Sunday, December 30, 2012

Without Further Ado...

These past 9 weeks, I've created a slew of things, learned some new skills, started a bunch of research projects, and in general reset myself for the new year. I also spent time with my kids, figured out what makes them tick (at least for the time being), and worked with my husband to find a dynamic in our house that works for all of us so I don't have to feel bad about slipping off and working on all the things that interest me. I've gotten a handle on my health and mental state, and I'm feeling much better. In other words, I'm back on my feet, and I've dusted myself off. I'd like to thank you for hanging in there as I did all that. I truly appreciate that you care enough about this blog and the things I share here to not ditch me!

Medieval Snowball Fight ("January" fresco, detail) ca.1400,
Maestro Venceslao, Torre Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trent, Italy
So what's up? How are you? What's on your plate, and where are you headed in 2013?

Personally, I'm not making plans. I'm not creating any more ridiculous spreadsheets with endless columns of projects and deadlines. I'm not organizing my fabric stash by color and content. I'm not littering my books with post-it notes...OK, maybe I'm still doing that, but I'm not creating a full year's worth of work for myself before the year's begun.

I'm going to get up each day and let my attention be distracted. Maybe I'll learn some new things along the way. Spot an interesting thing in a manuscript and spend a week researching it and others like it, without actually making one? Sure! I don't need to make one to prove I know they existed. Decide to weave some linen towels, despite the fact that I have no clue how to weave anything? Heck, yeah! New skill and new towels. Investigate medieval cleaning agents and stain-removing recipes so I could use them for my garb if I wanted to? Already started on that. 'Cuz why not? Might find a medieval recipe that works on the random baby-related stains I always find on my clothes. It's exciting really, not having any idea what next year will bring.

December from the Book of Hours of Adélaïde de Savoie
(Musée Condé 78, fol. 12v), c. 1460-1465
I do have a few items on the must-do list, namely my [over-hyped, oft-procrastinated] garb quest outfit, and new garb items for the family, and "must-do's" will happen throughout the year, I'm sure. I'm a Capricorn- there's only so much "unstructure" I can take. But these things aren't going to take over my calendar.

I worked on plenty of things in November and December, and I'll share them with you in upcoming posts. It's the curse of creativity- even when you want to take a break, you can still justify making things. That's a curse, however, that's not worth trying to break. Life would be too dull with nothing to create.

So Happy New Year to you and yours, and may your 2013 be full of distracting creativity too!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Taking a Break

I've decided to take a short break from blogging. I have realized recently that I need to make some changes in my life, and in order to do that, I need to give my mundane, real life some of my time.

Since Archer was born, I've been dealing with a health issue that has only recently been identified, and treatment of which has only just started. My condition caused not only general feelings of illness on most days, it threw me into depression, promoted considerable weight gain, and even caused excessive amounts of my hair to fall out every day. At first I chalked it up to having 4 kids, but eventually I realized that my track record of generally being in good health was actually being threatened. I am, thankfully, now on the upswing, recovering gradually as my treatment begins to take effect. Before this point, however, my life had started to veer a bit off track.

So I'm taking some time to evaluate my health, my goals and my relationship with my children, which unfortunately pushes my medieval life onto the back burner. It is, after all, only a [fulfilling, awesome, distracting] hobby.

When I return, I will most likely have a completely rearranged project list, but as we go into the next year, you can be assured that The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist has not dropped off my radar, and I look forward to sharing my next projects with you!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Project Complete: Grandes Chroniques Gown

Early 15th Century Gown inspired by a dress style found in the Grandes Chroniques de France.

What it is:
Read my "Part I" post for more background on this gown.  From what I can tell, the streamer-sleeve style is a transitional style that occurred at the dawn of the 15th century among upper class women (nobles, in general) in which the tippets worn in the 14th century were integrated with the gown's sleeves (rather than a separate piece), but were still a contrasting color, namely white. I don't believe that this style survived long enough to pass down to the lower ranks, since by the time we see bourgeoisie women wearing gowns with steamers of any type (in the early 1410's), they are already integrated flaps and are much shorter.  I decided to make this gown, which is not suitable to my bourgeois persona, for two reasons. First, because I like it (and what better reason is there than that.) Second, because I had the materials to do it, and had already known that the gown I made with the gold wool would be an occasional piece for those special times when I wanted another layer without worrying about strict adherence to my persona.

How I made it:
I used my fitted dress pattern (which was created for my charcoal gray dress), but cut the front panels as a single piece to achieve a flat front with no center seam. My layout can be seen in the "Part I" post. The wool is a very springy twill weave, which is probably the most elastic natural fabric I've ever used, so I let it hang for a few days after assembling to allow it to ease into its stretch. I didn't end of having to adjust the hemline on the bias-to-bias side seams, but the neckline did stretch considerably. Ultimately, I used a cotton twill tape on the inside of the neckline to prevent too much more stretch. I usually hang my gowns to store them, but this one might need to be folded instead.

