HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Golden gown with flowers

18th century ball gown in silk taffeta, embroidered with sage green wines and leaves in silk thread. This is one of my latest projects I have been working on, and I wanted to post it here as part dress-diary and part inspiration for those of you that also like the 18th century!

Strolling in the park, properly dressed in hat and fishu.

I made this 18th-century gown for a fancy dress ball that never happened, but I am sure we will have the opportunity to go have fun together in the future! The gown is based on 1750-1760 fashion and pattern construction and is decorated with fabric ruffles and gold ribbons. Underneath I wear a skirt in the same fabric.

billowing skirts in the wind

When I found this fabric in a sale I fell in love and wanted to make a gown with it, and keep the decor simple to let the fabric shine. The embroidery is not a reproduction but similar to other embroidered dresses from this period, so I let that decide the decade from which to get my inspiration.

Back with seams and tight fitted sleeves

The model is an English gown with the back bodice flowing into the skirt without a dividing waist seam. I based the sleeve pattern on my previous dress sleeves but remade it a bit to get the seam to angle the same way as the gowns I based the dress on.

back seams finished with silk thread and hand stitching
front decor with silk fabric and golden ribbons
Inside seams finished on sewing machine

I like handsewing a lot, but I wanted to see how I could make this kind of gown on a sewing machine to be able to cut down on production time (not all my customers wants to have handsewn garments) so the whole gown is actually lined and put together on my sewing machine. The finishing touches like hemming, decor and back seams are sewn by hand. It turned out neat, though it is a bit more complicated to make the fit perfect when I had to make all seams from the inside instead of sewing them as I fitted the dress on the body form.

The front closes with hooks and eyes. I got tired of dress pins and wanted a nice and easy solution.

Along with the gown I wear a skirt in the same fabric, and underneath a linen shift, corset, cotton skirt and side hoops. A silk fichu around my neck was needed to add warmth, and a fashionable hat for outdoor strolling.


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Viking apron dress, part 2

Are you longing for that perfect iron age (viking) look of square awesomeness, yet still wanting to show off some womanly curves? Fear no more, this is how you make your apron dress fit really nicely! (Yes, we are going to be more serious real soon)

This apron dress is the same style as you can find in this tutorial, but back then I never guided you through the fitting, straps or stitching. Kind readers have asked for more details, so now this part 2 is here for you.

Ok, so let’s start with the dress already cut out and basted together (white machine thread). It looks something like this, hanging a bit boring…

Step one- try it on!

I pinned two pieces of ribbon onto the dress to be able to try it on easily. These will later be my guides for making the sewn linen straps.

In the back, I put the straps closer to the middle. I find them more comfortable and less likely to slip off my shoulders.

Now it is time to do some shaping! I like to wear my apron dresses higher up on my body, which means I get fabric bulk under my arms. To avoid that, I draft a curved line under my armpit and then cut away the excess fabric. You don’t have to make a full “arm hole”, just add some space for your arm.

Drafting the curved line in the armpit with a fabric marker.

The next step is to pin away fabric in the seam above the bust. Here the seam stood out a bit, so in order to follow the shape of my body, I pinned away a little fabric. As you can see in the photo it is not much, only to add a soft shape.

Marking the fitting with pins will allow you to feel the new fit.

Next are the side seams in the front. I pin away fabric under my bust, turn at my natural waist and continue out in a soft line to the basting line again. The goal is not to achieve a super snug fit, just to highlight that you have a body underneath.

Pinning the shape loosely.

Continue with the back seams and pin away fabric to add some shape to your waist here too. I hold my hand by my natural waist, and as you can see I did not aim to make the apron dress tight. Just removing a couple of cms to add shape.

My goal here was to be able to wear the apron dress with a woollen kirtle underneath, so I needed the fit to be loose. If you want a tighter fit you can try pinning away more fabric- just remember to try it on with new basting seams afterwards to make sure you can get it on and off. Apron dresses never have lacing or such.

Pinning the back seams by the waist.

Now it is time to check out the new fit! Mark the position of your pins on both sides of the seams, remove them to be able to take off your dress easily, and then bast along the drafted lines.

Basting can be done on a machine or by hand.

Here you can already see the added shape of the bust and waist, even without the seams properly finished. When you are satisfied with the fit, remove the old basting from places with double basting. This is needed to finish the dress by hand with a historical stitch.

Trying on the dress again to check the fit.

