My Honeymoon and Medieval Clothing—Seeing the Charles de Blois Pourpoint

(Link to a new article on the pourpoint of Charles de Blois is at the bottom of this post.)

It’s been far too long since I blogged, but I promise I have some good content to share. There will be a series of posts about the amazing medieval things I saw in Mantova, Venice, and Prague on my honeymoon. So to recap:

I got married the last weekend in May….

We recessed from the chapel under a sword arch created by my husband's sword students and friends

We recessed from the chapel under a sword arch created by my husband’s sword students and friends. It was pretty much the best thing ever.

… and my new husband Greg and I left for our honeymoon shortly thereafter. We traveled first to the Veneto in Italy, a place that is rapidly becoming like a second home. I’ll have more to say on that part of the trip in a later blog post.

From there, we were going on to Prague in the Czech Republic, a city I’d been curious to see for years. But then, while attending a medieval tournament, Il Torneo del Cigno Bianco, near Verona, Italy, I heard something wonderful. A new-found German friend, Holger Heid, said that the pourpoint of Charles de Blois—the garment about which I have written so much and published a pattern—had gone on exhibit in Prague a few weeks earlier. The news of this windfall was stunning. I was giddy. I had yet to see it in person.

Greg, on the right, attempting to stab his good friend Christian in the neck, like you do. (Photo by Nicola Maccagnani)

At the Torneo, Greg, on the right, attempting to spear his good friend Christian in the neck, like you do. (Photo by Nicola Maccagnani)

The museum that houses the pourpoint, the Musée des Tissus in Lyon, France, is on the brink of closing due to budget shortfalls. There’s been a protracted attempt to keep it open, but as of now, there are no guarantees. I had made peace with likely never seeing this garment in person, as we had earmarked our travel budget for the year solely for this trip to Italy and the Czech Republic. France just wasn’t on the itinerary any time soon. I knew that when the museum closed, the garment would probably either find a home in a private collection or remain stored in some state-run repository. The likelihood of it going back on display elsewhere was chancy at best.

The pourpoint is indeed on loan to an exhibit in Prague this summer, on the topic of Emperor Charles IV, a beloved king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor from the 14th century. The city has many new exhibits devoted to Charles this year, because his reign began 700 years ago in 1316. It’s a cornucopia of medieval awesomeness. With anticipation verging on maniacal (my husband can attest), we found the Waldstein Riding School building where the Emperor Charles IV: 1316-2016 exhibit was being held, and went inside.

Seeing this garment in person for the first time was truly magical for me. I drank it in as a whole and then began to memorize details. A few years back I wrote an article, Cut to Pieces by a Determined Tailor. This discusses the pattern layout and the width of the pourpoint’s original fabric. I extrapolated this information from the fabric-conserving cut of the pieces. It was with this article in mind that I began to check off my assertions as compared against the proof of the original, which helps to fill holes that photos or diagrams inevitably leave open.

To my infinite sorrow, I was unable to take more than 2 very furtive no-flash photos before a docent caught me and admonished me to stop. They followed me like a criminal for the rest of my time inside the exhibit, but I suppose that’s a small price to pay for having the opportunity to see this garment in person, at long last.

Emperor Charles IV:1316–2016 catalog

Emperor Charles IV:1316–2016 catalog; I didn’t see one in English, alas.

I have compiled my observations in a new article. This exhibit allows you to walk 360 degrees around the garment so you can see all sides. Unfortunately, the exhibit did not allow photography; even no-flash photography. You can see the garment in Prague until September 25th. After that, it moves to Nuremberg, Germany.

Here’s the link to my observations after viewing the pourpoint in person: Pourpoint of Charles de Blois: In-Person Observations (Finally!)

Pourpoint of Charles VI of France article now available in digital format!

