HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Working kirtle for the 15th century woman

This is a dress I made several years ago, to have as a simple working kirtle. I never got around to take photos and write a proper documentation about it, but now I got some feeling! In these photos the dress have been used for a couple of years and it has seen wear, washing machines and mending. So here’s my first tutorial for the autumn, and thank you for visiting and reading! (Both old friends and newcomers!)

This is a very simple working kirtle or dress, made to be practical as well as historically possible. The fabric is a plain wool weave, dyed to look like walnut dyed fabric. The skirt is partly pleated, partly flat sewn to the waist, and the upper part of the dress is fitted for bust support, side laced and has short sleeves.

I wear it with loose sleeves, pinned to the short sleeves and a gollar for warmth, under another fancier dress, or as it is if I am going to do lots of work or if the weather is warm.

The dress is hand sewn with wool thread in the same colour as the fabric, and it was one of my first garments made with wool thread instead of linen thread. I really recommend it! At first, I was a bit unsure if it was going to be durable enough, but after several years of using it, washing it in the machine (yeah, because lazy and dirty…) and treating it rather rough, it stays together really well, with only some minor mending.

I used running stitches on all long seams, and folded the seam allowances to one side before whip stitching them down. The waist seam and all edges was made with whip stitches, and the sleeves and upper body seams made with back stitches to be a bit more durable than the running stitch is. The running stitch is way more durable than many believe and common in extant finds, but for heavy support I like whip stitch and back stitching better.

The fabric is from Medeltidsmode, and I used around 3 meter for a dress. If you are much longer than me (1,6 m) consider buying another half metre. I did a quick pattern outlay for you, since it is old I’m not sure if I drafted the pattern along the selvage or across the fabric but you will get an idea of what pieces you need to make one for your self.

The dress was made using two front pieces (to have a supportive seam in the front was a good choice since I didn’t have any lining in the dress.) One back piece, two sleeves and the skirt panels. I drafted S-sleeves, but the dress is made with regular sleeves with the seam under the arm. That seems to be the most common in artwork from the time on short sleeves. Your choice!

Some thoughts on skirts:

Do you see that the skirt has way more fabric in the back, while the front is straight? This will give you a nice fall as well as enough width and volume, but if you bend forward to pick up things or work by the fire, this construction will make the skirts remain away from the flames closer to your body, rather than draping forward with your movement. Hard to explain, but try it! It gives you a very practical garment.

The front panels are marked C at the center front. The back piece is “upside down” to use as much of the fabric as possible. You could of course piece the skirt together with more panels if you like. On my dress the front panels lies smooth in the waist, with only a couple of pleats to allow room for hips and stomach, while the back part is pleated around the back.

Other ways of construction would be to make more panels/gores (see my green 15th c kirtle) or pleat the skirt fabric to the waistseam all the way around (like my 16th c trossfrau dress in purple and blue). Or just make a few decorative folds in the back, like on my blue Weyden kirtle. This is simply one possible way of interpreting contemporary art.

A tip on bust support:

This is (I think) my only wool garment so far that has bust support, but no lining whatsoever. This is possible only because of the plain weave, since it is not very flexible across and along the threads in the fabric. A twill weave would not have worked without lining.

The front piece has two arrows marking out small details in the fronts seams. At the center front there is a small bend going in under the bust, and at the side seams there’s another, making the seam run in a bend, and then changing direction after the bust and running straither over the stomach. This way of sewing will make the bust stay better in place, allowing for bust support without lots of sturdy layers. But the bust will have a rounder form and not as much steadyness as a garment with lining.

I did however put in a narrow strip of linen around the neck opening on the inside, to avoid it getting stretched. There is plenty of ways to make hems sturdier, such as a narrow strip of fabric, running or stab stiching or using another layer or quality of fabric on the inside, for example. You can find this in extant finds such as Herjolfnes and finds from 14th c London, as well as in paintings. It is an easy way to finish of your garment, make it last longer while being historically made.

The side lacing is made with sewn holes and a lucet braid in plantdyed wool thread. A wool thread will be a bit stretchy, and wont run as smoothly as silk, which makes it a bit slower to lace, but the cord will stay in place. On this photo you can see the lacing which starts by the sleeve and reaches to the waist seam, a gap were the shift is visible (did I have to much good food this winter?) and also some mending done on the sleeve. After the waist seam I tie the cord (I lace it from sleeve to waist) and the skirts are opened another 15 cm to allow for easy undressing. The skirt is not laced, it stays closed anyway, and by sewing some folds in the sides, the opening will not be very visible.

A note on fitting a dress like this:

I always make a fitting for every single item I make, and that is especially important if it is supposed to be tight fitting. I do have a basic pattern, drafted on my own body (a toile) but after I have basted the pieces together I need to try them on before sewing the garment. Every fabric you work with is slightly different, some more stretchy, some supportive and stiff, and by trying the pieces on you can adjust the garment to your taste.

The method for adjusting and fitting a dress like this is the same as I use while making a supportive upper body toile, and you achieve the support by taking in the upper body in the sides and front, sometimes also by stretching the shoulder seams upwards a bit.

A front laced kirtle is a bit easier to adjust to a bigger bust, but you can make it work with a side lacing as well, just remember to make the same adjustments to the laced side as the sewn together side, and maybe lacing it double one turn just below the bust for greater support.

For a complete outfit; linen shift, wool hose and leather shoes under the kirtle. A simple belt to hang the money purse from (change is very important for todays trader) and a veil on the head. Here I have a simple cap under the Great Veil, to have a base to pin it on. The veil can then be worn in many different ways, depending on how you like to wrap or fold it. 2-3 brass pins secure the veil to the cap under it.

