HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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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 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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15th century inspo

Here’s an alternative look for you 15th century geeks out there! I took the photos in 2018, but apparently put them in that “good to have” pile on the computer, and they were forgotten. This happen quite often for me…

Linen shift closest to the body, wool socks and leather shoes. Over the shift I wear the easy 15th century dress, here used as a middle layer/kirtle. I like to be able to use my clothes in different layers, and this dress is a perfect summer over dress, but also works as the middle layer once it gets colder.

The over dress is a wool houppelande, lined with silk and with openings in the sleeves. This style is popular by the 50s and 60s, and can be seen in Rogier van der Weydens paintings. I keep the dress closed with a broad belt with bronze clasp; a copy from an original find. This is one of my favourite dresses, since it is comfortable to wear but looks fancy. It is quite heavy with the high quality woolen cloth draping around my body, but hey- you have to give a little effort to fashion sometimes?

The temple braids and turban-looking great veil is perhaps a bit “simple” for the dress, and I could also pair it with an elaborate headwear. But I really like this look since it is comfortable and, above all, I can manage it myself with 15 minutes by the mirror. If yo want to see how I do them; I have a braid tutorial here and a paper on the 15th century veils I use here.

If you want to research the 15th c yourself, feel free to use my pinterest as a starting point! This fashionable period has much interesting things to offer!


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How to put in a gore in a medieval garment

Remember my latest spring green wool dress? I took lots of photos during the process so I could show you how I made it, and share some great handsewing tip if you want to handsew a garment yourself. This post is a step-by-step on inserting gores in a garment, like front and back gores, small sleeve gores and gores for a hood.

The pattern? Here is a tutorial on how to make one.

Here’s an old post about a recreated Herjolfnes dress.

Lets start with my favourite way of inserting gores! With this method you will always get at gore that looks nice and ends in a smooth top.

Start with cutting up the back panel, make it around 1,5 cm shorter than the side of your gore.

Press the sides (the seam allowance) of the cut on the inside/wrong side of the dress.

Pin or baste the gore into place. If you are a bit new to handsewing, working on the inside might be easier, but you can also do this from the front/outside of the dress. The photo above shows the inside.

Start sewing from the outside, with a version of the whip stitch. Here you can se the bottom of the gore where I start; and the waxed linen thread going in from under the folded seam allowance to hide the knot. Vaxed linen thread (35/2) or a thin 2-ply wool thread are my favourite choices, but for an upper class garment silk is also an option.

To make the seam as invisible as possible, sew it like this; making my progress upwards on the inside of the fabric. The result is a seam that is only visible by small dots.

When I reach the point of the gore I just continue around, sewing small whip stitches all the way around the cut. The result is a set in gore that looks tidy, like this! But we are not finished yet, the seam needs to be finished of on the inside to be durable and neat.

This is what the inside of the garment looks like now.

Time to trim and fell the seam allowace! I start with cutting the seam allowance of the back panel down a bit, so the overlaying gore covers it. This looks tidy, and makes it easier to sew down.

When I have cut all around, I press the seam flat and whip stitch it into place. This will give me two seams holding the fabrics together, creating a very durable garment.

And the finished gore at the back of the dress. The small shadowed hollows around the gore is were the whip stitch from sewing down the seam allowance shows, these are nothing to be afraid of; it is a result of handsewing.


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Making a sleeveless dress in easy steps

I decided to make another sleeveless middle dress to wear under my velvet houppelande. The other one (similar to this one, also in black silk tafetta) I made before apparently shrinked on its own in the wardrobe during the winter, and come spring was a little to small over the waist. Can’t imagine how this could happen..?

This style of dress may also be worn on it’s own with sleeves, in the Italian style. The amount and choice of fabric and decorations does all the difference in placing this dress on the fashion time line, as well as the waist seam is a clear indicator of region and time. I fancy the waist seam placement in the natural waist so I took inspiration from these paintings, as well as the Italian examples further down the post.

