Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


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The 16th century working woman part 1- The research

This is a post about (one of) my 16th century outfits; and due to several years of research, work and sewing experiences it will probably be more than one post- with focus on different garments. In this, I will give you an overview and some background research. The outfit is already finished, worn, mended and in line for some redoing, so I will be able to share the whole process with you; both good and bad outcomes and what I could have done different.

My aim was to make a good recreation of a whole outfit for a woman from early 1500s German area. She is not poor, but works for her living- maybe on a larger farm or in a smaller city. She is well dressed; as is the ladies on all the art I have studied, but like other working women, she own practical clothing with a skirt short enough to stay out of her way, and a cut to the clothing that is both economical and practical. Contrary from the trossfraus (the women who follows the mercenary armies) she does not wear slashed and mismatched clothing, but items that belong to each other and to a certain class in society. She follows sumptuary laws (such as wearing her rosary in plain view) and does her hair in the braided fashion, or covers it with a simple cap and veils while working.

I wanted to show you some interesting images of 16th century women in art so I put together some examples for you;

Three women; wearing work tools but also lots of interesting clothing. The shoes are practical and the skirts reach the foot, not the ground. 

A painted glass piece showing the milking and making of butter. A (probably) younger woman has her hair in two braids, and a covering apron to protect her clothing. the older woman has a veil, a jacket and a dress hiked up in her belt.

This lady is described as a dancing farmer and has probably done her fine dress for a festive occasion, with her hair braided in a nice up do and what looks like a headband around them. She wears a dress, and a gollar that looks fur-lined or with a whole lining in fur.

Another dancing farmer- with a gollar fastened by her neck, and an apron around her waist. The shoes look sturdy and practical (not like the cowmouth shoes you can se on trossfraus) and she has some kind of decorative border at the hem on the skirt, and on her loose sleeves. No slashes though!

This piece shows the women working with flax, the process from plant to fabric demanded both time and hard work in numerous steps. The sitting lady wears a cap or veil around her head, with hair showing at the front. Her jacket is fastened at the front and is cut in the fashion of the time; low and square. The standing lady has her hair in braids around her head, and has rolled up her sleeves while working. The dress has a decorative guard at the front, and is hiked up at the waist. Clearly, she is doing some heavy work!

Dressed for cold weather? She has done her veils around her head, chin and neck, and wears a short cloak against the cold. She wears both shoes, socks and hose, and a bag at her belt.

Ah, time for cutting some fleece! The sheep does look dead, but is probably just laying at a convenient working pose for the woman, who use a shearing scissor for the work. She wears a simple cap or tied veil over her hair, and a dress with decorative guards at the front. It is hard to say if the brown skirts are part of her yellow dress, discoloured by time, an apron or a piece of cloth.

Festivities again! Do peasants and workers anything else than working and dancing? This lady has the common braids, a gollar and a dress. What is so interesting with this picture is that you can se the back of her dress, which is clearly more dense pleated than the sides. Uneven pleating in the skirts is visible in more pictures, and seems to be the result of a tailor work.

Summer time, and work in the fields this time. Now we can see her shift; a plain linen shift with a long sleeve, and either a high collar, or more believable, a thin gollar/linen cloth to protect her against the sun, as is seen on the woman with the red dress. She wears a straw hat, and her dress is sleeveless; it is a tight-fitting middle kirtle or under dress that gives you the bust support you need, without being in the way for hard work. This layer can be found on other women too, plan, sleeveless and intended to be worn under the woolen over dress. It is only during heavy outdoor labor such as field work, washing and shoveling it is openly worn, older omen and others always have their over dress on.

Based on my research, I have found that I needed the following items for a whole outfit:

  • linen shift
  • kirtle or under dress
  • wool dress as an over dress
  • apron
  • belt
  • purse (and maybe a rosary to)
  • cap, veils, a straw hat and/or a braided hairstyle
  • hose
  • shoes
  • gollar
  • jacket
  • cape/cloak

This much? I wanted to make a whole outfit, that would be practical during different kind of events with both cold and warm weather. I also wanted to try to make all the pieces of clothing and accessories that I have found during my research, to better understand how they worked together.

