This is a fun garment since it is both practical and in my opinion, also cute. But it took me several years of studying medieval manuscripts and art before I got interested in this type of garment. It seems so modern? But once I noticed it, I found more examples in different places and even a contemporary pattern diagram in Drei Schnittbucher dated from the 16th century. Most sources I have saved originate in central Europe, mainly today’s Germany.
The jacket or short coat can be seen in both late 15thc entury and 16th century artworks, but all examples I have seen are worn by working women, from farmers to ladies’ servants. One source in Drei Schnittbucher mentions a short jacket owned by a burgher class member, which indicates that it might have been a fashionable item and not only something worn for “survival”.
The jacket above is similar to the pattern diagram I found, though it has cuffs. The front closure is hidden but might be hooks and eyes, and the sleeves are S-sleeves put into a shaped armhole. The skirt part hangs in soft folds, probably a circle shape.
In the left corner, the lady wears a green jacket over a dress. She might be a maid or retainer of some kind, based on her dress and position in the picture. The jacket is fitted with a narrow sleeve and a fashionable neckline. The skirt part hangs in soft folds.
The blue jacket is fitted but the sleeve is a bit looser than the green one, and the neckline higher and rounded. I decided to base my jacket silhouette mainly on this picture (late 15th century).
Based on contemporary sources the jacket seems to be a practical garment to keep you warm while still allowing you to go on your daily chores (and keeping that fashionable silhouette!) I have found several sources from the middle of the 16th century onwards, often with the skirt part shortened like the jacket above. The black jacket has a short skirt, straight narrow sleeves and a collar of some kind. The collars seem to belong to the 16th century.
Differences between the 15th century and the 16th century styles:
Late 15th century jackets seen in art are all colourful, with straight sleeves narrow or loose, longer skirts (the lenght of the skirt and the length of the upper body seem to be similar) and with simple, rounded necklines.
16th century jackets transform from this softer style to a more shaped and fitted garment with details to accentuate the tailoring such as collars or sleeves starting farther down the shoulder.
This time I decided to make a jacket to be worn with my 15th century wardrobe. Some years ago, I tried out this pattern by making a black jacket to be worn with my 16th century working woman’s outfit, but I sold it and wanted to try some variations. The blue jacket above became my inspiration, and I used the pattern diagram from the 16th century source to draft the jacket. The side seam is adjusted towards the back on that pattern, but in retrospective I think that is a bit too modern for the late 15th century style, but I got curious to try it out.
Drafting the pattern pieces
I decided on a straight S-sleeve to get good movement even when wearing dresses under the jacket, a longer skirt and a rounded neckline. The front closes with hooks and eyes. The original tailoring book states the lining needed for the jacket which is roughly half of the amount needed for the jacket. The fabric widths could be different since the pattern mention different amount of lining for different skirt lengths, or the skirt was not lined. I decided to put lining into the skirt too, to see how it would turn out as well as to make it more wind resistant.
The best way to create a skirt with even, soft folds, like the longer versions seen in the sources, is to use a circular cut on the skirt, rather than straight panels and gores. The contemporary pattern also suggests this style, so I went with that option.
The length of the skirt in 15th century sources seems to be around the same lenght as the torso, around 40-50 cm long perhaps. I decided to go with that. The tailoring pattern suggests a skirt lenght between 39 cm to 52 cm, which can be seen in the woodcut by Beham above.
To draft the correct size for the skirt pieces, measure around your waist and use that measure to calculate the inner circle diameter of the half moon, and draft the piece from there.
Example: Measurement around waist: 80 cm = circumference of the inner circle. That makes the diameter approx 26 cm, and the radius 13 cm. The length of the skirt = 40 cm. Mark 40 cm + 26 cm + 40 cm on a straight line = diameter on the skirt pattern piece (the straight side of the half moon). To draft the rest of the skirt, start with drafting the half-circle waist hole (measure from the middle of the line and draw a half-circle 13 cm from this point all around). Use this line to draw out the bigger half moon shape, by measuring 40 cm outwards all around the curve. Make 2 pieces for the skirt.
The upper body pieces are based on my toile/mock-up I already have (check out my Patreon for a video on how to make a mock-up yourself). To move the side seams I cut off a bit from the back piece and taped this side to side with the front piece instead. After that, I added seam allowance and some extra movement in the sides, shoulder and front to make the garment suited to wear over other clothing.
The sleeves are based on my existing S-sleeve pattern, cut in two. I added new seam allowance and made the sleeves a bit wider than my dress sleeves to get more movement.
