HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Working kirtle for the 15th century woman

This is a dress I made several years ago, to have as a simple working kirtle. I never got around to take photos and write a proper documentation about it, but now I got some feeling! In these photos the dress have been used for a couple of years and it has seen wear, washing machines and mending. So here’s my first tutorial for the autumn, and thank you for visiting and reading! (Both old friends and newcomers!)

This is a very simple working kirtle or dress, made to be practical as well as historically possible. The fabric is a plain wool weave, dyed to look like walnut dyed fabric. The skirt is partly pleated, partly flat sewn to the waist, and the upper part of the dress is fitted for bust support, side laced and has short sleeves.

I wear it with loose sleeves, pinned to the short sleeves and a gollar for warmth, under another fancier dress, or as it is if I am going to do lots of work or if the weather is warm.

The dress is hand sewn with wool thread in the same colour as the fabric, and it was one of my first garments made with wool thread instead of linen thread. I really recommend it! At first, I was a bit unsure if it was going to be durable enough, but after several years of using it, washing it in the machine (yeah, because lazy and dirty…) and treating it rather rough, it stays together really well, with only some minor mending.

I used running stitches on all long seams, and folded the seam allowances to one side before whip stitching them down. The waist seam and all edges was made with whip stitches, and the sleeves and upper body seams made with back stitches to be a bit more durable than the running stitch is. The running stitch is way more durable than many believe and common in extant finds, but for heavy support I like whip stitch and back stitching better.

The fabric is from Medeltidsmode, and I used around 3 meter for a dress. If you are much longer than me (1,6 m) consider buying another half metre. I did a quick pattern outlay for you, since it is old I’m not sure if I drafted the pattern along the selvage or across the fabric but you will get an idea of what pieces you need to make one for your self.

The dress was made using two front pieces (to have a supportive seam in the front was a good choice since I didn’t have any lining in the dress.) One back piece, two sleeves and the skirt panels. I drafted S-sleeves, but the dress is made with regular sleeves with the seam under the arm. That seems to be the most common in artwork from the time on short sleeves. Your choice!

Some thoughts on skirts:

Do you see that the skirt has way more fabric in the back, while the front is straight? This will give you a nice fall as well as enough width and volume, but if you bend forward to pick up things or work by the fire, this construction will make the skirts remain away from the flames closer to your body, rather than draping forward with your movement. Hard to explain, but try it! It gives you a very practical garment.

The front panels are marked C at the center front. The back piece is “upside down” to use as much of the fabric as possible. You could of course piece the skirt together with more panels if you like. On my dress the front panels lies smooth in the waist, with only a couple of pleats to allow room for hips and stomach, while the back part is pleated around the back.

Other ways of construction would be to make more panels/gores (see my green 15th c kirtle) or pleat the skirt fabric to the waistseam all the way around (like my 16th c trossfrau dress in purple and blue). Or just make a few decorative folds in the back, like on my blue Weyden kirtle. This is simply one possible way of interpreting contemporary art.

A tip on bust support:

This is (I think) my only wool garment so far that has bust support, but no lining whatsoever. This is possible only because of the plain weave, since it is not very flexible across and along the threads in the fabric. A twill weave would not have worked without lining.

The front piece has two arrows marking out small details in the fronts seams. At the center front there is a small bend going in under the bust, and at the side seams there’s another, making the seam run in a bend, and then changing direction after the bust and running straither over the stomach. This way of sewing will make the bust stay better in place, allowing for bust support without lots of sturdy layers. But the bust will have a rounder form and not as much steadyness as a garment with lining.

I did however put in a narrow strip of linen around the neck opening on the inside, to avoid it getting stretched. There is plenty of ways to make hems sturdier, such as a narrow strip of fabric, running or stab stiching or using another layer or quality of fabric on the inside, for example. You can find this in extant finds such as Herjolfnes and finds from 14th c London, as well as in paintings. It is an easy way to finish of your garment, make it last longer while being historically made.

The side lacing is made with sewn holes and a lucet braid in plantdyed wool thread. A wool thread will be a bit stretchy, and wont run as smoothly as silk, which makes it a bit slower to lace, but the cord will stay in place. On this photo you can see the lacing which starts by the sleeve and reaches to the waist seam, a gap were the shift is visible (did I have to much good food this winter?) and also some mending done on the sleeve. After the waist seam I tie the cord (I lace it from sleeve to waist) and the skirts are opened another 15 cm to allow for easy undressing. The skirt is not laced, it stays closed anyway, and by sewing some folds in the sides, the opening will not be very visible.