My detailed paper on the tailoring and construction methods used to create the beautiful coat armour on display at the Musée des beaux arts in Chartres, France was published in Waffen- und Kostümkunde in July, 2013. Now, over two years later, I am comfortable providing this publication in PDF format for educational purposes to the world at large, rather than requiring that it be bought directly from the journal publishers. At this point, anyone who really REALLY wanted the article has already bought it, and I would like the rest of the people interested in recreating medieval quilting technology to have access to this information.

I am providing it for view/download here, as well as on on my existing page for this paper. You can also find a higher-resolution version on Academia.edu. Note: if you don’t already have an academia.edu profile, you will be required to go through a multi-step process by the site first.

PLEASE READ: If you want others to see this article, please provide the link to my site or the academia.edu site and do not upload the article or any excerpts or images from the article anywhere on the web. Please play nice so we all can share our knowledge in good faith.

Direct link (copy and paste to share): http://cottesimple.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Charles-VI-pourpoint-article-Tasha-D-Kelly-reduced-size.pdf

Sample pages:

p. 159

p. 159

 

p. 171

p. 171

 

Corrections Made to My Charles de Blois Pourpoint Pattern Book

Dear Readers!

I’m full of posts this week, aren’t I? And this particular post is long overdue. I have finally corrected two large errors in my Charles de Blois pourpoint pattern book, available on lulu.com.

The pattern book cover

The pattern book cover

The corrections are as follows:

  1. The page on which I explain the making of points had misinformation. I stated that “pourpoint” means “for points”. Wow, it sure does not mean that. I finally got to the bottom of that inaccurate French language interpretation back in 2011/2012, and have since discussed it in my published article, “The Tailoring of the Pourpoint of King Charles VI of France Revealed”, in Waffen -und Kostümkunde, as well as my web article, “Martial Beauty: Padding and Quilting One’s Way to a Masculine Ideal in 14thc France”. The page no longer makes the claim that “pourpoint” means “for points”.
  2. The patterns I supply as part of the book have a single marker on the upper back piece, indicating where the long seam of the sleeve should be aligned when sewing the sleeve into the armhole. My text and illustrations, however, said and showed something else — that there were two markers appearing on the front piece, which indicated where the front gore should be aligned when attaching the sleeves. I’ve corrected the text and images to match the actual pattern pieces, containing the single marker on the upper back piece.

For those who have a copy of the uncorrected, original version, I have an errata PDF. It includes the corrected pages, which you may print out and paste over the incorrect pages, if you wish, or just keep as a separate reference.

 

Curved front vs. a straight front dress – thoughts

Sometimes I completely forget about things I’m not supposed to forget. This blog post is an example of that. I had this post 95% done sometime in 2014 and then promptly forgot all about it. I’m finally finishing it. I apologize to the person who inspired the post and I hope she still gets to see it, all this time later.

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I got a query from a reader, Lady D of A Stitch in Time and Space, which I felt merited far more than a comment reply. The questions were:

  • Is there a reason to choose a curved front over straight front?
  • Does body shape make a difference?
  • Is one easier than the other?
  • Does it depend what closures or neckline you want to do?

Each one of these tempts me to fill reams of electronic paper with my thoughts, so I’ll do my best to answer them succinctly, based on my own experience and tailoring preferences.

Is there a reason to choose a curved front over straight front?

Perhaps. The two cuts will shape the body differently because they both have different tailoring and rely on the concept of negative ease (tight fabric pressing and molding the body). The curved front provides a more rounded bust silhouette and it tends to sit lower than the straight front dress, which provides more of a shelf/corset effect and tends to push the bosom high. So, if you’re going for a particular shape to the bosom, keep these differences in mind when picking which style to make. If you care more about which will be easier to get a flattering, proper fit from, I’d argue that adding curve to the sides and the front seams provides a lot more leeway for imperfect fit which will still result in a good bust shape than a pattern which only adds curve to the side seams. For the straight front, you really have to get it just right, or it’s very easy to make the bust look terrible. I’ve seen way too many straight front dresses with an unfortunate effect that squishes the bust on the lower outside quadrant in a diagonal that gives the lower curve an unnatural “V” shape. When done well, it’s magnificent. But far fewer people actually do it well than think they do. It takes either a serious affinity for tailoring or a LOT of practice to make it look right, in my opinion. If any of you got it in one, congratulations — you have a serious affinity for tailoring.

