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, October 18, 2009

Period Poncho for the Procrastinating Pilgrim

Okay all,

I've finally made up my mind about my project. I've found what Drachenwald needs is more Clint Eastwood in it, and to promote this, I'm looking for a period poncho.

This is what the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg gave me. (More pictures and examples of similar garments in Lady Anna's Flickr album)

This looks like two rectangular strips of cloth connected along the top. I feel this meets my level of sewing expertise, though the joint on the top may prove tricky for me.

The interesting part of this poncho/cloak is, that it's buttoned up on the shoulders. Both examples I found have this feature, and it looks like the buttoning was always done on both shoulders. Do you guys have any idea about the purpose of the buttons? (Or, more generally, do you know more about this kind of cloak? For example, what's it called? "Blanket"?) It seems unnecessary (provided the neckhole is big enough to stick your head through as is) and to serve only to weaken the arrangement.

Being the ever-resourceful outdoor enthusiast, I figured this might be a dual-purpose cloak, much in the way modern army ponchos can be rebuttoned to be used as sleeping bag covers. Namely, assume the the cloak is made of two strips of cloth, each being about one meter wide and one meter 30 centimeters or such long. (That's roughly 3' by 4' for you nonmetrics out there.) Buttoned together along the narrow edge, it serves as a poncho with the head sticking out on the narrow edge, as shown in the picture. But if you unbutton it there and rebutton it along one of the long edges, you can turn it into a fairly comfortable blanket sized 200cm x 130cm. Unfortunately, none of the pictures I could find as yet shows any buttons or buttonholes along the long edges, which might serve to blow my theory right out of the water.

Now, do you have any ideas about this cloak? Is such a dual-purpose documented, conceivable, fancyful or rightout ridiculous?

What material would be used for the cloak? Is it what we nowadays would call "a hardshell", intended to stop the wind and rain (to which purpose I would make it from cotton tarp), or is it wool?

Any advice and suggestions welcome,


P.S.: If you think this poncho isn't worthwhile, my plan B project is to reproduce the Bayeux Tapestry in braille.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

All Caught Up!

End of September 2009: Revisiting the Surcoat Pattern and Formally Entering the Challenge!

Yes, it actually took me this long to actually get around to contacting the person who was in charge of the First Time Hand Sewing Challenge! But as of September 29th I joined and after this particular post I will be all caught up on my progress.

The end of September was the time I decided to revisit my pattern for the surcoat. As you know, I had developed a pattern previously which I thought was good enough, but looking at it after having left it for a couple of months I felt it needed more work.

I think the shape of the neckline was fairly decent in comparison to the picture in the Codex Manesse plate. The armholes, however, seemed perhaps slightly too open. And my biggest problem was the lack of fullness in the skirt.

Although the Reconstructing History pattern for the surcoat was not the design I wanted due to the openness of the armholes I thought I would take a look at it anyway to see if there was anything that could be of help to me. I was happy to find that there was something I hadn’t thought of when making the surcoat in August. Gores! In the Reconstructing History pattern there are two gores inset at the side seams of the surcoat. Of course this would create more fullness!

I then took the mock up result of the surcoat I had made back in August and took it apart. I adjusted the armholes and then compared its shape to the Reconstructing History surcoat pattern to determine where I would place the gores. At this point I was starting to run out of scrap material to use for making mock ups so I ended up having to use different colours and even then the length of some of the pieces were going to be a little off. You’ll notice some of the gores in the photos will be white as opposed to a wine colour for the rest of the surcoat...which is actually kind of helpful to see where the fullness is added. The first attempt included gores at the side seams only. After trying the result on I was still disappointed with the fullness. At this point I decided to cut up the front and back to inset gores there as well. Once I did this and tried on the result I was much happier. I then created some armhole facing to see how the armholes would fit as well. The result of that is what you see in the photos. I did not put a neck facing on since that will be something I can play with when I do the real thing, considering that the neckline has a different colour trim on it in the plate picture.

And as I did with the kirtle pattern I have done with the surcoat pattern, making it into a paper pattern.

