Friday, December 31, 2010


In 2011, I resolve to:
  • Update The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist more regularly. More specifically, to post at least once a week (probably Sundays).
  • Post more of the research and analysis of period clothing and accessories I've typically done "behind the scenes".
  • Include more information on the steps I take to complete my projects, creating less of an "after the fact" gallery and more of a garb diary.
  • Provide more regular "features" on a monthly basis. These include Image Analysis, Movie Review, Link Lists and more.
  • In general, post more images. With 3 young children, busy adults and lots going on at events, it can be difficult to get photos taken, but I feel that images of garb "in action" are much more inspiring than staged photos (be they posing at the event or staged at home). That's not to say there isn't a place for portrait-style photos, but I think I'm right in believing that most of you read this blog because of what I'm creating. It's important, therefore, to provide you with more images of the process, details, etc. than just a quick "oh, yeah, and here's me."
  • Include brief versions of my classes as I teach them. My class notes will still be housed on my website, but class "abstracts" will find a home here for quick reference.
  • Open commenting on certain entries (like this one). When I need feedback or when I'm looking for information, I'll enable commenting.

I'm excited for the next year in the Society. My new garb quest- to make a complete outfit for the 2012 Regional A & S Faire- is a challenge I have so far enjoyed taking on. Much of what I post in 2011 will be about the items I am creating for the quest, but it's an extensive list, with many varieties of items- garments, accessories, leatherwork, metalwork...the whole shebang. (I'll be posting more about that on Sunday, so stay tuned!)

I hope that my "blog-olutions" will not fail, and that that you will stick with me as I continue my endevour to become The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Memorium - Teal Wool Dress

Things started out so well. I laid my new pattern pieces out on the panels of my teal wool dress, and tried to align everything so that I didn't have to cut a new neck or arm holes. I cut everything out and sewed it all up. Then, just to check that everything was alright, I put it on.

Nope. Something somewhere got screwed up. It was so tight, I could barely get into it.

So my initial worry was that the pattern was wrong. Maybe I'd gained some weight back and the pattern wasn't valid anymore? I had to come to the ultimate and hard decision that I'd ruined the dress completely. Even if I added more back into the dress using the leftovers my mom still had from when we initial made the dress, my seams were off and it would end up being more trouble and ultimately more of a headache than it was worth.

I was worried, obviously, about the pattern being wrong, but I didn't have the new piece of muslin yet, so I pulled out a piece of bright orange Hawaiian print cotton I've had kicking around for years and transferred the pattern to that. Robin Netherton suggests in her lectures, that cotton isn't the best choice for the fitted pattern because it's "stiffer" than linen or wool. This particular piece of cotton, however, moves, stretches and bends similar to linen, just with a tighter weave than most of the linen's I've used lately. The cotton pattern doesn't fit that same, though, but not because it's too small- it isn't correct in the bust.

It took me a moment to realize what had gone wrong with the teal dress, which ended up tighter. My error was that I tried to use the existing neck and arm holes. When I pull the dress up about 6 inches, the stomach and hips fit better, but when I wear it where the shoulders want it to be, the bust fits better (but not perfectly). In trying to recycle the old cuts, I'd inadvertently stretched the pattern.

I'm going to try to use the teal wool for 3 new things. First, I'm going to make two tunics, one for each of the twins. Then, I'm going to make Owen a new cote. Finally, if there's enough left, I'd like to make a pair of 3-fingered gloves like these, lined with linen, or maybe with some fur. That would be nice. I'm still terribly bummed about the loss of the dress, but I'm also excited about these new little projects, so it works out.

At this particular point, I'm just waiting for the opportunity to get the linen for the lining on my new supportive gown. I'll use the cotton pattern on it (which is the cleaned-up version I was going to do in muslin), but cut it roomy. Then we'll do the fitting again directly with the lining. Before I sew the whole things together, though, I'll transfer the body block we end up with on the linen to something else (probably some of that blank pattern paper they sell now), and that will be my new pattern.