Whoho! Finally documented this dress a bit, so now I don’t have to feel “bad” about forgetting it all the time. As you have noticed, this is not a complete step-to-step tutorial but rather a post with guidiance if you want to make a similar dress.

Many readers ask me to share more sources and such material on the blog, but according to copyright laws I am not free to post all the stuff that inspires me on the internet, and therefore you will often find links, reading tips and pinterest notions where you can find artwork and resources of your own. Hope you understand my take on this!

 


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Sewing machine school- part 1

The sewing machine is a tricksy being, with a mind of its own. On the paper it promise to make whatever your heart desire, but home alone it tend to do as it pleases… Happened to you? It does not have to be like that!

In my Sewing Machine School I will give you all my best tips for making friends with the sewing machine. As a sewing crafts teacher I have great experience with dealing with struggling pupils… And struggling machines too.

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in the beginning:

  • Before sewing, make sure the machine is correctly threaded. It is easy to miss a part, get a loop or lose the tension. Use the instruction manual if you are unsure, or even better-check out youtube to find a video on your model! Older models may be available on internet as free pdfs, or check in with the sewing machine store.
  • To check the tension of the threads, pull carefully at the top and bottom threads. They should be moving but with a slight resistance. If everything seems fine, try sewing on a scrap bit of cotton fabric. Fine? Then try out a scrap bit of the fabric you intend to work on. Check to see if you need to make adjustments in the stitching length, or the presser.

A short note about caring:

It is very important to take care of your sewing machine! Wipe it down and clean it after each project. A can of compressed air is perfect for blowing away dust inside the machine, and a small brush can be used to remove threads etc.

You can also grease your machine with a special sewing machine oil, to make it run smoothly for longer periods of time, between the paid services. Do this after each sewing project or sewing period, and you will have a machine that runs smoothly. (Note; it is very important to use sewing machine oil, and to only apply small drops of it in order to not stain your fabrics after. If you are unsure if you might have applied to much, sew in a scrap fabric piece first.

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Change the needle after each big project (like a dress) or if you have accidentally pulled your fabric so the needle touched the machine going down. A sharp needle will make the seem prettier, more even and make the sewing easier.

While working:

Always start with a scrap bit of fabric to check the stitches and the tension. The threads should lock with each other in the middle of the fabric. If not, try adjusting the tension of the upper thread first.

Adjust the presser according to the fabric. Thick woolen fabric needs a lighter presser than thin silks. If the presser is to hard, your upper fabric will be pressed forward during sewing. If you have a problem with the fabric pieces always ending up different in lenght at the end of the seam, this could be your problem.

The feeder teeth underneath your fabric moves the fabric during sewing, but some machines also have an upper feeder that you can attach to the presser. Check to see if your machine have one, or if you can buy one. This is a very good device as it helps get the fabric even during longer seams. (If you dont have one, pinning the fabric pieces before sewing helps really nice too)

Use a needle fitting for your project. Thinner needles for fine linen and silks, a bit sturdier for wools.

Are you unsure about thick layers or sharp corners? You can always sew “by hand” on your machine. Instead of using the pedal, use the wheel on your right side, pulling it towards you. This makes the machine go very slowly and you will have plenty of time to check were you go and if the needle can take all the layers without breaking. Once past the hard part, just use the pedal again!

Be attentive to the sound of your machine. It should run smoothly and even, if everything is ok. When you have learn your machine, you will quickly discover if anything is amiss.

If sewing together two pieces for a dress (like a straight panel and a diagonally cut gore) always put the part that stretches the most (gore) under the other part. This will lessen the risk of the parts stretching out uneven, and make the seam a bit nicer.

To turn in a corner: Stop were you want to turn, and lift your fot from the pedal. Move the needle down into the fabric with the wheel, lift the presser and adjust the fabric to the new direction. Let down the presser, and continue forward with the pedal. The needle hold your fabric in place while turning and make sure the seam continue nicely.

This was my first part, and whenever I have the time I try to translate more sewing tip for you. Do you like it? Consider supporting me by Patreon, to make it possible for me to create more free tutorials!

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Workshops this spring

Just wanted to give you all a quick update about some of my plans this spring!

Between 8-10 of March I will be holding a workshop in medieval clothing in Norway; check out this event for a weekend of fun, new knowledge and lots of sewing!

https://www.facebook.com/events/2338507499771965/

I also have a weekend of tablet weaving in my hometown; https://hemslojden.org/activity/keramik-2-2/ were we will be doing lots of practical handcrafting, look into some historical finds, have fika and meet new friends.

Both workshops have their own way of booking by their site- just wanted to show them here for you!

 

 

I also have some free time yet before the summer for weekend workshops with your group or at a location of your choice. Just send me an email if you are interested, to linda.handcraftedhistory @gmail.com. I also have time to make a couple of outfits for customers, so are you planning to order some clothing for yourself before summer now is a perfect time to do so! (waiting time is now until early May)

Then my main market season will start, and am I looking forward to that! Medieval tents, summer winds, lots of happy people, swimming in lakes… Yes, please! Let’s hope the spring and summer will arrive soon here!


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15th century headwear

There are many looks on headwear during the late 15th century. Everything from maiden hair hanging loose with soft waves, to several layers of linen veils wrapped around the head, with wimples or jewelry worn. There is both visible and hidden hairdos, fake hair pieces, caps, hairbands and circlets, as well as decorations such as pins, jewelry and braids.

In this post, I wanted to show you a few of my favourite looks and how to achieve them in simple ways.

 

This is a great veil, and it is simple a very long veil wrapped in layers about the head. The result gives you a turban, or if you prefer, a layered look with a loose end hanging. To keep the veil in place, add pins.