There are three gores in the skirt: 2 half-gores in the center back and 1 full gore in the front. The front gore is inserted into a slit in the panel.  I think I'll be avoiding that in the future. The first insertion was too low and really wonky. The second was also still a bit too low, and I would have let it go except that the hand sewing I did at the top of the gore had just enough of a bow in the line that it pulled the point into something like an ogee-style arch. The third, and final, was accomplished with the machine (more successfully than my hand-sewn attempt!), and is passable. There are still some issues with it, but I'm not going to allow myself to get frustrated over it! In the end, I found this tutorial from Morrghan O'Siodhachain the most helpful.

There is no lacing on the dress. It's a pull-over gown (though tight), and the natural stretch of the wool, which is a lot like the stretch you get in a knit, makes it easy to slip on . The little bit of extra wiggle room, though, did manifest as a larger amount of wrinkles in the back than I would have liked. It should be smoother back there, more like the front. That could also, however, just be because I have a pretty good amount of junk in the trunk that likes to push things out of the way. Before I wear it to the event this weekend, I'll see if there's any adjustments in the back seam I can make.

The streamers are also a twill wool, but the weave is tighter, so there is not nearly as much stretch. It is the same softness as the gold, but slightly lighter in weight. Both wools are felted enough that fraying isn't much of an issue, so the seams aren't finished, and the edges of the streamers are raw. I would like to do an embroidered edging on the streamers, though, to keep them nice and clean for the long term. I would use an off-white yarn that matched, so that it isn't a noticeable addition.

After attaching my muslin sleeves, I marked two things- the length (pretty much just determined by eying what looked right) and the placement of the seam so that the streamer would fall to the outside of the arm, rather than the back. This subtle shift looks like a 15th century thing- even integrated flap sleeves hang toward the outside of the arm, even if slightly toward the back. To achieve this, I moved the seam about 2" forward from the bottom (armpit) and got a sleeve that looked like this:

The bottom line is exaggerated here, it should be much more subtle.
The original seam was on the back of the arm.

The streamer attached to the base of the sleeve and formed an actual tube for about 2" before splitting and forming the streamer. The length of the streamer (the whole white part) is about 36". It does not gradually narrow (the period sources suggest that it had a uniform length through most of the length), but it is also not the harsh "T" shape of a typical tippet.

I machine sewed most of the gown using yellow silk thread. The finishing on the top of the streamers was done by hand as well all the stitching around the neckline.

What I think of it:
I am happy with the gown, and I think it's really comfortable, but I'm not convinced that the flat front gown style is the best for my body type. I continue to be displeased with the shape my bust takes, even when it's well supported all around, and a flat front seems to highlight this a bit more. Unfortunately I'm not sure that I can get away from flat fronts in my chosen time and place of early 15th century Flanders. This is something I will just have to continue to tackle. There's a solution out there.

Please excuse my uncovered head.
I just really liked how the breeze grabbed the streamers!
I also like the fullness of the skirt, though it's still not as full as I'd hoped. I like the very slight train I left in the back- it suits the pedigree of the gown. Next time, I think I will try to combine both an angled skirt panel and a gore to see how full I can get the skirt. Either that, or I will revisit a waisted kirtle and play with math like Sylvie does so well.

This dress is great for October weather, and will definitely get worn in the fall and spring, but I don't know how much actual play it will get in the long run. Since it's fancier in style than what I usually aim for, it's already marked as a special occasion gown. It does, however, give me a really good excuse to wear my Tres Riches hat. And that's good enough for me.

Click here for more photos in the Flickr set!

I've got some smaller projects stacking up that I must attend to now, but my dress making extravaganza is certainly not over. There's still a lot of fabric in my stash!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Grandes Chroniques Gown : Part I

Except for a few minor changes and finishing items, my two new supportive kirtles, or cotes, are ready to fulfill their purpose- to be covered up!

For my first gown I had planned to make a late 14th century surcoat, but after some thought, I decided that I was really more interested in doing something from the early 15th century. Thinking back on all the gowns I'd looked at over the years, I remembered one I'd seen that I liked. It is from the Grandes Chroniques de France (Please note: I have been unable to locate the exact source for this and a handful of other illuminations originating from the same manuscript. It is visually identical to most of the miniatures found in BL Royal 20 C VII, but is instead credited to BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 73, which does not appear to be online in any fully-intact format. I believe that the pair of manuscripts were completed through the turn of the 15th century, as the BL MS is dated after 1380, and I have been able to locate a date of c. 1402 for the BNF MS.)

Grandes Chroniques de France, c. 1402
The woman holding the newborn wears a dark blue kirtle with cuff sleeves under a slightly lighter blue gown with white streamer sleeves. These streamer sleeves appear to be a transitional step between tippets and the integrated flap sleeves seen more prominently a short time later. has a handful of examples of this streamer sleeve style, including my inspiration image, but I'd like to particularly highlight this one from L’Estoire de Griseldis myz par personnages (BNF Fr. 2203) (1395) in which Griselda removes her clothing.

L’Estoire de Griseldis myz par personnages (BNF Fr. 2203) fol. 48v
She holds in her hands a gown with streamer sleeves drawn such that it provides a clue as to how the sleeves are constructed. The sleeves of the gown itself are very short. Their length is then supplemented by the top portion of the streamer, which is sewn into place, rather than being a separate piece, like a tippet. The streamer, then, isn't a narrow piece immediately at the top, but more gradually narrows instead. It is also positioned on the side of the arm, rather than the back.

