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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Making a sleeveless dress in easy steps

I decided to make another sleeveless middle dress to wear under my velvet houppelande. The other one (similar to this one, also in black silk tafetta) I made before apparently shrinked on its own in the wardrobe during the winter, and come spring was a little to small over the waist. Can’t imagine how this could happen..?

This style of dress may also be worn on it’s own with sleeves, in the Italian style. The amount and choice of fabric and decorations does all the difference in placing this dress on the fashion time line, as well as the waist seam is a clear indicator of region and time. I fancy the waist seam placement in the natural waist so I took inspiration from these paintings, as well as the Italian examples further down the post.

This kind of dress may also be made in wool or cotton, depending on the area you would like to get your inspiration from. Cotton was more common in Italy, while wool is much more common in Northen Europe. (For more information about cotton dresses, I recommend “The Italian cotton industry in the later middle ages 1100-1600” by Mazzaoui.)

I used a black silk tafetta, because I wanted a cool dress, matching the silk and velvet outfit and taking as little room as possible in my event packing. If you are going for a silk fabric, tafetta is more similar to historical fabrics than, for example, uneven dupioni or raw silk. Medieval dress silk should be shiny and evenly woven as far as I have seen.

I also have a similar one in amber wool twill, recreated to be worn by a woman not as high in social status as this black silk one will belong to. I took photos from both processes to be able to show you some different techniques.

Want to see how I made it?

1. This is a basic sketch of the pattern pieces. Really simple; a front and a back upper body + linings. Also 2 different ways to make the skirt; the black one are made of the rectangle, and gathered in the waist. The wool dress is made of panels (opt 2) to create more width in the bottom hem, but wide enough in the waist to gather.

2. Upper body pieces: I started with a front and back, loosely based on my toile/mock up pattern, and added 5 cm in each side to be able to adust the fit and have some extra fabric to fold to the inside for support. If you go for side lacing you can have a whole front piece, and the curve from the front seam will instead be moved to the sides. I will show you later!

3. Cut two of the outer fabric, and two lining pieces. Then baste them together to be able to work with the pieces without risking any movement.

You also need to decide if you are going to have lacing in both sides (seems to be usual in Italian portraits and handy if you often change your size) or in one side (faster to sew, allow you to get the dress on quickly).

4. Pin or baste the body pieces together and try them on. Having a friend to help you will be really helpful! Adjust and take in the side seams to create a smooth fit. You can also adjust the shoulders by gently pulling the front upwards if necessary. The fit doesn’t have to be all smooth, if you have lots of curves there will be some room in the dress (just decide on wearing a bra or not, or making the dress supportive before you finish).

Basting the skirt into place for the fitting is really good if you want to see how the fabric falls, and where the waist is going to be placed. Skirts usually “hang down” the bodice and make it look longer. Not the silk though- silk is such a light fabric.

5. Here is the body, inside out, after the fitting above. The line is really curved to make a god fit, and support the bust thanks to the stretch in the fabric and lining (lining is really important, don’t forget the lining!) If you are going to sew one side, use backstitching to create a durable seam.

Or if you are going to lace both sides, press the fabric to the wrong side of the body so you have 4 layers of fabric to sew the lacingholes through (if you work with a medium to thick wool this might not be necessary, you may instead trim some fabric down and whip stitck it into place. Remember that all the sewing allowance needs to be pressed down- don’t be tempted to leave “a little extra” as this might lead to the dress being a little bit too big…

6. The bodice during the sewing phase. I closed one side seam with backstitching, but left the sewing allowance. It is nice to have if you need to adjust the size or fit in the future. To keep it from fraying you can baste or whip it loosely to the lining of the bodice. The other side gets folded and pressed down.

7. The neck opening and arm openings I fold down (once for thicker fabric and twice for thin and fraying fabric) and whip stitch into place. To make it both pretty and durable, you can then press the openings and sew them one more time with a stab stitch.

Or you may finish the openings with a separate strip of fabric on the inside, as a reenforcement. Here I overlocked the lining and the outer silk fabric together after basting and fitting, and finished it of with sewing a fabric piece to the outside around the opening. That one I then folded and pressed down on the inside. This technique is good for sensitive, fraying fabrics and machine stitching.