This kind of dress may also be made in wool or cotton, depending on the area you would like to get your inspiration from. Cotton was more common in Italy, while wool is much more common in Northen Europe. (For more information about cotton dresses, I recommend “The Italian cotton industry in the later middle ages 1100-1600” by Mazzaoui.)

I used a black silk tafetta, because I wanted a cool dress, matching the silk and velvet outfit and taking as little room as possible in my event packing. If you are going for a silk fabric, tafetta is more similar to historical fabrics than, for example, uneven dupioni or raw silk. Medieval dress silk should be shiny and evenly woven as far as I have seen.

I also have a similar one in amber wool twill, recreated to be worn by a woman not as high in social status as this black silk one will belong to. I took photos from both processes to be able to show you some different techniques.

Want to see how I made it?

1. This is a basic sketch of the pattern pieces. Really simple; a front and a back upper body + linings. Also 2 different ways to make the skirt; the black one are made of the rectangle, and gathered in the waist. The wool dress is made of panels (opt 2) to create more width in the bottom hem, but wide enough in the waist to gather.

2. Upper body pieces: I started with a front and back, loosely based on my toile/mock up pattern, and added 5 cm in each side to be able to adust the fit and have some extra fabric to fold to the inside for support. If you go for side lacing you can have a whole front piece, and the curve from the front seam will instead be moved to the sides. I will show you later!

3. Cut two of the outer fabric, and two lining pieces. Then baste them together to be able to work with the pieces without risking any movement.

You also need to decide if you are going to have lacing in both sides (seems to be usual in Italian portraits and handy if you often change your size) or in one side (faster to sew, allow you to get the dress on quickly).

4. Pin or baste the body pieces together and try them on. Having a friend to help you will be really helpful! Adjust and take in the side seams to create a smooth fit. You can also adjust the shoulders by gently pulling the front upwards if necessary. The fit doesn’t have to be all smooth, if you have lots of curves there will be some room in the dress (just decide on wearing a bra or not, or making the dress supportive before you finish).

Basting the skirt into place for the fitting is really good if you want to see how the fabric falls, and where the waist is going to be placed. Skirts usually “hang down” the bodice and make it look longer. Not the silk though- silk is such a light fabric.

5. Here is the body, inside out, after the fitting above. The line is really curved to make a god fit, and support the bust thanks to the stretch in the fabric and lining (lining is really important, don’t forget the lining!) If you are going to sew one side, use backstitching to create a durable seam.

Or if you are going to lace both sides, press the fabric to the wrong side of the body so you have 4 layers of fabric to sew the lacingholes through (if you work with a medium to thick wool this might not be necessary, you may instead trim some fabric down and whip stitck it into place. Remember that all the sewing allowance needs to be pressed down- don’t be tempted to leave “a little extra” as this might lead to the dress being a little bit too big…

6. The bodice during the sewing phase. I closed one side seam with backstitching, but left the sewing allowance. It is nice to have if you need to adjust the size or fit in the future. To keep it from fraying you can baste or whip it loosely to the lining of the bodice. The other side gets folded and pressed down.

7. The neck opening and arm openings I fold down (once for thicker fabric and twice for thin and fraying fabric) and whip stitch into place. To make it both pretty and durable, you can then press the openings and sew them one more time with a stab stitch.

Or you may finish the openings with a separate strip of fabric on the inside, as a reenforcement. Here I overlocked the lining and the outer silk fabric together after basting and fitting, and finished it of with sewing a fabric piece to the outside around the opening. That one I then folded and pressed down on the inside. This technique is good for sensitive, fraying fabrics and machine stitching.

Here you can also see the clamps; some silk fabrics get small marks by pins, and I therefore use clamps when working on visible places like the neckline. But they are very handy for all kinds of fabrics, so if you are not a fan of pins- try them out! (Search for sewing clamps or fabric clamps on an internet or sewing store of your choice)

8. The skirt part of the dress I usually sew separately from the bodice when I make garments with waist seams. Sewing the skirts together with running stitches, occacionally locked with a back stitch every needle lenght or so, will give you a fast and good seam. Press the seam allowance to one side, trim, and whip stitch it down. This is my favourite way of making long seams faster by hand. Or use a sewing machine, it is your choice!

