Sunday, 26 August 2012

Red linen cote redux and musings on handsewing your first garment

I've written about my first completely handsewn garment before, a linen cote I made. but I find I have a few more things to say about the garment.

The first thing I'd like to talk about is my motivation for handsewing the garment. I can remember it because I was going to pennsic in 2003 and wanted to sew the dress on the 24 hour plane ride. I don't think I finished the garment in time to wear it at pennsic (although I got plenty of sewing done on the plane), but I think it was probably finished before the start of 2004. It really helped to have a lot of time set aside for sewing the garment and a reason to be handsewing it, as otherwise i probably would never have finished it by hand.  These days my sewing is much quicker and I can sew without a lot of concentration, so sewing is a nice braindead way of keeping my hands busy, so I easily complete garments rapidly, but I remember this first garment took a lot longer, more concentration and a lot more effort to finish.

The garment also almost caused more tears than my subsequent handsewn garments. When constructing the garment, I had finished nearly all the seams on the garment when I discovered the gores were inserted too low in the garment to comfortably expand over my hips. It was a moment of much despair, for handsewing was a very long and slow process at that stage still. Eventually I decided if I undid the shoulder seams and removed the sleeves and reinserted them lover and shortened the shoulders in order to avoid undoing the very long seams on the gores. This made the dress a tweak shorter than I'd planned (I had cut it to floor length so I could choose any length I'd wanted), but actually was a very practical length. So my first advice to anyone wanting to handsew a garment - make a (wearable) mockup by machine first.

Another piece of advice for the would be first time sewwer is to invest in the best quality fabric you can buy. At the time I couldn't find affordable wool (I was a poor uni student, and I didn't know where the best bargains on wool were to be found), and I wanted something thinner for hot days. However the fabric choice has been the garment's weakest point - as well as being unable to clearly document coloured linen for the 12th Century, the fabric is quite weak after repeated washings (it can't be beaten clean or effectively spot cleaned like wool) and the fabric is quite literally falling to pieces in many places. This dress is soon to be for the rag pile.  But more significantly, the fabric wasn't as easy to sew as my later constructions in thicker ramie and wool. Thinner more loosely woven weaker fabric means the fabric doesn't grip the thread as well, is more likely to get holes when you make mistakes or unpick too often and just to not feel as good to sew.  It's a subjective thing, but I've sewn this fabric since, and it wasn't just my novice sewing skills that made this difficult.

The garment is intended to be a 12th C cote - a day garment, practical to wear but with still some stylish features like very tight sleeves and fairly tight torso. I'm very happy with the cut of this garment. It's a nice conjecturally period cut and very comfortable to wear. The only debatable feature is the highly sloped shoulder seams. Many medieval garments have no shoulder seam at all, and thus are of course not slanted at all. My shoulders are quite slanted though, so this does improve the fit (the slant was fitted to my shoulders).

One of the things I like about this garment is the neckline. It's a nice tight neckline, allowing minimal sunburn, sitting nicely, just like in the manuscripts. To achieve this I shaped the neckline to my neck rather than predrawing a larger neckhole. I'll write about my neckline method someday soon. I also shaped the sleeves in a similar manner - fitting them from a basic rectangular shape to my arms, rather than a measured out shape. I think both of these worked very well indeed, and continue to use these methods.

This dress has served me well, and will be replaced by a very similar garment very soon now. In fact the blue lightweight wool cote was planned to be a replacement for this dress, but circumstance is dictating otherwise.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Hairstyles and veils

Today, an intorduction to veils.  Yes, I know others have posted similar descriptions, but most use a band under the chin (which doesn't suit  a number of 12th Century styles) or aim at a different style, so here's how I make my simplest style of veil. Of course many variants exist, and I'll attempt to explain some of the ones I use later, but don't be afraid to experiment - If it's giving you the look you see in the illustrations, you are probably heading in the right direction.

The fillet
Veils don't just stay on by magic. And if you just jam a crown or circlet on your head on top of your veil, you run the risk of getting the dreaded muffin head effect. In fact, there are plenty of veils in manuscripts that don't have a circlet on top of them, so something else must be holding them up. My favourite way to do so is a fillet.

A fillet is a strip of fabric a bit bigger than the size of your head. Good fillets are made from fabric that will grip a little. For example a shiny satin ribbon works badly, slipping off easily. A velvet ribbon works a bit better because its pile grips the veil better. But those are both modern examples of materials. Period examples are likely to be linen bands or strips of tabletweaving or similar woven narrowwares. I have both and both work quite well.

Here's pictures of attaching the fillet:

The tabletwoven strip I prefer to tie behind my head, while the linen bands don't tie very comfortably or securely - I prefer to pin those tightly to itself at the back of my head.

Once the fillet is sitting on your head, you can now attach the veil. I'm using a simple oval veil today, but this method should work for most other vaugely cirular shapes of veils. Drape the veil over the fillet in the position you want it to be in.

Pop in a pin in the centre, that is above your nose

Add a pin on each temple.
And so the final product which drapes, but doesn't fall off your head when you dance. You can place a another fillet over top of this again, be it a simple metal circlet, a wreath of flowers, a cloth band or a crown. I'm told the underneath fillet will support the weight of a crown a bit, although I can't speak from personal experience.