That Mediaeval Shirt

Finally I got pics (and got around to posting them😉 ) of the Mediaeval shirt that consumed most of June.  Here is Carl looking dashing, and below is the whole group performing. 

FYI, they are the Winnipeg Early Music Society, also on Facebook


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This is (not) a tent dress. 

See the comments on my last post for LinB’s take on the definition of a tent dress.😉 Ah, fickle fashion terminology. Also, boo to uniforms. I really really hate imposed uniforms.

13767482_217730211958560_1695701657_nAnyway, I bit the bullet with Butterick 4249 by John Kloss. Incidentally this also reminds me of Daughter Fish’s Future Dress from way back in the mists of blogland. Mine is more fitted, obviously. Though not initially. Hers was more fun.

This dress is a fabric hog. It used the full three and 3/8 yards it called for, easily. (Well, I think it did, I’m not used to measuring in yards.) Although I did end up hacking three or four inches off the bottom, and it’s still pretty long, so I could’ve saved a bit that way. Just for reference I can get one of my Jalie maxi dresses out of about 1.5 m.

img_4528So, um, tent-y it was. I should’ve taken pictures, but, um, no.

Part of the problem is that it’s designed for a “moderate stretch knit” (probably abut 20%, based on the handy little stretch guide on the back), while my fabric of choice is a very modern slinky jersey with about twice that, plus stretch vertically too. More of the problem is my back. Or, arguably, my head.😉


In hindsight, a slit in the back would’ve been fun, too. But I like how it sits now.

I have a really curvy lower back. I guess I mention that every time I whine about swayback adjustments.😉 anyway, pre-sewing everything was just always loose and baggy in the back, which was annoying. Almost as annoying as too short sleeves… So yeah. I like things to fit close to my back like, almost always. Partly because my tummy’s fairly prominent (which I’m fairly good at camouflaging in blog pics) so if the back is loose I feel like I look bigger than I am.


So as soon as I tried it on, I knew I would be taking in the back. A bunch. And the sides—less, but still a couple of inches.  Unfortunately to get the back where it wasn’t giving me eye-twitches meant that a lot of that fun swoosh and flow around the tummy and hips also went away. I probably need to work on that (either with a gym membership or some mental health work. I’ll get back to you on which is least likely.😉 )

DSC08582I made a couple of adjustments to the construction. The pattern had faced armholes; I used a band instead. I interfaced the sides of front opening with a fusible knit. Both of these were very good ideas. I cut the neckband on the cross-grain (pattern piece called for it to be on the lengthwise grain, not that that would have helped a whole lot with this stretchy fabric.)

Stretchy neckband was a mistake. I had to go back and fuse interfacing to it, after sewing the back pieces in place with those teeny zig-zag machine stitches that are basically impossible to pull out. Even then, I think I should’ve used the heavier knit fusible, not the featherweight stuff, though I like the weight now that it’s on. It took me a couple of tries to get the neck pieces basted in the right place. Incidentally, I think the neck piece is actually half the length it should be… I think it was probably meant to be two pieces joined at the back with a seam. I guess I could check that, but I kinda like the shorter tie. I’m not really a bows kinda girl. The first time I basted the front portions to the neck tie, it was too big and the whole dress sagged (basically the weight of that whole damn dress is hanging from your neck). I overshot a bit the second time, but I kinda like the wider split that this gives the front opening. I was a bit nervous about the neckline as I don’t usually like high-necked things, but the slit and the tie give plenty of front interest so I don’t feel at all like I have the Great Front Upper Chest of Flat Emptiness.

Stitching the neckband and turning it inside out was a bit touch and go; in theory you should only have to leave a small opening at the centre back, but in practice it got dodgy trying to stitch neatly with part of the dress inside the band—I wound up stitching just the front dangly portions of the ties inside out, then turning them, tucking the seam allowance under and fusing it in place with 1/4″ Steam-a-Seam, and then topstitching around the bottom of the neckband. On the upside, it feels just the right amount of stable now.

