Thursday, March 29, 2012

I need to take my own advice

Even though I'd recommended to you the other day that you request swatches for fabric you think you might want to purchase, I failed to follow my own advice and, sight unseen, ordered some wool to use on the navy blue gown of my Garb Quest outfit.  Even thought the site said "Off-White", I relied a bit too heavily on the online image.  When it arrived, I was a bit disappointed with how "off" it really was.  It may, in fact, be a little too "not white" for what I wanted it for.  I'm going to have to think on it a bit.

I've started to update my fabric stash with all the new fabrics.  Right now, the gold wool entry is up. Go check it out!

Next on my list is to do a new "body block" pattern to use for my dark colored wool supportive gown.  Kind of dreading it, but it's got to happen at some point!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Early Period Linen Tunic and Wool Hood

I mentioned the other day that the first project I started after I got my linen order was a new tunic for Dearg. I used a sea foam blue linen (officially called "Meadow"). It is unlined, as it's meant to be an undershirt or worn on its own in the summer.  I used the sewing machine to do all the construction seams, but did all the finishing by hand. The hand stitching was done with DMC's linen floss in a pale green.


I did a few things on this tunic that I'd not previously done with Dearg's tunics that made this particular project a massive success.

I paid attention to the fit at his shoulders, adjusting the location of the sleeve seam to reduce bulk there. I did this by cutting the section on the tunic that would be the arm hole at an angle inward toward the neck. It's not a significant angle, but just enough that when he positions his arms back to draw his bow, he doesn't get a distracting bunching at the shoulder.


I also stopped at strategic moments during construction to finish seams before I sewed past them and prevented myself from being able to finish them properly. This made a huge difference in terms of the quality of the finishing. Though it didn't save any time, breaking the finishing up seemed to make it feel like less of a chore. I used two types of seam finishing stitches: flat felled on the outside seams of the gores, and hemmed straight stitches on all the other seams.

I also tried to keep everything lined up as well as I could so that the gores came in at even points, also adding to the finished craftsmanship.  They aren't perfect, but I feel good that they are the best I could make them.


I decided that I didn't want to just hem the neckline and call it a day. Since Dearg requires his necklines to be rather tight to his neck to avoid exposure to the sun (fair-skinned people will know why this is important!), they have to be pretty tight around his head when he puts them on. To prevent that from ultimately stretching and warping the neck hole, I used a matching bias tape to reinforce the hem. I would have preferred to use a linen, but I already had the cotton bias tape on hand, and since it's only on the inside, I feel it's an acceptable application.

It looks quite good (especially on him) and, though I had some doubts about him actually liking the color, I think it's a good one for him.  He's changed his mind on color and is now looking for more subdued tones, though not brown and black, so this pale blue tunic is really a good step in that direction.  I'm sure it will get a great deal of wear, so hopefully the time and attention I gave it will help it hold up!


While in the middle of sewing the tunic together, Dearg acquired some green wool.  It was just barely enough to make a new hood.  He though that he'd like to try to make the hood himself (with me being so busy with the tunic and all), but it turned out to be a task he wasn't quite up for.  He does get props, though for cutting it out and doing the initial machine sewing (fixing the yellow linen lining to the wool)!

I hand-stitched the front and back seams together, first on the outside with green thread, then on the inside with yellow.  To get the lining and wool to play nice together, I did a straight stitch around the edges with a yellow-gold pearl cotton.

You can see more photos, including more detail photos over at the Flickr set.


All told, we're both very happy with these two new pieces for Dearg's garb closet.  Now it's time to focus on new items for mine!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

15th Century Raglan Sleeve Kirtle Pinboard

I just created a new pinboard over on Pinterest to keep images that might be evidence for a raglan sleeve on a kirtle.  There are only 3 there now, but as I find more I'll add them.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New dress plans

I've got two new dresses planned, each using twill wools that are both very lovely. The first dress isn't extremely over-the-top exciting, but it will require some pattern experimentation. The second, however, will be a great bit of fun as I test a theory.

