Introduction to the Challenge

This challenge is specifically set towards those that have not had the opportunity to sew a garment/object by hand. This challenge is NOT a competion, merely a place for new handsewers to document their progress and seek feedback and help, and to challenge themselves. Sewers that are experienced in hand stitching items will not be excluded, but this is meant as a chance for those with no experience in this realm to get a start.The Challenge I propose is that all persons joining the challenge pick a garment or object of textile nature, no matter how small or large, i.e. a pilgrim bag, a Coif or any type of hat, socks, flag, gloves etc., and have at least one form of documentation for its existence during the SCA time period. Acceptable forms of documentation for this project will be paintings/woodcuts/drawings with the desired object in it or a picture of the desired object.The challenge starts first of June and will end one year later. People can join the challenge at any time during this year. Those of you with handsewing experience are invited to follow the blog, and leave comments and feedback as the challenge progresses. The challenge is based in Drachenwald, but is open to all kingdoms.
If you would like to join the challenge (and the blog) please email me at to be added!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Drum Roll Please...

Lords and Ladies, may I present to you

The Finished Product!

On Mother's Day, May 9th 2010, I finally finished my First-time Handsewing Challenge! I am so proud of myself and I know my mother would be too.

So, just to refresh everyone's memory, here is a copy of the Codex Manesse illumination that contains the outfit I decided to recreate:

And here is a photo of me wearing the completed outfit, all hand sewn:

A closer look:

I believe I have done a rather nice job recreating this outfit and not only that, I am proud to say I made it all by hand. I'm hoping to wear the complete ensemble at a future SCA event, but it has to be a special one, since this is a very special outfit. Perhaps I can convince my husband to make me some shoes to go with it and I may even attempt to recreate the head piece being worn in the image as well. When that event happens, rest assured, I promise to upload some photos so you can see the outfit being worn in context.

Seeing this project at its end is somewhat bitter-sweet. I am so happy with its outcome, but at the same time I am sad to see it finished. It's been like a good long takes you forever to read, but you don't want it to end. This project began even before the actual challenge, since the inspiration began as soon as my interest in the SCA began in the spring of 2009. I can't believe it's been over a year since I saw that image for the first time. I have enjoyed every second of it though, including the many hours I spent in my sewing room planning and experimenting, the many evenings spent with my mentors in their living room and sewing room (fondly known as "the shoe"), the many evenings at our local SCA fight practice, a couple of SCA events and even lunch hours spent at my workplace.

I have learned so much over this past year! I have gone from a very basic knowledge of hand sewing to a much deeper understanding. I have gone from absolutely NO knowledge of the Middle Ages to at least a basic level of knowledge. I have learned to research sources and to look closely at what I am attempting to recreate. I have learned that it is okay to change my mind about what I'm doing, even when I thought I had it all figured out. I have gained a new perspective on the whole world of sewing, realizing that machine sewn pieces are not necessarily better constructed, better looking or easier to make. And most of all, I have learned patience! I have never spent so much time on one project in my sewing experience AND completed it! Would I do this all over again? Absolutely! This has been one of the most valuable sewing experiences in my life and I have gained a new level of respect and enjoyment of sewing that I never realized I could reach.

With all that said, I must must MUST thank my mentors: Her Excellency Baronne Estela du Frayse and the Honourable Lady Cristiana ingen Mec-Bead. Without their expertise and knowlege, their instruction, their advice and their patience, this project would not be half as good as it has turned out to be today. Thank you SO much for all of that and most of all for your friendship.

And thank you to those who created this First-time Handsewing Challenge! It has been an absolute joy!

What will I do next? Time will tell I suppose.

Best Wishes,

Isolda Fairamay

aka: Chris Hulme Colin

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4, 2010: Almost There!

It seems like I'm finally getting the hang of this project now that it's almost done! I'm moving much faster with the red surcoat than I did with the green kirtle. Perhaps not having to hand sew four gores might have something to do with that!

With the neck facing done, the next step was to sew up the sides of the surcoat. I have sewn them in the exact manner as I sewed the kirtle with a whip stitch on the outside and finishing the seams individually on the inside.

