Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some News and a Handful of Projects

Photo by the incomparable Dame Marissa von Atzinger.
Last weekend, I was honored to be placed on vigil for the Order of the Laurel (the SCA's highest award for excellence in the arts & sciences). I have long hoped that being worthy of the Laurel would be a part of my journey, and though it is a milestone, not a destination, to be able to rest here a while and enjoy this step is exciting and fulfilling. My elevation will be occurring next weekend (hardly enough time to plan, but there are family reasons involved), so I am of course waist deep in sewing! I thought today I'd catch you up on my plan and what I've done so far.

Before I do that, though, I need to give you all a heart-felt thank you. In the 9 or so years I've been writing The Compleatly Dressed Anachronist, I have received countless messages of encouragement from so many of you. Every read or like has given me the confidence to continue moving forward, and provided accountability I could never have gotten anywhere else. Having you all here to share my work with has become a part of who I am, and has given my craft and research purpose beyond just wanting to do it. Thank you from the deepest part of my heart for keeping me going.

A few weeks back, my Laurel forcefully indicated that I should make something fancy for Midrealm's Fall Coronation (at which he will be stepping up as King). Since he'd never insisted on anything so firmly with me before, I reviewed my options. I've made it a very specific point to avoid doing fancy things. It's not correct for my class or period to have decorated clothing, or to wear certain gowns that might be considered "fancy". (I've delineated the class clothing groups here.) The one occasion in which wearing an upper class gown would potentially be important would be if I were ever to be elevated. For the past year or so, I've had a light gray wool from Dorr Mill saved for that "special day". It was also the only wool I had available when the "fancy dress" request came in. So, of course, according to the Rules of the Universe (TM), I decided to use it.

I knew that the upper class gown I'd envisioned wasn't the right choice for the requested fancy gown (because I wasn't being elevated), and I'm still in my Doppelgänger Challenge, so any dress I made, I had to be able to find in an image. For several days, I scoured all the early 15th Century French manuscripts I had tagged in various places for any ideas. Eventually, I began looking for a simple, middle class houppelandes (I wrote about those in my last post), and I found this perfect image:

BNF, Dept. of Manuscripts, Français 239, fol. 130r, possibly late 1430's.
Years ago, I'd attempted to do a version of this style houppelande based off this one by Matilda La Zouche. I did it in linen, and I made a lot of errors. I liked the idea of trying again in wool with several more years of patterning and sewing experience under my belt. After looking around online for pattern ideas, I cut the four panels roughly trapezoidal (using a nice-fitting T-shirt as a guide), and also cut two full-side gores to increase the gowns girth. That left me with enough to create slightly full long sleeves. After some finessing of the seams, I had this:


The picture doesn't do it to too much justice, but it fit well, with just enough fullness to create pleating with a belt. So set to go, I took it all apart to sew it all back together by hand. In fact, I was working on that last weekend at the event. Of course.

I did really like that way the houppelande was turning out, but when I was placed on vigil, everything got thrown into the pile of "things I need to figure out". After a few days of thought, I decided that the vision I had for my elevation was more important to me than continuing to make the houppelande. While the angel wing sleeves I'd envisioned were not going to be possible any longer, I decided to refit the houppelande into a slightly fitted gown. Here it is after trimming it down by removing the side gores and repositioning them as center front and back godets, and then slimming the sleeves to be less full:


That's not all that dress has in store, but it's all I can show at this point. It will be machine sewn, but will also have plenty of hand sewing. Suffice it to say that it will be special, and suitable to my new rank. I'm just happy that I was able to repurpose the houppelande to mostly be what I wanted for my elevation. I have "simple houppelande" on my project list for the future- it's a dress I'd really like to make, but at a later date.

I should also mention that I've decided to somewhat stretch the rules of my Challenge in order to  have what I'd like for this ceremony that will only happen once. Rather than using a single image of one woman, I'm sourcing each of the elements from different images, and as need requires, combining a few images to support the choices I've made given the limitations of materials and time. The Doppelgänger Challenge is important to me, and I feel that I'm striking a good balance, all things considered.

All this also gave me the perfect excuse to start completely from scratch with a new supportive dress pattern and a new chemise. I was surprised at how quickly the new pattern came together (I guess I really DO know what I'm doing), and it's honestly the best fitting pattern I've made to date. I was amused by the number of incremental adjustments I made, including about 8 additional tweaks to specific points. Here's one of the side seams mid-way through the process:


Back in July, I'd purchased some linen/cotton to make a new chemise, and I still had that waiting. For the sake of time, I decided to do the majority of the sewing of the chemise by machine. I figured that I can always hand-sew the next one, and at this point, done is better than perfect. I also knew that I would not be able to get away with a sleeveless chemise, since the wool I'd be wearing over it for my vigil is not the type of wool you want against your skin. I used my own sleeve patterning technique with a bit less ease than the pattern calls for. I ended up with a chemise that fits perfectly, is insanely comfortable, and looks great (for being machine sewn):


After getting it all assembles and most of the seam finishing done by machine, I used hand sewing to attached a facing to the neckline (the selvedge from the cloth) and to finish the hems on the sleeves. I'll also hand sew the sleeve attachment seam when I can get back to that.


Next up is the dress I will wear during the day for my vigil. Since I didn't have time for swatches, I looked for an option that I couldn't really go wrong with. I ended up looking at Dorr Mill's selection of herringbone wool. I love the herringbone pattern, and while I can't state with conviction that a middle class woman of the early 15th century would have used it, it was a known weaving technique in period. I will fully admit that this is perhaps the one area in which I compromised the most to get something I liked more than something that I was sure was "correct". I decided to go with the Cobalt and White colorway which looks like a medium blue heathered wool at a distance, which does at least fall within the acceptable color range of blues for this period.