Press all seams with the basting still in place. (This step is important if you want to try out the seam below, but if you use a sewing machine for your dress you should first sew all seams on the machine, remove the basting thread and then press.)

Pressing the seam allowance to either side will make the sewing easier.
This is what the new shaping looks like after the pressing.
Sewing with wool thread.

Turn the apron dress so the right side is out (yes, we are sewing the dress from the outside) and start by the hem with a small whip stitch. Work your way up on the outside, fasten the thread on the inside of the garment as needed, and repeat with all four seams.

This is a sketch of how the seam looks, side to side with the actual seam.

The key to making this seam look neat is to make small stitches mainly running on the inside of the garment. I like to start from the bottom up, so I can try out the best thread tension and width between the stitches where it does not show so much. The pressing in the step before also helps a lot, as well as the basting on the inside, keeping the garment together while I sit comfortably on the sofa, sewing.

Close up on the seam. If you sew with wool thread, choose a thread with a high twist and 2-3 ply. Take shorter threads and a needle somewhat thicker than the thread. This will make the thread last longer when you work.
Finish the dress with a double folded hem and whipstitches. Press all seams when you have finished.

When the dress is done, it is time to make some straps! Use the ribbons from earlier as your mockups /guides to decide how long your straps should be, but remember that the tortoise brooches will take some space too. Add seam allowance (3 cm) and extra for your loops. If you are unsure, make the strap 10 cm longer and then cut away the end you don’t need when you have made the loop and finished off everything else.

Linen fabric going to be apron dress straps.

The measure for my dress straps was approx 30 cm long and 4 cm wide. I made 2, and then 2 really short ones to make the loops attached to the apron dress above the front seams. Then I pressed the straps in the middle, folded them, and then folded in the edges. Very smooth!

Use waxed linen thread for sewing in linen fabric. Linen straps on wool dresses can be found in grave finds from the period.

Whipstitch the folded straps along the edge. When you have finished, press them again but with the seam in the middle. This way the stitching will be protected in the middle and the straps will be looking really nice and even.

Nice and even, I love pressing seams!
Making loops for the tortoise brooches.

To make the loop in the edge of the strap, finish the seam along the line and then fold the edge back and fasten it with some stitches. I like these loops, they keep the brooch in place and look neat. The small fabric pieces for the lower loops get treated in the same way. Double fold, press, whipstitch along the line and fold to a loop.

The loops are sewn to the inside of the upper hem, beside the front side seam.

Fasten the lower loops to the front, and remember to put them where you pinned your ribbons on in the beginning. The placement will help the shaping of the garment. If you wear a modern underwire bra, the placement of the loops is often towards the middle from the bra straps. Remember that your tortoise brooches should have a fairly even place to rest on your body.

Sewing the straps onto the back of the apron dress.

Before attaching the straps to the back, try the dress on with your tortoise brooches, to adjust the length needed for your straps. When you are satisfied, pin the straps in place on your back, and sew them with some waxed linen thread. I like to work my way around the strap and through the wool fabric to make them sturdy.

That’s it! We’re done with all the fitting and sewing, and owners of a splendid apron dress with a perfect fit! Did you like this post? Support me on Patreon to help me make more!

Advent Calendar

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Men kolla! En adventskalender från Handcrafted History! Nu kanske du tänker att det är superlångt till advent, men det är det ju inte. Bara lite mer än en månad, faktiskt. Så köp en rolig och vettig kalender till dig själv (eller någon annan?)

Vad innehåller den? 24 påsar med hantverksmaterial/redskap för den medeltidsintresserade textilhantverkaren, blandat med lite projekt och bling. Färg och användbarhet är ledorden.

1300 kr inklusive frakt inom Sverige (värde ca 1560 kr). Vill du samfrakta med andra för att spara på miljön, eller hämta på min ateljé utanför Sundsvall? I så fall bjuder jag på en extra present!

Boka din genom att maila linda.handcraftedhistory@gmail.com och skriv din adress och telnr för avi. Du får en bekräftelse med betalningsalternativ att välja mellan och ditt paket skickas sedan ut veckan innan advent!

(Jag kommer inte ha möjlighet/tid att göra massor av kit, så först till kvarn och jag meddelar om bokningen blir full. Det låter lite exklusivt nästan? Mvh egenföretagaren)

This year, I am able to offer an Advent Calendar filled with handcrafting materials, tools, some project ideas and shiny things. 24 bags will be filled with useful and colourful items, and to book you just send me an email with your address, name and email for traced shipping, and I will confirm your booking with a payment link. International price is 1400 sek (approx 127 Euro) incl insured shipping and payment by Paypal. I’ll happily ship several calendars in one box for environmental reasons (and will include an extra gift for you if you choose to order with friends to the same address)

Unfortunately, the shipping time outside Sweden/Europe is still uncertain and I can only offer my Swedish customers delivery before the end of November. However, if you are still interested- feel free to send me an email!