My new supportive dress will be rust linen on the outside, and probably white, gray or natural as the lining. I'll also do long sleeves with fabric buttons. I am woefully low on long-sleeve options in my garb. I'm not really intending this orange dress to be the fitted dress to go with my garb quest, but it might be. I still haven't settled on what gown to do, but I know I want to aim for as period as possible. I'd prefer that everything is naturally hand-dyed, which the orange linen isn't, but I also don't have a lot of money to put toward this project. Got to make do with what I've got!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Turban-Style Open Hood

I didn't point this out yesterday, but I feel that it's worth a mention, so it get's its own post. Let's take a look at the young woman from the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece again, this time focusing on her head.
Upon a quick glance, you might say that she's wearing a turban. While it's true that turbans were well known to Western Europeans because of the Crusades, and turban-like headdress can be found on religious figures in paintings of the era, it was not a particularly favored style. There are a handful of portraits featuring treatments that look like some sort of messy turban- Van Eyck's "Man Wearing a Turban" obviously comes to mind- but these are men. There is speculation that these examples aren't turbans at all, but instead are chaperons that have been twisted up on the head. Are these real examples of fashionable male headdress? Probably not. Art history 101 teaches us that artists tend to contrive things to show off their skills. A headdress with lots of folds and complex twists would certainly do that.

There is, however, something to be said for the practical aspect of converting a chaperon, or hood, into a turban, and this is where the young woman from the altarpiece comes in. I wasn't able to locate a file large enough to really zoom in on her head, but hopefully this is detailed enough that you can see where I'm headed with this. The black "turban" has all sorts of flaps- not what you think of when you conjure turban images in your head, right? That's because this is not a turban- it is an open hood.

If you've been reading my blog for some time now, you may already know about the prevalence of the feminine open hood in the 15th century. (If not, you can use my "open hoods" tag to see what I'm talking about.) The open hood is remarkable as being probably the only fashion item of the 15th century to start with the lower class and work its way up. The open hood found its greatest supporters among the peasant population because of its practicality in many different work-related scenarios. By the mid-15th century, however, we begin to see open hoods on wealthier women- starting with the peasant middle class such as what is seen in certain copies of Boccaccio's Decameron, many examples of which can be found in the "Women's Hoods" section at

Try to see the tree through the forest (to reverse a cliche). In the image at left, I've highlighted the portion of this headdress that is the "dead-giveaway" that it's an open hood. It bears the short neck and folded-back wing-like brim that is the primary characteristic of the 15th century open hood. This detail is easily lost in the look of the headdress as a whole, in part due to the dark coloration, but also because our eyes aren't expecting to see an open hood with that overall shape.

Let's go back to yesterday. Remember that in my analysis, I concluded that this woman was no doubt on the fashionable side based on the transitional nature of her gown? It makes sense to me then that she would be wearing an open hood- after all, it was the trend. Yet she's wearing it in a different manner that what fashion dictated. Rather than wearing the liripipe down along her back, she's wrapped it around her head. This serves a practical purpose in that it prevents her from sitting on it. If we are to assume that she's stationed herself at the bedside of her relative until his death, the accidental sitting on her liripipe (which might dislodge it from its proper position on her head) might be a terrible inconvenience. But let's also assume for a moment that she's seen peasant women wearing the hood in this manner. There are a handfull of examples out there that show peasant women doing this, including this one. I have a parallel to draw here that I've presented in a few of my headdress classes and it goes something like this:
Blue collar workers have been wearing sleeveless "wife beater" under shirts for decades, and they have been stereotyped to always be wearing one, often with nothing over it. This stereotype is not a pleasant thing- it groups those laborers with "white trash". Yet a few years ago, a young woman named Brittany Spears showed up outside her house in a wife beater. Granted, not everyone thought it was a good idea, but that didn't stop 16 year old girls the world over from filling their dressers with wife beaters. A celebrity- the fashion elite of our time- made that style trendy and removed (or at least made us forget) the stereotype
I suspect that this is exactly the scenario that caused the low-class open hood to become a high-class fashion. (I am basing all this on a survey of images I've collected showing the open hood through the 15th century. When laid out in chronological order it is easy to see that the open hood climbed the ladder of fashion.) If this young woman is part of the fashionable elite, then she would have had no problem with "stealing" this look, and as other portions of her attire demonstrate an understanding of where fashion was headed, she could be confident that this turbaned hood would come across as fashionable, not a faux pas.