A note on fitting a dress like this:

I always make a fitting for every single item I make, and that is especially important if it is supposed to be tight fitting. I do have a basic pattern, drafted on my own body (a toile) but after I have basted the pieces together I need to try them on before sewing the garment. Every fabric you work with is slightly different, some more stretchy, some supportive and stiff, and by trying the pieces on you can adjust the garment to your taste.

The method for adjusting and fitting a dress like this is the same as I use while making a supportive upper body toile, and you achieve the support by taking in the upper body in the sides and front, sometimes also by stretching the shoulder seams upwards a bit.

A front laced kirtle is a bit easier to adjust to a bigger bust, but you can make it work with a side lacing as well, just remember to make the same adjustments to the laced side as the sewn together side, and maybe lacing it double one turn just below the bust for greater support.

For a complete outfit; linen shift, wool hose and leather shoes under the kirtle. A simple belt to hang the money purse from (change is very important for todays trader) and a veil on the head. Here I have a simple cap under the Great Veil, to have a base to pin it on. The veil can then be worn in many different ways, depending on how you like to wrap or fold it. 2-3 brass pins secure the veil to the cap under it.

Whoho! Finally documented this dress a bit, so now I don’t have to feel “bad” about forgetting it all the time. As you have noticed, this is not a complete step-to-step tutorial but rather a post with guidiance if you want to make a similar dress.

Many readers ask me to share more sources and such material on the blog, but according to copyright laws I am not free to post all the stuff that inspires me on the internet, and therefore you will often find links, reading tips and pinterest notions where you can find artwork and resources of your own. Hope you understand my take on this!

 


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Getting dressed in the morning

Follow me on one of my historical adventures and take a look inside our medieval pavilion, to find out what I do in the morning to get ready- medieval style! (Yeah, just like a regular blog person I post getting-ready photos and todays-outfit. I just do it in my way… super serious, promise!)

When the sun rises it gets bright, and during summer it also gets quite warm in the tent, if the sun shines on the roof. Our new tent is a little better; you can easily sleep until 9 if you don’t have to rise early for breakfast duty. We have curtains to create a sleeping area in the tent, and here I sit on the bed, dressed in a linen shift.

Combing out my hair before braiding it. I could say that I get pretty every morning before going out for breakfast and coffee, but the truth is that most often I just put on a simple kirtle or my brown coat over the shift to have my breakfast as soon as possible. But let’s pretend this is a morning with plenty of time…

Then I put on my woolen hose, my medieval shoes, and the garters that holds the hose in place.

After that it is time to put on the dress or kirtle. This is my green woolen 15th c dress, fastened with hooks and eyes at the front. An apron is good to protect the clothes and to finish of the outfit. Under the shift I sometimes wear a lengberg bra, a modern bra or a sports bra to get the support I need. They all work well, but the lengberg bra or a balconette model will give you the 15th c silhouette. If you have smaller breast, going natural works well too!

Then I usually braid my hair, and/or pull a cap and veil over it, or a cap and straw hat if I am working outside in the sun. The hairdo I will post in a separate blog post, with a DIY guide. This photo is from Double wars, being out in the forest in really nice and warm weather.


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Pin on sleeves- a quick tutorial

Here is how I make my pinned on sleeves for my 14th and 15th century outfits. Pin on sleeves are an easy and quick project, perfect for that spare bit of extra fancy fabric you may have stashed.

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The easiest way to make a pinned sleeve, is to base it on a regular S-sleeve, that is to say, a sleeve with the seam on the back of the body. Here is my sleeve pattern and my pinned on sleeves, do you notice that I make the upper part of the loose sleeve a bit flatter? Since I wont be sewing on the sleeve to a bodice, I can cut away some excess fabric to make the sleeve laying more smoothly on my arm. In this case, I also make it a bit more narrow than my regular sleeves, to achieve a tight fitted look. These sleeves also have a cuff so the main piece is shorter than a regular sleeve.