9. After that, I hem the upper lining of the skirt, before gathering it (see the tiny stitches at the top of the skirt below?)

10. There are several different ways to gather or pleat a skirt to a bodice. I use different methods depending on the look I want. The wool skirt got gathered in soft pleats, and then sewn onto the bodice. I used a vaxed linen thread, to make the seam steady. Silk would have been another option, but as I wanted to create a working class garment I mainly used linen thread.

The black silk dress got a pleated skirt instead. The skirt part is simply made out of two rectangles that I have stitched together in the sides, leaving the seam at the top open for around 15 cm, to be able to get inside the skirt when it is attached to the bodice (if you have side lacings on each side, leave both side seams open a bit)

I use something to measure with, and then mark the pleats with a pen, or make them at once with pins or clamps. You could also calculate the amount and size of pleats if that is to your taste, but I usually just roll with it. There might be an extra pleat or some uneveness- but it won’t be visible.

In the front the folds are sewn towards the side of the body, while in the back the folds meet in the back. By arranging them this way you create a flatter front, with more volume at the hips and back. After the entire waist is gathered/pleated, I often secure the folds with a basting stitch, or pins before I sew it to the bodice. (See the photo of the wool dress above, I use this method for most waist seams.)

11. Lacing: if you are a bit unsure, you could save the lacing holes to last and do them after one last fitting with the dress on, with the right shift/chemise under. Otherwise I like to sew them before attaching the skirt, I feel it is easier to sew with less fabric on my knees. I use a spiral lacing and finish it of at the waist seam. Often my skirt will stay closed enough without any further closure, but if I have a more narrow skirt that fits snugly over my sides I might need to add a fastening like a hook and eye, to keep it closed.

Spiral lacing on another project, just to show you what it looks like. If you need lots of support from you dress, make the lacing holes tighter together. If you have a looser dress style, you don’t need as many. I usually have 2-3 cm between each hole on one of the sides.

12. Last; finish of the bottom hem. Check to see if it is even and adjust if necessary (a friend is a good help here but modeling yourself and adding pins might work) I usually just finish the hem with a single or double fold and a whip stitch. After that, just try on your new dress!

If you want to add loose sleeves, here is my tutorial on the black ones with ribbon. 

 

 


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Thoughts on making medieval garments

I wanted to share some thoughts with you today; things I have learned and things I find important, when I design medieval clothing. Both for myself and for customers. Being new in any branch of historical reenacting or costuming can be overwhelming, and just like with all other things in life there’s no simple answers or an ultimate guide. “Just read this book, and then you will know everything”… I haven’t found it at least.

But don’t feel overwhelmed! It is such an interesting journey you have ahead, exploring and experiencing other times and new handcrafting. And there’s lots of others that love to share their knowledge in this field as well. Here’s some great things I have learned over the years, that I like to share whenever I can!

Choosing materials is clearly one of the more difficult things when starting with historical handcrafting, and often the simplest way to succeed in making a good outfit is to pay the price for good material, and buy the same as everyone else. Seems boring at frist, right? But instead of wanting to make that perfect deal on super cheap wool in a really unique colour; think about what historical look you want to achieve with your outfit, and what qualities you would like the garment to have.

The places that sells fabrics especially to reenactors often produce high quality fabrics, and their customers will come back to buy more if they like it. The chance will also be that they are knowledgeable in historical fabrics so you can find materials, colours and qualities that resembles the historical originals, whilst giving you a fabric that will last for a long time to an affordable price.

The quality of the fabric will differ with manufacturers, places of origin, type of material etc so make sure to read up a bit on what material would be good for your individual project. Look at what others say about the seller and the different fabrics they offer, and learn some useful words: tabby and twill are weaving techniques, and twill is often more stretchy. Felted means the fabric has been fulled and is often less stretchy, but more weather resistant and smooth. Thin, medium and heavy are different weights in wool fabrics, whereas 120 grams etc are the weight of a m2 fabric.

