Sunday, December 18, 2016

In Progress: Red Wool Cote

Immediately following Pennsic, it was clear that I'd lost just the right amount of weight that my brand new supportive pattern wasn't actually as supportive. One the one hand, that's not a terrible problem to have, but on the other, it meant that I couldn't skip making some additional adjustments to my pattern before moving on to the next dress.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Makes an Outfit Early 15th Century Part 3 continued

Today we come to the end of our look at the things that distinguish an early 15th Century (French/English) outfit from the periods of fashion surrounding it. Last time, we looked at upper class headdress and identified the general zones in which late 14th Century, and mid-15th Century hats occupied, and how the upper class styles between them sat in a transitional space between them. This week, we end by looking at the headdress of the lower classes: open hood and veiling.

Composition de la sainte Écriture, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Français 425, circa 1400-1410, fol.115r.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

What Makes an Outfit Early 15th Century Part 3

So now we've come to the third part of my mini-series on what distinguishes early 15th Century women's clothing from the styles before and after it. I've been looking primarily at French clothing, as that's my area of study, but there is room for some of what we've looked at to apply beyond France's borders. In Part 1, we discovered that the later Gothic 15th Century silhouette is generally curvier. In Part 2, we determined that either no lacing, or at least inconspicuous dress lacing will provide a more accurate look than visible lacing. Today we'll take a look at headdress.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

What Makes an Outfit Early 15th Century: Part 2

Notice something missing? (Source)
Last post, we started looking at what makes early 15th century clothing different and distinguishable from the clothing styles before and after it. In Part 1, I talked about the basic difference in silhouette. The early 15h century ideal shape was generally curvier. In this post, part 2, I want to talk about another distinguishing feature that makes early 15th century women's fashion distinguishable. Actually, it's the lack of a feature we're going to be talking about.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What Makes an Outfit Early 15th Century: Part 1

The Book of the Queen (BL MS Harley 4431) fol. 290
You might recall at the beginning of the year, I laid out the basics of women's clothing as depicted in French manuscripts from the first portion of the 15th century. Through that quick outline, it was easy to see the styles of dress appropriate to different classes of women, and also to see how layering was used during the period to create more depth and style. The thing that exercise didn't identify, however, was where those styles might differ from the period of fashion directly ahead of them, as well as those directly behind. What makes those styles distinguished (and distinguishable) from other fashions in the Middle Ages?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hand-Finishing a Garment

I, like many modern medieval sewers, often use my sewing machine to sew the pieces of my dresses together. These are referred to as the "construction" seams, and are, for the most part, considered "non-visible" since the thread used for these seams is not seen. While it's possible to sew and entire dress by machine (construction and finishing), this doesn't provide the hand-made quality that gives the garment a medieval character. So once the garment is assembled into its raw form, whether by machine or by hand, I will do most of the rest of the work, the finishing, by hand.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

German Brick Stitch Embroidery

Particular to Germany in the 14th & 15th centuries, the pair of counted-stitch embroidery techniques we call brick stitch are found on many extant purses, and were used as a graphic technique within wall hangings. In nearly every extant case, brightly dyed silks were used on linen ground fabrics. When we recreate these techniques, evenweave cloth is used. Using set lengths, stitches are worked strictly in one direction (most often vertically), so that lines and shapes are created to form repeating patterns.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Post in Which I Talk A Lot

One of my selfie outtakes from Pennsic.
Since I haven't been able to work on any of my own projects in the past few weeks, I've been doing more thinking about the lessons I learned from this past Pennsic. Last week, I mentioned that my new chemise needed some revisions. As I continued to think about that, and about what projects I wanted to take on next, I came to the realization that I had learned so much more from Pennsic then I had previously realized.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Through the Paces

Two weeks ago, I packed up nearly all of my garb, went camping at Pennsic, and put my kit through its paces. It was hot, rainy and muggy. In order to get through the week, I had to mostly use my older garb- the linen dresses I'd packed along with two of my lighter-weight wool dresses. To make the most of it, and to convince myself that it was okay to use these older pieces, I used my new chemise when I could, and I made a plan for how to mix and match what I packed.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

See you at Pennsic!

