Sunday, September 29, 2019

Creating an Authentic Cotte, Part 6: Finishing the Neckline & Side Opening

The addition of a facing to an edge of a garment, either an opening for buttons or around a neckline- is well supported by the London finds. While the surviving examples utilize a tabby woven silk material, there were other types, including now missing linen, and self-facings created with a fold of the garment cloth itself. There is no clear consistency or standards to the width of applied facings, which implies that whatever was needed in the specific application was used. The extant silk facings appear to be cut from a larger cloth and are cut straight to the grain rather than on the bias. (1)

In one well-preserved example, lines of running stitch are top stitched over the facing. (2) Crowfoot indicates speculation on the functional purpose for this, but the extra stitches add stability to the neckline, preventing it from stretching, as well as, possibly, a decorative addition.

For the neckline facing, I used a tan, tabby woven lightweight silk that I created strips of by ripping along the grain. This frays the edges but ensures that they are straight. I quickly learned that the bone needle was too large to sew the fine silk, so I switched to a modern steel needle I had on hand. To conserve silk thread, I used linen thread for all the facing stitches, though the extant pieces use silk more prevalently.

After attaching the facing to the front side with a running stitch, I was confronted with a logistic issue. Since I wasn't using straight pins (except for two dress pins as needed), I realized that attempting to fold the facing inside and tucked under was tedious and difficult. I discovered instead that I could much more easily sew a line of running stitches near the top, locking the facing in place on the backside.

A second line of running stitch allowed me to snag the folded-under edges. Then a final line of hemstitch tacked the bottom edge of the facing down. In this manner, I discovered a plausible case for the running stitches found on faced necklines having a functional purpose in the construction of the neckline, rather than secondary additions applied over the attached facing.

I used a similar method on the facings for the laced opening and buttonhole area on the sleeves later in the process.

After completing the neckline, I began creating the laced opening on the side (see Part 3 for my reasoning for the side opening.) Most of what we understand about late medieval lace openings (those with eyelets) comes from just a few extant examples, one of which is described in detail by Crowfoot from the London finds. (3) It is understood that lacing was a necessary component of late 14th and 15th century fashions because we can see its use in the visual record, particularly tomb effigies like that of Katherine Mortimer (d. 1369), and from our own experiences in recreation, we know that the silhouette of both men’s and women’s styles are difficult (though not impossible) to create without an opening of some type to pass the wider areas of the body through narrow portions of the garment.

Crowfoot describes the extant London eyelet piece as a strip of silk with remnants of wool under the eyelet stitching. The eyelets are evening spaced with the finishing silk thread (worked in buttonhole stitch around each hole) passed under the silk to the next eyelet. The piece only has 6 eyelets and no corresponding piece for the other side of the opening was found.

To understand how the eyelets were arranged, we must rely on the visual evidence, which shows that lacing was typically arranged in a spiral or sometimes a ladder configuration, rather than crossed like a shoelace. (4) When secured into place on one end, a spiral lacing allows the lace to be pulled at the other end to close the gap. This is a useful and practical feature since it makes dressing faster and without the need for a helping hand.

BL MS Burney 257, Thebais and Achilles, circa 1405, fol. 81

Another feature of edge finishing that can be found on garment fragments is the use of a woven edging. Applied directly to the edge of the garment during the weaving process, this feature is perhaps intended to be both functional and decorative. While it does provide stability to the edge so that areas under tension like that of a laced or buttoned opening don’t stretch out of shape, it is also found on the buttoned openings of sleeves which would have been under considerably less stress.

Since I had never used this technique on a garment before, I decided to utilize this technique on the edges of the laced opening, since that area of the garment would be receiving the most stress and the opening warping out of shape would adversely affect the support and shape of my bust.

I began by re-opening the seam along the length I had determined- a few inches below the armscye and about to where the skirt began to flair. I added the silk facings, but only attached them at this point to the opening.

Using Crowfoot’s diagram (on page 161) as a guide, I set up a makeshift tablet weaving rig using my bed’s headboard and two tablet weaving cards made of bone. The silk warp (same gray silk I was using elsewhere) was attaching to the bed, and I pulled from the other end for tension.

I worked with the backside of the opening up, from the bottom of the opening to the top on one side, then from the top down on the other, since this configuration worked best with my right hand. More silk and my bone needle functioned as the weft and shuttle, and each pass through the weave included a pass through the fabric.

Once the edging was complete, I tucked the ends of the weave under the silk facing and used a hemstitch to secure the silk down, leaving room for the eyelets.

I began creating the eyelets with a bone awl, but after a few eyelets, I realized that it was too small, so I exchanged that for a large wooden awl or spike. (5)

I used a measuring rule to fix the distance between each eyelet one at a time. In the same manner as the extant piece from London, I passed the thread through the layers to the next eyelet. Knots and thread ends are all contained between the layers as well.

Since the lace itself would come at the end of the project, I used a temporary lace to try on the garment and test the completed lace opening, with enjoyable success.


1. Crowfoot, Elizabeth, et al, "Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-c.1450," Museum of London: Medieval Finds from Excavations in London: 4 (London, HMSO, 1992).
2. Ibid, pages 158-161
3. Ibid, pages 164-5
4. “Spiral Lacing - Why and how to do it on 14th century clothing”, La Cotte Simple,
5. While there isn’t much extant evidence for awls specific to garment or fabric applications in the late medieval period, bone awls were known from the Roman era. (See No. 85 and 86 here.) There is also evidence of awls in use for other crafts, such as leatherwork, and the shape and structure of extant holes indicate that they were pieced rather than cut. Awls of bone, wood or metal in use by garment makers of the late medieval period makes conjectural sense.


  1. I continue to be impressed by your skill as a sempstress; those edgings are superbly made.

  2. Thanks for your photos! I now think I know enough to try this kind of tablet-woven edging on a garment myself! Pity it doesn't seem to have been used by the Vikings. (It was used in earlier garment, though, so I may still experiment at some point...).

  3. I really enjoy this detailed series!

    How did you make the silk strip curve nicely around the neckline?
    When I tried a silk facing, I ended up ripping it all out again and doing a fine rolled hem as edge, because the silk strip caused a lot of unsightly pulling.

    1. Sorry it took me so long to see this! I think the best answer I can give is that I took it slow and really focused on smoothing the ease out as I went. When I moved to the next inch or so the stitch down, I made sure I was flattening the strip completely perpendicular to the edge, not at an angle which just transfers the ease to the next section, ultimately resulting in pulling. It takes practice to get a feel for when the strip is in the right place. I wish I had a better technical answer on this!