Charles VI Coat Armour Repro, Part 2: Drafting the Pattern

This is the second in a series of blog posts describing the process I undertook to recreate the child-sized coat armour on display at the Musée des beaux arts in Chartres, France. I’ll be covering the process of drafting the pattern. Find the first part here: Dyeing an Imperfect Lampas.

When I examined the coat in the museum in Chartres on July 1, 2011, my first order of business was to take a myriad of measurements. I gave careful thought to all of the lengths I would need to recreate the pattern on flat paper later. I laid them out in a spreadsheet before going to France. My best friend, Greta, accompanied me as my assistant and recorded them for me as I measured and called out each number to her. Time was short. I was only given three hours to gather all the data I would ever get from this coat.

Here are the measurements I took. Each number corresponds to a measurement on the following tables.

Measurements I took in order to recreate the pattern faithfully.

Measurements I took in order to recreate the pattern faithfully.

 

Chart of measurements taken on the front of the garment. The numbers in the left column corresponds to the numbers in the first image in this post.

Chart of measurements taken on the front of the garment. The numbers in the left column correspond to the numbers in the first image in this post.

 

Measurements taken on the back of the garment.

Measurements taken on the back of the garment.

 

Measurements taken on the sleeves.

Measurements taken on the sleeves.

 

This may seem like an excessive number of measurements, but without them, I couldn’t be certain I was accurately reproducing the flat pattern. It’s probable that with fewer measurements I would have been forced to fudge some aspects of the pattern from memory. This way, I could be confident.

I framed out the shapes of the torso pieces using straight lines crossing each other (an x and y axis) as a guide. I was delighted to discover a beautiful symmetry at play. The waist ran exactly midway between the highest point of the shoulder and lowest point of the hem. The torso pieces could also be bisected by a line that ran from the highest point of the shoulder, directly down the middle of each piece.

The front piece balanced across an x and y axis.

The front piece balanced across an x and y axis.

 

Note the chalice shape framed by the square in the middle of the diagram above. We frequently think of an hour-glass shape when describing the fashionable silhouette of the 14th century. This certainly applies for women. For men, however, I think a chalice shape describes the silhouette better, especially in the last 40 years of the century. Their chests were framed with bold curves, but their hips less so. The lower half of the torso was more typically defined by an A-line. In the most fashionable clothing, this A-line was enforced with the use of rigorous padding and quilting.

That straight-line flare from the waist to the hips was made all the more striking by placing the waist artificially high. The dotted line extension in the diagram above shows where the bottom of a man’s hips would end. The waist on a man typically sits about halfway between the armpits and the bottom of the hips. Here, the waist has been placed about one third of the distance between armpits and the bottom of the hips. Modern re-creations typically place the waist too low to give the correct silhouette.

Analysis of period silhouettes aside, I drafted the pattern using pencil, wide craft paper, ruler, yard stick, a flexible curve ruler and—of course—the measurements. Here is an example of the back piece in progress:

Drafting the back piece, in progress.

Drafting the back piece, in progress.

 

In addition to re-creating the pattern shapes, I had the added challenge of re-creating the placement of the quilt lines. The curator at the Musée des beaux arts took photos at my request, which I consulted when placing the quilt lines. As you can see in the picture above, the quilt lines were not uniform or parallel.

Final drafted back pattern

Final drafted back pattern.

 

Apologies for the dark photo. I did not have a decent camera at the time. As you can see, I added a half-inch of seam allowance all around. See how the quilt lines do not line up with all the hem scallops? It’s clear that the maker was not concerned with that sort of neatness. Far more important was the emphasis on the waist. The lines move inward proportionately, and then back out again, once past the waist.

Here’s a photo of the front piece before I added the hem scallops and seam allowance:

The front pattern, almost done.

The front pattern, almost done.

 

The quilt lines are complex and somewhat unpredictable. Some curved more strongly than others, and the curves themselves were all slightly different.

The front pattern piece with buttonhole guide and seam allowances.

The front pattern piece with buttonhole guide and seam allowances.

 

The sleeve was quite straight-forward. It had a somewhat shallow s-curve sleeve cap, which allowed the curved seam to run down the back of the arm and provide a fullness for the elbow to bend into.

The sleeve pattern, almost finished.

The sleeve pattern, almost finished.

 

The finished sleeve pattern’s quilt lines were much easier to map out than the body pieces’ quilt lines—straight lines that run parallel to each other are the easiest of all.

 

The sleeve pattern, finished.

The sleeve pattern, finished.

 

The cleaned-up pattern, including tiny godets on the side seams, finally emerged. For the purpose of reproduction, I decided to incorporate the tiny godets in the main pattern pieces. They existed on the original because the original, lengthwise-folded fabric was not wide enough to accommodate the full width of the skirt for cutting purposes.

 

The completed pattern, shrunk down for the publication of my article.

The completed pattern, shrunk down for the publication of my article.

 

I also mapped out the shape of the padded placket which sits behind the buttonholes on the original coat:

The front piece with placket overlay

The front piece with placket overlay.

 

Clearly plackets were a done thing, because this is not the only extant garment from the time period with one. The jupon preserved with the Black Prince’s funerary achievements (dated to 1376) in England also has a placket behind its lacing holes. See Janet Arnold’s article (citation below) for a good source of information on the jupon.

The final step in preparing this pattern was to treat the pattern pieces like stencils. Instead of cutting the fabric into the shape of the finished pattern pieces, I was going to lay these stencils on rectangles of linen fabric and then transfer the final shapes as well as the quilting lines. I planned to use the prick-and-pounce method for the transfer. These large rectangles of linen would serve as the base upon which I would build the padding and quilting.