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Project; the 18th century ball gown

This is my journal notes and photos from a fun project from the 18th century.

Finally finished!

This gown took a really long time to finish! I have worked on it on and off for two years I think, while learning about 18th century tailoring technics and different models. I find it more fun to learn as I go along handcrafting, the problem is when you learn too much too fast, realise your mistakes, and have to start over.

Fluffy, yet elegant?

I finally landed in some kind of Italian style gown, based on 1770-1780s fashion plates. The gown is made in silk taffeta and the skirt in silk satin- (Also based on fashion plates but made in 2019 when I was on my first 18th-century inspired ball. )

Back of gown, and braids in the back section of the hairstyle.

The back of the body does not continue down into the skirt like in a english gown, but is sewn as a bodice piece with the skirt gathered and stitched in place all the way around. Silk taffeta always shows every little wrinkle, but I am satisfied with the fit.

Wool would have made a better drape, but since the silk is so light, the skirt does not pull the body straight after I have moved around with my arms or twisted the body. This was also a new experience- my earlier medieval silk gowns are looser and heavier than this one. It was also really interesting to model a gown on a corset instead of my own, softer body. Both easier and more difficult.

Worn with a shift, corset, under skirt, skirt and padding in the back.

The front is overlapped and closes by pinning the opening, which I found useful as it allows the size to differ a bit. Say, if you for example loves snacks better than exercise…

The ruffles by the neck, sleeves and skirt front are made with the same silk fabric, scalloped and handsewn in place. The decor easily took more time than sewing and fitting the gown, but it was kind of fun!

I also made loose lace ruffles to wear by the elbow, they are basted in place when I need them so I may use them on different dresses. It got a little more bulky than sewing them into the sleeve, but I think they will work fine as soon as they have bent to the shape of my arms a bit.

I am not finished with this look quite yet; I don’t have proper 18th century shoes and my hair is styled with silly amounts of hair spray as I don’t have fake hair/hair pieces and correct styling tools for hair (yet?). The hairstyle is based on American Duchess book on 18th century beauty, but my hair is too short right now. I will have to get some good false pieces and more hair pins. And shoes. And maybe a pair of good socks too. Then I will be ready for…ehm, another project?


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Medieval jacket for a woman

15th c outfit at Oslo Middelalderfestival

This is a fun garment since it is both practical and in my opinion, also cute. But it took me several years of studying medieval manuscripts and art before I got interested in this type of garment. It seems so modern? But once I noticed it, I found more examples in different places and even a contemporary pattern diagram in Drei Schnittbucher dated from the 16th century. Most sources I have saved originate in central Europe, mainly today’s Germany.

Research

The jacket or short coat can be seen in both late 15thc entury and 16th century artworks, but all examples I have seen are worn by working women, from farmers to ladies’ servants. One source in Drei Schnittbucher mentions a short jacket owned by a burgher class member, which indicates that it might have been a fashionable item and not only something worn for “survival”.

The jacket above is similar to the pattern diagram I found, though it has cuffs. The front closure is hidden but might be hooks and eyes, and the sleeves are S-sleeves put into a shaped armhole. The skirt part hangs in soft folds, probably a circle shape.

source: Württembergische Landesbibliothek

In the left corner, the lady wears a green jacket over a dress. She might be a maid or retainer of some kind, based on her dress and position in the picture. The jacket is fitted with a narrow sleeve and a fashionable neckline. The skirt part hangs in soft folds.

The blue jacket is fitted but the sleeve is a bit looser than the green one, and the neckline higher and rounded. I decided to base my jacket silhouette mainly on this picture (late 15th century).

source: Stadbibliothek Nurnberg, Jorg Urlaub, 1568 (PB)

Based on contemporary sources the jacket seems to be a practical garment to keep you warm while still allowing you to go on your daily chores (and keeping that fashionable silhouette!) I have found several sources from the middle of the 16th century onwards, often with the skirt part shortened like the jacket above. The black jacket has a short skirt, straight narrow sleeves and a collar of some kind. The collars seem to belong to the 16th century.