My black open hood is cut somewhat different than hers, so I can't recreate it exactly, but in the photo above I'm wearing it in the turban style. All it takes is twisting the liripipe around the head. Hers may be so bulky on top (compared to mine) because her liripipe is longer and/or thicker. And to take this one step further down the practicality road- I'm not using any pins. The turbaning process secures the hood on its own, and without the chance of accidentally sitting on the liripipe, there's little that would move the hood once in place.

So there you have it- the Turban-Style Open Hood. Both fashionable and practical.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Garb Quest - More Houppelande Inspiration

Though the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden was painted about 10 years after the year I'm aiming for (it was painted between 1445 and 1450), I've found some inspiration within it. There is, of course, nothing wrong with shifting my goal to be a costume of the 1440's at this point, but I've yet to decide what finished look I'd prefer to have in my wardrobe. [On a side note, I'm doing some research into the 15th century to present to our local A&S group that has brought to light several changes I must make to my persona story. Since my persona is currently in flux because of this, my garb quest may in fact steer me to a different year range altogether.] So here's what I've found:

The altarpiece is an interesting piece of art in that it not only contains a large number of well-dressed figures, but those figures represent a fairly wide range. There are members of the royalty, nobility, wealthy classes, peasant classes, and of course Christian figures involved in the crucifixion scene at the center of the composition. We are lucky that (for the most part) Weyden stuck with contemporary costuming for this scene, as was the trend in the Northern Gothic period. Therefore, we are given a pretty nice view of fashion across the range of classes represented. Two women in particular stand out to me in my search for houppelande inspiration.

The young woman on the left above appears in the right hand panel of the altarpiece in the "extreme unction" (or "last rights") nave of the cathedral- perhaps a daughter or other relative of the dying man, reading her bible for comfort in her grief. Her houppelande is the type I often refer to as a "transitional" gown between the closed necked early houppelande and the later, open v-neck houppelande. In fact, the wider collar, typical of the v-neck, is clear evidence that the style was on its way in at the time this was painted. There is also no pleating on this gown- a mandatory feature on houppelande's before this point- though there is some gathering caused by the cinching of her wide belt. I've always liked this figure, for many reasons beyond her gown, primarily because she looks very comfortable. She's not encumbered by her clothes, and she wears them with ease. Given that she's clearly a member of the fashion-forward, given the transitional nature of her gown, she still appears approachable. I'd always imagined that a chat with this woman might consist of topics on music, fine foods and harmless gossip about what so-and-so said the other night.

The woman on the right above is one of the holy women in the central scene. She's not wearing a transitional houppelande, but instead wears one typical of the fashion leading up to this time. There is not really a collar here- it's just the fur lining peeking out. The pleating on the torso is clear, stretching from the cinched waist up to the shoulder seam. I would have to say that in comparison to the other woman, this one represents a lower social class- a non-indentured peasant woman with enough means to keep up with fashion. There is one thing about this houppelande that I find very interesting- the fur lining.

From left to right above, a detail from the wealthier woman, the holy woman, and just for comparison's sake, the Magdalen from The Magdalen Reading (which I posted yesterday, and which is from the same time- 1445). The fur lining on the left has been pieced together- you can see the seams and the changes in nape. It is a light fur, and the color is consistent and even. The fur on the left is the same way. These furs are short hair, whether naturally or trimmed is hard to say. The central fur, however, shows that several pelts of the same animal (with the same coloring) were squarely cut and pieced together in a grid, turning the natural coloring on the animal into a pattern. Is this fur treatment indicative of a cheaper method? I'm not sure, but I can see the logic behind saying yes. In order to create a fur lining with even color throughout, the craftsman would have had to inspect each pelt and cut out any portion that didn't match. This left him with a series of odd shapes that then had to be pieced together like a puzzle. The grid method uses straight seams with no regard for imperfections in the color- if it occurred within the squared piece, it as included. And lets face it, sewing straight lines is always easier.

