Saturday, January 30, 2016

HSF Challenge #1: Procrastination: late 16th century shirt for rapier combat

As winter settles in and life is (slightly) calmer, the time has come to break down and tackle some of the un-glamorous sewing that I've been procrastinating on all autumn.  Jay and I are probably going to Gulf Wars in March (a week long medieval camping event for those of you not in the Society for Creative Anachronism) and while both of us have a decent set of 16th century clothing and a change of shirt/camicia now, there had never been time to make enough camicia and shirts to get through more than an overnight event. And rapier fighting is sweaty, so a clean shirt every day is a necessity.

So this month is "fatta in casa"1 sewing:  linen underthings traditionally made by the female members of the household.  And it works nicely for the procrastination challenge. When Jay got into rapier combat in the SCA we bought fabric for me to make him a set of rapier garb but it turned out that buying him a basic set would let him start playing a lot faster than waiting for me to make it. I've been meaning to start a set of rapier combat legal garb for him, but there was always something more pressing.  This challenge was my excuse to stop procrastinating and make him a decent shirt.

I started with pattern #9 from Patterns of Fashion 42.  a shirt c.1580-1620 from an extant garment (37-1962) at the Warwickshire Museum Service. Jay isn't a particularly unusual size for a man and shirts are forgiving, so I drafted up the pattern straight from the book and didn't make any size adjustments, although I questioned the narrowness of the sleeves originally.  Then I realized that the shirt was mean to be worn under a doublet with sleeves and it all made sense.

base pattern from Patterns of Fashion 4 

I made 2 deviations from the pattern:  I shortened the length to  36" because I  wanted to get 3 shirts out of the 9 yards of linen (Fabric Store 019 5.4 oz) I had on hand. I also enlarged the gusset to 10" because rapier combat requirements states: "acceptable minimum armpit coverage is provided by a triangle extending from the armpit seam. covering the lower half of the sleeve at the seam and extending down the inner/under arm one third the distance to the fighter's elbow"
Since this was going to be a "functional beta" to make sure the shirt worked for rapier combat, I decided I would do as much by machine as I could to save time. Me being me, this meant I still ended up doing 50% handwork.

For the gussets, I determined that 2 layers of Fabric Store 019 and 2 layers of the 090 was the minimum that would pass the drop test to make it combat legal so I machine quilted the 4 layers together.  The end result definitely felt padded and made felling the seams a bit tricky.  I may see what combination of linen and silk passes the drop test and try interlining the gussets for the next one in silk for less bulk.

The quilted end result

To minimize bulk as best I could in the seams, I cut the seam allowance off the interlining pieces and basted them in before quilting all 4 pieces together.

The interlining before I put the final piece on top and started basting

The neck gussets went in easily enough by hand using a hem and whip stitch method.  I guess I made a third deviation because  the pattern uses square gussets and I used 4 triangular gussets, stitching the second piece wrong sides together for a tidy finished edge on the inside.

underside of gusset 

For the collar and cuffs, I cut a 2" strip 2 yards long for the collar and a yard each for the cuffs and did a tight gather, based on the Nils Sture shirt pieces in PoF4.  I machine gathered each strip and attached it by machine, then put the lining piece in by hand.  I'm not sure how traditional a method this is, but I like it because it guarantees I won't catch part of the ruffle when I machine stitch the ends. I used an interlining of the 019 linen for both collar and cuffs to give them a little more body. Due to fabric constraints, my cuff and collar aren't as full as the Sture shirt, but they still came out pretty well, I think. I used the selvage edge as the finish for all pieces.

I'd intended to use hooks and eyes to close the collar and cuffs, since this was just a functional beta.  but at this point, I was really liking how it was turning out, so I did a simple finger loop braid for the collar and sleeve ties. I attached the collar ties in the seam allowance before I put in the lining, but I decided follow the Sture shirt example and put in an eyelet on each side of the cuff for the ties.  In looking back more closely at the pattern, I see that the sketch of the cuff only has an eyelet on one side, not both.  Note to self:  refer to your original documentation more during the construction process.

collar ties

putting an eyelet in the cuff

The finished shirt came out well and I am very pleased with the gussets. They will definitely serve well for rapier combat.  Since they're enlarged for armor protection, they appear to droop a bit in the picture, but once his doublet (sleeveless) is on, they sit just fine.