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If you don’t have a sleeve pattern that fits you, you can draft your sleeve on a piece of paper or scrap clothing first to make a toile. Measure your arm’s length, and then around your upper arm, your bent elbow, and last around your wrist. Add some cm or about 1 inch in movement space, add seam allowance, draft the sleeve, cut it out, and then try it on. Remember that silk fabric often is stiffer and less flexible than cotton or woolen fabrics.

I sew my sleeves with running stitches on the wrong side, and then fell the seams with whipstitch by hand, but you can of course use the sewing machine. The linings I usually fold twice and whipstitch, if I don’t line the sleeve or use a reinforcement piece.

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The sleeve should be quite tight fitted if watching paintings, and also long enough for your arm- be sure to try it on with a shift/dress under and bend your elbow.

At the wrist, you can just finish the sleeve of with a whip stitched hem, or add a cuff with one to three buttons (for 15th century style). The yellow sleeves have a cuff; they make it possible to have a tight fitted sleeve around my wrist, and if they get stained or worn I can cut of the cuffs and replace them with new fabric. It is also a good way to save some fabric, if you need sleeves longer than half the width of a fabric (or if you need to piece out your sleeves on scrap pieces of fabric).

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To fasten the sleeves on your dress; use dress pins to pin them on. Very simple and practical! If you have small children though, you might want to fasten the sleeves in a different way so the small ones doesn’t touch it by mistake. A way to do this is to sew a small hook on the inside of the sleeve, right at the top where you should pin it to your arm, and then fasten the hook in an eye sewed onto the dress. If you have a small enough hook, and a sturdy woolen dress, you could just put the hook directly in the fabric. This may not be the most historic way (pinning seems to be the thing) but is a safer way for not accidentally stabbing yourself or someone small.

Also, if you have a very delicate patterned silk fabric, a sewed on hook will make the fabric last longer.

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Talking about delicate silk fabrics; it could be good to strengthen the sleeves by adding a lining, either line the whole sleeve with a thin linen fabric, or just add a strip on the inside at the upper hem. That may add to a more durable sleeve, get you a better lining and make it easier to sew. Do you notice that the sleeve on the picture above has a visible line around the upper arm? (The fabric doesn’t lay smoothly) this fabric would probably have been better of with a reinforcement strip on the inside of the hem, instead of folding down and whipstitch it. This was a quite stiff silk brocade fabric.

So, learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to make your own!

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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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Medieval wedding dress

I’m in the process of making my wedding dresses, which will be from the late 15th century.

Of course I want a nice looking wedding dress, but at the same time I want to be able to wear the dress on more occasions than the wedding. So I wont be having a pure white dress, since that is really unpractical. Instead, I have bought some lovely green (yes, I know I already have that green shade on several garments…) wool, a darker green velvet and a creme coloured silk fabric. This combination will be the wedding dresses, but it’s hard to decide exactly want I want to do.

But I have started with the basic dress in the creamy silk (or is it more like ivory perhaps?) cutting out the skirt and drafting the pattern. Now I have a bunch of orders to tend to, but after that I’m planning to sew wedding clothes only for a couple of weeks!

I also plan to make H a new outfit fot the wedding. We will match, of course, so I’m looking at the late 15th century and planning a doublet in silk (see below), hose in black wool, and an outer garment made of the same green wool that I bought for myself. The shirt will be in white linen or silk.

Anyway; I’ve made a pinterest folder with some inspiration and the different fabrics I’ve bought; https://www.pinterest.se/handcraftedhist/medieval-wedding-ideas/

If you have any input on design or practicality- feel free to send me a note here or on facebook!

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A new outfit for A

My friend A visited some time ago and since he is the one making all my folders and paper handouts it was time that I made him a new medieval outfit. A really likes the 13th and early 14th century, so we decided to make a “bladkjortel”- a rather long kirtle with an opening at the front. The kirtle is made of two different colours since A bought the fabric on a second hand store for a bargain, and I added some buttons by the wrist to make it more fashionable for the period. The slits at the front is really common in different paintings, and good to have on a warm day. There are also two slits at the front of the sleeve seams, which is another thing very common in paintings from the period.

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I got some fabric left, so I also made him a pilgrim bag and a hood. Under is a simple linen shirt. I think the whole outfit took about 2 days to make, with lots of coffee breaks. It will be nice to see the whole outfit with the pieces A already had, maybe I could get him to take a photoshot when he’s home…

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