All indications in the style of the illuminations indicate that the streamer sleeves are not fur. It makes sense that they would be wool in that case. In Larsdatter's collection, when the illumination is colored, the streamer sleeves are white.

My version, which I'm formally calling my Grandes Chroniques Gown, utilizes my gold wool for the body of the gown and some off-white wool for the streamers.

Gold wool hanging up to dry after washing.
For this gown, I'm using the same fitted pattern I've been using, but I want the dress to be pull-over with no center front seam. I taped the two front pattern pieces together to accomplish this. I also would like to attempt a different type of skirt to see if cutting the panels with angled skirts supplemented with gores only in the front and back (like this method) will provide the look of a fuller skirt. (With the added bonus of less sewing.)

I only had four yards of the wool, but I have the advantage of 60" of width and needing very little for the sleeves. My pattern layout looked like this:

Pattern laid out- skirt is outlined with chalk marks.
It's probably a bit difficult to tell from the picture, but the back gores are halved, and placed on either side of the front, while the front center gore is whole and placed between the back pieces. The side gores are actually integrated with the panels instead.

Now, because this is an overdress and there is no need for it to do any support work, the fit can be eased along the curves somewhat. This makes it easier to pull on and off, but it also allows the gown to be a bit smoother through the torso. Remember that the point of the kirtle in the 15th century was to do all the work of getting the body into the correct shape (or close to it, in my plus-sized case), it's NOT about tight clothing. The outer layer should tailored and fitted, but not be doing any of the "work". This is also the only reason I can get away with no lining (that, and because the wool is thick enough on its own and doesn't aesthetically need a lining.)

After stitching the three main panels together, I put the "dress" on over my pink cote to do some fitting, (since my pattern has proven thus far to only be a base.) I was delighted to discover that my pattern doesn't actually require alterations when used as an overdress. The neckline and armholes do, though, but that's an extremely easy adjustment.

I've sewed it together, sans sleeves, and I have it hanging to let the bias-to-bias seams stretch a bit before hemming. I also have to do some handwork on the front center gore to get it set correctly. Now seeing it in the photo below, I think it may also be placed too low.

Hanging up on in my garish craft room.
I hope to have the sleeves completed by the end of the weekend and just have the finishing left to work on next week.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Project Complete: 1410's Pink Wool Supportive Cote

I am so excited to share with you today my completed pink wool supportive cote!

Project: Pink Wool Supportive Cote

What it is:
At the very beginning of the15th century, the use of a fitted garment had shifted from a luxury item for nobility to a regular item for all of the wealthy classes (including the middle class). These French and English style dresses were essential for achieving an ideal physical shape under both full houppelandes and other fitted over gowns.  With no waist seam, a front lacing and gores in the skirt, this is suitable as an early 15th century item.  I place it roughly in the 1410's.  It is meant to be an under dress almost exclusively, but that will come in time, as my surcote selection is quite thin at the moment.  The outer layer is worsted wool in a rose-pink, and it is fully lined with a pale natural-colored linen.  There were a few moments during this weekend's event when a cool breeze came through and I wished I'd had another layer over it. I counted that as a good thing, though, since it means that it's ideally weighted for an under dress.

How I made it:
I used the pattern I'd created at the start of my charcoal gray wool dress and cut the full-length panels of the lining and gores. Same as before, I assembled the lining, wore it around for a bit, then refit it to get the final pattern to cut out the wool.

The differences between this pink cote and the charcoal gray kirtle are minor alterations, but they made a big difference.

First, it's probably about 2" more fitted in the torso than intended. I had made an error by forgetting to leave seam allowance below the lacing area, and didn't realize it in time to correct it. My only option was to lose an inch on both sides of the front seam along the lacing strip. I get better support because of the tighter fit, and in comparison to the way my breasts look in the gray dress, I get more lift than squoosh.

Second, instead of placing the gores at a specific length, which resulted in them being placed a bit too low on the dark colored kirtle, I positioned each specifically to accommodate the widest points of my natural curves. This brought the side gores up to my waist rather than hips, resulting in a more comfortable fit and better drape in the skirt.

Finally, with my recent sleeve experiments under my belt, I created an extremely fitted sleeve with more comfortable accommodations for mobility in my shoulders. A future addition will be five buttons at the wrists on each side, but for now I'm just slipping my hands through the (very) narrow opening. I'm not sure which button method is best for me- that's something I haven't mastered yet.

The "hidden" seams were sewn with a machine using white silk thread.  I had hoped to use a white linen thread for the hand sewn finishing, but the white showed up too clearly against the pink. After testing some of the other threads I had, I decided to locate a matching thread instead. The closest match was Gutermann cotton quilting thread. The seam finishing was completed by hand.

I added a wide band of wool to the inside of the hem to conceal areas where the lining ended a bit too short. The band was sewn on by machine, folded in and secured at the bottom by machine, then finished at the top by hand. The stitches at the top only go through the lining and do not show on the outside. The eyelets are finished with three strands of matching pink cotton embroidery floss. The lacing is a 4-strand fingerloop braid made with the same floss with beeswaxed ends.  You can learn more about that here.

What I think about it:
I am massively thrilled with how this cote turned out, and I feel confident that I'd properly tackled the issues I found at the conclusion of the charcoal gray kirtle.  It was a pleasure to wear this weekend and I felt very comfortable both because of the weight of the gown as well as its construction.

