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 Fran├žais 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!