Friday, May 23, 2014

Craft Room Re-do: Before

It will probably be on the quiet side around here for a bit. For several months now, mom and I have been slowly getting the ducks in a row to completely re-do our shared craft room, and the time has finally arrived to start making it happen. Because of this, I won't be set-up even remotely to work on much of anything (except maybe a few more hats for the Royal Knitwits), and my computer will be tucked away in my bedroom and only really be turned on for work-related tasks.

I have no real idea how long this will all take, but I'm pretty excited about what a remodeled and totally re-organized craft room will mean for our productivity. And to give you an idea of why this really needed to happen, here are some before photos when it was at its worst last year:

I have to cringe. Really. There's a queen-sized mattress right there in the middle of the room. We had to put it there since there was nowhere else to store it at the time, and immediately it got piled up with all manner of things. Works in progress, fabric purchases, stuff we had gotten to help with organization (oh, the irony), and even things that my husband needed to get away from the kids. We try to make a concerted effort to keep things under control in all the other areas of the house (admittedly, we often fail), so this sort of became the one room we stopped caring about.

Eventually, we did get that mattress out, but it was already too late. Over time, we found ourselves working in there less (and therefore working on our projects less), and getting so frustrated by our lack of order that we often stopped even trying to start new things. As two people with a lot of creative energy, this was a major problem.

There's one window in the room that faces the west, so it gets really good sunlight in the afternoons. This is where the cutting table resides. My grandpa made it ages ago for my grandma, and it passed onto my mom, so it's a heirloom piece. It really wasn't getting the respect it deserves.

In the corner, there used to be a closet, which was pretty much a catch-all, but was also where my garb was theoretically supposed to go. (You can see my wedding dress there too.) Ultimately, in the grand scheme of our house, the closet would eventually become a part of the hall bath, and since we really needed an intact corner more than we needed a closet in this room, we went ahead and closed it off. Here's what that looks like at the moment:

I loved the papel picado banner mom had picked up for me 2 years ago on her trip to Texas, but the only thing I could think to do with it at first was to simply hang it up. Absolutely horrid over that green wall. I've since purchased white frames from IKEA and put my 6 favorites in them. It was the colors in those 6 that really helped to steer our choices for other items we'll put in the space, like that red lamp on my desk above.

You can see in the photo below a few of the other items that will be used in the new space. We got blue, teal and kraft tan boxes from IKEA to store a lot of our stuff. They will feature prominently in the new space. I have to laugh now, looking at these photos. It was horrid!

We've got most of the stuff moved out, and we're getting ready to start taking the decals off the walls and then we'll get rid of that awful green. Here's what it looks like right now:

It all has to go somewhere, though, so mom sacrificed her living room. She's being a real champ for the cause:

Ha. Not pretty. But I'm really excited about it. We've chosen a very pale blueish gray for the walls, and most of our other organizing pieces are white. We also have several pieces we've collected to prevent it feeling too much like an IKEA catalog. In the end, we hope it will be a nice, bright, fresh space that we can think and create in. Anything's got to be better than what it looked like, right?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

15th Century Open Hoods

One of the best pieces in my wardrobe, one that really helps me drive my persona look home, is my black wool open hood. I have two hoods (the other is rust-red linen), but the wool hood is probably the single most worn item in my garb closet. I'm pretty sure that the hood has become a trademark of mine in my local region, and those people that may be looking for me are looking, in actuality, for that black hood.

My black wool hood. Oh, and my handsome husband.
Three years ago, when I first made the hood, there were really only two sources available online for the specific patterning of the open hood. One was Marie Chatel Cadieux's page on open hoods, where, in addition to tons of pictures, she shared a rough, not-to-scale drawing of what her hood looked like flat after cutting it out. She also gave us the length of the liripipe. That page, unfortunately is no longer online, but it was truly the biggest inspiration I had to make my own hood. Unable to really work out a pattern from Marie's information, I turned to Lia de Thorngegge's open hood. While she didn't have a pattern or measurements to work off of, she did provide a photo of the hood as it looked cut from the larger piece.

My first open hood attempt in a single layer of blue wool.
With a better idea of the basic shaping, I tried a hood out with some bright blue wool. It wasn't nearly perfect, but wearing it to 12th Night that year, I had a much better idea of what worked and what needed more attention. In particular, I needed to enlarge the brim and shape the collar better by adding gores. I also knew that weight made a difference, and that the stiffer the brim, the better the look. With those changes, I was able to find the correct shape for my black hood, and I've never looked back.

