you have funds to spare webshops offer different models that might do. Again; before spending your hobby budget on something it might be good to wear a pair of discreet sandals or boots on your first trip, and then inquire for tips on footwear. This might save you a lot of money and trouble!
How do you make an outfit?
Nowadays, the internet is bursting with info free to grab and make do with. Start with choosing what period you are really into; Viking age, high Medieval era or the 18th-century court will all have very different styles. The next step is to collect: information, pictures, photos, inspiration… Try to look into both contemporary sources such as books, paintings etc from the period, what research, science and finds show, as well as inspiration from other reenactors. This way, you will build up your own sense of what would be a good choice of clothing.
Don’t know where to start? Say you are interested in the 15th century North Europe style; start googling that. Check out artists living in the period (find them on Wiki) and what happened politically and fashionable during this era. (Before you know it, you will be super educated about a whole new period in history…)
Were could you buy an outfit?
Not into sewing… at all? No worries, lot’s of people are not. There are plenty of businesses today selling reenactment gear of different qualities. The problem is, of course, to find the right place with garments and items with a quality that is suitable for what you intend to do. Before shopping (and risk being disappointed) decide on where you want to go and try to connect with a group around that interest/period/area and ask them for good shopping tips. I would of course advise you to go local; shop within your country from seller’s that makes the items themself and may customize them for you. Better quality might cost more, but it also has a better lasting value if you want to upgrade in the future.
Ask a friend!
I know you probably have a thousand questions. Because I had when I started. Am I allowed to bring a toothbrush? What shall I eat? How are people sleeping at that event? Is this expensive? Is it fun? I may of course not answer all questions in this text, but if you are wondering about something specific; feel free to write a comment here and I will do my best to answer everything or send you to someone better suited! And yes, toothbrushes are allowed…
Advise from others:
I asked on my FB page for more advice for beginners and had lots of great suggestions from readers and friends. I didn’t bring them all, but wanted to share some of them!
Karine “Try to find out what you really want to create. Follow your own fire. Ask as many questions as you want. And remember that everybody makes mistakes sometimes. And sometimes mistakes can turn into something even better.”
Elin (translated to English) …”remember to drink water, nap, use sunscreen and eat your meals. Even schedule rest time along with activities. Change clothing for sleeping. A headwear is fantastic! The protect you from heat stroke, sun and can be moisten (to cool you down).”
On the subject on finding new friends: Volunteer! Attend handcrafting workshops. Join Fbgroups.
Adéle “Clothes and gear as a new player: Do -not- compare yourself to others (who might have had years and years of making and gathering their stuff). If you end up having fun and sticking with the hobby, the gear will come. Focus on following the recommendations of the organizers, staying warm and dry, and having fun.”
Agnes: “Try not to fall into the trap of “everybody else has such nice things and I will never be able to create that”. We have all been beginners, everybody starts out with different possibilities to budget, knowledge and amount of time we can put in to the hobby … Most people in the reenactor/sca/larp world are kind and helpful people. If they get told “I like your thing, how did you do it?” they will just be happy to be able to geek out with someone. Don’t expect them to hand you an IKEA kit though. You will have to learn some stuff for your own…”
Maja Elise: “Just start! When I made my first attempt at kit I didn’t know anyone else who did reenactment. Those clothes suck, but I’m so glad I just got started. Fun was had and experience earned.”
Fredrik: “For living history/reenactment, research first, then spend your money. It somebody says that something is ok, ask for their sources. If they can’t provide sources, don’t follow their advice.”
Minna: “Just go for it. You’ll probably want new stuff anyways after your first few events, so keep it simple.”
If you have browsed my earlier tutorials (and videos on my Patreon) you might have discovered that I really looove pressing my seams all the time. But how did they achieve good looking seams “back then” without the use of a modern iron?
A smoothing stone: a flat stone or piece of glass (in Swedish “glättsten”) were used with a flat polished wooden board to smooth out fabrics and seam. I have seen several finds from the Viking age but there are examples dated iron-age to medieval period.
Putting the fabric/folds/seam on the board, and then pressing down with a smooth piece of glass/stone will work pretty well, and give you strong arm muscles too…
A smoothing bone or pointed bone creaser (falsben): A polished piece of bone that you can use for flattening out seams, both in textiles and leather. I wanted to show you some historical examples, but couldn’t find any photos to borrow, which makes me a bit unsure about the history of the tool. I was taught it was a really old tool, basically used since forever (in Sweden, that means at least during the 19th century…) That is not medieval, but since I have seen similar items from earlier periods, I use it. You could use the backside of a knife handle or a bone awl or stylus as well.
