HANDCRAFTED HISTORY

The 16th century Working Woman

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At DW University on a weekend event

Back in 201something (2016 maybe?) I made this outfit with a brown woolen overdress, based on Drei Schnittbücher by Katherine Barich/Marion McNealy. I wrote a research post to summarize my background research and thoughts but never got around to writing about the finished outfit. The research focused on middle Europe in the early 16th century, but when I found the book with pattern drafts I took the sidestep to try and make the gown after one of the models presented, even though it might be more probable to have made a dress with a waist seam like my trossfrau dress. But who can resist a fun pattern draft from a medieval tailoring book?

Since then, I have been wearing this outfit several times and even adjusted the dress with a lower neckline and a piece of mending over one of the skirt folds. I like this outfit since it is both pretty and comfortable for working, so I thought I would share it with you.

Winter event, with all three layers

I start with a basic linen shift in half bleached linen, based on my tutorial. It has a square cut neckline to match the dress and kirtle, and long sleeves.

Over that, I wear a kirtle or middle dress in wool, sleeveless and simple. This is a really practical working garment, and allow me to roll up the shift sleeves when doing dishes. Back then, I had a yellow sleeveless dress, that got sold to make a new one, one size larger.

Unfortunately, I got sidetracked when making that and decided on an Italian styled dress that is also shown in this tutorial. After that, I realised I really needed a middle layer to make this outfit complete, and made another kirtle in grey-blue wool, with a decorative fabric strip in black wool.

Both the middle layer and the overdress is rather tight fitted, giving me bust support when worn.

(This is what it looked like at first before I moved the neckline down a bit)

The overdress is made in brown wool with decorative borders in amber coloured wool. I liked this dress pattern since it is quite different from others I had tried, and I fell for the challenge. Sadly, the tailor books do not come with much information about how one should assemble all the pieces, so you could best describe this as a try on a medieval pattern, rather than something strictly copied.

I adjusted the cutting out of the fabric pieces to fit the fabric I had available, which was around 300*150 cm of wool. I also choosed to widen the skirt at the back to make it look more like the artwork from the period. The tailoring book shows the centre back (and front) straight, but that does not give the desired folds seen on women. Maybe a gore was supposed to go in there, or some other adjustment that was so obvious none bothered to write it down? To accommodate for the skirt width, I had to piece the sleeves with three different fabric scraps to get the dress together.

The front piece is folded at the centre front, making the skirt without a seam in the front.
The back pieces are pieced at the hem for fuller width
One of the sleeves, basted for trying on.
pattern pieces from the book

The overdress (well, the entire outfit) is sewn by hand, and on this dress, I only used linen thread, a choice I based on research for the period. Sadly, I have misplaced many notes and sources so the only reference I have left is a note saying “linen thread common for working-class clothing, do not bother with silk or wool). Ok, I apparently did that…

The skirt panels and some longer seams are made with running stitches, and the rest of the dress is sewn with backstitching, and the seam allowances are sewn down with whipstitching. The decorative fabric pieces are also whip stitched in place. On the inside, the dress is lined with a piece of sturdy linen fabric in the body, and the front closing is reinforced with a piece of linen canvas and closed with hooks and eyes. Another possibility would be lacing, but I like how fast the dressing is with hooks and eyes!

I found this model harder to fit than the 16th c models with waist seam, since you can’t adjust the waist placement during fitting. It has to be cut out at the beginning. I like to raise the waistline 1-2 cm above my natural waist to achieve the early 16th c silhouette, and that was more difficult here. But the dress made up for it by being really fun to assemble with the skirt folds.

I folded the skirt part that stretches outside the body in several folds and fastened these to the sides and centre back of the body. This gave a lot of strain on specific parts of the dress, causing the folds to rip when someone accidentally stepped on the dress hem. So I mended that side with a piece of fabric.

Here you can see the folds in the centre back and sides.

If I were to remake this whole pattern, I would choose to cut a slit between the body and skirts and fit the skirt in folds as you do on 18th c clothing. But this was several years ago and I hadn’t tried that technique yet.

Side view showing the gathered skirt fabric in the side; drapey and voluminous!

The greatest thing about this pattern was the drape of the skirt. It is full and generous and the folds look great in the centre back and sides. The front on the other hand is straight, with just an extra 15 cm overlap to allow for getting out of the dress. I just fold the gap shut and wear an apron above, but you could pin or hook it in place, or make a slit in the front. The straightness of the front makes the skirt great to work in; when I bend forward the skirt rearrange itself towards my legs, avoiding any flames or obstacles before me. Someone gave this thought “back then”!

The gollar I already made a tutorial for, and you can find it here. The early photos show an amber coloured English broadcloth gollar, fully lined with fur. The red one only has fur strips, enough to add some warmth but still be conveniently small for packing in a suitcase… Erh, I mean historically stylish yet cheap. Yeah?