Now all I have to do is wait for my fabric to arrive and I can begin on the actual garments! I can’t wait!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

More Catching Up

Further journal entries:

September 2009: Lots of Conclusions!
After months of looking for fabric I was becoming impatient and frustrated. I went to a baronial fight practice to discuss my dismay with some of the members of my house, the Golden Oak Inn. As a result, my sewing mentors, Estela and Honourable Lady Christiana inghen Mec-Bead (Tina Oliver in the mundane world…henceforth to be known as Christiana) suggested that making my outfit completely out of linen was not out of the question. Since I was having problems finding 100% wool in the colours I wanted and linen was at least a period fabric, it was completely fine for me to use that fabric. After an educational outing to the fabric store for one last look for appropriate wool fabric with some of the house members, I was shown the online source for linen that Estela and Christiana used. Seeing the colours available to me, I finally decided linen was the way to go.

At the time I had also discussed the type of thread I should use and again Estela and Christiana told me that as long as I used a good quality thread such as Gutermann that I should be fine.

So I have now come to the conclusion that the entire outfit would be made of linen and stitched with Gutermann thread!

During the same fight practice meeting I was also instructed on the proper layers of clothing that I should be wearing as a 14th Century woman (approximately, since I am still working on this and being educated). This was a subject that has confused me since joining the SCA. As I had mentioned in the beginning, I knew NOTHING! I had thought that I would simply be able to wear a bra, a dress and a surcoat if I wished. This, I found out from Estela and Christiana, is not the case. I don’t know about anyone else who has attempted to do research on historical clothing in this period with no prior knowledge, but I find it very difficult to decipher information from various sources, since many would use the same terminology for different pieces of clothing.

In the book “The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant” (borrowed from Estela, thank you!) in the page displaying the timeline for the garments and their periods, the author lists such garments as the simple cote, finer cote, close-fitting cote, kirtle, waisted kirtle, cotehardie, overkirtles, gowns, and frocks/coats. However, in the written information in the pages following the timeline it doesn’t seem to portray each and every piece of clothing listed in a different way. Although helpful, I found some of this information to be confusing.

In the information that accompanies the Reconstructing History Kirtle pattern by Kass McGann that I have since decided to use for the green dress, she discusses the terminology of kirtles and cotes concluding that it is possible that the kirtle and cote may have been the same garment depending on the country from which it came.

After long discussion with Estela and Christiana, based on a 14th Century persona (approximately), I should be wearing a shift/chemise, then a kirtle (laced up the front), then a cote/cotehardie (buttoned or laced up the front) and then a surcoat if I wished. From what I understand, the shift/chemise acts as underwear with the kirtle acting as a bra/slip, the cote/cotehardie being the actual dress and the surcoat an extra fashion layer. I had thought that the kirtle could be worn as the dress but Estela and Christiana said that would not be proper since a woman would never show so much of her undergarments. After long discussion while viewing the Codex Manesse plate from which I wanted to create my outfit we came to a conclusion. Since it seems that the surcoat the woman is wearing is rather closed at the sides in comparison to the later period sideless surcoats, and therefore covering the green layer very well, we decided that it would be fine for me to simply wear a shift/chemise, then a kirtle (in the green colour) and then the surcoat (in the red colour). I would not need to make a cote/cotehardie layer since the surcoat covers the green garment almost completely, which would not be improper.

Therefore my outfit will consist of a shift/chemise, a kirtle, and a surcoat.

As for the actual style involved in each of the garments I have decided to go with what I can see in the picture itself.

The shift/chemise is obviously not seen. I will therefore not be hand sewing this layer so I can concentrate on the next two layers.

As I had mentioned earlier, I had decided to use a Reconstructing History Pattern for the kirtle. This pattern was chosen after trying out a McCall’s pattern for earlier dresses that I have since found that are not period. Estela informed me that the dress in the McCall’s pattern has “princess” seams which are not present in the period I am representing. Estela directed me to the website for the Reconstructing History patterns since Kass McGann, the person who has developed these patterns, has done much research in the area of historical clothing and if I was going to use a purchased pattern rather than developing my own, I should go here. I purchased the pattern package for the 14th Century Woman since that is the period I am working in.

When I look at the woman in the Codex Manesse plate, the only things that are visible in the picture for the green kirtle are the sleeves. I do not see the neckline or whether or not the garment has a closure at the front and if it does have a closure, what the closure would be. I also do not see how tightly the garment is fitting. The sleeves that I do see seem to be tapered, although they may look a little loose. There also seems to be a trim of some sort at the end of the sleeves in a gold colour with a very slight trim of red on the very edge. I do not see any buttons on the sleeves at all. With all this said, since I have decided to make the green garment into a kirtle, I am going to make it tight fitting, with a laced closure at the front, and tapered, fairly tight fitting sleeves with no buttons. I will leave enough give on the sleeves to be able to add the trim at the ends.

