HANDCRAFTED HISTORY

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.

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

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!


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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!


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Martebo bag in linen fabric

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

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

martebo_01
Martebo bag

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

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

Sewing instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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How to make a medieval linen shirt

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

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

Examples of medieval shirts with slits, gores and seams.

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

Linen shirt with a slit at the neckhole

Buying fabric:

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

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

Pick a shirt model of your choice

Preparing the fabric:

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

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

Things you will need:

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

Tools for handsewing

Measure:

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

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

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

Add ease of movement:

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

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

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

Add seam allowance:

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

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

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

Example:

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

Draft your measures into a pattern:

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

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

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

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

Design your neckhole:

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

Shape your armholes:

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

Cut out the pieces:

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

Sewing time!

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

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

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

The needle is thicker than the thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slits at the bottom

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

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

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

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

How to fasten the thread:

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

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

General advice:

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

Other types of shirt models:

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

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

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


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Lacing on medieval dresses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the green dress in the tutorial


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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 hand sewing tip if you want to hand sew 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.

Let’s start with my favourite way of inserting gores! With this method, you will always get a 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 hand-sewing, 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 see 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. Waxed 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 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 allowance! 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 are where the whip stitch from sewing down the seam allowance shows, these are nothing to be afraid of; it is a result of hand-sewing.


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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 taffeta) I made before apparently shrank on its own in the wardrobe during the winter, and come spring was a little too small over the waist. Can’t imagine how this could happen..?

This style of dress may also be worn on its 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 timeline, 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 Northern 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 taffeta, 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 silk fabric, taffeta 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 a 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 adjust 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 on both sides (seems to be usual in Italian portraits and handy if you often change your size) or on 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 good 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 lacing holes through (if you work with a medium to thick wool this might not be necessary, you may instead trim some fabric down and whip stitch 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 a little bit too loose dress.

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 reinforcement. Here I overlocked the lining and the outer silk fabric together after basting and fitting and finished it off by 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, occasionally locked with a backstitch 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 waxed 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 unevenness- 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 off 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 an 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 your 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 off the bottom hem. Check to see if it is even and adjust if necessary (a friend is good to help here but modelling 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.