Differences between the 15th century and the 16th century styles:

Late 15th century jackets seen in art are all colourful, with straight sleeves narrow or loose, longer skirts (the lenght of the skirt and the length of the upper body seem to be similar) and with simple, rounded necklines.

16th century jackets transform from this softer style to a more shaped and fitted garment with details to accentuate the tailoring such as collars or sleeves starting farther down the shoulder.

This time I decided to make a jacket to be worn with my 15th century wardrobe. Some years ago, I tried out this pattern by making a black jacket to be worn with my 16th century working woman’s outfit, but I sold it and wanted to try some variations. The blue jacket above became my inspiration, and I used the pattern diagram from the 16th century source to draft the jacket. The side seam is adjusted towards the back on that pattern, but in retrospective I think that is a bit too modern for the late 15th century style, but I got curious to try it out.

Back with the side seams visible.

Drafting the pattern pieces

I decided on a straight S-sleeve to get good movement even when wearing dresses under the jacket, a longer skirt and a rounded neckline. The front closes with hooks and eyes. The original tailoring book states the lining needed for the jacket which is roughly half of the amount needed for the jacket. The fabric widths could be different since the pattern mention different amount of lining for different skirt lengths, or the skirt was not lined. I decided to put lining into the skirt too, to see how it would turn out as well as to make it more wind resistant.

The best way to create a skirt with even, soft folds, like the longer versions seen in the sources, is to use a circular cut on the skirt, rather than straight panels and gores. The contemporary pattern also suggests this style, so I went with that option.

The length of the skirt in 15th century sources seems to be around the same lenght as the torso, around 40-50 cm long perhaps. I decided to go with that. The tailoring pattern suggests a skirt lenght between 39 cm to 52 cm, which can be seen in the woodcut by Beham above.

To draft the correct size for the skirt pieces, measure around your waist and use that measure to calculate the inner circle diameter of the half moon, and draft the piece from there.

Example: Measurement around waist: 80 cm = circumference of the inner circle. That makes the diameter approx 26 cm, and the radius 13 cm. The length of the skirt = 40 cm. Mark 40 cm + 26 cm + 40 cm on a straight line = diameter on the skirt pattern piece (the straight side of the half moon). To draft the rest of the skirt, start with drafting the half-circle waist hole (measure from the middle of the line and draw a half-circle 13 cm from this point all around). Use this line to draw out the bigger half moon shape, by measuring 40 cm outwards all around the curve. Make 2 pieces for the skirt.

The upper body pieces are based on my toile/mock-up I already have (check out my Patreon for a video on how to make a mock-up yourself). To move the side seams I cut off a bit from the back piece and taped this side to side with the front piece instead. After that, I added seam allowance and some extra movement in the sides, shoulder and front to make the garment suited to wear over other clothing.

The sleeves are based on my existing S-sleeve pattern, cut in two. I added new seam allowance and made the sleeves a bit wider than my dress sleeves to get more movement.

Adjustments from the original pattern from the Leonfeldner tailor book (grey) to my jacket (dotted lines).

Differences between the pattern from Drei Schnittbucher and mine: The waist seam got rounded to create a soft fall and looser fit, and the shoulder seams were shortened to make the sleeve fit the anatomical arm, creating a softer look more suitable to the late 15th century style. I removed the collar piece on the back and decided to make the back piece as one, instead of having a seam in the middle back. Both options are represented in tailoring from late 15th century art sources, I just didn’t need the back seam to achieve a good fit. The last alteration I did was to piece the skirt parts to save on fabric. In the tailoring book, the sleeves are made in two pieces, probably to save on fabric, and I wanted to do the same to be able to cut them out from the scraps left over after cutting body and skirt pieces.

My jacket needed around 1,5 meters of fabric with 1,5 meters width for both outer fabric and lining, but I would recommend at least 2 meters of both if you have, if you are not smaller than I am!

Fabric: I decided on a medium thick wool twill for the jacket to keep me warm, with a soft muted madder tone. The lining is made in thin unbleached linen. I aimed to make the jacket a working garment and not too fancy, but neither coarse nor homemade.

Jacket worn open

Sewing order

When I have made all pieces (back, front *2, sleeves *2, skirt *2) I like to cut these out in a mock-up fabric (like an old sheet) bast them together and try the garment on over the dress, to ensure I have enough space for movement. Adjust if needed, and then I use the mock-up as my pattern and draft the pieces on the wool fabric and lining.