The last decision I had to make on this project was what to do with the armholes. When I look at the Codex Manesse illumination outfit I am trying to recreate the top of the armhole seems to look like it might have some trim on it. However, looking further down the armhole, I don't see any evidence of trim. Suffice it to say, I was in a conundrum about what to do with the surcoat armholes. Here is a close-up of the armhole in the illumination...what do you think?

So it seems I had a choice. I could add some gold trim or leave it and simply turn under the armholes. I felt conflicted because I knew that adding trim would mean more work for me. I didn't want to be lazy and go the simply route.

I decided to ask my mentors and a few other sewing friends what they thought would look better...with or without trim? Almost all of them said it would look better without, because adding trim would take away from the nice look of the neck facing. The one person who said I could add trim said she could go either way. Esthetically, it seemed like simple would be better.

Still, I felt kind of "guilty". I honestly wanted to do the best job possible on this project...perhaps because I knew it was getting close to finishing I didn't want to leave any stone unturned.

So, before making a final decision, I did a little more searching online to see what I could find. I had already used another Codex Manesse illumination image to help me confirm how to design the surcoat so I thought looking at other images might help. And thankfully it did!

I managed to find another Codex Manesse illumination image of a woman wearing what I believe is exactly the same outfit at the one I am recreating from my own chosen Codex Manesse illumination. Perhaps it is even portraying the same woman. Here is a look at the image I found:
And here is a close-up of the armhole area of that woman's surcoat:

When I look at the close-up here I believe definitively that there is NO trim on the red surcoat armhole. So what DO I see on my own illumination image? Well, if you look at the bottom of the woman's surcoat in the second image, she is holding up the edge of the surcoat, revealing a white colour on the underside of the surcoat. My belief is that this could possibly mean the surcoat is lined with another piece of fabric of some sort, which leads me to believe that the area around the armhole in my own Codex Manesse illumination that might show some kind of "trim" may very well be lining instead.

With all that said, perhaps I should have lined the surcoat, but it is too late to do that now, and quite frankly, my main purpose of the project was to recreate the outside of the clothing that is showing.

So, the absolute final decision on the armhole of the surcoat? No trim. I simply turned under the edges and finished it with a running stitch on the inside.

Here you can see a photo of my finished armhole as well as the finished inside seam of one of the sides of the surcoat:

And that leaves one final step in this whole process.

Hemming the red surcoat.

With that said, I guess it's safe to say my fear that I could not complete this whole project by June 2010 is unfounded. So my decision to move my deadline to November 2010 is being reversed! The original deadline stands!

Can't wait to write my last post!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mid April: Surcoat Neck Facing

Before I begin my description of how I have done the neck facing for the red surcoat I will review the choices of materials used.

As I had said in the beginning, I believe the outfit would have been made from wool, but since I could not find colours or weights of wool that would be suitable for the outfit I decided to go with 100% linen, which is a fabric found in period. For the neck facing on the surcoat I am using the same 100% gold silk as I used for the cuffs on the sleeves of the kirtle. As for the thread used, for the surcoat I have done the same as I did for the kirtle...I am using 100% cotton, both for availability and financial reasons.

For the construction of the neck facing I began by running a loose basting stitch on the area of the neck I wanted to gather on both the front and back of the surcoat.

I also used a basting stitch on the edge of the neck facing to ease in the curve for turning under.
I then laid the neck facing on the bodice, right sides up for both the bodice and the facing. I pulled up the basting stitch on the bodice and adjusted the gathers before pinning and then basting into place.
The facing was then sewn into place with a tight and even running stitch.

In the Codex Manesse image of the surcoat I believe I see a narrow red trim edging the neck facing, so I have constructed a small band with some of the leftover red linen to create that. It was folded in half leaving one raw edge and one folded edge.

The raw edge of the facing was laid down along the raw edge of the neck facing and basted into place.

Finally another neck facing piece was laid on top of the first neck facing piece, right sides together and pinned into place. A tight and even running stitch was used to sew the facing pieces together along the pinned edge.

The same steps were done on the back bodice piece.
The facing was turned right sides out and pressed into place, revealing the red edging. A running stitch was then used to stitch the edge of the turned in piece to the inside of the bodice neck.
With both back and front neck facings in place, the back and front surcoat bodices were then sewn together at the shoulders using a whip stitch.

