HANDCRAFTED HISTORY


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Thoughts on making medieval garments

I wanted to share some thoughts with you today; things I have learned and things I find important, when I design medieval clothing. Both for myself and for customers. Being new in any branch of historical reenacting or costuming can be overwhelming, and just like with all other things in life there’s no simple answers or an ultimate guide. “Just read this book, and then you will know everything”… I haven’t found it at least.

But don’t feel overwhelmed! It is such an interesting journey you have ahead, exploring and experiencing other times and new handcrafting. And there’s lots of others that love to share their knowledge in this field as well. Here’s some great things I have learned over the years, that I like to share whenever I can!

Choosing materials is clearly one of the more difficult things when starting with historical handcrafting, and often the simplest way to succeed in making a good outfit is to pay the price for good material, and buy the same as everyone else. Seems boring at frist, right? But instead of wanting to make that perfect deal on super cheap wool in a really unique colour; think about what historical look you want to achieve with your outfit, and what qualities you would like the garment to have.

The places that sells fabrics especially to reenactors often produce high quality fabrics, and their customers will come back to buy more if they like it. The chance will also be that they are knowledgeable in historical fabrics so you can find materials, colours and qualities that resembles the historical originals, whilst giving you a fabric that will last for a long time to an affordable price.

The quality of the fabric will differ with manufacturers, places of origin, type of material etc so make sure to read up a bit on what material would be good for your individual project. Look at what others say about the seller and the different fabrics they offer, and learn some useful words: tabby and twill are weaving techniques, and twill is often more stretchy. Felted means the fabric has been fulled and is often less stretchy, but more weather resistant and smooth. Thin, medium and heavy are different weights in wool fabrics, whereas 120 grams etc are the weight of a m2 fabric.

Fabric shopping at The historical fabric store

It is always best to be able to see and feel the fabric yourself, and now when we stay at home, fabric samples are a good choice. If you have friends, a group or other people around you that are good at different fabrics, ask them for advise (or use a forum online) and always state what kind of garment you would like to make (a kirtle) for what period (14th century) and for what kind of use (reenactment event during winter etc). That way you may save both money and effort instead of buying the first fabric you find, and then get disappointed.

Preparation of fabric

Wool and Linen

I always prewash fabrics before sewing, even for my customers. I know that many in the field claim that you can’t wash wool fabrics in water, but that’s just bullsh*t. Of course you can wash fabrics, at least good ones. Bad ones? Might shrink uneven, get to much wear or completely change the look, feel and even the colour in contact with water. But you know what? That is not ok for garment fabrics. They should be made to endure everyday wear and wet weather, washing, food stains and so on. Those things totally existed in the medieval ages, it would be strange if your medieval outfit couldn’t endure the same right?

Furthermore, prewashing fabrics will release the weaving tension in the warp, making it shrink slightly and give you the fall it will have after ironing/washing/a rainstorm. You could get the same result by steaming the fabric with an iron before sewing, but that won’t remove the…

Chemicals and anti-mold treatments. Fabric today needs to last for longer times during shipping and warehousing, and look good when arriving on the shelf in the fabric store. To achieve this most fabrics (and ready made garments) are treated with different kind of chemicals, which will wash out in the washing process. Or rub of on your body… Not a good thought, right? Always prewash your fabrics!

Linen: soak in water a while before washing, to get a smoother fabric. Not necessary, but worth it. Fold it loosely in the bathtub for example. Wash the wet fabric in 40- 60 degrees C (the temperature you would like to wash your linen shift/shirt in later) hang to dry and then iron on a high temperature.

Wool: wash by hand or use the wool setting in the washing machine. Use cold to luke warm water and wool detergent. If you don’t have that, use a little shampoo, because wool is hair, and will not look its best after strong detergents. Also, hot water might felt it and make it look dull.

Silk and silk velvets are the only fabrics I don’t wash before use, but rather iron very gently and hang out to air before use.

This dress has been washed several times in water, and still looks like new.

Which thread?