DSC08584Anyway, pretty happy with this, despite all the surgery and limited tent-osity. This was the last sewing of my vacation (I kept doing family stuff. Jeez. Darn family, getting in the way of important things), “finished” in the afternoon after we put Tyo on a plain for Vancouver Island, but before I had to go to my first shift back at 5:00 pm. So at least I got to wear a new dress back to work. And then on my first full day back it was nasty and rainy, so I did get to wear my unseasonable wool dress. One of the best things about sewing is having winter (or winter-y) clothes that I actually miss wearing in the summer… I have read about this feeling before, but never actually felt it myself. It’s probably a sign that it’s been a good summer, though I do wish Kristin would send some of that Toronto heat-wave she`s been writing about out this way. A week or two of 40C temperatures are just what I need to get me ready for winter. (Not actually joking. If summer is completely hot and miserable the prospect of winter is much less agonizing. I think this is some bizarre mental adaptation to our severe climate…)

As it is, I’m guessing I get about two more wears out of this before winter. Here’s hoping for a nice fall!


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I love the look of this Kwik Sew nightie—but I have a sinking feeling it would look less glamorous in reality (and it takes a LOT of fabric)

Gillian at Crafting a Rainbow is on a tent-dress tear right now. And she’s making it look good. Off-handedly I commented that she’s making me think more seriously about the whole shape and the several vintage patterns I have that use it, when I’m really not sure about the shape on my actual body. Of course she said she’d love to see one made up. Wait, you mean I should actually SERIOUSLY think about this?

Sleepwear again, but the version on the left is a pretty basic pillow-case dress.

Well, I haven’t gotten that far, but here’s what a quick trawl through the pattern stash turned up.

Here’s a sort of half-pillow-case.

This 90s McCall’s might be a good woven option—it would be perfect in a soft rayon, with the bust dart for a nice fit through the bust.

Have I mentioned lately how much I adore McCall’s old Carefree pattern line? All the cute and sweetness. I love the sleeves on the short red version. As far as I can tell, this one is shapeless with the tie extending from the bottom of the V neckline to tie under the bust.

This John Kloss  (Wait, better yet, here’s a whole post on Madalynne about him) Butterick pattern is probably my favourite in theory—fitted through the bust and then flowing free below. The maxi version looks especially yummy. I worry about those cut-in shoulders on my actual body, however—I tend to not actually like that look when I see it on me. I do love the long slit at the throat, though.

I guess this one is not actually a tent-dress—I’d call it more of a babydoll. I’m totally seduced by the Carefree cuteness again, though. I’ve had the fabric for this one picked out for years…


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The Kohler Chemise (or, Because I need more Mediaeval underwear…)

I’m on vacation! Ten glorious days away from BOTH jobs—ten days that are already shaping up to be way busier than I would ever have wanted—but anyway. One of my goals was to take the kids to my mom’s family farm.

One of the things I like doing down there is hand-sewing. It lets me scratch the creative itch while still socializing with the relatives. But my ongoing project (sewing miles of trim on a Victorian skirt) is a bit bulky. So, I wanted something else. And, because I’m on a linen tear, I wanted to make a stab at a simple Mediaeval chemise (or shift, if you prefer.)

The Karl Kohler chemise, in fact.

Anyway, using a particular historical item as the basis for what you want to create is great because it cuts down a LOT of the uncertainty. But not all of it, nor does it stop you screwing up.😉

Anyway, I first ran across the rather grainy images above on Pinterest; they derive from this site, which identified the source of the image and said the shift was from the 14th century. (1300s)

Some more digging turned up a study on 14th century shifts that by Barefoot Sewing included a version of this same shift. It looks as if Reconstructing History has a pattern for it as well.

The most complete info I could find about it, though, comes from Medieval Baltic. This little PDF digs into the history of the image and the find a bit more, and has what seem to be pretty good citations although as I don’t read German I can’t confirm that. Anyway, according to her translation:

 “It was made from very coarse linen and the doubled-seams are sewn together with thick stitches. There is evidence the bottom of the shirt of inserted wedges on both sides – so-called ‘Spiele’[lit. games?]. It is 68 cm long and, between the shoulders, 29 cm wide. Of interest are the narrow shoulder-straps.”