This works really well, and makes the seams beautifully flat, smooth and glossy. I actually use mine to finish of handsewn seams in linen, the hemming on fine veils etc. It is a bit of extra work, but quite fast and easy. The pointy tip gives an advantage over small smoothing stones in my opinion.
Heated irons are heated up by fire, and used in the same way as a modern iron with a damp pressing cloth. Historical items are both solid, and with a compartment for putting in pre-heated pieces in. This method is demonstrated in the series “A stitch in time”.
Apart from having to make a fire and wait for the heating this is basically the same thing as using a modern iron, when you get used to the tool and how to estimate the heat.
My two favourite things for flattening the seams when I don’t have an iron around:
Smoothing bone: for linen, leather and thin wool items. Makes a really glossy and nice finish on linen shirts and veils. If you want one; buy one in bone, not plastic.
Gripping the seam with your hand to flatten it out while sewing down the seam allowance: good for thicker or fulled wool fabrics. You simply hold the seam allowance in place while sewing it, and the fingers on the underside of the fabric stretches it out and create the flat appearance on the outer side.
Both of these methods are nice, but I rarely use them in my everyday work, to save my fingers and joints from strain. Choosing ergonomic methods is also important, but every once in a while it is nice to make an item with no modern tools at all!
This post is a collab with Korps and contains advertisement for plantdyes and fabrics
I wanted to put down what I have learned about coloured garments and fabrics from the Viking age, so you may use it as a guide when deciding on the colours for your viking outfit.
Colour pigments available during the Viking age according to Ewing in “Viking Clothing”: blue (woad), lichen (purple), red (madder) and yellow (not identified) but also…
Blue could range from soft, muted grey-blue, watered blues, to saturated deep blue tones. The same goes for other colours; white wool, lots of dye and a skilled dyer will get you deeper and more even colours than mixed wools, and so on. The range of red is very wide; orange hues, muted brown-red tones, to saturated reds and cold red such as wine red. Lichen purple range from violet and almost lavender tones to purple hues with red and pink tones. Yellow dyes can be made with a great number of different plants all the way from a beige soft tone to brilliant yellows, or light green tones.
Walnut shells found in Hedeby and Oseberg gives you rich reddish browns, or warm browns.
Natural colours from the sheep’s wool ranged from white to muddled white tones, browns and dark browns. Black fabric would not have been as black as the fashionable 16th c fabrics, but more brown-black from the sheep’s natural colour.
By sorting the wool into different qualities and colours you can make fabric that is white and therefore gives a very brilliant colour when dyed, but also mottled fabrics, or striped ones by weaving with threads of different colours. Some weaves from the Herjolfnes finds (medieval period) are made this way; by having one colour in the warp and one in the wheft.
Different ways of dyeing: the wool, the spun yarn or the finished fabric. Dyeing spun yarn and then weaving gives you a fabric that is a bit mottled, but was also used to make patterned fabrics. Dyeing the woven fabric make sure you get the exact amount you need for a garment in as even a tone as possible. Dying the wool before spinning is mentioned in later sources from the medieval period, and one madder-red example was found in viking settlements in York.
Many people probably wore undyed clothing in natural beige, browns, dark brown tones, woven in an even tone, mottled hues or patterned by the use of different natural shades during weaving.
Muted and soft colour tones, as well as mottled hues, were easier to make than deeply saturated colours and thus cheaper. Plants used for dyeing have been found growing in the same regions as the viking settlements, as well as being imported as raw materials, or already coloured fabrics.
Brilliant red and blue tones are being mentioned as high-status markers worn by royalty and their followers or being important gifts. Especially blue seems to have been a popular colour with lots of examples from finds and written texts. Old sagas and literature describe people donning coloured garments (a blue kirtle for example) before going out on important business, so if you are planning on attending an important meeting, a great feast or avenging a friend, you could always wear your best red cloak or blue kirtle for the occasion!
Linen was unbleached, or bleached. A linen shirt being “white as snow” was a status marker clearly standing out to those around the wearer. A finer weave and brighter white were seen as superior and would give higher prices.
(There are examples of dyed linen fabrics in red and blue colours, but they are uncommon so I will not go into details here.)