There is still a lack of patterning help out here on the internet. While I've posted pictures of my hood numerous times here, I've never provided anything more. With Marie's page MIA, there are also fewer pages out there that really look deeply into the open hood style for those people looking for research. I've put together an article that discusses the evolution of open hoods through the 14th century into the 16th century, so if you're looking for the historical perspective, you can read that here. That's a permanent page on this blog, so you if you need to go looking for it later it won't be buried in the pit of my post archives.

At the end of this post, you'll find a link to a PDF containing a pattern with measurements, along with images and notes about my two hoods and how I made them. It is my hope that by having an actual pattern for an open hood available, we might begin to see more hoods around. It's a start at least.

That comes with a caveat, however. When I created my hood, I was at the stage in my costuming career where I heavily relied on seeing what others were doing to make my own items. It was easier then, given my limited sewing skills, to understand real-life items and copy the looks I liked. Being able to look at a period image and analyze it to determine how to recreate it was a long way off. Now, however, it's time to look back at my hoods.

So in this post, I'll be focusing specifically on my retrospective research and thoughts regarding the shape and construction of 15th Century open hoods. In the end, you'll hopefully see, as I do, that while my hood is perfectly acceptable, there's still room for improvement and more accuracy. And as a warning, this post is pretty lengthy and covers a lot of ground.

Open hoods are not easy to pattern. Like so much of the fashion in the 15th century, the open hood style was a fitted garment. If done carefully, at can certainly be an off-the-rack type of item, so their fitting isn't necessarily custom. The shape, and the way it's meant to sit on the head, though, can become quite specific.

Detail, BnF MS Latin 7907 A, The Comedies of Terence, circa 1400-1407, fol. 42r.
Aesthetically, I prefer the look of the slightly winged versions, like the example above from the Comedies of Terence. This is the style that my winged open hoods most closely match. I would venture to say that most recreation hoods you'll find out there are similar to this as well. It's a modern preference, I think. A narrower hood just looks more "regular" to us, and certainly more wearable. As I study more and more images from the first third of the 15th Century, however, it appears that this narrower look, though preferable to my modern eye, was not truly fashionable- at least not in the first half of the century.

Detail, Arsenal MS 5070, reserve, The Decameron, 1432, fol. 188r.
Sharper-looking wings that stuck out nearly horizontally from the face, like the example from The Decameron above, are quite normal. The collar still appears to be tight around the shoulders, though excess fabric at the neck in this particular example creates an extra fold at the front.

Whether these fashionably outward wings are shaped with a wire, we're likely to never know for sure. I'd hate to accidentally walk into one of those corners if there's a wire doing the work, though. I'd like to suggest, as an alternative for experimentation, that the brims were possibly stiffened with heavier wool (like a Melton wool or sturdy felt) stuffed between the brim layers. There may have also been starch involved, since we know starch of some type was used on the goffered veils popular just prior to this at the turn of the century.

The style of the open hood was by no means static. Since the early inception of the idea way back at the start of the 14th century, the open hood continually evolved and wound through class barriers over two centuries. The peasants loved it for its versitility, the lower middle class combined it with fashionable dress as a symbol of their class position, and the upper class embraced it as an alternative to the complex and cumbersome hats that dominated their affluent couture. Even just looking at the basic winged hood, differences in the styling from the beginning of the century to the end show that the look of the hood was constantly in flux.

Details from July (left) and September (right) from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.
Take the open hoods depicted in Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The calendar images in this iconic manuscript were completed by a handful of artists between 1411 and 1489. The July page, in which a shepherdess is seen shearing a sheep, was painted by Paul Limbourg sometime between 1411 and 1416. The female laborer in the field in the September page was painted more than 70 years later by Jean Colombe, circa 1489.

They offer a wonderful comparison. We're looking here at two working women, each wearing rather typical  outfits for their occupations, and each mostly turned away from the viewer. They both wear black winged open hoods, each with long liripipes. The two collars are very similar- covering most of the shoulders and back, but not longer than necessary to cover any exposed skin. The liripipes are both very long, extending past the waist. The later version does appear to have a better handle on the fold at the start of the liripipe, creating a more intentional corner, and there is a little bit of the sense that the later liripipe is possibly bulkier in general. It's the wings, however, that stand out from each other. Where the earlier hood clearly favors the pointed, outward shape, and does not sit at all close to the head, the later hood's brim is folded neatly back, and is minuscule by comparison.

Detail, BnF, MS Latin 1173, Heures de Charles d'Angoulême, fol. 20v.
But we can't draw the pattern of change too definitively here. Around the same time Colombe was painting hooded peasant women in Les Tres Riches Heures, Robinet Testard and his team of artists were completing their work on Le Heures de Charles d'Angoulême. This manuscript contains some of the best and clearest examples of lower class French fashion at the end of the 15th Century. A great and iconic image of a peasant wearing an open hood can be seen in the Dancing Peasants panel above.

