My Cotehardie Project

I’ve mentioned here before that I do medieval re-enacting. While I plan to one day have a dress from every major century, my favorite century is, by far and away, the 14th century.

When I started re-enacting 10 years ago, I made my cotehardies from a Simplicity (or was it McCalls?) pattern. I think I made five dresses from two similar patterns.

Once I got the hang of that, I wanted to make a more authentic-looking cotehardie, so I switched to Period Patterns. I made two dresses from that pattern, then gave it up as a bad job; I had to do major alterations to the pattern and the dresses still fit less well than the ones I made from the Simplicity pattern.

But, the experiment did teach me one thing: how to alter a pattern and a dress to make it fit. So, having gotten some confidence (and experience), I bought a copy of The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant (which I highly recommend for anyone who wants to make 13th-15th century English/French clothing) and drafted my own pattern.

Me by Vicki

My friend Vicki Johnston took this picture of me. My posture is horrible; I blame the straw bale I was sitting on.

I made several dresses from the first pattern–including one that was entirely hand-sewn. Then I altered the pattern (*ahem* when I gained some weight) and made some more dresses.

Last year, I had a friend help me alter it a third time using instructions by Robin Netherton to fit the dress properly at the bust (I’m not wearing a bra under the dress in the picture and if I wasn’t slouching so badly, you’d clearly see I don’t need one).

(Robin’s website is down–and has been for a while–but Charlotte Johnson has similar instructions if you’re interested in the process of fitting a cotehardie.)

When my husband and I were in England in 2008, we went to the The Original Re-Enactor’s Market in Coventry. I was really inspired by the people I saw in garb there. (Most English and European re-enactment societies have higher costuming standards than the SCA.) While some people’s clothes were clearly hand-stitched, the most noticeable thing was how their clothing fit. I could clearly see that everything was lined and it made a huge difference in the fit; everything laid smoother and tighter across the body. I vowed then to start lining our clothing. (Although the English re-enactors have an advantage that we don’t have: we live in Tennessee and have been to re-enactments when it’s been 100+ degrees outside. So our hottest-weather clothing will have to remain unlined, just to keep us from roasting alive.

Me

Okay, so maybe I can’t blame the straw bale for my bad posture. Time to start walking around with a book on my head. (Picture by Stephanie Hoke.)

I also vowed that I was going to start making all of our clothes by hand because I want to a) be more authentic, and b) having conquered pattern-drafting, I need a new challenge.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I put everything together– new pattern, entirely hand-sewn dress, and lining–and made myself a pale-yellow cotehardie with white buttons.

What was surprising was how fast this dress went together. When I made my first hand-sewn dress, I back-stitched every single seam, then did a double flat-fell seam (instead of lapping one seam allowance over the other and stitching once, I rolled each seam allowance back under itself and stitch both individually; this makes it easier to go around weirdly-shaped objects, like gussets and gores, but it also means twice as much sewing).

However, before I started my new dress, I read Textiles and Clothing by the Museum of London, and they said that most medieval clothing seemed to be sewn with nothing more than a running stitch. I was a bit leery of doing just that on my cotehardie, knowing it would fit tightly and the shoulder seams and sleeves, especially, would be under stress, but I also had to admit that it made a lot more sense to do a simple running stitch down the skirt, where there is no stress.

Seam

I measured my stitches and it looks like I averaged about 9-10 stitches per inch (6 per cm) in the linen. The muslin lining was easier to sew, so I probably did at least 10 to the inch with it.

I ended up doing a double-running stitch in the dress at the shoulders, and down both sides and the back to the hips. I did a back-stitch around both armholes (thinking they would have the most strain on them), but I did a plain running stitch below the hips.

It was amazing how much more quickly this dress went together than the previous one! In fact, had I not gotten sick and had other life-things happen, I would have had the entire thing done in 7-8 days, working about 5 hours a day on it. That is actually in keeping with the rate of production by a medieval seamstress (although she would have probably worked on a dress with gores and a fuller skirt, but would have worked 7-8 hours a day and finished in the same amount of time).

Lining

The lining where it meets the sleeve hole. I worked a nearly-invisible whip stitch.

