Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some News and a Handful of Projects

Photo by the incomparable Dame Marissa von Atzinger.
Last weekend, I was honored to be placed on vigil for the Order of the Laurel (the SCA's highest award for excellence in the arts & sciences). I have long hoped that being worthy of the Laurel would be a part of my journey, and though it is a milestone, not a destination, to be able to rest here a while and enjoy this step is exciting and fulfilling. My elevation will be occurring next weekend (hardly enough time to plan, but there are family reasons involved), so I am of course waist deep in sewing! I thought today I'd catch you up on my plan and what I've done so far.

Before I do that, though, I need to give you all a heart-felt thank you. In the 9 or so years I've been writing The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist, I have received countless messages of encouragement from so many of you. Every read or like has given me the confidence to continue moving forward, and provided accountability I could never have gotten anywhere else. Having you all here to share my work with has become a part of who I am, and has given my craft and research purpose beyond just wanting to do it. Thank you from the deepest part of my heart for keeping me going.

A few weeks back, my Laurel forcefully indicated that I should make something fancy for Midrealm's Fall Coronation (at which he will be stepping up as King). Since he'd never insisted on anything so firmly with me before, I reviewed my options. I've made it a very specific point to avoid doing fancy things. It's not correct for my class or period to have decorated clothing, or to wear certain gowns that might be considered "fancy". (I've delineated the class clothing groups here.) The one occasion in which wearing an upper class gown would potentially be important would be if I were ever to be elevated. For the past year or so, I've had a light gray wool from Dorr Mill saved for that "special day". It was also the only wool I had available when the "fancy dress" request came in. So, of course, according to the Rules of the Universe (TM), I decided to use it.

I knew that the upper class gown I'd envisioned wasn't the right choice for the requested fancy gown (because I wasn't being elevated), and I'm still in my Doppelgänger Challenge, so any dress I made, I had to be able to find in an image. For several days, I scoured all the early 15th Century French manuscripts I had tagged in various places for any ideas. Eventually, I began looking for a simple, middle class houppelandes (I wrote about those in my last post), and I found this perfect image:

BNF, Dept. of Manuscripts, Français 239, fol. 130r, possibly late 1430's.
Years ago, I'd attempted to do a version of this style houppelande based off this one by Matilda La Zouche. I did it in linen, and I made a lot of errors. I liked the idea of trying again in wool with several more years of patterning and sewing experience under my belt. After looking around online for pattern ideas, I cut the four panels roughly trapezoidal (using a nice-fitting T-shirt as a guide), and also cut two full-side gores to increase the gowns girth. That left me with enough to create slightly full long sleeves. After some finessing of the seams, I had this:

The picture doesn't do it to too much justice, but it fit well, with just enough fullness to create pleating with a belt. So set to go, I took it all apart to sew it all back together by hand. In fact, I was working on that last weekend at the event. Of course.

I did really like that way the houppelande was turning out, but when I was placed on vigil, everything got thrown into the pile of "things I need to figure out". After a few days of thought, I decided that the vision I had for my elevation was more important to me than continuing to make the houppelande. While the angel wing sleeves I'd envisioned were not going to be possible any longer, I decided to refit the houppelande into a slightly fitted gown. Here it is after trimming it down by removing the side gores and repositioning them as center front and back godets, and then slimming the sleeves to be less full:

That's not all that dress has in store, but it's all I can show at this point. It will be machine sewn, but will also have plenty of hand sewing. Suffice it to say that it will be special, and suitable to my new rank. I'm just happy that I was able to repurpose the houppelande to mostly be what I wanted for my elevation. I have "simple houppelande" on my project list for the future- it's a dress I'd really like to make, but at a later date.

I should also mention that I've decided to somewhat stretch the rules of my Challenge in order to  have what I'd like for this ceremony that will only happen once. Rather than using a single image of one woman, I'm sourcing each of the elements from different images, and as need requires, combining a few images to support the choices I've made given the limitations of materials and time. The Doppelgänger Challenge is important to me, and I feel that I'm striking a good balance, all things considered.

All this also gave me the perfect excuse to start completely from scratch with a new supportive dress pattern and a new chemise. I was surprised at how quickly the new pattern came together (I guess I really DO know what I'm doing), and it's honestly the best fitting pattern I've made to date. I was amused by the number of incremental adjustments I made, including about 8 additional tweaks to specific points. Here's one of the side seams mid-way through the process:

Back in July, I'd purchased some linen/cotton to make a new chemise, and I still had that waiting. For the sake of time, I decided to do the majority of the sewing of the chemise by machine. I figured that I can always hand-sew the next one, and at this point, done is better than perfect. I also knew that I would not be able to get away with a sleeveless chemise, since the wool I'd be wearing over it for my vigil is not the type of wool you want against your skin. I used my own sleeve patterning technique with a bit less ease than the pattern calls for. I ended up with a chemise that fits perfectly, is insanely comfortable, and looks great (for being machine sewn):

After getting it all assembles and most of the seam finishing done by machine, I used hand sewing to attached a facing to the neckline (the selvedge from the cloth) and to finish the hems on the sleeves. I'll also hand sew the sleeve attachment seam when I can get back to that.

