As I mentioned in the HSM ‘Out of Your Comfort Zone’ post, my challenge for this challenge is medieval: specifically a gown (kirtle) from the last quarter of the 14th century.
I’ve never made a medieval gown before, and my only dabble in medieval has been a shift (and really, a medieval shift is hardly different from an 18th c shift). So this is a totally new period for me, and definitely out of my comfort zone.
To help, I’ve been relying on the following books:
- Crowfoot, E., Pritchard, F. & Stainland, K. Textiles and Clothing c.1150-c.1450. Great Britain: Boydell Press, 2001
- Thursfield, S. 2001. The Medieval’s Tailor’s Assitant – Making Common Garments 1200-1500. Bedford: Ruth Bean Publishers, 2001
And the following websites:
- Costly Thy Habit
- La Cotte Simple
- Som NÃ¤r Det Begav Sig (no, I can’t read Swedish, but google translate is a wonderful thing)
- Some Clothing of the Middle Ages
- The Battle of Whitsby, 1361-2013
- The Medieval Tailor
And a fair amount of messaging Sarah of A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle (and Som NÃ¤r Begav Sig) and asking ‘is this right?’ in varying levels of panicked-ness.
Though I’ll just get the dress done for this challenge, my medieval journey started over a year ago, when I began researching for fabric, and discovered that medieval appropriate wool is actually really hard to find, at least in NZ (why must all wool fabric be either heavy coating or have lycra!).
With the fabric on hold, I went looking for inspiration:
I love the detailing on Katherine Mortimer, Countess of Warwick’s effigy. I’ll definitely be copying the sleeve length, and the curve over the back of the hand. I’ll see if I have enough energy to do all those buttons (aren’t they amazing though!).
For neckline and silhouette, I really like the overall silhouette and neckline of the red kirtle shown in this manuscript. The neckline isn’t as extreme as many late 14th c necklines.
Also, the dude hanging out in the woods is basically the best thing ever.
I’m not exactly sure what I’m taking from this image, but I love it. Maybe someday I’ll make that overdress… Also, I rather like Atalante as a heroine, especially if she was beating all those men at footraces while wearing those gowns!
I also looked at this image for inspiration, though the neckline doesn’t appeal.
And I like this as a depiction of a slightly more practical, she’s actually doing work in it (though the trailing hem belies any real claims to practicality) garment:
While accumulating inspiration I kept searching for a suitable wool, and I finally found the most gorgeous length of 1960s goose-turd green (yes, that’s an actual medieval colour) wool at Fabric-a-Brac, but it was only 2.8m at 130cm wide. I bought it, but no matter how I measured and manipulated my pattern and thought about piecing, I couldn’t quite get a long sleeved gown out of 2.8m of wool. Wailey wailey!
But, on the WSB fabric-shop-and-afternoon-tea day, I found a midweight, plain tabby weave, slightly felted 70/30 wool-viscose blend in what Pantone would have us call ‘marsala’.
Marsala or not, deep red-brown is an excellent medieval colour for an upper class gown, achieved through either pure madder dye, or madder overdyed with walnut (or vice versa). And I decided that I could live with a wool-viscose blend for my first medieval gown, as the viscose did not significantly change the hand, look, or wear of the fabric.
I’m hoping to use the yellow-green wool for an overgown with short sleeves and tippets.
So, on to pattern drafting in earnest! I had two sewing friends over on a Sunday afternoon, and they carefully followed La Cotte Simple’s curved-front dress draping tutorial, and sewed me into a very snug bust-supportive toile. I was incredibly proud of them, and incredibly impressed with the tutorial, because neither of them had any draping experience, and basically I just stood there and did what I was told!
Except when I was lying on the floor pretending to be an effigy:
Once the pattern was draped on me, I traced it off onto patterning tissue, smoothed it out, and turned it into a full-length pattern:
I’ll have to adjust it slightly once I sew it together, but I’m OK with that. I will be doing all the hidden seams by sewing machine, because I get terrible chillblains in winter, and hand-sewing gets very hard when my fingers and knuckles are all swollen.
I cut out the main body pieces, and then drew out my four gore pieces, and then had a little panic because my gore pieces only just fit, and there was no fabric left for sleeves!
Felicity sympathised, and tried to punish the ruler for me:
Then I realised that I had drafted each gore to take an entire width of 154cm wide fabric, which meant that my finished gown would have a hem circumference of approximately 760cm, which might be just a wee bit excessive…
La Cotte Simple suggests that gores should be at least 61cm wide at the bottom, lest your gown be too narrow, but doesn’t give any further advice. And being me, I started overthinking. If <61 is too narrow, at what point do gores become too wide? What if I’m bigger than the 61cm-is-wide-enough body size?
So Sarah got a message asking what the bottom width of her gores are, or what her average hem circumference is. And she (very, very kindly, and politely) told me to go look at a pattern.
So after consulting patterns based on the Greenland finds and the Moy Gown, I have determined that gore widths range from just under the full front-or-back width of a dress, to just over it. Which makes perfect sense, as the full front-or-back width of the dress would have been hugely based/influenced by the available fabric widths, so of course a gore would be a folded fabric width (or two fabric widths with a seam down the centre) as well.
So I re-drew my gores one last time, so that I got all four gores from a folded width of 154cm wide fabric:
(I know, it’s impossible to tell which are the right lines in that mess of lines, but the important thing is that I could!).
I’m so glad that Sarah directed me back to the patterns, instead of just telling me a number, because it made me think about the logic of it, and understand the process behind it, which is much better learning than knowing a figure.
With my gores cut, I had all the main body pieces cut out. I’ll be drafting the sleeves later, once the body of the garment is sewn and fitted. (I know, I know, I’m really just procrastinating on the sleeves, because everyone talks about how scary medieval sleeves are, and they have gotten to me and pysched me out, which is dumb, because I don’t find sleeves scary! Usually. I hope!)
Next up: cutting my linen lining, sewing the main body parts together, fitting, and…buttons!