Here you can also see the clamps; some silk fabrics get small marks by pins, and I therefore use clamps when working on visible places like the neckline. But they are very handy for all kinds of fabrics, so if you are not a fan of pins- try them out! (Search for sewing clamps or fabric clamps on an internet or sewing store of your choice)

8. The skirt part of the dress I usually sew separately from the bodice when I make garments with waist seams. Sewing the skirts together with running stitches, occacionally locked with a back stitch every needle lenght or so, will give you a fast and good seam. Press the seam allowance to one side, trim, and whip stitch it down. This is my favourite way of making long seams faster by hand. Or use a sewing machine, it is your choice!

9. After that, I hem the upper lining of the skirt, before gathering it (see the tiny stitches at the top of the skirt below?)

10. There are several different ways to gather or pleat a skirt to a bodice. I use different methods depending on the look I want. The wool skirt got gathered in soft pleats, and then sewn onto the bodice. I used a vaxed linen thread, to make the seam steady. Silk would have been another option, but as I wanted to create a working class garment I mainly used linen thread.

The black silk dress got a pleated skirt instead. The skirt part is simply made out of two rectangles that I have stitched together in the sides, leaving the seam at the top open for around 15 cm, to be able to get inside the skirt when it is attached to the bodice (if you have side lacings on each side, leave both side seams open a bit)

I use something to measure with, and then mark the pleats with a pen, or make them at once with pins or clamps. You could also calculate the amount and size of pleats if that is to your taste, but I usually just roll with it. There might be an extra pleat or some uneveness- but it won’t be visible.

In the front the folds are sewn towards the side of the body, while in the back the folds meet in the back. By arranging them this way you create a flatter front, with more volume at the hips and back. After the entire waist is gathered/pleated, I often secure the folds with a basting stitch, or pins before I sew it to the bodice. (See the photo of the wool dress above, I use this method for most waist seams.)

11. Lacing: if you are a bit unsure, you could save the lacing holes to last and do them after one last fitting with the dress on, with the right shift/chemise under. Otherwise I like to sew them before attaching the skirt, I feel it is easier to sew with less fabric on my knees. I use a spiral lacing and finish it of at the waist seam. Often my skirt will stay closed enough without any further closure, but if I have a more narrow skirt that fits snugly over my sides I might need to add a fastening like a hook and eye, to keep it closed.

Spiral lacing on another project, just to show you what it looks like. If you need lots of support from you dress, make the lacing holes tighter together. If you have a looser dress style, you don’t need as many. I usually have 2-3 cm between each hole on one of the sides.

12. Last; finish of the bottom hem. Check to see if it is even and adjust if necessary (a friend is a good help here but modeling yourself and adding pins might work) I usually just finish the hem with a single or double fold and a whip stitch. After that, just try on your new dress!

If you want to add loose sleeves, here is my tutorial on the black ones with ribbon. 

 

 


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How to make medieval hose

This blog post was made possible by my Patreon supporters, thanks for helping me bring more free tutorials into the world!

Woolen hose was worn by both men and women during the medieval period, with the difference that the men’s was higher and usually tied to the belt/to the waist in some kind, and as the fashion developed became higher until joined to a pair of pants. Get it? A pair of hose- a pair of high hose- a pair of joined hose- a pair of pants. (I have never understood the english saying of a pair of pants but this make so much sense!)

Anyway, the women’s hose was usually tied under or above the knee. Here’s a quick view of some, but there’s lots of different models, colours and designs from the period. If you wish to reproduce a garment for a specific time and location, you’ll need some more research to choose what you need, this tutorial is more of a “here, let’s make a garment!”

I wanted to show you how you can make a pair yourself, using your body’s measures for drafting a pattern or constructing the fit directly onto yourself. Hose isn’t very difficult to make, not even to get a pair of closely fitted ones. It just takes some practise and patience to pin them on your body and adjust the fit until you are happy with it.

First, you need some wool fabric, preferably a twill with a nice stretch to it. Not to thin but neither fulled into a bulky cloth, I love Medeltidsmodes Melton Wool (shown above as the white hose). To calculate the amount you need you can either first make a mock up/toile or you can take measure 1 + measure 3 (as shown below) and draw them as a square on the fabric. Add some extra material around. The most stretchy part of the fabric should go diagonal over the hose. I usually make mine from left overs from other projects and fit smaller pieces together.

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You can start with a ready made pattern, or make your own. Either way you will have to adjust the pattern to you body, by fitting your hose onto your body for the perfect fit. Each wool fabric you use may be different, so if you are making several pairs in different fabrics adjustments might be needed for each pair.