Thats depends on what fabric you want to use, and what you want to make. But I prefer natural materials and “same for same”: silk for silk fabric, linen threads for linen, and wool for wool fabrics. Oh, or silk and linen for wool fabrics too, because that is a historical choice and very easy to work with. If you prefer to use a sewing machine, cotton thread for linen and silk for wool garments work nice. Polyester thread is a bit to “sharp” and might lead to breakage in the fabric rather than the seam if you happen to get stuck in something with your garment. But yeah, it will work on a sewing machine if that is what you have, I just don’t recommend it.

Where to start?

It is always good to start with underwear like shirt, shift and breeches. They will make up the base, are often easier to make and linen is not as expensive as wool. Also, you’ll get to try out the fit, the seams and some techniques.

After that, it is more a question of what you need versus what you are inspired to start with. Remember, handcrafting should be fun and not only practical! I like to make a middle/base layer next, often in wool, to be worn on warm events or when I work. After this is done, I adjust and finish of necklines at under-garments so they are not visible (if that is not fashionable) and start with some accessories, and another layer for warmth and weather protection. The medieval period (and others too) often have an outfit made up of several layers, and that is really practical when going to outdoor events!

Wearing a thin wool gown on a summer event. Photo taken by Catrine Lilja Kanon

Other good tips is to make a mock up or toile, basically a try out on the garment you desire, made in a cheap/recycled cotton fabric. It might seem as you are doing the work twice, but this is really handy as you get to try out the pattern, fit and look on the garment without risking that really expensive fabric. And if the mock up gets really good, you just pick apart the basted seams and use it as a pattern!

Basting is also a good investment; long running stitches will hold together your fabric pieces enough for a final fit before sewing, and will make it both faster and easier to sew all the seams by hand. I will confess, when I started sewing medieval clothing I NEVER basted anything and rarely pinned the seams, but after several surprises (Whot, how come I got this fit?) I learned it was both better and faster to check the fit, before sewing the final seams…

How to decide on social class and status?

Ohh, don’t ask me, I always change between working class garments and fancy party outfits depending on the event, place and what I feel like… But generally, just go for whatever catches your fancy! Or pick clothing after your preferred activities; are you going to stroll around a market fair with friends? Visit a fancy banquet? Or do you prefer mud wrestling, archery, beer taverns or outdoor cooking? Not only will you look much better with the right kind of clothing, you will also find that your activities will be much more fun with the right garments! A short dress and practical hood for the forest archery, or a thin and cool kirtle with hose for the indoor festivities.

A well of working class doublet, perfect for active events…

And a silk brocade doublet for those fancy strolls in the garden

Garments you need

This is always a tricky question, as it depends on the weather, the type of event and the gender and social status you want to portray. I thought I did great at my first events wearing a linen tunic, shoes and a cloak, I neither froze to much or died, but nowadays I confess of having higher standards… Like, I want to both look like I fit in the historical context, being comfy, not getting to much mosquito bites, and not freeze during chilly evenings. I also like to change my linen underwear everyday to feel fresh, as well as having some change of outer wear/dresses just because I feel like it. Oh, now I’m babbling again. You would never guess hom much text I always have to delete because of babbling…

Getting dressed in the morning; linen shift, wool hose and leather turnshoes

1. You generally need linen underwear, and a change for longer events. Several changes, if you’re not going to wash the clothes during the event. We want to look medieval, not smell medieval…

2. A thin or medium warm wool layer for summer events, for working or for indoor events.

3. An outer layer for cold evenings, if you get wet or want to look well dressed. I recommend another layer of kirtle/dress/coat rather than a cloak to get more use out of your clothing.

4. Headwear like hats, veils, hoods etc. Both to complete the outfit estetically, but also because it gives you cover from weather and bugs.

5. Shoes! Don’t forget shoes, make or buy a pair that is looking good and feels comfortable. Hose (long or short) with thin leather soles is also workable on warm events, paired with pattens.

6. Accessories, both fancy and practical: belt, garters, bags, purses, cloaks, headwear, gloves… You name it. These can really set the style and time period, so check out sources before you decide on what to add to complete your outfit!

A 15th c outfit in 3 layers; shift, middle kirtle and overdress complete with shoes, headwear and accessories.

Wear it!

Historical clothing should be worn, because it is awesome and comfy and look great… You know that you’re allowed to wear it around the house right? Or take the great cloak for that chilly walk, or use the apron when doing gardening work. You shouldn’t need to be super careful with your garments, they will look even better when you have worn them a couple of times. My favourite shift is 6 years old and worn transparent thin over my shoulders and back after months of wearing, but I love it.