For more research, I have a Pinterest board on the theme if you want to learn more!


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The Medieval Wedding Dress- the velvet gown

This is the final layer I made for my wedding outfit, it is a silk velvet dress inspired by the late 15th century over dresses. The gown is open at the front to allow for easy undressing, and to show more of the white dress underneath. This can be seen in paintings, though a closed gown would have been more common.

This was one of the most difficult garments I have ever made. The fabric is a silk velvet, sensitive, very thin and extremely flimsy; I so understand why silk velvet has been replaced by synthetic alternatives on the market (and it is not just a matter of price). The gown is fully lined with silk dupioni for support and look, and has linings in black silk taffeta and on the bottom, the same black high quality wool as in my love’s joined hose. I opted for the golden coloured silk because it did so well under the velvet, and made the velvet shine even more. if using a transparent velvet; try out different shades of lining fabric to find the one that gives you the look you want.

The gown closes with a small hook and eye at the waist, and then this belt is added. The bronze buckle and strap end is made after a painting from the period, and can be seen on houppelandes and similar overdresses from the period.

Working with the fabric. Here you can see the silk lining being laid out at the velvet to act as a pattern piece. The velvet was very sensitive, so pinning was only an option in seam allowances.

The fabric being so thin and flimsy, pinning it to the sturdier silk lining was a good help for cutting, basting and sewing. I treated the two layers as if they were one when sewing, making the seam allowances visible on the inside of the dress. Since the velvet is transparent where the pattern is, it was not an option to have the seams between the both fabric layers.

Front and back pieces of the body being laid out. With a patterned fabric, you might want to consider where to put your pieces, and in what direction. I let the two front pieces have the pattern laid out in the same direction, and then turned the back piece upside down, since the skirt would have the pattern visible in the same direction at the back of the gown. The two fronts doesn’t have to be similar in pattern, all contemporary art depicts uneven patterns on the front of dresses.

You may also note that the front lining pieces have the selvage running along the openings, since the velvet was stretchy, and silk stretch when cut on bias, I laid the pieces out diagonally on the silk fabric to have a non stretchy front, and instead add some flexibility across the body. This way, there is some small movement allowed over the rib cage, while the front lays flat against the body.

I sewed the gown together on the overlock machine, this was one of my best choices ever since the seam both helped with protecting the seam allowance and allowed for some stretchiness in the skirt. After the gown was put together, I hang it on my doll to let the skirts fall out. Fabric cut circular like in this case always seems to hang out unevenly…

And yes it did! I ended up cutting away between 10-15 cm in some places, but only 2 in the areas running along the fabric length. I was quite nervous- cutting a little each time and allowing for the fabric to adjust. There was some massive pinning and measuring and swearing going on at this part and frankly, I just forgot to take pictures because I was so frustrated. Here you can see the velvet skirts hanging out, the silk lining behaving all nicely and staying in shape.

After this, I worked with the hems and inside seams by hand. All the seam allowances were folded down, basted to the lining and then covered by a strip of silk fabric, whip stitched down. No ironing though; velvet does not go along with pressing so the seams were just smoothed out by hand. The front opening and the sleeves were lined with black silk taffeta, the same as love’s doublet were edged with.

The bottom needed a little more heavy lining, and I wanted something that could take some more wear than silk so I chose a thin wool tabby weave. Here it is, laying on the floor.

One of the seams, seen from the outside when finished of. The whip stitches securing the strip inside is not visible on the outside velvet, neither is the machine seam that holds it together.

I am very pleased with the dress, I really plan on using it in the future on events. It was not easy to make, but hopefully some of my experience shared with you will make you want to try one for yourself if you wish!

 

 

 


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The Medieval Wedding Dress; the silk dress

I am sooo behind writing about my different projects. I kind of have a bad conscience about it too, and I really try to work through all of my drafts, notes and old photos. I guess it has been quite the autumn and winter here, I really never post about those parts of life, but I like everyone else have tough periods in life. Life, dead and bills happens to everyone, as the saying goes. I am not going to talk about that today; I am going to show you my wedding dresses!