The whole project hit a good balance of function and historical accuracy and there weren't any moments which made me curse like a sailor.  Doing several more of these will be a pleasant thing to do while watching Netflix. In fact I already have shirt #2 cut out and in the sewing basket.

The Challenge:  #1 Procrastination

Material: 2 yards 25" of linen (+ 3/8 of a yard for gusset interlining)

Pattern: pattern #9 from Patterns of Fashion 4.  a shirt c.1580-1620 from an extant garment (37-1962) at the Warwickshire Museum Service.

Notions: poly thread for machine sewing, 80/2 linen thread for hand sewing, cotton #10 crochet cord for ties.

How historically accurate is it? perhaps 70%? The base pattern & fabric are accurate, but I adjusted the pattern to make it rapier combat legal, did some machine sewing on it and the ties should probably have been made of linen rather than cotton. I also wasn't specifically following accurate seam finishing techniques.

Hours to complete? 2 weeks of my evenings and weekends sewing time so 15-20 hours.

First worn:  probably 27 February at the Meridian Challenge of Arms

Total cost:  $0.  We bought the fabric last summer so everything was from the stash.

I've also made 2 Italian camicia for myself and a functional beta of a 15th century men's shirt based on Master Lorenzo's research.  It's been a productive start to 2016!

1  Brown, Patricia Fortini. Private Lives in Renaissance Venice.  New Haven: Yale University Press 2004.
2. Arnold, Janet.  Patterns of Fashion 4. London: Macmillan, 2008. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Kindness of Strangers (friends too!)

I've been struggling to get motivated to revise and expand my A&S project to submit at Midwinter. I'm researching sewing tools 1150-1600 as a basis for a creating a historically accurate sewing basket. I will post the details of my research once I get done with the revisions, but I wanted to share the story of two wonderful people whose kindness has been a huge help and rekindled my motivation.

The Museum of London has an extant example of a wooden thread reel (what we think of as a spool now) from 1150-1200. has a nice reproduction but they're based in Italy and have a 50 euro minimum order...and shipping from Italy.  We had savanarola chairs shipped from Poland and I was not anxious to deal with international shipping again, even for small items.

reproduction thread reel available at

And the Tudor thread reels that I really wanted, having a late period persona, didn't seem to be available for sale anywhere. The Mary Rose Trust used to offer reproductions but they've been unavailable from their site for months.

artifacts from the Mary Rose, 1545. (

While I'm completely open to trying new crafts, I knew I would never be a tolerable enough woodworker by Midwinter to make thread reels myself. And being a (semi) responsible adult with a a time job, I only had so much time to devote to my projects.  I had a long list of projects with higher priority (like making sure Jay and I had enough clothes to wear at Gulf Wars) than learning woodworking just to make bobbins for my A&S  project.  I'd been dragging my heels on ordering from Medieval Design, hoping I would find a better option, and a bit out of steam on the whole research project, but Midwinter A&S was fast approaching, so I needed a plan.. and soon.

Then in the middle of a recent, wakeful night my mind wandered back to a Facebook non SCA friend, Eric that had started posting pictures of the wooden pens he was making as a hobby....and that a pen and a spindle were a similar shape...   I messaged him the next day, explained my project and asked if he would take a commission for a couple of thread reels. I was a bit concerned I was imposing, but he agreed readily and said he would only charge me for materials & tools he didn't already have and asked me to email him the info I had on the existing examples.

When I googled looking for the picture above, one of the results I got was a picture from a blog:

That book page looked much like the info in Egan's The Medieval Household, discussing the Museum of London find, but discussing the Mary Rose reels. Suddenly I was excited..  a source I hadn't seen with info on sewing tools...there was a page number, and in the comments was the title:  Before the Mast: Life and Death on the Mary Rose.  But Amazon wanted $89 for a copy, the Mary Rose Trust wanted 55 pounds and inter-library loan would take 6 weeks or more. (don't get me on my soapbox about our local  public library system :) )

So I asked on the Artisan of Meridies group if anyone had a copy of Before the Mast and was willing to get me a copy of p. 328.  And...  and....  a kind lady named Barbara who I has never met had a copy and was willing to scan me the whole 4 page section on sewing tools and then provide me biblio info on the sources cited in that section.  I was incredibly grateful and over the moon!