I like basting- here are some more benefits:

  • no pins will disappear or hurt you
  • no slippery fabric moving, giving you uneven seams
  • easy to try it on several times
  • easy to adjust
  • basting is so secure you can sit on the sofa with your project in your knee, without messing up the fit.

I prefer to sew one seam completely finished before the next, which is faster and more ergonomic than first assembling the garment, and then reaching all the seams for felling the seam allowances.

Sewing thread: unbleached linen 35/2 for most seams, paired with a sewing wool yarn for felling seams and create softer seam allowances. These are the materials I work with fastest. You can also use linen thread for the whole jacket, which would be a bit more historical as far as I have researched.

For me, the most important thing when hand-sewing is to make easy, fast seams without adding unnecessary strain to my fingers. The lining is put in at the same time as I sew the pieces together, in seams that need more sturdiness like shoulders and sides. In the skirt, the lining is fastened in the seam allowance when felling this down. The sleeves are made as 4 separate sleeves, and then the lining is put in. This minimizes the bulkiness in the sleeve seams.

Notes: linen thread if nothing else is stated. Sa= seam allowance.

This is my sewing order for hand-sewing the entire garment:

Start by joining the sleeve linings into whole sleeves with running stitches. Press the sa and whipstitch down to one side or leave them unfinished. Join the wool sleeves with back stitches. Fold down the sa, whipstitch down to one side and repeat with the back seam to get 2 complete wool sleeves.

Sewing the sleeve parts together.
Whipstitch the sa (photo shows the inside and outside of the sleeves.)

Sew the shoulder seams with backstitches, wool + lining at the same time. Press down sa to either side, whipstitch down. I leave the basting in while sewing, and place my seam 1 mm to the side to avoid sewing into the basting thread. This makes it easier to remove the basting thread once I am done.

Backstitching on shoulders 1mm inside the basting seam.

Backstitch the side seams together in the same way. I like to leave these open to adjust the fit if my weight changes, so I just whipstitch the sa but leave it loose from the main body. Then I put the sleeves in the armholes and sew them with backstitching. Cut down the sa and fell it towards the body with whipstitching.

Assembling the garment, with different ways to finish the seams shown.

I sewed the wool skirt parts together with back stitching and pressed the sa to either side. After that, I put the lining into the skirt pieces by folding the sa down to either side and whipstitched the lining in place.

Attach the skirt to the body with backstitches. Try on the jacket and mark out the hemlines; check the length of sleeves and skirt hem.

The skirt is finished by cutting down the lining a bit to avoid a bulky seam, and then the wool hem is double folded over the lining and whipstitched in place.

Trimming down the lining.

The front got a reinforcement strip in wool on the inside before the closure was added. I use running stitches and sew it front to front, then fold it over, press it to a good shape and whip stitch the loose part to the lining. A row of stitching along the edge makes it neat and durable (shown in the assembly photo).

The sleeve wool fabric is folded over the lining by the wrists and whip stitched in place. The neckline is also folded down twice and whipstitched. After that, I like to press it and then add a row of stitching around the opening to make it even neater!

Last, I added hooks and eyes to the front to be able to close the jacket.

This was a really fun project to do, and I have used the jacket a lot this season. It is easy to work in and doesn’t get as heavy as my coat does. Useful for medieval adventures!

Finished!

The 16th century Working Woman

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At DW University on a weekend event

Back in 201something (2016 maybe?) I made this outfit with a brown woolen overdress, based on Drei Schnittbücher by Katherine Barich/Marion McNealy. I wrote a research post to summarize my background research and thoughts but never got around to writing about the finished outfit. The research focused on middle Europe in the early 16th century, but when I found the book with pattern drafts I took the sidestep to try and make the gown after one of the models presented, even though it might be more probable to have made a dress with a waist seam like my trossfrau dress. But who can resist a fun pattern draft from a medieval tailoring book?

Since then, I have been wearing this outfit several times and even adjusted the dress with a lower neckline and a piece of mending over one of the skirt folds. I like this outfit since it is both pretty and comfortable for working, so I thought I would share it with you.

Winter event, with all three layers

I start with a basic linen shift in half bleached linen, based on my tutorial. It has a square cut neckline to match the dress and kirtle, and long sleeves.

Over that, I wear a kirtle or middle dress in wool, sleeveless and simple. This is a really practical working garment, and allow me to roll up the shift sleeves when doing dishes. Back then, I had a yellow sleeveless dress, that got sold to make a new one, one size larger.

