Posts Tagged ‘clothing’

Apron Dress

I had planned to write about this quite some time ago. This is a dress that I made for the elevation of my apprentice Eluned, back in February. I wanted to experiment with a slightly more fitted style and lots of gores. I had some leftover pieces from making a panova (Russian skirt – I still need to write up that project too) last year. I didn’t have quite enough to have the nap work all one way, or even enough to make all the large sections without piecing, so I took a very medieval approach of not wasting fabric.

At the top of this, you can see a tiny bit of trim. It was my first attempt to make a tablet-woven belt. I messed it up so badly that I had to cut it off my loom, but there was just enough to stitch as decoration between my brooches. Waste not, want not.



This shows how the nap is different between the gores and the main body. When worn, it doesn’t show too much, so I’m happy.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here you can see how I needed to piece one back section. Again, the nap is a little wonky.



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Many years ago, I made myself a Venetian camicia based on this example (from Dorothy Burnham’s book ‘Cut My Cote’) to wear under a dress that looks a lot like this (Portrait of a Family, by Bernadino Licino, 1520s, Venice, Galleria dell’Accademia).

The camicia always caused me problems, though, because I could not stitch the gathers sufficiently securely, even with a bit of smocking (there was never a total wardrobe malfunction, but I couldn’t enjoy the outfit because sections would pop unstitched quite regularly). Finally, I decided to make some lace to stitch the gathers in place. I used pattern 15 from Nuw Modelbuch, a bobbin lace pattern book first published in Zurich in 1561. Yesterday, I finished enough lace for the last cuff and it is all stitched in place.

It may not look like much, but the camisia took 78 inches of lace, which was probably close to a week’s worth of labour. I would show you a a picture of it being worn, but it is underwear, so a photo will have to wait until the next time I wear the dress.

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Alais wanted a day that fit with her 16th C Flemish persona so I decided to make some clothes that would be suitable for the day. If you are interested in more detail, great resources can be found here: Lower Class Flemish Dress, here: Flemish Dress and here: Dutch Renaissance Clothing

This style of clothing was all new to me, but Alais was wonderful at helping me fit a bodice. She also sewed up my sleeves and stomacher (salvaged from a failed silk pants experiment), gave me loops and instructions on spiral lacings for the bodice, and loaned me the pattern for a partlet and  very silly little cap underneath the swallowtail hat (which was a gift from her). I may go back and narrow the partlet, and I’m pretty sure I want to narrow the chemise sleeves a bit, but overall, I’m really pleased with how it all turned out. The first picture is of me, and the second is with Alais.


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We all know the images of people covered from head to toe. Even if the clothing doesn’t always make sense to us, it is notable how much skin is hidden. Why is that?

Temperatures, on average, were not that much different than they are today, despite the little ice age of the later middle ages. The prohibitions on indecency were, perhaps, stronger than they are today, particularly when it came to covering heads for modesty. At the same time, there are many images of people exposing themselves (though usually they are surrounded by fully clothed people, or they are exposing just a bit of skin).

I have settled on three main reasons, listed here in the order that they matter to me.

a) bugs – In the absence of insect repellents, layers of clothing would help prevent people being bitten by horseflies, deerflies, blackflies, mosquitoes, etc. This matters when most people live in rural areas. They probably wouldn’t do much against lice, fleas, or bedbugs, though. This one matters to me a lot, after getting bitten about 130 times early last summer while on a long swim at the lake. (I am one of those people who react badly to bug bites)

b) farm work – having spent time helping to store hay, I can assure you that it is hot, itchy work. The first time I helped, I wore capris and ended up with very itchy scratched-up legs. The second time, I wore long pants but a short sleeved shirt. My arms were covered with more scratches and I had bits of hay everywhere. Imagine doing this kind of labour all day, every day, as most people would have done!

c) sun protection – Covering up is a good way to protect the skin. That’s not really news, but it struck me, again, as I looked at the farm-hand helping us with the hay. The skin on his arms, face and neck was almost black, compared to its usual winter shade of pale. It turns out that farmers have relatively lower overall rates of cancer, but higher than average rates of skin and lip cancers. Did medieval people understand the link between exposure to the sun and skin cancer? Not in the way we know it today thanks to scientific research, but they may have observed the pattern. Since it coincides with the pattern that says pale skin equals greater wealth and less need to work, covering up may have made sense for several reasons. Also, loose, breathable clothes that cover the whole body (including the head) are actually cool and comfortable – better than stripping down to shorts and a tiny shirt.

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