Sunday, March 15, 2009

I'm thinking about silk

Since I've begun looking into medieval fabrics as part of my Open Hood research, I've started to feel that I need a silk gown.

My persona in the SCA is an English woman and the wife of an English wool merchant living just outside Bruges, Flanders in 1453. My husband sells wool produced from his family’s flock in Canterbury. Though we enjoy the benefits of moderate wealth from the profit we get to pocket, my husband and I are by no means affluent, and are often forced to take on the daily drudgery of semi-rural living in the Low Country.

Silk was extremely expensive in the Middle Ages (and still is, according to my purse-strings), but it would not be incorrect to assume that, as the wife of a merchant, I would have been able to afford at least one silk gown. Perhaps my husband providing me with a silk gown was stipulated in the marriage contract between my husband and father. This article by Jennifer Thompson (found via Drea Leed's Elizabethan Costume Page) talks about the manufacture of lower-grade silk, mainly in Venice, which supports the use of modern dupioni and shantung silk as an option for lower-grade medieval silk garments.

From left to right: Detail from the April page of Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and Detail from the August page of Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, completed in 1489. Detail from Bible historiale created at the beginning of the 15th century.

I've always liked the dresses featured in Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, specifically the blue brocade dress from April and the black dress from August (above). I love the graceful look of the April dress, and the contrast of the blue against the gold kirtle, but the long open sleeves are impractical, both for my persona and for me wearing it at events. I love the simplicity of the August dress, but it's almost too plain. The black dress has long sleeves that have been pushed up to expose the red kirtle, and while that's a look I don't mind, it's a bit too informal for my one and only silk dress. So the compromise seems to be something halfway between- like the red dress from the Bible historiale (above). The red dress has the same simple lines of the black dress, but the formal open sleeves- almost like tippets- mimic the blue dresses' without being impractical.

I had planned to do a claret-colored gown to go over my teal wool (the color above is only a representation- the real thing isn't quite so deep a teal), so I think the silk gown will be it. I found a pretty copper-toned silk shantung that I can get for $10/yard. I think the grayish-green/white linen I found for $9.50/yard would be a nice lining that I'll extend to show on the edges (just like the red dress).

To go with it, the horn and veil style headdress is the way to go (like the one worn by the black-dress lady.) I don't already have one, but I do have a very fine, lightweight linen I can use to make it.