What should you look for when buying fabric?
Vibrant and saturated: blue and red were popular but expensive, if you would like to create a high-status viking these are good choices. Combine these with high-status jewelry, good quality shoes and white linen for undergarments.
Muted, soft shades: if you want to create everyday garments, softer tones are better: soft blues, reds, yellows, dyed browns, but also all in-between hues that are hard to describe in text: rust-red, red-brown, yellow-greens, light purple-pink hues, warm tones between yellow-orange-brown-apricot. Combine with unbleached, half bleached or almost white linen underwear.
Uncoloured wools are a good choice for the everyday clothes of people living farther from cities and other trading areas. For underwear, unbleached or half bleached linen, or another layer of wool fabric will do nicely. (Finds from Norway and Gotland indicates that an all wool outfit were more usual there).
Sometimes it can be difficult to find good fabric choices, so here are some examples from Korps that I would recommend. Avoid the darkest reds/greens/blues/turquoise and go for the softer shades. The beige/natural coloured wool is a great example of an undyed fabric choice.
I always order fabric samples to be able to see and feel the fabrics for real before buying (you should do it too, they have lots of samples!) It also gives you the opportunity to match shades with each other for a great outfit. For more on that subject; check out this post.
Korps have plant dyes if you want to try plant dying yourself, along with a free booklet (in Swedish) with information and formulas. Look for fabrics that are sold for plant dying, or ask for those, to avoid already coloured or treated fabrics.
Remember: not all plant dyeing available today was used during the Viking age, some are imports from a later date, or was not effective enough without chemicals. If you want to learn more about plant dyes and colouring there’s much to read on the internet, even at Wikipedia.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 your sewing! Did you like this post? Support me on Patreon to help me make more.
This post is a collaboration with Korps and contain advertisement for fabrics from their webpage.
Are you longing for some historically-inspired life and camping? Now is a great time to get inspiration and ideas for the next event and plan what you would like your living place to look like!
I spent lots of time at the beginning of my reenactment adventure life pondering over what I would need and what I would like to bring to different events. I also collected lots of photos of things that looked practical or just pretty and wrote lists of things that would be good to have next time. Kitchen towel, water flask, bucket and extra wool blankets are things that piled on those lists, helped there by experience or inspiration from other reenactors.
My main inspiration to improve my camping life have come from SCA events, since these often are quite long and you’ll meet lots of others that have been in the hobby for a long time, thus having created pretty and comfortable living areas.
Far from everything in these photos is as historically close as possible; most tents are machine sewn, furniture is made with modern tools and practical solutions mostly won over historical ones, when it comes to food prepping and hygiene. With that said, here are lots of options for camping life, with amazing handcrafting and historical techniques and materials.
The feeling of homeliness; look at these camps! The furniture, the kitchenware, pennants, lanterns… Even if everything is not based on historical finds from a specific period, the overall look is awesome. The ropes and tent walls actually add to the feeling of spaciousness, of having a living place outside in the woods. (I like the table cloth, thinking about making one to my kitchen)
My best practical ideas;
A good blanket! I put my heavy wool blanket on top of my bed to keep it dry and warm, use it as a picnic blanket, and a cloak during cold evenings. To get a really big, affordable wool blanket; buy a good quality wool fabric and make one yourself! This fabric is a good choice, super thick and sturdy!
Get the fire up from the ground! On many sites, fire safety dictates that the fire pit should be 30-50 cm above the ground. Plan for that by building a fire bowl with legs, and you have a convenient cooking place so you don’t have to crawl on the ground to cook.
The drink’s on the house! Naw, you don’t have to give out free beer, but it’s good to have water available. Bring jugs and bottles for the stylish table, as well as tanks/containers that fit larger quantities of water. If you don’t have historical options, use a plastic one and hide it in a cloth sack.
A fabric roof! Cheap, practical and good for both sunshade and rain. Make your own by sewing two pieces of fabric together (150*400 cm), and add some sturdy holes in them. To put up your new roof you also need some ropes and wooden poles with nails going through the holes. You can find good tent/canvas fabrics here. (You could also use these fabrics to sew your own tent on your regular sewing machine.)
Do you have any goals for your camp, or fun ideas you want to do? Here is my wish-list for improving our camp: (hopefully I will get around to these, and now when I have put them down here I think the probability will be even higher…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Feel the need for a good straw hat? I am currently making and selling different models; check out my FBpageto look at the different hats and place an order! This last bit is totally advertising my own business. Yep. Send me your money.