I made three different layers for the wedding outfit. A linen shift, a cream-white silk dress and the velvet silk over dress. The linen shift is made tight fitted, with thin shoulder straps and a supportive body, and then a loose skirt. Over that I also wore a linen petticoat with a strengthened hemline. It never shows, but it adds important stability to the cream silk dress so the skirt drapes the correct way.

Over these I have the silk dress, cream-white and lined on the inside with a really thin wool muslin fabric. The silk fabric is a taffeta, and even if that quality is a lot sturdier than other silks, it still needed to be lined for a better draping skirt and a smoother upper body. Here you can see some of the effect the petticoat has; making the dress skirt stand out a bit instead of hanging down. The taffeta also helps a lot.

The sleeves are unlined, instead I have the thin silk sleeves that is shown underneath. I didn’t want another layer underneath the silk dress, so the thin silk sleeves are just lose sleeves, attached by the arm hole on the dress. The lacing is made with silk thread, the same as I did the lacing holes with, and also the white freshwaterpearl belt. Around the wrist small pearls are fastened, kind of like a bracelet but easier to wear.

For these dresses I made full mockups in cotton fabric to get a feeling for the pattern drafting and models. Usually I like to improvise a bit, but now I somehow was patience herself while drafting… The skirts in both dresses are based on a full circle of fabric, that is what gives the dresses that magical drape and the deep folds in the fabrics. The mock-up was then taken apart and used as a pattern, here is half the skirt on the cream silk. Yeah, I actually cut out my fancy white silk dress on the floor, with heaps of fabrics laying everywhere. Creativity, you know…

More fabric, this is the other half of the skirt.

To prevent the silk fabric from fraying I sew all edges with a overlock. You can use a zigzag as well, but it is good to prep them in some way. I would have liked to sew all our garments by hand, but neither time nor my fingers allowed for it, so edges and some inside seams were made with sewing machines. The overlock really was my best friend when it came to the fraying silk fabrics.

I also reinforced the hemline of the dress with a thin fabric strip. This was pinned around the hem, and then sewn with a machine stitch. After that the lining was added so the strip was hidden on the inside between outer and inner fabrics.

Here is a nice close up on the silk lucet cords, the lacing holes and the matching silk belt with freshwater pearls. I really liked how the cream-colored fabric, the silk thread and the pearls matched each other

   

The dress has a waist seam, so it really is a circular skirt, a regular body with side seams/side lacing and set in sleeves, all in all a simple dress. Here you can see the waist line, the seam done by hand to get a good drape of the skirt and because the different layers of fabrics really liked to slip against each other.

A good view of the laced up sleeves from the side

And a view from the back, while walking in to get married.

This actually became quite the long blog post, so I’ll get back to you with the velvet over dress in a post of its own!

 


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The Luttrell Psalter

I purchased this book on a whim, and was happily surprised! It is a really good presentation of the Luttrell Psalter (from 1330) and richly illustrated with both religious and every day paintings inspired by 1330 England. If you have an interest in this period, likes illuminating manuscripts or just want another good book for your medieval library this is a must-read!

I really liked all the pictures of everyday chores and people in the book, me being somewhat of a nerd on period clothing (have you noticed…?) lots of detailed clothing, hair styles and accessories.

 


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Houppelande in velvet and silk

This was a very spontaneous project with no customer commissioning it, and not for my own wardrobe either. I just wanted to try out how the velvet would work in a full circular houppelande (late medieval over dress) and experiment a bit with pattern construction, seam techniques and silk fabric. I am actually very satisfied with the result; for a cotton velvet the fabric is in a nice quality and with a good drape, the pattern turned out very well, and the silk lining in the sleeves add that extra touch I wanted.

The materials in the dress is cotton velvet (black) viscose/rayon velvet (moss-green) and silk (sleeve lining) with a total of about ten meters for the whole dress. The cotton velvet is really affordable comparing to silk velvet, and is very easily maintained; I actually just put it in a washing machine, air dried it and it came out as new; no shrinkage, no creasing and no sad silk velvet after water washing… If you want to learn more about velvet fabrics, I have a guide about the subject under “tutorials”.

