Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Progress: Blue Wool Fitted Gown

Last year, I purchased 5 yards of a beautiful blue twill wool with really no idea what to do with it. At various times I thought it would be good for a raglan-sleeved kirtle a la Rogier van der Weyden, or a slightly fitted surcoat with bell sleeves like those seen in the Taymoth Hours. But then I fell head over heels for just about every dress I've come across from the Virgil Master's Grande Chroniques de France.* My gold wool streamer-sleeve gown was the first result of that infatuation. Then I found this beauty:

Grande Chroniques de France, c. 1402
Sleeves aside (I don't need another streamer sleeved gown), I love the fullness of the skirt, and I most definitely love the very French color. Which made me remember the wool I had on hand. My blue is not a French, indigo blue, but rather a brighter cornflower blue, but I'll take it!

I had to do a great deal of color correction on the photo to get it to match reality. It shows up much grayer otherwise (which you can see in the unedited photos that follow).

What I was particularly drawn to on the source gown was the flattering fullness of the skirt. I looked around for some examples of recreated dresses that came close to that fullness, and saw that Cathrin's green dress was pretty close. She used Herjolfsnes no.38 as a base pattern (knowing, as I do, that the Greenland gowns were not tight fitting garments), and assembled the dress using 8 panels. With this construction, the four "extra" seams cause the fullness added in by the gores to be pushed away from the sides, evening out the drape a bit more around the whole body.

For a while I've wanted to try creating a fitted dress by starting with a rectangular-constructed base. Using the "8-panel" idea, with the goal of attempting a fuller skirt, this seamed like a good chance to do so. I didn't take any photos of the layout or initial cutting, but here's the pattern I used to get all my base pieces:

After quickly basting the pieces together, it fit pretty horribly, but since I still had all the fitting to do, I wasn't too concerned.

For the moment I'm opting for a non-seamed front. I was able to accomplish a good fit without one on my blue linen day dress, and I dislike the look of a fixed center front seam. This is a gown, an overdress, so it will not be required to shape and support on its own. Any number of my fitted cottes or kirtles will do that work. For these photos, I'm wearing my linen short cote, but I believe that it had missed a washing since it was much too loose and the non-supportiveness of my sports bra wasn't helping either.

You can see pretty clearly on the side view that I overcompensated the required width on the front panel, so the center side seam is riding further back than it should. The back isn't too narrow, though, so when it's fitted, the front should reduce considerably, and the seam should be properly placed.

The other part of the dress that will change considerably is the rear. Once the back center godet is in place, with its tip high above the largest part of my rump, I should theoretically get a much more flattering waist and bum shape. (How many different words can I use to talk about my butt in one paragraph?)

I'm glad my husband snapped a photo while I was pulling the front a bit. The look of the skirt, in particular, was what I was happy to see, since it shows that there is already the potential for a good draping fullness. I do wonder, however, if I'll end up adding additional side godets to increase it even more.

Finally, the armhole will also greatly change the finished look. Right now, there is far too much material on and around my shoulder, so it's a bit difficult to see now how the bust and upper back will ultimately look. There is also no angle to the shoulder seams themselves, and that will also need to be adjusted.

In order to proceed with this dress, I'll need to make the neckline, shoulder and some armhole adjustments, then I can begin the actual fitting. With a properly fitting supportive cote on underneath, of course.

*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.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Tricks for wearing a St. Birgitta's Cap with a too-long strap

Recently the question came up about what to do when your Saint Birgitta's Cap strap (the loop) is too long. In this video, I present two simple solutions that you can use until you decide it's time to shorten the strap permanently.

I personally recommend that you use either or both of these techniques for as long as they work. It's always better to have length, since your hair will grow and change the fit of the cap as it does. You may find, when your hair is longer, if fits correctly again. Laundering will also affect the size. If, however, you're consistently having tension issues regardless of your hair's length, that's an ideal case in which cutting it down is the way to go. Try timing that change so that you're establishing your new strap length when your hair is the longest you're likely to let it get, and make sure that the cap has been thoroughly washed and dried to ensure that it's already as small as it will be.

If you're curious about making your own cap, check out my information, or head on over to for links to many more examples.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Getting Ready for the Winter

It will be several weeks between now and the next event for me, which is typical of this time of year. While I do ardently wish there were more cool weather events, I also enjoy having this time to have no projects with pressing deadlines. The mundane world is momentarily taking most of my attention, so I don't have much to show for myself these past two weeks, but I also don't have much of anything on my plate that's screaming at me to get it done. Here's what's in the works:

I had a random piece of evenweave left over from the Counted Thread Embroidery class I taught at Coronation. Waiting for a file to load, I spotted it on the edge of my desk, and it screamed at me that it needed to be embroidered. Since it's not a big piece, I wanted to do something with a small repeat, and I knew I wanted to do a brick stitch piece that uses black as the base color. After a bit, I settled on this pattern from Taschen. I've only been able to pick it up for a few minutes at a time since starting it last week, so it's a lot slower-going than it probably warrants. I'll be doing the cross hatches in alternating diagonal bands of orange-pink and soft yellow-gold, then I think a khaki tan for the diamonds. It's 5"x4.5", so I'm thinking that it will become the front side of a 2-sided change pouch (with probably just a black wool backside). Maybe I'll try my hand at making some big tassels for the bottom corners.

All the pieces (except for the sleeves) of my orange linen fitted dress are finished and ready for assembly. I started one seam, a middle gore seam, but that's as far as I've gotten on that. I decided to use a heavy-duty thread instead of my matching orange for the sake of stronger seams. I've been having trouble lately with my machine-sewn cotton thread breaking and popping seams, so I didn't want to trust the weaker thread on this project. I like the gray- it's barely noticeable on the outside, and I like the finish it gives to the inside.

Then there's this beast. Which deserves its own post. So let me just say for now that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

While I'm reasonably sure that I won't have the orange dress done in time for Christmas Toy Tourney on the 7th (though stranger things have happened), I would like to have a new winter gown that day. I'm eyeing the 5 yards of blue twill I've had since spring of last year. Something simple with a full skirt.