Next up is the dress I will wear during the day for my vigil. Since I didn't have time for swatches, I looked for an option that I couldn't really go wrong with. I ended up looking at Dorr Mill's selection of herringbone wool. I love the herringbone pattern, and while I can't state with conviction that a middle class woman of the early 15th century would have used it, it was a known weaving technique in period. I will fully admit that this is perhaps the one area in which I compromised the most to get something I liked more than something that I was sure was "correct". I decided to go with the Cobalt and White colorway which looks like a medium blue heathered wool at a distance, which does at least fall within the acceptable color range of blues for this period.

The vigil dress will be a typical fitted cote like the kind I usually wear. It may or may not have buttoned sleeves, but it will lace up the front. I have a week to complete this dress, so I plan to machine sew the pieces together, but hand sew all the finishing.

As a final sneak peek, here is the "color story" for the day:

Next weekend, I'll be camping until Sunday, so in two weeks, I'll share how everything turned out. For now, it's back to sewing!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Houppelandes of the Early 15th Century

Like most things clothing-related in this period, the sumptuous overgown we call the houppelande (usually pronounced HOOP-lawn in the circles I run with), has a layered evolution that has to be understood through both time and class. The houppelande style of gown may have been brought north from Italy in the later 14th century. It can be seen in the imagery of the Tacuinum Sanitatis manuscripts produced at the end of the 14th century, such as this striped example below, possibly from Milan.

Detail from Tacuinium Sanitatis, (Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673), fol. 81v, c. 1390.
The style, with a high, tight collar and folds of excess fabric cinched high on the waist, was quite different from the also popular, provocative fitted cotes. In the hands of the French right at the turn of the century, they became prohibitively expensive for all but the noble classes- a sign of the era's trend of "conspicuous consumption"- and was established as an ideal canvas for excess. In the first third of the 15th century, women are purchasing extra ells of cloth and having their tailors find ways to include the extra into their gowns. This resulted in gowns with excessive pleating around the torso, long angel wing sleeves, extremely high collars, and full, pooling skirts.

Detail from The Queen's Book, (British Library, Harley 4431), fol. 376, c. 1410-1414.
The most excessive houppelande was ridiculous for the wearer. However, the "regular" houppelande still was not "tame" in any regard. See for example the similarity between the houppelande below on a character meant specifically to symbolize grandiosity:

Detail from Le Decameron, (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms-5070 réserve), fol. 120r, c. 1432.
And this houppelande on the Queen of France, contemporary to the time of the manuscript:

Detail from The Queen's Book, (British Library, Harley 4431), fol. 3, c. 1410-1414.
As easy as it is to assume that more fabric is "better" when it comes to houppelandes, nothing that made life more difficult was likely to be too popular. These opulent and excessive gowns, therefore, where not going to be practical for most women, even those who may have been able to afford them. Which leads us to looking less at how sumptuous or excessive they were, and more at the different types and who was wearing them.

There are 3 basic types of houppelandes in this period, collared with angel wing sleeves, v-necked with angel wing sleeves, which show up in the later 1420's, and v-necked with straight sleeves, which begin appearing in the 1430's. Examples of all 3 can be found in my favorite 1430's manuscript, Le Decameron.

Details from Le Decameron, (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms-5070 réserve), fols. 173v, 222r, 362v, c. 1432.
A rule of thumb is that gowns with angel wing sleeves belonged to the noble classes or to the absolute highest echelon of the middle class. The two houppelande styles sporting them, therefore, belong to the most affluent women of society, and dominate the first three decades of the century. These gowns would only be worn by women who lived relative lives of leisure, and for whom the visible statement of the ability to spend on frivolity was important to the authority of her station. As the century rolls on, however, the straight-sleeve style begins to appear with more frequency, and on more classes of women.

It is this less-extravagant houppelande that I'm most interested in as a middle class woman. While the layered fitted gown had been the fashionable choice for the bourgeois class in the 1410-20's, by the 1430's, this simplified houppelande was the "it" fashion.