For the surcoat, in the Codex Manesse plate I can see that it is very voluminous with fabric dripping onto the floor. Although sideless, the surcoat is very closed at the sides, leaving little or no visual access to the green garment under it. There seems to be a trim on the neckline of the surcoat which matches the trim on the sleeves of the green garment. The neckline also seems to cover the green garment completely, leaving no visual access to the green garment here. With all this said, although I do have a pattern for a sideless surcoat in the Reconstructing History 14th Century Woman package, the pattern is for a very open sideless surcoat. Obviously I cannot use this pattern the way it is. As I have mentioned in earlier documentation, I have been working on developing my own pattern for the surcoat in the Codex Manesse plate. I had made numerous adjustments to a commercial pattern for a surcoat and had developed a pattern. I had used this pattern for making a surcoat for an outfit I needed for an event at the end of August 2009. Thinking back on it and the results of the garment, I think I want to further develop this pattern because I do not believe the surcoat pattern I made is either long enough or has enough volume. I may include gores in further patterns. As well, I may take a look at the Reconstructing History surcoat pattern to see how it is constructed.

Late September 2009: Working on the Kirtle Pattern

I finally started work on the pattern for the kirtle! As I have said, I used the Reconstructing History pattern for a 14th Century Woman Kirtle. My plan here was to use very light weight white poly/cotton broadcloth to make the kirtle by machine so I could draft a pattern for the kirtle to fit my body measurements as closely as possible. This way I have a kirtle pattern I can use over and over again and it also saves me a lot of fitting and refitting with the hand sewn garment. I would rather spend my time hand sewing!

This is the first pattern that I have ever used that was not a McCalls/Simplicity/Butterick commercial pattern. I noticed a marked difference between the commercial patterns compared to this historical clothing pattern. I found that there were not as many step by step instructions as well as a lot less diagrams to help figure out how to construct the pattern. My personal opinion is that one definitely needs prior sewing experience, especially clothing making experience, in order to be able to work with this pattern. I did, however, appreciate the historical information accompanying the pattern. There was a lot of useful information compiled that is difficult to find when researching period clothing on your own. I also appreciated how the pattern developer instructs the sewer to start with the size that matches your body as close as possible but to then modify the pattern to fit, with further fitting instructions once the fabric has been cut from the pattern.

I think I did fairly well with it, although I had a couple of frustrating experiences.

My first frustrating experience was fitting the pattern to my body once I cut it. I have never done this with a pattern to the extent that I did with this one, mainly since I want the kirtle to fit as close to my body as possible. When it came time to do the fitting for the bodice area I was alone in the house so I had to do it myself. It is a very difficult thing to do by oneself! I think I went back and forth with pins and loose machine stitching about 10 times before I finally got it to a point that suited me! The fit, I believe, is almost right…I would like the bodice to fit more tightly on the real thing, but my mentor, Estela, advised me that fitting can be different for each outfit you make, depending on the fabric you use. I also want to lower the neckline. I have my mock up fitting fairly well so I can go from there.

The second frustrating experience was with the sleeves. Because of the lack of instructions in the pattern regarding how to fit the pieces together I found it VERY difficult to figure out which sleeve was the left one and which was the right one. The pattern included either a separate gore piece or the option for the gore to be included in the whole sleeve piece. I chose the included gore for simplicity. I don’t think it would have made much of a difference in trying to figure out which sleeve went where, though. I really wish there were more diagrams in the pattern. What made it even more difficult was the fact that the sleeve was going to need “easing” into the armhole. This made it even more confusing in trying to decide where things should be pinned. So I had to figure it all out by trial and error, going back and forth a few times as I had done with the fitting of the bodice. I almost ran away screaming a times but I am proud to say I persisted until I finally got the sleeves to a satisfactory fit.

The only other problem I had was with the length of the dress, but that would be easily changed by adding a few inches.

In the photos of the mock up you can see how I have managed to get it to fit pretty well. On the real thing I will likely take in the waistline to tighten the area under the bust line, but I didn’t want to cut away too much fabric! I will also definitely be lowering the neckline. And look! I managed to get the sleeves on the right arms!

Once I finally got the mock up to fit the way I wanted I proceeded to make it into a pattern. I did this by first marking the seams on all sides of the mock up with permanent ink. This way when I took it all apart I could easily see where I should be drawing the pattern, measuring 5/8ths of an inch from the seam. I used a roll of packing paper to mark out the pattern. I made sure to leave markings at various points where I wanted the gores to be inserted and where the sleeves should go…showing left and right sides! When I finally get to cut out the real thing it won’t take me forever to do it. And I can also be assured that, for the most part, all my hand sewing will not have to be completely pulled out for fitting purposes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Catching Up

Hello again!