Another thing to note is that the under dresses worn with the left and right gowns are patterned. The Magdalen's is a clearer pattern, and on close observation you can see a tone-on-tone damask-style pattern on the wealthy woman's dress as well. The holy woman? Her under dress is solid colored. Yet another indication of the different social classes in play here.

So what does this mean to me? Well, my goal is to produce a gown for a middle class woman- not a leader of the fashionable trends- so I must put aside my love of the wealthier woman's gown style for something more akin to the holy woman's. There are many examples of this style houppelande- the Magdalen's being one of them- but it's the nature with which is was crafted that provides valuable insight into its proper recreation. A grid-style fur lining that doesn't cater to even coloration, a solid colored under dress, and a gown neckline that is typical of those seen in the previous years, not a trendy alternative, are characteristics to match.

There is, however, one question I still need to answer- wool or silk? I've developed a theory that silk might be appropriate for my persona as a wedding gown, in which case the craftsmanship described above may or may not apply. I pulled out the chapter on silk fabrics in the Museum of London's Textiles & Clothing, to try to get more information on the use of silk, and will hopefully start finding the answers I need in order to move forward.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Problem with Houppelandes

So, to start getting my mind around the whole mid-15th century houppelande idea, I decided to type "houppelande" into Google image search to see what was out there. Obviously I take anything I find through Google with a major dose of skepticism, but I've always found it helpful to get a visual reference on an idea and to see what others have done (correctly or not). I did locate a few beautiful gowns that, to my knowledge, are fairly accurate at least in concept.

Morwenna's green houppelande is a good take on the Rogier van der Weyden houppelande. Then there is this green damask houppelande that has a lovely shape. Also, sevenstarwheel's houppelande and Catrjin's simplified houppelande are both wonderful examples.

I think I'm in good company here, but I also think that the houppelande (of the mid-century variety I'm aiming for) poses two major challenges that these examples, as well as countless others out there, show. First, houppelande recreations tend to be very bulky. I'm not just talking about heavy materials. I'm talking about an amount of fabric (when the fabrics are period ones) that does not seem to show ease of wearing. I get the impression that, besides being weighty gowns, the houppelande makes it difficult to move around, or even comfortably put your arms down to your sides without the feeling that they're still 5 inches away from your body. This is doubly true of fur lined examples.

Yet period images of houppelandes lack that feeling of bulk. Sure, Mrs. Arnolfi is wearing yards and yards of fur lined fabric in that gorgeous green houppelande of hers, but there's still a light-weight feeling about it. It doesn't look thick. Or how about the Magdelan's beautiful houppelande that looks casual and comfortable, as if the dress was just a summer sweater thrown on for the sake of wearing a sweater? I certainly will give the artists props for adding their own stylizing to these garments, but I've seen this time after time with different artists.

The second issue with recreation houppelandes, especially the earlier variety, is that it makes the chest look larger. I don't need any help in that department, thankyouverymuch. But the feminine ideal of the time was a small chest- high, small round breasts. So why would a dress that created the exact opposite effect as what the ideal called for have been so popular? Unless, in period, it didn't have that effect. Look at the artwork again- the two ladies above have small chests. Could they have been painted with the ideal body shape, even if the model looked different? That's certainly a possibility, but perhaps there's also something to be said for the cut of the dress. Which is more likely- no woman in the 15th century had breasts larger than an A cup, or garments were constructed in a different manner than what we've been using for our recreations? I'm inclined to lean towards the latter.