She also says:

Qaantz (1907; 188) then goes on to describe the chemise, as being made from very coarse linen, hemmed by folding over the edge of the fabric twice, and sewn together with “thick” stitches. At the bottom of the shift, there is evidence for wedges being inserted on both sides – ie. gores. He then goes on to give it’s measurements as 68 cm long, and 29 cm wide at the shoulders.

Now, based on the translated quote I was inclined to think “double seams” refers to felled seams (typical for finishing chemises in the much later periods with which I am more acquainted) but her description seems to be talking about the hemming of the garment. I can’t comment, again, as to which is correct—I did both.

Unfortunately, I found this great PDF after I had already made my pattern and disregarded the alleged gores since you basically can’t see them at all in the photo. Ah, well.



Wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen.

I did not use the commercial pattern above; I opened the diagram picture up in Inkscape, resized it to match the scale, and then traced over the lines to make a digital half-pattern. Some flipping determined that yes, indeed, the diagram suggested the same piece would work for front and back. I did a tiny bit more tweaking, widening the whole (based on the diagram scale the bust only looks about 32″, and I needed at least a couple more than that.) but otherwise didn’t change anything.

Mediaeval shift pattern from diagram

Click the link above to see a non-tiled PDF (Adobe reader is pretty good at printing tiled versions these days, though.) There are no markings and no seam allowances, and I’m pretty sure there are some issues with the diagram anyway, so use at your own risk. The finished bust is about 34″ on my version.

From the word descriptions and the gores on the diagram, if I were to draft this up again I would probably make the main fabric a rectangle about 16-17″ wide (note—this is wider than the 29cm at the shoulder the text describes. That measurement doesn’t really make sense looking at the diagram, but there’s no scale on the photo and I’m not sure how the measurement was taken) and add the gores at the centre front and back. (Though the text seems to indicate they should be at the sides.) the text also says the whole length should be about 70cm, while mine is more like 110 cm based on the diagram. And that’s not including the long straps. All things being equal, I suspect the diagram is more likely incorrect than the text, but anyway. I was working with the diagram first.

So here’s a couple more thoughts.

Those straps are whack.

DSC08569I mean, if they are made by just hemming the edges, that’s a method prone to stretching, and they do look stretched out in the picture to me. (Apparently it was found wrapped around a wooden plate, and I almost wonder if the straps had been stretched around the plate to secure it in place) anyway. WAY whack long.

I had to cut off about 3″ from each side to get it to KINDA sit right, but it’s still a little long (low under the arm). And wide. Again, I wonder if the original was stretched, and also how accurate the diagram was. Maybe this wide angle is an artifact of stretching exaggerated by the diagram. Super wide, and I don’t have narrow shoulders. I do have a slightly short torso, but we’re talking 1/2″ shorter, not 3″ shorter. And the scoop under the arm is still rather uncomfortably low. If I had kept the full strap length, my boobs would fall out the side. Even looking at the photo, the straps would easily go wider than the chest circumference.

Oh, my version has a back seam. Pure fabric conservation. I took it in a bit to reduce some of the crazy folding my swayback was generating.

DSC08573Anyway, fun experiment, and successfully completed in about a day and a half of lackadaisical hand-stitching. People who make historical costumes seem to be fond of grading themselves on their accuracy, but I’m never clear on how you would do this. So what do you think? Fabric is reasonable but not accurate—linen-cotton blend, not pure linen; thread is cotton. Completely hand-stitched, possibly with period techniques although I haven’t done extensive research into mediaeval hand-stitching (they would work for the Victorian stuff I have read, except that my stitch lengths are way huge by those standards. On the other hand the original apparently had “thick stitches” so I’m not too fussed.) I feel like overall that’s pretty good, except for the weirdness of the pattern.

Also, is it weird that I love flat felling as a hand-stitch finish, but I hate doing it by machine? I really hate it by machine. But I kinda just want to sit and pet those hand-felled seams.


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Excessively Heirloom

I’ll do proper pictures when I get a chance, but I wanted to throw this up before I forget everything. Like much of my recent sewing, this project draws on my desire to wear historical clothing, except not actually be in costume.