Differences between the pattern from Drei Schnittbucher and mine: The waist seam got rounded to create a soft fall and looser fit, and the shoulder seams were shortened to make the sleeve fit the anatomical arm, creating a softer look more suitable to the late 15th century style. I removed the collar piece on the back and decided to make the back piece as one, instead of having a seam in the middle back. Both options are represented in tailoring from late 15th century art sources, I just didn’t need the back seam to achieve a good fit. The last alteration I did was to piece the skirt parts to save on fabric. In the tailoring book, the sleeves are made in two pieces, probably to save on fabric, and I wanted to do the same to be able to cut them out from the scraps left over after cutting body and skirt pieces.
My jacket needed around 1,5 meters of fabric with 1,5 meters width for both outer fabric and lining, but I would recommend at least 2 meters of both if you have, if you are not smaller than I am!
Fabric: I decided on a medium thick wool twill for the jacket to keep me warm, with a soft muted madder tone. The lining is made in thin unbleached linen. I aimed to make the jacket a working garment and not too fancy, but neither coarse nor homemade.
When I have made all pieces (back, front *2, sleeves *2, skirt *2) I like to cut these out in a mock-up fabric (like an old sheet) bast them together and try the garment on over the dress, to ensure I have enough space for movement. Adjust if needed, and then I use the mock-up as my pattern and draft the pieces on the wool fabric and lining.
I like basting- here are some more benefits:
- no pins will disappear or hurt you
- no slippery fabric moving, giving you uneven seams
- easy to try it on several times
- easy to adjust
- basting is so secure you can sit on the sofa with your project in your knee, without messing up the fit.
I prefer to sew one seam completely finished before the next, which is faster and more ergonomic than first assembling the garment, and then reaching all the seams for felling the seam allowances.
Sewing thread: unbleached linen 35/2 for most seams, paired with a sewing wool yarn for felling seams and create softer seam allowances. These are the materials I work with fastest. You can also use linen thread for the whole jacket, which would be a bit more historical as far as I have researched.
For me, the most important thing when hand-sewing is to make easy, fast seams without adding unnecessary strain to my fingers. The lining is put in at the same time as I sew the pieces together, in seams that need more sturdiness like shoulders and sides. In the skirt, the lining is fastened in the seam allowance when felling this down. The sleeves are made as 4 separate sleeves, and then the lining is put in. This minimizes the bulkiness in the sleeve seams.
Notes: linen thread if nothing else is stated. Sa= seam allowance.
This is my sewing order for hand-sewing the entire garment:
Start by joining the sleeve linings into whole sleeves with running stitches. Press the sa and whipstitch down to one side or leave them unfinished. Join the wool sleeves with back stitches. Fold down the sa, whipstitch down to one side and repeat with the back seam to get 2 complete wool sleeves.
Sew the shoulder seams with backstitches, wool + lining at the same time. Press down sa to either side, whipstitch down. I leave the basting in while sewing, and place my seam 1 mm to the side to avoid sewing into the basting thread. This makes it easier to remove the basting thread once I am done.
Backstitch the side seams together in the same way. I like to leave these open to adjust the fit if my weight changes, so I just whipstitch the sa but leave it loose from the main body. Then I put the sleeves in the armholes and sew them with backstitching. Cut down the sa and fell it towards the body with whipstitching.
I sewed the wool skirt parts together with back stitching and pressed the sa to either side. After that, I put the lining into the skirt pieces by folding the sa down to either side and whipstitched the lining in place.
Attach the skirt to the body with backstitches. Try on the jacket and mark out the hemlines; check the length of sleeves and skirt hem.
The skirt is finished by cutting down the lining a bit to avoid a bulky seam, and then the wool hem is double folded over the lining and whipstitched in place.
The front got a reinforcement strip in wool on the inside before the closure was added. I use running stitches and sew it front to front, then fold it over, press it to a good shape and whip stitch the loose part to the lining. A row of stitching along the edge makes it neat and durable (shown in the assembly photo).
The sleeve wool fabric is folded over the lining by the wrists and whip stitched in place. The neckline is also folded down twice and whipstitched. After that, I like to press it and then add a row of stitching around the opening to make it even neater!
Last, I added hooks and eyes to the front to be able to close the jacket.
This was a really fun project to do, and I have used the jacket a lot this season. It is easy to work in and doesn’t get as heavy as my coat does. Useful for medieval adventures!