A late 14th century surcote is the first gown. I will use the gold wool for it, and I've decided not to line it. Instead, I will use some linen strips to reinforce the neckline and sleeve hems. The sleeves will be 3/4 length and slightly belled.  It might also have pocket slits.

Elina over at Neulakko recently completed a dress with the same idea (except she did long sleeves), so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. There's an issue, however, that I have which makes me different than Elina- I can't really pull off flat-fronted dresses with nothing going on to make the chest area interesting. But that's the only downside to making the dress- and I think it's one I can find a solution to if I do a full pattern and play around with it. I also think that if I can make sure the underdress fits right and puts everything where it's supposed to be, then the looser surcote will look just fine.

In terms of patterning, the surcote is fairly straight-forward. Before remembering Elina's gown, I'd been looking at the "Women's Fashionable Surcote" pattern in The Medieval Tailor's Assistant (p. 20). The front and back are rectangles that are joined to two gores at each side. The gores possess all the fitting, though this is not a fitted dress such as a supportive cote worn underneath. There is merely some shaping to create a curvier silhouette.

This particular dress style isn't necessarily appropriate for early 15th century Flemish, but it has a place in my persona's context. Edyth hails from England, where her family has Norse roots. As a middle class woman, she would doubtlessly have had clothing passed to her from older generations that she must still rotate through her wardrobe, even if they are not exactly the most fashionable items. A late 14th century English super tunic, therefore, is not a completely out-of-place item to include in my garb closet.

I picked up muslin the other day to create the full pattern first so I can make sure that the dress really will work for me. I'm willing to accept a fair amount of alterations to the concept of the gown except in one area. Since its true intention is to act as a warmth layer, I do not want to make any changes to the pattern that would compromise that ability. This rules out making the neckline very low as a way to add chest-area interest.

The second new dress is what I'm calling a Weyden Kirtle, since most of the images that show it are Weyden's. The best example of the kirtle I speak of is Weyden's Magdalen from the Braque Family Triptych, ca. 1450. In this highly detailed painting, Weyden gives us not only a beautiful example of early Netherlandish realism, he also gives us seams!  One of these seams, though, is a bit on the ambiguous side- a shadowy seam-like line that runs from the seam of the yoked neckline into the armpit.

Several months ago, Heidi from Medieval Threads used this exact image to create a new kirtle, and during her patterning process, she speculated on the possibility of a raglan sleeve. Ultimately, she used a set-in sleeve, but as she'd raised the question, I started to be on the lookout for any other examples that might also suggest (even if still somewhat ambiguously) that raglan sleeves were present in 15th century Flanders.

I found enough that I think I've got the makings of an argument! I'll have to find them all and post them later, but I've got 2 others that I can remember off the top of my head.

Based on this evidence, I've determined 2 key elements that make up a Weyden Kirtle. The first is obviously the raglan sleeve. Second is that the sleeve is fixed into a yoke-like collar that, in almost all examples, is squared or slightly sweetheart at both the front and back. To get the most out of the raglan sleeve, I think it will need to be at least elbow length.  Some of the examples are long-sleeved, while others are short sleeved, though, so it's not really a style that has an inherent particular use as an over gown or under dress. My instinct is to make it an over gown so that the detail of the yoke and sleeves can be shown off. At the same time, however, the period images suggest that the dress could be worn on its own over a smock if so desired. It will have to be a versatile dress that's tight enough to work on its own, but not too tight to restrict layering it over another dress.

Though there's also variation among the examples on placement (or existence) of lacing, I'm planning a regular front lacing. I'll be using a light blue twill wool for this one, and I'll line just the bodice and sleeves with a natural gray linen. I got extra muslin to play with the pattern on this one, since making a raglan sleeve sits squarely in the "never done that before" category for me!

