Historical Sew Fortnightly

HSF/M ’15: Challenge #6: Out of Your Comfort Zone

The June challenge for the Historical Sew Monthly 2015 is Out of Your Comfort Zone:  Create  a garment  from a time period you haven’t done before, or  that uses a new skill or technique that you’ve never tried before.

Of all the challenges this year, it’s probably the one I’m most excited about, both as a sewer, and as an organiser.  (I know, I say I’m most excited about all of them, and I AM always super excited when they start coming up, but I’m definitely most excited about this one overall!)

The first  impetus of the HSF/M was to give the motivation to sew, but it’s also always been intended to really push our sewing boundaries, and to encourage interactions.

What better way to push our boundaries than with a challenge that is all about that?  And what better way to encourage collaborations and interactions than to make us try a new skill or time-period, which is inevitably going to involve asking the other members for advice, and looking at the research and creations of  other sewers  for reference?

For those looking for inspiration for the challenge, the easy, obvious, bound-to-qualify  choice is to go for a new time-period.

Using a new skill or technique is also pretty obvious, but I think you could also have fun interpreting it, especially if you wanted to stay within a particular period.

A new skill could be using a new resource for research: going to an actual physical resource, like a really comprehensive library, or archives, and learning how to use their  resources for research. Or using original documentation, if you’ve generally primarily  relied on secondary research.

Really upping your levels of historical accuracy could also be a new skill.  Being historically accurate, and really thinking about the ramifications of accuracy (rather than just ‘is this hand-sewn or not’), is actually a skill, and one you can develop (I feel like I’m always working on it and learning something new!).

Learning to drape or draft your own pattern is an awesome skill, and one which applies in every period.  There are a variety of tutorials showing it for various periods on the internet (I show the process in a number of my portfolio albums).

Any of that qualifies, and long as you really are getting out of your comfort zone, and really pushing yourself.  This is not the challenge for playing it safe!

As for me, I’m doing a bit of all of it!

I’m tackling a 14th century dress (so exciting!), because other than one shift  (that turned out not to be at all accurate anyway), medieval is never a period I’ve done before.  Doing medieval also means I’ll be learning to make self-fabric buttons, which is an entirely new technique to me.  And I’ll have to seriously improve my hand-sewn buttonhole skills, which are currently rubbish, so getting them to good pretty much counts as a new technique.

Giovanni Boccaccio, De mulieribus claris (On Famous Women), 1374, illustration showing women spinning, carding, and weaving wool

Giovanni Boccaccio, De mulieribus claris (On Famous Women), 1374, illustration showing women spinning, carding, and weaving wool

I  have done a lot of pattern drafting and draping, so can’t claim that, but I did get two sewing friends who had never done any on-body draping before to help me with it (it is rather hard to drape on yourself), or any historical sewing, so I did introduce two other people to a new skill, and am feeling pretty chuffed about that.

Oh, and speaking of learning to drape, we used La Cotte Simple’s draping tutorial for my pattern, which is a great starting-to-learn-to-drape point!

Whatever new thing you are tackling, good luck, and good learning!  And wish me some!  😉



  1. Jeanette says

    So exciting! I’ve been looking forward to this Challenge as well! I have two options – Bobbin Lace and Regency. Maybe I could combine them!

    • Oh my! Bobbin lace! Maybe I should re-try that one…
      Well, no, not likely because that would be out of my plans, but yes, I fully support bobbin lace. 😉

  2. You can always use metal buttons – it looks like only the rich bothered with buttons and, even then, only a few of the upper crust. So metal buttons would be appropriate for the complete upper class/noble class look. It might sound like a cheat but it would allow for more time on those buttonholes. 😉

    • It’s a good idea, but it misses out on the most important factor, which is I really WANT to make fabric buttons!;-) I’d like to learn a new skill, and I don’t particularly care for the look of metal buttons on medieval dresses.

