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!)

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.