The cap is a simplified Birgitta cap, and should be worn with a veil on top to be considered “well dressed for the public”. These caps are unusual in contemporary finds from the 16th century, I have seen a model doll and some “maybe” examples in art- it could be a cap but could also be a folded veil or other headwear. Hairnets, veils, braids, straw hats and other kinds of headwear are also visible. The most important is to have your head “dressed”; either with a hairstyle or headwear appropriate to the period.

You can find my pattern on the Birgitta cap at my Patreon or in my Etsystore.

The hoses are the same knee-high wool hose I use for other outfits, and here is a tutorial to make your own.

The apron is made in handwoven linen and smocked with linen thread. Two double folded strips of fabric were sewn shut to form the bands that I tie the apron with. The rest of the apron is only double hemmed and sewn with whipstitching.

When I went back to my old research post I also remembered that I wrote that I needed a jacket and a cloak, amongst other things. I actually made several examples of wool jackets, but they never made it to the blog for some reason. A black wool jacket based on the same tailoring manuscript book as the dress got photographed at an event, but then I sold it to make another one and try out some variations.

photo: Annika Madejska

Phew! So this was a lot of thoughts, and sewing, and years gone by without finishing up the writing on this project. I seldom return to old projects like this one, but since I still like it I thought it would be fun to share it with you. It is not a tutorial of any kind, more of a diary or a presentation of a project done.

Sometimes when you see others on the internet doing cool projects and posting photos of fancy dresses it is easy to feel like you don’t get anything done, but sometimes the road to finished projects can be long, windling and a bit unsure. It is ok too!

My Patreons wished for more research to be published, and I am happy to do so! Want to support the blog and be able to ask for content? Consider joining my supporters here!


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A gown fit for a Queen

You know when you are browsing fabrics, looking for something practical and discreet to make a working garment with? Yeah, that didn’t go as planned here…

I fell in love with this silk brocade and bought several meters of it during Double Wars. I had no plan at the moment, but it was lovely and the pattern a replica from the 15th century, so I figured I would find it useful. However, it took a couple of years to come around to cutting the fabric and making it into this gown.

Research:

I collected some examples of dresses that I liked that would fit the time period, social status and use for this fabric. This one is a favourite, painted by Pedro Berruguete around 1485, but I already made a tight fitted one when I made my velvet overgrown for the wedding, so I opted for a looser style now.

The weave, material and pattern of the fabric place this project at the top of the social structure in 15th century Europe, something to be worn by royalty. Brocades are most often seen as outer garments, with wide panels and a loose fit (the better to be taken apart and remade for the next wearer?) Here’s my pinterest board with examples. This fits my fabric well, since it is quite stiff, with a dramatic drape.

The model is best described as an overdress or houppelande, with narrow S-sleeves. The panels starts to get wider below the armhole, and adds as much volume as possible to the hem. The neckline is cut in a V-shape and slightly rounded in the back. I made the back panels longer to get a train and cut the middle front straight and floor-length to be able to walk in it without tripping over the hem.

Working with brocade fabric:

When making silk brocade garments for yourself, remember that you need more seam allowance than you use when sewing in wool or linen. First, the fabric will often shred and loose threads everywhere, and second, the brocade is often stiff and does not give any flexibility when worn. I calculated 1 cm extra seam allowance (2,5 cm instead of 1,5 cm) and another 2-4 % of the total measure for movement (if your pattern is 100 cm around the bust, the total will be 102-104 cm + seam allowance).

I do not wash silk brocades before sewing, instead, I steam them with an iron. This will lose the weaving tension without altering the fabric appearance overly much.

When drafting the pattern pieces, remember to adjust them to the fabrics pattern and right/wrong side. This means that if you want to use your fabric wisely, half the dress will have the pattern running in the ”wrong” direction. On my dress, the pattern is ”upside down” on the back panels, and the right way in the front. The fronts are not matched pattern-wise but cut out to maximize the use of the fabric. To the modern eye, this might feel wrong, but never mind modern ideals! Also, piecing in the skirt or sleeves does not have to follow the pattern direction, just use what scraps you have.

zigzag your edges after cutting

After cutting your fabric pieces, I recommend zigzagging or overlocking the edges on your sewing machine, even if you are about to hand sew your garment and will have to rip away the threads while you work. This will prevent the seam allowance to disappear before you have even finished sewing the pieces together.

For hand sewing, silk thread and running stitches or backstitching will do fine. Try pinning only in the seam allowances to avoid damage to the fabric, or use small clamps instead of pins. I also like to bast; here is the sleeve sewn into the armhole with a linen basting thread, before backstitching it with silk thread.

brocade sleeve inserted to armhole

If you prefer to sew your garment on a machine, use a silk thread and a little longer stitches than normal, to allow for a good looking seam. You might want to adjust the thread tension a bit- try on some scraps first!

