My new thirteenth-century frock – part two

I’ve been hard at work on the new frock based on the Amesbury Psalter image. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been able to:

  • cut and assemble the lining of the overdress, and
  • decide on my embroidery design and begin the embroidery.

There were really helpful comments on ‘The Manuscript Challenge’ in response to my first blog. A great deal of debate centred on the pros and cons of using linen as a lining, as I had been intending. Linen is a very effective wick, and it will soak up water from the ground, causing not only itself but also any accompanying wool to become waterlogged. This has led many to choose not to use linen as a lining, and I was forced to reconsider this option. However, in the end I decided to stick with linen for the lining of my overdress. For one thing, the overdress is not full length and so should not come into contact with moist ground too easily. Secondly, I have actually pretty much always used linen for my linings, even on full-length dresses, and I have not found it too much of a problem (even in the English climate!) Having acquired a nice lightweight linen in red, I decided to use it as originally planned.

Measuring and cutting the pieces for the overdress lining gave me a chance to  experiment with the design, based on ideas from the St Claire of Assisi gown (below, right) and the Empress Matilda dalmatic (below left, details for both on my Pinterest):

st claire of assisiempress matilda

As can be seen, both of these extant garments allow for considerable extra volume with wide gores. Both have a relatively narrow central rectangular piece, with extra pieces added from the shoulder line and slanting out all the way to the bottom hem. These full length gores are on the reverse of the St Claire gown but on both front and back of the Empress Matilda dalmatic. The St Claire gown then has extra gores added lower down as well.

I wanted to have plenty of volume, and also front seams over the bust, that could be opened out for nursing purposes, so I had the full-length gores on the front and back of the garment – something like the Matilda dalmatic, but not so wide across the shoulder. Here’s the design I came up with, which is relatively close to the St Claire gown, but with full-length side gores and a simpler, more open sleeve.

COTE PLANS

This worked well and felt comfortable and voluminous when on while fitting nicely at the shoulders. This has provided me with the models for cutting the pattern pieces in wool for the outer of the overdress.

It was time to start on the outer. I wanted to establish the design of the pearly ‘stars’, and decided to cut the two sleeve pieces and work on them first. If the embroidery just didn’t work for some reason I would not have wasted too much of my beautifully soft blue woollen fabric! Starting with the sleeve also meant I could examine the original image and see how many ‘stars’ there were on the loose sleeve and get an idea of spacing on my garment. In the end I decided to go for ‘stars’ spaced 3.5 inches apart, measuring from centre to centre.

WP_20141031_003 WP_20141031_004

Each star is composed of (1) a central pearl of 5-6mm, surrounded by a circle of chain stitch in white linen and (2) an outer ring of six smaller pearls (4mm approx), each one again surrounded by a circle of chain stitch. It’s taken a bit of practice and some stars are better than others, but I am really pleased with the result.

The finished dress will have some weight to it, and I am looking forward to seeing how it will drape with the weight of the pearls.

It’s all taking some time! Basically, the shift took one day (6-8 hours), and the lining took another day (6-8 hours). The stars now take about 15-20 minutes each, and I am currently about one-third of the way through the second sleeve (and awaiting a new consignment of pearls). All in all, this is a true winter project which should keep me busy in between the novel-writing, recording of a new CD and the general music practice requirements… I expect my next ‘Manuscript Challenge’ post to be the completed overdress – sometime in January!

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My new thirteenth-century frock for the Manuscript Challenge

Browsing Facebook as one does, a few weeks ago, I came across The Manuscript Challenge  and was instantly seized with enthusiasm to take part… It’s a simple enough idea – choose a specific medieval image and recreate the costume (one or more as you wish) portrayed therein. There are few rules and none on authenticity per se, but it seemed to me to chime with the desire to go right back to the sources in reproducing outfits and hopefully thus going some way towards eliminating some of the costume myths that have grown up.

I was wanting anyway to make myself an early thirteenth-century outfit. I have a wonderful twelfth-century outfit, courtesy of Vicky Bayley (Aquerna Fabricae) and have made a similar period bliaut for Paul, which I am really pleased with.

bliaut imagesBliaut dress at Bolsover

Here we are looking all twelfth century. As you can see, there were a couple of images that I used as inspiration for Paul’s bliaut.

However, as we are working on a Magna Carta programme and going to be involved in several commemorative events for the 800th anniversary in 2015 I thought we needed to have good thirteenth-century apparel as well.

Paul at Chester

As usual, Paul is better equipped already… I made him this embroidered cote (left) a few years ago. It’s based on a manuscript image from c.1250 and I think will do well for the first half of the thirteenth century.