The wide liripipe here is very clear, helping to make sense of why Colombe's liripipe version looks like it should be interpreted as wide. The collar is small, even more so than either of the Tres Riches versions, but as with the others, her exposed skin is covered by the hood, offering the same kind of practical protection. This collar is very close to the collar on my hoods- trim and minimal. What makes this a notable look, however, is the zig-zag fold to the brim. In the perspective given us, we are looking at the hood directly from the side. The fact that the wing is forced back to the front indicates that it may not simply jut out from the head a little stiffly, as it does in the Comedies of Terence example, but is rather forced forward to perhaps increase the outward appearance.

Detail, BnF, MS Latin 1173, Heures de Charles d'Angoulême, fol. 6v.
Earlier in the manuscript, the pages are decorated with short panels along the bottom depicting various scenes of everyday life. Among them are a few women wearing open hoods, such as the baker's wife above. All the hoods in this section of the manuscript are missing a collar, but seem to have compensated for that lack by being generally larger in overall shape. The wings are quite large as a result, and though they do extend out pretty far, proportionately they don't have the same horizontal jutting quality as the hoods of the first half of the century. Here also, there is no indication that the brim is folded more than once.

So what does all this mean? Well, for starters, it means that there really is no single open hood style that can be labeled as the de facto style of the 15th Century. Even still, there are some very specific things that we can look at to better understand the possibilities of the style, and to more accurately pinpoint specific looks. Quite plainly, not all hoods in the 15th century were the same.

Details from fol. 143v of De claris mulieribus (left) and fol. 66v of the Roman de la Rose (right).
One element of the hood that really shows a consistent evolution throughout the century is the shape of the liripipe. Earlier years, coming out of the narrowness preferred at the end of the 14th century, liripipes are rather thin and rope like, such as those seen in the 1403 copy of De claris mulieribus (BnF MS French 598), including Proba's above. Later in the century, liripipes are wide and flat down their entire length, and create a neat corner fold at the top of the head, like those seen in the late 15th Century Roman de la Rose (OXF, Bodlien MS Douce 195), also above for comparison.

These two images additionally offer great counterpoints to each other, and though they can both be called "open hoods" they are clearly not the same. I won't belabor the comparison, as you can see their differences for yourself, but just to make a statement about the changes, later or early, comes down quite plainly to the question of scale. It's important that I reiterate, however, that just because one style of hood was "more fashionable" than any others doesn't mean that those others disappeared. In my research for this post, I came across countless examples of hoods of all types throughout the century.

The Courtesan Bacchis and her nurses, Comedies of Terence, fol. 115.
Most often (though not exclusively) hood style and class have a direct correlation, and is the best way to determine which particular styling was considered the most fashionable at any given time. Important to this point is the understanding that until the end of the century, the hood was not generally preferred among the higher classes. When the upper echelons finally decided to use the hood, it was not the same type of hood we've been looking at. For one, it lacked a liripipe. That means that when we're looking at winged, liripiped open hoods, we're looking primarily at the range of women between laboring peasant and bourgeois housewife. Taking a look at their gown along with their situational context will provide a better idea of the woman's position in that range. For instance, in the grouping above, the lady in the red houppelande holds the higher class. She is a courtesan accompanied by her nurses. Her hood, therefore, can reasonably be assumed to be the more fashionable version of the three here.

Before I conclude, there's one last thing I'd like to discuss. I've stated in the past, here and in my classes, that the hood was a stalwart element of lower class clothing, because it makes practical sense. While I knew this had to be true, it had admittedly been difficult for me to truly come up with the reasons why. Certainly, simply covering the head is a practical application on its own, but there is more to it than that. Last weekend, I spent the day in garb in the sun. It resulted in a terrible sunburn on my chest, face, back, and the visible portions of my bust. Just like my medieval forebears, I had no sunscreen, and I paid the price for the lack of protection. Getting a sunburn isn't something only modern day humans have a problem with.

Today is quite sunny, so to put the practical application of a hood to the test, I put it on, and went outside. Here are the ways my hood worked for me..

It wasn't windy, but if a significant breeze was blowing, the best way to keep the hood on and stable is to "turban" the liripipe:

With the brim unfolded, I get a great protective cover. in this photo, I'm facing the sun, and if you look at my chest, you can see that I am getting at least partial shade:

I turned, and here's what that looks like from the front looking down:

After adding some more deliberate shape to the brim, it looked like this looking up:

I then began to experiment with other ways the brim might look, based on my findings. If the wings extended further outward, when the brim is flipped forward, it might look like this:

Applying the double fold from the Heures de Charles d'Angoulême peasant page, I get this:

I have to admit that I really liked this, and I did indeed feel that I had better shade. From the side:

Finally, even with the way I normally wear it, I still had good shade:

Alright. Time to wrap this up. I go forward from here with more specific ideas about what my next hood should look like. As a middle class townswoman, who endeavors to be as fashionable as her means allow, I should prefer the outward, pointed wings on my hood. This will come with some experimentation and certainly take some getting used to in terms of wearing. I'd never forgive myself if my hood poked somebody's eye out.

