Miscellenia

Things that you can make with squares and rectangles and triangles

People often say to me “Oh, I can’t believe you do historic sewing.  That must be so complicated!”.  It really isn’t!  Partly this is because it’s just a different skill set, but not a harder one, but partly because the shapes used for a lot of historic garments are actually pretty basic.

So what can you make with squares and rectangles and triangles?

The oldest extent garment is all squares and rectangles:

Pleated tunic, Ancient Egyptian. 1st dynasty, c. 3100-2890 BC.  Werner Forman Archive/ University College London, Petrie Museum

Pleated tunic, Ancient Egyptian. 1st dynasty, c. 3100-2890 BC. Werner Forman Archive/ University College London, Petrie Museum

As is pretty much every tunic and chemise since then, from the middle ages to the early 19th century:

Chemise presumed to have been worn by Marie Antoinette during her imprisonment, 101 x 83 x 67 Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France

Chemise presumed to have been worn by Marie Antoinette during her imprisonment, 101 x 83 x 67 Musée Carnavalet, Paris, France

Most petticoats are just rectangles of fabric pleated into waistbands:

Quilted petticoat, 1770-1780s,  silk satin with cream calamanco lining, Augusta Auctions

Quilted petticoat, 1770-1780s, silk satin with cream calamanco lining, Augusta Auctions

As are mid-19th century skirts, for all their tiers of rectangular ruffles:

Day dress, 1855, Centraal Museum

Day dress, 1855, Centraal Museum

Fichus and handkerchiefs and buffons and neckerchiefs and pocket handkerchiefs (what’s the difference?  I’ll be discussing them in an upcoming terminology post.) are all made of squares or rectangles or triangles:

Marquise de Grécourt, née de la Fresnaye by Jean-Laurent Mosnier, ca. 1790

Marquise de Grécourt, née de la Fresnaye by Jean-Laurent Mosnier, ca. 1790

Muffs are essentially just layers of rectangles:

 

Evening muff, fourth quarter 19th century, American, fur, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Evening muff, fourth quarter 19th century, American, fur, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Many aprons are rectangles:

Apron, 18th century, British, silk, metallic, Met

Apron, 18th century, British, silk, metallic, Metropolitan Museum of Art

As are many reticules, purses and variants thereof:

Bag, Great Britain, UK, Linen, silk, silver and silver-gilt threads; hand sewn, hand embroidered, hand plaited, V&A

Bag, Great Britain, UK, Linen, silk, silver and silver-gilt threads; hand sewn, hand embroidered, hand plaited, V&A

Plus, there are all the ethnic costumes based on basic shapes (just remember if you make one of these is should still be pre-1938):

Kimono with Western influence, probably by Iida & Co.:Takashimaya  (Japanese, founded 1831), ca. 1910, Japanese, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Kimono with Western influence, probably by Iida & Co.:Takashimaya (Japanese, founded 1831), ca. 1910, Japanese, silk, Metropolitan Museum of Art

And all the Western clothes inspired by these costumes:

Paul Poiret, ca 1920 Coat, sold by Beaussant Lefèvre

Paul Poiret, ca 1920 Coat, sold by Beaussant Lefèvre

Vionnet loved to play with squares and rectangles, as in the ‘Chiton’ dress that I’ve replicated.

My version of Vionnet's 'Chiton' dress

My version of Vionnet’s ‘Chiton’ dress

My Deco Echo blouse, while more historically plausible than strictly historical, is also made of squares and rectangles.  And there is a full tutorial on how to make it if you want to make your own!

The Deco Echo blouse

The Deco Echo blouse

So there are lots, and lots of options to make something that is based on squares and rectangles and triangles.  What are you making?

17 Comments

  1. Lynne says

    Happy sighs. Amongst the other lovely things, that quilted petticoat is so desirable!

    Thinking of squares and oblongs, Margery Allingham describes the ‘formula’ for making a monk’s robe – she has her fashion designer make one for her father from the formula laid down in the archives of a thirteenth century monastery.

    “Of stout woollen cloth, take four equal pieces, each as long as the height of the Bro (sic, Brother), from nape to heel, and as wide as will stretch across his shoulders from elbow to elbow. Let the first cover his left breast and the second his right, and the third shall cover him behind. Then let the fourth piece be folded into three, and of these the first shall be for his left arm, the second for his right, and the third and last for his head. So shall he be covered and two ells of rope encompass his middle.”

    Let’s hope the monks had nice soft linen ‘chemises’ undeneath – bet the wool wasn’t Merino! More like a training garment for hair shirts.

  2. That’s quite a large amount of rectangular things, I shouldn’t have been so worried about this challenge.

    I’ve got a 1780s petticoat that I’m planning to make that would fit the criteria. It has got a bit of a train in the back, but you said one curve allowed, right?

  3. Nicola Lowrie says

    Oh my word. I would love that Paul Poiret coat as an abaya! It is so beautiful and modest.

  4. All the costumes I have hand-sewn were made from rectangles and triangles. That’s great for using fabric economically.

  5. Amelia Ormston says

    I happen to own some authentic kimono and their basic rectangle patterns make it easy for me to resize them, even though my knowledge on sewing pattern is basically zero.

    A fun fact: kimono are made from a long bolt of rectangular fabric (called a “tan”) cut into rectangles. Women used to “disassemble” their kimono, sew them back into one long rectangle, then float them in the river to wash them. Then they would sew the fabric into kimono again. I think that’s pretty interesting!

  6. Pingback: HSF # 11: Squares, Rectangles and Triangles | Kitty Calash

    • Better late than never finished! And what a fantastic project! Such an intriguing pattern – it looks so strange, but makes so much sense once you put it together. I actually prefer to ‘soft’ try projects like this – now you know exactly how big you want it to be, and how you want the sleeves to be, you can better plan for your actual weaving. Even ‘soft’, I am so impressed. And envious that you have Bronze Age tombs to walk past. Where I’ve lived 800 years is ancient, and even 200 is pretty darn exciting.

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