HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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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)

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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.

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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.

 


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Houppelande in velvet and silk

This was a very spontaneous project with no customer commissioning it, and not for my own wardrobe either. I just wanted to try out how the velvet would work in a full circular houppelande (late medieval over dress) and experiment a bit with pattern construction, seam techniques and silk fabric. I am actually very satisfied with the result; for a cotton velvet the fabric is in a nice quality and with a good drape, the pattern turned out very well, and the silk lining in the sleeves add that extra touch I wanted.

The materials in the dress is cotton velvet (black) viscose/rayon velvet (moss-green) and silk (sleeve lining) with a total of about ten meters for the whole dress. The cotton velvet is really affordable comparing to silk velvet, and is very easily maintained; I actually just put it in a washing machine, air dried it and it came out as new; no shrinkage, no creasing and no sad silk velvet after water washing… If you want to learn more about velvet fabrics, I have a guide about the subject under “tutorials”.

I finished the dress during our brewer’s guild meeting in early December, and would usually iron the silk lining first before wearing it, but it was such a good opportunity to take good photos in gear so the sleeve lining is a bit bulky still. But soon to be fixed!

The skirts are really full; the pattern is based on a circle and the houppelande is also called a full circular houppelande. Lots and lots of fabric.

I have some tutorials about making your own houppelande if you are interested (and also makes them on order by your measures). To make them dramatic, historical and with this massive draping of skirts, it does take more meters of fabric and patience than difficult sewing techniques…

I fell in love with the colour combo of black, moss-green and bright grass-green in the dress. Under is my late 14th century dress, going historical there shouldn’t be a visible lacing underneath this kind of over dress. The gloves are also modern, but was so very nice to avoid freezing my fingers of.


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Houppelande tutorial- part 2

Last tutorial was about how I made my first Houppelande (medieval over dress) that was an early houppelande, with a pattern layout that saved in on the fabric.

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Now we move on to the opposite; a full circular houppelande dress that was the high fashion during the 15th century, and where worn by both men and women (with different lengths and fashion details of course) The construction method for this one is open for discussion; there might have been gores and more pieces according to different fabric widths during the medieval period. This layout is practical and simple if your fabric is 150 cm wide and you want the houppelande to be of as much fabric as possible, the small pieces allowing you to save in on the fabric a little.

The construction idea is from an article I found ages ago (that is now lost on the internet?) And later tailor’s books which shows very full dresses for women and coats for men. The shape, style and drape of this method also looks similar to paintings of houppelandes.

First of, you need a lot of fabric. How much depends on your length, in this example I make a pattern that gives you a dress around 150 cm long; good for the shorter woman or for a man (since houppes for men usually leaves at least the shoes visible) That means you will need 5,2 meters of fabric for the dress itself, and then another 1,5 to 3 meters for the sleeves. Oh, and maybe a full lining to?

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The pattern is basically 4 quarters of a circle; forming a full circle when put together. The small pieces saves you some fabric, but you may cut out the full quarter circles if you prefer. If you go with the pieces, then sew them together with the quarters the first thing when you have cut them out, so you have 4 whole quarters.

Then, sew the shoulder seams together, that is the short straight seams above the arrows. Leave the arm holes (on the pattern they are cut out as half moons) and sew the sides together. To know how wide your arm holes should be; measure yourself loosely around your armpit, or use a previous pattern. Add extra cm for movement; at least 5-6 cm.

The seam length of the shoulder should follow your shoulder; between 10-14 cm depending on how long shoulders you have. The arm holes should be laying on the body, not falling down from the shoulder to your upper arm. Cut away what you don’t need, a little at a time if you are unsure.

When you are satisfied with the shoulder, arm holes and side seams, sew the back and front together with each other, front to front, back to back. In the front you leave an opening big enough so you can dress and undress easily. On paintings some dresses are open almost to the hip. In the back you need to leave an opening big enough for your neck, try it on and you will understand! The open seam will give you the neckline on the back, and can then be cut for a rounder style if you like, or you could add a collar.

So, that was it- quick and easy yes? Now the dress should look something like the sketch above, and you can attach the sleeves to the dress. Sleeves? Well, that is for the next part of the Houppelande tutorial series. Stay tuned!

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Houppelande tutorial -part 1

Since I made my first houppelande (late medieval overdress) some years ago, I have been thinking about putting together a tutorial for you, to make it easier to understand the construction techniques behind the dress.

