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.


The Decameron (Arsenal MS 5070, reserve), 1432, fol. 362v (detail)
This project is not that dissimilar to the navy blue middle layer in my recent townswoman outfit, but there are some notable differences in style. Unlike that dress, which is ideal for girdling the skirt and rolling up the sleeves to show off a colorful, layered palette, this cotte is a more refined look. It can certainly be layered and girdled (and I'm certain I will do that), but I drew more inspiration for this dress from the many images of women wearing a simple fitted dress with long sleeve and the skirt left down, and with no additional layer worn over it. Which, of course, is a good indication that the cotte, worn in this way, was fashionable in its own right.

The Comedies of Terence (BnF Arsenal, MS 664 reserve), early 15th cent., fol. 100r (detail)
Now, when I say "fashionable", I don't mean trendy or in vogue in the way upper class women would desire to look during this period. Rather, I mean that it's a style that is acceptable and appropriate to wear in public, social situations, and does not convey a specifically lower class look. In actuality, this style of fitted cotte appears to be the only style worn in France at this time that is completely free of class distinction. (For more on that, check out my research into the manuscript depictions of early 15th Century French women.) In other words, a dress like this would have been in almost every French woman's wardrobe at this time, as long as she was able to obtain one.

De Claris mulieribus (BnF MS French 598), circa 1403, fol. 43 (detail)


I am ashamed to say that I took almost no pictures while making this. I was in a hurry to have it wearable for Midrealm Crown Tournament. However, I did not employ any new techniques to the construction of this dress than anything I've done in the past.

I used the exact same pattern from my chemise for this dress. The differences between them are that the chemise seams were all taken in about 1/4" from the original, and the shoulder seams were both taken in about 1", front and back, to lift the bust up after the linen stretched a bit. I made no adjustments to the pattern for this dress. I did not have enough linen to do a full lining, so the bodice is lined to the hip, and the the sleeves are lined. The linen is from Carolina Calicos, which I discovered at Pennsic.

Not sure what was going on with the color here. The finished photos are much truer to the actual color.
The wool is "Deepest Blue" from Dorr Mill Store. It is not a very thick woolen, but it's definitely not a summer weight. It's sort of plush and it's sort of fulled. It's probably best labeled as a broadcloth. I gave it a quick spin in a cold wash without detergent and a no-heat tumble or two in the dryer before hanging it to continue drying. I believe it felted up just a bit more, but only slightly so. There was no noticeable shrinkage. I had purchased 4 yards. I had exactly enough. No really. Exactly. Which was a little terrifying, as I had absolutely no room for error.

When I sewed the linen pieces together to double check the fit, on a whim (I'm not even sure what made me think to try it), I sewed them completely. Remember that my chemise requires a short lacing on the side, just at the underbust, in order for me to get it on. I was sure that it wouldn't work, but sure enough, it slid right over the chemise and into place. So I decided to try again with the wool panels added on, thinking it may have just been the elasticity of the linen. It still worked. So I nixed my plan to do lacing on the side.

There's a few reasons this may have worked. The first, and most likely, is the difference in ease between the two garments. The chemise was taken in, while the cotte was not, from that original pattern. Second, the chemise linen is a non-stretchy plain weave compared to the springier linen and wool of the cotte, and the stretch, combined with the ease is just enough to squeeze over my widest part. Third, I don't want to discount the possibility that this is just how it's all supposed to work. The chemise changes the shape of my natural bust shape quite dramatically, and does a great job of minimizing by flattening my chest out (as much as it can be). The wool dress is sized to that new shape, not the old. And since my bust is, shape-wise, smaller, the difference to the narrow underbust in the wool dress isn't as big of a deal to overcome.

I used my sleeve patterning method. The armscye is very small- only 19 inches. My bicep is 16 inches. I was rapidly running out of time, so I drafted the sleeve pattern directly on the linen. In testing the fit, I decided to remove all the ease that my pattern technique added in. The cloth was stretchy enough to accommodate that and it looked much smoother than what I originally had. I continue, though, to be really happy with the way that pattern method handles the sleeve head for a near-perfect fit each time I've used it.

The panels are machine sewn together. I had planned on hand sewing that, but I was short on time. All the finishing is by hand. I did not do any opening on the sleeves. I may change this later, but I tend to roll my sleeves up if I can, and that's not the look I wanted for this dress. By keeping the sleeves sewn shut, I don't give myself the choice.


This dress is far and away the best dress I have in my wardrobe at the moment. I love the fit. When I walk, I feel that my posture is pulled into the correct shape, forcing my shoulders back and my belly out. I'm extremely happy with the fit of the shoulders and sleeves. I think these are my best sleeves to date.

I really can't think of anything that I would change. If I'm being really nit-picky, the back hem needs to be a little longer, I should have widened the wrists a little more, and I wish the skirt was a little fuller. But those aren't so much things I want changed on this dress- just things to make sure I remember on the next one.

I'm a little put out by the end weight of the cotte. I had not anticipated the wool to be as thick as it was based on the swatch I had. With the addition of the linen bodice lining, it won't be something I'll reach for during the day in the summer.

That being said, I wore it all day at Crown Tourney, which ended up being a pretty hot day, and I was not overly uncomfortable. Not any more than anyone else. The trick to wearing wool year-round is to get yourself used to it by taking it easy to start so that you allow your body time to acclimate, be smart about staying out of the sun as much as you can, drink plenty of fluids (water and something with electrolytes), and paying attention to the signals your body is giving you about possibly being over-heated. Which is all applicable no matter what you're wearing.

As always, you can see all the photos of this project on Facebook or in the Flickr album.


  1. You look like you just stepped off a page in a manuscript. The colors are so good on you too, they really compliment your coloring.

    I was intrigued with the idea that every woman had one of these, do you think the major difference would have been the quality of the fabric?


    1. It's definitely intriguing! Quality would have been one difference, mostly between the echelons of the upper class, when a dress like this could be made new and custom. The lower in class you go, though, the more you'd see non-custom versions that would be tailored at home to get closer to the desired look. These would mostly be hand-me-downs and second hand dresses which would have been older styles (primarily in neckline style and bust fit) or less-fashionable colors. In manuscripts, you see these dresses even on the poorest represented women, but that's not necessarily an indication that their versions were as tailored and fitted as those of the upper class in reality.

  2. Lovely! The deep blue with a red hood is such a classic early 15th C style. As Theresa said, you look like a manuscript painting! The wool drapes beautifully.

    (And I totally agree with you about wool - if you take on sufficient water and electrolytes (which is generally vastly more than you'd suspect) you can be perfectly comfortable even at relatively high temperatures. We tend to forget that, at a certain temperature, *no one* is "comfortable" and that clothing that blocks the sun and allows efficient perspiration can be as comfortable as light-weight, minimal clothing.)

  3. I'm fairly certain your blog was one of the first SCA clothing blogs that I found and I just wanted to say how much I admire your work. Your garb always looks like clothing, not a costume and gives me something to strive for. Thanks for sharing so much of your process with us, it is much appreciated.

    1. You're welcome! I try very hard to make sure that my garb is "livable", so your compliment touches me deeply, thank you :)