Lacing is a really easy solution when you would like to make a tightly fitted garment and need an opening to be able to get in and out easily. During the medieval period, lacing comes and goes as a popular fashion and practical solution choice, so if you aim for a historically believable garment make some research first to determine if the lacing is the best option!
Historical garments may also be closed with fabric or metal buttons, hooks and eyes, pins or a regular whip stitch.
Lacing can be seen on male and female clothing, but today I wanted to show you how I make lacing on a dress. The most common lacing method is spiral lacing; one cord for closing the open space by going through lacing holes spaced a little uneven from each other. This is easy and quick, and you only need one cord.
To unlace; thread the point back again, or as below: use a loose knot at the start of the lacing (at the bottom) and unravel the lacing from the bottom up.
I place the lacing holes like this; the first two and the last two are aligned but the rest is spiralled. This gives you a tighter lacing, that looks better and is historical. By making the first and last pair even you will get the front panels even to each other. This kind of lacing can be seen in paintings by Weyden for example.
Lacing holes needs to be quite close to each other; between 1,5 to 2,5 on one side, depending on the fabric and the amount of support you need. A tighter gown supporting a heavy bust needs a closer lacing, while a looser garment might have more space between the holes.
To make lacing holes I use a sharp awl to make a small hole, and then a fitting thicker awl in metal, wood or bone to make the hole bigger. I do have real awls, but since they seem to always be “somewhere else” a bunch of different objects has been used; needle binding needles, hairpins, chopsticks… You don’t need anything fancy, was my conclusion. Yeah…
After the hole is made the right size, I sew around it with a buttonhole silk thread or a waxed linen thread (depending on social status, period, colour etc) I never bother with any fancy stitch, just sew around like this, and cover the hole equally with thread. Practise makes perfect; don’t bother if your first holes are a bit uneven, if you start from the bottom and work your way up they will look really nice by the time you reach the area others actually look at.
A tip for making the hole more even is to first sew one round of stitching around the hole, and then another turn, dense enough to cover any gaps.
On the inside of the lacing, you can see a thin strip of tabby woven, sturdy linen fabric. I always use a piece of fabric on the inside (if I don’t have a whole lining in place) to strengthen the edge and make the lacing look better. You can use linen fabric scraps: cut it in a straight piece, fold in the raw edges and sew in place with whip stitches or slip stitches.
I prefer to make the cord in either wool or silk thread. The wool thread is cheaper, flexible and will stay put. The silk one gives a nice shine, is very strong and easy to lace with. Decide based on your project. To finish the cord (this one is done with a lucet but they could also be braided or tablet woven) I like to use a point. That will make it easier to lace the dress, but if you don’t have one a thick needle will do the trick too! Just thread the cord on a needle, and use that to lace yourself in. Another option is to make a cord long enough to just loosen up, without having to lace up the whole garment.
This is a guide covering the usual pieces of garments and accessories you may order or buy from Handcrafted History. I always aim to create garments for actual reenactors who will be playing, working and eating in their outfits, living life and going to parties! With this said- garments that can take the wear of everyday life and get washed afterwards!
Remember, garments from other vendors might have other caring instructions, as well as bespoke items ordered from me. Always follow the personal care instructions received with your items if more than one caring option is available.
I wash almost all my clothing in my washing machine, including wool clothes. Because I am lazy. The garments will get a little more wear from the machine washing, and it would be kinder to the wool fabrics to wash them by hand, and because of that, I recommend hand washing to my customers, so they will get the most use out of every single garment!
Wet garments are more sensitive than dry ones, so always handle your clothes with care when wet. Bring them out from the machine gently, and don’t put a strain on sensitive parts like a smocked collar or sleeve details by pulling or hanging the garments from these.
Oh, no! Blood or red wine on your party outfit? Rinse immediately with bubble water if you can find any. For small blood stains; your saliva might be used to remove these. Silk fabric, however, might get stained by these too, so you will have to decide if a water stain or a red stain would be more visible…
Sunlight will bleach even modern dyes if you hang the garments out to air or dry. Don’t leave garments out in the sun for too long, or hang them inside out. But a white shirt with stains might be bleached in the sun intentionally; leave it out for a couple of days to let the sun take care of stubborn stains that didn’t disappear in the wash.
