My 14th Century Ruffled Veil

Well, we are officially moved and our house is officially sold! Now, on to the unpacking!

In the midst of all the chaos, I started a little project (because that’s what I do; I hoard projects like some people hoard plastic butter tubs) and I just finished it this evening.

DSCN0142This is my (faux) 14th century ruffled veil. It’s hard to see in the picture, but all of the ruffles are edged with gold thread. (That’s what makes edges look so obvious.)

There are, as far as I have researched, three different types of 14th century veils: random ruffles (as illustrated), starched rolls, and the honeycomb.  Of the random ruffles, there is the nebula veil and something which might not be a nebula veil.


A 15th century nebula veil (by Van Eyck)

We’re almost positive that the nebula veil’s ruffles were made on the loom. The warp threads in the selvedges on either side of the fabric were loosely tensioned, while the rest of the fabric was tightly tensioned. This created a pucker or ruffle in the edge of the fabric. (One of my costume books has an essay on this subject and a recreation of the weaving technique; it works perfectly).

Nebula veils were woven out of silk or very fine linen and typically made a very narrow and thin ruffled edge. The veil would be several yards in length and it would be folded up so that multiple layers of the ruffles lay on top of one another, and that’s what created the “nebula” of ruffles around the face.

Weeper 1

This Beauchamp weeper’s veil most closely resembles mine.

However, there are some depictions of ruffled veils that don’t look like nebula veils because the ruffles are either quite deep (meaning they stand out from the face) or quite large. The weaving technique probably didn’t produce veils with that much ruffle. It is possible that a separate ruffle was sewn onto the veil and either gathered into a random ruffle or was starched into some sort of shape.

Weeper 3

The rolled edge.

It would appear that the sew-on-a-separate-ruffle was definitely the construction method for the rolled-edge veil. It would have then been starched into the rolls.

DSCF0688Katherine Beauchamp, Countess of Warwick, is wearing one of the more rare honeycomb-style veils. These were much more common in Germany than England. I have conjectured that they were made by smocking the middle fold of a piece of linen, then stuffed (to get that padded roll effect around the face). I have found someone else on the internet who shares that view. However, I have also seen two other people who create the same look by starching or stitching ruffles into shape.

In truth, we’re not exactly sure how they constructed most of their veils–or even if there was just one construction method for each variant. There are multiple ways to knit a sock; why not multiple ways to construct a veil?


This medieval veil had the ruffles sewn into place, not gathered then stitched down. Also, the medieval examples use a woven tape, not a hemmed piece of fabric, like Cristiana and I used. This probably cut down on some of the thickness of the ruffles and may have made them stiffer and more likely to hold their shape.

For my veil, I used Cristiana de Huntington’s 10-hour Veil method. She calls it a cheat–because, instead of gathering the ruffle onto the veil and starching it, she sews it on so that it makes the rolls without a need to starch–but according to one of her documentary photos, ruffle edging could be sewn on so that it formed a distinctive shape (in this case, V’s) without the need for starch.

The nice thing about not needing to starch is that if you live in a humid climate (which Tennessee is), you don’t have to worry about your starch going limp and your ruffles falling out.


Damnit, why didn’t mine look like that?

I will admit, my veil did not come out the way I intended (does any project, really?). Cristiana’s veils have a crisp, very obvious V-edge. When I did my first edge, it didn’t look like that at all. It might be that I didn’t sew it correctly, but, more likely, it’s because she was using a very crisp, stiff linen, whereas mine is a soft, garment linen.

When I put my first edge on, I still had gobs of edging left (I’m still not sure how I ended up with so much, since I followed the directions), so I said “what the heck,” and I did a second layer next to the first. Then another. Finally, on my fourth time across, I used up the last of my edging. So that’s how it came to be. And even if it didn’t come out looking like it was supposed to, it’s more or less constructed in a period fashion (even the gold trim on the edges is documentable), and it’s pretty; I can’t wait to wear it to an event.




A Critical Look at Nora Roberts and Medieval Costuming

I picked up a Nora Roberts book at the Goodwill the other night. I just had to read something by this woman who has produced 200 novels and sold millions of books.

What’s more, the book I found features vampires in medieval Ireland. It’s like all my favorite things thrown together in one novel. It has to be a winner!