One issue I see in the photos that I was not aware of while wearing it is a pulling of the center front seam upward in the skirt.  As this happens on the gray dress as well, I believe this is caused by the upward pulling of the lacing. I would like to investigate if pulling the lace tight in a different manner (outward instead of upward) would decrease this.

As stated above, I would also like to finish the sleeves with buttons. I think the extreme fit of the sleeves require that detail and would only add to the beauty of the cote.

I am also excited about moving on to a few much needed surcotes now with two supportive dresses ready to do their job!

To view more of this dress, check out the Flickr set!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Let's Talk About Sleeves

It's no secret that I hate set-in sleeves. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I *despise* them. They are irritatingly difficult to get right, especially for a frame like mine. My very narrow shoulders, large chest and fleshy upper arms have been a trifecta of evil in the world of sleeve fitting.

I've come to discover recently, however, that my issues with set-in sleeves are probably because I was under the impression, somehow, that creating a set-in sleeve was 2 parts magic and 1 part loosy-goosy laws of nature. There was no way to be precise about it. But after enough frustration, you get to a point when you start to wonder if maybe you've been settling on horrible sleeve construction because you don't know any better.

So I've been taking some time to educate myself.

It started when I used some muslin to create an early 14th century supertunic toile to begin experimenting with a few things. My initial test was pretty basic- I simply wanted to know what a straight-seam, non-fitted gown might look like on me to determine how "early" I would care to take my garb. In the process, it also afforded me an opportunity to try out a different sleeve. Before doing the sleeves on the toile, I leafed through The Medieval Tailor's Assistant and Thursfield's "transitional" sleeve (page 83, figure 9a) caught my eye. Given my hatred of the set-in sleeve, I kind of wondered why I hadn't really noticed it before.

Essentially, the transitional sleeve (as Thursfield presents it) utilizes a curved sleeve head, similar to a set-in sleeve, where the curve is shallow and basically just a formality. (You need a bit of curve in order to match it to a round armscye effectively.) The sleeve is as wide as your bicep, and the shallow S-curve simply caps it. The likelihood that this curved line matches the length of the armscye, however, is pretty low. The length (or rather width of the sleeve head), therefore, is made up with either the addition of a triangular gusset on one side of the sleeve head (a), or a bit of flaring at the top of the sleeve on one side (b). These combinations do not exactly mimic the behavior of the more streamlined set-in sleeve, and they don't give you the same control over the fit, since you're un-scientifically adding width without regard for how that width fits on the arm, but you can still achieve a good fit on the lower bicep, elbow and forearm.

Thursfield doesn't provide a year range for the transitional sleeve (just a "from 1300" notation), but there is evidence of the use of the sleeve gusset on several of the Herjolfsnes gowns, such as Herjolfsnes 38. Since the Greenland finds are typically understood as belonging to a separate and perhaps belated fashion group from those of the mainland, their dating to the mid-14th century probably indicates that transitional gusset sleeves may have still been in use up to circa 1350 or so on the mainland. This also indicates that using a gusset for a psuedo-set-in sleeve would have been considered quite out-dated by the 15th century (especially given the vast amount of fashion upheaval in the late 1300's.)

My personal conclusion is that the transitional sleeve is a nice option for 14th century-specific dresses, but not those to be considered "high fashion". It is a good alternative when the precise look and fit of a set-in sleeve is not critical to the style of the dress.

An alternative method to this that actually does create a set-in sleeve can also be found in The Medieval Tailor's Assistant. Thursfield actually figured out a mathematical method of creating a set-in sleeve, leaving very little to the magical tweaking I had previously relied on. So I decided that since I needed to redo the sleeves on my charcoal gray dress anyway, I would give this method a test.

After removing the old sleeve, I measured the armscye of the gray dress. I used inches and did cm conversions throughout to keep up with Thursfield's metric instructions, but in retrospect, I probably would have been better off using cm all along.

After following Thursfield's instructions (which you can find on pages 34-38, and for the sake of her copyright I'm not really at liberty to lay out for you here), I had a completely new sleeve pattern. Just for the sake of comparison, I laid my old sleeve on the new pattern just to see the difference, and I was astounded by the huge discrepancy between the two.

After stitching the new sleeve toile into place, I put the dress on to see how it fit, and the Thursfield method worked (nearly) perfectly! For comparison, I left the other sleeve on the dress, so I had my husband snap a picture. It may be difficult to tell how poorly the gray sleeve fits in comparison, but if you look at the way the neckline pulls into that side (vs. the toile side), you see that something is clearly wrong. That side of the torso is under a lot of stress, since the sleeve is pulling the fabric unnecessarily into the sleeve seam.

Doesn't this photo kind of remind you of the old Batman villain scenes?
You can also see that there's some extra fabric in the front shoulder area of the toile side of the dress, but fixing that should just entail pulling the excess fabric into the sleeve. For this dress, however, I'm not worried about that. I did have to remove a bit of excess from my sleeve head to fit the armscye properly, but that was an easy adjustment to make (you can see the original adjustment lines in blue along the top of the seam lines below- I basically removed the projected extra I'd put in as a bulge for the bicep.)