And make it last longer:

If you have long skirts, fold them up or pull them up into your belt when walking so you don’t step on the hem, or drag it through mud. That will make the fabric last longer. Protect the handsewn leather turnshoes with pattens when walking through rain or mud, and always mend holes and rips as soon as you find them on your garments. At the end of season, I always wash, mend, air and look through all my garments before putting them into the wardrobe. For this year though, I recommend taking them out for airing a time or two to avoid dust and bugs.

Getting dressed in historical clothing is actually a bit different than getting dressed in your favourite comfy pants and tshirt. If you are used to wearing stretchy clothing, you will need to be a bit more careful getting dressed and undressed with the woven natural fibres. Imagine it more like a suit, pull it carefully over your head, always open lacing and buttons before removing the garment, and never “jump” into your medieval joined hose. Another tip to make your hose last longer is to always pull them up before kneeling or sitting, and to wear garters under the knee to make them stay in place.

Early 14th c outfit with accessories

Yeah, I think I got the most parts down here, and it became quite the long blog post. Maybe I am tired of sitting at home, talking to the cats and love all the time? Who am I kidding? I am REALLY tired of sitting at home, I miss events, adventures and being able to go out and do fun stuff. But most of all, I miss you friends, readers and fellow history-travelers! Stay safe and take care so we can meet each other soon!

Love, L


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Lästips; 1400talsdräkt för kvinnan

Because the book is in Swedish; so will this blogpost be. It is about a new book about the late 15th century clothing for women.

Kommer ni ihåg att jag skrev om mansdräktsboken förut? Nu har även kvinnoboken kommit ut, och jag ville förstås bläddra i den också!

Boken påminner mycket om mansdräkten med samma lättöverskådliga layout, enkel och tydlig text, och stycken som efter en snabb genomgång ger dig koll på dräkten. Det är den typen av bok jag skulle börja med att skaffa om jag ville göra 1400tal, eller ge till en nybörjare som vet *ingenting* men gärna vill vara med. Det sena 1400talet är en komplex period med många samexisterande stilar och plagg, men jag tycker ändå att det känns som att den ger en överblick över det tyska modet, även om det inte finns plats för så många sömnadstekniska detaljer som jag skulle vilja- det är ju trots allt mitt intresse =)

Boken innehåller, förutom referenslistor, också massor av bilder från perioden. Bredvid varje avsnitt om plagg/material osv hittar du alltså både historiska referenser, bilder, skisser och materialförslag från ett modernt perspektiv. Dessutom finns ett uppslag om hur du får till 1400talslooken med en “turbanslöja”, jag förutspår att det här kommer vara nya innestilen till sommaren…

 


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The wardrobe of your dream

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.

Good luck with your sewing!

Linda1B

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Which tool’s do I need for sewing?

This is my favourite tools for making medieval garments.

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Fabric scissor, paper scissor, thread scissor. Use your best scissor for your good fabrics, and the paper scissor for toile fabric, paper patterns and everything that is not so important. A small thread scissor is easy to bring along and spares the other two from to much carrying around (and laying around the house were other family members may find them)

Measure tape, long ruler and a small measure stick (in Swedish mätsticka, sömometer or fifficus). The long ruler (or just a straight stick) is very useful when drawing out long lines on the fabric. I have one at 100 cm, one at 60 cm and a couple of shorter ones, but 100 cm is best if you have to pick one. The small measure stick is very practical for folding edges, putting on trims or details and adding seam allowance to your pieces.

Fabric chalk for drawing out your pieces on the fabric.

Pins for holding pattern pieces toghether or marking things out without chalk (for example) and sewing needles of different sizes- I like to sew my pieces together (running stitches) with a slightly longer needle than I use for casting edges with whip stitches.

Safety pin to pin down sewing projects (it´s easier to sew if the seam is pinned down to something)

Seam ripper- do I need to say more? Thimbleful (fingerborg) for sewing (click at this post and watch the video if you want to know how)

Threads of different materials and sizes. The lump is bee’s wax and is used for coating the linen threads when sewing. Makes them last longer.

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