Thursday, June 19, 2014

Medieval Necklines - Green Wool Dress

I made this dress recently to repay a local lady for her incredible kindness in caring for our kitties while we were at Gulf War. She has a tremendous love of Pendleton Wool, so Mom swung by their outlet in Washington and sent a care package my way.

The cut and construction is a straightforward long tunic, which I've seen classified as Nockert Type 1. The lady I'm sewing this for wanted it nice and simple, so it could do double duty as Viking or Medieval, depending on her layering and accessories.

After cutting everything out, I usually sew the neckline first. They always turn out so much better for me when I do them flat. I used a bowl to help me create a pattern for a perfect circle and my measuring tape to center it up and put the correct ratio in place. Her preferred placement is three quarters of the circle in front, with the remaining quarter in back.

Once my circle was cut out, I pinned down my hem. I didn't cut the front "v" open yet, though, because the wool was misbehaving. It was a blend, and a little thinner than I'm used to. Usually wool doesn't really ravel on you, but this fabric was certainly trying its hardest!

I used a hem stitch to go around the neckline and waited until the absolute last moment to cut the "v".

Once cut to the six inches she wanted, I turned it and continued to use hem stitch. At the very tip of the "v" I switched to a couple small stitches of button-hole/blanket stitch and then continued the rest of the way around. (See Notes on Necklines, below)
And the finished neckline! Now on to the rest of the garment!

And that means on to the dreaded underarm gores. They're period for the era I like to costume in, but I hold a chilly hatred for them. I decided to try to tackle them with the same technique I used for the gray wool apron dress. Østergård's illustration and notes about figure 67 on pg. 99 directly mention them: "Gussets on sleeves and hoods are inserted to lie under the cloth..." so I pinned it open in order to sew it down that way.

And this is what it looks like. It wasn't terribly fun, but I made it happen!

I actually don't remember what part this was, but isn't it a pretty picture? It's probably one of the bottom gores, and it shows the stitch I used pretty much throughout, plus the technique I mentioned earlier of getting the gores and gussets to lay flat.

All together, the hand sewing on this project took around 40 hours. What can I say? We love our kitties and she took wonderful care of them!

I actually finished this garment at an event, and sent it home with her that day. She's promised to send me a picture of the finished dress, so I'll post an update when that happens.

Notes on Necklines:

The "v" neck with button-hole stitching at the point is a style I distinctly remember going over during a hand-sewing class at an event - I think it was Gulf Wars 2014 - but for the life of me I cannot find the handout, which forces me to do my research backwards. That's never a good thing.

As the lady I'm making this dress for intends to use it for both Viking and Medieval styles, (hence its simplicity) it's opened up a couple more resources than I typically use for my Viking garb.

The only necklines that Østergård mentions in Woven into the Earth are turned, but no mention is made as to how the small "v"s were finished, despite the fact that they appeared on several garments.

"On the costumes from Herjolfsnes we see seams that are almost invisible from the right side and seams that are visible and decorative as well as reinforcing....A cut-off edge, folded towards the wrong side, can also have a decorative element, as can be seen along the front edge of most hoods, where the tight overcasting of one or more extra (filler) threads, placed along the cut-off edge, marks the termination of the fold. A similar edging is found around the neck openings of garments, and it is likely that this or the extra threads helped to preserve the neck edge from curling. The inlaid threads lie there, apparently unaffected by the thread from the overcasting, and could therefore be tightened so that the edge was held in against the neck," (Østergård 97-98).
Caption for figures 62 and 63: "A turned back border (hem), with overcast stitches sewn on the top of one or several (filler) threads that cover the raw edge, was prevalent in Norse Greenland. This type of needlework can be found along face openings on hoods and in neck openings; almost always seen together with one or two rows of stab stitches placed some few millimeters from the outermost edge," (Østergård 97).

In Wild's Textiles in Archeology, only hems are mentioned and that's a simple, concise caption form (pg. 54).

Ewing's Viking Clothing spends a little more time on stitching, and while he doesn't mention necklines in the Seams and Sewing section (pg. 158-9), he does have a men's Neckhole section on pg. 90 where he mentions other kinds of necklines but not their construction.

I had much more luck in The Museum of London: Textiles and Clothing. No mention is made of necklines in the Hems section, but a couple are referenced in the Bindings and Facings section.

"Where a single or double hem was an inappropriate finishing for an edge, and particularly where some additional strength was required, strips of material could be applied as facings or bindings. All surviving facings and bindings are of a fine tabby silk on the straight grain of the fabrics; no bias strip is know to have been used for this purpose on bias-cut or curving edges," (158).

Figure 132: "Neckline of a wool garment with a narrow silk facing, No 50, shown from the reverse, from a deposit dating to the second quarter of the 14th century," (160).

So for right now it looks like I messed up in one of two ways: Not using a running stitch for stability OR not using a silk facing. But that's only on the round part of the neckline. I still have yet to locate anything about the stitching used on the small "v".

We did have an interesting discussion about it on the Viking Clothing Facebook group, but no one else was able to find explicit pre-15th century documentation.

I was able to find one website that mentioned this technique (scroll down to the very bottom), but there was no documentation for it, which always makes me wary. I'll keep searching, because I love the look of this style but also want to be able to thoroughly document it.


Baker, Jennifer. "Stitches and Seam Techniques Seen on Dark Age/Medieval Garments in Various Museum Collections." 2009. <> 11 June 2014.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Museum of London: Textiles and Clothing c1150-1450. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge: 2002. Page 150-7.

Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds from North Greenland. Denmark: Aarhus University Press. 2004. Page 98-99.

Wild, John Peter. Shire Archaeology: Textiles in Archaeology. Shire Publications LTD. Great Britain, 2003. Page 54.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Finishing Gores and Hiding Knots - Gray Apron Dress

While I have been in the SCA on and off since 2000, I've never had a partner who was a heavy fighter. I had absolutely no idea how much armor costs, so when Jake decided to learn we both suffered a little sticker shock.

Luckily, my sewing is a marketable skill in the SCA (or in the event of the apocalypse, as Jake and I like to joke) and a lovely lady on Facebook's SCA Medieval Barter Town group offered to trade a helm for a Viking apron dress. I promised that it would be wool, with hand-finished seams, contrasting fabric at the top and bottom, with hand-woven trim. No light project, but a fair trade to keep my husband's noggin safe from swinging rattan!

Looking at it now, I am incredibly proud of how well it turned out - and I think I finally figured out the best way to finish the seams with gores!

I started by weaving a little under five yards of trim, using a pattern I'd made previously on an online pattern generator. It's designed for an inkle loom, but works perfectly for my rigid heddle loom as well. A couple days and a lot of 5/2 cotton pearle thread later, and I had a lovely chain woven in copper, gold, and cream.  Here's a screen capture from the pattern generator:

But that was just the beginning! Once I had the fabric, I needed to draft the pattern and actually create the garment. I chose a fairly standard apron-dress pattern, which I have seen on so many different sites that I don't know who to credit. Essentially, it's a tube with a slightly fuller skirt: three body pieces that flare at the bottom and three gores sewn between them. Add in straps and loops, and you're done.

I started off the project by making a muslin out of... well, muslin. Since I do so much Medieval and Viking sewing, it's just easier to make my pattern pieces out of an inexpensive fabric. Think about the last time you used a tissue pattern. They have a bit of a flyaway issue, and serve as nearly impossible to ignore cat toys. Fabric does a much better job of sticking in place, and it doesn't tear on you nearly as easily!
A fantastic thing about this pattern is how efficient its use of fabric is, but it does mean that one of the gores needs to be pieced together. I went ahead and finished its seams first, to make it ready for the next step: Sewing it between two of the body pieces. For this I used something I read in Østergård's Woven Into The Earth. On pg. 99, she says of figure 67, "Gussets on sleeves and hoods are inserted to lie under the cloth..." Now that's a couple of centuries later than this garment, but the use of gores/gussets has a long history and I don't have any better documentation yet.

I stopped at the junction of the seam allowance and left a neat little point. After that, I finished the first side of the seam, making sure that the other side would look like an unbroken line of stitches. While this is also shown on the same page of Østergård's, I've seen it or something similar in Crowfoot and Wild as well.
After sewing up one side of the seam, I came back down the other. This time I took a little detour and, without allowing my needle to come out the front, sewed down the rest of the point before carefully coming right back to where I left off.

From there you just keep moving on down the seam! But what do you do if you run out of thread before you finish the seam? Yes, it's time to talk about knots. I've talked to a lot of other sewers over the years, and some will shout and rave about using knots and others will do the same about the opposite. It gives me a headache, so I just hide my knots.

What works best for me is to sew the last stitch I can, and then pick up the seam allowance I'm sewing down. I will then line up my needle, with fresh thread, and carefully line it up right next to my previous stitch.

I pull the new stitch through the fabric until only a short tail remains. Next I use my needle to pull out the last stitch of the old thread.

I tie the two small ends tightly together several times until it's secure, then I pull them over until they're sandwiched between the seam allowance and the fabric.

After that I just keep sewing down the seam as normal. There's no ugly knot on the inside, and the outside looks like a continuous line of stitches. It's super easy and very secure.

Here's an image of the finished seam. The garment is now stronger since the gore fabric is overlapping the piece it's attached to, and that also serves to dish up some additional fullness. Here's to a greater swish factor!

Next on my to-do list were the straps and loops. I actually made these twice. The first time I used my sewing machine for the hidden seams, but this fabric has enough of a stretch to it that the thread broke when I turned the tubes right-side out. I ended up sewing them entirely by hand in a nice backstitch. With the Guterman Heavy Duty Thread I always use for my hand-sewing, a simple backstitch was a heck of a lot stronger and more reliable.

Finally, I was able to attach the straps, loops, and the green accent wool. I ran a line stitch over the edge and sewed down the loose end by hand. This time it was for two reasons: It looks better and it's strong enough to deal with the somewhat stretchy wool. The only thing left to do was sew down the trim!

And finally we have the finished garment! I am very, very pleased about how this turned out. There was a brief and very scary issue with the delivery, but it made it safely into its new owner's hands. Hopefully she'll send pictures for me to post, but for now, here's a close-up of the top front of the garment:


Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Museum of London: Textiles and Clothing c1150-1450. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge: 2002. Page 150-7.

Østergård, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textile Finds from North Greenland. Denmark: Aarhus University Press. 2004. Page 98-99.

Wild, John Peter. Shire Archaeology: Textiles in Archaeology. Shire Publications LTD. Great Britain, 2003. Page 54.

And For the Heck of It:

Here's Jake enjoying his new helm, which he has been scrubbing 'till it shines!