HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Thoughts on making medieval garments

I wanted to share some thoughts with you today; things I have learned and things I find important, when I design medieval clothing. Both for myself and for customers. Being new in any branch of historical reenacting or costuming can be overwhelming, and just like with all other things in life there’s no simple answers or an ultimate guide. “Just read this book, and then you will know everything”… I haven’t found it at least.

But don’t feel overwhelmed! It is such an interesting journey you have ahead, exploring and experiencing other times and new handcrafting. And there’s lots of others that love to share their knowledge in this field as well. Here’s some great things I have learned over the years, that I like to share whenever I can!

Choosing materials is clearly one of the more difficult things when starting with historical handcrafting, and often the simplest way to succeed in making a good outfit is to pay the price for good material, and buy the same as everyone else. Seems boring at frist, right? But instead of wanting to make that perfect deal on super cheap wool in a really unique colour; think about what historical look you want to achieve with your outfit, and what qualities you would like the garment to have.

The places that sells fabrics especially to reenactors often produce high quality fabrics, and their customers will come back to buy more if they like it. The chance will also be that they are knowledgeable in historical fabrics so you can find materials, colours and qualities that resembles the historical originals, whilst giving you a fabric that will last for a long time to an affordable price.

The quality of the fabric will differ with manufacturers, places of origin, type of material etc so make sure to read up a bit on what material would be good for your individual project. Look at what others say about the seller and the different fabrics they offer, and learn some useful words: tabby and twill are weaving techniques, and twill is often more stretchy. Felted means the fabric has been fulled and is often less stretchy, but more weather resistant and smooth. Thin, medium and heavy are different weights in wool fabrics, whereas 120 grams etc are the weight of a m2 fabric.

Fabric shopping at The historical fabric store

It is always best to be able to see and feel the fabric yourself, and now when we stay at home, fabric samples are a good choice. If you have friends, a group or other people around you that are good at different fabrics, ask them for advise (or use a forum online) and always state what kind of garment you would like to make (a kirtle) for what period (14th century) and for what kind of use (reenactment event during winter etc). That way you may save both money and effort instead of buying the first fabric you find, and then get disappointed.

Preparation of fabric

Wool and Linen

I always prewash fabrics before sewing, even for my customers. I know that many in the field claim that you can’t wash wool fabrics in water, but that’s just bullsh*t. Of course you can wash fabrics, at least good ones. Bad ones? Might shrink uneven, get to much wear or completely change the look, feel and even the colour in contact with water. But you know what? That is not ok for garment fabrics. They should be made to endure everyday wear and wet weather, washing, food stains and so on. Those things totally existed in the medieval ages, it would be strange if your medieval outfit couldn’t endure the same right?

Furthermore, prewashing fabrics will release the weaving tension in the warp, making it shrink slightly and give you the fall it will have after ironing/washing/a rainstorm. You could get the same result by steaming the fabric with an iron before sewing, but that won’t remove the…

Chemicals and anti-mold treatments. Fabric today needs to last for longer times during shipping and warehousing, and look good when arriving on the shelf in the fabric store. To achieve this most fabrics (and ready made garments) are treated with different kind of chemicals, which will wash out in the washing process. Or rub of on your body… Not a good thought, right? Always prewash your fabrics!

Linen: soak in water a while before washing, to get a smoother fabric. Not necessary, but worth it. Fold it loosely in the bathtub for example. Wash the wet fabric in 40- 60 degrees C (the temperature you would like to wash your linen shift/shirt in later) hang to dry and then iron on a high temperature.

Wool: wash by hand or use the wool setting in the washing machine. Use cold to luke warm water and wool detergent. If you don’t have that, use a little shampoo, because wool is hair, and will not look its best after strong detergents. Also, hot water might felt it and make it look dull.

Silk and silk velvets are the only fabrics I don’t wash before use, but rather iron very gently and hang out to air before use.

This dress has been washed several times in water, and still looks like new.

Which thread?

Thats depends on what fabric you want to use, and what you want to make. But I prefer natural materials and “same for same”: silk for silk fabric, linen threads for linen, and wool for wool fabrics. Oh, or silk and linen for wool fabrics too, because that is a historical choice and very easy to work with. If you prefer to use a sewing machine, cotton thread for linen and silk for wool garments work nice. Polyester thread is a bit to “sharp” and might lead to breakage in the fabric rather than the seam if you happen to get stuck in something with your garment. But yeah, it will work on a sewing machine if that is what you have, I just don’t recommend it.

