The most frequently worn item in my wardrobe is my red linen cote. It's very practical, easy to move about in, quick to slip on, and I can even slip it over modern clothes. It's also quite cool, which helps on our hot days, and is easily worn under my thicker wool garments on the colder days. In fact it makes life easier to have a dress under garments such as my thick burgandy wool dress, since if I get warm I can remove the wool dress and still be respectably dressed.
I have two main problems with this dress. Firstly it's made from coloured linen, and I'm fairly confident that coloured linen was not at all common in the era I try to portray, especially not in garment which would need more cleaning. There are references to the white chainse, a form of linen dress in the 12th C, but the very fact that this linen garment is synonymus with the colour white makes me think coloured linens were unusual, and generally not worth the effort for clothing. The linen doesn't flow on the body like my wool dresses do (the aforementioned chainse incorporates pleats for a non-flowing look), and the colour is fading, and when the day cools down, or the garment gets wet, it's so much colder than wool.
The second problem is simply that the garment is getting old and wearing out. I made it in 2003, and wear it at least one day a month, often more. It gets washed at least 4 times a year. Servants were given one new set of clothing per year, so I guess this is a guide to how long a garment might be expected to last. My garment hasn't but it is getting laundered more than I'm sure most medieval garments do, and it is made from a noticeably thinner and weaker weight of linen than I would expect most medieval people to have had access to. The garment is pulling out fabric around stitches, developing wear patches and similar. While the points that are wearing out first do reflect weaknesses in my sewing a tailoring technique, the cloth of the whole garment is on the verge of unravelling.
Well the solution has been at hand for a while, I've had a nice bargain buy piece of navy wool suiting waiting in my stash for me to be ready to cut it up. It's a lovely thin suiting, so It should be nearly as cool as the linen on the hot days. (Well the navy colour may be a mistake if I'm in the sun, but as long as I stay in the shade it should be good). My inspiration to make this the time to cut up the fabric was two-fold - I'm going to canterbury faire, and want to look my best (and have clothing that reflects the state of my knowledge today, not 5 years ago) when I meet a lot of new people, and I'd just read a lovely ladies description of a 13th C dress, and detailed answers to my questions regarding seam treatments and this seemed the perfect place to try them out.
So this is the general shape I decided on:
It's a general shape that seems to be in line with what we know of 12th C tailoring. It doesn't incorporate any of the fancy features of bliauts, and it is very tight about the body, unlike the 13th Century fashions. In fact I may have made it a little too tight in the body compared to historical reality (although with so little in the way of extant female garments you'll find it difficult to prove me right or wrong), but let's just call me a fashionable young girl. I'm not going to try and explore proto set-in sleeves in this garment - being a cote, it is more likely to have been of a simpler older-fashioned cut with less technological innovations than the bliauts.
It's basically the same lines I used on my red linen and burgandy wool tunics, but with the following alterations:
- the seam allowances will be smaller in line with the different sewing technique
- the dress will be a little longer than the red linen dress - the dress was always intended to be longer, but I made an error in placement of the gores and was too heartbroken to resew everthing, so I moved the sleeves down and resewed the shoulder seam lower, thus reducing the whole height
- the dress will have slightly longer sleeves. I would like to play with the concept of rucked up sleeves on an ovegarment, and if I don't like them, I can easily shorten the sleeves.
- the dress will be slightly narrower in the body. I want to see how tight I can make the garment (in line with 12th C fashion), before lacing is required. If I can't pull this on easily then I will lace the sides.
And here's the way it fitted on the fabric (wastage/scrap in pale blue):
The exact length of the sleeves and width of the gores was determined by the fabric width. Likewise the choice to have a shoulder seam or continuous fabric was make by the fabric (too short, but wide).