Handcrafted History

Historical and modern handcraft mixed with adventures


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The 16th century working woman part 1- The research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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My best tips for making a matching outfit

Making that matching outfit doesn’t have to difficult or impossible expensive, but it does take a fair bit of planning: before. Yes, I know it is the most boring part, but thinking before shopping is what makes the thing. So I put together a list of my best tips for making an outfit that makes everyone go “Wow” when they see it.

1. Decide on a colour scheme that you like, and follow it. You should have 2 base colours, with additional tones to match. In my case, orange and warm yellow is my main colours, as you can see on the amber necklace, the woven belt, the shawl and the apron dress. The hair band have a darker orange colour, but it is warm and intense to match the other tones. The red coat and the middle woolen dress brings in the additional colours to make the outfit interesting but have likewise a warm toned base.

2. Add some contrast or mismatch to intensify your matching outfit (yes, it works like that) it could be the opposite colour (red-green or yellow-blue) or a really dark detail to an otherwise light outfit. In my case, the green glass beads does match the yellow tones, but breaks nicely with the red ones. Still, they are in the same warm tone as the rest of the outfit. The uncoloured beige dress is another example; it doesn’t follow the main theme but have a warmer undertone so it works fine with the other  warmer shades.

3. Patterns or texture adds interest and depth to any colour. My apron dress is woven in a herringbone twill, and the coat is a bit uneven in its colour due to different dyes in the fabric, which is barely visible but adds texture and interest to the finished garment.

4. Darker and lighter shades; when choosing your colours make sure you have different shades and not only different colours. For example; yellow-orange-red make for a change in both colour and shade, but a light blue paired with a similar light green makes the outfit a bit flat. Add a darker green or blue-green tone and you will make the outfit more interesting!

5. Layers; plan for all the layers at once, and make sure they have different tones, shades or textures if they follow the same colour theme. In this case, you won’t end up having two orange dresses on top of each other, and can make sure that details will be visible.

6. Details; don’t we all love a well put together outfit? Making details lifts an outfit, and it can be both jewelry, accessories as well as useful tools, a knife, a jug or something like. Match it in colour, tone, shade or shape to your outfit. In my case, I chose to make a tablet weave to reinforce the apron dress, make the straps, and a matching headband. Having the same colour/pattern appear in different places adds interest and makes the outfit look well planned and matching.

7. Consider your own colours; colour schemes and matching is a whole science on its own, and there is plenty to read or check out on YouTube. Matching colours, creating interesting outfits and the like works the same way on historical clothing as on modern outfits or make up. Consider your own colours, if you have a warm or cold undertone in your skin, and consider what you like to wear. Using those kinds of colours will both make you more comfortable and happy during historical events. But also consider the historical finds; if you love to wear black and dark blue maybe that is not the best choise for your farmer viking outfit. But as these are considered as neutral colours in our modern eyes, maybe a dark grey with soft, plant dyed blues will do great for your viking outfit?

Got inspired? Did you find this guide useful? Please let me know by liking my FB page or leaving a comment on the blog!

 


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The Medieval Wedding Dress- the velvet gown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 


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Sewing in velvet- a guide

Today I am sharing my best tips for making garments in velvet!

Velvet has a beautiful shine to it, with highlights rather than shadows. This can be seen in paintings, where the clothing is pictured with highlighted areas rather than darker folds. Like this; (though this may also be woolen cloth, but it goes for illustrating highlights in fabric)

  • The choise of material is important. On the market today, you can find different kinds of velvets, in both high and low quality. The original velvet fabric was made of silk, insanely expensive, and probably also sensitive for wear and washing. To buy a good silk velvet for your project is of course historically accurate, but also very expensive, and you will have a garment that is sensitive. But the look and shine of the fabric will be outstanding.
  • Cheating? For a silk velvet look, you could instead choose velvet made of viscose, rayon or a mix of synthetic fibres. This fabric is a lot cheaper, more durable, and is (depending on the quality and materials) close to how silk velvet looks. Avoid fabrics made of pure polyester, since these will be warm and uncomfortable to wear; a mix based of viscose is often the best. You could also go for cotton or cotton mixed velvet, the look is a bit more matte than silk velvet but black is quite close in appearance. The good thing with cotton velvet is that it is made of natural fibres so it is easy to wash, feels good to wear and is durable and fire safe (it will not melt on your other clothes if you are unlucky) as well as cheap. As an example; my wedding gown made of silk blended velvet costs 4 times more than a medium cotton velvet.
  • Ironing velvet fabric is often unnecessary, instead just hang it out. If you need to press seams or iron out stubborn folds, you need to iron the fabric on its wrong side, with a cotton cloth over and a bath towel underneath. This will protect the fabric, and the towelling (in swedish; frotté) fabric with its pile will act as a soft bottom so the velvet pile doesn’t get flat and pressed down. Iron gently, and always try it out on a spare bit first.
  • Hang it before hemming; to make the skirt hem as even as possible; hang the dress on a doll for a couple of days to let the fabric hang out, then pin/mark the hemline and cut it. The skirt on my velvet over dress is cut in a half circular piece (almost) making the fabric drape nicely, but also hanging out uneven in the hem. Look at this picture- this is the dress skirt before cutting the hem, it differs over 10 cm!
  • The pile is what makes the velvet special, and it is important to take care not to crush or flatten it out. When ironing; do so gently. When machine sewing, choose a foot/presser that is narrower, and loosen the pressure on the machine a bit if possible. Or sew the fabric together on an overlock machine or by hand. When cutting out your pieces, don’t step on or lean on the fabric, as this may crush the pile unevenly.
  • Baste- don’t pin! Silk velvet is quite sensitive, the pins might rip threads from the fabric so basting with loose stitches is a safer way to go. If sewing in other materials, it is still better to baste because the pile of the velvet, when put together with another fabric, tend to “walk” over the surface no matter how much you pin it.

A picture from our wedding day, the velvet dress looking all nice and innocent, not at all like me and the dress really hated each other while making it…


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Houppelande in velvet and silk

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Houppelande tutorial- part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spara


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The Herjolfnes dress

Last year I made a woolen dress, based on the cut, sewing technics and seams from the finds from Herjolfnes, Greenland. I really didn’t plan it, I just had this sudden burst of creativity and had to make a plain, undyed working dress… The fabric is from Medeltidsmode, and it is an undyed natural wool that was just lovely to work with, the seams went very well, and the drape of the shirt is really good to. It is based on two different models, but with my measures- so it is a historical reconstruction with a practical use in mind.

Cutting out the pieces

And sewing them together with running stitches in wool thread

Sewing gores from the right side of the dress, with a whip stitch

The hems are made by a single fold, whip stitched and then sewed with another seam according to the finds. To finish of the hems two times was a bit tiring, but the result went very well, with especially the neckline and wrist coming out nice and stable for wear.

All inside seams are felled and whip stitched down, to make them more durable and the inside smooth and pretty.

There are several gores in the dress, both in the shirt and in the sides, that goes up to the arm holes. This gives the dress lots of hem line, as well as a nice drape. If you would like to make a dress more modern flattering, you could begin the width in the side seams by the waist. My dress is lose almost under the bust, which makes for a warm dress, that is easy to get in and out of, and probably good for medieval pregnancy if you are interested in trying that out…

The dress is so comfy, and despite a rather smooth fit over arms and shoulders it is easy to move in it.

On these photos I have rolled up my sleeves a bit and you can see the linen shift, a good way of keeping your sleeves dry when doing dishes.

Definitly one of my favourite dresses right now, it being so simple and yet pretty!