Fabric shopping at The historical fabric store

It is always best to be able to see and feel the fabric yourself, and now when we stay at home, fabric samples are a good choice. If you have friends, a group or other people around you that are good at different fabrics, ask them for advise (or use a forum online) and always state what kind of garment you would like to make (a kirtle) for what period (14th century) and for what kind of use (reenactment event during winter etc). That way you may save both money and effort instead of buying the first fabric you find, and then get disappointed.

Preparation of fabric

Wool and Linen

I always prewash fabrics before sewing, even for my customers. I know that many in the field claim that you can’t wash wool fabrics in water, but that’s just bullsh*t. Of course you can wash fabrics, at least good ones. Bad ones? Might shrink uneven, get to much wear or completely change the look, feel and even the colour in contact with water. But you know what? That is not ok for garment fabrics. They should be made to endure everyday wear and wet weather, washing, food stains and so on. Those things totally existed in the medieval ages, it would be strange if your medieval outfit couldn’t endure the same right?

Furthermore, prewashing fabrics will release the weaving tension in the warp, making it shrink slightly and give you the fall it will have after ironing/washing/a rainstorm. You could get the same result by steaming the fabric with an iron before sewing, but that won’t remove the…

Chemicals and anti-mold treatments. Fabric today needs to last for longer times during shipping and warehousing, and look good when arriving on the shelf in the fabric store. To achieve this most fabrics (and ready made garments) are treated with different kind of chemicals, which will wash out in the washing process. Or rub of on your body… Not a good thought, right? Always prewash your fabrics!

Linen: soak in water a while before washing, to get a smoother fabric. Not necessary, but worth it. Fold it loosely in the bathtub for example. Wash the wet fabric in 40- 60 degrees C (the temperature you would like to wash your linen shift/shirt in later) hang to dry and then iron on a high temperature.

Wool: wash by hand or use the wool setting in the washing machine. Use cold to luke warm water and wool detergent. If you don’t have that, use a little shampoo, because wool is hair, and will not look its best after strong detergents. Also, hot water might felt it and make it look dull.

Silk and silk velvets are the only fabrics I don’t wash before use, but rather iron very gently and hang out to air before use.

This dress has been washed several times in water, and still looks like new.

Which thread?

Thats depends on what fabric you want to use, and what you want to make. But I prefer natural materials and “same for same”: silk for silk fabric, linen threads for linen, and wool for wool fabrics. Oh, or silk and linen for wool fabrics too, because that is a historical choice and very easy to work with. If you prefer to use a sewing machine, cotton thread for linen and silk for wool garments work nice. Polyester thread is a bit to “sharp” and might lead to breakage in the fabric rather than the seam if you happen to get stuck in something with your garment. But yeah, it will work on a sewing machine if that is what you have, I just don’t recommend it.

Where to start?

It is always good to start with underwear like shirt, shift and breeches. They will make up the base, are often easier to make and linen is not as expensive as wool. Also, you’ll get to try out the fit, the seams and some techniques.

After that, it is more a question of what you need versus what you are inspired to start with. Remember, handcrafting should be fun and not only practical! I like to make a middle/base layer next, often in wool, to be worn on warm events or when I work. After this is done, I adjust and finish of necklines at under-garments so they are not visible (if that is not fashionable) and start with some accessories, and another layer for warmth and weather protection. The medieval period (and others too) often have an outfit made up of several layers, and that is really practical when going to outdoor events!

Wearing a thin wool gown on a summer event. Photo taken by Catrine Lilja Kanon

Other good tips is to make a mock up or toile, basically a try out on the garment you desire, made in a cheap/recycled cotton fabric. It might seem as you are doing the work twice, but this is really handy as you get to try out the pattern, fit and look on the garment without risking that really expensive fabric. And if the mock up gets really good, you just pick apart the basted seams and use it as a pattern!