As I said in my last post I have been working on my project even though I took so long to join the challenge and write my first post. So here I'm going to start trying to catch up. I've been keeping a journal on my desktop about my project so I'm going to cut and paste from there. I have written quite a lot so I will only cut and paste a little at a time:

Early July 2009: A Bad Experience with Hot Water and a Dryer

After some initial research I decided that the fabric for the outfit would be made from wool. I was happy to find some red wool fabric at my local fabric store that would be perfect for the surcoat. There was only a limited amount of it but considering how much fabric I had needed for a previously machine made surcoat I believed it would be enough. Because the fabric was very loose in its weave I was instructed by one of my sewing mentors, Baronne Estela du Frayse (Kelly Grant in the mundane world…henceforth to be known as Estela), that I should “full” it by washing it in hot water and drying it in the dryer. I was aghast when doing this resulted in extensive shrinking! Alas, there was not going to be enough fabric for the project!

Mid July 2009: Research

I went to a local branch of our library in Halifax to do some research in the reference section. In the book, “Survey of Historic Costume”, Chapter 6: High Middle Ages: 900-1300 it describes fabric manufacture. Available fabrics during this time would have been wool, linen and silk. With this information I decided that using wool would be fine.

I also did some research online and found this quote from a book called “Science and Technology in Medieval European Life” by Jeffrey R. Wigelsworth: Under “Clothes and Cloth Making” found in (I believe) “Chapter I: Earning a Living: Agriculture and Manufacturing”: “Most everyday medieval fabrics were wool or linen…” and “The warmth of wool made it a natural choice for outerwear, while linen cloth was used to make underwear.” From this quote I again concluded that I would use wool.

From the same chapter and section of the online copy of “Science and Technology in Medieval European Life” as mentioned above I also found quoted: “Sewing thread used in medieval clothing was made from linen. On more expensive pieces of clothing, the thread was silk…” From this quote I concluded that the thread I would want to use was linen.

August 2009: Beginning the Design for the Surcoat

The time had come to start thinking of the design for the pieces of the outfit. I had made a dress from a McCall’s pattern in the past that seemed to fit me rather well so I thought this dress pattern might be appropriate for the outfit. It was laced up at the back, though, which I had discovered was incorrect for period garments. I decided, then, that I might be able to make it with no lacing at all. I tried it out on a brown dress I would be wearing to an event at the end of the month and was happy with the results. I decided that this was probably going to be the pattern I would use for the gown.

For the surcoat I decided to design one that I could make and wear at the same event as I would use the brown dress. I thought I could try modifying a surcoat from the same McCall’s pattern where the dress came from. I had made a surcoat from this pattern in the past and thought it might give me a good start. The pattern, however, was for a rather open sideless surcoat. The one in the Codex Manesse plate is much more closed at the sides as well as at the neckline.

I started off making my own pattern for the surcoat by laying out the original one I had made from the McCall’s pattern on brown paper and tracing out the pattern, making modifications for the armholes and neckline. I then cut out my mock up pattern from some scrap fabric and sewed it together. The result was not exactly what I wanted. The neckline didn’t seem to lie properly as it bunched out somewhat. Also, the bust line seemed to be a little tight. I took it apart and modified it further. I didn’t have too much of a problem with the bust line but it took a few attempts to get the neck line to sit properly. I finally found a design that seemed to fit well enough so I used that pattern for the surcoat I would wear to the event at the end of the month. I was happy enough with the result although I was a little disappointed with the fullness of it. The result was produced from rather heavy fabric, which I thought may be the problem. However, I didn’t have much more time before the event to try to modify it so I left it as it was.

The first photo shows my first attempt. You can see where the neckline is puffing out and how the bustline is a little tight.

The second photo shows how I adjusted the neckline so it would lay better and how I made the bustline less tight.

The third photo shows the result of the outfit I used for the August event including the brown dress and the surcoat.
I'll let you digest all this before adding any more...there's still lots to catch up on!

Finished Apron

Finished the Arpon with blackworked "Fret of Thistles"

Sometime I will add more blackwork, but not today.

Now on to next handsewn project.

Thank you for this challenge, I've had a lot of fun with it.