Fabric: thin linen 52*250 cm (or longer; up to 4 meters would be doable I think)

The short side should reach from forehead to neck, the long side wraps around your head in several layers. Cut out a square piece of fabric, and hem it around all sides with a small double folded or rolled hem. Use vaxed linen thread, and whip stitch or tiny running stitches.

Put the long side over your head, drape the veil around your head and pin it at the neck (do not make anknot, that will be to bulky and doesn’t look right in the end). Wrap the veil several times around your head, and secure it with more dress pins. Alternatives; wear it on top of a cap, headband or hairband. Let the end hang loosely, over one shoulder.

You can also wrap the veil folded, to achieve a more smooth look. The “secret” with making the look hold and look nice? Practice, mostly. I like to wear a base, like a version of the Birgitta cap, and then pin the veil to this one. When I wrap the veil around my head, the layers will go a little different each time, to cover the whole head in a good way.

In this look, the layers are wrapped from behind, and then swiped from the ear, over the forehead and a little back, to achieve the V shape at the forehead. This looks need some more pins at the top of the head to stay in place.

Veil with sewn layers. This veil is an experiment to achieve the look seen on many paintings from the period, in very easy means. A more historically accurate way would probably be to use a very long great veil, or the “strip with sewn folds” with a veil on top. But if you want to look the 15th century part easy and fast; this is it!

Fabric: thin or medium thin linen 64*250 cm

Cut out a square piece of fabric, and hem it around all sides with a small double folded or rolled hem. Use vaxed linen thread, and whip stitching or tiny running stitches. Then measure and mark folds on one short side, as many as you would like (between 6-20 folds). Make the folds by hand, press them down, and sew them with running stitches. At the ends (the long sides of the veil) you can make the folds go together to add some shape to your piece.

Put the veil over your head with the folds at the forehead, and pin it at your neck. The veil should hang over the pin and hide it. Then twist the veil fabric around your head until you have used the whole length. Tuck the end in under some layers, and pin everything in place.

Strip with sewn folds

Fabric: thin linen 64*20 cm (64*30 cm for more folds)

This is made either to pin on a cap, or fasten on your head with pins or ribbons at the neck. On top of it your wear one or more veils. A practical way to style your existing headwear into the 15th century style.

Cut out a square piece of fabric, and hem it around all sides with a small double folded or rolled hem. Use vaxed linen thread, and whip stitching or tiny running stitches. Then measure and mark folds along the long side, as many as you would like and can fit (between 6-20 folds). Make the folds by hand, press them down, and sew them with running stitches. At the ends (the long sides of the veil) you can make the folds go together to add some shape to your piece. At the ends you can make the folds go together to add some shape to your piece. Use two thin strips of linen or silk ribbon to fasten the piece at your neck, if you don’t want to pin it.

Here is the strip, pinned down on a cap, and covered with layers of veils.

I have been experimenting with some other veils too, but I’ll have to come back to them another time when I have put together my experience and drafted some patterns for you.


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The 15th century coat

For the Golden Egg challenge, I made a warm, woolen coat. The purpose with the coat was to make an over garment from sources that would be warm, practical and fitting for the period. After using it for half a year I am very satisfied; it is such an easy garment and yet it looks great, is comfortable and versatile. I use it as part of the outfit, when the weather is cold or wet, as a robe when visiting the bathroom early in the mornings, as a picnic blanket…

I drew you a basic pattern outlay, if you want to try it out for yourself.

The small gores F1 and B1 are just to save fabric, so the main pieces are 2 fronts, 2 backs and 2 sleeves. If you have a toile or mock up that works for you, you can use that as a base and then just draw out the lines from the sleeve/neck as I did on the pattern.

The fabric I used was 310 * 150 cm, if you are taller or need a size large or above, consider adding some extra fabrics for lengths and sleeves. You don’t really need as much width as I have, but it will give you a very nice drape and look.

The cut and pattern are based on paintings and what pattern instructions I have found from the period. I think it is a possible take, though I have seen outer garments with S-sleeves, sleeve gores and more intricate patterns and constructions. The side seams can be found in some pictures, as well as in patterns of outer garments from later periods.

When you have cut out the pieces needed, pin/baste and sew the coat together in the following order:

  1. back seam
  2. shoulder seams
  3. side seams
  4. sleeves
  5. insert the sleeves in the coat
  6. hem the coat
  7. put in a closure at the front neck.

I used unbleached, waxed linen thread and a running stitch, folded the seam allowance to one side and fastened it down with whip stitches. The hems were finished with whip stitching to.

I also trimmed the neck and sleeves with fur, since that seems to be common in contemporary art. To avoid dipping the sleeve hems in food, I made the sleeves wide enough to be able to fold the fur inside the sleeves when working- this turned out very practical!

Materials:

The coat is made in a warm, thick wool twill, with a rich, deep brown colour that would have been quite expensive to dye. Other good colours could have been walnut brown, red or black.

Linen thread for sewing, since this seems to be common in most finds from the period.

Rabbit fur for trims, because that was the only fur I found that was up to my ethical standards about how you should treat animals (eco, small family garden breeding, killed and tanned in the area without chemicals). White fur to match the paintings.

The clasp is based on a find from the period and is made in bronze

You can wear the coat loose, or close it with a belt. I often wear it with the belt, as it is more practical. If you want tips on sewing a fur trim on a garment, check out my tutorial on the subject!

Historical sources and why I did a coat

The outer garment could be a dress as well, as there are lots of warm dresses lined with furs or fabric in sources. I chose the coat as I wanted a practical garment, and know from experience that a second layer of wool dress would not be versatile enough for what I needed. The sources I have used are from the second half of the 15th century, in todays Germany. The Golden Egg outfit is based mainly on the period 1470-1490, but the coat belongs to the end of this period rather than being the “choice of all women”. So now you can decide if you should go for the practical coat or the more common dress when making your outfit!

