My 1370’s Blue Cotehardie

Wow, I do still remember my blog password.

Despite the fact that I haven’t been busy here, I’ve actually been quite busy in real life. My husband and I have been doing a lot of re-enactments lately and are very active in our local group. I’ve also been writing a monthly newsletter for two years, which has been really good, but something of a time and creative ideas suck. Stuff I used to do for Medieval Monday and other random medieval blog posts have ended up going into the newsletter instead.

But next month is my last newsletter, so maybe I’ll direct some of my writing back here (if I can get back in the habit of blogging; it’s kind of like exercise in that, if you stop doing it, you get out of shape and it’s really hard to start back up again). At the very least, I can share some of my newsletter articles here.

In addition to that, I’ve been editing The Flames of Prague. I think I have it where I want it and I have a proofreader lined up. I just need to get it sent off to her and let my husband have one last look through it to make sure a couple of chapters that I edited work. Once that’s done, I’m going to enter it into an Arts & Sciences competition. Depending on the comments it gets there, I may do some minor tweaking. But otherwise, I think I’ll publish it the end of January!

I’ve also been busy sewing. This is my newest costuming project.

Unfortunately, it was late in the day when we took these pictures, and we’ve misplaced our camera, so we had to use my husband’s tablet (so the picture quality isn’t as good).

The dress is a medium-weight wool, half-lined in linen. It’s from English Gascony around 1370. (Since most far-western European fashion came out of Paris at this time, my dress is a bit more fashion-forward than that of my contemporaries still living in England. Their necklines won’t drop that low for about another decade.)

JpegThis is configured as a hunting outfit. The dress is just off the ground, so I’m less likely to step on it. The skirt is full (man, is it ever! I thought I was never going to get that thing hemmed!), which makes it very easy to ride (almost all women rode astraddle at this point in time). And my [husband’s] bycocket hat–while worn by men in all sorts of situations–seems to be associated solely with hunting or traveling when worn by women.

I’m dressed for a summer hunt (summer in Europe; this was not terribly fun to wear on a 93 degree day in Mississippi), wearing only my chemise under it. However, I will be making myself a pair of detachable red sleeves that I can pin on which will convert it to winter-wear.

The entire dress is completely handsewn. All of the seams in the wool are sewn open and have a red wool yarn edging decorating (and protecting) the raw edges. (If we can ever find our camera, I’ll take some pictures of the inside.) The lining seams are all flat-felled.

JpegAt the very last minute, I entered this into an A&S competition. I didn’t make this dress to be an entry, but I was so happy with the way it fit, I entered it into the “Costume Review” category, which specifically looks at period patterning and fit. I scored really well on the fit (my documentation–aka research paper–was sorely lacking, since I hand-wrote it in the car on the way to the event without the benefit of a single book), so I’m going to take the time to do my documentation properly and enter it into another A&S competition.

I’d just like to brag that my perky bustline and cleavage is achieved without a bra or any modern undergarments; I’m held aloft by nothing but the two dresses. It’s taken me nearly 13 years of learning to sew and pattern to get to this point.

c 1380 Germany - Trier New York, Morgan Library & Musem MS G64

Some chunky German girls, circa 1380, showing the high bust and fitted dress.

St. Helena wearing a bycocket with a crown on top of it.

St. Helena wearing a bycocket with a crown on top of it.

My PINK Cotehardie

I keep fighting to establish a routine in my life–like blogging once a week–but I keep getting distracted. Before, we lived far from our friends and family, and a good 30 minutes’ drive from the nearest city; it was easy to sit down and write a book or blog because there wasn’t much else to do. (That, and I had down time at work–something I never have now.) Now, we’re near almost all of our friends and my family, and everyone wants to visit with us, and when we’re not being social, we’re usually eating out or going to a movie (how novel!). And we’re also going to events again–now that we have money and live in a central location–and meetings and fighter practices.

At some point–surely–the new will wear off of us (and off the city) and we’ll go back to staying home most of the time. Then, maybe, I can blog again.