I finished the dress during our brewer’s guild meeting in early December, and would usually iron the silk lining first before wearing it, but it was such a good opportunity to take good photos in gear so the sleeve lining is a bit bulky still. But soon to be fixed!

The skirts are really full; the pattern is based on a circle and the houppelande is also called a full circular houppelande. Lots and lots of fabric.

I have some tutorials about making your own houppelande if you are interested (and also makes them on order by your measures). To make them dramatic, historical and with this massive draping of skirts, it does take more meters of fabric and patience than difficult sewing techniques…

I fell in love with the colour combo of black, moss-green and bright grass-green in the dress. Under is my late 14th century dress, going historical there shouldn’t be a visible lacing underneath this kind of over dress. The gloves are also modern, but was so very nice to avoid freezing my fingers of.


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Houppelande tutorial- part 2

Last tutorial was about how I made my first Houppelande (medieval over dress) that was an early houppelande, with a pattern layout that saved in on the fabric.

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Now we move on to the opposite; a full circular houppelande dress that was the high fashion during the 15th century, and where worn by both men and women (with different lengths and fashion details of course) The construction method for this one is open for discussion; there might have been gores and more pieces according to different fabric widths during the medieval period. This layout is practical and simple if your fabric is 150 cm wide and you want the houppelande to be of as much fabric as possible, the small pieces allowing you to save in on the fabric a little.

The construction idea is from an article I found ages ago (that is now lost on the internet?) And later tailor’s books which shows very full dresses for women and coats for men. The shape, style and drape of this method also looks similar to paintings of houppelandes.

First of, you need a lot of fabric. How much depends on your length, in this example I make a pattern that gives you a dress around 150 cm long; good for the shorter woman or for a man (since houppes for men usually leaves at least the shoes visible) That means you will need 5,2 meters of fabric for the dress itself, and then another 1,5 to 3 meters for the sleeves. Oh, and maybe a full lining to?

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The pattern is basically 4 quarters of a circle; forming a full circle when put together. The small pieces saves you some fabric, but you may cut out the full quarter circles if you prefer. If you go with the pieces, then sew them together with the quarters the first thing when you have cut them out, so you have 4 whole quarters.

Then, sew the shoulder seams together, that is the short straight seams above the arrows. Leave the arm holes (on the pattern they are cut out as half moons) and sew the sides together. To know how wide your arm holes should be; measure yourself loosely around your armpit, or use a previous pattern. Add extra cm for movement; at least 5-6 cm.

The seam length of the shoulder should follow your shoulder; between 10-14 cm depending on how long shoulders you have. The arm holes should be laying on the body, not falling down from the shoulder to your upper arm. Cut away what you don’t need, a little at a time if you are unsure.

When you are satisfied with the shoulder, arm holes and side seams, sew the back and front together with each other, front to front, back to back. In the front you leave an opening big enough so you can dress and undress easily. On paintings some dresses are open almost to the hip. In the back you need to leave an opening big enough for your neck, try it on and you will understand! The open seam will give you the neckline on the back, and can then be cut for a rounder style if you like, or you could add a collar.

So, that was it- quick and easy yes? Now the dress should look something like the sketch above, and you can attach the sleeves to the dress. Sleeves? Well, that is for the next part of the Houppelande tutorial series. Stay tuned!

Spara


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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 landsknechts and their women 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 linen, silk or a mix of these and wool, but those garments will have very small cuts (also called pinking) made with a knife, 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 wont 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. Right? While there are examples of special kinds of garments being hemmed at cuts, the standard is to not hem or sew the slashes. They should be raw, made with a very sharp tool, and yes- they will wear out faster than a garment that is not slashed.
  • Yes- slashed and cut garments may not last as long as more sensible ones, or look very pretty after using and washing, 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 fitting. I often use a linen fabric 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 mainly 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 were you want them is good. A ruler, some mathematics and a marker goes 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 melton wool from Medeltidsmode.

If you want the garment to be sturdy and hold together, slash less along the armpits, side seams and crotch; all areas were the fabric gets more wear. If you look at historical woodcuts and painting, you may notice that tight fitted pants has 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