      I’m aiming for not-particularly-wealthy-or-high-ranked knights wife, and I think fabric buttons make the most sense – after all, you’d need no extra material for them, and no extra cost. Even though it won’t apply to the garment I’m making, I’ve done enough research to know there are definitely respected medieval scholars who think buttons also appeared on lower class dress. The Moy gown, for example, has buttons, and there are some pretty compelling reasons to believe it wasn’t an upper class garment.

    • Elise says

      What would have the lower classes used? Lacing? To being sewn each time?

      • Lacing down the front is also common, and there are sleeves without buttons (just slightly wider, so you could slip your hand through) too.

  3. I’m excited for this one! I have plans for 1840s, which will necessitate: creating a pattern, skirt gauging, and a new period. OOOOO

  4. I’m hopefully going to finish the Edwardian apron I started for Practicality (before I spent the rest of May being sick). It’s for a time period I’ve never tried before, and it has pleating, which is something I’ve never done before. And hand-sewn buttonholes – Such Fun.

  5. I’m hoping to make a pet en l’air from scratch, meaning constructing and draping a pattern and handsew it. I have started reading up on how to create the pattern, and been researching to find out how I want it to close in front.

  6. Elizabeth Machado says

    I’m planning on either a 1915 ‘costume’ (suit) or 1930s dress. I’ve never sewn either period, but I’m drawn to them because I think they would be perfectly wearable today. I have loads of fabric in my stash that I want to start using up, so it’s really just a matter of finding time. I’m on school break after the 19th, so hopefully then…

  7. Lily says

    Fabric buttons are dead easy, I’ve made … probably hundreds of them. What I find most useful is a template for marking the stitching line…. I can explain this more if you really want. But the “not many buttons” thing is out of date, as far as I know, based on period textile finds, etc. (I’ve actually made or taught/helped other people to make this dress a number of times.) I don’t remember, off hand, if La Cotte Simple prefers a straight or curved center front line. If you’re having trouble with it, try the other one … 😉

    • Thanks for your help and advice. I’m now 20 buttons in, and can confirm that they are indeed easy! I’m pretty good at spatial things, so I haven’t felt the need for a template.

      I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘not many buttons’ thing. The impression I’ve gotten is that your buttons should be as small as possible, and as close together as possible, and that’s what I’m aiming for. I’m starting with 19 buttons on each arm, and will see how annoying I find buttonholes, and go from there 😉

      La Cotte Simple gives both a straight and curved tutorial, and then analyses both, but her analysis is very much aimed at full-busted women, so wasn’t particularly useful for me. We used the curved front method, but the final fit is still pretty close to straight, and I think next time I may try that to compare them.

      • Lily says

        Boy, that was unclear, wasn’t it? There used to be a myth that buttons were not used in the medieval period. But based on textile finds, obviously they were used a lot. 19 buttons per sleeve sounds reasonable to me. I am full busted myself, but I use the straight front, because I find it a little more stable …

  8. youtube.comyoutube.comOoh! 14th C – my period! Best of luck! (And – top tip – take a good look at the iconography, because an awful lot of the reproductions take inspiration from more like 1400-1425ish silhouettes but pair it with earlier hair/veil styles and call it 14th C.)

    Here’s some resources for you:
    My favourite button-making method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATVLEN8Rvdg
    And my favourite buttonhole tutorial: http://cottesimple.com/tutorials/how-to-sew-medieval-buttonhole/

    • Thanks for the links and tips! I’ve got assembled a whole bunch of images from 1360-1400, including a few key inspiration pieces, so will hopefully be getting it right! And the fabric’s cut, so there is no going back now.

      Though, to be perfectly honest, if I end up with a dress that’s more reasonably accurate to 1400, not 1380, I’ll be OK with that too 😉

      I’d be interested to know what the really big difference is? Later in the 14th c I see really clear differences, like the emergence of waist seams, etc. but would there be an image from 1370 and one from 1400 that you could show me that would really illustrate the change in silhouette?