Basting is also a good investment; long running stitches will hold together your fabric pieces enough for a final fit before sewing, and will make it both faster and easier to sew all the seams by hand. I will confess, when I started sewing medieval clothing I NEVER basted anything and rarely pinned the seams, but after several surprises (Whot, how come I got this fit?) I learned it was both better and faster to check the fit, before sewing the final seams…

How to decide on social class and status?

Ohh, don’t ask me, I always change between working class garments and fancy party outfits depending on the event, place and what I feel like… But generally, just go for whatever catches your fancy! Or pick clothing after your preferred activities; are you going to stroll around a market fair with friends? Visit a fancy banquet? Or do you prefer mud wrestling, archery, beer taverns or outdoor cooking? Not only will you look much better with the right kind of clothing, you will also find that your activities will be much more fun with the right garments! A short dress and practical hood for the forest archery, or a thin and cool kirtle with hose for the indoor festivities.

A well of working class doublet, perfect for active events…

And a silk brocade doublet for those fancy strolls in the garden

Garments you need

This is always a tricky question, as it depends on the weather, the type of event and the gender and social status you want to portray. I thought I did great at my first events wearing a linen tunic, shoes and a cloak, I neither froze to much or died, but nowadays I confess of having higher standards… Like, I want to both look like I fit in the historical context, being comfy, not getting to much mosquito bites, and not freeze during chilly evenings. I also like to change my linen underwear everyday to feel fresh, as well as having some change of outer wear/dresses just because I feel like it. Oh, now I’m babbling again. You would never guess hom much text I always have to delete because of babbling…

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

1. You generally need linen underwear, and a change for longer events. Several changes, if you’re not going to wash the clothes during the event. We want to look medieval, not smell medieval…

2. A thin or medium warm wool layer for summer events, for working or for indoor events.

3. An outer layer for cold evenings, if you get wet or want to look well dressed. I recommend another layer of kirtle/dress/coat rather than a cloak to get more use out of your clothing.

4. Headwear like hats, veils, hoods etc. Both to complete the outfit estetically, but also because it gives you cover from weather and bugs.

5. Shoes! Don’t forget shoes, make or buy a pair that is looking good and feels comfortable. Hose (long or short) with thin leather soles is also workable on warm events, paired with pattens.

6. Accessories, both fancy and practical: belt, garters, bags, purses, cloaks, headwear, gloves… You name it. These can really set the style and time period, so check out sources before you decide on what to add to complete your outfit!

A 15th c outfit in 3 layers; shift, middle kirtle and overdress complete with shoes, headwear and accessories.

Wear it!

Historical clothing should be worn, because it is awesome and comfy and look great… You know that you’re allowed to wear it around the house right? Or take the great cloak for that chilly walk, or use the apron when doing gardening work. You shouldn’t need to be super careful with your garments, they will look even better when you have worn them a couple of times. My favourite shift is 6 years old and worn transparent thin over my shoulders and back after months of wearing, but I love it.

And make it last longer:

If you have long skirts, fold them up or pull them up into your belt when walking so you don’t step on the hem, or drag it through mud. That will make the fabric last longer. Protect the handsewn leather turnshoes with pattens when walking through rain or mud, and always mend holes and rips as soon as you find them on your garments. At the end of season, I always wash, mend, air and look through all my garments before putting them into the wardrobe. For this year though, I recommend taking them out for airing a time or two to avoid dust and bugs.

Getting dressed in historical clothing is actually a bit different than getting dressed in your favourite comfy pants and tshirt. If you are used to wearing stretchy clothing, you will need to be a bit more careful getting dressed and undressed with the woven natural fibres. Imagine it more like a suit, pull it carefully over your head, always open lacing and buttons before removing the garment, and never “jump” into your medieval joined hose. Another tip to make your hose last longer is to always pull them up before kneeling or sitting, and to wear garters under the knee to make them stay in place.