Soak or rinse stains at once to avoid permanent marks on garments. Avoid bleach and heavy detergents, as well as chemicals, flame… Well, you get it.
Air your clothing after every use to reduce how often you need to wash them. Steaming will let wrinkles out easy. Mend holes or broken seams at once.
Store your garments in a dry place, check them for vermin every season and fold or roll them gently in place. Never hang heavy garments while storing, they might stretch or get marks from the hanger.
Have a care when getting dressed or undressed, look at your historical clothing more like a suit than a sweatshirt set. Your clothing will last much longer if you don’t jump into your hose or rip the shirt off in a hurry.
I always use prewashed linen when sewing clothing for customers, this means that the linen fabric has been pre-shrunk and is safe to water wash for years to come. Wash your linen fabric in 40 degrees C, and pre-soak stains that have dried in or chunky pieces of mud. Use a regular mild detergent, no bleach.
Afterwards, gently take out your garments from the machine (or handwashing tub) and gently stretch the fabric lengthwise, especially the sleeves. Even prewashed garments may “shrink” (the fibres will pull together) which may cause, for example, the sleeves to appear shorter. After this, hang lighter garments or flat dry heavy pieces.
Ironing your underwear such as shirts and shifts make them look nice, feel smoother and resist sweat and dirt stains for longer. Use the recommended settings on your iron (normally 3 dots) and steam.
I always prewash all wool fabrics before sewing, which many others don’t bother with. Instead, they tell their customers to never wash their historical clothing. I guess they have never come home from an event covered in sweat, dirt, food stains and wine? I have. And I want to be able to wash my clothing. So I make this a standard for all my customers too!
Start with airing out your garment, brush of dirt with a brush and close lacings, buttonholes etc.
Handwash your wool garments in cold to lukewarm water, with a wool detergent. Handle with care; do not knead, twist or pull violently on the garment. Rinse several times to get all the detergent out of the fabric. Lift carefully, press out excess water (with a clean towel) and arrange on a flat surface to dry. Smooth out the fabric so it looks neat and has the form it had before washing.
Iron on 2 dots with steam, and a pressing cloth (a kitchen towel or cotton sheet will do)
Silk, silk brocade, silk velvet etc
Silk is a fabric that doesn’t like water washing. But if you need to remove food stains, mud and such you don’t have much choice. If you soak your silk fabric, soak all of it to avoid water stains or lines. Follow the wool washing instructions and use a natural fibres/silk detergent (I use the same on both wool and silk) and always use a pressing cloth when ironing. Airing and steaming your fabric will make it look nice longer.
Silk fabrics are the only fabrics I do not wash before sewing, I only steam them to loosen up any weaving tension to avoid shrinking later.
If your garment has tin/pewter or bronze buttons, removing these will make them stay shiny for longer. Fur does not like water washing, so removing this and then stitching it back might be good. Otherwise, the fur will be dry and a bit brittle with a papery feel after a couple of washes. Or maybe you can wash the garment leaving the fur hanging outside the tub?
Jewelry, Viking age wire posaments, brocaded silks, straw and real pearls don’t do good with washing, try to avoid that for as long as possible, remove these pieces if you can before wetting the garment.
Leather doesn’t like being water washed either, but can usually take a wash or two. Just remember to grease it up afterwards.
Wool hats: try not to crush, but if they have gotten a fold or dent you can steam them with an iron or boiling water, reshape and put the hat to dry in the shape you want. Might be handwashed the same way as wool fabrics in cold water, handle gently and always shape and store standing on a flat surface. Brush of loose dirt and dust.
Wool hats treated with shellack: do not crush, wet or wash with water. Carefully brush surfaces, leave them out to air and store standing on a flat surface. Stains might be carefully removed with a damp cloth.
Straw: Clean by airing or gently rub stains with a damp cloth. If folded/crushed and the fibres are intact; soak in lukewarm water, reshape when soft and put to dry in the exact shape as before. Use weights and support to make the hat dry in the wanted shape. Crushed fibres are damaged but might be supported by a hatband, or reinforced with a decorative fabric border being stitch on, so you may get more use out of the hat.
There you go! With the right care, you will be able to enjoy your historical garments for many years to come. And if you are uncertain about a specific piece of clothing you’ve got from me, always feel free to ask for caring advice!
I also do mending and size adjustments on garments I have made myself, just seek me out and we’ll see what we can do to make your garments more useful, and last longer!