Here is a view of the seam inside:

To finish the edges of the inside seam, the raw edges were then turned under and whip stitched to the garment, continuing around the outside neck edge to create a nice finish.

Here is a view of the final product, pressed and finished!

I'm feeling rather accomplished after this!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April 2010: The Surcoat Revisted, Re-Revisted, Re-Re-Revisted...You Get the Picture

I'm feeling a sense of deja vu as I write this. I'm sure I mentioned that I had finally figured out the pattern design for the red surcoat months ago. Unfortunately the design of the red surcoat now reminds me of one of those movies that have seamingly unending sequels. In fact, I think I've redesgined this surcoat more times than the number of Star Trek movies.

Let us go back to the end of September 2009. Yes, that would be 6 months ago! This was the last time that I mentioned the red surcoat. I had actually made a pattern design and was happy with it. Well, time away from the pattern allowed me to look at the surcoat in the Codex Manesse illumination with fresh eyes. I could see that my pattern was rather far from the design of the red surcoat I was aiming for. My design was too tight in the bodice area. I think I created it this way because I was denying the real desgin of the Codex Manesse style, which shows no real shape to the wearer whatsoever. I was thinking in the 21st Century, not the 14th Century. Now that I have been in the SCA for a year and now that my eyes have become accustomed to the various and sundry styles available I am more comfortable with the style I need to create to look like the illumination.

So, back to the drawing board!

For a refresher I have posted a photo of the outfit in the Codex Manesse illumination which I am using as well as a photo from another Codex Manesse illumination in which the woman is wearing a very similar outfit. Because she is standing in this image it was easier for me to see what I needed to do to the pattern. As you can see in the photos, the surcoat is rather voluminous in the skirt. As well, the bodice area is voluminous with gathers in the neckline under the neck facing. The armholes are fairly high up but there is some view of the kirtle underneath.

In my original surcoat designs I had thought I would need gores to create the fullness of the skirt even though I do not see gore seams in the illumination image. I think I was trying to create more fullness in the skirt hoping it would "fix" the bodice as well. Even this past week when I started working on the design again I included gores hoping for a better fit. I was again disappointed.

Then one morning while lying awake in bed trying to pretend I was sleeping in it finally dawned on me what I needed to do. It finally occurred to me that I needed more fabric in the bodice area and that more fabric meant I might need to include gathers. I created a whole new pattern and tried it on. It was almost there! And after some more tweaking and more cutting I finally arrived at THEE design. As soon as I looked at myself in the mirror I knew it was finally right. I didn't see anything that bugged me anymore. It looked like the Codex Maness surcoat! And it didn't need gores either. I used the full width of the fabric (60 inch width) at the bottom and tapered it somewhat closer to the bodice, although not completely so as to create the fullness in the bodice as well.

And here are the results of my final mock-up surcoat design in front and side view photos (You can see the satisfied smile on my face!):

And just for fun I thought I would do a "mash-up" photo of all the various and sundry designs of the surcoat that I actually photographed:

Amazingly enough, although 5 photos are shown, I can actually count in my head at least 8-10 times that I went back and re-designed, adjusted and tweaked the design during the whole process! It became an obsession that I wasn't going to let go until I got it right. Perhaps if I was a professional seamstress I might have had it sorted out a long time ago, but I am not. Perhaps if I had found a pattern that matched the image I would have had it done sooner rather than later, but I didn't find such a pattern. I am content with my trial and error technique that has resulted in my very own pattern design! It was a trial and there were definitely errors but I think it has paid off in the end.

So, today, April 6th, 2010, I cut out that red surcoat with the gold neck facing.

Now to sew it together!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beginning of April 2010: Eyelets, a Hem and a Finished Product!

