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.


Cathy Raymond said...

I look forward to hearing about your neckline method; necklines are always a matter of anxiety for me.

Teffania said...

I'll get there eventually. There are about 60 draft blog posts in various states of unfisnishedness, many needing photos taken, waiting for me to be less busy and finish them. Unfortunately the rest of this year is not a good time for that. I look forward to free time and more blog posts next year.