To catch up a little, I’ve been doing some serious sewing lately. I have gone to handsewing all of my clothing (with the exception of a quickie dress I’m making right now; I’m cheating and using knit velvet). One benefit to having high speed internet is that I have access to all sorts of new documentaries on Nextflix, Hulu, and YouTube; I love to watch (or more like listen) to documentaries while I work. It makes the project seem to go by faster, plus I learn stuff as I go. (The drawback to having high speed internet is CandyCrush.)DSCN0183

I made this pink dress like the yellow one I did last year. Here it is, inside out, on my dummy, with the lining partially attached. Unlike the yellow dress, which has a muslin lining, this one actually has a linen lining. And I don’t like it as well. Sure, it’s period-correct–unlike the muslin–but linen stretches. And when you sweat in it–as is wont to happen in Tennessee in the summer when it’s 90+ degrees outside–it stretches even more. Which means you end up with a lot less support in the bust at the end of the day and you start looking like you’ve melted–literally and figuratively.

I think I’m going to go back to muslin linings for all my dresses except the ones I enter into competitions. At the very least, no more linen linings in summer dresses; I think they’d do alright in the winter, but not the summer.


Here is where the lining is sewn to the armhole. Check out that shoulder seam; it looks machine sewn. It’s not!

I really like half-lining or bodice-lining my dresses. It gives me the look of a lined dress without a lot of extra fabric. I learned to appreciate the beauty of a lined garment when I was at The Original Re-Enactor’s Market in England and everyone was wearing lined garments. However, it gets very hot in Tennessee. The first time I wore this dress, it was in the upper 90’s, with a heat index (thanks to the humidity that we have in abundance) of 104 (that’s 40 degrees Celsius for the non-Americans). When I lived in Ireland, by contrast, I wore a light jacket to the pub on the Fourth of July, made my mother mail me my flannel footie pajamas (which I wore all summer), and the hottest it got the entire time I was there was about 89 degrees (32 C). That lasted one week, then it went back to being comfortable pants and long-sleeve shirt weather.

And that was in Kilkenny, which is one of the driest, warmest parts of Ireland. I have a picture of me, in the middle of August–at the same time I would be melting in 95-degree, 80% humidity weather in Tennessee–wearing a zipped up coat and sitting huddled on a rock in the Burren on the west coast.

So, unfortunately, I can’t get away with wearing all the layers and linings that people in Europe can wear. Hence why I half-line.


And here’s a picture of the sleeve. I learned my lesson from the yellow dress and flat-felled all my seams before I put in the lining.


Here is is completed and right-side out. The vertical slits are called “fitchets.” This is the first time I’ve put any in a dress, and I have to say I like them. While they don’t have to be a contrasting color, I like the extra splash of color.

The yellow around the front of the dress and neckline is a tiny piece of braid made from embroidery floss. Despite my best ironing efforts, the lining wanted to roll up and show around the edges. On my yellow dress, this isn’t a problem because the lining is beige muslin and the linen is a pale yellow; you don’t notice it. But on this dress, the lining is a natural wheat color and it does show around the pink. So, in an effort to hide it, I braided the thread and sewed it onto the edges. This is meant to simulate the card-woven edges that were found on some woollen garments. (The purpose is to make sure the wool doesn’t fray on the edges and become fuzzy and ugly.)

While it was meant to be corrective, I ended up liking the bit of yellow trim around the edges. It gave it a very finished look.100_6710This purse was something of a first for me, too. I’ve made exactly one purse for myself and that was 11 years ago, when I first got into the SCA (and I almost never used it). Fitchets, however, make it a lot easier to wear a purse. Just tie on a belt under your dress, attach the purse and pull it through the hole. (If you expect cut-purses, though, you can keep it on the inside.)