I'm working hard to get my list of projects done before next week, when I'll be at Pennsic War. Several of the things on my list are taking me outside my comfort zone. Which is all good. It's good to feel challenged sometimes.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Project Complete: Early 14th Century Open Hood

Project: Open hood in the style of the Luttrell Psalter hoods, circa 1330

Sunday, July 10, 2016

On My Worktable

I'm trucking along with projects this summer, gearing up for Pennsic. I've taken on several extra projects for others, but in between those, I'm working on the pieces for my new sleeping garb set. Here's a sneak peek:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Old Garb Update - Gold Wool Dress

Every so often, I take a look at old garb that I don't wear as much as I thought I would to see if I can make it suitable again. Recently, I thought I would go through that effort with my Dark Colored wool cote, but when I tried it on, I discovered that my body had changed enough that it actually fit better than it did when I made it. The only issue was that I'd placed the gores way too low. The easy fix there is that I always girdle it if I'm wearing it as my outer layer.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


I'm deep into a pile of projects, most of them for others, and I'm being challenged to sew in a style that I have had very little recent practice with. And I keep getting things wrong.

I call these "pratfalls".

In comedy, a pratfall is when the comedian does something dumb or humiliating, usually physically, in such a way that it generates a laugh. More specifically, it's when a person falls on their butt. It's not intellectual humor About as far away from that as you can get. But it makes us laugh. There's something about certain types of physical humor that we just find funny.

Most of the time when we are sewing, the mistakes we make are dumb. We sew two left arms. We shift something an inch away from where it should be. We continue to stitch on our sewing machines long after the bobbin has run out. We forget, we misplace, we measure once and cut twice. And these things happen to everyone. Well, most of us, anyway. Certainly those of us who are distracted by all the other things in our lives.

The simple fact is that dumb mistakes happen. By framing them in the rubric of humor, however, it's easier to let them go, and not hold onto them as proof of our flaws, or badges of failure. If I didn't look at the mistakes I've made over the past two days as pratfalls- falling on my butt just to pick myself back up again- I'd be wallowing in self doubt and misery at this point. And nothing would get done.

I laugh instead of cry, even when the mistakes pile up. They aren't a reflection of my skill or abilities. They are instead mini lessons in humility, which I could certainly use more practice in. And that's exactly the point of the pratfall.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Project Complete: Deep Blue Wool Cotte


A long sleeve fashionable fitted cotte in blue wool suitable for 1410'-1430's.

Note: Sorry about the weird color inconsistencies and exposure in the photos. Each time my husband took a photo, the camera seemed to reset the settings. And that's Boomer. She's the best photo prop ever.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Project Complete: Supportive Chemise


A linen supportive skin-layer garment.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In Progress: Supportive Chemise - Pattern Differences

I don't have much of any update for you today, but I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison of the pattern I started with against what I ended with. I laid them both down on the floor, and took pictures as straight down as I could, then double checked that the two patterns' scales matched before converting them into the line drawn outlines below.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

On My Worktable

Silk Clothing, Tacuinum Sanitatis, 15th century (BNF Latin 9333), fol 104r
I'm somewhat between projects at the moment. My new supportive chemise pattern is ready, but I'm hesitant to use the mid-weight linen I originally intended to use instead of a heavier weight linen, which I would need to purchase. I'm waffling here because I want to move forward with this project to be able to make the next item, but funds are needed elsewhere at the moment, so it may be a while before I can acquire different linen. The lure of instant gratification is quite strong.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

In Progress: Supportive Chemise - Fitting Comparisons

Note: If you've been waiting for this series to get less awkward, that time has come.

Last time I checked in, I was very nearly to the end of this pattern fitting. All that was left to do was to readjust the underbust to create a supportive band that would be impossible for me to remove without an opening.