Also note that I make my hose right and leftsided, you don’t have to do this but I find that the over all fitting is nicer when I mirror the pattern I have.

If you decide to make your own pattern from start rather than buying one readymade, I prefer to draw some straight lines on a piece of scrap fabric and then drape this directly to the body. Of course, a friend to help you is great but not necessary.

You can also create a pattern on a flat piece by measuring and draft lines.

Start with taking the measurements:

1. Length of hose

2. Width just under the knee

3. Width around calf (thickest part of leg)

4. Width around ankle (thinnest part of leg)

7. Measure around the heel like shown on picture

(5 + 6 will show up later)

To make a flat pattern, also take measurements between the numbers above. Take the measure along line 1; what is the measure between 2,3, 4 and 7? Then you can use this to draw up this starting pattern for your hose; draw line 1, and then horizontally draw the lines 2,3,4 and mark the placement for 7 with just a dot.

This is my ready-made hose pattern. Yours will have the straight lines now, but lacking the sole and the form of the foot as well as the triangular gore.

Make the sole by drawing your foot on a piece of scrap fabric/paper. Make sure you stand straight while doing this. Add 1 cm of seam allowance around. This is piece number 5, and you make it the same way for both methods.

Now you can either try drawing the upper foot part on the flat pattern, or cut out what you have and continue draping the hose directly on your body. If you want to draft the shape, line 7 is the width you need to fit your heel inside the hose. Draw that in a curved line like shown on the picture above. Then loosely draft the form of the foot and add some space needed for fitting around your drafted pattern. Don’t make any gores or slits yet (number 6) do these while you are trying on your pattern instead.

The measure of line 7 is worth taking into consideration while trying on your hose. You may pin it perfectly close to your body, but if you have a thin ankle you might not get the hose of because that measurement (4) is smaller than that around your heel (7). Remember to check this measurement while drafting the pattern or when trying on the mock up. The hose should just go on and of your foot.

Draping rather than drawing

I prefer the draping method and use it on my beginners workshops because I think it is effective and easy. If you would prefer to drape the whole pattern, just mark line 1 on a scrap fabric and then pin it to your body (use stockings, leggings or shorts but nothing bulky like jeans). To use the fabrics stretch, you should draw line 1 horizontally over a piece of tabby weave or along the edge on a twill fabric. The stretch should go over the hose, not alongside line 1. Does that make sense?

Step 1 of the draping method. A piece of scrap fabric pinned above the knee, hanging loose. Line 1 will go from the pinned point to the toes, straight down on the middle front of the leg.

Steg 2: Loosely pin the fabric to the leg, following the natural shape of the leg. Make sure you dont pin in fabric folds. The pins (the future seam) should be at the backside of your leg, running straight down over your heel. When you have an approx fitting; cut away the excess fabric leaving only 2 cm seam allowance. Stand with the leg straight, foot on floor when fitting the fabric.

Or you could get a friend to pin you in, while you stand on a table…

Step 3: Pin the hose more closely to the body. Pin on the sole from toe to middle of foot. To make the fabric lie smoothly on the body, stretch it gently in the directions of the darts. Toward the toes, down the side of the foot, towards the heel. Above the ankle you change the direction and smooth the fabric out upwards. Every little crease will not disappear yet.

Step 4: When the general fit is good, it is time for the heel and the slit with the gores (number 6). Cut this one while the hose is on the body, from were the heel meets the sole, straight up on each side of the foot. Cut a little at a time, and check how the fabric behaves.

Straighten out folds and creases by stretching the fabric and pinning it more fitted to the body. This step is a process, and your personal foot shape will decide how long you will have to cut before all fabric lies smoothly. When you are satisfied, pin the rest of the sole to the upper fabric, leaving the new slit open.

Step 5: Now you have the over all shape of your new hose. You can baste it together if you want, and try the fit by taking it on and of.

This step with cutting the slit and inserting gores I do on every pair of hose I make, when trying out a new fabric quality. If I work with a fabric I am used to, I still make the gores while fitting the hose on the body. Note; I don’t make two mock ups for left+ right, I just have one and then I will mirror that when laying it out on the wool fabric to get a left and a right hose.

Step 6: I find it easiest to just pin or baste a piece of fabric (generally triangular) to the hose while wearing it, and then cut of excess fabric. Then I can use that as a pattern for the other gores (notice that inner and outer gores might be slightly different in shape, that is normal depending on the shape of your foot and how you work with the fabric).