I first fell for McCall’s 6956 back in the spring. The Plucky New Girl at work had taken it out as a project, and, well, kinda bit off a bit more than she could chew, what with never having sewn from a pattern before. Since this was pretty much my entire approach to sewing from about 1989 up to, oh, 2010, I give her full credit. I just hope she wasn’t too traumatized. Anyway, me (and some other ladies) got to play angel and help her finish it off, and in the process I got to try it on and was, well, thoroughly charmed by it.

Also, I am so deep in sundress mode right now, I can’t even. ALL THE SUNDRESSES!!!

Anyway, it’s that awkward seasonal changeover at Fabricland where the old fabric is on the way out but the new stuff hasn’t much arrived so project pickings are slim, and it’s best to focus on the small core of non-seasonal fabrics that are always in stock. 
And did I mention sundress mode? Also, I was still craving DETAIL after the fun of the Gabriola skirt and its bodice. 

So I doodled up a picture something like this:

To be made out of our always-in-stock cotton batiste. And then I went looking for a pattern that sorta fit, and ended up with McCall’s 6956.
And then I went half-ass-heirloom insane.
OK, so I am not totally clear on the exact definition of “heirloom sewing”. I’ve read a few old Threads articles, and a lot of Victorian sewing manuals that describe the techniques, but not under that name. Anyway, what I’m basically saying is I experimented liberally with pin tucks, lace insertion, and faux-hem-stitch using a wing needle.

The pin tucks took the longest, partly because pin tucks take FOREVER and partly because I had a friend over so my sewing setup was optimized for hanging out rather than for quick changing between machine and pressing. No regrets. I tested out the cheater-pin tucking with a twin needle, but while I have a pin tuck foot for my Janome, I didn’t have a real twin needle, and while I can put two needles in the Rocketeer at what would be a perfect distance for twin-needle pin tucking, the foot won’t fit that machine and when I tried with other feet everything just went wonky quite easily. So all the pin tucks were done the old fashioned way—measure, mark, and stitch. I switched the Rocketeer to straight-stitch plate and foot for this, which I think helped me get the teeny tucks I was going for. (Oh, and I also wasted quite a few hours on quarter-inch tucked panels, too, before deciding I wanted a more delicate look. Hopefully I can use those for something else later.)
I cut the pieces for the bodice out of pre-tucked fabric (pintucks taken at 1 cm intervals, by the way), but did the tucks on the skirt after cutting. There was a lot of laying things out on the floor to make sure the tuck-lines matched up. (Mostly they do.) 

Everything else blurs into a haze of lace-insertion and indecision. I had gotten a bunch of this ladder-type insertion trim on deep clearance, and wound up going to town on that. I ran a strip down every panel except for the centre back ones (and I would have gotten them too except I ran out of trim.) 

I put the skirt all together. 
I pulled it off again.
Twice. That’s how long it took me to figure out the lining needed to be completely free from the outer dress, otherwise it just looked stupid. Eventually I figured out how I wanted the dress constructed. Then I started adding lace.

And cutting out the fabric behind it.

And, let’s just say I had better be damn careful when I wash this thing.

When the lining was incorporated into the pleats, it was way too puffy.

Oh, the tucks in the front are not as long as the pattern dictates, partly because that’s the look I wanted and party because I cut a size 10 and the waist was, um, snug. This fabric has a lot less give than that glorious grey linen-cotton. The bust fits perfectly though. 

Batiste is not really the right fabric for hem stitching, but it was still fun to do. I spent quite a bit of time (how many times have I said this about this time-suck of a project?) experimenting with how different stitches looked, but in the end one of the nicest was a simple zig-zag. Which is good because I used that lots of places. Whether it was a good idea, will remain to be seen…

My initial concept sketch buttoned up the front, but when I started working with the pattern I decided I liked the centre front tuck too much to get rid of, so while there are still some buttons, they are strictly decorative. And I have no photos of them because I actually sewed them on right before I hung the dress at work. 

There are millions of mistakes, flaws, and other irregularities that I won’t go into. The only one that’s really bothering me is that the front isn’t quite symmetrical. My best guess is that this happened when I was inserting the ladder-trim—I think when I cut the piece in half to sew the insertion in, I didn’t line it back up perfectly (since the top edge is slanted this is a bit tricky, I should’ve worked from the hem.) And I didn’t realize until well after everything was topstitched and lace slapped on and fabric underneath cut away and, well, crud. It is what it is (and, if you didn’t notice anything until I said so, well, hey, what’s that over there? No, pay no attention to the rest of this paragraph…)

Anyway. Finished the hem with zig-zag faux hem stitch, and the lining hem with the last of my lace. Seriously, I had like six inches left over. Whew!

