I promised you some insights into the Herjolfnes dresses with the many side gores, and here’s my take to understand the patterns!
(This guide is a “make it work for you” guide, if you want to make a dress as similar to the extant finds as possible, you might want to use the published materials mentioned below instead)
First, if you have “Medieval Garments Reconstructed”, it might be fun to try these patterns out. But remember that these are just general patterns, and they are not made for your body, nor your measurements. The risk is therefore that they will not fit very well, and you will be kept wondering what to do with this new and mysterious pattern.
Furthermore, the original clothing (and patterns) were made to a very different person, with a different lifestyle than yours, a body marked by another way of living, and the clothes were being worn and as the last thing, used instead of coffins for the dead last rest. Translating these clothing into patterns is important to understand the general pattern construction, but after this, I believe it to be more useful that the dress you finally make is going to fit you well.
To achieve this, I recommend you start with a personal pattern; a mock-up or toile. Once you have this one, you can then transform it into a pattern with as few or many side gores as you wish. To demonstrate this I made a model in paper for you. You can try out this method in regular paper first if you want, or go straight for patterning paper and 1:1 modelling.
Step 1: The shadowed picture is my toile/mock-up for my upper body. I have made a start pattern with the skirt attached to these (by the waistline) and two integrated gores; middle front and middle back. On my standard dress pattern my back piece is whole (no seam along the spine).
Step 2: I cut the front and back out, along with a side gore. This is the pattern for my red cotehardie.
Step 3: Time to go sideways! I mean side gores… I mean, just cut the pattern pieces apart like I did here. I place the cut where the armholes start to bend, or around 10 cm in from the sides. The bigger size you have, the bigger piece you will get.
Step 4: Cut the side gore in half, and tape each half to the new side pieces.
Step 5: To make it easier, I draw the new side pieces on a piece of paper, and add some width to the other “side” of the side gore; where it is straight. I don’t need a lot, between 30-40 cm on a full pattern.
Step 6: The front and back pieces also get added width at the bottom hem. It’s illustrated by the orange part in the picture. The width gets added to both front parts and back parts. This will give you pieces that have no straight vertical lines on the skirt but flared lines resulting in a lot of circumference around the hem (fancy!)
Step 7: Now I have a pattern with added side gores, 2 on each side. The gores at the front and back pieces have been added as a part of the pattern to simplify, but you could also piece everything together.
CF= centre front (where my lacing is on the green dress) and CB on this pattern means you will have a seam along the back since the gore is integrated. You could also keep the back piece whole, and insert a gore in the middle. I will show you how I do this in another post. (Also note that I show you a half dress in these photos; when you do your dress there will, of course, be another half of the dress too.)
Step 8: Want more side gores? Not a problem! Repeat the cutting-party, and cut each of the side gores in two. Here I have done it on the front side gore. I recommend marking your pieces with front, back, and arrows to show where they belong, and I also keep my waistline (dotted line). It can get confusing otherwise…
After this, you can add more width at the hemline to each of the new gores, drawing out more width from the straight side like shown above. You can also add A Lot More Width as shown below if you want to have a fancy dress with a great amount of fabric.
Step 9: Very important. After you have cut all your pieces and redrawn them, it is time to add the seam allowance. Add 1,5-2 cm of seam allowance around all pieces, either on paper or directly on the fabric. If your starting mock-up had seam allowance integrated, do not add more to those lines that you have not touched this time.
Step 10: Whoho, a new Herjolfnes based pattern has emerged! Cut it out in mock-up cotton fabric to try out the fit, or just do like I did and cut out all the pieces in wool, with a bit of extra seam allowance. Extra? Just to be able to baste the dress together and try out the fit + if you are satisfied with all the new side seams. I did not need the extra seam allowance, but I intend to use the photos to make even another tutorial on the subject of fitting a dress pattern.
Remember that the side seams are not “princess seams” which are put over the bust to give it a modern form. The Herjolfnes seams are more on the side of the bust and give you movement, a good drape and lots of hem.
I made the sleeves based on a regular S-sleeve pattern I already had, and for this construction method you should not need to adjust the sleeves much (if you have a working pattern), just check so the armhole doesn’t get too wide; measure your seam allowance when making the dress, and then insert the sleeves after sewing all the side gores and front + back panel together.
The finished dress in medium thick twill wool fabric. The dress is actually quite loose, and I cut the sleeves short, and the hem above the ground, to make it into a good working kirtle for historical markets.
The original Herjolfnes patterns don’t have lacing, but I decided to add that and take in the dress a bit to get a fit I am comfortable with. I also hate pulling a tight dress over my head as I always mess up my hairdo and cap, so the laced ones are my favourites. Once again, if you aim for a recreated pattern rather than an inspired one, you might leave the dress a bit looser and skip the lacing.
Remember to add seam allowance to your new pieces, I like to add a bit extra (2-3 cm) in order to easier make adjustments during the fitting.
When you have achieved your new pattern in mock-up fabric (or cut it out in your wool fabric) baste all the side pieces together to try out the fit. The many side gores will adjust the weight and fall of the fabric and there might be more stretching that needs to be addressed.
You also have a lot of seams now where you can make adjustments to make the dress fit perfectly to your body. If you need to take it in; don’t take in all the extra width in just one seam, but spread it out between the seams.
Also; remember to wear your medieval supportive garment or modern bra of choice when fitting the dress so the dress will fit the bust nicely.
Woven into the earth, Else Ostergaard, 2004
Medieval garments reconstructed, Ostergaard mm, 2011