Unfortunately, I got sidetracked when making that and decided on an Italian styled dress that is also shown in this tutorial. After that, I realised I really needed a middle layer to make this outfit complete, and made another kirtle in grey-blue wool, with a decorative fabric strip in black wool.

Both the middle layer and the overdress is rather tight fitted, giving me bust support when worn.

(This is what it looked like at first before I moved the neckline down a bit)

The overdress is made in brown wool with decorative borders in amber coloured wool. I liked this dress pattern since it is quite different from others I had tried, and I fell for the challenge. Sadly, the tailor books do not come with much information about how one should assemble all the pieces, so you could best describe this as a try on a medieval pattern, rather than something strictly copied.

I adjusted the cutting out of the fabric pieces to fit the fabric I had available, which was around 300*150 cm of wool. I also choosed to widen the skirt at the back to make it look more like the artwork from the period. The tailoring book shows the centre back (and front) straight, but that does not give the desired folds seen on women. Maybe a gore was supposed to go in there, or some other adjustment that was so obvious none bothered to write it down? To accommodate for the skirt width, I had to piece the sleeves with three different fabric scraps to get the dress together.

The front piece is folded at the centre front, making the skirt without a seam in the front.
The back pieces are pieced at the hem for fuller width
One of the sleeves, basted for trying on.
pattern pieces from the book

The overdress (well, the entire outfit) is sewn by hand, and on this dress, I only used linen thread, a choice I based on research for the period. Sadly, I have misplaced many notes and sources so the only reference I have left is a note saying “linen thread common for working-class clothing, do not bother with silk or wool). Ok, I apparently did that…

The skirt panels and some longer seams are made with running stitches, and the rest of the dress is sewn with backstitching, and the seam allowances are sewn down with whipstitching. The decorative fabric pieces are also whip stitched in place. On the inside, the dress is lined with a piece of sturdy linen fabric in the body, and the front closing is reinforced with a piece of linen canvas and closed with hooks and eyes. Another possibility would be lacing, but I like how fast the dressing is with hooks and eyes!

I found this model harder to fit than the 16th c models with waist seam, since you can’t adjust the waist placement during fitting. It has to be cut out at the beginning. I like to raise the waistline 1-2 cm above my natural waist to achieve the early 16th c silhouette, and that was more difficult here. But the dress made up for it by being really fun to assemble with the skirt folds.

I folded the skirt part that stretches outside the body in several folds and fastened these to the sides and centre back of the body. This gave a lot of strain on specific parts of the dress, causing the folds to rip when someone accidentally stepped on the dress hem. So I mended that side with a piece of fabric.

Here you can see the folds in the centre back and sides.

If I were to remake this whole pattern, I would choose to cut a slit between the body and skirts and fit the skirt in folds as you do on 18th c clothing. But this was several years ago and I hadn’t tried that technique yet.

Side view showing the gathered skirt fabric in the side; drapey and voluminous!

The greatest thing about this pattern was the drape of the skirt. It is full and generous and the folds look great in the centre back and sides. The front on the other hand is straight, with just an extra 15 cm overlap to allow for getting out of the dress. I just fold the gap shut and wear an apron above, but you could pin or hook it in place, or make a slit in the front. The straightness of the front makes the skirt great to work in; when I bend forward the skirt rearrange itself towards my legs, avoiding any flames or obstacles before me. Someone gave this thought “back then”!

The gollar I already made a tutorial for, and you can find it here. The early photos show an amber coloured English broadcloth gollar, fully lined with fur. The red one only has fur strips, enough to add some warmth but still be conveniently small for packing in a suitcase… Erh, I mean historically stylish yet cheap. Yeah?

The cap is a simplified Birgitta cap, and should be worn with a veil on top to be considered “well dressed for the public”. These caps are unusual in contemporary finds from the 16th century, I have seen a model doll and some “maybe” examples in art- it could be a cap but could also be a folded veil or other headwear. Hairnets, veils, braids, straw hats and other kinds of headwear are also visible. The most important is to have your head “dressed”; either with a hairstyle or headwear appropriate to the period.

You can find my pattern on the Birgitta cap at my Patreon or in my Etsystore.

The hoses are the same knee-high wool hose I use for other outfits, and here is a tutorial to make your own.

The apron is made in handwoven linen and smocked with linen thread. Two double folded strips of fabric were sewn shut to form the bands that I tie the apron with. The rest of the apron is only double hemmed and sewn with whipstitching.