Marginal detail from The Hours of Marguerite d'Orléans (BNF, Det. of Manuscripts, Latin 1156B), fol. 89r. 1426-38.
With a girdled full torso, reasonable straight (not fitted) sleeves, no collar, and no extra length, the middle class houppelande was a statement of ability for many women who had earned their place in affluent society with many decades of working and networking alongside their husbands. These houppelandes came to symbolize the wealthy middle class in the decades that follow, and are featured prominently in the works of Rogier van der Weyden.

Detail from "Deposition of Christ" by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1435
This middle class houppelande was also a catalyst for the nobility to adjust to the changing economy by looking for different ways to show their station that would be difficult or impossible for the middle class to copy. Expensive silks and furs, rather than excess cloth became their weapon, eventually giving birth to the new "Burgundian" style, open-v-necked houppelande of the 1450's. One great example of upper class houppelandes in that "adjustment" period is in Petrus Christus's "A Goldsmith in His Shop".

A Goldsmith in is Shop, Petrus Christus, c. 1449.
The straight-sleeved houppelande can be found on nobility as well as middle class women in the 1430's, so understanding the context of any given depiction is important, but I've noticed that class rank can be initially determined by looking at headdress. Padded roll style headdress were higher in class than horned veils, which in turn were higher than open hoods. Which makes the simple houppelande and open hood combination exactly correct for the daily wear of a middle class townswoman in the 1430's.

Detail from Le Decameron, (BNF, Dept. of Manuscripts, Français 23), fol. 212v, possibly c. 1430's.
The bottom line with all this is that while the houppelande is an extremely important element of women's fashion in this period, we can't place it neatly inside the idea that they were excessive garments worn only by the wealthy. With all things in the 15th Century, fashion was in a constant give and take between the classes as society rearranged itself to account for a different distribution of wealth, and a different economic framework as it raced toward the Renaissance. When we look at the houppelande in context and in the wider picture, we see that things aren't so black and white, and we should never overlook the middle class' ability to drive the engine of fashion simply by their desire to "keep up".

Sunday, July 23, 2017

On Break

Just a quick note that I'll be taking a break from the blog for the next several weeks. I wasn't able to swing going to Pennsic War this year, but I hope all of you headed there have a fun and safe time. I'll be back to my regular posting schedule in late August.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

In Progress: Oatmeal Wool Hose

This project started when I pulled my in-progress wool sleeping tunic out, and decided that I didn't care for it. As the unfinished tunic sat around over the next month or so, I considered other uses for it. One evening, while talking to a friend about wish list items, I realized that I hadn't made wool hose in a very long time. I normally wear knitted wool or cotton socks. I like them, they are comfortable, and since I always had a problem with garters staying in place (until recently), the fact that they mostly stay where I need them to is a big bonus. They aren't, obviously, correct for an early 15th century townswoman. It didn't take much to convince me that the wool tunic should be recycled as hose.

When I finally got around to starting this project yesterday, I was looking for the easiest option to get finished hose quickly. I also wanted to focus more on the sewing than the patterning. I remembered that I'd pinned a quick hose tutorial from Maria at In deme jare Cristi some time ago, so I pulled that up and figured I'd give it a try. I won't belabor her method here- you should check out her post for that- but it took a little trial and error to pin myself in and make adjustments for the fact that my legs are not at all symmetrical.

Eventually, I ended up with a nice-fitting sock made of two pieces. The pattern is reversible to get me the right and left hose (one side of the pattern is the right, the other side is the left.)

With that figured out, I laid it out on the wool... and discovered that there wasn't enough to get the hose laid out on the bias. After a moment, I started to pull on the wool to see how springy it was in all directions. While the bias was definitely very elastic, pulling across the grain also revealed good stretch. I decided to go for it, and laid the pattern on the straight grain. I want to stress that this is only because the wool I'm using can stretch that way. Period hose, for the most part, were cut on the bias.

The brown pattern did not have seam allowance, so I eyeballed that as I cut the pieces out. I went with about a 1/4". The wool here is two layers (the front and back of the original tunic.) I probably could have ironed it first, according to that picture.

This project was an excuse to look at and recreate the technical sewing methods used on the hose in the London finds. I'm using white linen thread that I run through beeswax as I go.

On pages 155-56 of The Museum of London's Textiles and Clothing by Elizabeth Crowfoot, there is information about the seams and seam finishing used on the hose pieces. It's interesting that the hose had their own set of standard seam types.

The first is the way the back seam was constructed. First, the pieces were joined together using running stitch, or more likely, back stitch. Then the seam allowances were laid down on each side, and tacked into place with a running stitch worked on the outside. This is a common seam technique (I call it the "clean finish" here), but Crowfoot points out that only the hose seemed to use this seam finishing style. Which is interesting, since it's not a technically strong seam, and especially where the foot presses through the ankle as the hose are put on, I would think that a strong seam would be preferred. Tight, sturdy back stitching, however, probably really does do the trick well enough.

