Thursday, March 31, 2016

HSM Challenge #3: Protection: 1600 Italian drawers

I have been remiss in posting, but (and this seems to be a recurring theme) I am too busy actually making things to think much about blogging. In addition to sewing for the HSM, I have also been working on a 16th century Ottoman entari and new tarpus.

For the Protection Challenge, I decided to make a pair of late 16th century Italian drawers. It's not a really glamorous project, but I made two promises to myself about the HSM this year.  1) I would finish it this time if it killed me and 2) what I made for each challenge had to be something I would actually find useful....  I'm still waiting for an opportunity to use the rhinestone heeled shoes from my last HSM.

Most of the SCA events we go to are outside, which means using portajohns.  Wrangling 16th century skirts in one of those is no fun.  There had been some mention on some of the groups I follow (Elizabethan Costuming maybe?)  that open drawers were easier to manage than modern ladies underthings. And they would make me feel a bit more accurate from skin out.

I'd been meaning to make the Margo Anderson drawers from the Italian Ladies Underpinnings set, but when I finally pulled out the pattern, they had an attached crotch. I could have modified it, but Patterns of Fashion 4 had two pairs of drawers in it.  Since my waist measurement fluctuates (usually down, thankfully), I decided on the pattern for the drawstring waist rather than the waist band.

 Arnold's original pattern from Patterns of Fashion 4

Yup, that looks right to me.

Arnold's note on the original pair (Metropolitan Museum of Art TSR 10.124.3) said they were made out of "even weave white linen, light in weight (discolored), closely woven"1  One of Margo's notes on the drawers in her pattern was to use a linen suitable for a shirt or summer pants or they would tend to ride up uncomfortably.2  Since I had some 019 from on hand, I decided to use that.

Sam supervising while I cut the pieces out

One of my ongoing projects is researching medieval and Renaissance sewing tools and creating a historically accurate set for practical use, so I started by using a hand forged steel needle I have. It's 47mm in length and 2mm wide at the eye.  It appears to be based on a find in the Museum of London.3  However, it was like sewing with a log.  I normally find hand sewing restful and rather zen, but sewing with this needle was actively unpleasant.  I blush to admit it, but I quickly wimped out and went back to a modern needle.

This needle is HUGE!

I also started this project using some extant 16th c. pins that I purchased for a surprisingly reasonable price from  However, I move from room to room with my sewing a lot and take my sewing basket with me places and I was too worried that I would lose one of the 10 pins I had, so I reverted to using modern pins.

Apparently pins haven't changed much in 400 years.

The extant pair were sewn with pink silk, so I used Gutermann silk topstitch thread for my seams, which were done run & fell style. 

If I make another pair, I will skip the pink thread, I honestly don't think it adds all that much.

One other piece of medieval technology I tried and actually liked a lot was my sleek stone. Sleekstones, also called linen smoothers, slicken stones or calenders, were usually made of stone or glass and were used without heat, but often with water, to smooth linen and presumably press seams open. Extant examples of sleekstones date back to at least the Viking era and they were used well after the invention of the solid iron.  I got mine at  Since I move around a lot with my sewing, keeping one in my sewing basket is very handy.

My sleekstone does a surprisingly good job on linen, even without heat.

The extant pair has embroidery around the bottom of each leg, but since this was an experimental project, I didn't want to take the time to do embroidery.  But I did want to do something decorative. A friend gave me a tutorial on drawn thread work last month, so I decided to do a bit of hem stitch & ladder stitch. It actually went much faster than I expected. And I am now completely addicted to to drawn work!  I'm still a rank beginner, but it is really zen to do and I see a lot more of it in my future.

 Pulling the threads out can be a bit of a pain but the end result is worth it

My first finished leg!

A friend of mine sells handwoven narrow wares and trims and I used 1/4" linen tape from her as a drawstring.

Alessandra does lovely work! 

I am not a small person, so I was a little worried that the finished drawers would be a bit small, but they are actually enormous!  

The finished project

All in all this was a relatively easy but useful project that I'd been meaning to make for a while. And bonus: it got me hooked on drawn thread work.

The Challenge: #3 Protection

Material: 5.0 ounce linen

Pattern: Patterns of Fashion 4: 64. c. 1600 pair of drawers

Year: 1600

Notions: silk  thread, handwoven linen tape

How historically accurate is it: 80%?  Materials were accurate..  mostly.  Technically, the silk thread would have been 2 ply not 3 ply and modern linen and 16th century linen have significant differences. 100% hand sewing but other than the experiments with HA tools that I mentioned I used modern tools.

I also have no definitive indication that hem stitch was used on drawers.  I can document it to collars & shirt cuffs and the occasional partlet in paintings, but with occasional exceptions drawers were rarely seen in 16th c art so actual examples are few and far between.  If drawn work was done on other "fatta en casa" garments, I don't think its implausible that it might have been used on drawers

Hours to complete: 10 -12. (I really need to improve my hand sewing speed)

First worn:  The next time I wear my 16th c. Italian garb. We're doing 3 events in April so it will be sometime soon!