I press all my seams while working (with steam and a cloth), to make them tidy and easier to sew down. If you don’t want to fell the seams, leave a zigzag or overlock on the inside. If you prefer to fell the seams, use silk thread and try to press and fold the seam allowance as tight as possible for a nice finish. The hem is also pressed and folded over twice before I whip stitch it in place.

The gown, before the finishing pressing with steam. Notice that the sleeves pulls a bit toward the back? The seam is a bit on the tight side, I should have used looser stitches when closing the sleeve. Now I had to adjust it with a good steam and press to reset the shape. Never underestimate steam!

trying the dress on a mannequin

I have yet to wear the dress to an event, and I am really looking forward to it. This type of dress needs to be paired with nerdy headwear, sparkly jewellery and a great party!


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How to make a medieval linen shirt

Welcome to this step-by-step tutorial, perfect for beginners. It might seem long, but explains everything you need to know. Follow it as you go, or look up the section where you might need extra guidance!

This is a great project to begin with! Easy, straight forward and the fabric won’t be too expensive.

Examples of medieval shirts with slits, gores and seams.

Most people wore linen underwear during the medieval period, and a man’s kit was made up of breeches or a type of loincloth, and the shirt. While you are at it; make two shirts! It is really nice to be able to change and wash your clothes during longer events, and a pleasantly smelling shirt will make it easier to make new friends…

Linen shirt with a slit at the neckhole

Buying fabric:

The amount of fabric you need depends on your size and the width of the fabric. This example will use cloth 150 cm wide. To decide how much you need to buy, calculate the measures on your pieces and how much fabric you need for those, then add another 10% minimum to allow for shrinking or uneven edges. (Fast tip: just buy 2 meters up to XL, a bit more if you have a larger size. Extra fabric may always be used for other projects.)

Look for linen fabric of 120-180 gram, I prefer a thin and even weave. (That is more historical and comfortable than a coarse and lumpy weave.) Bleached or unbleached linen, according to the status you would like to aim at. Bleached linen was a bit more expensive, but don’t go for the super-white ones in modern stores.

Pick a shirt model of your choice

Preparing the fabric:

Zigzag the raw edges to prevent them from fraying while washing, or buy a bit of extra fabric if you don’t want to bother with machine work.

Pre-soak, wash and iron your fabric before starting to cut and sew your shirt. Washing will avoid future shrinkage, make the weave even and remove any pesticides. Pre-soaking the fabric will lessen the wrinkles and make it easier to iron. 40-60 degrees c machine washing, hang dry.

Things you will need:

Needle, linen thread, beeswax, scissor, measuring tape and something to mark your fabric with (fabric chalks or just a pencil). A ruler or straight piece to draw against is nice, but not necessary.

Tools for handsewing

Measure:

  • 1. Lenght of finished shirt from shoulder to hemline.
  • 2. Circumference around the widest part of your upper body, often the chest.
  • 3. Length of sleeve from shoulder to wrist.
  • 4. Circumference around your hand/wrist (make a loop with the measuring tape, and try to pull your hand through it, it should be big enough to be easy, in order for you to be able to take the shirt off.)
  • 5. Armhole (measure around your should/arm as the picture shows, then make the measuring tape into a loose circle, and when you find it comfortable-check the measurement.) I usually add about 25% extra from my body measure, from 40 cm body measure to making the sleeve hole 50 cm.

Example (with measures) so you can see how I do this:

  • 1. Lenght of finished shirt from shoulder to hemline: 100 cm
  • 2. Circumference around the widest part of your upper body, often the chest: 100 cm.
  • 3. Length of sleeve from shoulder to wrist: 70 cm
  • 4. Circumference around your hand/wrist: 28 cm
  • 5. Armhole: 60 cm. This means the sleeve base will be 60 cm, and the armhole on the body parts will be 30 cm on front and 30 on back.

Add ease of movement:

What is that? If you were going to cut out your pieces with the above measures, the shirt would fit tight along your skin, making it impossible to move, or take it on and off. Therefore, we will add extra space for movement. I usually calculate 6% of the circumference around your body, 10% if I want a loose fit.

Example: 100 cm + 6 cm (6% of 100 cm) =106 cm. Split this measure in 2 for front and back: 53 cm each.

That’s it! (we already added ease into the sleeve by making sure we could pull the hand through, and the sleeve base by adding extra room there)

Add seam allowance:

What is that? Seams always need to be a bit from the edge of the fabric in order to be durable. The space between seam and fabric edge= seam allowance. Short= SA. I will add 1 cm, between 1-2 cm is recommended.

Example: Add 1 cm to all edges around your pieces, like this:

Seam allowance can be added directly in your calculating and drafting the pieces, to paper pattern pieces, or drafted on the fabric outside the pattern. We use the first method here.