So what does this mean? Primarily, it entails going back to formula and building the silhouette from scratch. The fit of the houppelande and the supportive dress underneath can not be successful recreations if they don't provide the same qualities we see in the period examples (artistic license aside). The dress needs to be constructed so that it is light in appearance and minimizes the size of my chest. Could this, perhaps, open the door to the case for using silk? I look forward to finding the answer.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Garb Quest

Every year, my mom (the head of my household), gives each of her dependents an A&S quest (challenge) that helps us get closer to our personal goals in the Society- at least as far as A&S is concerned. My quest needed some revision, as the original quest wasn't panning out the way it was intended, so mom and I discussed some options, and the bottom line is this: I need more experience with garment construction.

So my new quest is this: create and enter into the 2012 regional A&S Faire a complete outfit. (The judging criteria for this can be found here.) I've been giving this a bit of thought, and I think I've decided to do a complete outfit from Flanders circa 1430. Middle class, of course. I need to do much more research into many of these items, but here's a basic list of what I know at this point is involved:
  • houppelande
  • supportive dress
  • smock
  • hose & garters
  • headdress
  • shoes
  • belt
I'm drawing on this concept from August:

I had originally thought that I wanted to do silk in either blue (A) or raisin (b), lined in white linen, with a gold fitted dress (C), but I didn't (and still don't) know if silk would be accurate. So I'm going to need to delve deeper into this concept and see what this outfit entails so I can get to work on it.

This means that I definitely need to clear my project pile pretty quickly to be able to complete all this stuff. Time to get the whip out again....

Monday, December 6, 2010


Every so often an event comes along that feels like a complete bust. I just had one of those.

I knew it was probably not going to be the ideal day when I experienced a major garb crisis Friday night. I'm in the middle of redoing my teal wool dress. I had planned on sewing it back together Thursday night, but as soon as I put the first part on the sewing machine and started to sew, the needle broke. I had no idea where my replacement needle was. The only other dress I have that fits is my black linen dress, but it's got some issues. I only have 2 long sleeve dresses and neither of them are correct for my period. I ended up wearing one of them, a brown wool 12th century dress (which I'm not at all sure on the accuracy of). It was comfortable and warm enough but here's the issue- I was going to teach a class on the fitted dress. And there I was, not wearing a fitted dress.

It took 3 hours to get to the event, and the weather was kind of bad, but it was an indoor event. In doors meaning EXTREMELY crowded. We were literally wedged in. With three kids. And it was very hard to hear since the building didn't have any noise buffering properties and the heavy weapons pretty much took all the sound space!

So, we were barely settled in when I had to find out where the classes were being taught, since my class was at 11. By the time I found it, it was already 11:10. And no one showed up for my class. Bust.

Oh well. After that, I was pretty much done. Lunch was good, and I got to work on some embroidery, but I was ready to go home. Luckily, no one else I was with seemed to be having the same day, so I wasn't in a bad mood about. We did head out early, though.

It's kind of a bummer, especially since coming up with site fee isn't the easiest thing for us right now, but you figure that there's probably some kind of mathematical equation that tells you how many event busts you're going to experience in a given year. My number was apparently up.

I was able to wear my new veil. It's not technically a frilled veil, and it's not officially done, but it was nice to wear it. The linen and the layers in the front are perfectly weighted. I only had it pinned in at the top of my head- just one pin- and it stayed on. I'm planning on doing a honeycomb style stitch (or "fretwork"). That's Kara on my lap. The garb mom made for them right after they were born is still working out. We've got to do something a bit different on the back- the ribbons on there now aren't staying tied. And here's Lee on mom's lap:

So, I'm thinking I'm going to finish up my teal wool dress and complete the veil, then move on to Dearg's garb for a bit.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Natural Dyes

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, our local A&S group did some experimenting with natural dyes. On Friday, we applied the mordant to our materials, then on Saturday, we did the actual dying. The largest batch we did was of black walnut, then there were smaller batches of 2 types of madder, mums and osage orange. Here's a chronicle:

1. Mordants and a scale. All mordants and materials needed to first be measured out to ensure that the ratios were correct to achieve good results. We decided to mordant the entire batch in alum with cream of tarter. 2. Several of the dyes had already been created, including both mum heads and mum stems (two dye batches) and sassafras. 3. A large number of whole walnuts soaked in water over several days. 4. To generate a useful dye bath, the bucket was poured through a strainer to remove the walnuts. The walnut dye had a unique and unpleasant odor.