Lastly, as promised, you can download from here the pattern and construction information on my black open hood as well as my red version. I hope that it helps you skip a bit of the frustration of patterning one of these things from scratch. I also hope that my digging deeper into this style encourages you to begin looking closer at the things we're recreating.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Project Complete: Rose Red Kirtle

A fitted dress inspired by patterned kirtles found in a Flemish oil paintings of the mid- to late-15th Century, intended for use as a fashionable single dress layer or as an under-layer.

This dress is pretty much all about the fabric. After coming across the linen jacquard at, I knew I had to have it. I ordered 6 yards, figuring that would be sufficient for most dresses I could come up with, but I didn't really have a plan. I just knew the fabric needed to be in my life! Since it's linen, I wasn't completely sold on the idea of making a top-layer gown out of it. While that's certainly acceptable among the re-creators I hang out with, I've endeavored in these past few years to do better with reserving linen for bottom layers.

Detail from Hans Memling's Crucifixion, 1491.

While patterns on kirtles are sometimes depicted in the early 15th century, they are more commonly seen in oil paintings after 1430. A great example is from Hans Memling's 1491 Crucifixion, but patterned kirtles can be spotted earlier in the works of Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden.
These dresses are meant to be worn as a base fashion layer. While likely not worn alone in social company (like when your wealthier neighbor comes over for croissants), the wearer would have wanted them visible at least in some minor way. A patterned material on a layer meant to be covered was a sign of wealth, after all. The dress could be worn alone, however, when the situation didn't require a visual statement of relative affluence.

In keeping with that idea, I chose to use the patterned linen to create a dress that could be worn alone, and be acceptable in that mode, as well as work under other dress layers in colder months.

It took me a bit to settle on the form I wanted the dress to take, but I knew that I wanted to try out the V-neck back seen on the Memling dress. I also decided on long sleeves for layering purposes. While I could have gone with short sleeves, if I wanted to layer in under a short sleeve gown, I'd need to add pinned-on sleeves. Nothing wrong with that, but I just wasn't interested in doing that for this dress.
I also decided on a waist seam construction. Since my typical period is earlier, before waist seams became a regular thing on kirtles, I haven't had much opportunity to work with waist seams. The last (and only previous) dress I created with a separate bodice and skirt was my gray wool dress. Suffice it to say that I've learned a lot since then. I've wanted to try something similar to Baroness Sylvie's back pleating for a while now, and this was a pretty good opportunity.

The skirt is composed of 12 trapezoid panels. I included 30" of extra length in the top for the pleats. The pleats are simple box pleats across the back. There are none in the front.

I also had Sylvie's personal guidance (through the magic of social media), along with another plus-sized 15th century friend, to help me with the subtle fitting of the bodice. Just through looking at some photos, they were able to point out areas that needed adjustment.

Left: Initial neckline | Right: Adjusted neckline

One thing that made a great difference was their encouragement to open the front neck line a bit more. I'm thankful that a I listened, since the finished neckline was perfect.

The bodice is lined with a 8.5oz white linen (remember this?). I machine sewed everything together for the sake of time, but the finishing is all done by hand. The skirt and sleeves are unlined. Admittedly, there's still a lot of finishing to do.

I have no complaints about this dress. I received a great many compliments when I wore it yesterday, and I certainly felt beautiful in it! It's comfortable, supportive, and even a bit sexy. I owe a lot to the fabric, which is a very beautiful, romantic cloth.

The only thing I'm contemplating is a slight refit of the sleeves. While they are fine as-is, I'd like to see them just a little tighter. I had planned on added buttons at the forearms originally. That's still on the table, but I don't think they are at all necessary.

This project was a whirlwind to get completed in time to wear to Coronation yesterday. In comparison to most of my other projects, I had very little planning on this one. That resulted in more instinctual decisions, and I'm glad that my instincts didn't steer me wrong. I'm also incredibly thankful to Sylvie and my other friends. It is rewarding to be part of a community of costumers that reach out with constructive, non-judgemental help!

Better photos are forthcoming. Unfortunately, we failed to pack sunscreen yesterday, and my chest, back and face are nearly as red as the dress! When the redness fades to a more photogenic tan, I'll do my regular photoshoot.

EDIT: I have uploaded the "official" photos of this dress on Facebook and Flickr. Enjoy!