The design on the purse is block-printed and I’ve never done that before (block-printing is period, although it seems to have been largely imported into Europe from the middle east and India–where it’s still done by hand today). I bought a block at the flea market in Nashville and this was the first time I tried to use it. It was harder to use than I expected; it wasn’t like using a sponge or rubber stamp. I guess the paint didn’t lay on the wood as well as it does on rubber, so it was hard to get the print to transfer without overloading it with paint and creating a blob instead. There was definitely a sweet spot that you had to hit with how much paint  you put on it. I found that putting my fabric on top of another piece of fabric–creating a soft work surface–helped. I guess the springiness of sponge or rubber helps transfer the pattern, too; since wood lacks this, you have to make up for it. Still, I made a number of impressions before I had one I was satisfied with (I used the second-best print for the backside of the purse).

In period, it’s unlikely that your purse would have matched your dress that well. It likely would have been made from a really nice fabric or embroidered, and most women would probably have only had one. So it ended up being worn with all your outfits, whether it matched, coordinated, or clashed spectacularly. (Although I’m not sure if medieval people had a sense of “clashing;” some of the combinations of color and prints you see in paintings really makes you wonder.)

I kind of don’t like how matchy-matchy the purse is, and yet I couldn’t think of anything else to make it out of that wouldn’t clash, and I hated the idea of clashing even worse. But if I do fitchets again–and I’m planning to in my next dress–I will probably make a purse that doesn’t match.

Speaking of my next dress, here’s the material for it:


This is a light-blue and white Celtic key pattern. This is actually the reverse side. The front side is kind of a synthetic-looking chenille, but the back is a very heavy, nobbly cotton that passes for wool unless you touch it. It will make me a very nice, heavy winter dress (which I will like, since I get cold easily). I was just thinking that I might trim the neckline in white fur.

And, before I go, here is me wearing the pink dress. (Our camera lens was very dirty, so that’s why there’s a blur, even after I ran the pictures through Photoshop.)

Devious Altered

My yellow underdress is synthetic and barely stretches at all, so I managed to keep a decent-looking bustline all day at this particular event. But the first time I wore it, when it was so bloody hot, I wore a cotton gauze chemise under it that provided very little support on its own, and coupled with the stretchy linen, gave me what I termed the “melted birthday cake” look.

Good Picture Altered

In the 14th century, women often posed with their hands on their abdomens and their elbows pointed out. I learned, while wearing a sideless surcoat, that the reason for doing this is to allow the contours of the waist to be seen; if your arms are hanging down at your sides, it hides your curves and can make you look fatter. One of the reasons why I like the fitchets is that it gives you a place to put your hands, while creating that medieval silhouette. (Other people say that they’re nice in the winter for keeping your hands warm. I’ll find out in my next dress–especially if I trim the holes with fur. Mwahaha!)

The One True Century

Here is another picture of me with my new ruffled veil–this time with the proper dress and hairstyle. I’m absolutely loving it!


And a quick alternate with the flat ram’s horns.



Medieval Combat Society Ruffleception! This German figure is wearing two veils–one on top of the other–similar to mine, then she has a wimple that has a matching ruffle around the bottom edge. I kind of like it.

Head of a Noble Woman(You know, I just realized I have my medieval face on: hooded eyes, pasted-on smile.)


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.

Late 14th/Early 15th Century Costuming

Yesterday, I snarked on the costumes on romance covers. I have no idea if the clothing described in those books is accurate (it’s quite possible that it is; its my understanding that authors have limited say when it comes to their covers), but you can be sure that it’s correct in my book. I sat with a book of Bohemian costume on my lap while I wrote. I only switched it up for a book on 14th-15th century armor.

This image is from Medieval Costume, Armour, and Weapons and is the book I used as my primary reference because all of the figures are from Bohemian art.

This is close to the style of Jakub’s cotehardie (described below). Jakub’s hood is not dagged–just embroidered–and the fabric is not brocade, but embroidered around the hem. (The descriptions of the embroidery are based on descriptions in “Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince.”)