The next thing to do was to adjust the seam so that it shifted to the side of the arm for better button placement. To determine that, I marked where my arm side is, and marked the depression on my extended elbow. After removing the sleeve and flattening it back out, I drew a connecting line between the top seam starting point, the elbow mark, and the wrist side line (inner blue markings above).

Then I cut along that line and placed the piece I removed on the other side. The top of the two pieces don't line up without puckering, so it was a bit of work to get the seam lines aligned properly and for the sleeve to still be mostly flat. Then I transferred it to a new toile.

Something went a bit screwy after this step, and I had to adjust the sleeve to be tighter along it's entire length. I also, again, had to remove some from the sleeve head to allow it to fit the armscye. Not a problem to fix, though- I just took it in until it fit again.

The end result is a set-in sleeve that fits (though I still need to make a few very minor adjustments to the precise tightness.)  It did take a bit of time and a couple of large sheets of paper and muslin, but the effort was definitely worth the eye-opener.

So what have I learned here? For starters, I've learned that dismissing Thursfield's mathematical method for as long as I did was probably a stupid move. Though I have serious doubts that a medieval dressmaker would have been as scientifically anal, there's certainly a method here that could have easily be intuitively developed by an individual seamstress over time. I've learned that there's no reason to be stuck with a poorly-fitted set-in sleeve. And I've learned that, while there are some loosy-goosy rules involved, sleeve fitting requires absolutely no magic abilities.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Making a Decision

After I completed my charcoal gray fitted dress, it was time to begin work on the pieces of my Garb Quest, but something was holding me back.  It took me several weeks, but eventually I realized that my delay in beginning the first dress of the quest, my pink wool cote, was primarily caused by a doubt that the from-scratch fitting technique I'd just used on the charcoal gray dress was appropriate for my middle class, early 15th-century persona. I questioned if the time and labor intensive process of creating a kirtle from 4 panels directly fitted on the body was truly a method available to my class.

Through this doubt, I then began to question the Garb Quest itself. I've stated it before- I do not consider myself a seamstress. I sew my own garb out of necessity, not because I'm particularly good at sewing. My primary interest is the research portion of creating my garb and developing my persona. Originally, my garb quest was designed to facilitate better craftsmanship and to help me to be a better seamstress. At the time, this seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal, and if you've read along with me for a while, you probably remember that I went through an incredibly frustrating period when I realized that my sewing skills and craftsmanship didn't match the visual I imagined through my research.  It seemed perfectly reasonable to force the issue with a quest that focused on the skills I lacked.

There is nothing wrong, however, with lacking skills that are not necessary for understanding and enjoying what I prefer to do.  I don't need to even own a sewing needle to do research and study 15th century women's clothing and headdress (though I will concede that it does indeed help.)

I think I just got myself into an inspirational death-spiral.  Many of the blogs I read on a regular basis by other costumers (not all medieval) create the most gorgeous items with absolute impeccability.  Pleating is perfectly even, buttonhole stitches are precise and clean, fabric buttons are tiny, cute and perfectly round balls.  And it's easy, among that sort of company, to look at my own work under the wrong light.  There's a quote that I think applies:

"Comparison is the thief of joy."
Theodore Roosevelt

My Garb Quest shouldn't really be about making myself a better seamstress.  Though I would love to be, and that remains a general life goal I maintain, I don't usually get a high on being able to sew.  I get a high on figuring something out, on drawing a connection, on making speculations and proving them right or wrong (and I do actually like being proven wrong when it comes to medieval costuming research!). I like experimenting, and goofing off with ideas, and imagining a reality that could have been!

So, and I promise this is the last time, my Garb Quest is changing once again.  I have separated the two elements of the original quest into a research paper and a complete outfit.

The paper will be submitted for A&S judging in January.  For the moment, the topic is a bit overwhelming, but it will somehow focus on the wardrobe of a bourgeois housewife of the early 15th century and will also look at the influence of bourgeois women on the display of fashion in contemporary artwork.

The outfit will no longer be entered into A&S for reasons beyond that listed above.  I have put a huge amount of time an effort into researching what's appropriate for the outfit, and if I complete it for judging, I'd put a large amount of time and effort into its construction.  First, I don't have that sort of time on my hands. Second, I'm not really interested in having my craftsmanship possibly overshadow the hard work I'd put into the outfit's research. The A&S Faire system is fine for some people on this type of scale, but I don't think I'm one of them. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

The outfit will still be completed, but I will use the sewing machine for the primary construction on the dresses, then finish them by hand. The smaller items that I have not yet started, will still be entirely hand sewn.

And I will complete it purely for the opportunity the wear it- no A&S strings attached. And I can't tell you how honestly relieved I am to make that decision!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I've been massively busy lately with a huge amount of various projects, including getting ready for my 3 oldest kids' birthdays starting this coming Sunday. Thus, I haven't had much of a free opportunity to post here. I am, however, working on creating my pink wool supportive dress, and I will have a great deal to share with you about it, as well as some of the lessons I learned doing an experiment before starting the dress.  I just wanted to check in right now, though, to let you know that I haven't dropped off the face of the earth- I just seem to have misplaced all the extra time I have. *snort*

I've been doing some thought-sharing over at my other blog, Growing Up Medieval, so if you really miss me, I encourage you to check that out!