And on April 1st 2010 after 4 months of hand sewing I finally completed the first piece in my quest! The green kirtle is complete!
In a flurry of activity this past week I was able to get much done. First came the eyelets. Using the same techniques that I learned to complete the eyelets on the brown kirtle I made months ago I proceeded to sew 18 eyelets onto my new green kirtle. When it came to the choice of thread, the fabric store did not offer much. I had a choice between polyester buttonhole twist or cotton quilting thread. Although the buttonhole twist would be heavier I did not want to tarnish the finish of my kirtle with polyester so I purchased the quilting thread, hoping I could double it up for thickness. As it happens, though, I was spending an evening with my mentors, Estela and Cristiana. Once they knew my intentions there was a furtive search in their stash of sewing materials and lo and behold, a spool of 100% linen thread, nice and heavy, and in the perfect colour was found! We waxed it up and I began my eyelets!

Below is a photo of the 18 completed eyelets:

The next and final job was the hem. And the hem was the purpose of my evening with Estela and Cristiana. After a rather unsuccessful attempt at measuring up the hem myself at home I realized I would need help. So that evening I tried on the kirtle and thankfully had Estela trim around the bottom of the dress while I stood with it on. A perfect way to measure up a hem! The next day I proceeded to press up the hem. Estela had given me a wonderful tip in easing the fullness of the hem and it worked beautifully. I pressed up the edge about a 1/4 of an inch, then ran a loose running stitch around the edge. I could then pull up the thread to ease in the fullness as I pressed down the hem. A little trim here and a little adjusting there and I had a hem marked up.
Below are two photos, the first showing how the hem is gathered with the running stitch and the second showing how nicely it presses down:

And on the evening of April the 1st I hand stitched that hem, using a nice even and close together running stitch and with that the kirtle was complete!

Below I would like to present to you the finished product in front, side and back views!

Now to start all over again and begin the construction of the red surcoat!

Friday, March 26, 2010

End of March: Neck Facing and Sleeves

The neck facing and sleeves are now done!

The pattern for my kirtle does not include cut outs for facing so I had to construct the pieces myself. The stitch I have used thus far for constructing the kirtle has been the whip stitch. Considering that the facing must be placed onto the dress with right sides together, and then turned to the inside of the dress I believe the whipstitch would be rather difficult to use. Instead I have used the running stitch. This is the stitch that my mentor, Cristiana, suggested. In the "Reconstructing History Sewing Techniques of the Medieval Period" sewing guide it is said that the running stitch was used for seams that required little strength. I believe the neck facing would fall into this category. So the neck facing has been done with the running stitch, keeping the stitches small and close together to give the seam sufficient strength, then turned inside and finished with a running stitch.

Below is a photo of the neck facing in progress using the running stitch:

And a photo of the finished neck facing from the inside:
As for the sleeves, looking at the original Codex Manesse illumination I see a gold band on the bottom edge. To re-create this band I purchased silk fabric in a gold colour. I believe silk is a good choice for this band as silk is a natural fibre and was a fabric used in the medieval period according to an online source: " Science and Technology in Medieval European Life" where it states that wealthier members of society would use imported silk. To construct the band I cut a rectangular piece of the fabric in the desired width and attached it with a running stitch on the outside of the sleeve as seen in the photo below:
I then proceeded to sew up the length of the sleeve using the whip stitch that was used for the majority of the dress, switching from the green cotton thread to gold cotton thread once arriving at the band. As well, I finished the edges as I had done with the rest of the dress. I then folded up the band to the inside of the sleeve and finished it with a running stitch.
Here is a photo of the band attached to the sleeve and finished on the outside:
Here is a photo showing the finishing of the sleeve inside:
The next step was to attach the sleeves to the dress. Reading through the "Reconstructing History Sewing Techniques of the Medieval Period" Guide it is stated that the back stitch was a very common stitch used for underarm seams and sleeve attachments. With this said, this is the stitch I decided to use for attaching the sleeves.
In the photo below you can see the back stitching on one side of the seam:
And in this photo you can see the backstiching on the reverse side of the seam:
All that was left to do was to finish the edges of the sleeve armholes. To do this I trimmed one edge of the seam so I could fold the wider edge over it, turn it under and secure it with a running stitch. This proved to be a neat finish and comfortable once wearing the dress.

With the neck facing and sleeves complete, all I have left to do is eyelets and a hem! I can just taste the completion of the kirtle!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gore and Side Seam Edges Finished!

No special photos to show, but I just needed to mark the day to say that I am finally finished "finishing" all the gore and side seam edges! Thought it would never end!

Now onto sleeves and such!