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!


  1. That idea about the gussets and gores...that's just genius, pure and simple.

    1. I was delighted to finally figure out what they were talking about!

  2. I love, love your handstitching and the way you have handled the gores.
    The next phase of your apron-dress knowledge is a better understanding of the straps and loops. See pages 7-8 of this document for information about the straps which go over the shoulders - they're not wide flat straps with a loop at the end, but long narrow loops, so that there are two narrow straps on each side. There's an illustration of how the loops are connected by the pin on p. 9:

    1. Thank you! I followed the link you provided but I didn't see any of the primary research. So far all the documentation I have - Geijer's "The Textile Finds from Birka" and Hägg's "Viking Women's Dress at Birka: A Reconstruction by Archeological Methods" seem fairly inconclusive about any part of the strap past that initial loop preserved by the brooches. Have you heard or or seen something where another part of the strap was preserved? Thank you!