Does body shape make a difference?

It can, if you wish to be that discerning about it. Every rib cage and bust is different, and it’s possible that a curved front works better for one while a straight front works better for another. I believe that for large-busted women, a curved front is more forgiving. For a very small bust, it’s hard to make the case for a curved front, as the fabric does not need to swell out much at all to accommodate a modest cup size. But, even so, there are small-busted women who prefer a curve and there are large-busted women who swear by the straight front. This is the kind of thing each woman needs to decide for herself, in my opinion, possibly through trial and error.

Is one easier than the other?

Easier to fit? I’d say the curved front is easier to fit for a good look. Sewing-wise, the straight front is a bit easier, because your eyelets do not need to be distributed over curves. Also, if you lose weight, a straight front is a lot easier to take in without needing to redo eyelets. If you gain weight, it’s a tie, because proper expansion of the dress needs to occur along the side seams, armholes, and sleeves. The center front is the one thing that can get away with not being changed until there is a pretty large amount of weight gain.

Does it depend what closures or neckline you want to do?

If you’re fitting for serious bust support, you pretty much have to use lacing instead of buttons for your closure. If you’re making a fancier top layer, buttons have a better chance of laying down without the edge ruffling when that edge is straight. That said, we do have 14th century examples of extant garments (albeit men’s) with serious curve in their center-front openings where buttons are used to good effect. (Two of my favorites, if you are wondering: the coat armour attributed to Charles VI of France and the pourpoint attributed to Charles de Blois.) Neither of these tailoring styles rule out any particular closure type. I will point out, however, that if you are planning to side-lace, the curved-front design is risky, because when you sew your two curved panels together, it’s very easy to create a baggy pocket which does not get properly filled by the bust. People can easily misjudge how tight the bodice needs to be when doing this, and so I recommend using straight front tailoring for dresses which will side lace. Also, it will allow you to cut the front in one piece, creating a smooth expanse across the bosom. Here’s an example of me wearing a dress which side-laces and was cut in one piece across the front. The fit was nicely done by Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson. I used this dress as the base layer under my black dress with gold accents for my 1480s English Lady impression.

Straight front side laced square neck

This dress has a straight front, cut in one piece, it side laces, and the neck is a softened square.

Side view of a straight front dress

The side view shows the shape of the bust using this fitting style. A very experienced and talented fitter, Charlotte, draped me, so it looks pretty good.

The neckline does affect the fit of the bust, and to repeat what I’ve said above, the harder fit is the straight front. So, the wider and deeper the neckline, the more challenging it can be to get the bust to fit well. I recommend you attempt a neckline that is as wide as you can manage it without doing away with the shoulder seam altogether. I also recommend covering the whole bust — not dipping too low into the cleavage that tends to occur with a tightly-fitted dress like this. The dress above has a square neckline with slight rounding at the corners.

Check out this past post about necklines for a survey of necklines on fitted dresses in the art of the time.

Bag Sleeve Tailoring Methods – Beating the Wattle

The turn of the 15th century in Europe brought a spate of extravagant fashions into popularity. Among them, the deep bag sleeve has proven to be one of the more ornery patterns to recreate.1

When we see it in the art, it’s magnificent — men and women swanning about in their finery, looking impressive with their superfluous sleeve fabric. Let’s peruse a few, shall we?

Fig. 1. King Arthur's Round Table

Fig. 1. King Arthur’s Round Table, Boccaccio, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, Paris, BA, MS 5193, fol 96v, c. 1411

 

Note the fellow in the black hat — his coat is tailored with a grande assiette sleeve, as signaled by the sleeve gores on his back. More about that later.