In the process of doing that, I felt like I was fighting my lacing more than the pattern. I believe the biggest issue was that the holes in my tried-and-true lacing strips are too far apart for the needs of this garment. This resulted in a gap at the underbust with EVERY adjustment. I knew that the pattern fit with the seams sewn shut, so I poked around in my stash and located a zipper. I know several other costumers who have also used zippers, so I figured it was worth a try.

I also decided that I wanted to try that zipper on the side, rather than the front. I really liked the smoothness that the front had with that seam sewn shut, and since I only need to have the area of the underbust band open in order to get it on and off, I can place a laced section on the side for that, and it would be infinitely better than trying to do that on the front seam.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

In Progress: Supportive Chemise - Nearing the End

Note: If you know me personally and/or may be adversely affected by the direct and open way I need to address the topic of my breasts and their shape in this project, I suggest you turn back now. I'll post a similar notice when I believe the project has progressed enough that it might not be as awkward. 

During the last fitting, I identified that I needed to significantly reduce the underbust, while at the same time keeping the front panels wide enough to overlap properly at the center lacing, and not gap at the wide point of my bust. I also didn't want the belly circumference to be reduced and facilitate riding up.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

In Progress: Supportive Chemise

Note: If you know me personally and/or may be adversely affected by the direct and open way I need to address the topic of my breasts and their shape in this project, I suggest you turn back now. I'll post a similar notice when I believe the project has progressed enough that it might not be as awkward. 

I've begun the process of adjusting my pattern, and while I've corrected some things, other issues have appeared. I'm not going to sugar coat it. It's very frustrating.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Progress: New Supportive Chemise

Note: If you know me personally and/or may be adversely affected by the direct and open way I need to address the topic of my breasts and their shape in this project, I suggest you turn back now. I'll post a similar notice when I believe the project has progressed enough that it might not be as awkward.


Still with me?

In US bra sizing, I'm a 40L. I believe that translates to HH in UK sizing. The L translates to a bust-to-underbust difference of 12". I also have what's knows as "kissing breasts" that like to travel to the middle for a party. If I want my breasts to be separated, there's a lot of engineering involved, which my boobs would probably laugh at anyway. If there's any chance for the breasts to come together, they will take it. So, in general, I tend to look for solutions that allow my boobs to combine their powers in the middle, but not so much so that an actual uni-boob occurs. I want to aim for a nice, even spread across my bust for the best look.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

In Progress: New Supportive Garments

At the beginning of the year, I talked about my plan to reboot my garb wardrobe by re-addressing bust support. After several hours lost in thought about this, I realized that I had two valid options, and I thought I'd walk through them. I have already made my choice, but I think it's valuable to really look at the pros and cons for both.

Before I get into it, I want to highlight for you three articles I think you should read on this subject. Medieval Silkwork has 2 articles on Supportive Underwear - in Visual Sources and in Written Sources. The third article is By My Measure's post On Cleavage and Breast Mounds.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Basics of French Women's Clothing 1400-1440 : Part 3

So, today we come to the last leg of our look at women's clothing in the early 15th century, as depicted in the handful of manuscripts I've been studying. In part one we looked at the two dress layers all women shared, in part two we looked at the fashionable dress layers for the three lower groups of women on the social class ladder. Today, we'll look at fashionable dress for the noble and royal classes.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Basics of French Women's Clothing 1400-1440 : Part 2

Last week, we took a look at the bottom layers shared by all French women in the early 15th century, the skin layer of chemise and chausses, and the supportive or base layer of a cotte or tunic. This week, we'll begin to take a look at the third layer- the fashion layer.

When it came to the skin and base layers, the class groups of women were not particularly distinguishable from each other, except that the loose tunic was nearly always worn only by women in the indentured class or by older women. For the third layer, however, the groups begin separating out from each other even more.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Basics of French Women's Clothing 1400-1440 : Part 1

As I've been looking deeper into my collection of French manuscripts from the first 3 decades of the 15th century I've gained a better understanding of the layers of dress and their relationship to class. This is just the very tip of the iceberg to the entire topic of women's dress in France at this time, but as far as primers go, it seems like a good place to start.