But my amazing luck didn't end there.  Eric messaged me the next day asking all sorts of thoughtful questions that I hadn't thought about: What kind of wood was I thinking of? Walnut would be darker than the pictures but he would recommend ash.  Was American wood acceptable since the sources I sent him were British?  What sort of finish did I want: smooth sanded or oil rubbed? 

Not too long after that, Eric sent me a photo of the blocks he'd cut to make the spindles:

 .And the branches he'd made the blocks from:

And the tree the branches came from:

Apparently, he'd cut down an ash tree from his yard last year and saved the wood!

So thanks to the kindness of Barbara & Eric, my enthusiasm  is back with a vengeance and I am (hopefully) on track  to meet the submission deadline.

Lots of other sewing projects in the works as well; it's been a crazy productive month. But if I'm spending time blogging, then I'm not spending time sewing.  So I'm off to sew....  watch this space!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Historical Disney

Back in August, I was invited to join a Historical Disney group: a cosplay of Disney characters at Castle Wars, an SCA event in mid-November. (Yes, this is January.  But I never got pictures of us in the outfits until a week ago) The fun part was that the cosplay had to harmoniously fit into the "pre-1600" timeframe of the SCA.

For myself, I was the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland as a 16th century Ottoman woman.

from I Turchi. Codex Vindobonensis 8626. 1586-1591.

Getting my head wrapped around garment construction done solely with rectangles was harder than I anticipated (Mistress Jadi was instrumental in helping me through three mockups and answering countless questions) but  overall, I'm pretty pleased with my first attempt at Ottoman.  I am especially pleased with how the tarpus (hat) turned out. It's a buckram frame construction and the pattern actually started out life as a 1880s hat.  Since I'd sized up the pattern to fit my head when I made the 1880s hat, the hard part was already done and everything went together smoothly over the course of about a week.

                                from Nicolas de Nicolay's Travels in Turkey                          

And Ottoman is surprisingly comfortable -especially compared to wrestling Italian skirts at outdoor events -especially with as soggy an autumn as Georgia has had.  So there is definitely more Ottoman in my future -but first more research, so I can get as familiar with Ottoman as I am with 16th century Italian. And I might be doing crazy things like trying to talk a rug shop in the UK into buying yardage of authentic Ottoman patterned fabric while they are on their next buying trip in Turkey.... more on that adventure if and when it pans out.

For Jay, the original plan was to do an 16th Century White Rabbit at the Trial in Alice in Wonderland. I had such plans for this.  My vision was  something along like these lines.

Santi di Tito -Portrait of a Gentleman

I'd found some lovely ivory cotton brocade and red velveteen and even a 1598 embroidery pattern that had a heart pattern for the trim on the edge of the cloak.  But life intervened and late October it became clear that I was just not going to get it started, much less finished for Castle Wars in mid- November.  (at that point it was still debatable whether I was going to get my Ottoman outfit done)
So Jay and I agreed that it was out of scope for Castle Wars.

Whew.  One thing off the to-do list. Or so I thought.  Two weeks before the event, on Saturday morning before I've had a chance to have coffee, Jay springs his new plan on me:  he's going to buy T-tunics off the internet and do a Viking Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.  I  felt a headache right between my eyes begin.  Then he showed me the t-tunics he was looking at on etsy.  And the headache got worse.

While there is a lot of excellent handmade kit on etsy, what he'd found was....  not. It was embarrassing to have people think I'd done such poor quality work and equally embarrassing to have Jay going around telling people he'd bought t-tunics when everyone knows I sew.  And I had black Rus pants that I cut out ages ago but never started construction on and a piece of a lovely mustard colored linen that would  be just enough for a t-tunic. So suddenly, there was a set of Viking to be done in 2 weeks.  But I knew that I couldn't just knock the garb out and move on...  I'd hate seeing him in it if I wasn't happy with how I'd constructed it.  So there was much much hand-sewing involved.  The good news is that he should be wearing these t-tunics 10 years from now!

Disney Gaston

Viking Gaston

Despire the scope creep,  both outfits were worn at Castle Wars.  I  was doing hand work on mine up until about an hour before I actually  put it on, but let's not mention that, shall we? Thus ends the saga of Historical least for this year.  At some point I will get the 16th century White Rabbit done if it kills me, but for next year, we're thinking of doing a 14th century Donald Duck for Jay.  *smirk*