Sources: if you want to check out some sources on 15th century clothing, I recommend some of this links:

Lots of clothing from Dresden

My pinterest on the project

A portrait

About the black engraving

 

 

 


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Making a 15th c dress with a waist seam

This is my walk-through on how I made my green 15th c kirtle/dress in wool. It is not a complete tutorial with all details, so if you have never sewn before I recommend starting with a shift or other straight garment. If you want more good sewing tip, you will find many problems addressed in my other tutorials.

This is a common late 15th c middle dress for women, it is quite easy to make, practical and is shown in many different pictures from the period. Your choice of colour, neckline, clasps and other details will make it different, and if you choose a thicker wool fabric it will work as an over dress to. The art work I have used is from 1470-1485.

You will need about 3-4 meters of thin wool fabric, I bought mine from Handelsgillet, they have a thin twill fabric that is easy to work with and quite historically accurate for the period. I fell in love with the perfect green colour… And you can see some examples of green kirtles at the bottom of this blog post and in other art works from the period. The shade can be achieved with plant dying but is more expensive than a madder red or yellow, and I think it makes a good option for my outfit; a well of burgher from a city.

I lined my dress with prewashed, unbleached linen, but you only need to line the upper body for some stability, and that will need maximum 1 meter. I sew my dress by hand, with waxed linen thread. Running stitches for the main seams, back stitches in armholes and sides, and whip stitches for the seam allowances and hems is all you need. The dress closes with hooks and eyes, be sure to have lots of them!

This is what the model looks like, it is really simple, and if you have a personal toile/mock up for your upper body you can use that with some small modifications. The front opening should have a slightly curved seam to follow your body, and the closure makes the front pieces lay edge to edge.

Comparing to a supportive kirtle, you need a bit more room now for your bust area, it should be quite loose and lay over your breast, to get the shape of the period. Make a new mock up in fabric and make the front pieces a bit wider, and try it out.

The sleeves are regular S-sleeves or a sleeve with a curved upper edge and seam under your arm. You can see both from the period, though the S-sleeve seems to be more common. The skirt is made up of 4 pieces in my dress. Here is the pieces I used together with my measures (around 36-38/small European size)

The dotted line on one of the skirt panel indicates a gore to save some fabric during cut out, but I wrote out the wrong number of pieces; the left panel is the front and you only need one of that. But this is just one way to create the skirt; you can use more pieces, gores, or just 2 wider parts.

The upper body back piece is whole, you can shape the back in the sides and with the help of the waist seam.

I lost my sketch of the outlay (how to place the pieces on the fabric) but made another one just to show you. Since I am a rather petite person, I can use the width of the fabric for most outlays, but if you are longer than I am (around 160 cm) you my want to lay the skirt panels out the other way. In this picture the panels are a bit wider in the back than that above, so you only need two. The front is straight or almost straight. Note also that I apparently drafted regular sleeves instead of S-sleeves, but you will get the idea…

After I cut out all the pieces, I basted the dress together to try it out. When happy with the fit and measures, I started to sew all the seams by hand. If you keep the correct basting stitches while sewing, you don’t need to pin and can easily work in the sofa, super cozy!

Make the dress in the following order:

Sew the upper body together, front and back pieces, and then sew the sleeves before you insert them in the body.

Sew the skirt panels together, but leave around 20 cm at the top center front, to be able to put the dress on (the slit shown on the first sketch). I hemmed the body and the skirts upper circle separately, and then attached them to one another with whip stitches. This seam will get a lot of wear, so it is nice to make it twice, or use a sturdy thread like the buttonhole silks or a thicker linen thread, like 35/2.

When the whole dress was assembled together, I put it on my doll to hang out for some days, before I cut and hemmed the skirt and sleeves. If you have a doll, it is really good to leave the dress hanging for a couple of days before hemming, this will make the fabric in the skirt stretch out, and you can cut away excess fabric to make the hem even.

The front with its lining is sewn from the right side, first with basting and then with a seam. To make the front opening and the neckline more durable I added a second row of stitches around.

The hooks and eyes are fastened last. This is what it looks like on the inside, note that I have sewn the hooks and eyes not only in the loops but also at the stems/higher up. This will make your opening lay flat and give that characteristic look at the closure you can see on 15th c paintings.

And finally, some of my favourite artworks that I used during my research. As you can se, they are all green kirtles, of the same models, but with some different cuts, necklines, closures and headwear.

Historically accurate? My main aim with making this outfit was practicality, durability and a dress I would feel comfortable in, based on period clothing. With this said, I aimed to make the dress (and outfit) as historically believable as possible from my means.

The fabric is machine vowen and dyed to cut on costs, but the pattern construction, sewing techniques, material and look aims to be close to the dresses from the period. Another modern take is the hooks and eyes, which are machine made instead of handmade.

I rarely work with metal due to some problem with my joints, but I tried to make a couple of hooks and eyes by hand. It is not hard work, they got quite pretty, but I didn’t make enough of them for a dress.

One thing I did give a lot of thought was the lining. My experience is that lining a skirt with a different material that is sewn down in a slim hemline rarely gives a good result. But I was curious, and gave it a try with the method of letting the skirt and skirt lining hang down before cutting and hemming. It worked quite well, but gave me a lot more work than leaving the skirt unlined. In artwork you can often see a lining inside the dresses, and this was a try to make one without adding warmth with another wool layer.

