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!


  1. This looks fantastic and looks great on you. Good job!


  2. That looks great - the sleeves seem to be working well.

    Perhaps the issue with the skirt pulling up at the front could be alleviated by lacing from top to bottom? You'd need to adjust your bust during and after lacing, but it might stop the skirt issue. It also might result in slightly more compression and less lift of the bust.

    For buttons, I prefer this method:
    I find you can get much smaller, neater buttons that way than with the methods that start with a circle.

    Oh - final thing - am I right in guessing the only reference for the fitted garment info in your 'what it is' section is from Robin Netherton's stuff? Just wanting some more reading materials. ^_^

    1. I was also thinking of seeing what happens if I lace it laying down to see if it's my fight with gravity that's to blame. I hadn't thought of lacing it downward- that's certainly worth a try as well!

      The link you gave is the button method I'd like to get right, but thus far something keeps going screwy on me. It's certainly the one I'd like to use, as it's the least intensive, but for me at least, it's not particularly forgiving of being slightly off!

      For more about the early 15th century styles there's also
      I also recommend Margaret Scott's books. In general, surveys of period artwork is helpful. My dating is pretty loose. The front lacing and no waist seam construction can be seen in artworks dated to the end of the 14th century (namely effigies and rubbings), but the look still shows up in the 15th century before we begin seeing different construction techniques appearing more often after 1420 in detailed oil paintings.

    2. Sorry - completely forgot to reply to this!

      If you posted some photos of your button attempts, perhaps I could attempt to troubleshoot?

      Thanks for the references. I have a Margaret Scott book, but want some more. ;)

      I'm quite familiar with the effigies and artworks. It was more your reference to the filtering-down of the fitted fashion from the uber-rich to the middle classes I was interested in. Although, I often find the notion of 'middle classes' can be quite vague and ill-defined.

    3. The best source I can cite as a starting point for the "trickle-down" of fashion is Margaret Scott's "A Visual History of Costume: Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries". She lays out a chronology and, where possible, she notes the class level of the person depicted. Beyond that, I've gleaned that information from various sources that particularly discuss the nature of "hand-me-downs" in medieval society, and, like I said, looking at the visual sources. Some other places to look are discussions on sumptuary regulation, as they can help define what the differences really are between what a gown looked like on nobility (first occurance) and non-nobility (later incarnation). Hope that helps. This is one of those things I know, but never stopped to wonder how. Thanks for asking so that I could pause to think that through. It's easy, I think, to sometimes take for granted the knowledge you gain through casual research.

  3. Wow, this looks awesome. It shows how much one can learn in a short period of time. Keep up the great work

  4. I'm very intrigued by making a supportive kirtle. could you direct me to more info? I'm a larger woman with heavy bust & must have support.

    1. If you haven't already, check out my post here: for some of my go-to links on fitted dress construction. I also suggest checking out Sylvie's waisted kirtles here: (I don't know what she uses for bust support).

      I always wear a wireless bra now, and I fit my dresses while wearing it. This gives me a first-line of defense against gravity. I know that there are women out there fitting larger chests with no undergarment, but it's a comfort and self-confidence thing for me. I don't go out of the house without a bra on a regular day, so I'm certainly not going to go to an all-day event without one!

      The second important fitting technique for a larger chest is to fit your dress as closely and tightly around the 2-3" immediately under the bust as you can. It basically creates a barrier, like an underwire on a bra, which the bust will have a hard time getting past.

      Finally, (speaking from personal experience) a straight-front center seam is better for heavy, larger busts, rather than a curved front. I know that there are plenty of examples of how a straight-front can boost the chest like a pushup, which can be a disadvantage to a large chest (creating a shelf), but my experience indicates that, with careful fitting to contain and shape the bust rather than automatically force it upward, the straight-grain of the center seam is a HUGE advantage against gravity. The curved seam creates bias stretch, and when the aim is to create a lasting shape, the stretch of a bias cut will completely undermine you. I recommend experimenting with the straight-cut on yourself to see if it works for you. My breasts are soft and easily shaped, but yours might not be, or might be too sensitive to the pressure, and may not act the same in a straight-front dress. I've tried both, and I've learned that I need the straight-grain.

      It is not necessarily easy to get a beautifully shaped and supported bust when you have a plus-size shape, and I am still looking for the key myself, but try a bunch of things and don't give up! There are plenty of ways to create a fitted dress, and at least one of them will work for your body type!

      I hope that helps, and good luck!