HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Lacing on medieval dresses

Lacing is a really easy solution when you would like to make a tightly fitted garment and need an opening to be able to get in and out easily. During the medieval period, lacing comes and goes as a popular fashion and practical solution choice, so if you aim for a historically believable garment make some research first to determine if lacing is the best option!

Historical garments may also be closed with fabric or metal buttons, hooks and eyes, pins or a regular whip stitch.

spiral lacing with a lucet woven wool cord, on a 14th century dress

Lacing can be seen on male and female clothing, but today I wanted to show you how I make lacing on a dress. The most common lacing method is spiral lacing; one cord for closing the open space by going through lacing holes spaced a little uneven from each other. This is easy and quick, and you only need one cord.

Fastening the lacing; a double round at the top prevents gaping.

To unlace; thread the point back again, or as below: use a loose knot at the start of the lacing (at the bottom) and unravel the lacing from the bottom up.

Use a knot at the start of the lacing, on the inside of the dress.

I place the lacing holes like this; the first two and the last two are aligned but the rest is spiralled. This gives you a tighter lacing, that looks better and is historical. By making the first and last pair even you will get the front panels even to each other. This kind of lacing can be seen in paintings by Weyden for example.

Lacing holes needs to be quite close to each other; between 1,5 to 2,5 on one side, depending on the fabric and the amount of support you need. A tighter gown supporting a heavy bust needs a closer lacing, while a looser garment might have more space between the holes.

To make lacing holes I use a sharp awl to make a small hole, and then a fitting thicker awl in metal, wood or bone to make the hole bigger. I do have real awls, but since they seem to always be “somewhere else” a bunch of different objects has been used; needle binding needles, hairpins, chopsticks… You don’t need anything fancy, was my conclusion. Yeah…

After the hole is made the right size, I sew around it with a buttonhole silk thread or a waxed linen thread (depending on social status, period, colour etc) I never bother with any fancy stitch, just sew around like this, and cover the hole equally with thread. Practise makes perfect; don’t bother if your first holes are a bit uneven, if you start from the bottom and work your way up they will look really nice by the time you reach the area others actually look at.

A tip for making the hole more even is to first sew one round of stitching around the hole, and then another turn, dense enough to cover any gaps.

On the inside of the lacing, you can see a thin strip of tabby woven, sturdy linen fabric. I always use a piece of fabric on the inside (if I don’t have a whole lining in place) to strengthen the edge and make the lacing look better. You can use linen fabric scraps: cut it in a straight piece, fold in the raw edges and sew in place with whip stitches or slip stitches.

I prefer to make the cord in either wool or silk thread. The wool thread is cheaper, flexible and will stay put. The silk one gives a nice shine, is very strong and easy to lace with. Decide based on your project. To finish the cord (this one is done with a lucet but they could also be braided or tablet woven) I like to use a point. That will make it easier to lace the dress, but if you don’t have one a thick needle will do the trick too! Just thread the cord on a needle, and use that to lace yourself in. Another option is to make a cord long enough to just loosen up, without having to lace up the whole garment.

the green dress in the tutorial


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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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14th century cotehardie

I have been reading up on 15-16th century medieval Europe, including art and clothing, for some years now and haven’t really been into 14th century for a while; I even sold of my Moy Bog gown and some other dresses. But then my friend J told me she wanted to brick stitch embroider a couple of purses; and I could have one in exchange for a minor handcraft effort (at least I thought so- I’m not really into embroidery…) and then I would need a fitting dress to that… And in almost no time I had this one finished, a hand stitched woolen cotehardie with silk lining, silk lacing at the front and short sleeves.

The dress is for the higher classes, and in pictures from the late 14th century it is worn with a kirtle underneath (a tight-fitting dress often with buttoned sleeves). Then it seems like the dress remain into the beginning of the 15th century, and is worn as a kirtle/middle dress with loose sleeves for a more fashionable look. After that, the dress seems to change a bit into the waist seam dresses (like my blue Weyden dress). This kind of dresses is very common on contemporary art and you can see them in different countries, with long or short sleeves, laced front or a hidden side lacing, and with buttons or lacing at the sleeves.