 

 

 

 


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How I make my 15th century braids

I took some quick pictures to show you how I make my braids for the 15th century outfit. I do not make them to all events, and they end up looking a bit different each time, but this is the basics for the look! (this is not a historically accurate way, but it is one that really works for me during work and camping events so I wanted to share)

You will need:

Longer hair, or hair extentions.

Brush, comb, hair wax (optional), rubber bands or thread, 2 bobby pins.

First, I divide the hair in two sections, and brush them out. Then I usually add some natural hair wax to get the hair a bit easier to work with. The hair is pulled to the front, and the braid is a regular 3 strand braid that begin over the ear.

Look at the start of the braid, it is really high up and almost at the front of my hairline:

 

Braid both sides, finish them off with a small rubber band or thread. I always use rubber bands, because I am lazy…

After this, it is time to fasten up the two braids in loops. I usually do this by pulling a bobby pin through the rubberband, so the pin hangs in the end of the braid. This is the hair from behind; you don’t have to make it perfect, but try to pull the braids tight from behind to avoid the hair falling down your neck.

After that, grap you bobby pin, fold the braid back and put in the bobby pin at the start of your braid. If you have extentions, you can pin it through one of these for extra firmness. Make sure the pin is secure, give it a small “twist” to secure it inside the braid.

Then it should look something like this. The loose hair ends lies against my head, behind the braids and under any cap or veil I will wear. The bobby pin and rubber band is also hidden. Note the lenght of the braid in different paintings when deciding how long yours should be. I like them to reach the line of my nose, it makes my face look cute.

And from behind

There, all done! I have discovered that the best way to hide the loose hair and the small hairs at the neck is to use a modern, thin hair band in fabric, that I pull over my head and smooth away the hairs with. I didn’t use that this time, and you can use hair spray, wax, bobby pins or whatever you fancy to hold your hair in check.

The result? This is what it looks like when styled with the 15th c great veil.


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Tutorial; the simple medieval & viking dress

This is my tutorial with a very detailed step-to-step instruction, and I will base other tutorials on this one and simply state “do as in the simple dress tutorial but…” so this is a go-to for many different garments. I call it the simple dress since it is so versatile, the base for so many other garments! The translation was done in 2018, and the original tutorial is from 2015/16. Some things differ, and the changes I made is for a beginner to be able to make the dress as easy as possible. If you feel more secure; feel free to experiment!

It is also suitable to make mens kirtle, tunics and coats, just adjust measures and fitting to a male body. Most garments are more difficult to make for women’s bodies since the measures differs more, and therefore you will find more tutorials on my page for women’s clothing.

This is the dress we are going to make. Note that a regular S-sleeve does not have two seams, only one at the back. The reason my dress have two seams in the sleeves are 1. you will learn have to make that for doublet, jackets and 2. I saved fabric

Good tips:

If sewing on a sewing machine, pin from right to left, over the seam to make it easy to remove the pins while sewing. If sewing by hand, pin the seams along the seamline so as not to get the pins in your hand, or baste the seams.

When pinning; always lay your pieces on a flat surface and work on that while pinning. Pick a table or the floor, not some furniture with a fabric surface. If you work on a somewhat slippery surface the pieces will lay better and wont stretch in uneven ways.

Basting seams are an easy way to try the fit, size, movement and drape of skirts while sewing. basting the armhole before sewing make that seam easier to finish nicely. When you pin/baste together long seams, such as a diagonal cut gore with a straight panel, put the gore (the diagonally cut stretchy part) under the other one, when sewing on a machine the gore will not stretch and the seam will be nicer.

Dont be afraid to cut out your armhole according to your body. The sleeve should cover your arm, the arm joint, but fit snugly under your arm. To shallow an armhole will make your sleeve hang, but to wide will make movement hard. Experiment on scrap fabric first.

How many gores? Two are enough for undergarments and kneelong kirtles, four or more will give you more width, a smoother and more even fall of fabric and more movement when walking.Regular seam allowance is now 1,5 cm. For hems 2 cm. You can pick whatever measure you want between 1 cm-3 cm, just remember what you chose. Seam allowance is mentioned as s.a in this post.

Wash and iron your fabric before sewing. The fabric is prepped with heavy amounts of chemicals to avoid mold or bugs during shipping and selling process, and could be stretched uneven after the weaving. It will also most likely shrink a little, so this makes you able to wash your clothes after using them.

Start with your measures:

  • Around your upper body widest part (over the bust).
  • Length of garment; from shoulder to hem.
  • Length of arm; from shoulder-elbow while bent 90 degrees-to wrist.
  • Around your wrist (for tight buttoned sleeves) or around your hand to be able to take on and off the garment)
  • Around your armhole (if you find this hard; try to measure around a loose shirt or blouse. The armhole should be a bit loose without hanging).
  • length from shoulder to natural waist (for women) to hip (for men). This is where I attach the gores.

Draft the pieces you need on a bit of paper. Calculate the measures you need:

Around your upper body widest part: Divide in 2. Add seam allowance: 3 cm/piece. Add some extra for movement: around 6%. Example: around bust: 100 cm. Divide in 2= 50 cm. Add s.a = 53 cm/piece. Add movement = 53 + 6% = around 56 cm. Each piece is now 56 cm wide.

Length of garment; from shoulder to hem. Add seam allowance: 2 cm = hem + 1,5 cm for shoulders. Example: dress should be 140 cm when finished. Length of piece: 143,5 cm.

Length of arm; from shoulder-elbow while bent 90 degrees-to wrist: Example: 64 cm. This is a good measure for your sleeve, including s.a but not hem. So sleeve pieces should be 64 + 2 cm= 66 cm. Try on before hemming to adjust the length to your taste.

