Sunday, April 12, 2015

Project Complete: Green Linen Summer Cotte

A lined linen supportive dress in an early 15th century style for summer. 
This dress was also created to fulfill a "pinkie promise" challenge given to me by a friend. The challenge was to wear a new outfit to the next event we both attended. Due to some weirdness in schedules, we agreed to some compromises along the way, specifically that not every item needed to be brand spankin' new. I fulfilled the challenge by wearing this dress with my recently finished red wool hood (which I'd only previously worn for a few hours one evening at Gulf Wars and a few minutes at Silver Ceilidh.) I had intended to also wear my ginger linen cotte, but as I'll explain below, that would not have worked. While the purpose of our pinkie swear went through some transitions as we accounted for some things we couldn't control, I'm more satisfied with the intent of the challenge, and what it pushed me to create. I made 3 new items that I'm incredibly happy with while this challenge was going on.

From Bible Historial, BnF Fran├žais 10, fol. 318.
I'm going to call this one a "modern adaptation" of a common early 15th century style. While I can certainly find images of dresses similar in cut & color to source the visual result of my version (see one example above), the truth is that my dress is more costume than recreation. The currently-accepted belief among researchers and medieval recreators professionally studying this time is that early 15th century fashion was achieve through layering, and that a bare minimum of 2 layers would have been worn by most people, most of the time. One of these layers would have been a "body linen"- a shirt, chemise, smock (there are other terms, depending on where you're looking geographically)- that was worn directly against the skin. The other layer would have been the "fashion layer"- a cotte or kirtle on women or a combination of cotte and hose on men- and would have been most often made of wool. The level to which the garment was actually considered "fashionable" was directly correlated to class. This dress is none of that.

This dress combines the body linen layer and the fashion layer into a single dress. A lining isn't really a surrogate for the protective qualities of a smock, but it does provide opacity to the dress, and will, in its own way, protect the outer layer at the very least from grime. The outer layer isn't wool, however. The choice of linen here is a comprise based on the heat and humidity I will wear it in through the summer. While 90 degrees isn't comfortable in general, it would be more comfortable in linen than it would in wool. I'll grant that tropical weight wools are certainly an option for this, but that's not what I chose to do.

Other than these rather important points, however, this dress is stylistically in line with French fashion from the first quarter of the 15th century. In reality, this and my blue linen day dress are essentially the same thing. This one, though, supports on its own, while the blue dress requires a supportive layer underneath.

The major difference between this dress and others I've recently created is the change to the underbust fit described in my previous post. After getting the fit correct and assembling the four main panels, I added the gores, and hemmed the skirt. 
In order to have the dress ready to wear this weekend, I made the conscious decision to not finish any seams I didn't need to. That'll still need to happen, however, to ensure the dress lasts. 
I made a very slight adjustment to the armhole, primarily to remove width on the shoulder. I like to use a sleeve curve tool for this, especially since I'm still working symmetrically, because I can measure these adjustments to ensure they match on both sides. 

I used my sleeve drafting method to create the sleeve pattern. My measurements dictated a .5" high sleeve head, which was insane, but worked very well. I did find, however, that I needed just a bit more height at the top of my shoulder, so I made that adjustment when I transferred the pattern to my linen. (The sleeve is not lined, btw.) Worked perfectly.

It actually worked so well, and I had such a great fit in the forearm, I changed my mind about creating a 3/4 sleeve. I just couldn't justify cutting off such a good fit. I also would have had to figure out how to get a sleeve layer in the summer, since the dress was specifically created for wearing on its own. The sleeve is fully closed, which is supported by early 15th century imagery, which makes wearing a dress with buttons, like my ginger linen cotte, pretty pointless visually.

A new finishing technique I've been trying my hand at is using a strip of cloth to bind the hem. This time, I decided I wanted to use bias tape for that rather than the straight-cut strips I'd been using. I dug around, and located a really fun green and white gingham tape. I liked the quirkiness of that, so that's what I went with.

Despite the fact that I can't say this dress pushed me any length down my road to greater authenticity, it did push me further down my journey to create a better fit. Normally during an event, I find that I need to adjust my bust in one way or another on average 20 times. This includes grabbing and hoisting them back up when they start to slip south, or adjusting the arrangement of the tops because they start to spill out or get lopsided. Once I had this dress on and everything in place, I never made an adjustment. Not a single one. Nothing moved. Nothing shifted. 

It was amazing.

There are, however, still some things I'll need to troubleshoot on the next dress. I don't perceive an issue while I'm wearing it, but in the photos, I'm not in love with the amount of pulling and wrinkling around the armhole/shoulder. I think that some armscye adjustments were needed there that I missed, and the shoulder seam probably needed some adjustments. 
I do like the way the back turned out. One of my most flattering results, given that there's challenges inherent in my physiology that mere cloth might never truly overcome.

I also made a goof that I decided to just roll with. I had white thread in my machine and didn't think to change it out for green or even black. When I realized that, I just decided to keep going. So you can see the whiteness on the stretched seams. When the seams are finished, this shouldn't be as noticeable, but even if it is, oh well. I'll just try to not be so eager to start sewing next time.

I'm insanely satisfied with this dress. If there were no successes other than the underbust fit, I'd still be satisfied with it. I hope you can understand how not needing to worry about my bust, and not having any reason to fiddle with it, is a huge thing for a woman my size. Of course this now means that the bar has been raised on fit, and all my other dresses fall short. 
I'm looking forward to putting this dress through its paces over the summer. I really like the freshness of the color, and I think the weight is perfect. It will be interesting to see if I still like it in September.

I still owe you a full photo shoot on this one. The photos presented here were the best in the bunch. I didn't have time or sunlight on my side. I'll let you know when more photos are available!


  1. It looks great! I've made that thread mistake before. A bit of green sharpie will fix that problem :-)

  2. I find that over time the white thread will blens in as the color of the linen bleeds and fades into it. So don't worry too much, it'll look right before long.