I was able to make smaller stitches in the muslin lining (it was much finer and easier to work with then the linen), so I didn’t bother double-running any of the seams; they’re all plain running stitch.

Because this is a hot-weather dress, I chose not to line the sleeves, and the lining only comes down to the hips (it’s quite possible–even probable–that many medieval dress were made the same way to reduce material cost). I turned in all the raw edges of the lining and dress, pinned them together, and whip-stitched the lining in around all the openings. At the bottom of the lining, I hemmed it with some quick whip stitches and tacked it down at the seams and a couple of other places to keep it from wrinkling or bunching up when I put it on.

Buttons

I love making buttons. These are made using wooden screw-hole caps (used on fine furniture to hide the screw hole) covered in fabric. (You can also see in this picture where the lining and linen meet; I whip-stitched the two together, but the stitches are pretty much invisible.)

The front seam (below the buttons) is actually overlapped and sewn with nearly-invisible whip stitches on the front. I do my button-up dresses this way to prevent a pucker at the bottom of the front opening where the buttonhole side overlaps the button side.

Buttonholes

Here are my buttonholes (you can still see some of my blue tailor’s chalk marks). Even with stitching through the muslin lining, the linen wanted to ravel on me, so these aren’t as pretty as they might have been in another fabric.

One of the things that’s nice about ditching the sewing machine is that I can sew anywhere. When Stuart and I were on our way to an event, I sewed in the car. The weekend was really rainy and the event was small, so I didn’t have much to do other than sew, so I put in the lining and did all the button holes. Being able to work on it any time and anywhere (I just need a small basket to put my supplies in) means I can fit it into my schedule, rather than working my schedule around it.

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8 comments on “My Cotehardie Project

  1. I didn’t understand most of the sewing-talk, but the resulting dress is lovely! 🙂

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Thank you! I dyed some fabric last week (a playful shade of fuchsia), and I’m ready to start on another dress.

      In the SCA, we have a sort of training system where knights take squires, laurels (experts in the arts) take apprentices, and pelicans (experts in administration) take protegees. I am an apprentice, and my laurel set me the challenge of dressing myself from the inside out. That means I have to make all the layers of clothes and have the appropriate accessories for a historically-correct 14th century outfit. I don’t have to do it all by hand, but I’m going to, since I’m making the switch anyways.

      After I finish my next dress, I really need to take the time to make myself some socks. I wear (inauthentic) knit knee-high socks now, and they’re just coarse enough that, when paired with my all-leather medieval shoes, they rub the bottom of my feet raw. So I need to make the switch to cloth socks.

      • That sounds like an incredibly fun organization to be part of, if incredibly time-consuming 🙂 Do you have a plan/image for you dress that you could share? Or is it top secret? 😀

      • Keri Peardon says:

        It’s not top secret, but it will look like the other one, except it will be pink with yellow buttons.

  2. I had no idea you sewed like this, Keri. I’m envious and impressed – especially that the dress is hand-sewn. It is really pretty on you, and I love your hair. I did have to smile at this: “That is actually in keeping with the rate of production by a medieval seamstress.” You are truly authentic. 🙂

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Well, I must admit I didn’t set out to sew at an authentic rate; I just sat down and sewed. But when I was looking something up in my Museum of London book, I noticed they had a little table in there of approximate completion times for different articles of clothing. It just so (sew?) happened that my own project came out at the same completion rate. So, really, instead of making my dress in an authentic amount of time, I actually validated the medieval schedule.

  3. Fianna Rua Nic Mhathúna says:

    Simply gorgeous! You have a very lucky Laurel, my dear 🙂

    (ps. Greetings from the Kingdom of Drachenwald!)

    • Keri Peardon says:

      Thank you, but I think I’m a lucky apprentice! My Laurel, her Laurel husband, and her Laurel sister form House Ashley, which, if I may be so bold to brag, is probably the best-known arts household in the Kingdom of Meridies (which is known for the quality of its Laurels). Everyone in the household is so freaking talented in such a wide variety of medieval arts, you have to go all-out just to keep up.

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