Around your wrist (for tight buttoned sleeves) or around your hand to be able to take on and off the garment): The narrow part of the sleeve. Check so you can put it on/off. Shape the sleeve to your taste so it fits comfortable around your arm while sewing the sleeve. This is just the starting measure.

Around your armhole (if you find this hard; try to measure around a loose shirt or blouse. The armhole should be a bit loose without hanging). The measure you got is divided in 2, for measure of armholes on front and back piece. Example: around my armhole I have 56 cm. 56/2=28 cm. Each armhole on the pieces should be no more than 28 cm measured (yes, measure the curve). The sleeve should be 2-4 cm longer than the complete armhole. 56 cm + 2-4 cm= 58-60 cm (measure around the S curve of the arm)

Length from shoulder to natural waist (for women) to hip (for men). This is where I attach the gores. Example: my measure is 38 cm. From the shoulder I measure 38 cm and make a line, here is where the gores should be attached on front and back pieces. For gores in the back and front, cut a straight line to 1 cm below this measure (39 cm from shoulder).

Length of gores: length of dress – length from shoulder – waist/hip + 3,5 cm s.a. Example: 143,5 cm -38 cm = 105,5 cm + 3,5 cm = 109 cm. Width depends on what kind of dress you would like to do, your over all size and how much fabric you have. I recommend a measure between 50-80 cm for each gore.

When calculating all these measures, draft them out on your pattern pieces.

Then, draft all the pieces on your fabric with a fabric marker and ruler. Control that you made all the pieces with the right measurements and that all fitted on your fabric. Mark them with front/back/sleeve/gore and so on.

Cut them out. If I work with linen, silk or brocade that will fray, I will now zigzag around all the pieces.

Sew the pieces together in this order:

  • Sleeves (to make tubes)
  • Gores to dress front, back, sides
  • Front and back shoulder seams
  • Front to back side seams/side gores
  • Sleeves in armholes
  • Hemming

Some notes: This work order goes for both sewing machine and handsewing. When I make a seam I finish it of before starting the next one. That means;

  1. pinning/basting
  2. sewing the pieces together front to front
  3. pressing down the seam allowance on the wrong side (the inside)
  4. cut down the seam allowance on one side
  5. press again, the wider over the cut one
  6. whip stitch the seam allowance down (can also be done when the dress is ready if you want to try the fit during sewing)

The reason to press the seams before sewing another one is that you will have flat and nice looking seams, and it will be easier to make the next on crossing the first. I really advise to at least press the seam allowance once, it makes such a difference!

A detailed step-to-step for sewing the dress.

Sleeves:

Pin the seam on the S-sleeve (the back seams if you have a sleeve in two pieces.

Sew the seam with running stitches or sewing machine. Remember to fasten/lock all seams at start and finish. Here 1 cm s.a is shown. I prefer 1,5 cm to easy fell the seam and whip stitch it down.

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Press the seams with an iron. If you use a fine wool or silk, a damp pressing cloth (cotton cloth) can be used between iron and garment pieces to avoid pressing marks. On the photos below you can see the difference between a pressed and a new seam. Totally worth the effort!

When pressing: press the s.a to both sides. Let it cool. Cut down one of the sides to half the width. Press the other s.a over the cut one, pin down if necessary. This will create a sturdy seam if sewn down, saves you time and looks neat on the right side.

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Pin and sew the other sleeve seam (if any). Press it the same way as the first seam. This is easiest with a sleeve ironing board, but if you don’t have any; press the seam with the sleeve laying flat on the bord. Try to avoid the folds in the sleeve with the iron.

 

 

These photos show the technique with and without a sleeve ironing board

Gores:

This dress use 4 gores, one at the middle front, one back, and one in each side seam. The gores give you movement and a good drape to the skirt. On female garments I want the gores to start by the natural waist (were you are slimmest) to accentuate the curve of hip and belly. On men along with the hips to give movement but no feminine curves.

Oh, right! I always forget to mention this; when drafting your gores, do not make them into straight triangles, but make them slightly curved at the base. Like in this example: the gore should be 100 cm long, and as you can see the rectangle is just that, so the gore will be exact 100 cm at the middle, but at the sides you need to measure from the top and down, 100 cm, and that will be a bit shorter than to the line.

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Why? To get the right measures, and a good shape at the bottom hem, as described in this picture:
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The gores are cut at a diagonal/bias on the fabric. This means they tend to stretch more than the front and back pieces when pinning and sewing. To avoid this, work on a smooth surface and pin + sew the seams with the gore under the front/back piece. This is mainly a problem on a sewing machine with too much pressure on the presser, but also a good tip for hand sewing.121sykil

One gore has a seam in the middle to save fabric. Pin, sew and press this seam first. I like to place this gore in the back so it wont show, and to create symmetry in the dress. Then, cut the front and back center to be able to attach gores there. Make the cut line about two cm shorter than the gores; like this:

Start with the side gores, pinning them to the front. Sew them in place, and press both seams the same way you did with the sleeves.

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Pin the front and back gores to the front/back pieces, right side to right side, one seam at a time. Sew it but leave the last 6-8 cm at the top. Repeat with the other seam, so you will have two gores with the tip loose. I prefer to make the tip by hand, from the right side of the garment.

3 different ways to insert gores:

Press the seams you made, and press the s.a on the front and back to either side of the slit, like if it was already done, from the wrong side. When reaching the end of the slit, the s.a will become narrower, and then disappear. Turn the piece and work from the right side. Pin the gore in the slit, so it lays flatly under the already pressed s.a of the front/back. Then sew it in place with a small whip stitch. With this method you can check the gore to be sure it fits nicely, and it does not matter if it turns out a little bit to big; it will look perfect!