Where to start?

It is always good to start with underwear like shirt, shift and breeches. They will make up the base, are often easier to make and linen is not as expensive as wool. Also, you’ll get to try out the fit, the seams and some techniques.

After that, it is more a question of what you need versus what you are inspired to start with. Remember, handcrafting should be fun and not only practical! I like to make a middle/base layer next, often in wool, to be worn on warm events or when I work. After this is done, I adjust and finish of necklines at under-garments so they are not visible (if that is not fashionable) and start with some accessories, and another layer for warmth and weather protection. The medieval period (and others too) often have an outfit made up of several layers, and that is really practical when going to outdoor events!

Wearing a thin wool gown on a summer event. Photo taken by Catrine Lilja Kanon

Other good tips is to make a mock up or toile, basically a try out on the garment you desire, made in a cheap/recycled cotton fabric. It might seem as you are doing the work twice, but this is really handy as you get to try out the pattern, fit and look on the garment without risking that really expensive fabric. And if the mock up gets really good, you just pick apart the basted seams and use it as a pattern!

Basting is also a good investment; long running stitches will hold together your fabric pieces enough for a final fit before sewing, and will make it both faster and easier to sew all the seams by hand. I will confess, when I started sewing medieval clothing I NEVER basted anything and rarely pinned the seams, but after several surprises (Whot, how come I got this fit?) I learned it was both better and faster to check the fit, before sewing the final seams…

How to decide on social class and status?

Ohh, don’t ask me, I always change between working class garments and fancy party outfits depending on the event, place and what I feel like… But generally, just go for whatever catches your fancy! Or pick clothing after your preferred activities; are you going to stroll around a market fair with friends? Visit a fancy banquet? Or do you prefer mud wrestling, archery, beer taverns or outdoor cooking? Not only will you look much better with the right kind of clothing, you will also find that your activities will be much more fun with the right garments! A short dress and practical hood for the forest archery, or a thin and cool kirtle with hose for the indoor festivities.

A well of working class doublet, perfect for active events…

And a silk brocade doublet for those fancy strolls in the garden

Garments you need

This is always a tricky question, as it depends on the weather, the type of event and the gender and social status you want to portray. I thought I did great at my first events wearing a linen tunic, shoes and a cloak, I neither froze to much or died, but nowadays I confess of having higher standards… Like, I want to both look like I fit in the historical context, being comfy, not getting to much mosquito bites, and not freeze during chilly evenings. I also like to change my linen underwear everyday to feel fresh, as well as having some change of outer wear/dresses just because I feel like it. Oh, now I’m babbling again. You would never guess hom much text I always have to delete because of babbling…

Getting dressed in the morning; linen shift, wool hose and leather turnshoes

1. You generally need linen underwear, and a change for longer events. Several changes, if you’re not going to wash the clothes during the event. We want to look medieval, not smell medieval…

2. A thin or medium warm wool layer for summer events, for working or for indoor events.

3. An outer layer for cold evenings, if you get wet or want to look well dressed. I recommend another layer of kirtle/dress/coat rather than a cloak to get more use out of your clothing.

4. Headwear like hats, veils, hoods etc. Both to complete the outfit estetically, but also because it gives you cover from weather and bugs.

5. Shoes! Don’t forget shoes, make or buy a pair that is looking good and feels comfortable. Hose (long or short) with thin leather soles is also workable on warm events, paired with pattens.

6. Accessories, both fancy and practical: belt, garters, bags, purses, cloaks, headwear, gloves… You name it. These can really set the style and time period, so check out sources before you decide on what to add to complete your outfit!

A 15th c outfit in 3 layers; shift, middle kirtle and overdress complete with shoes, headwear and accessories.

Wear it!

Historical clothing should be worn, because it is awesome and comfy and look great… You know that you’re allowed to wear it around the house right? Or take the great cloak for that chilly walk, or use the apron when doing gardening work. You shouldn’t need to be super careful with your garments, they will look even better when you have worn them a couple of times. My favourite shift is 6 years old and worn transparent thin over my shoulders and back after months of wearing, but I love it.