As you can see from Paul’s two outfits, there is quite a change from the twelfth into the thirteenth century. In the earlier period there was a great emphasis on tight fitting, with body shape revealed and emphasised with cut and lacing, but this disappears by the start of the thirteenth century. Now the cut is loose, even baggy, with the excess material belted in or simply left loose.

I have to say that I have not found this thirteenth-century look the most flattering cut for the more ample figure… and although I have made myself suitable outfits before I have never really liked them. So I am determined to do better this time and make myself a stunning outfit in the height of early thirteenth-century fashion that – crucially – I actually won’t mind wearing!

I have been gathering images of outfits from the close of the twelfth century and first half of the thirteenth century, which are all available to view on my Pinterest board for the dress project. I was able to discern a fairly typical style which comprised:

  • a loose, very full, and full (or longer) length under dress. This is often but not always in white and may be a  shift. The sleeves are tight and long, being wrinkled back up over the wrists. It’s not possible to see the neckline.
  • an overdress that is quite tight in earlier images but much looser in later ones – I will be going for the loose look as more thirteenth-century. This overdress is not full-length; it varies from just below the knee to just above the ankle and at all times the fuller and longer underdress is visible underneath around the ankles and feet. This overdress has three-quarter-length and baggy sleeves and is usually but not always held in with a belt. Again, belts become more typical into the thirteenth century.
  • a simple rectangular veil usually quite loosely wrapped around the head.
  • a loosely draped mantle

dress

The Madonna Lactans from the Amesbury Psalter

This is the image that I have selected as my core image for the Manuscript Challenge. It is a portrayal of the Virgin nursing the Christ child (the Madonna lactans) and comes from the Amesbury Psalter, dating from around 1250. I was particularly drawn to this image because of the gorgeously decorated blue textile, which I’ve taken to calling ‘starry starry night’. It’s a design that is quite often seen – again, my Pinterest has gathered several examples from the twelfth through to the fourteenth century.

I have been considering how to replicate ‘starry starry night’, and have decided to go with pearls supported by white embroidery. Pearls are often mentioned on garments – for example Chaucer’s “of perles white were alle hise clothes broded”. This will be considerable labour, but I think will add considerably to the grandeur of the outfit.

The conditions of the Manuscript Challenge dictate that I must replicate the design of the dress for a nursing mother. I have already received helpful advice from other seamstresses on the Challenge. Moreover, having examined surviving garments, I have decided to use the gown of St Claire and Empress Matilda’s tunic as my models, both of which allow for side gores going all the way up. This should allow for an open seam above the breast which could either be subsequently sewn up or simply concealed in the bunching of the fabric.

I have now acquired most of my materials and have begun with the underdrunderdressess (left) – just completed, and made from a vintage medium-heavy linen sheet I bought in France a couple of years ago.  This underdress is very long (just over full-length) and nicely full, with a hem circumference of around three yards. I may end up shortening the underdress for practical use!  For the overdress I have a lovely Italian blue wool and this dress will be lined in red linen. I have some lightweight white linen for the veil, left over from a previous project. I have a length of red wool for the mantle, which I will hopefully be able to line with the remainder of the underdress linen. l still need to decide on what to use for trimming the overdress and the veil – I have some silk/wool material I may use. For the belt I have various possible lengths of braid.

I am about to start piecing the various parts of the overdress – I intend to mark out the pieces on the fabric and do the embroidery before the cutting, avoiding embroidering any material that I don’t actually need to use! I shall post images of the overdress in progress as it goes along.

Medieval Costume Guides

Earlier in the year, I put together some guides on late medieval clothing, as part of the Facebook group ‘Making Fifteenth Century Reenactment Glorious’. The aim of the group is to improve standards in the presentation of ‘Wars of the Roses’ period reenactment and living history, and an important part of this is ensuring beginners get good quality information and don’t waste their time and money on inappropriate kit and equipment. So I took on the task of preparing costume guides for beginners and ended up producing one for men and one for women. They list all the main parts of period kit and are stuffed with period illustrations to back up my sketches as well as photos of people in excellent kit!

The Guides are attached to the Facebook group page:

Making Fifteenth Century Reenactment Glorious Files Page

but it seems a good idea to make them more widely available, so if you would like to use them please feel free – but please acknowledge their origin as follows “by Gill Page, for Making Fifteenth Century Reenactment Glorious“.

The guides are intended for beginners setting out to make or acquire kit suitable for late fifteenth-century England – I’ve avoided continental sources as much as possible. I had great fun searching out English material and was helped enormously by some wonderful online collections of stained glass, misericords, wall paintings, English alabaster… all these are credited in the guides and are well worth a look!

Guide for Men

Guide for Women

Here are a images of a few of the pages in the guides:

Page Two

Men: Page Two

Page Three

Men: Page Three

Women Beginners_Page_06

Women: Page Six