Another method is to sew the whole gore with this technic, if you sew your garment by hand. This is also historically accurate. Start with pressing down the s.a on the front and back slits, and then pin the gore along each side, and sew it from the right side using whip stitches. Press the s.a on the wrong side, and sew this down with whip stitches on the wrong side to, like when felling the seams in the sleeves.

If you only want to use the sewing machine, work from the wrong side of the garment, and continue with your sewing machine seam to the top of the gore, making the s.a narrower as you go along the last 4-6 cm. If it is hard to see, fasten the seam, turn the gore up and sew it from this side (still on the wrong side, you just flip the garment from front/back to gore side). This might take a few tries before you get it right, just go slow and be prepared to rip the seam and try again if not satisfied.

When the gores in front and back are finished, sew the side seams; the side gores to the back piece and then the side seams (leave a hole for your arms for now. When all the gores are finished, remember to press all the seams!

Neckline:

I like to draft the neckline by hand for each garment, to be able to adjust it to each look I want. The secret is to try it on often, and just cut away a little at a time. You can choose between pinning, basting or sewing the shoulder seams before this. Make them the same way you did the other seams, but don’t press them yet.

Start with drafting neckline, and arm holes. Put the front and back on top of each other, mark the middle and draft a small neckhole. Mine is 18 cm across, 9 on each side of the middle. Make it shallow, about 4 cm, just in order to try it on. You can then draft the shape and size of your neckline directly on your body in the shape you want (just put the dress on, wrong side out and draft in front of a mirror. Copy the side you liked best to the other side, left or right. The neck will probably just be cut down with some cm, depending on your size, while the front will be deeper. Remember to leave 1-1,5 cm s.a; when you hem the neckline it will be a bit bigger than before.

Arm holes:

Making arm holes is much easier if you already got a toile/mock up to copy, but you can try this to. Put the dress on, wrong side out, and draft the arm holes where your shoulder joint start, follow the curve at the front. Mark where the holes should meet at the side, as tight under the arm as possible. Magically do this at the back/ask a friend/ take the dress of and draft on a flat surface.

Now you should have a drafted line at front and back. Measure these ones, and compare with the measure you took for your arm hole in the beginning. Redo if necessary, the armhole should be a bit narrower than the sleeves (about 2-4 cm) in order to make a good fitted sleeve. The front curve is deeper, and the back more shallow, but they should start and finish at the same place on the shoulder seam and side seam. It does not matter if one line is a bit longer (front/back) than the other, as long as the circumference is correct.

This is the difference on the front and back sides on my dress. Note that I also cut down the shoulder seams to become a bit sloping. This is optional for you, if you have very sloping shoulders it will help you with the fit. If needed, to this before the shoulder seams are finished. Then sew the shoulder seams and press them.

Attaching the sleeves

The next step is to attach the sleeves, and I will be honest with you; it can be a bit tricky at first, so don’t give up if you have to rip the seam a couple of times before you get satisfied. The most important thing is to take the time to pin/baste the sleeve to the body and check it out. Don’t hurry!

You will have two sleeves, sewn together to tubes. Baste the sleeve cap (top curve of the sleeve) with loose running stitches.

If you want to check out how the over all fit is, put on the dress and (make a friend) baste the sleeves around the armholes so they fit you nicely. Not the dress/armhole; but you. Move around, stretch. Then check if they seem to be by the s.a of the armhole. If they are= pro work! If not, just adjust them, maybe the armhole can be adjusted to fit you. Do not bother if the sleeve get a little creased or has small folds, that will be possible to fit inside the armhole, that is what the basting is mainly for. When you think you have something:

Mark out the top of the sleeve (towards shoulder seam) and the bottom (armhole towards side seam) with a marker or pin. Maybe there will be more sleeve on the back of your body, but that is just fine, you use it when reaching in front of you.

Take apart the sleeve and body, take of the dress (if you tried them out) and turn the dress inside out. Turn the sleeves to the right side. Put the sleeves inside the dress, and fit them into the armhole. They should lay right to right side now.

Pin the sleeve marked shoulder – shoulder seam and marked armpit – side seam. Continue to pin the armpit, the part under the arm. Lay the fabrics smooth against each other, no folds.

The sleeve is a bit wider than the hole, so it should make small waves, like in these pictures. This will be solved with the basting thread you sew on the sleeves. Gently pull them to gather the fabric of the sleeve a bit, in order to fit it inside the armhole. As the sleeve follow the arm hole curve better, pin it in place. The fabric should not make folds, but only gentle crinkles or waves. Adjust if you need. The basted and pulled together fabric should only be pinned to the upper half of the sleeve, never in the armpit.

When you have worked your way around the hole with pins and like the result, baste it in place with big running stitches. Make the other sleeve up in the same way, or try to make it the same… When satisfied; flip the dress to the right side, and try it on. Check the fit of the sleeves and your movement. A bit bulkiness around the armhole is ok, but there should not be folds or stretched fabric sections.

If it looks good, turn the dress back inside out, and sew the sleeves following the basting. Then remove all the basting stitches.

To finish of the seams, press them on a sleeve ironing board, or roll a bath towel firmly and put inside the arm if you don’t have one. Press the s.a down on each direction, then finish the seams like the ones before. I press them towards the body and whip stitch them down.

Wow, good job! Almost finished. Try the dress on again to adjust length, hemline, sleeve hems and neckline if needed. The sleeves should be a little to long when the arm is hanging, to fit nicely when you use your arms and bend the elbow. Check, mark any change you want to make, and do the same to the neckline. Ask a friend to check the hemline of the dress so it looks even, pin a new hemline if needed. Remember to check the length with the correct shoes/belt since these can make a different to how long the dress look.When satisfied, cut away any excessive fabric and hem the dress. I prefer to fold the edge twice, and whip stitch it down by hand. Remember that our s.a for hemming was 2 cm. Thick wools only need a single fold before sewing.