But I’m a few pages in and I’m coming up disappointed. She used the word “slicked” three times in three pages. Flaw number two: using “slicked” in incorrect/inappropriate ways. (Ex: “She slicked her hand over the bloody wound.” How do you slick your hand?) After three pages, I’ve come to the conclusion that “slicked” is one of those words that should be on my list of words you should never use in a romance novel.

My next grievance: This is set in Ireland in 1128. She refers to thunder as the sound of a thousand cannons. Cannon didn’t exist at that time. I consulted my husband–the medieval arms, armor, and warfare expert–and he said bombard cannon were in limited use by the late 1200’s and were used exclusively as siege equipment. (Like trebuchets and catapults, they were used to break holes into castle walls.) The first recorded use of a cannon on a battlefield (meaning used against people, not walls) was the battle of Crecy in 1346. Needless to say, no one in 1128 Ireland knew what a cannon sounded like.

And here’s yet another anachronism: Lilith is wearing a bodice with her breasts rounding over the top.

Being a medieval reenactor, with a specialty in costume research, bad costuming in movies (and books) enrages me. I mean, we’re talking postal-level rage. Walmart-on-Christmas-Eve-level rage.


Here’s the look of a renaissance corset.

images“Bodices”–those things you see at renaissance fairs that are just a corset worn on the outside of the clothes–DID NOT EXIST AT ANY TIME IN THE MIDDLE AGES. Corsets weren’t invented until some point during the Tudor or early Elizabethan era. And even then, they were only worn on the inside (they were underwear!), and they didn’t work like the Victorian corset. There were no wasp-waisted women in the renaissance. It actually gave you a tubular shape.


Here’s a risque show of breasts for you in the late 1300’s/early 1400’s.

Prior to that, breasts were not on display until the late 1300’s, when the gothic fitted dress (a cotehardie variant) lifted the breasts and cut the neckline low. Earlier cotehardies actually flattened the breasts (like a sports bra), and while they sometimes had wide necklines (some Bohemian examples were off the shoulder), they were not low-cut. No breasts were ever on display prior to the late 1300’s.

Here is what Lilith should have been wearing in 1128:homepage

This is from the Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry was commissioned after the battle of Hastings (in 1066), but because clothing styles were so slow to change, we can be reasonably confident that it accurately depicts the clothing of the late 11th century and into the early 12th century.

This particular woman is dressed as a Saxon. As we can see, there is no sign of a bodice, and we’re about as far away from revealing breasts as a nun’s habit.

259238522271309873_pr0T805Q_bI would have also accepted as accurate a description of Norman clothing, which was seen in England after 1066 (although it took some time for it to catch on among the conquered Saxons).

Again, we see the woman covered up to the neck, and then some. Only unmarried girls, queens, and loose women wore their hair uncovered. If you wanted a wild-looking Lilith, she should have had her hair blowing free in the wind. And maybe the wind makes her dress cling to her body, showing the outline of her legs underneath it. Now that‘s some 12th century porn.

Irish clothing sometimes followed its own design, sometimes followed European design (the Moy gown doesn’t look like any known English cotehardies, but does look like the dresses seen in Flemish paintings), and sometimes followed English fashion, albeit 50-100 years late. In many cases, we really don’t know what the Irish were wearing because the Irish didn’t draw or paint very much. And, unfortunately, our other great source of costuming information, tomb effigies, were largely destroyed by Cromwell.

When in doubt, though, it’s generally safe to go with English clothing when depicting early medieval Irish people (by the 1400’s, we start to have an idea of what they were wearing, based on English descriptions and the occasional sketch).

And I haven’t even mentioned another flaw I’m finding in Ms. Robert’s writing: incomplete sentences. Sure, everyone uses them from time to time for emphasis. But as Dena has pointed out repeatedly on Reasoning with Vampires, “from time to time” is the key phrase. Using an incomplete sentence every other paragraph doesn’t have any punch; it just looks like you have bad grammar.

Also, she has unnecessary commas. Now, look, I love me some commas–more than the average person–and there are plenty of times where commas are optional, but I’ve found many commas in Ms. Robert’s novel that just shouldn’t be there.

I don’t expect literary excellence from someone who churns out more than 5 books a year, but that’s no excuse for poor word choice and bad grammar. At the very least, that’s what editors are for. But maybe when you get famous enough, they don’t bother to correct anything but obvious typos.

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.)