1. The walnut dye was further refined by pouring it through some nylon hosiery. It was clear in this stage that the dye bath would offer a good amount of color. 2. Mom and I used 100% wool yarn. All 6 skeins were placed in the mordant bath, placed over heat and stirred occasionally. 3. After the wool simmered for about an hour, we removed it from the water and rung it out. 4. The walnut dye bath had meanwhile been heating up, so that the wool and dye were close to the same temperature. We placed 3 of the skeins in the walnut.

1. After another hour or so of simmering in the walnut (occasionally stirring), we removed it and 2. placed it in a bowl to cool off some. 3. Once it had cooled slightly, we put water in the bowl to rinse the wool and keep it wet for the next stage. 4. Interestingly, a gray wool roving that had been mordanted the same and also placed in the walnut bath came out significantly lighter.

1. The following morning, Dearg went out and harvested about 2.5 cups of osage orange (or hedge apple) bark. Mom and I had previously found the tree and mistakenly gathered the fruits. After doing some research online, we realized we needed the bark to make a dye. The bark was in small pieces that were placed in a pot of water. 2. I slowly brought the pot to a boil then let it simmer for roughly 2 hours. 3. After straining out the bark, I jarred the dye to take to the workshop. 4. Once there, 1 skein of the previously mordanted wool went in and it was heated in the same fashion as the walnut. A linen bag was also getting its mordant.

1. We'd decided early on that we wanted to try and achieve the darkest possible shade with the walnut, so iron was added to the bath and our first batch of wool (now brown) was placed back in. 2. The same process of slowly heating and simmering for an hour or so was employed for the walnut/iron bath. 3. The wool was rinsed in cool water until in ran clear. 4. The walnut/iron dye was successful in creating a very dark brown- barely visible in the bowl. The un-dyed wool in the bag shows the original color.

1. The osage orange bath simmered for 2 hours (maybe a bit more), then the wool was removed and rinsed. 2. The result was a very pretty pale orange (not peachy). A darker shade may be achievable with more bark than what we used soaked in water overnight before heating. 3. We also dyed a skein in the mum head dye bath, using the same method for about the same amount of time as the osage orange. 4. This color was a surprise as we thought it would generate a tan-yellow based on information we'd found online. Instead, it turned out to be a vibrant green-yellow (which the photos don't do justice).

1. The final skein was placed in a dye bath of old-world madder. Immediately after putting it in, the skein turned pink. 2. The linen bag that had mordanted earlier was placed in a bath of new-world madder. The difference was clear- the old-world was brighter while the new-world had a more earthy rust quality. 3. We kept the wool in for only an hour (or maybe it was a half an hour?). Straight out of the bath is was a pinkish red. 4. Interestingly, once the wool was rinsed, the color was a deep orange-red instead.

Once all the skeins were rinsed, I took them home and hung them up to air dry. There's still a small amount of color coming out of the walnut, but only with excessive handling (like untangling it from the knotted mess it had become). The madder skein had been tied together a bit too tightly so there were small sections that received no dye. Overall, however, all 4 colors were a success as far as they were pretty much a test. We learned a great deal about the process, and a few lessons on what to do next time.

Thank you to everyone that participated, especially to Shadow Harper for lending us your knowledge and guiding us in these experiments!

This batch of wool, by the way, is now slotted to become the fancy embroidery for Dearg's Irish jacket which will be a dark green linen. Also, I now have the knowledge to dye the silk yarn I've been holding on to for my wide 15th century belt. There's a slightly different process for silk which I still need to research, but I am now confident that a walnut/iron dye will get me the dark color I want. There is still plenty of the dye left for use, but I may wait until next autumn to gather walnuts from my brother-in-law's yard and make my own simply because the belt provides the opportunity to apply a variety of skills on one object, and it would be neat to be able to say I did the whole thing from scratch (except for spinning the silk, but I had to draw the line somewhere....)