Early 14th c outfit with accessories

Yeah, I think I got the most parts down here, and it became quite the long blog post. Maybe I am tired of sitting at home, talking to the cats and love all the time? Who am I kidding? I am REALLY tired of sitting at home, I miss events, adventures and being able to go out and do fun stuff. But most of all, I miss you friends, readers and fellow history-travelers! Stay safe and take care so we can meet each other soon!

Love, L


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Medieval pattens (research post)

I wanted to buy myself a pair of really nice wooden pattens to protect my handmade medieval shoes during events, like 6 years ago. I didn’t find any, so then I tried to trade for a pair with some woodworking friends, but non knew how to make a pair or didn’t want to, so I set out to fix my non-pattens-problem on my own. That took a while; and believe me, I have gone through some bad options before I ended up happy.

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Making a wooden sole with a leather strap, and then put it on your foot seems like a simple task, but in the end I didn’t get it right before I researched the extant finds, looked at artwork and then tried making a pair with some serious hands-on experimenting. I wanted them to both look good, feel right and be comfortable to move in. Now I have finally made a pair I am satisfied with, so I wanted to share my research and process with you! Because of the amount of research, text and pictures I ended up with, I am splitting the posts into research and step-by-step. Easier to read!

Period: Europe, mainly 14th to 15th century.

About pattens

Pattens are a pair of soles with straps, to wear with your everyday medieval shoe to raise the foot above the ground, avoiding snow, dirt and water. Though they might look like sandals their purpose was to protect the wearer and the expensive shoes all year around, and the thick soles meant you came up from the ground, keeping you dry and warm as well as making the shoes last longer. Pattens were shaped after the foot and the leather shoe, changing form as the shoe fashion did.

They may also be referred to as clogs or galoshes, all names for a medieval overshoe meant to protect the leather shoe, though I will use the term pattens like Grew and Neergaard does in Shoes and Pattens. There are finds of pattens from the 12th and 13th century, making them an useful accessory for the medieval person. Finds of 14th century pattens in London are often decorated for the higher classes, and gets more common later in the century. In the 15th century they become increasingly popular, with many different models and variations. Lots of extant finds show this trend, as well as the pattens being frequently showed in contemporary art. Based on this knowledge, I decided to focus mainly on the late 14th and 15th century variations of pattens.

Materials and models

Pattens can be found with soles in joined layers of leather, as well as wood, and with a solid sole or a two-pieced variant, joined with leather almost like a hinge. Examples with a wooden platform on top of stilts or wedges in wood or metal can also be found.

Examples of wood being used in finds; alder, willow, poplar and one example of beech. Aspen was prohibited for use in England in 1416 (which tells us it was probably a popular choise) but 1464 it was stated that it was allowed to make pattens of aspen wood not suitable for arrowshafts (Shoes and Pattens).

15th and early 16th century pattens, both wood and layers of leather was used for soles.

Straps made of leather

All extant examples I have studied have straps made of leather (vegetable tanned cowhide seems to be the choice), though there are lots of different strap fastenings. Some pattens have one strap over the front part of the foot, almost like flip flops, while others also have straps at the sides or behind the heel, joining in a strap around the ankle. The heel straps can be first seen in late 14th century finds.

Looking at contemporary artwork, many working persons from the period wear practical pattens with a sturdy strap over the foot, while higher classes have more formed soles with delicate straps, sometimes decorated, and sometimes with a buckle.

To adjust the fit of the straps there are examples of metal buckles, ties and leather strips secured with a piece of leather or a nail among other varieties. The leather used for straps are generally thinner than the one used to join a split sole, and to make it sturdier a seam, a binding or a folded edge have been used. Two layers of leather sewn together is another method. The leather could be decorated with dyes or edges of contrasting colours and stamps or cut outs in patterns.

To fasten the leather to the soles iron nails were used, both for the straps and the sole hinge. Sometimes a second leather strap was nailed down around the sole to finish of the look and protect the foot straps from wear. Other words used for the nails are dubs, pins and pegs but I choose to follow the item descriptions on the online database of the Museum of London naming them nails. It also seems that the medieval examples have the same shape and size as nails to other kinds of work.