Example:

  • 1. Lenght of finished shirt: 100 + 2 cm SA= 102 cm (I like to add another 1 cm to hems; so 103 cm)
  • 2. Circumference around chest: 100 + 6 cm movement + 2 cm SA= 108 cm
  • 3. Length of sleeve from shoulder to wrist: 70 + 2cm SA= 72 cm
  • 4. Circumference around your hand/wrist: 28 + 2 cm SA= 30 cm
  • 5. Armhole: 60 + 2 cm SA = 62 cm sleeve base. Armholes: still 30 cm *2.

Draft your measures into a pattern:

Now you are ready to draft your pieces! I like to do this on paper first, to save as a reference, for future projects, and to determine how to save on fabric. I draw my piece of fabric onto paper, making 10 cm=1 square:

Nr. 1 is the front and back pieces, nr. 2 sleeves. As you can see; if you would like to have side gores instead of slits in your shirt, nr. 3 would be excellent to use. This is just an example, do a draft with your measures and lay out the pieces in a way that suits you.

I recommend drafting the front, back and side gores either along or across the length of the fabric (do all these in the same direction) the sleeve may go along or across, depending on what is more convenient (the shirt will look better with this method).

A note on sleeve measures: this sleeve doesn’t sit on top of the shoulder when finished, it hangs on your upper arm (see photo at the beginning), which makes this measuring method work. When measuring for a fitted sleeve, always measure around your bent elbow.

Design your neckhole:

These are my general measures: small-medium: 1 = 18 cm. large-xlarge: 1= 20 cm. The back I cut out around 5-6 cm deep, the front (2) is cut 10-15 cm deep. If I want a slit at the front (3) I cut it around another 10 cm deep. If you don’t want a slit, you might need to make the neck opening a bit deeper/wider in order to fit your head. You can always draw it out, cut a little, try it on, draw a bit more, cut and so on, until you are satisfied with the look.

Shape your armholes:

If you feel that the shoulders are a bit wide, you may shape the armholes a bit (common if you have a large chest but narrow shoulders). Cut 4 cm (small/medium) to 6 cm (large/xl) from the shoulder top (4) and create a gentle curve to the armpit, or draw a straight line from the top (4) to the armpit (see photo further below). Then sew the sleeves as described. The seam should still be hanging slightly below your shoulder, not at the top of it.

Cut out the pieces:

When you have drafted all your pieces on paper as above, you are ready to draft them onto your fabric! Iron the fabric and lay it down on a flat surface, draft all your pieces and check the measures with a measuring tape. Use a piece of chalk suitable for fabric, or if you don’t have that; a pencil. A ruler, a large book or a straight stick can be used to make the lines even. Everything seems good? Cut the fabric pieces out! (you may also want to mark them Front, Back, Sleeves if you are unsure.)

Sewing time!

The order of sewing is as following, I will walk you through every step below: shoulder seams if any, sleeves to shoulders, side gores if any, sew together sleeves and sides. Adjusting neck-hole, adjusting sleeve length to your wrist, hemming.

1. Start with pinning the shoulder seams. Putting in pins alongside the fabric edge makes it easier to avoid stabbing yourself when handling the project.

2. Cut a piece of linen thread, the length of your arm. Coat it with bee´s vax by pulling the thread over the vax piece a couple of times. Thread a needle (the needle should be as small as possible, but thicker than the thread to make it easy to sew), and make a knot at the other end.

The needle is thicker than the thread

3. Sew the shoulder seams with backstitches. 3 stitches/cm is a good guide, and 10-15 mm seam allowance depending on what you drafted on your pattern. If you find it difficult to make the seam straight, draw a thin line with a pencil where you want it to be.

4. Press the seam allowances to either side. Use your fingernail, a pressing tool or ironing. Fold the seam allowances double, and pin down.

5. Use running stitches (or whip stitches) to sew the folded edge down to the shirt. The stitching should only be visible at the right side as small dots.

6. Try out the neck hole by pulling it over your head. Cut out more if you need, and check in the mirror to see if you like the look. When you are satisfied, hem the neck opening. Start with folding the edge twice and pin it in place. Make the folds as narrow as possible, to make it easier to sew nicely, mine is 5 mm. Sew the edge down with whip stitches.

7. Pin one sleeve to the armhole of the shirt, right side against right side (this photo show a shaped armhole). Sew it in place, using running stitches or back stitches. Pin and sew the other sleeve in place. Press the seam allowance to either side.

8. Now we are going to save some time with a folded over seam allowance! (photos below in 10.) Trim one side of the seam allowance down to approx half-width (5-6 mm) and then fold the larger one over this, press in place. To avoid fraying and loose threads, fold in the edge of the fabric under the seam allowance. Press down, and pin in place. Now you have a neat looking fold, ready to be fastened down. When sewing the seam allowance down like this, you save time and make the seam more durable since the fabrics will be sewn twice to each other. I prefer whip stitching for this seam, it is easy and durable.