      I’ve already got the buttons sorted, and have that buttonhole tutorial bookmarked, so we’re on the same page 😉

      • themcs.orgthemcs.orgthemcs.orgthemcs.orgTbh, it’s more like 1380-1425 (as I am reminded by the images you chose for your next blog post). The difference is in torso silhouette, IMO, particularly bust height/shape and neckline. I would place three approximate windows of fashion (for England/France/Low Countries/the bits of Scandinavia following French rather than German fashion):
        1) The 1300-1325 ish window which really owes more to 13th C fashion (lots of very full, very straight-cut, very draped garments);
        2) The ~1325ish to 1360 or 1370 window, where the fashion is becoming close-fitted but with a very flat-fronted, androgynous torso and a boat-neckline (on both men and women);
        3) The 1380-1425ish window where women start to get a “lifted and cupped” sort of bust silhouette and a lower, often cleavage-exposing neckline whilst men get a padded, pidgeon-breasted silhouette (though the male fashion changes again after about 1400 towards the next window of fashion – houppelandes).

        Those dates are fuzzy (due to inter-country differences? differences of class, age and status between the people depicted? minor mis-dating of images?) , but IMO the broad classifications hold true. They are, of course, for high fashion only (lowerclass is much more static and up to at least 1365 often looks pretty identical to lowerclass c. 1250, at least for women).

        But yes, – whilst the popular “14th C” style as seen commonly on (especially SCA) blogs is 14th C, it’s really more turn of the century (1380-1425) and whilst it’s a fun style, it’s rather misleading to call it just “14th C” as it only represents 20 years out of the century and the prior 80 had, IMO, a subtly but distinctly different shape and style to the “GFD”/kirtle/dress (ignoring headwear and surcotes, which also undergo distinct changes).

        And now, apologies for waffling on. I fear this is a pet peeve of mine, so I have a tendency to rant a little. For evidence, the easiest to see the progression of fashion is (IMO) the Medieval Combat Society’s website with effigies and brasses in chronological order: http://www.themcs.org/costume/14th%20century%20Female%20Clothing.htm

        • Thank you so much for explaining! I had actually noticed the difference between the first half/ 3/4 of the 14th c and the last quarter, but 1380 didn’t look that different to 1410 to me, so I’m glad to know I’m not blind!

          I’ve always been aiming for later 14th century: 1370 onwards, so I’m definitely falling into that group, but I would also have always said that that’s what my gown was meant to represent, and that if it was earlier the neckline and shaping would have been a bit different. We do tend to group fashions by centuries and decades, but really, that’s not how it works.

          Of course, since my torso is pretty flat-fronted and androgynous all on its own, and I’m going for a slightly higher neckline, the finished product may be able to be less obviously anachronistic if I wanted to do 1350 😉

          I’m also definitely thinking of this as a learning garment – a working toile if you will. I know I won’t get it all right, but I also know this is the most effective way for me to learn a lot, so that the next time I will.

          But I hugely appreciate any and all input from those with more experience and expertise to help me get it more right, so thank you!

          • The later 14th C stuff is very gorgeous. Personally, my favourite is 1350-1370 or, to stretch the bracket wider, 1310-1370.

            Treating the first garment somewhat as a toile sounds like a plan. You sound like you’ve got lots of good advice and good tutorials and books (and I know you’ve got buckets more sewing experience than me!) so I bet it’s going to turn out great!

  9. Anna says


    Sewing for kid on the other end of the world… not very comfortable.

    • Lina says

      Why does it always write my website’s name at the beginning of all my comments, even if I don’t write it there? ❓

  10. Hi there! It’s quite LATE, but I wanted to still catch up on my missed challenges (April, May & June) during which I had a 3 month sewing break caused by LIFE, starting with June’s ‘Out of Your Comfort Zone’ challenge, so here’s my June challenge, finished in mid-July and posted just now!

    I drafted my first ever transitional gown (I’m comfortable with 1770’s-1780’s and 1800-1815) but I’ve never done anything in the late 1790’s, so I drafted a late 1790’s open robe gown:


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