Sunday, 12 March 2017

The start of more Medieval garments

As I am studying at Newcastle University this year, I decided to join the campus SCA group, which is essentially Medieval re-enactment and other fun stuff. I have always had an interest in historical clothing, and did actually attend a few SCA meetings almost 10 years ago when I lived in Sydney, but until Winterfest last year, hadn't really made much in the way of (mostly) historically accurate garments. Now, after only 2 meetings with this new club, I already have 3 more pieces of garb underway (some of which may take longer than others to finish) My inspiration for my new pieces is to create a complete wardrobe for a specific time and place, and taking inspiration from my husband's last name, I have chosen to focus on Scotland, probably around the 15th or 16th centuries, as any earlier than that seems even harder to find reliable information on (and later is no longer medieval)

The first item I began on is a yellow leine, which is essentially the medieval gaelic version of an undershirt. They were worn by both men and women, throughout Ireland and Scotland, particularly by those who refused English rule. According to the research I have been finding, they were quite often dyed bright yellow, although I am finding conflicting information about whether they were dyed with saffron to get the colour, or merely dyed a saffron yellow, by way of a description of the brightness. From what I have been looking at, they fairly often had long, bagged sleeves and simple necklines. There are many variations of course, but I wanted a fairly simple design, but liked the bagged sleeves, as they can also be used as pockets.

I found a piece of light yellow cotton in my stash, that was just over 2m in length. Ideally I would have liked more fabric to work with, but I also like to work from my stash instead of buying more fabric, and I also believe that trying to make historical clothing work from as little fabric as possible would be quite in the spirit of historical accuracy, as working class people would not have been able to afford to be extravagant and wasteful with their cloth. Traditionally the leine would be made from linen, but I can't really afford that sort of fabric, so cotton will suffice just fine for my needs. To start my leine, I simply folded my fabric into quarters, so that the middle of the fabric, where the neck opening will be, was at a corner, then using my measurements and pins, marked where I was going to cut. I cut the front, back and upper sleeves as one piece, with no shoulder or sleeve seams. I then pieced some extra length onto my sleeves from the fabric next to the skirt, to make sure they would be (almost) full length, and also to utilise the most out of the fabric. The way I have cut and constructed my leine is almost certainly not historically accurate, however, with such limited fabric, this is they way I chose to do it.

Sorry for the wrinkles, but this gives you
an idea of the sleeve shape

Here is a rough diagram of how I cut to make the most of my smallish piece of fabric:

The construction was very simple, sewing on the extra sleeve lengths, then just sewing the 2 side seams. I plan to use a simple facing for the neckline, which I will hand stitched down once it has been turned in and pressed. The sleeves and bottom still need to be hemmed by hand. I can leave it there, but I am considering trying my hand at a little bit of decorative embroidery along the hem as well.

I also decided to make a bodice/corset/stays/pair of bodies, or whatever term you wish to use, as so far my kirtle is the only support garment I have, and I thought a second one, without an attached skirt, would be handy to have. I decided on a simple design, back lacing, sort of straight Tudor style front, with tabs at the waist and ties on the front of the shoulder straps. I quickly drafted a pattern for these straight onto my calico when I was at my brothers one day, but when I pinned the pieces together to check the fit, discovered I had made quite an error in my measurements and needed to add an extra panel either side. so I then used those initial pieces to trace out new pieces, cut out 2 layers, sewed the seams, pressed them open, then sewed the 2 layers right sides together along the back edges only. I then turned it right side out and began carefully hand sewing boning channels along several of the seams and back edges. I used a tiny prick stitch, which should be fairly strong.

Prick stitching the boning channels

Progress shot. Tabs will be cut into the bottoms of the panels

Once I had added boning channels and boning to both front seams and the 2 back edge seams, I began working on the lacing eyelets, stretching them out with an awl (actually a knitting needle, but whatevs) and hand stitching around them with the same sort of reverse blanket stitch I used on the eyelets for my kirtle. After I had inserted a couple of the eyelets, I tried it on to get an idea of the fit. It wasn't perfect, but it certainly wasn't bad either. There seems to be a little too much room under the arms, but that may sit better when the rest of the eyelets are done and it is fully laced up, if not, I can remove some of the excess with a dart on each side. Also, the shoulder straps are far too short, however, I can just use a longer piece of sting to tie them to the front, so that isn't too detrimental. At the moment I am thinking of using some dark green cotton for the binding around the edges, but I am not completely decided on that yet.

The third garment I have been working on is a pair of socks! I know, how exciting! I saw another SCA member using a technique called nalbinding at the first meeting I went to, so the next day I decided to find some of my rougher handspun and a wool needle and give it a go. It essentially gives you a fabric similar to knitting, but is made with shorter lengths of yarn and done with a yarn needle, where you pull the entire length through a loop each stitch. It is a technique that predates knitting, so definitely could have existed in the 15th/16th century in Scotland. Looking in my collection of handspun, I found 3 cakes of some brown alpaca that I had spun, 2 that were quite chunky and rough, and 1 which was a lot finer. I started my first sock, using some guidance from online tutorials, using one of the chunky cakes, but as it was forming, I realised I would finish the cake before making the sock anywhere near as long as I wanted. In an attempt to keep things even between 2 socks, I made the decision to start each sock with each cake of chunky yarn, then finish each with half of the yarn of the finer spun cake, thus keeping the sole, toe and heel thicker and more hard wearing, then making the leg a finer, more delicate weave.

Sock progress. cake in use on the left, finely spun cake in the
middle, and the second rough spun cake on the right
I have also already made an Arisaid, but as that is just a rectangle of fabric, it's not really much on an achievement. I purchased 2m of a blue, black and white polyester woven tartan, that is lovely, soft and warm. It naturally has a small fringe along the selvedge edge, so I machine stitched down each cut end, about 1/2 and inch from the edge, and purposely frayed the fabric. These are usually worn pleated and belted to the waist, so I will have to find or make a suitable belt to go with it.

I still have plenty more garments in the planning stages for my SCA persona, which I will share once I get started on them. Has anyone else been working on any historical clothing?



  1. It all sounds fascinating, especially the nalbinding. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished ensemble!

    I don't tend to go back any further than mid-century with my sewing, but I am looking forward to sewing a pair of pyjama pants from a (possibly) 1940s pattern with my newest acquisition: a hand-crank sewing machine from 1914.

    Katie @ Katie Writes Stuff

    1. I just love playing dress ups I guess. I wore my new outfit yesterday, but unfortunately did not get photos of it, so I will have to try later this week, perhaps at the next SCA meeting on Tuesday night. I haven't finished the socks yet, but I have made up both up to the ankle, so they are at least wearable.
      It's certainly not for everyone, but I find a fascination in the research and effort of recreating these clothes, especially since there are so few remaining pieces still in existence.