Which way should you press the folded over seam allowance? I often go for pressing and sewing down to the biggest fabric piece. So for the sleeve seam, the seam allowance will be pressed down onto the body parts. On side gores, the gores will be pressed out onto the body piece. It makes it easier to sew and gives the garment a nice drape.

9. Time to sew the side seams and sleeves! Lay the shirt down inside out on a flat space, and pin the side seams and sleeves. Make sure the fabric is smooth and the edges lays on top of each other. Mark where you want the seam to be if needed, and then sew from the sleeve wrist, all the way down the side seam. I like to leave the bottom 10-20 cm open on the side seams to create a slit in the shirt, if I don’t have side gores. Backstitching will make the seam durable, but if you are in a hurry a running stitch with some backstitching in the armhole will also suffice.

Slits at the bottom

10. Finish of the side seams by pressing the seam allowance flat, and make a folded over seam allowance. Press, pin and sew this down.

Folded over seam allowance, above the side slit in the shirt

11. Now it is time to fold the edges and sew them down. On linen fabric, I like to make a double fold to avoid fraying threads from the fabric edges. Start with the hem around the bottom of the shirt. Fold two times, around 0,5 cm each (or the SA you choose), and press the fabric in place with an iron or your nail. Sew with whipstitching, travelling on the inside of the shirt, which will make small dots of threads visible on the right side of the shirt.

After that, finish the sleeves in the same way. I like to try the shirt on before hemming, to be able to adjust the sleeve length. If they are a little too long, just create a deeper fold, or cut off the extra fabric. If you have made them too short you can sew on another piece of fabric and make a hem on that one. Piecing is always historical.

How to fasten the thread:

When there is about 10 cm thread left (approx the width of your palm), it is time to fasten the thread and take a new one. Sew another stitch, pass through that loop before pulling tight, and repeat at the same place a couple of times. Then you can pull the rest of the thread down into the fabric before snipping off the leftover, hiding the thread inside the seam. Neat! Take another thread, prepare, and start sewing at the same place you stopped.

Uhm, this is a lot of steps for a simple shirt? Yes, it is. Can you cut the corners, get a bottle of beer and sew it all on the sofa? Of course you can, but each step may not be as easy, and it will be harder to have a nice view of the process. What I mean is- this is just my way of describing the process as easy as possible for you, to allow a handcrafting process where each step is straightforward, and where the sewing will be as fast as possible to do.

General advice:

  • Always pin on a flat space to make sure your seams will be even.
  • Be nice to yourself; sit comfortable, take lots of breaks, use tools to make your sewing easier.
  • Remember to actually try out the fit, the length, the neck hole etc before finishing sewing. It is very easy to just continue sewing once in a flow, but if you end up with a garment you don’t like, you will have to redo lots of work.
  • Is the measuring a bit off? No worries; in this project, a 1-2 cm difference will not matter. You can probably go on sewing. I sometimes have wonky measures. Medieval finds are full of uneven pieces, wobbly seams or piercings. Don’t worry!

Other types of shirt models:

Shirt with side gores: adding side gores is easy, and give you extra movement on a longer shirt. Sew them in place before sewing the side seams closed. Use the same stitches and folded over seam allowance as above.

Shirt with sleeve gussets: small square pieces of fabrics get stitched in under the arm, to add more movement and to save on fabric instead of making larger sleeves. I usually sew these after the sleeve, while sewing the sleeve and side seams closed.

That’s it on shirt sewing! These techniques will also do well on a number of different projects, and is somewhat of a basic go-to. Enjoy sewing!


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Cudgel wars 2018

This came to be a more personal blog post, so if you want to join one of my adventures from the summer, here we go!

Cudgel Wars is a SCA event in Finland, situated at a lovely site with saunas, beach, small boats for exploring the lake, and all the usual SCA activities like archery, fighting, workshops and more.

I traveled alone for once, and the long journey made me a bit tired even if most hours was spent on the ferry with food, apple juice and lots of sewing.

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Finally on site, I was super tired and needed to put up my camp before it got dark, so I asked some friends for a little help…

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And in no time the whole tent was up, R put together the wooden bed and I was moved in. Think everything was done in under an hour, comparing to Double Wars when our camp took three hours with three persons to finish. Thank you!

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Here is my home during the market season! It is so cozy! The tent is from Tentorium and I am very satisfied with the quality and all details in it, it feels sturdy, well done and is easy to handle even though the wooden poles are heavy to lift. The poles, pegs, ropes and linen canvas all fits in the car along with basic camping gear, clothing and three boxes of shop things, if I put down the back seats in the car.

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Breakfast inside the tent one morning; coffee and chocolate soft cheese on bread. Tired, in need of some alone time but overall happy. Sometimes the best thing is just to hang inside your tent, watching all the fun things happening outside and being able to feel contentment.