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Metal buckles and other fastenings

There are several examples of metal buckles represented in artwork on pattens from the 15th century, and finds from the 14th and 15th century of similar buckles made in iron, brass, bronze and copper allow to mention some examples. Because most buckles are found loose it is hard to say which ones was used for belts, shoes, pattens and purses. I opted for some examples from contemporary artwork to show you, and if you want to further examine buckles from the period there are lots of finds on online museum collections as well as in Dress Accessories.

Examples of metal buckles in contemporary artwork

There are several finds from sites in Europe like London and Amsterdam as well as examples from Germany. If you want to see more extant finds, Museum of London online collection is a great source to begin with.

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

Sources:

Grew and Neergaard (2001) Shoes and pattens p. 91-101

Egan and Pritchard (2002) Dress Accessories 1150-1450

Goubitz (2011) Stepping Through Time: archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800.

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

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

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

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Early 14th century outfit

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This is my early 14th century outfit, hand stitched and made with inspiration from medieval manuscript sources, like the Luttrell Psalter from early 14th c England.

I made the dress for my video project and wanted to put together a whole outfit that would fit in the same time period. It turned out super comfy, maybe I could wear it instead of my comfy pants indoors..?

I also made it so it would be usable in the viking outfit if I would be in need of a thin woolen dress/kirtle under the apron dress. Hence the looser sleeves, shorter length and not so wide neckline. It is certainly not the most fashionable 14th c outfit, rather an outfit for work, like in my market stall. (Uhum, much suitable, very nice thinking there…)

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This dress will be featured in my online lecture about Medieval Dress (only in Swedish right now!) and as I know that many of you readers are Swedes or understand Swedish, I will post a link to the lecture here. For you non-Swedish speakers; I have not forgot you, and will strive to translate interesting parts of the video to English and post it on a Youtube channel in the future.

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Until then, here’s a list of the materials used in the outfit if you get interested in making your own.

What items do you need?

For my outfit in size small-medium, based on fabrics 150 cm width

  • Linen shift, 2 meters. Linen thread and bees wax for sewing.
  • Wool kirtle as the visible layer. 2,6-3 meters of wool fabric. Wool, linen or silk thread for sewing.
  • Birgitta cap + linen half circle veil. 60 cm thin linen. Thin linen thread and bees wax.
  • Linen apron. 100*80 cm of sturdy linen, linen thread and bees wax.
  • Wool hose/socks. Around 70*100 cm wool twill.
  • Leather turn shoes.
  • Garters in wool or silk for the hose. Fabric scraps, vowen ribbons or braids can be used.
  • Purse, here in brick stitched silk with silk tassels and a silk tablet woven band. Made by my friend Jenny!
  • Thin belt in leather or fabric.
  • Decorative brooch in brass with stones.
  • 3 dress pins in bronze.

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Alnö Medieval Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to make a Herjolfnes pattern

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I promised you some insights into the Herjolfnes dresses with the many side gores, and here’s my take to understand the patterns!

(This guide is a “make it work for you” guide, if you want to make a dress as similar to the extant finds as possible, you might want to use the published materials mentioned below instead)

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First, if you have “Medieval Garments Reconstructed”, it might be fun to try these patterns out. But remember that these are just general patterns, and they are not made for your body, nor your measurements. The risk is therefore that they will not fit very well, and you will be kept wondering what to do with this new and mysterious pattern.

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Furthermore, the original clothing (and patterns) were made to a very different person, with a different life style than yours, a body marked by another way of living, and the clothes were being worn and as a last thing, used instead of coffins for the dead last rest. Translating these clothing into patterns is important to understand the general pattern construction, but after this I believe it to be more useful that the dress you finally make is going to fit you well.