Overall, I'm really excited about making these new dresses, but I'll need to concentrate on making the dark colored wool dress already on the drawing board, since it will be the supportive dress under these new gowns (at least until the pink one is also complete.) I've been putting off making any dresses, but I've regained a stable weight and shape since the end of my last pregnancy, so there really isn't anything stopping me at this point. I have some concerns about how much my bust will change when I decide to stop breast feeding, but I can't hold off on doing something with all this fabric forever!

Fabric Sources

I realized after my last post that I had forgotten to mention where I'd gotten all that fabric from.  I'll be posting about my new dress ideas later this evening, as promised, but let's take a slight detour in the meantime so I can share this information with you.

All the linen was ordered from my linen supplier of choice- fabrics-store.com. They have a very wide selection of colors and weights, all at some of the lowest prices for linen you might ever find. They also have regular sales which you can be notified of if you sign up for their emails. All linen I ordered was their medium weight, 5.3 oz., which they have the most colors of.  It's good for most purposes, depending on the color and its respective transparency.

Most of the wool, the three twills, are from Class Act Fabrics. I haven't  received them yet, but I requested swatches of each, and I'm very excited about them! Linda at Class Act is very easy to get a hold of in the evenings or through email, and she worked with me to send the swatches she thought would work the best for what I wanted to create. It was actually very difficult to decide among all the great samples she sent!  She offers a rotating selection of wools, silks and linens, and most of the wools are affordably priced under $20/yrd.

The white wool is coming from Wm. Booth Draper (along with a rosewood needle case.) Wm. Booth caters to 17th-19th century groups, but since linen & wool fabrics then really weren't that much different than they were in the late middle ages, I find their selection an appropriate source. They are well priced on their 100% wools (I would say the average is about $18/yrd).

I definitely recommend ordering swatches of any materials you're interested in before making a commitment. All these suppliers offer free swatches (except that Class Act may charge for expensive, rare swatches). Wools and linens are investments, so it's a good idea to double check what you're getting first so you know if it's worth the cost.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fabric Plans and Finally Knowing What I'm Doing

So, it's tax return time, and that means fabric!  I've spent the past month or so looking at my options and trying to decide what dresses I need (OK, what dresses I want), and I've finally made some decisions and placed some orders.  It's very exciting.  Never mind the fact that I haven't done anything with the fabric I already have. But let's not dwell on that.

All this fabric reviewing and swatch fondling has created a very enlightening environment for me.  First, a little flashback: I didn't sew anything (except for silly craft sewing in grade school and summer camp) until I was a teenager. I made a jumper that I wore perhaps twice.  And my mom was there the entire time instructing me on how to read a pattern and talking me through those first utterly scary, foot-on-the-peddle-of-a-motorized-needle moments.  To say I was less then enthused about the results, and that I really could have cared less whether I ever sewed again or not would be an understatement.  Fast forward two decades (give or take) and I find myself starring at fabric swatches and throwing words around like "bias" and "twill weave" and doing unholy amounts of math and drawing really silly pictures of sleeves in the margins of my work notes.  This wouldn't be so odd, except that, following that mini foray into sewing in my teens, I had not really sewn anything except headdress (by hand) until 2009.  Which really means that I only have 3 years of sewing experience under my belt.  And here I am attempting to sew (from-scratch and with as much hand work as possible) recreations of medieval garments.  These past few days, as I've been pondering how to get the most out of my fabric purchases, I feel that I've reached the tipping point to finally understanding what the heck I'm doing.

It's a real epiphany to look at a small swatch, tug on it to find the straight grain (and realize that I did it automatically), and spend the next three hours doodling how to lay the pieces out to ensure that the straight grain is going in the right direction.  If I've finally reached the point when this happens naturally, then I would say that I've finally learned something.

I've learned that patterning is serious business; that throwing patterns down on the fabric willy-nilly and crossing my fingers while I cut them out is not an enlightened and accurate method of starting any sewing project.  Maybe I learned this lesson by diverting briefly to mundane sewing that required the use of patterns.  I'd like to believe so, since that was the purpose of doing those projects.  Maybe it's also because I've taken heed of my disappointment in my previous attempts, and allowed myself to recognize the critical technical flaws in my results.  Sewing isn't an art, really. It's a science.