My friend B dressing her son in viking clothing for the cooler evening

Parts of the Frostheim group that I lived with, hanging in the kitchen area. Well, actually none of the persons in the photo lives in Frostheim, but having the best group makes for new friends…

In my tent, having some wine and wearing the 15th century outfit with the dress I finished sewing during Hamar, and the necklace I bought there.

20180712_222358And meeting lots of new friends and amazing people in the Purple Dragon household!

Taking some nice photos by the lake in the evening

M in two of her outfits

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The Mörk family

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R by the lake in his viking gear

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The site was situated by the lake, but if you wanted to take a small walk the forest was just above, with pine trees and a nature that felt very close to my own home.

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Trying out my bathing dress in the lake, and it worked well for both swimming, modesty, looking medieval and avoiding some sun. It was harder to get it of after when it was wet…

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The ferry took about 8-9 hours, traveling through beautyful archipelagos with small island, mixed with boats and longer stretches of sea.

All considered, it was a very nice event and I really recommend it to anyone searching for a SCA event that feels like a vacation.


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The 16th century working woman – Research

This is a post about (one of) my 16th century outfits; and due to several years of research, work and sewing experiences it will probably be more than one post, with different subjects. In this, I will give you an overview and some background research. The outfit is already finished, worn, mended and in line for some redoing, so I will be able to share the whole process with you; both good and bad outcomes and what I could have done differently.

My aim was to make a good recreation of a whole outfit for a woman from early 1500s German (or possibly southern Scandinavian area, since this was influenced by German fashion at the time). She is not poor but works for her living, maybe on a larger farm or in a smaller city. She is well dressed; as is the ladies on all the art I have studied, but like other working women, she owns practical clothing with a skirt short enough to stay out of her way, and a cut to the clothing that is both economical and practical. Contrary to the trossfraus (the women who follow the mercenary armies) she does not wear slashed and mismatched clothing, but items that belong to each other and to a certain class in society. She follows sumptuary laws and does her hair in the braided fashion, or covers it with a simple cap and veil while working.

I wanted to show you some interesting images of 16th century women in art so I put together some examples for you;

Three women; wearing work tools but also lots of interesting clothing. The shoes are practical and the skirts reach the foot, not the ground. 

A painted glass piece showing the milking and making of butter. A (probably) younger woman has her hair in two braids, and a covering apron to protect her clothing. The older woman has a veil, a jacket and a dress hiked up in her belt.

This lady is described as a dancing farmer and has probably done her fine dress for a festive occasion, with her hair braided in a nice updo and what looks like a headband around the head. She wears a dress and a gollar that looks fur-edged or with a whole lining in fur.

Another dancing farmer- with a gollar fastened by her neck, and an apron around her waist. The shoes look sturdy and practical (but nothing like the cowmouth shoes you can see on trossfraus) and she has some kind of decorative border at the hem on the skirt, and on her loose sleeves. No slashes though!

This piece shows the women working with flax, the process from plant to fabric demanded both time and hard work in numerous steps. The sitting lady wears a cap or veil around her head, with hair showing at the front. Her jacket is fastened at the front and is cut in the fashion of the time; low and square. The standing lady has her hair in braids around her head and has rolled up her sleeves while working. The dress has a decorative guard at the front, and is hiked up at the waist. Clearly, she is doing some heavy work!

Dressed for cold weather? She has done her veils around her head, chin and neck, and wears a short cloak against the cold. She wears both shoes, socks and hose, and a bag at her belt.

Ah, time for cutting some fleece! The sheep does look dead but is probably just laying at a convenient working pose for the woman, who use a shearing scissor for the work. She wears a simple cap or tied veil over her hair, and a dress with decorative guards at the front. It is hard to say if the brown skirts are part of her yellow dress, discoloured by time, an apron or a piece of cloth.

Festivities again! Do peasants and workers anything else than working and dancing? This lady has the common braids, a gollar and a dress. What is so interesting with this picture is that you can see the back of her dress, which is clearly denser pleated than the sides. Uneven pleating in the skirts is visible in more pictures and seems to be the result of tailored work.

Summertime, and work in the fields this time. Now we can see her shift; a plain linen shift with a long sleeve, and either a high collar, or more believable, a thin gollar/linen cloth to protect her against the sun, as is seen on the woman with the red dress. She wears a straw hat, and her dress is sleeveless; it is a tight-fitting middle kirtle or underdress that gives you the bust support you need, without being in the way for hard work. This layer can be found on other women too; plain, sleeveless and intended to be worn under the woollen overdress. It is only during heavy outdoor labour such as fieldwork, washing and shovelling it is openly worn, older women and richer women always have their overdress on.