When I went back to my old research post I also remembered that I wrote that I needed a jacket and a cloak, amongst other things. I actually made several examples of wool jackets, but they never made it to the blog for some reason. A black wool jacket based on the same tailoring manuscript book as the dress got photographed at an event, but then I sold it to make another one and try out some variations.

photo: Annika Madejska

Phew! So this was a lot of thoughts, and sewing, and years gone by without finishing up the writing on this project. I seldom return to old projects like this one, but since I still like it I thought it would be fun to share it with you. It is not a tutorial of any kind, more of a diary or a presentation of a project done.

Sometimes when you see others on the internet doing cool projects and posting photos of fancy dresses it is easy to feel like you don’t get anything done, but sometimes the road to finished projects can be long, windling and a bit unsure. It is ok too!

My Patreons wished for more research to be published, and I am happy to do so! Want to support the blog and be able to ask for content? Consider joining my supporters here!


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A gown fit for a queen

You know when you are browsing fabrics, looking for something practical and discreet to make a working garment with? Yeah, that didn’t go as planned here…

I fell in love with this silk brocade and bought several meters of it during Double Wars. I had no plan at the moment, but it was lovely and the pattern a replica from the 15th century, so I figured I would find it useful. However, it took a couple of years to come around to cutting the fabric and making it into this gown:

15th century silk brocade dress
buying the fabric

Research:

I collected some examples of dresses that I liked that would fit the time period, social status and use for this fabric. This one is a favourite, painted by Pedro Berruguete around 1485, but I already made a tight fitted one when I made my velvet overgrown for the wedding, so I opted for a looser style now.

The weave, material and pattern of the fabric place this project at the top of the social structure in 15th century Europe, something to be worn by royalty. Brocades are most often seen as outer garments, with wide panels and a loose fit (the better to be taken apart and remade for the next wearer?) Here’s my pinterest board with examples. This fits my fabric well, since it is quite stiff, with a dramatic drape.

The model is best described as an overdress or houppelande, with narrow S-sleeves. The panels starts to get wider below the armhole, and adds as much volume as possible to the hem. The neckline is cut in a V-shape and slightly rounded in the back. I made the back panels longer to get a train and cut the middle front straight and floor-length to be able to walk in it without tripping over the hem.

Working with brocade fabric:

When making silk brocade garments for yourself, remember that you need more seam allowance than you use when sewing in wool or linen. First, the fabric will often shred and loose threads everywhere, and second, the brocade is often stiff and does not give any flexibility when worn. I calculated 1 cm extra seam allowance (2,5 cm instead of 1,5 cm) and another 2-4 % of the total measure for movement (if your pattern is 100 cm around the bust, the total will be 102-104 cm + seam allowance).

I do not wash silk brocades before sewing, instead, I steam them with an iron. This will lose the weaving tension without altering the fabric appearance overly much.

When drafting the pattern pieces, remember to adjust them to the fabrics pattern and right/wrong side. This means that if you want to use your fabric wisely, half the dress will have the pattern running in the ”wrong” direction. On my dress, the pattern is ”upside down” on the back panels, and the right way in the front. The fronts are not matched pattern-wise but cut out to maximize the use of the fabric. To the modern eye, this might feel wrong, but never mind modern ideals! Also, piecing in the skirt or sleeves does not have to follow the pattern direction, just use what scraps you have.

zigzag your edges after cutting

After cutting your fabric pieces, I recommend zigzagging or overlocking the edges on your sewing machine, even if you are about to hand sew your garment and will have to rip away the threads while you work. This will prevent the seam allowance to disappear before you have even finished sewing the pieces together.

For hand sewing, silk thread and running stitches or backstitching will do fine. Try pinning only in the seam allowances to avoid damage to the fabric, or use small clamps instead of pins. I also like to bast; here is the sleeve sewn into the armhole with a linen basting thread, before backstitching it with silk thread.

brocade sleeve inserted to armhole

If you prefer to sew your garment on a machine, use a silk thread and a little longer stitches than normal, to allow for a good looking seam. You might want to adjust the thread tension a bit- try on some scraps first!

I press all my seams while working (with steam and a cloth), to make them tidy and easier to sew down. If you don’t want to fell the seams, leave a zigzag or overlock on the inside. If you prefer to fell the seams, use silk thread and try to press and fold the seam allowance as tight as possible for a nice finish. The hem is also pressed and folded over twice before I whip stitch it in place.