I've learned that while the finished aesthetics of a gown are important, they shouldn't compromise the technical considerations that would result in a better look, even if it's not immediately noticeable.  A perfect example of this is my (previous) habit of cutting the angle out on the skirts of my gowns as part of the main panels, rather than cutting separate gores.  This creates fewer seams (which results in fewer seams needing to be finished), but it also creates the potential for unwanted warping and stretching of the fabric.  This is because, since the gores are already integrated into the sides of each panel, the outer edge is cut on the bias on both sides of the seam.  Two biases working together kind of cheer each other on to create mischief.  However, if you affix the bias edge of a separate gore to the rigid edge of a straight-cut main panel, you create a better draping environment.  All this means that the next time I'm ready to make a new gown, I must weigh the overall technical craftsmanship against the aesthetics of having fewer seams.

My first order (linen) arrived late this afternoon. It contained a sea foam blue piece for a tunic for Dearg, a chocolate brown piece for pants for him as well, the lining for the pink wool that will be the supportive cote of my Garb Quest outfit, and two, 2-yard pieces for the bodice lining on the dark colored wool dress and a new dress.  The new dress will be made of a light blue twill wool I've just ordered.  I have also ordered a piece of a gold twill wool for an overdress that will not be lined, 2 yards of white flannel wool for the visible lining and trim on the navy blue Garb Quest surcote, and a beautiful dark green wool for a tunic and hood for Dearg.  All I'm missing is a white linen for the remaining lining on the navy blue surcote (because I had to run out of money at some point.)

I'll share my plans for the two new dresses with you in my next post.  For now, I've cut the sea foam blue linen out to make Dearg's tunic.  He'd like a new tunic that's suitable for when he's shooting archery, and designed to be comfortable and easy to wear with his arm guard.  This will probably result in interesting sleeves that are most likely not period, but since it's meant to serve a very specific purpose, it will make perfect sense in context.  Thankfully, I was able to convince him that one short sleeve and one long sleeve on the same tunic wasn't really a good idea!  That should go together fairly quickly, so I'm hoping I can knock that out while I've still got the motivation and good timing fairies staying in my house.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kara's Housebook Complete

Look at me, being neglectful.  Mom recently purchased a onesie for Archer that says "Mommy is exhausted".  It's pretty close to the truth.  But, we must all soldier on, right?  So here we go!

I was able to complete Kara's Housebook (or Durer) dress for the last event.  We had some really irritating seam ripping happen the morning of the event, but is wasn't anything I couldn't overcome.  It took me FOREVER to get the pattern figured out.  First I made it all too big.  I was going by measurements, but I think I was overcompensating seam allowances and length. So once I realized that unfortunate fact (since I'd gone ahead and started with the wool), I pulled out some wickedly psychedelic cotton and made a toile for her that I could adjust. 


It was so incredibly cute watching her play around in the dress.  When the long skirt got in her way, she'd pull it up slightly in front of her- just like I would- to walk around!  Once I had the pattern right, I laid it out on the dress I already had assembled and cut off the excess.  I had to remove and re-insert the back gores, but that wasn't a problem.  I had forgotten (then remembered) that I was supposed to do a second pleated panel in the back, so at this point, I wasn't worried about adding it.

I tried two different ways of doing the pleats in the front.  One involved cutting the pleated section out as an extension of the front (like Catrijn did), but it was a bust.  Then I went back to my original idea, cut the pleated section separate, pleated it, then sewed it into place in the "gap".  It worked well enough for an 18th month old's dress.  The sleeves are set in which I'd just patterned after an old shirt that was too short for her (which was also the starting basis for the toile).  I wish my sleeves went in that easy!


Last minute, I grabbed my wulste items and had my mom assemble them for a headdress at the event.  She didn't wear it all day, but she did have it on enough for it to count.

In other news, I did actually finish my linen apron some time ago.  I'm just waiting for an opportunity to throw on some garb and wear it for photos!