Description of Jakub’s best outfit in 1388:

Jakub held up the rich-blue cotehardie, admiring it in the light of the fire. It had been one he had looted—he seemed to remember that it had come from France, where he had been working as a hired knight for the King of England years before. It was an older style and not as short as was currently popular, but he didn’t care; he thought young men were wearing their cotes entirely too short anyways.

Besides, who would want to trim away the very best part of the garment? Along its bottom edge were scenes embroidered in silver thread of a party hunting a doe through a forest. And in the trees hung silver-gilt charms shaped like acorns which dangled and shimmered in the light. Even the buttons up the front—and it had more than twenty—were silver-gilt and shaped like acorns. It had a matching hood in a bright red wool, and around its cape were, appropriately, two boars feasting on the acorns from a single tree.

Jakub quickly dressed in a clean linen undershirt, braies, and linen doublet. Then he pulled on red wool stockings—new, but dyed to closely match the red of the hood—and tied them to his braies. Then he put on his blue cotehardie, hood, and a narrow black belt studded with pewter oak leaves.

This resembles Samuel’s houpplande, with the exception that Samuel’s sleeves are scalloped.

Samuel’s wedding outfit in 1408:

Over a clean linen shirt and braies, he put on a black linen doublet. His gold linen hosen were the new style—joined—and they tied to the bottom of his doublet, not to his braies, the way the old, separate hosen did. Over everything he wore his best summer gown—one that he had made at court in the latest fashion.

It was a vibrant green silk brocade with a pattern of gold vines and leaves. It fastened with hooks and eyes all the way up to his neck. Its high collar flared around his neck, but the front folded down, just revealing his doublet’s black collar underneath.

The gown was pleated at the waist and flared into a short skirt which barely covered his crotch. When he held his arms out, the bell-shaped sleeves were actually longer than the skirt, with their tips coming down to mid-thigh. Their edges were dagged in deep scallops and they were lined in gold silk which matched the leaves in the brocade.

Samuel’s hat looks like this. And this longer-style houpplande resembles what Jakub is wearing in 1408.

Samuel put on his hat—a stuffed roll made of the same green and gold brocade fabric, with a long, fanning tail in gold which laid across one shoulder. Its end was scalloped to match his sleeves.

Jonátan fastened Samuel’s sword belt around his waist, then knelt in the floor, putting the gilt spurs on Samuel’s black leather shoes. The leather was cut in patterns like flowers and allowed his gold stockings to show through. The toes were pointed, but not much; Samuel had never cared to wear the excessively long-toed shoes which were currently popular. He didn’t like tripping and making a fool of himself.

A description of Michala’s 1408 wedding dress:

Michala’s dress is based on this one worn by a re-enactor at the Tower of London in 2008.

Samuel was surprised by her dress; it looked quite expensive. It was a gold brocade silk trimmed in black velvet. She had on a black velvet henin—one of the modest ones that was less than a foot tall and flat on top—and pinned to it was a sheer silk veil, folded back so her face could be seen. Even if she didn’t bring a dowry with her, her parents had not let her come into marriage with her richer cousin looking like a poor relation.

All this being said, though, even I must resort to costuming inaccuracies on my book cover (and that irritates me to no end–although I can at least avoid the half-naked men with 6-pack abs). Unfortunately, I can’t draw, and I can’t find anything that’s historically accurate and at least somewhat romantic-looking. So I’m left to resort to my fall back: Pre-Raphaelite art, which is romantic and somewhat medieval, but doesn’t involve ripped bodices and ripped abs.

Although, if I could get Jeremy Irons to portray Jakub on the front cover (Jakub’s physical appearance is actually based on him), I would not say no. (And I’d make him a really beautiful cotehardie to wear while modeling.)

(If you’re fascinated by medieval clothing, I have a lot of pictures from our trip to England in 2008, plus comments/speculation on an old website. Maybe one day I’ll have the time to transfer all of that info onto my new personal website so I can eliminate the annoying pop-up ads. I also have plans to experiment making some of the odder clothing shown on the Beauchamp tomb, so I’ll also have updates.)