The gown, before the finishing pressing with steam. Notice that the sleeves pulls a bit toward the back? The seam is a bit on the tight side, I should have used looser stitches when closing the sleeve. Now I had to adjust it with a good steam and press to reset the shape. Never underestimate steam!

trying the dress on a mannequin
the back of the gown after pressing, the train turned out great!

I have yet to wear the dress to an event, and I am really looking forward to it. This type of dress needs to be paired with nerdy headwear, sparkly jewellery and a great party!

Update summer 2022: I finally took the gown out during Skellefteå Medeltidsdagar! I actually packed it early in the season, but the weather was so rainy and muddy I didn’t want to wear (and ruin) the dress until July. It really turned out great, and was really comfortable to wear during the party.

first time wearing the gown!


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How to mend your straw hat

You really like your straw hat, but it´s starting to look a little worse for wear? Here is how I mended love’s hat!

The poor hat looks alright on the head, but take a closer look and you will find several holes and broken straw. The thread around the head was put in to be able to adjust the size of the hat to the head and make it fit snugly. It was a great idea, but have also put some strain on the straw around the head, causing it to break at several points. Time to put in some reinforcements so it will last longer! (Note that this particular material is not the one I am selling, the grass straw I use is a bit different. This hat is several years old by now)

A straw hat doesn’t need any fancy materials, it is after all mainly a working hat. I used unbleached linen, linen thread (waxed) and a little glue. When working with your hat; be gentle if the straw is thin/dry and sensitive. I will make a hatband around the outside to support and protect this area, then glue broken parts together. Lastly, I will put a ribbon inside the hat to make it more comfortable, since the broken straw tends to poke inside.

I started with measuring around the hat and cutting out a strap of fabric 4 cm longer than the circumference and 6 cm wide. This will give me a fabric piece of 60*6 cm.

Fold in the seam allowance (1 cm) and press it down on the inside of the strip, and then pin it around the hat.

Be sure to stretch the fabric carefully and evenly, to keep the size of the hat as it was before. Fold the end of the strip inside to finish it off, and then stitch it into place with linen thread. Use a thin, sharp needle and pull gently on the stitches so you don’t damage the straw while working.

You need two rows of stitches, at each edge of the fabric. Start with the one at the base of the hat.

If the straw is very broken, try to find some whole pieces to sew the fabric onto. Here you can see the seam on the inside of the hat, and me trying to find something to sew the fabric onto.

Add the second row of stitching, and sew the fold down onto the fabric for a nice finish. These steps you may use for decorating or reinforce your new hat if you like, using for example linen or black wool fabric. If the hat is a bit big, pulling the fabric around the hat will make it fit better. Remember to try it on after the initial pinning or first row of stitches so the fit is good.

Fabric strip done! Both decorative and supportive, and great if you want to pin or fasten straps or a badge to your hat!

Let’s move on to the next step! Here I use modern glue to mend rips and broken sections in the brim. Braid the straw together over the broken parts or just gently push the edges together, apply a thin coat of glue and let it sit and dry. Pick a glue that is transparent when dry, and a bit flexible (trying it out on a small piece of the hat is always a good idea). A glue that gets rock hard when drying will only put stress on the straw on the side of the mended hole, causing more damage in the future.

Here is another good method for adding support to your hat; a thin ribbon on the inside. This is loosely glued around the base, covering broken pieces and adding a softer base for the head. After the glue has dried, baste or sew the ribbon to the other fabric layer (not all the way through, use the seam allowance) and you´re done!

If the hat is a bit loose, you could use this ribbon the same way as the fabric on the outside; putting it in with a bit of strain to adjust the size of the hat.

And done! Now the hat is ready for some more adventures. Remember to always take good care of your hats so they may accompany you to many adventures in the future, clean them when necessary and store them in a flat and dry space. Good luck!


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The Ultimate Cloak Guide

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Rectangular shawl in tabby wool to a simple viking dress

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

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

Woad blue cloak or shawl, tabby woven wool fabric

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

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

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

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

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

Simple semicircular travelling cloak in brown wool twill

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

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

Interesting thoughts:

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

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

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

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

example of a semicircular cloak

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

Different models of cloaks:

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

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

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

Decorations:

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

Fabric choises:

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

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

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

Colours:

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

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



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Making nice looking seams without ironing

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…

Here you can see more examples

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”.

In Sweden, it seems that the iron came in use during the 16th century, placing it at the end of the medieval period. In Europe I believe it to be a bit earlier, and it is found in China during the 4th century.

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!