And then I raced off to work to hang it, so I didn’t even get any decent finished pictures. Which means they’ll have to wait for their own post after I get it back at the end of August… Basically, after sundress season is over. Um, not my best planning ever.😦

Oh, well. I should really be making Tyo that birthday flannel she wants, anyway.😉


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Gabriola the Second

DSC08542I’ll forgive you if you don’t remember Gabriola the first; I couldn’t even remember if I’d blogged about it. Two years, eh? Anyway. I like this version better.

DSC08552A few months ago I made a new corset. But it wasn’t in my usual colour scheme, so I needed some kind of bottom.

A few days ago, I went stash diving for fabric. As I said, it’s not one of my usual colours. Pickings were slim. But at last I settled on this piece of rather drab tie-dye with a subtle embroidered border. It’s from a range of border-embroidered fabrics that were already marked down when I first started at Fabricland, and I picked up the last bits of an embarrassing number of the pieces.  What can I say?

 Fortunately, I had about 4m of this particular one—what with trying to at least roughly match the scalloped border, I needed every bit of fabric.

It was so nice to have the pattern all traced and ready to go. I made a couple of little mods this time around strictly for style purposes. I added a placket at the back and buttons, instead of a zipper.

DSC08544The buttons are all mother of pearl, from the Antique Button Stash—they roughly match, except for the big one at the top.

And I left a slit between the left and centre panels on the front.

It ends really high if you do it that way, by the way. I did plan for this by adding little eyelets and a lacing cord to close it up a bit, which had the added benefit of  gathering it up a little—a benefit because that seam must’ve stretched when I was doing the hemming (despite stay-stitching) because it’s the only part of the skirt that was too long. And you can’t adjust a border embroidery at the bottom.

I cut the embroidered overlays on the hips from the tiny scraps left over, so although I tried to get them mirroring left and right, the front and back are a bit different. On the other hand I managed to get all those points on the lower yokes to line up, which is good because had topstitched those panels with a cross stitch and that shit isn’t coming out.

Using the embroidered hem meant losing the curve along the bottom of the skirt pieces, which was a risk, but I think looks fine in this case, even if the finished hem is a bit angular and jagged.

All in all pretty happy! Not sure if it’ll be truly wearable or just another costume piece, but I sure do like it—considerably more than I thought I would, since the fabric was frankly kinda  boring and ugly.

The colour is not quite spot on for the corset (although it varies since it’s a tie-dye) but I think it’s close enough. If not, I think a bit of a tea bath will fix that, but I’m not going to rush things. I managed to cut a tiny bodice from the scraps, as you can see in the “nice” photos, so I should be able to wear it with that on a slightly more every-day basis than with the corset. I’ll talk about the bodice next, though!



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Grey-green Linen

 God this fabric is gorgeous. The composition tag says “linen and rayon”—I’m thinking it’s rayon embroidery on linen background.

Sometimes a project is just fun to do. Not perfect, by any means, not at all flawless—but man it felt great.

The pattern I picked was the newish McCall’s 7339, mainly to be trying a new corset. It has some cute features, namely cup sizes and a raised back. Also, it doesn’t require a busk—Handy for a shop project since we don’t carry busks.

DSC08556 The materials I chose were affected quite a bit by this being a shop project. Aside from the busk, I used ticking instead of coutil, and tried substituting Bosal in-R-form (a bag making product) for the poly laminate foam the pattern calls for for the cups. What I didn’t make do on was the boning—I used my usual 1/4″ spiral steel, double boned at each seam. I kinda construct all my corsets the same way—one trick pony, I guess. I know it’s not he strongest way, but it makes them easier to adjust and alter, as you go or after the fact. And I haven’t had a seam split on me yet.

