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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
Update summer 2022: I finally took the gown out during Skellefteå Medeltidsdagar! I actually packed it early in the season, but the weather was so rainy and muddy I didn’t want to wear (and ruin) the dress until July. It really turned out great, and was really comfortable to wear during the party.
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 taffeta) I made before apparently shrank on its own in the wardrobe during the winter, and come spring was a little too small over the waist. Can’t imagine how this could happen..?
This style of dress may also be worn on its 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 timeline, 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 Northern 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 taffeta, 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 silk fabric, taffeta 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 a 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 adjust 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 on both sides (seems to be usual in Italian portraits and handy if you often change your size) or on 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 good 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 lacing holes through (if you work with a medium to thick wool this might not be necessary, you may instead trim some fabric down and whip stitch 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 a little bit too loose dress.
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 reinforcement. Here I overlocked the lining and the outer silk fabric together after basting and fitting and finished it off by 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, occasionally locked with a backstitch 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 waxed 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 unevenness- 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 off 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 an 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 your 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 off the bottom hem. Check to see if it is even and adjust if necessary (a friend is good to help here but modelling 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!
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This post also contains a collaboration advertisement for Crafty Hangouts. They do what I do not have the patience for: writing lots of guides about sewing machines.
Wool 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 are 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 practice 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 too thin but neither fulled into a bulky cloth, a medium weight slightly fulled twill, or a regular tabby weave would do the trick. 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 leftovers from other projects and fit smaller pieces together.
You can start with a ready-made pattern, or make your own. Either way, you will have to adjust the pattern to your 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 left-sided, you don’t have to do this but I find that the overall 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 the calf (thickest part of the leg).
4. Width around the ankle (thinnest part of the leg).
7. Measure around the heel like shown in the 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 in 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 off 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 off your foot.
Draping rather than drawing
I prefer the draping method and use it in my beginner’s workshops because I think it is effective and easy. If you would prefer to drape the whole pattern, just mark line 1 on scrap fabric and then pin it to your body (use stockings, leggings or shorts but nothing bulky like jeans). To use the fabric’s stretch, you should draw line 1 horizontally over a piece of tabby weave or along the edge on twill fabric. The stretch should go across the leg of the hose, not alongside line 1.
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 don’t 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 a 2 cm seam allowance. Stand with the leg straight, foot on the 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 the middle of the 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 where 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 overall 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 piece of 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 off 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, which 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 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 whipstitching, or sew it on the sewing machine if you prefer. The gores I set in last, on the inside with whipstitching. Fold the edge at the top, stitch it down, and add garters to hold the hose up.
Other designs on the 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 one 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.
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.
Want to make this project on a sewing machine? Check out this guide and more at Crafty Hangouts.
The sewing machine is a tricksy being, with a mind of its own. On the paper, it promises to make whatever your heart desire, but home alone it tends to do as it pleases… Happened to you? It does not have to be like that!
In my Sewing Machine School, I will give you all my best tips for making friends with the sewing machine. As a sewing crafts teacher, I have lots of experience dealing with struggling pupils… And struggling machines too.
in the beginning:
Before sewing, make sure the machine is correctly threaded. It is easy to miss a part, get a loop or lose the tension. Use the instruction manual if you are unsure, or even better-check out youtube to find a video on your model! Older models may be available on the internet as free pdfs, or check in with the sewing machine store.
To check the tension of the threads, pull carefully at the top and bottom threads. They should be moving but with slight resistance. If everything seems fine, try sewing on a scrap bit of cotton fabric. Fine? Then try out a scrap bit of the fabric you intend to work on. Check to see if you need to make adjustments in the stitching length or the presser.
A short note about caring:
It is very important to take care of your sewing machine! Wipe it down and clean it after each project. A can of compressed air is perfect for blowing away dust inside the machine, and a small brush can be used to remove threads etc.
You can also grease your machine with a special sewing machine oil, to make it run smoothly for longer periods of time, between the paid services. Do this after each sewing project or sewing period, and you will have a machine that runs smoothly. (Note; it is very important to use sewing machine oil and to only apply small drops of it in order to not stain your fabrics after. If you are unsure if you might have applied too much, sew in a scrap fabric piece first.
Change the needle after each big project (like a dress) or if you have accidentally pulled your fabric so the needle touched the machine going down. A sharp needle will make the seem prettier, more even and make the sewing easier.
Always start with a scrap bit of fabric to check the stitches and the tension. The threads should lock with each other in the middle of the fabric. If not, try adjusting the tension of the upper thread first.
Adjust the presser according to the fabric. The thick woollen fabric needs a lighter presser than thin silks. If the presser is too hard, your upper fabric will be pressed forward during sewing. If you have a problem with the fabric pieces always ending up different in lenght at the end of the seam, this could be your problem.
The feeder teeth underneath your fabric move the fabric during sewing, but some machines also have an upper feeder that you can attach to the presser. Check to see if your machine has one, or if you can buy one. This is a very good device as it helps get the fabric even during longer seams. (If you don’t have one, pinning the fabric pieces before sewing helps really nice too)
Use a needle fitting for your project. Thinner needles for fine linen and silks, a bit sturdier for wools.
Are you unsure about thick layers or sharp corners? You can always sew “by hand” on your machine. Instead of using the pedal, use the wheel on your right side, pulling it towards you. This makes the machine go very slowly and you will have plenty of time to check where you go and if the needle can take all the layers without breaking. Once past the hard part, just use the pedal again!
Be attentive to the sound of your machine. It should run smoothly and even if everything is ok. When you have learned the sound of your machine, you will quickly discover if anything is amiss.
If sewing together two pieces for a dress (like a straight panel and a diagonally cut gore) always put the part that stretches the most (gore) under the other part. This will lessen the risk of the parts stretching out uneven, and make the seam a bit nicer.
To turn in a corner: Stop where you want to turn and lift your foot from the pedal. Move the needle down into the fabric with the wheel, lift the presser and adjust the fabric to the new direction. Let down the presser, and continue forward with the pedal. The needle holds your fabric in place while turning and make sure the seam continues nicely.
This was my first part, and whenever I have the time I try to translate more sewing tip for you. Do you like it? Consider supporting me by Patreon, to make it possible for me to create more free tutorials!
On of the things I like best with making garments to others is when I can help them to get their dream-outfit. You know- that dreamy perfect dress, the really cool adventure gear or that really well fitted medieval outfit that makes you feel like a king or queen. Every year I sew a fair amount of clothes by order, and some more that I make as experiments (like this dress) and then sell after using them a couple of times to check the pattern construction and how it works in real life.
But I also help others with sewing that perfect-dreamy-outfit, and a couple of weeks ago I met Elin and helped her out with her beautiful dress project.
If you are new at sewing or doesn’t know where to start, a little help in the beginning with pattern drafting, cutting and fitting can make all the different. I also like to share all my best sewing tip and tricks, even thou sometimes people prefer to maybe not hear “nah, you’ll have to iron that first” or “it will be much better if you pin all those small parts to each other” when they have that really really good idea they want to try Right Now. But in the end, working in the right order makes a garment that is well done and beautiful, and also makes the job easier…
I’m planning a weekend sewing workshop for all of you who would like to start with a new and awesome project, but may not know where to begin. Kepp a look out!
If you live far away and might be in need for sewing tips or help, you can search my blog for “sytips” or choose the category “bra tips” and run them through google translate, it will give you some of my best tips. Also, you’re welcome to email me or comment here on this blog, and I will try to help you as soon as I got time.