And make it last longer:

If you have long skirts, fold them up or pull them up into your belt when walking so you don’t step on the hem, or drag it through mud. That will make the fabric last longer. Protect the handsewn leather turnshoes with pattens when walking through rain or mud, and always mend holes and rips as soon as you find them on your garments. At the end of season, I always wash, mend, air and look through all my garments before putting them into the wardrobe. For this year though, I recommend taking them out for airing a time or two to avoid dust and bugs.

Getting dressed in historical clothing is actually a bit different than getting dressed in your favourite comfy pants and tshirt. If you are used to wearing stretchy clothing, you will need to be a bit more careful getting dressed and undressed with the woven natural fibres. Imagine it more like a suit, pull it carefully over your head, always open lacing and buttons before removing the garment, and never “jump” into your medieval joined hose. Another tip to make your hose last longer is to always pull them up before kneeling or sitting, and to wear garters under the knee to make them stay in place.

Early 14th c outfit with accessories

Yeah, I think I got the most parts down here, and it became quite the long blog post. Maybe I am tired of sitting at home, talking to the cats and love all the time? Who am I kidding? I am REALLY tired of sitting at home, I miss events, adventures and being able to go out and do fun stuff. But most of all, I miss you friends, readers and fellow history-travelers! Stay safe and take care so we can meet each other soon!

Love, L


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My 10 best dresses

Hi! So nice of you to drop by to read! This time, I wanted to take you with me on a small tour to my virtual wardrobe, showing you some of my favourite dresses I have made so far. Be prepared to see some really old stuff now, because it wouldn’t be very fun if I just posted photos of the 10 most recent, high quality dresses I made right?

(Yeah, you wouldn’t think it was as nice sneeking a peek into my actual wardrobe, it’s quite full and maybe not in the best order. Have you seen my sewing box? Then you’ll have a feeling for what my wardrobe looks like…)

Let’s start at the beginning; my first buttoned cotehardie. This one is an old dress (the photo is from an event in 2010) long gone to someone else. It was my first try doing a 14th century dress with a closer fit. I can’t say I really knew how to make medieval fitted garments but somehow I managed this one and I was sooo happy with it. I remember looking up to others at the event, pondering how to make such awesome garbs like they wore, and how to manage a really good sleeve.

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This early in my erhm, blogging career (can you call it a career if you are not making any money..?) I didn’t get much photos of my own outfits, but rather took photos of everything I saw, trying to capture those magical moments and that cool things others wore. Like these outfits- I still remember thinking I would totally want to be that skilled when I grew up!

Oh, I had completely forgot about this one; the green herringbone twill wool was a really expensive (in 2011) fabric in an awesome quality, and I made some kind of Herjolfnes dress with lots of gores in the side and skirt. It was so comfy, fitted me well and I used it quite a lot before selling it. Actually still missing it. Here I am wearing it as a middle dress under my viking apron dress. Couldn’t find any good photo of just the dress.

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Oh, my green moy bog gown! Somewhere around 2010-2011 my real interest in medieval pattern construction techniques began and I wanted to try the moy bog sleeves. I remember that I first made a short sleeved one, wore that for a while and then remade it with long sleeves and better fitted gores in the skirt. Another dress I was really satisfied with at the time I finished it and wore a lot over several years. Then I wanted to make new experiments and sold it to be able to afford new fabrics.

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The 16th century trossfrau dress is one of my oldest that I still use (I tend to get tired of old projects and sell them of…) But I still like it. I put a lot of effort into research and actually making it historically accurate and fun at the same time and finished it in early 2015. It is hand sewn, the pattern and construction methods still holds up to my standard, and the colour is just sooo… fugly. The purple hue is actually based on a natural dye, so the thing that is least accurate with the whole outfit is the slashing on the hat; I was to fast and made it pretty rather than historical believable.