All women, regardless of class or occupation, would have aimed for a complete outfit of 3 layers as a "best case". That's not to say that they would have always worn three layers, or that their three layers were good for year-round wear, but it was the guiding principle of fashion that applied fairly uniformly across the entire social strata. Today, we'll look at the first two layers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Back to Formula

When I look back at last year, I'm really satisfied with what and how much I made. It was certainly a productive year. Not everything made its way on the blog, but I made 4 dresses (here, here and here), 4 hoods (here and here, then a green linen one I never photographed, and a black wool one for a friend), a fighting doublet for my Laurel (which you can see here), a new shoulder bag, a brick stick coin purse for a gift, a pair of black wool hose I started years ago, and an embroidered tunic for my husband. Good times, good times.

This year, I expect to be much less outwardly productive, though I think the pace I set for myself last year is a good one, and actually works well for me. The problem with that is that I blow through my material stash. In some ways that's good- I like shopping for new fabric, but it certainly puts a damper on getting projects done!

Since I have this great excuse to fill my fabric stash back up right now, I also have the perfect excuse to go back to formula.

I've been building on my dressmaking experiences one over the other since I started making my own garb 6-ish years ago. Iteration is my modus operandi, and I'm always looking at what I've made asking the question "what would I change if I did this again?" Back in November, I was confronted with a fundamental downside to going about things that way. Once I found something that worked, I moved on to other issues, but stopped evaluating that thing to determine if it really was still working, or really was the right thing to do. If it worked at the time, I moved on.

A few years ago, I made a lightweight, sleeveless fitted garment with a center front lace to wear as my bottom layer. It's a chemise on steroids. I call it a "short cotte" because it's only knee-length. This was before the Lengberg finds became common knowledge, but the ideas those bras have spawned is the same- an undergarment that does most of the support work, easing up on the load of the first cotte layer. When you have a large chest, sometimes it's just easier to get dressed when everything is already somewhat tamed.

My problem is that I feel really uncomfortable being out in public, among friends who like hugging me, without a bra. As a buxom girl, growing up in the Madonna era, bras were an important right of passage, and have become a habitual part of the way I move about in this world where gravity is king. It's weird to not wear one. So the extra support of a modern bra has really helped me feel at ease in my garb, physically and mentally, as I learn more and more about getting the support of my garb correct.

But it's a crutch, and has provided me an excuse to move on to improving the fit of all the outer layers. The bra/short cotte combo works. My outer garb fits relatively well as a result. But it's not right, and more importantly, I can do better.

So "back to formula" means getting rid of that crutch. I've learned so much in the years between when I decided to stop looking at my bottom support layers as an issue and now. It's time to admit that I never really solved the issue. It's time to iterate my underwear.

Looking ahead, the projects you're going to see from me this year are significantly less glamorous, and considerably more personal. Improving the ways I deal with chest support, through re-evaluating my layers and the way they fit and work in tandem, is my priority. Once I have a handle on that, I plan to create a brand-new "body block" pattern to further improve upon the successes of the symmetrical pattern I created at the end of 2014. Also on tape is set of sleeping garb based off male clothing of the 14th century consisting of a linen shirt, wool tunic, braies (or shorts), and hose with garters. I mentioned those before and I'm really keen on having those before the camping season starts this summer.

In addition to all this, a long-standing research project into the depictions of women in early-15th century French manuscripts is underway. I have already discovered some interesting things that I had overlooked in all these years of studying this period. I'm excited to share my findings with you through the coming months.

On the outside, here on the blog, this year might seem slow and quiet as compared to last year. Far fewer finished projects and fancy photos, and far more technical details and behind-the-scenes ministrations. But be assured I will continue to share all that I can without giving you too many embarrassing details. Because we all know Google search absolutely loves those.

I'm looking forward to this year and this working plan. I'm excited about starting over now that I am not a beginner anymore, and to being more confident in not only my abilities to sew dresses that work, but in my knowledge on the topic. It should be more good times ahead.