Thats it! Now you have made your very own garment! And you can use this tutorial, or parts of it to make other garments as well.


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How I attach buttons on a sleeve

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This is my method for attaching pewter buttons to a garment. It is easy, simple and makes it doable to remove the pewter buttons before washing or to use on another garment, and then re-attaching them quick afterwards. Another great thing with this method is that you will not lose your buttons as easily as if you sew them onto the garment one by one, since you will have a secure ribbon to hold them in place.

Here is where I start; the sleeve at the top is finished, and the sleeve at the bottom already have its buttonholes and hems. You will need to make S-sleeves (with the seam at the back of the arm, going just over your elbow) and then fit them snugly over your underarm. I recommend doing a mock-up sleeve first in a cheap fabric to try it out. Do you notice the curved edge of the bottom sleeve? That will create room for the wrist and the start of the hand which are also inside the sleeve.

Start by marking out where to place the buttons, use a pen and compare with the already made buttonholes. Work on the inside of the sleeve. Depending on the size of your buttons you will need different seam allowances, I had small buttons and used 1 cm, but recommend that you use at least 1,5-2 cm.

Use an awl and make small holes in the fabric, for the buttons to go through. If you have a thin or sensitive fabric, you need to reinforce the sleeve before you begin, otherwise the buttons may rip through the fabric when put on stress, such as moving or lifting when wearing the dress. A simple piece of fabric would do the trick, like on the sleeve above where the buttonholes has a strip of silk (sturdy linen is better to work with). Sew it into place before making the holes.

Aha, do you see my trick now! I do not sew each button in place separately, but pull them through the holes I made with the awl. When I have them in the right place, I thread a sturdy ribbon (this one is in linen, but a braid, twisted linen threads or anything similar will go) through each buttons loop, to keep them in place.

The ribbon makes the buttons stay in place, and makes it impossible to lose them. Note that the ribbon is twisted from left to right to pass through each button from the same direction, this will give you a smoother seam later. The buttons are placed with the flatter side towards the bottom.

When the whole set of buttons are attached and the ribbon threaded through them, fold the ribbon back, and leave a piece of it laying under the loops to keep it in place.

Final step! Fold the seam allowance over the buttons stem, loop and the ribbon, and whip stitch it in place. To remove the buttons, you will just have to rip the whip stitch open, remove the ribbon and take out the buttons to wash the dress in the machine, or use them elsewhere on another garment. To replace the buttons, repeat the steps above (the marking and holes should be left so you don’t have to redo them).

It takes me about 30 minutes to reset a sleeve, so quite doable instead of having to buy new buttons for each garment you make. This also works on bronze buttons of course, but fabric buttons I usually sew onto the garment one by one as is visible in finds from London (Dress Accessories 1150-1450). Also note that you need the typical medieval button with its long stem, most modern buttons are flat and doesn’t work with this technique.

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Tutorial; the bathing dress

Some time ago I made a medieval bathing dress in unbleached linen, and I wanted to share it with you. It is a simple project, perfect for an evening or if you want to practice hand sewing.
20180713_163324There are plenty of bathing dresses in paintings from late 14th to 15th century in Europe, they can also be seen in different cuts and models, and some are clearly supportive shifts that you could wear under your medieval clothing. Mine is very simple but with an intake under the bust to allow some support, but still being easy to get in and out from. No lacing is acquired.

Left; Bohemian, Codices vindobonenses 2759-2764 in the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, in Vienna, Austria. Right: The Bathhouse Attendant, Bible of Wenceslaus IV. 1389.

Chemise ladie's undergarment, 14th century, A History of Costume; Kohler.

This find is from A History of Costume, Kohler and is dated 14th century and described as a lady’s chemise or undergarment, the photo is old but you get the general idea.

Most of the pictures I have found seems to be dated to late 14th to early 15th century, there are lots on the internet and I have a Pinterest folder on Medieval underwear Medieval underwear so I won’t go into more historical sources today.

The cutting out; prewash your linen, fold in double in the length you would like, and then cut the A shape. I used the leftover fabric for gores in the sides (and at center front + back if you like, it is optional) but this of course depends on your measures.

The first pictures shows the general cut, the second the additional front and pack gores, the third the intake under the bust that give me the support. Do not take in too much, because then you wont be able to get in and out of the dress.

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About measures: The length of the dress measures from armpit to hem. The width is your measure around your bust divided in two (for front and back) add seam allowance but nothing more. Start the gores at your natural waist (if you are unsure, rather place them higher than lower) and pin the intake under your bust while wearing the dress with gores and side seams sewn/basted. Add shoulder straps last, mine is just double folded linen cloth, whip stitched together and then fastened at the same position as I would have worn bra straps.

If you sew your dress by hand, you can use vaxed linen thread and running stitches, and then fold the seam allowance to one side and whip stitch it in place. This gives you a sturdy seam that is also quick to make. Hem the dress with running stitches or whip stitches, after your choise.

Making the dress in unbleached linen made it opaque even when it was wet, good for modesty. In pictures the dress seems to be white, maybe visible nipples was a thing, or you would have to pick a very dense fabric. In some pictures it is very clear that the fabric is transparent, but I chose the more sturdy and practical look.

The result? All considered, I am satisfied with the cut, sewing and look of the dress. It is also easy to swim in. Historically, being out in public in a bathing dress was not a thing, they can be seen on bathhouse attendants or in rare cases during the dressing/undressing at home or during dirty labor. Wearing it to the beach was certainly not a thing, but I liked to have a more historical dress instead of wearing a modern bikini when going for a swim at events.