Step 7: When I have come this far I am content with my pattern, and take it apart (removing basting or needles) I also cut it clean, add seam allowance and label it with size and date. I also like to add some notes on the pattern for remembering things or if I lend them to friends;

Sewing the hose from wool fabric

Draw your hose pattern on a wool fabric, laying line 1 horizontal across the fabric if you have a tabby weave (making the most stretch across the width of the hose). Cut the hose out with 2 cm seam allowance, 1 cm around the sole. Baste your pieces together; leg first, then the sole to the foot from the toes and back to the heel. Try the hose on, make adjustments and cut out the slit + fit the side gores.

Then you can sew your hose with back stitches, and fold down the seam allowance with whip stitching, or sew it on the sewing machine if you prefer. The gores I set in last, on the inside with whip stitching. Fold the edge at the top, stitch it down, and add garters to hold the hose up.

Other designs on medieval hose.

The pattern with slits and gores are one of several finds on hose designs. You can also adjust your hose pattern to another design with a sole and a separate part for the foot, and a part for the leg. This saves you a bit of fabric and is quite easy to make. On the photo above I have marked this design with a dotted line straight over the hose. The grey hose below is made with that pattern.

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There is also variations with the gores as parts of the sole piece (shown above in the photo of a find), a hose with the foot and sole joined, and several examples of patching, mending, and seams for joining small scrap pieces when making hose.

You can also add a second sole made out of thin leather to be able to walk without medieval shoes on dry ground. Avoid adding a thick sole, that will only rip your hose and be uncomfortable.

Good luck sewing!

 

 


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Tutorial; the bathing dress

Some time ago I made a medieval bathing dress in unbleached linen, and I wanted to share it with you. It is a simple project, perfect for an evening or if you want to practice hand sewing.
20180713_163324There are plenty of bathing dresses in paintings from late 14th to 15th century in Europe, they can also be seen in different cuts and models, and some are clearly supportive shifts that you could wear under your medieval clothing. Mine is very simple but with an intake under the bust to allow some support, but still being easy to get in and out from. No lacing is acquired.

Left; Bohemian, Codices vindobonenses 2759-2764 in the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek, in Vienna, Austria. Right: The Bathhouse Attendant, Bible of Wenceslaus IV. 1389.

Chemise ladie's undergarment, 14th century, A History of Costume; Kohler.

This find is from A History of Costume, Kohler and is dated 14th century and described as a lady’s chemise or undergarment, the photo is old but you get the general idea.

Most of the pictures I have found seems to be dated to late 14th to early 15th century, there are lots on the internet and I have a Pinterest folder on Medieval underwear Medieval underwear so I won’t go into more historical sources today.

The cutting out; prewash your linen, fold in double in the length you would like, and then cut the A shape. I used the leftover fabric for gores in the sides (and at center front + back if you like, it is optional) but this of course depends on your measures.

The first pictures shows the general cut, the second the additional front and pack gores, the third the intake under the bust that give me the support. Do not take in too much, because then you wont be able to get in and out of the dress.

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About measures: The length of the dress measures from armpit to hem. The width is your measure around your bust divided in two (for front and back) add seam allowance but nothing more. Start the gores at your natural waist (if you are unsure, rather place them higher than lower) and pin the intake under your bust while wearing the dress with gores and side seams sewn/basted. Add shoulder straps last, mine is just double folded linen cloth, whip stitched together and then fastened at the same position as I would have worn bra straps.

If you sew your dress by hand, you can use vaxed linen thread and running stitches, and then fold the seam allowance to one side and whip stitch it in place. This gives you a sturdy seam that is also quick to make. Hem the dress with running stitches or whip stitches, after your choise.

Making the dress in unbleached linen made it opaque even when it was wet, good for modesty. In pictures the dress seems to be white, maybe visible nipples was a thing, or you would have to pick a very dense fabric. In some pictures it is very clear that the fabric is transparent, but I chose the more sturdy and practical look.

The result? All considered, I am satisfied with the cut, sewing and look of the dress. It is also easy to swim in. Historically, being out in public in a bathing dress was not a thing, they can be seen on bathhouse attendants or in rare cases during the dressing/undressing at home or during dirty labor. Wearing it to the beach was certainly not a thing, but I liked to have a more historical dress instead of wearing a modern bikini when going for a swim at events.