Total cost: $24 for the silk thread and linen tape (but I have excess of both to use on other projects)

1 Arnold, Janet.  Patterns of Fashion 4. London: Macmillan, 2008.  ISBN: 978 0 333 57802 1. Page 106.
2 Construction Notes from Margo Anderson's Italian Ladies Underpinnings 
3 Egan, Geoff. The Medieval Household: Daily Living 1150-1450. 2nd ed. Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1998, 2010. ISBN 978 1843 83543 1. Page 267.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

HSF Challenge #2: Pleats and Tucks

This post is very tardy. I finished the apron on time for the February challenge, but was out of town for work for a week, so I am just now getting the blog post written up

My original plan was to do a make a new Italian gown to wear for Midwinter Arts & Sciences in February and use for the "Pleats and Tucks" challenge since the skirt would be pleated to the bodice and 16th century gowns often have a tuck at the bottom. Except that I kept waffling on a clear concept and nothing got started.

So with half of February already gone I decided to make an apron to go with my late 16th Italian working class gown. It wasn't an brilliantly exciting project, but it would have pleats and I'd been thinking about making one for a while (Too many projects, too little time!)

I'd read a little about smocking at and and I'd always been meaning to try my hand at smocking, so I decided on an apron with some simple smocking on it.

Different types of smocking stitches

Both sites had what seemed to be solid references for their information (including a fascinating article on How to Pleat a Shirt in the 15th Century discussing extant garment fragments from Lengberg Castle) I used the apron tutorial from in lieu of doing my own research but I did learn a few things.  Smocking is more of an 18th-19th century term; the German word is "fitz-arbeit" (literally pleatwork) and pleatwork seems to be the more accepted term for it in the reenactment circles.  It was especially popular in Germany, Italy and to a lesser extent England in the late 15th - early 16th centuries and can be seen on collars, cuffs and aprons in paintings and engravings such as this one (her apron has pleatwork at the top):

Albrecht Durer 
Melencolia I

While white aprons were the most common in the era, there are some examples of colored aprons in paintings such as Campi's The Fruit Seller.

Vincenzo Campi
The Fruit Seller

Since my current gown is based on a Campi painting, I decided to use some sea glass green linen I had on hand.  ( calls it "turquoise" but its really a lovely winter sea color.)

The tutorial provided (what I thought was) a handy template for placing the dots on the fabric but the prick and pounce method of transferring the dots was a complete fail.

 the template from

Sam supervising me punch a whole lotta holes in the template

While I finally got the transferred with a fabric marking pencil, I knew if I ever wanted to do more pleatwork (and I was pretty sure I did) I knew I'd need a better method.  So I picked up a smocking kit from PimpYourGarb on Etsy.  I haven't used it yet, but it looks infinitely easier than my current template.

Smocking kit from PimpYourGarb on Etsy

Once I had the dots on the fabric, the actual apron went together pretty easily. So easily in fact that I forgot to get process pics.  Hem the three edges of the fabric without the dots run gathering threads through each row of holes, gather into pleats and smock.  I used a honeycomb stitch which consists of stitching the first 2 pleats of the top row together with a few small stitches then the 2nd & 3rd pleats together at the second row, the 3rd & 4th of the top row, et al for each 2 rows of gathering threads.  (the tutorial I linked above does a much better job of explaining the technique) Once it was smocked, I put on the waistband and voila, the apron was complete.

 The finished apron

Closeup of the smocking

I learned a lot from this first attempt and reading a few more tutorials.  In retrospect, I'd add more rows of dots so the smocked section was deeper  and I'd probably use a 1/4" grid for the dots. But its definitely a technique I enjoyed playing with and I plan to do more of.  In fact, I am sorely tempted to do v2 of the apron for the protection challenge this month.

The Challenge:  #2  Pleats and Tucks

Material: Linen

Year: This style of apron can be seen in paintings, woodcuts, etchings from the 14th - early 16th centuries.

Notions: Poly thread (I thought I had linen thread of a similar color but I didn't)

How historically accurate is it:  60%? The end product is visually similar to various paintings, etchings and woodcuts from the 14th -early 16th centuries.  The proportions are similar to several extant late 16th- early 17th century decorative aprons in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Met. The extant aprons linked above are made of linen so a case can be made for linen being historically accurate. But there have been multiple comments on the Elizabethan Costume group that wool would be more appropriate for an apron for the simple fact that the risk of it catching fire is lower. To be honest, I haven't done enough research to know if wool would be more accurate for a working class apron or not. All the stitching on it was done by hand; however, the thread is inaccurate and the method of transferring the dots is decidedly modern.

Hours to complete:  6-8.  At least half of it was punching holes in the template, enlarging holes in the template and finding a successful method to transfer the dots.

First Worn: February 27 at the Meridian Challenge of Arms

Cost:  $0.  Everything was out of the stash.