My wedding dress from 2017. This has a special place in my heart, I don’t know if it is the dress itself (it is rather plain) or the event it got used at… It’s a 15th century silk dress with open sleeves below the elbow, lined with a really thin wool, and decorated with silk cords and small freshwater pearls. I would like to redo it a bit as it doesn’t fit right know, and therefore I don’t use it. But I do feel a bit unsettled everytime I take it out from the wardrobe and think about cutting it apart to redo it. Maybe I am lazy, or a bit nostalgic. Yeah, I will probably remake it anyyy minute…

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I loved this one! It is a 15th century houppelande (overdress) in black velvet with moss green edges. The sleeves got lined with my last pieces of gren silk that I owned, and they made for a very good contrast to the rest of the dress I thought. The dress was only worn once during this photoshoot in 2017, and then I sold it to a happy customer abroad. I loved it, but I didn’t need it. I mostly made it to practice sewing in velvet and to try out the pattern, as it was my first try to make a full circular houppelande.

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My red 14th century wool cotehardie, completly handsewn, and with 20 pewter buttons in each sleeve. What is not to love? It is red, fancy, a really serious try on reenactment clothing and I feel Amazing every time I get dressed in it. Some time around here I also started to feel like handsewing a whole garment wasn’t such a big deal. Nowadays I handsew most of my wardrobe, with exceptions for some of my undergarments, and projects that has a short time frame.

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Ok, I know, it’s a whole outfit rather than just a dress (I can cheat right?) but I couldn’t leave this one out. The amber dress project was just that; a very serious and creative project which was so much fun to make. The process actually took several years, but somehow this outfit came to be a milestone where I felt that I had learned new things and evolved as a handcrafter.

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Yes, I have a thing for green. But you knew this one would show up here right? It is green, comfy, dramatic and 15th century. What is not to love? This was actually my latest houppelande after making several tryouts to explore drape, patterns, construction methods and different fabrics (you can see them below) and it is handsewn in a high quality woolen cloth, lined with a silk fabric. On this photo I wear it full “Weyden style” to portrait a well of woman from the middle 15th century, dressed in rich fabrics to the height of fashion of the time.

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Mmm, this is not a clear participant in this post just by the look of it. It is a really simple dress with panels and gores, handsewn in undyed ecological wool (in 2018 like so many of my other dresses). But it is one of those dresses that makes you feel awesome, comfortable and just warm enough whenever you wear it. It’s magical. If I was going to wear medieval/viking clothing everyday I would probably wear this one 9 out of 10 days.

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So, there you have it! Some of my projects over the years. It was a bit challenging to pick out favourites, and I know I left my new 15th century wardrobe out (but hey, you’ve seen that one a lot lately) as well as my viking apron dresses I’ve made that I really liked. Sometime I’ll have to put together another viking-wardrobe post maybe.

What do you think? You have any favourites that you would like to make a version of, or do you already have “the best dress ever” in your wardrobe? I would love to see it!

 

 


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Getting dressed in the morning

Follow me on one of my historical adventures and take a look inside our medieval pavilion, to find out what I do in the morning to get ready- medieval style! (Yeah, just like a regular blog person I post getting-ready photos and todays-outfit. I just do it in my way… super serious, promise!)

When the sun rises it gets bright, and during summer it also gets quite warm in the tent, if the sun shines on the roof. Our new tent is a little better; you can easily sleep until 9 if you don’t have to rise early for breakfast duty. We have curtains to create a sleeping area in the tent, and here I sit on the bed, dressed in a linen shift.

Combing out my hair before braiding it. I could say that I get pretty every morning before going out for breakfast and coffee, but the truth is that most often I just put on a simple kirtle or my brown coat over the shift to have my breakfast as soon as possible. But let’s pretend this is a morning with plenty of time…

Then I put on my woolen hose, my medieval shoes, and the garters that holds the hose in place.

After that it is time to put on the dress or kirtle. This is my green woolen 15th c dress, fastened with hooks and eyes at the front. An apron is good to protect the clothes and to finish of the outfit. Under the shift I sometimes wear a lengberg bra, a modern bra or a sports bra to get the support I need. They all work well, but the lengberg bra or a balconette model will give you the 15th c silhouette. If you have smaller breast, going natural works well too!

Then I usually braid my hair, and/or pull a cap and veil over it, or a cap and straw hat if I am working outside in the sun. The hairdo I will post in a separate blog post, with a DIY guide. This photo is from Double wars, being out in the forest in really nice and warm weather.


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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.