In the finds, several of the seams on the foot pieces were constructed with an overlapped technique, which also appears to be special (though perhaps not unique) to hose. In this seam, the two sides of the seam are laid one on top of the other. A running stitch tacks them together and secure the back side. Then a hemstitch is used on the other side to tack the other edge down on the outside of the hose. This only works with cloth that does not fray, such as the typical fulled wool used for hose. For my hose, I will use this technique on the joining seam that goes over the foot. On a future pair, I'll think through the process a bit more to be able to do the overlapping seam on the seams under the foot. For now, I'm fine with the seam treatment on the leg seam continuing all the way down to the toes.

To mark the left and right pieces on this spongy wool, and to make sure I knew which side of the cloth was the outside, I grabbed two different color threads and stitched them on each piece. Then made sure to write down which color belonged to which leg.

For the overlapping seam over the to of the foot, I carefully aligned the two pieces, pinning them into place as I went. When I do this seam type again, I think it would be helpful to baste a line on each piece where the seam should be to more easily line them up. The foot section in on the top, so the bottom edge of the leg section is pointed toward the toes on the underside. If that makes sense.

I used a tight running stitch, worked on the topside to secure the two pieces together. I could feel the edge of the leg piece on the bottom, so it was actually fairly easy to get the stitches to run just along that. I kept the stitches small and tight. Crowfoot says stitches were about 2-3mm average, but I felt even the 2mm was more visible than I'd prefer, so my stitches are more like 1-2mm.

After doing the running stitch all the way across, I realized that gave me a double-wide seam allowance at the top. I probably could have skipped cutting any seam allowance on one of the pieces, but it was just as easy to trim this in half.

Using a hemstitch, I tacked that raw edge down. This took a little more time, and the stitches were placed really close together to really capture that edge. The wool doesn't fray, but it isn't heavily fulled, so the cut edge is a bit delicate. Above is the finished seam from the outside (visible side). The more visible hem stitching is the upper part of the seam on the foot.

Here's the underside. The running stitch runs just inside the edge. There's so little raw edge left hanging that it's basically not there. I'm happy with the result, and I can see the value in a seam like this. It's well-contained, was easy to stitch, and the resulting seam has no bulk.

The next thing is to stitch the long underfoot and leg seam. I started that this morning. I'm using back stitch. While Crowfoot says running stitch may have also been used, she seemed to lean toward back stitch being the more likely choice. I also don't use back stitch very often (I maybe used it to attached some sleeves once), so in the spirit of doing things a bit differently, I think back stitch is the right way to go.

Looking ahead and the end, I'm considering the options for finishing the top hem. I cut it to just be a single fold hem, but laying in bed last night, I visualized possibly using some off-white wool yarn I have to stitch that hem down with a stem stitch, just for a subtle decorative touch. It will be up by my knee, above my garter, so if anyone happens to catch a glimpse that high up on my leg, they'll get a glimpse of something a little special. I mean besides my knee. 

Of course the real end result of all this is to get it stitched together and try it on to be sure the wool really does stretch enough for me. Let's keep our fingers crossed on that one.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Planning Your Garb Projects

I've been feeling lately that when it comes to making garments, I tend to go a bit on autopilot. I have a method that works that I'm fairly adept at, and while there's nothing wrong with that (practice makes perfect, as they say), it can get stale. It can also make it harder to discover better methods. Even a rut that's working well is still a rut. This has me thinking about the overall processes we use to go from not having a garment to having one. In recent years, I've seen the value in planning the high-level vision of my wardrobe, so it makes sense that there should be a second layer of planning below that- the planning involved within any given clothing project.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Women's Dress Colors in the 1415 "Comedies of Terence"

You may or may not recall my exploration back in December of 2015 into the prominent colors used on women's clothing in the 1432 "Le Decameron". Since that time, I've been meaning to do a follow-up, looking at a different manuscript. That time has finally come.

When we begin to really look at color across the period is to see that some manuscripts stuck to a fairly basic palette, while others explored the possibilities of color a bit more. What's interesting, though, is that the colors larger stick to the same palette, and "off" or mixed colors show up as only a small percentage of all the basic colors represented. Here's what I mean:

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On My Worktable

It feels lately like my project list has the hiccups. I've got the regular list of projects that builds up like normal, but then little projects pop in randomly out of nowhere, usually inspired by some experience at an event. This most often takes the form of repairs or easy updates. Occasionally, it is a project that may have been really low on the priority list that I realize I badly needed. At the moment, between events and not having any gowns in the works, I'm working on a real hodge-podge of things. Let's start with the little things I've already done.