Based on my research, I have found that I needed the following items for a whole outfit:

  • linen shift
  • kirtle or underdress
  • wool dress as an overdress
  • apron
  • belt
  • purse (and maybe a rosary too, it is mentioned in some written sources but doesn’t appear on peasants often)
  • cap, veils, a straw hat and/or a braided hairstyle
  • hose
  • shoes
  • gollar
  • jacket
  • cape/cloak

This much? I wanted to make a whole outfit, that would be practical during different kind of events with both cold and warm weather. I also wanted to try to make all the pieces of clothing and accessories that I have found during my research, to better understand how they worked together.

For more research, I have a Pinterest board on the theme if you want to learn more!


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The Medieval Wedding Dress- the velvet gown

This is the final layer I made for my wedding outfit, it is a silk velvet dress inspired by the late 15th century over dresses. The gown is open at the front to allow for easy undressing, and to show more of the white dress underneath. This can be seen in paintings, though a closed gown would have been more common.

This was one of the most difficult garments I have ever made. The fabric is a silk velvet, sensitive, very thin and extremely flimsy; I so understand why silk velvet has been replaced by synthetic alternatives on the market (and it is not just a matter of price). The gown is fully lined with silk dupioni for support and look, and has linings in black silk taffeta and on the bottom, the same black high quality wool as in my love’s joined hose. I opted for the golden coloured silk because it did so well under the velvet, and made the velvet shine even more. if using a transparent velvet; try out different shades of lining fabric to find the one that gives you the look you want.

The gown closes with a small hook and eye at the waist, and then this belt is added. The bronze buckle and strap end is made after a painting from the period, and can be seen on houppelandes and similar overdresses from the period.

Working with the fabric. Here you can see the silk lining being laid out at the velvet to act as a pattern piece. The velvet was very sensitive, so pinning was only an option in seam allowances.

The fabric being so thin and flimsy, pinning it to the sturdier silk lining was a good help for cutting, basting and sewing. I treated the two layers as if they were one when sewing, making the seam allowances visible on the inside of the dress. Since the velvet is transparent where the pattern is, it was not an option to have the seams between the both fabric layers.

Front and back pieces of the body being laid out. With a patterned fabric, you might want to consider where to put your pieces, and in what direction. I let the two front pieces have the pattern laid out in the same direction, and then turned the back piece upside down, since the skirt would have the pattern visible in the same direction at the back of the gown. The two fronts doesn’t have to be similar in pattern, all contemporary art depicts uneven patterns on the front of dresses.

You may also note that the front lining pieces have the selvage running along the openings, since the velvet was stretchy, and silk stretch when cut on bias, I laid the pieces out diagonally on the silk fabric to have a non stretchy front, and instead add some flexibility across the body. This way, there is some small movement allowed over the rib cage, while the front lays flat against the body.

I sewed the gown together on the overlock machine, this was one of my best choices ever since the seam both helped with protecting the seam allowance and allowed for some stretchiness in the skirt. After the gown was put together, I hang it on my doll to let the skirts fall out. Fabric cut circular like in this case always seems to hang out unevenly…

And yes it did! I ended up cutting away between 10-15 cm in some places, but only 2 in the areas running along the fabric length. I was quite nervous- cutting a little each time and allowing for the fabric to adjust. There was some massive pinning and measuring and swearing going on at this part and frankly, I just forgot to take pictures because I was so frustrated. Here you can see the velvet skirts hanging out, the silk lining behaving all nicely and staying in shape.

After this, I worked with the hems and inside seams by hand. All the seam allowances were folded down, basted to the lining and then covered by a strip of silk fabric, whip stitched down. No ironing though; velvet does not go along with pressing so the seams were just smoothed out by hand. The front opening and the sleeves were lined with black silk taffeta, the same as love’s doublet were edged with.

The bottom needed a little more heavy lining, and I wanted something that could take some more wear than silk so I chose a thin wool tabby weave. Here it is, laying on the floor.

One of the seams, seen from the outside when finished of. The whip stitches securing the strip inside is not visible on the outside velvet, neither is the machine seam that holds it together.

I am very pleased with the dress, I really plan on using it in the future on events. It was not easy to make, but hopefully some of my experience shared with you will make you want to try one for yourself if you wish!

 

 

 


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Slashing and cutting fabric- a tutorial

During the 16th century it became high fashion to slash or cut fabrics in a decorative manner, and this was taken up by mercenary landsknechts and women working and living in the armies as well. Being a fashion for richer or high-born persons, it was quite the dare for mercenaries to wear, but such a good way to show that you were a high earner with lots of status and gold on your pocket…

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So, I wanted to share with you all my best tips for getting that slashed and cut look that you may want for your outfit!

