Monthly Archives: August 2016

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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