The vigil dress will be a typical fitted cote like the kind I usually wear. It may or may not have buttoned sleeves, but it will lace up the front. I have a week to complete this dress, so I plan to machine sew the pieces together, but hand sew all the finishing.

As a final sneak peek, here is the "color story" for the day:


Next weekend, I'll be camping until Sunday, so in two weeks, I'll share how everything turned out. For now, it's back to sewing!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Houppelandes of the Early 15th Century

Like most things clothing-related in this period, the sumptuous overgown we call the houppelande (usually pronounced HOOP-lawn in the circles I run with), has a layered evolution that has to be understood through both time and class. The houppelande style of gown may have been brought north from Italy in the later 14th century. It can be seen in the imagery of the Tacuinum Sanitatis manuscripts produced at the end of the 14th century, such as this striped example below, possibly from Milan.

Detail from Tacuinium Sanitatis, (Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673), fol. 81v, c. 1390.
The style, with a high, tight collar and folds of excess fabric cinched high on the waist, was quite different from the also popular, provocative fitted cotes. In the hands of the French right at the turn of the century, they became prohibitively expensive for all but the noble classes- a sign of the era's trend of "conspicuous consumption"- and was established as an ideal canvas for excess. In the first third of the 15th century, women are purchasing extra ells of cloth and having their tailors find ways to include the extra into their gowns. This resulted in gowns with excessive pleating around the torso, long angel wing sleeves, extremely high collars, and full, pooling skirts.

Detail from The Queen's Book, (British Library, Harley 4431), fol. 376, c. 1410-1414.
The most excessive houppelande was ridiculous for the wearer. However, the "regular" houppelande still was not "tame" in any regard. See for example the similarity between the houppelande below on a character meant specifically to symbolize grandiosity:

Detail from Le Decameron, (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms-5070 réserve), fol. 120r, c. 1432.
And this houppelande on the Queen of France, contemporary to the time of the manuscript:

Detail from The Queen's Book, (British Library, Harley 4431), fol. 3, c. 1410-1414.
As easy as it is to assume that more fabric is "better" when it comes to houppelandes, nothing that made life more difficult was likely to be too popular. These opulent and excessive gowns, therefore, where not going to be practical for most women, even those who may have been able to afford them. Which leads us to looking less at how sumptuous or excessive they were, and more at the different types and who was wearing them.

There are 3 basic types of houppelandes in this period, collared with angel wing sleeves, v-necked with angel wing sleeves, which show up in the later 1420's, and v-necked with straight sleeves, which begin appearing in the 1430's. Examples of all 3 can be found in my favorite 1430's manuscript, Le Decameron.

Details from Le Decameron, (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms-5070 réserve), fols. 173v, 222r, 362v, c. 1432.
A rule of thumb is that gowns with angel wing sleeves belonged to the noble classes or to the absolute highest echelon of the middle class. The two houppelande styles sporting them, therefore, belong to the most affluent women of society, and dominate the first three decades of the century. These gowns would only be worn by women who lived relative lives of leisure, and for whom the visible statement of the ability to spend on frivolity was important to the authority of her station. As the century rolls on, however, the straight-sleeve style begins to appear with more frequency, and on more classes of women.

It is this less-extravagant houppelande that I'm most interested in as a middle class woman. While the layered fitted gown had been the fashionable choice for the bourgeois class in the 1410-20's, by the 1430's, this simplified houppelande was the "it" fashion.

Marginal detail from The Hours of Marguerite d'Orléans (BNF, Det. of Manuscripts, Latin 1156B), fol. 89r. 1426-38.
With a girdled full torso, reasonable straight (not fitted) sleeves, no collar, and no extra length, the middle class houppelande was a statement of ability for many women who had earned their place in affluent society with many decades of working and networking alongside their husbands. These houppelandes came to symbolize the wealthy middle class in the decades that follow, and are featured prominently in the works of Rogier van der Weyden.

Detail from "Deposition of Christ" by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1435
This middle class houppelande was also a catalyst for the nobility to adjust to the changing economy by looking for different ways to show their station that would be difficult or impossible for the middle class to copy. Expensive silks and furs, rather than excess cloth became their weapon, eventually giving birth to the new "Burgundian" style, open-v-necked houppelande of the 1450's. One great example of upper class houppelandes in that "adjustment" period is in Petrus Christus's "A Goldsmith in His Shop".

A Goldsmith in is Shop, Petrus Christus, c. 1449.
The straight-sleeved houppelande can be found on nobility as well as middle class women in the 1430's, so understanding the context of any given depiction is important, but I've noticed that class rank can be initially determined by looking at headdress. Padded roll style headdress were higher in class than horned veils, which in turn were higher than open hoods. Which makes the simple houppelande and open hood combination exactly correct for the daily wear of a middle class townswoman in the 1430's.

Detail from Le Decameron, (BNF, Dept. of Manuscripts, Français 23), fol. 212v, possibly c. 1430's.
The bottom line with all this is that while the houppelande is an extremely important element of women's fashion in this period, we can't place it neatly inside the idea that they were excessive garments worn only by the wealthy. With all things in the 15th Century, fashion was in a constant give and take between the classes as society rearranged itself to account for a different distribution of wealth, and a different economic framework as it raced toward the Renaissance. When we look at the houppelande in context and in the wider picture, we see that things aren't so black and white, and we should never overlook the middle class' ability to drive the engine of fashion simply by their desire to "keep up".