Friday, July 20, 2012

New Brick Stitch - An Arm Guard

I've been looking into updating my archery kit to be a bit more authentic for the early 15th century.  Looking at the available images, there appears to be a pretty big lack of the use of arm guards in medieval archery.  In the modern world, however, they are a ubiquitous part of the tools of an archer - same as a helmet is to those fighting with heavy weapons.  I wanted to find a middle ground- an arm guard that wasn't so obviously an arm guard, but that still provided protection.

Ultimately I thought it would be fun to make an embroidered arm guard, not because it's period, but because it seems like something neat to make.  Plus it gives me an excuse to do more embroidery. 

I'm using linen floss from DMC and 32 count linen evenweave. And it hasn't been easy.  I don't want to give up, however, because I want to have that satisfying feeling that I embroidered something on such a tiny thread count! It is making for some pretty slow-going, though.

I'm using a modification of Pattern No. 7 from Medieval Arts and Crafts.  I swapped the "SZ" squares for the other square pattern, just reversing the colors.  The linen flosses are light, so the whole embroidered field should actually end up a bit subtle, which is fine.  I like the whole "But, no- you should see it up close!" effect that projects like this induce!

And, no, I haven't given up other, larger projects for embroidery altogether.  In fact, I'm putting together some experiments with converting rectangular construction garments into fitted garments, but I'm trying to think that whole process completely through first.  When I figure it out though, rest assured you'll be the first one's to hear about it!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Some Resources for You: Phase 1

I'm starting to add some long overdue pages and information that deal more with research and resources than simply sharing with you the projects I work on. The projects & research obviously go together, but I sometimes feel that I get so caught up in the "how" of my projects that I forget to evaluate (and share) the "why". I can blame some of this on that problem we all have- forgetting that the things we know aren't necessarily the things everyone else knows. But I can't blame that for everything I've failed to share!

One of my original goals for this blog was to help you know what I know. I can't, of course, transplant everything I've learned and understood into your brain, but I can share with you my tools and show you why and how I've come to the conclusions that dictate the items I make.  I'm rolling these additions out in a few phases, and Phase 1 is already complete.

The first item in Phase 1 is a new page, called "Resources". A link is provided at the top of the sidebar on the right. At the moment, you'll find there my current research bibliography. I've got notes on certain entries to give you a bit more information about it to help you determine if it's worth a read to add to your own research bibliography..

The second item (which will eventually make it to the Resources page) can be found on Pinterest in a pinboard called "Digital Manuscripts". Links on these pins take you to online libraries with either extensive digital catalogs or several great image collections of medieval manuscript pages and miniatures. These libraries are AWESOME. Give yourself a good chunk of uninterrupted time before getting into searching these libraries. And be aware that not all scans were completed in high-resolution color. These libraries are a great source when you're looking for more imagery than what's easily located through an Internet image search. If you've been looking for something specific for a while, you've probably come across the same handful of relevant images way too many times. In that case, it's time to take your research to the next level, and search for new (to you) images. These libraries are where you go. Note: Be careful when using these images beyond your personal research. The museum probably owns the copyright on the digital files (think of them as photographs owned by the photographer). Always ask for permission before using in a public setting.

In Part 2 of my research additions, coming within this next week, expect to see a Links page specific to the links I utilize all the time, and a page about a tool I use for understanding how medieval clothing depicted in imagery can exist in the real world.  I also have plans to update my tags.  I've realized that having all headdress grouped under the same heading makes it pretty difficult to locate a specific type of hat.  And that just won't do.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Quick Medieval Veil Video Tutorial

Here- I made you a corny video.  Hope you like it!

I started doing this veil style about 3 years ago and it's been my go-to ever since.  Elina at Neulakko does the folding bit in her tutorial also.  If I think back, hers was probably my inspiration, so if you haven't checked hers out, I suggest you do so!

In my veil classes, I talk about using "head underwear"- my favorite of which is the huvet (or Saint Birgitta's cap)- and I also discuss how to properly use a fillet to keep your veil in place.  It occurred to me after the last teaching of this class, however, that only the "formal" methods of wearing a veil required the use of any underwear.  When I placed this quick veil on my head that same evening for court (in which I was actually called up, so thank god I decided to put a veil on!), I realized that if you secure the veil on your head using the tight-around-the hairline/pin-at-the-back method (which I utilize in the video), you can achieve a large number of looks and never need the assistance of an extra piece underneath.

I often grab a veil and some pins and "play" in front of the mirror- using the "non-underwear" technique to see how many styles I can come up with.  I've come up with well over a dozen that I would actually wear, and many more that were interesting to say the least.  In fact, just this evening, I created one that I aptly called "The Pretzel".  Is it period? No.  Is it fun to wear? Yes.  Sometimes it's difficult to draw the line.  Keep and eye out- The Pretzel might show up at an event near you.

