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!

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.

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