 

Fig. 2. Boccaccio

Fig. 2. Boccaccio, Livre des cleres et nobles femmes, BnF, MS Français 12420, fol93r, c. 1401

 

I love those dags on the sleeve – it makes “ostentatious” sound like an understatement. More on those dags later, too.

 

Fig. 3. The Author Presents His Book to the King

Fig. 3. “The Author Presents His Book to the King”, Pierre Salmon, Dialogues; Paris, BnF, MS Français 23279, Paris, 1410

 

The bag-sleeved coat on the right has pleats at the shoulder. And yet more on that later as well!

Sometimes when bag sleeves translate to our modern recreations, they can appear… well… like a rooster wattle; a deflated sort of dangling that does not fall from the arm in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Fig. 4. Rooster photo by shivani

Fig. 4. Hey, wassup?
Photo by shivani.

 

Here I am, with my sleeve wattles, in January of 2004. (Credit to Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson for ‘shopping out my red dress at the neckline; I was looking like a hussy according to le Menagiér de Paris!)2

Fig. 4. The author in an example of what not to do

Fig. 4. The author in January 2004, wearing a bag-sleeved gown and serving as an exemplar of what not to do

 

But we don’t see the wattle effect in the figural art of the turn of the 15th century. Aside from the idea that artists weren’t usually tasked with portraying clothing working badly on well-dressed people, there are other reasons why we don’t see it. The most obvious is that many of these gowns in their time were lined with fur, sleeves and all. This thick lining would create a fullness and weight to the sleeve which prevented the wattle from occurring. We modern folks don’t tend to make these garments with a lining capable of filling out and stiffening the bags in the sleeves.

A reason less obvious to most modern-day recreators of this style is the tailoring choice of an under-arm seam as opposed to a back-of-arm seam on the sleeve pattern. In case any readers are unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll review quickly: an underarm seam is one where the sleeve cap looks like a half circle, more or less. See this rather simplified diagram for a visual:

 

Fig. 5. Sleeve cap for an underarm seam

Fig. 5. Sleeve cap for an underarm seam

 

A back-of-arm seam runs down the back of the arm, along the line where the elbow juts out. The sleeve cap usually resembles a sine wave, or has a somewhat pointed dip about 3/4 of the way across it. See this diagram for a visual:

 

Fig. 6. Sleeve caps for back-of-arm seam

Fig. 6. Sleeve caps for back-of-arm seam

 

When we use the underarm seam on a sleeve with a baggy shape, we get a simpler pattern shape and an easier method of insertion into the armhole, certainly, but it’s prone to producing the wattle look. Here’s how such a pattern might appear drawn out as a diagram:

 

Fig. 7. Symmetrical underarm seam sleeve pattern

Fig. 7. Symmetrical underarm seam sleeve pattern

 

This produces the wattle look because we don’t typically bend our elbows in the same plane as the underarm seam. This seam faces straight down to the surface we stand on. Our arms and elbows, however, move more often in a plane which extends at a 45 to 90 degree angle from the ground. The falling shape of the curved bag should extend from the plane most used by the arm, but in this case it doesn’t.

 

Fig. 8. Wattle effect illustrated

Fig. 8. Wattle effect illustrated

 

I propose two ways to fix or mitigate the wattle effect in bag sleeves, aside from lining them with fur or a fur substitute. The first is the easiest, in my opinion, and similar to the same design suggested by Adrien Harmand in his influential work, Jeanne d’Arc, Ses costumes, son armure, published in 1929. His example portrays a version of the  s-curve sleeve cap, which causes the curve of the bag to fall from the back of the arm, rather than underneath it. The exaggeration of the s-curve in the example below, however, is not strictly necessary. I recommend a more balanced and shallow version as shown in Figure 6 above.3

 

Fig. 9. Adrien Harmand's pattern for a bag sleeve

Fig. 9. Adrien Harmand’s pattern for a bag sleeve. Note – no seam allowance included.

