Fourteenth Century Clothing Workshops in California

On Saturday, April 13th, at Loyola Hall on the campus of Santa Clara University, I presented an afternoon of immersion into the tailoring of two famous French pourpoints dated to the fourteenth century: The Charles VI and the Charles de Blois. It is impossible to study fourteenth century clothing without paying at least some attention to these two rare garments. I began by presenting a summary of the data I gathered on the pourpoint at the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Chartres, France, purported to have been worn by Charles VI of France. My study of the garment in July 2011 yielded fascinating new understanding of the construction details which the historical clothing community at large has not yet seen for this garment. Excellent discussion ensued throughout the presentation, and I had a great time sharing the material with such engaged attendees. When my slide lecture was through, I invited folks to examine the reproduction I’d made and to ask further questions.

After a break, we resumed, this time on the topic of the grande assiette, which is the French term for a form of tailoring seen in the 14th and 15th century, particularly in France. The armholes of a grande assiette garment were cut exceedingly large, and the sleeve cap required to fill that space was created with the use of triangular gores. By modern standards, this is an unusual way to cut a sleeved garment, and for many, translating the 2-D pattern pieces to 3-D is a challenge.

Grande assiette geometry for drafting

Grande assiette geometry for drafting by Tasha Kelly

Following a quick overview of evidence for this tailoring technique in the period mentioned, I demonstrated a way to drape the upper sleeve, including the gores. Next I demonstrated an easy way to use measurements to draft the upper sleeve, including gores. I had asked participants to bring a calculator (smart phones would do), their own measuring tape, and a yard stick. My hosts and I supplied paper, pencils, and string for make-shift compasses. Each participant was given a worksheet on which they recorded five measurements taken on their own body. These were labeled m1 through m5. Next, they derived four more measurements from provided equations, which were labeled mA through mD. Lastly, they drafted the upper sleeve and three different gores—one for the front, one under the arm, and one for the back (which would need to be cut twice). The simplified drafting mimics the pattern used on the pourpoint of Charles de Blois, the most famous extant example of the grande assiette tailoring technique. The goal of this exercise was to show how geometry can easily be used to draft seemingly complicated patterns.

A fair number of us retired to the Fault Line Brewery in Sunnyvale for dinner where I further got to know the fun folks who’d come out for the day. I was served a gigantic bowl of seafood gumbo which after eating two-thirds of it, I thought I might burst.

The next morning at 10AM, I held a fitting workshop for creating a 4- panel draped pattern to use in making a bust-supportive dress. This style of dress can serve as the foundation fashion layer for women who wish to recreate a popular look portrayed throughout the latter half of the 14th century, all over Europe. There are two basic schools of thought on this—curving the center-front seam, and keeping it straight. The benefit of the latter is that it also allows you to eliminate the center-front seam altogether and put lacing on one or both side seams. However, the former is my first love, so that is the method I taught. I also think it’s easier to get right on the body than the straight-front seam is, due to the subtleties of fit required around the side seams and armholes to make the bust look nice. I had asked everyone to bring a couple of yards of linen with them, which we used as the base fabric for the draping.

Fitting for 14th century Bust Support

A group of ladies fitting each other. Photo by Cilean Sterling.

Our hosts’ home is beautiful and there was lots of open room for people to work. I asked everyone to pair up while I grabbed one friend and fit her as a demonstration. Everyone quickly followed along, picking up on the concepts right away. We took a break for a pot-luck snacking/light lunch fortification, and then got back to work, this time switching roles, so that whomever had been fit became the fitter in the next round.

It was a great weekend. Everyone I met was a ton of fun to get to know. This was the perfect group of people—extremely welcoming and such quick studies. My hosts, Debora and Robert, were a delight, and beyond generous. Thank you, California, for your hospitality.

 

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    • Hi Elizabeth, I live on the East Coast at this time. I’m assuming you saw this post and thought I lived in California? I did that workshop by invitation, and I have family in the area, so it worked out well. I’m sorry I’m not local — you are welcome to write me email for specific questions. Maybe I can still help.