To achieve this, I recommend you start with a personal pattern; a mock up or toile. Once you have this one, you can then transform it into a pattern with as few or many side gores as you wish. To demonstrate this I made a model in paper for you. You can try out this method in regular paper first if you want, or go straight for patterning paper and 1:1 modeling.

Step 1: The shadowed picture is my toile/mock up for my upper body. I have made a start pattern with the skirt attached to these (by the waist line) and two integrated gores; middle front and middle back. On my standard dress pattern my back piece is whole (no seam along the spine).

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

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

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

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Step 5: To make it easier, I draw the new side pieces on a piece of paper, and add some width to the other “side” of the side gore; where it is straight. I don’t need a lot, between 30-40 cm on a full pattern.

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

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Step 7: Now I have a pattern with added side gores, 2 on each side. The gores at the front and back pieces have been added as a part of the pattern to simplify, but you could also piece everything together.

CF= center front (where my lacing is on the green dress) and CB on this pattern means you will have a seam along the back, since the gore is integrated. You could also keep the back piece whole, and insert a gore in the middle. I will show you how I do this in another post. (Also note that I show you a half dress in these photos; when you do your dress there will of course be another half of dress too.)

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Step 8: Want more side gores? Not a problem! Repeat the cutting-party, and cut each of the side gores in two. Here I have done it on the front side gore. I recommend marking your pieces with front, back, and arrows to show where they belong, and I also keep my waist line (dotted line). It can get confusing otherwise…

After this, you can add more width at the hemline to each of the new gores, drawing out more width from the straight side like shown above. You can also add A Lot More Width as shown below, if you want to have a fancy dress with a great amount of fabric.

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Step 9: Very important. After you have cut all your pieces and redrawn them, it is time to add the seam allowance. Add 1,5-2 cm of seam allowance around all pieces, either on paper or directly on the fabric. If your starting mock up had seam allowance integrated, do not add more to those lines that you have not touched this time.

Step 10: Whoho, a new herjolfnes based pattern has emerged! Cut it out in mock up cotton fabric to try out the fit, or just do like I did and cut out all the pieces in wool, with a bit of extra seam allowance. Extra? Just to be able to baste the dress together and try out the fit + if you are satisfied with all the new side seams. I did not need the extra seam allowance, but I intend to use the photos to make even another tutorial on the subject of fitting a dress pattern.

Remember that the side seams are not “princess seams” which are put over the bust to give it a modern form. The herjolfnes seams are more on the side of the bust, and gives you movement, a good drape and lots of hem.

I made the sleeves based on a regular S-sleeve pattern I already had, and for this construction method you should not need to adjust the sleeves much (if you have a working pattern), just check so the armhole doesn’t get to wide; measure your seam allowance when making the dress, and then insert the sleeves after sewing all the side gores and front + back panel together.

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The finished dress in medium thick twill wool fabric. The dress is actually quite loose, and I cut the sleeves short, and the hem above the ground, to make it into a good working kirtle for historical markets.

The original herjolfnes patterns doesn’t have lacing, but I decided to add that and take in the dress a bit to get a fit I am comfortable with. I also hate pulling a tight dress over my head as I always mess up my hairdo and cap, so the laced ones are my favourites. Once again, if you aim for a recreated pattern rahter than an inspired one, you might leave the dress a bit looser and skip the lacing.

Useful notes:

Remember to add seam allowance to your new pieces, I like to add a bit extra (2-3 cm) in order to easier make adjustments during the fitting.

When you have achieved your new pattern in mock up fabric (or cut it out in your wool fabric) baste all the side pieces together to try out the fit. The many side gores will adjust the weight and fall of the fabric and there might be more stretching that needs to be adressed.

You also have a lot of seams now were you can make adjustments to make the dress fit perfectly to your body. If you need to take it in; don’t take in all the extra width in just one seam, instead spread it out between the seams.

Also; remember to wear your medieval supportive garment or modern bra of choice when fitting the dress so the dress will fit the bust nicely.

Sources:

Woven into the earth, Else Ostergaard, 2004

Medieval garments reconstructed, Ostergaard mm, 2011