The point is that, while there are certainly "rules" to follow if you're trying for authentic veil styling, those aren't the be-all end-all of possibilities, and they certainly don't hold the monopoly on beautiful, girly styles that are in keeping with the spirit of the Middle Ages.  The quick veil style in the video straddles that line.  And occasionally, I like setting up shop on that line.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


I have had a completely unproductive week.  I got slapped with the bored stick.  Motivation has left me, and most days I've honestly been too bored to do anything.  It's in times like these that I wish I had a "reset" button.  I hate this feeling- I hate wasting inspiration.  In my boredom, I've been spending inordinate amounts of time on Pinterest, and I've located may beautiful things (primarily of a mundane nature), and though I find inspiration in these items, I've got the automatic inclination to file them away for later. 

When I was a teenager, I never imagined that I'd still experience boredom ruts as an adult.  And at least when I was a teenager, I didn't really have anything to do anyway, so the ruts weren't really all that detrimental to my life as a whole.  As an adult, however, I have a to do list 10 pages long.... an absolutely no desire to check any of them off.

I'm just waiting for that one moment that sparks the fire again.  That one piece of inspiration that reminds me that I really am a creative person with lots of things to do.  It'll come. Soon, I hope.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Project Complete: Bulgarian-Inspired Brick Stitch Pouch

The process of turning the brick-stitch embroidered panel into a pouch took a few steps, but the results are, I think, worth it.  The final pouch is a drawstring bag that's as large as my hand, so it will be good for a variety of small items, and even a modern cell phone if need be.  Here's how I created the pouch:

 With the front panel and the piece of wool for the back pinned together with their seam allowances tucked in (the right sides out), I used an overcast hand stitch (in black silk thread) to join them.  Going this route allowed me to ensure that the white even weave was as tucked in as possible, and that I was following the line of the embroidery.  If I had tried to do this on the inside, as is traditional, I would have had a hard time achieving a clean seam in terms of the edges of the embroidery falling in the right place.  For an outside perspective, this step seems gratuitous, given what I did later to finish the edges, but I needed the edges to be cleanly joined before I could proceed.

Before moving on to creating the edge finishing, I made two casings with the wool.  I didn't measure them, but they are about 1.75" tall, unfolded.  I hemmed the ends, then used a running stitch to create the tubes.  I used a dark red cotton thread that matched.  I then pinned them in place on each side of the pouch.  They are whip stitched in place with the same red thread on the outside of the pouch.

I created two long loops of a heavy cotton string (crochet cotton), tied the ends in a knot and tucked it into place in the gap between the casings.  I used the matching black silk thread and created the edge finish using this method.  It is a bit intense, since it's difficult to just put it down, but it adds such a great detail, and does a perfect job of hiding the earlier stitches and any white even weave that still showed.

With the exterior of the bag complete, I created the lining by back stitching the two sides of the folded linen together, then tucking it into the pouch (with seam allowances out and therefore within the pouch).  I folded in the top for a clean edge and pinned it down.

I used the red thread here again, and also again used a whip stitch to fix the lining to the casings, just above my running stitches on the casings.

I used the same heavy cotton string and created a 4-loop fingerlooped band.  I cut it is half, then inserted the two laces into the casings (there there is one loop on each side).  This finished the pouch.  I may redo this before I give it to my friend, though.  They are not as clean and I'd like, or as long as they probably should be.

Overall, I'm very happy with how this turned out.  The photos don't really do the color combination justice- it's hard to tell that I used a salmon pink as one of the four accent colors, since it comes out as a silvery orange in the photos. It took a fair amount of labor to complete this pouch, but I did not dislike the process, and I'm very proud to have this wonderful little bag to give to a friend!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Brick Stitch Panel Complete

It took me more days than I expected, but I completed the Bulgarian-inspired brick stitch embroidery today, and I'm ready to turn it into a pouch.

It's not particularly large, just about enough for a hand to comfortably fit, but given how long just this piece took me, I'm perfectly fine with the size :)

After trimming off the excess even weave, and cutting the wool back and the linen lining, I pinned the front and back together to begin the edge finishing.  I will use the looped strand technique, but instead of using two colors, I'll use just black.  There will be a tricky part at the top where the lace will go to make this a drawstring pouch, and I'm still thinking through how to best handle creating the channel for the lacing (so it looks right on the embroidered panel).  All bridges I will cross when I get to them.

For the time being, I'm enjoying not looking at it for an evening!  Finishing can start tomorrow.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Brick Stitch Progress & Garb Quest

The Bulgarian-inspired brick stitch is coming along nicely, and will hopefully be done and in pouch form sometime next week.  I have some scraps of red fulled wool that I will use as the back of the pouch, and some scrap linen to do a lining.  I think I'm going to do this as a drawstring purse, so I'll also have to make some laces.  I'd also like to attach tassels, but we'll see.

I'm putting my pink wool cote temporarily on the shelf so that I can do more research.  I realized, thinking about how I wanted to proceed with the patterning, that I need to know more about all possible methods, and not just default to the draping method I've already figured out.  I had planned to work on the dress throughout June, but since it's more important to me to achieve authenticity, I'm not willing to sacrifice research for some arbitrary deadline.

I've realized recently that personal authenticity has become very important to me, but I have A LOT to do before that becomes a visible aspect of my recreation.  I often feel limited by my skill.  I do not know how much of what I really do know and have researched comes through on this blog (probably not enough), but I know much more than I can actually accomplish.  And that's pretty frustrating.  My Garb Quest is only the first step toward a more visible authentic recreation, which is why it's not just a fly-by-night pet project.  As the pink cote is the keystone to the entire outfit, I need to feel confident that I've made not only the most authentic choices with it, but that I've applied my best craftsmanship and skill to it.  I am, admittedly, a bit intimidated by my own plans.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Did you notice?