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But first, some good things to know:

  • The most important thing is the material to work with; wool is by far the easiest. In finds and manuscripts, you will also find garments made by silk or silk/linen and silk/wool blends, but those garments will have very small cuts (also called pinking) made with a specific tool and is a whole different story. So; chose a wool fabric. A felted, dense and tightly weaved wool is the best, this will give you a sturdy garment that won’t fray easily.
  • The slashing is not hemmed. I know many people do this because they chose a sensitive fabric, they are afraid it will fray and tear, or they have just been told that all raw edges should be hemmed or sewn. The standard is to not hem or sew the slashes, they should be raw, made with a very sharp tool, and yes- they might wear out faster than a garment that is not slashed. There are garments made with other techniques, for examples doublets with sleeves that are being made out of strips of lined/hemmed fabrics. These might look similar to cut garments, but the making is different.
  • Slashed and cut garments may not last as long as more sensible ones, or look very pretty after using for a while, that is the point with this fashion! You’ll have to be rich enough to order fine materials, pay a tailor to sew it for you, pay even more for the slashing and cutting, and then don’t mind that you will have to exchange the garment once it looks worn. If you are a more economically laid modern person, pick a wool fabric for your outfit, since this lasts longer than silk or linen.
  • Almost all slashed garments that I have seen have been lined with a second layer of unslashed fabric. This could be a regular lining or a whole garment that holds together the one laying over, providing stability and fit. I often use a linen fabric lining for wool and silk fabrics, but in the case with slashed guards (strips of fabrics) I place the guards on top of the main fabric, to make it visible through the slashing.

Feeling ready for some slashing now?

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The pictures are mostly from my trossfrau dress project, this from a woodcut that I have copied and coloured to get a feeling for the dress to be.

I usually wash my wool fabrics, iron them and then cut out the pieces I want for the garment. Before I sew them together I draw out my slashes on the wrong side with a fabric marker and then cut them before I put the garment together. If you are not sure about the fitting, it is good to baste the garment together and try it on before this, since it is difficult to adjust fitting after the slashing is made.

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I usually also draw out helplines during this stage; everything that helps you make good sharp lines placed exactly where you want them is good. A ruler, some mathematics and a marker go a long way. I also like to make a template to use while drawing out the slashes.

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Do not slash all the way to the edges, remember the seam allowance and leave 2-3 cm along the edges to make it easier to sew the pieces together.

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This is a larping outfit (only inspired by historical fashion) as an example of a durable slashed garment. The arms have slashes, but not the armpits or body, and the slashes ends some cm before the seams. Sewn in a medium-heavy twill, slightly felted.

If you want the garment to be sturdy and hold together, slash less along the armpits, side seams and crotch; all areas where the fabric gets more wear. If you look at historical woodcuts and painting, you may notice that tight fitted pants have no slashes at the backside of the legs near the seams, neither over the butt (there might be exceptions, as always)

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The finished dress, a hot day in Visby a couple of years ago


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The Herjolfnes dress

Last year I made a woolen dress, based on the cut, sewing technics and seams from the finds from Herjolfnes, Greenland. I really didn’t plan it, I just had this sudden burst of creativity and had to make a plain, undyed working dress… The fabric is from Medeltidsmode, and it is an undyed natural wool that was just lovely to work with, the seams went very well, and the drape of the shirt is really good to. It is based on two different models, but with my measures- so it is a historical reconstruction with a practical use in mind.

Cutting out the pieces

And sewing them together with running stitches in wool thread

Sewing gores from the right side of the dress, with a whip stitch

The hems are made by a single fold, whip stitched and then sewed with another seam according to the finds. To finish of the hems two times was a bit tiring, but the result went very well, with especially the neckline and wrist coming out nice and stable for wear.

All inside seams are felled and whip stitched down, to make them more durable and the inside smooth and pretty.

There are several gores in the dress, both in the shirt and in the sides, that goes up to the arm holes. This gives the dress lots of hem line, as well as a nice drape. If you would like to make a dress more modern flattering, you could begin the width in the side seams by the waist. My dress is lose almost under the bust, which makes for a warm dress, that is easy to get in and out of, and probably good for medieval pregnancy if you are interested in trying that out…

The dress is so comfy, and despite a rather smooth fit over arms and shoulders it is easy to move in it.

On these photos I have rolled up my sleeves a bit and you can see the linen shift, a good way of keeping your sleeves dry when doing dishes.

Definitly one of my favourite dresses right now, it being so simple and yet pretty!


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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 woollen houppelande:

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This was somewhat of an experiment trying out both pattern 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 an even sided 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 are 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 where 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 on 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 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 in some regions, 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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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 is 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 won’t 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 woollen fabrics.

I sew my sleeves with running stitches on the inside and then fell the seams with whipstitch by hand, but you can of course use the sewing machine. The hem 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 North European 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 with a whipstitched 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 tightly fitting sleeve around my wrist, and if they get stained or worn I can cut off 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 your 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 don’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 woollen dress, you may 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 thin linen fabric, or just add a strip on the inside at the upper and lower hem. That may add to a more durable sleeve, get you a better edge 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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