I found the finished sizing measurements a bit confusing. The size 10 was listed as having a 36″ bust and 23″ waist. Does this include lacing gap? How much of one? 5″ of  waist compression is not realistic for me—but a 36″ bust is a little on the large side. (And that was the smallest cup size.)

 No way I was going to skip a mockup, so that was the first order of business. I traced off a size 12 body with some minor grading down to the size 10 A/B bust pieces. I made only two preemptive fit changes, shortening  below the bust 1/2″ and adding a small swayback adjustment. I don’t always need to shorten McCall’s patterns as much as other companies and I didn’t want to overdo it.

  It turned out the size 12 was a bit big, as I wound up taking it in 1/4″ all along the side seams, plus a bunch in the upper back and lower tummy. The waist seemed essentially perfect. The result is a corset that fits beautifully slimly, but doesn’t exactly add to my meager curves. I am really tempted to try again starting with a size 10 and see if I could make it fit while keeping more of the original curves.

 I did all my fitting in the mockup in this one, starting with just bones front and back and adding more as I went (once I was satisfied that length was going to be ok.

DSC08561The bust cups affect the fit a lot, too, incidentally, so don’t take your fitting too far without them, if you’re going to use them. I don’t think I’ve really nailed the bust fit. Even downsizing to a 10 in those pieces the cups were a bit large, though with the foam lining it doesn’t show so much in the photos. I made some minor tweaks to the shape to round the bottom a little more smoothly and bring in the top 1/8″, and I played around with making some little chicken fillet push-up pads.

 I do like how the pads turned out. Once the lining was in the cups they look and feel almost exactly like a pre-formed foam cup. (I know that’s not a pro to everyone, but it’s what I am going for here.😉 ) I do think the polylaminate foam would be more resilient and less likely to be damaged by crushing.

By some miracle the size of underwire I prefer also fitted the cups perfectly, without needing to be trimmed or anything. So really, a lot of wins. But. In the finished corset, the cups don’t sit right. The gore doesn’t tack (it doesn’t in the cover photo either, but she’s a much bustier lady than I.) and somehow the front is too wide apart while the back doesn’t reach to where the side of my breasts end on the side of my body.

 It looks fine, from a visual if not an actual bra making perspective. I just have this nagging feeling that the cups could sit better.

 Oh, and here’s a thing I tried: accommodating turn of cloth at the seamlines in my pieces. So though I cut them the same, when I serged the edges of all my pieces (I am stuck on the mode of construction where I basically treat all the layers as underlinings) together I folded the piece in half when I serge the second side, and just cut off the excess on the inner layers with the serger blades. So when my pieces were still flat, the outer layer bubbled up kinda conspicuously, but now they’re all sewn together with the seam allowances pressed open they sit nicely flat. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 The pattern is drafted with a front seam (so you could add a busk if you wanted) but since I wasn’t, and I wanted my embroidery motif to match flawlessly, I cut it on the fold. In hindsight I may have stuffed that up, actually, and added the seam allowances to the front width. This would explain why my front gore looked extra wide compared to the mockup, and also how my lacing gap is so much narrower in the final corset than it was in the muslin. I did trim down the gore so it was more reasonable width before I added the cups, but it’s still quite wide. I think there are also some cup/bra making subtleties I haven’t fully grasped at work, to do with the difference between cups where the seam allowance goes up as it does here (and as in partial-band bras) vs where it goes down, as in the full band bras I’ve ever made.

 The biggest problem is that the back and sides, now they have a firm binding on, are apparently a little high and cut in under my arm.


I feel like the corset is trying to crawl up under my shoulder blades.

This isn’t particularly attractive or comfortable. I didn’t notice until the binding was on, otherwise it would’ve been a very simple fix to trim it down. So I’m kinda bummed about that. I should really go back in and fix it, as otherwise it’s a very comfortable corset.

 The inside is nothing special, but the lining fabric is the same linen-cotton as my Vogue dress.

DSC08559All in all it’s very pretty, and feels very sleek and smooth, so that’s nice. It makes me think of an elven princess. Probably some delicate silver jewelry would be in order.


We’ll talk about the skirt next time!

(And my apologies to everyone who got a half-finished version of this post on their feeds months ago—I went to hit “save draft” and hit publish by mistake!)



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