If you would like to make a dress like this for yourself, search late 14th and early 15th art sources (I have some at my reading tips) or look at my Pinterest bord about cotehardies.

Here’s my best tips for making the dress fit nicely:

  • Fit the sleeves in carefully, they should be snug around the arm for both good movement and the right look.
  • Make the lacing holes 1,5-2 cm from each other, no more, to make sure the lacing will not show the shift underneath.
  • Use a lining inside the dress to make it more supportive for the bust, to add shape and draping to the skirt. If you have a tight fabric budget; just line the upper body.
  • Try the dress on often during your work with it, and make the lacing before hemming and neckline. Also, you may fit in the dress at the end for that perfect look by leaving the side seams open until last. These are also good to leave open (just back stitch them and secure the selvages if necessary by zigzag or whip stitches) for adjusting shape, support or weight loss/gain in an easy and fast way.

On these pictures it is worn with loose silk brocade sleeves, but I’m planning on making a kirtle for it with long sleeves to wear under. On the head I wear my hair in temple braids, and then a silk tablet woven hairband. The veil is pinned down to that, and then I have a woolen hood for warmth. The gloves are modern and just for warmth, it was really chilly to go out with just one dress.

This was the first event trying it out, and after that I have been adjusting the dress a bit. Inside lining; the silk fabric getting snowy outside.

 

Hairband, pins and veil.

Historical accurate? The model is quite common for the late 14th and early 15th century, and the siluette of the period is a rather straith and smooth one, which I have tried to achieve by making the dress a bit loosely fitted around waist and hip area, in order to get the lean look of the time (I am built a bit to curvy for the 14th c ideal). The woolen twill fabric with it´s blue colour is representative for the periods upper class, blue is a common colour in women´s clothing during the medieval period, and the twill weave is fine and good looking. Dresses shown in period art often has a contrasting coloured lining, but it seems that this was most often in wool, linen or a cotton blend, while silk blends seems to be more common during the 16th century. For a more historical dress I would have lined the dress in a very thin wool, or made the whole dress out of silk. The pink, hand woven silk was chosen for it’s cheap price (1/3 of a wool fabric of the same weight), it’s look and the lightness of the fabric, making the dress comfortable and not hot at all.


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1300tals klänningen (Cotehardie)

Från 13 maj 2013

1300cotte2

Det här är en röd ylleklänning med snörning fram, sent 1300tal.

Själva klänningen är konstruerad av fyra paneler utan kilar, och två ärmar som har söm mitt i armhålan. Det är alltså en väldigt enkel klänning, den saknar kilar och får istället passform och rörelsevidd av kyperttygets stretch (som trots ett fastsytt linnefoder finns kvar) samt mönsterkonstruktion och inpassning. Jag skulle nog säga att det är en ganska enkel klänning, möjligtvis till en enkel borgare eller liknande.

Ärmens sömnad kan du också läsa mer om under inlägget “Isydd ärm”. Klänningen har spiralsnörning fram vilket kan ses på många målningar från perioden, och kan antingen bäras lätt öppen upptill, eller helt snörd. Eftersom den har snörning istället för knappar passar den också bra som mellanklänning till andra överklänningar, vilket var lite av målet med klänningen.

1300cotte3

Bakifrån syns det tydligt att kilarna som ökar kjolens vidd saknas. Istället är panelerna breddade från midjan och ner, en riktig arbetsklänning!

En av de bästa sakerna med cotten (cotehardien) är att man får jag-är-ett-päron-och-smyggravid-siluetten, vilken är Helt Rätt för 1300talets tajta siluett! (Man måste dock säcka lite och liksom sjunka ihop på rätt sätt).

1300cotte