Fig. 10. Back-of-arm seam illustrated

Fig. 10. Back-of-arm seam illustrated

 

This method is certainly documentable for sleeves with a much shallower bag shape during this time period — my examination of the coat armour at Chartres’ Musée des beaux arts revealed a back-of-arm seam on that garment’s sleeves. This is common sense, as the location of the seam places the deepest pocket of the bag directly in line with the plane on which the elbow bends, where the room is needed most.

The second method may seem conceptually easier if the drafting of an s-curve seam intimidates you (it can drive people crazy; it is known!). It starts out as the symmetrical pattern that uses the underarm seam sleeve cap. The bag portion of the pattern is then elongated on one side, and shortened on the other by the same amount.

 

Fig. 11. Alternative sleeve pattern for off-set hang solution

Fig. 11. Alternative sleeve pattern for off-set hang solution

 

The end result is similar to the s-curve back-of-arm solution above, the only difference being that the seam originates under the arm before moving to the back:

 

Fig. 12. Off-set hang solution illustrated

Fig. 12. Off-set hang solution illustrated

 

There you have it; two ways to minimize the wattle effect in your bag sleeves. If only I’d used the back-of-arm seam when making the green dress in the photo above. I recall the idea occurring to me, but I opted for the easiest method because I was pregnant and tired.

If your fabric is really limp and drapey, you may also want to consider interlining it with a stiffer or thicker fabric that will give the sleeve fullness and weight. The fur option is always there too, if you want to invest in the costly pelts, learn how to take a fur coat apart and resew it in the shape needed, or work with fake fur.

So now let’s talk a bit about the figural sources shown above and some of the knowledge they impart on the topic of bag sleeves. In Figure 1, we see a two-toned coat with bag sleeves where the miniaturist took pains to paint the seam lines of sleeve gores on the back of the garment. This is unequivocal evidence for grande assiette tailoring, which works best with a back-of-arm seam. So, even without the painting of the seam line on the bag sleeve, we know where the seam goes.

In Figure 2, the dags provide another deductive example for the back-of-arm seam. This style is created by sewing the dags into the seam itself, and in this case, we see the dags heading straight to the outside of the wearer’s wrist, which is a strong vote for the back-of arm seam. Additionally, the pink fabric appears to the left of the dags at the bottom of the bag, which suggests that the seam line is offset to the outside, another vote for the back-of-arm seam.

Finally, in Figure 3, the sleeve cap shows pleating into the armhole on the black coat. This was likely done on the portion of the sleeve cap that traverses the top of the shoulder, so in order to translate that to a pattern piece, elongate the curve that sits at the top of the shoulder by a factor of three — a simple knife pleat takes three times the fabric. It’s worth nothing that this image richly demonstrates the lushness of fur-lined garments.

Notes:

1. Thanks to Ian LaSpina for making me think about bag sleeve tailoring again.

2. Le Menagiér de Paris states, “And before you leave your chamber or house, see you first that the collar of your shift, and your blanchet, your robe, or your surcoat, straggle not forth one upon the other, as befalleth with certain drunken, foolish, or ignorant women, who have no regards for their honour, nor for the honesty of their estate or of their husbands, and go with roving eyes and head horribly reared up like unto a lion, their hair straying out of their wimples and the collars of their shifts and robes one upon the other, and walk mannishly and bear themselves uncouthly before folk without shame.” – translation by Eileen Power from The Goodman of Paris, A Treatise on Moral and Domestic Economy by a Citizen of Paris, c. 1393, Boydell Press, 2006.

3. Harmand’s version of the s-curve is probably a reflection of the tailoring of his time period, rather than medieval tailoring. I haven’t seen evidence yet for that type of curve in extant clothes, but that’s not proof of non-existence, necessary, given our small extant sampling. I recommend the shallower version because it’s easier to draft and documentable to the time period based on extant clothing examples.