As it turned out, the houppelande dress is a bigger project than I thought at the beginning, so I’m doing the tutorials in different parts so it will be easier for you to find the model you are most interested in, and to get a nice overview of the whole dress style.

I start with my first woolen houppelande:

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This was somewhat of an experiment trying out both pattern, if I would like the type of garment, and what it would look like finished. I could not find my original sketch for the pattern layout, but it did look something like this:

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Some notes; this type of pattern layout work well in a tabby weave since it doesn’t matter if you turn your front and back pieces, but you can also use a twill like I did. If doing this type of pattern on a patterned fabric, you can have the pattern one way on the front pieces and the opposite on the back pieces, which work really well I think, if you want to save on the fabric.

The amount of fabric needed for this layout, in size small, is 150 cm * 280 cm (I used 3 meters of fabric, so I had a slightly larger hem.

F=front, B=back and FM= front middle gore. S1 and S2 is the sleeves. I always recommend drawing out your pattern before you do it on your fabric, it gives you the opportunity to see if all the pieces have room, and if you can add some extra circumference to the skirt. I also use to draw out how the garment will look finished, to give you an extra idea of the result. The small cut out pattern piece I use to draw the pieces faster by drawing around it on the paper.

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This is what it looked like once I had cut out all the pieces. After cutting, baste your pieces together to try them on, or sew them at once. I used running stitches and back stitches for parts were there was more stress on the seams (like around the body, the armholes, and the top of the front gore). I also pressed the seam allowances down and whip stitched them. You can of course sew your dress on a sewing machine if you would like, just be sure to pin or baste the skirt lengths first so they don’t stretch uneven.

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Always pin or baste your pieces together when they lay flat on a surface. After this is done, you can have the garment in your knee, sitting comfy in the sofa and sewing without having the seams getting all uneven. I started with the front gore, then sew the front and back pieces together. The sleeves were made after the “fitted sleeve” tutorial.

The hem is folded twice and whip stitched down, and the sleeves and front opening is lined with a soft, cut sheepskin in a matching colour.

The dress is sold since some time back, and I moved on to make another kind of pattern construction (as I usually do). I liked this one because of its simplicity, it was very comfortable and not bulky around the upper body. another pro was that it didn’t take a lot of fabric to make it. I really liked the fluffy lining since it gave a lot of extra warmth.

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The style is somewhat unusual in art, but can be seen at the start of the houppelande period, though with a tighter upper body, the sleeves were full length and often somewhat tighter. For paintings and art inspiration, check out my Pinterest board about Houppelande dresses

What I didn’t like was that I dragged the hem of the dress after me everywhere, without getting the comfort of a warm and thick enough fabric to protect me from rain and chilly winds. So the next one became a bit sturdier in fabric, and with more fabric…


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The green houppelande

I recently made (ok, rather recently…) this new green wool dress. It is an overdress for the 15th century outfit, and is commonly called a houppelande, which is like french for just ‘overdress’. The fabric is from Medeltidsmode, it’s a tabby woven fabric with a soft rich fall, and quite warm. The lining and the whole sleeves are lined with silk ( which is both fancy and in the case with the sleeves, very practical as the dress gets easier to take on and of) and the front is lined with a rabbit fur, that is from an animal/ecofriendly farm, and tanned with plants in an old-fashioned way. The dress is completely handsewn.

I wanted to show you this, because it’s a dress I’m very satisfied with, and also – I’m planning on a later tutorial about houppelandes and how to draft patterns for them. So, enjoy – here is a picture post about the green houppelande!

Great amounts of fabric gives you nice, deep and dramatic folds.

Under the houppelande I wear a blue silk dress, and rasberry-red shoes that I traded with Hans-Gunnar.

The belt is made of black leather and bronze fittings from a 15th century painting. The purse holder (to the right) is a way to be able to wear a purse in the belt- but I have not found that exact solution in any sources. It seem to be more common to carry your purse under the dress, in the belt of the kirtle. I had my Very-Fancy-Purse in the belt that day, but if you want to strive for a more historical accurate look- go without any visible purse.

Holding up the fabric is almost a must if you want to move around

 

Here you can see one of the gores I put in to save fabric, but expand the width.

The houppelande is a fancy dress, and should pool around your feet when you walk, if you don’t lift it of course! If you want to make one yourself- do it overly long. When I stand still, the dress arrange itself around me in deep folds.

Another thing is the width of the dress, and the amount of fabric it takes to do it. I had around 4 meters of 1,5 m width, but could definitely have used more fabric. As you can see, the dress gets very wide, and dramatic when hold up.

 

 

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