Plundering My Own Fabric Horde

So, how are things going with my writing and sewing projects? Well, despite the slow start, they’re going surprisingly well. I’ve made it a point to dedicate one hour each night to each project (I even have time to get in an hour of Sims, too!), and that’s keeping me well on track. I’m also getting 45-60 minutes of writing in at lunch every day, and between the two sessions, I’ve been more than making my daily word counts. I’m still hopeful that I will have my story done by the end of November.

I have to admit that I feel like an old pro tackling NaNo. I’ve conquered it three times (and failed it once), and I’ve had a lot of practice writing in between years. Working on a story that’s already somewhat plotted, I can write 800-1,200 words in an hour. Once, 1,667 words a day seemed like a monumental task, but now I can toss that out in my spare time without thinking anything about it. The old adage about things getting easier the more you practice applies to writing as well.

(And if it’s true that everyone has a million words of crap in them, I’m getting close to reaching that goal as well! My fanfic is over 300,000 words, and each of my books come in at 100,000 to nearly 200,000 words each (pre-edit). Not even counting blog posts, I think I’ve probably hit that goal. So maybe everything I write from now on will be gold! LOL)

As requested, here are some pictures of my sewing project. These are the pants.


I put a boot on one leg so you can see how it’s supposed to blouse over the top of the boot.


A close up. Pleating the leg to the cuff was a bitch, but it looks fab!

The fabric is a light sage-green flannel that is so nice and soft. And because these pants are so loose (I have them pinned tightly to my dummy; they’ll be even looser on my husband), they should be really comfortable to wear all day.

I ended up changing my mind about the color scheme when I found this fabric in the back of my closet. I’m still going to use the dark green linsey-woolsey for the coat (it will contrast nicely with these light pants), but I’m going to use some more found fabric–a dark gold cotton twill–for the tunic. It’s not as colorful as I initially wanted, but it pairs well and I already had all of it. (And someone gave me the gold fabric, so it didn’t even cost anything.) I’m going to do some quickie embroidery on the tunic for a little splash of color, then there will be the fox fur on the coat.


A reminder of what I’m aiming for.

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.)