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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For Sale

I am putting up some items for sale, mostly things I have been making as projects, for tutorials and such. Good historically clothing, everything is worn and priced after their condition. Most items you might have seen already here on the blog, and now they are looking for new homes to give room for new projects and tutorials!

A 15th c coat in brown woolen twill. Handsewn with linen thread. Made after historical models, edged with white rabbit fur from an environmentally and animal friendly farm. Clasp in neck in bronze after 15th c finds. European size 36/38, or small. Bust measure recommended between 80-100 cm. Loose and flowing, lots of fabric. Price: 240 Euro/ 2500 kr. Want to order a new one in a colour of your choice? 335 Euro/ 3500 kr.

More info; https://handcraftedhistory.blog/2018/11/29/the-15th-century-coat/

 

A green woolen dress/kirtle in a thin twill, linen lining inside. Handstitched with linen thread, closing with hooks and eyes. After historical models, 1450-1470. Size: Europeian 36/38, waist around 78 cm, bust 90 cm (a couple of cm in difference is ok, can also be sewn in by the side seams) for a 160-165 cm long wearer.  380 Euro/ 4000 kr ,machine washable.

More info: https://handcraftedhistory.blog/2018/11/21/making-a-15th-c-dress-with-a-waist-seam/

 

A blue woolen dress/kirtle with short sleeves, after paintings by Rogier van der Weyden, 1450-1460. Handsewn, lined with linen on the upper body. Short sleeves, lacing at front. Size: eu (34) 36, Waist 76 cm, bust measure up to 90 cm/65 EE, supportive upper body. Can be taken in by the side seams. Lenght of wearer: 160-165 cm. Machine washable, good condition. 380 Euro/ 4000 kr.

More info: https://handcraftedhistory.blog/2018/11/18/kirtles-and-dresses-during-the-15th-century/

 


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Kirtles and dresses during the 15th century

This post is about my work with 15th c dresses for the Golden Egg challenge I do in the SCA, and it will be something like an overview on dresses. If you want pattern outlays and sewing tutorials, check out my tutorial page!

 

What is really the difference between a kirtle, middle dress, dress, under dress and so on? Not much, except the words. All these can be used for the same garment, depending on the country of origin and the period. A kirtle refers to the main (upper body) garment for both men and women, which should be long (and loose at the hem). A tight-fitting, short garment with the same function is called jacket or doublet. A kirtle can be both a tunic and a dress. So it is more of a language term than a specific garment.

Dresses is basically what you think it is; long garments (for women in this post) worn in different fashions, styles and materials. The medieval women generally wore several layers of garments, so to better talk about these they are given different names.

 

  • The shift, chemise or under dress is your underwear, usually in bleached or unbleached linen, washed frequently as you would do with modern underwear.
  • The supportive shift is a sleeveless, tight underwear to support and shape your bust. You can se it in both pictures and as a find (lengberg). You can wear it on its own, under the middle dress or together with a shift with sleeves.
  • The kirtle or middle dress is the next layer, often in wool, but also in silk, cotton, velvet or mixes of materials. You can wear this in public, and during the 15th c it is often tight fitted. The cotehardie? That is french, meaning basically a kirtle but is referred to as a tight fitted 14th c garment for both men and women, often with buttons or lacing.
  • The dress or overdress is a warm layer worn on top of the first two, during the 15th century it is often loose, with lots of draping fabric. And as expensive as you can afford it. The houppelande? A certain style of overdress, with an opening at the center front, often elaborate sleeves and lots of fabric in the skirts.
  • The coat or cloak is a layer of its own, to protect the wearer from the weather (or for symbolic/religious use) or as a fashionable garment. Women and men both wear them and own them in sources, but they don’t seem to be high fashion during the 15th c, more like a practical choice.

 

 

During the 15th century, fashion seems to change quite fast, and you can also see many different styles of dresses at the same picture or geographical area during the same time. If you want to research different kind of styles yourself, I recommend diving into some artwork for the period. I have two pinterestboards to check out, one about my Golden Egg project here, and another on interesting 15th c clothing here.

I also wrote a post about research and artwork here. I could really go on and on about different models of dresses forever, but to keep it simple I am just going to show you some different examples I have tried to recreate from the 15th c:

For my wardrobe, I opted for the green kirtle, a simple dress with long sleeves, a waist seam and front closure with hooks and eyes. The sleeves can be loose enough to roll up to the elbow, or a tighter version like mine. The front opening continue after the waist for a bit, to make the dress easy to take on and of. Decorative clasps by the front, or lacing seems to be options for this style. It also seems like the kind of dress you can wear as both middle or over layer on your outfit, depending on how you fit it and the material.

But I also got curious and tried out the loose dress model with my dove blue dress, based mainly on a picture from Bohemia. These model can often be seen with a decorative closure at the neck, and is held together by a thin belt by the natural waist. The breast can be seen as two individual shapes; you need a lengberg bra version or a modern balconette bra to achieve this look! (or go natural)

doveblue1

Before, I tried to recreate this kirtle with short sleeves and a waist seam with a plaited back, based on some artwork of Weyden. The sleeves have a seam under the arm instead of the more common S-sleeve, the middle back has a seam, and there is a strip of fabric around the neckline, as a way of giving support to the shape. The front of the skirts lay smooth to the upper body, but at the back there is plaits to add volume and a nice drape to the dress.

pinnedsleeves3 (2)

The houppelande is such an interesting garment, and I have tutorials about the different pattern and outlay. These are some of my different versions I have made. I really am a fan of this green colour as you may have noticed, and my friends use to joke with me if I don’t wear green on events…

 

And here is my pinterestfolder on different houppelandes and overdresses.

This became a quite long post! I will try to keep up with making some more tutorials for the different models if you want to try them out yourself.