Did you happen to notice that you can find The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist on Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest?  Use the buttons in the sidebar to connect with me elsewhere!

I'm also in a bit of an inspiration plateau as many of my regular blog reads have gone silent for a rather long period of time.  I'd love to know what medieval craft/costuming/history blogs you read, or sites that find inspiring to visit.  Let me know in the comments which ones you think I should check out.  And it's totally cool if you let me know about your own blog if you have one!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bulgarian-Inspired Brick Stitch

Since I'm somewhat between major projects at the moment, and the craft room needs a major cleaning in order to be useful again, I'm catching up on some smaller projects.

At the beginning of the year, I accepted the challenge of hand making something for the first few people who asked. I had 3 people take me up on the offer, and each asked for completely different things.

The item I'm working on at the moment is an embroidered pouch front. This particular project offered me a unique challenge.  It's going to a friend that does 11th century Bulgarian. That's pretty far from the well-documented world of 15th century Flanders! I struggled for a while to get ANY information on decoration or motifs from early period Bulgaria, and most of the leads I got directed me to Byzantine or Middle Eastern embroidery. These didn't seem right.

Eventually, completely on a whim, I started looking at Ukrainian embroidery. When I switched my searches to traditional Slavic embroidery, I started getting somewhere. Unfortunately, most "traditional" folk costume ideas were created in the 19th century. Yet the designs within the embroidery are very reminiscent of the types of designs found in medieval German brick stitch. And brick stitch I can do!

So I have compromised a bit, but I feel that the context justifies it. I'm creating a piece in a style I'm familiar with, but executing it using Bulgarian influence. The colors I've chosen are pretty much directly from Bulgarian folk dress (look at the last photo on the page), and the particular pattern I chose (with a slight modification of the pattern repeat) is evocative of many of the Slavic motifs I came across.  It's certainly not something I would have created for myself, so in that respect it's a nice change.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What the Waffenrock?

After the fiasco of having all four kids at Unicorn in unexpectedly miserable weather, I decided that each of the kids needed to have a warm weather AND a cool weather outfit that we could easily layer or un-layer as the weather dictated.  So these past two weeks, mom and I worked on getting some new garb for the kids for Border Raids this weekend, making use of the various scraps we had available.

Lee and Kara got new long sleeve linen smocks, since they'd grown out of the one's I'd had for them, and Lee's not big enough to fit in the next size up I have of Owen's old garb.  (That's a problem I didn't account for- Lee doesn't fit in Owen's garb hand-me-downs.)

Kara still fits in her Durer dress, though she's gained about an inch and a half of height,so we just needed to get a linen option for her.  I came across the funerary garb of Dona Maria, and decided that an old embroidered linen we still had scraps of would make a great sleeveless, Spanish-like surcoat for her.  Mom sewed this one, and with her new linen smock, Kara looks very girly and cute and comfortable.

I also made a pale green linen "riding"-style tunic (13th century) for Lee, but I didn't get any pictures of it.

The big thing for Lee, though, was his new wool garment- a waffenrock. I got the idea after observing a very simply cut waffenrock on a baron two weekends ago. It was so simple and understated. After realizing how much I liked the look, I decided a waffenrock would look pretty nice on Lee. Plus, it's fun to say "waffenrock".

I started with some (really bright) yellow cotton and created a sample that I'll use as his pattern. I made a few adjustments in the top after letting him try it on, mainly around the neckline. Then I attached the bottom "skirt" and let him play around in it for a bit. Other than it still needing sleeves, I needed to shorten and remove some of the fullness from the skirt. It was really cute, but I'm not going for cute- I'm going for waffenrock!

After the second trial, with sleeves, I realized that I went too short on the skirt. I needed to go about halfway back to the original length. I didn't redo the skirt panels to be less full, so part of the issue could have been that as well. I machine sewed the sleeves on, which pulled the top in a weird way. Beyond that, though, I needed to add some curving to the armhole. I just hate set-in sleeves, you know.

So I made the modifications, and committed them to the wool. I used some of the left-over wool from my fitted dress. I machine sewed it together, then finished the seams by hand (all but the sleeve seams, just because I needed to move on to another project).  He gets really excited to wear it, and doesn't want to take it off.  He understands how it fastens at the top, and I think that makes him feel cool.  Of course, the mohawk helps with that too.

He looks kind of melancholy in these photos, but that was more from a rough, cold night of camping.

I wasn't able to get to Owen's new garb in time for this weekend, but he's got a pale blue linen tunic in the works and probably a new wool doublet, since he's almost grown out of the one he's got now.

But the bigger project on the table now is to begin my pink wool cote- the foundational layer of my Garb Quest.  Though I now have a suitable draped-method pattern for fitted gowns, I'd like to explore using a measuring method, as it seems feasible as an authentic patterning option.  June is a quiet month for us as there are no local events, so I hope to at least get a good start on this completely hand-sewn project.  Plus, now that my gray dress has hit the ground running, and proven to be successful (and relatively comfortable in 85 degree weather!), I need to maintain that high!