Close-up of the upper back piece with pricking, in preparation of pouncing, which is the pressing of a colored powder through the holes to transfer a design to a new surface.

Close-up of the upper back piece with pricking, in preparation of pouncing, which is the pressing of a colored powder through holes to transfer a design to a new surface.

 

In the next installment, I’ll show you how I padded and quilted the garment pieces before sewing them all together. (Part 3: Padding and Quilting on a Frame)

 

Suggested Reading:

Arnold, Janet. “The Jupon or Coat-Armour of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral.” Journal of the Church Monument Society VIII (1993): 12–24.

Kelly, Tasha D. “The Tailoring of the Pourpoint of King Charles VI of France Revealed”. Waffen- und Kostümkunde Hefte 2 (2013): 153–180.

Charles VI Coat Armour Repro, Part 1: Dyeing An Imperfect Lampas

This is the first in a series of blog posts describing the process I undertook to recreate the child-sized coat armour on display at the Musée des beaux arts in Chartres, France. This post covers the challenge of finding a proper silk lampas fabric to match the look and feel of the original. Though this re-creation project came and went years ago (in 2011 and 2012 to be exact), I never published details on my process beyond a few loose-leaf notebooks shown during slide lectures and exhibits. My full-length paper on this topic is available here.

My first concern was to find suitable fabric. In 2011, there weren’t as many interesting and period-appropriate silks on the online market as there are today. The original coat armour had been made from a monochrome crimson silk lampas with a complex pattern woven into the cloth.

An "x-ray" view (care of PhotoShop) of the coat armour's lampas pattern. Much busier than you can see in most color photos. Thanks go to Michael Bair for processing this photo to reveal the pattern.

An “x-ray” view (via PhotoShop) of the coat armour’s lampas pattern. A much busier pattern than you can see in most color photos. My thanks to Michael Bair for processing this photo and all the photos I published in my paper.

 

I felt compelled to find a real silk lampas rather than a silk damask. Sometimes people confuse the two fabrics, which is easy to do when dealing with a polychrome version of damask. Damasks could be quite elaborate in the 14th century. They frequently included supplemental wefts for polychrome designs, but damask’s defining characteristic is that its patterns are usually created with a satin weave while its ground is usually made with a sateen weave. These days, we are used to seeing monochrome damasks with shiny patterns appearing on a matte ground.

Italian silk damasks from the 14th century. The original uploader was Brian0918 at English Wikipedia (Original text: The New York Public Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Italian silk damasks from the 14th century. The original uploader was Brian0918 at English Wikipedia (Original text: The New York Public Library) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Lampas, on the other hand, typically has a taffeta ground and always uses supplemental wefts to create patterns and textures. By floating these extra weft threads over or under differing numbers of warp threads, it is possible to create an unparalleled lushness and intricate variety. In the 14th-century hey-day of lampas weaving, metal threads made with real gold or silver were frequently used to stunning effect.

By PHGCOM (Own work, photographed at Musée de Cluny) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A 14th century lampas enriched with gold metal motifs from Iran or Iraq. By PHGCOM (Own work, photographed at Musée de Cluny) CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.

After combing over multiple online sources, I finally decided to buy a pricey silk lampas from silkresource.com. It had a similarly busy pattern, but was decidedly un-14th-century-like. It lacked all the aesthetic hallmarks of that time period, but in my imagination, I projected an overlay of deep crimson dye to minimize the obvious anachronism and provide the right texture and hand. I was willing to take the chance it would work well enough to disguise the later-period pattern. At that time, I just had no luck in finding a lampas with a better pattern.

 

100% silk lampas. This is what it looked like before I dyed it. Unfortunately, its pattern did not have the kind of balance seen in 14th century lampases.

100% silk lampas. This is what it looked like before I dyed it. Unfortunately, its pattern did not have the kind of balance seen in 14th century lampases.

 

I convinced a friend and colleague of mine, David Rylak, of Rough from the Hammer, to help me with the large feat of dyeing a few yards of this 100% silk fabric. We began with dyeing a couple of test swatches on the stove, before committing to the much larger and riskier task of dyeing yards’-worth of expensive fabric.

A test swatch dyed with jacquard silk dye on the stove.

A test swatch dyed with jacquard silk dye on the stove.

 

We found the results encouraging.

 

Comparing wet and dry swatches. The wet swatch is behind the dry swatch, which naturally lightens up once the water is evaporated. But the color was perfect!

Comparing wet and dry swatches. The wet swatch is behind the dry swatch, which naturally lightens up once the water is evaporated. But the color was perfect!

 

The color was perfect—a rich, vibrant crimson which settled into the lampas’ complex weaving pattern well. It provided the perfect duel effect of brightening the field of the fabric while reducing contrast of the woven motifs.

Next, the serious business began. Dave had purchased a large food-grade stainless steel barrel in advance. He needed a new quenching vat for his armour business, and since my use of the barrel would involve one day of work, he was willing to let me break it in with my gonzo dye job.

Stainless steel food-grade barrel sitting atop a turkey-frying propane stove. Where there is a will there is a way.

Stainless steel food-grade barrel sitting atop a propane-powered turkey-frying stove. This was taking foreverrrrr to heat up.

 

We began by heating water to a near-boiling temperature, which was harder to do than you might think. We were working in an unheated pole barn in the dead of winter, and there was a lot of water volume to heat. Dave began the process by using a propane-fueled turkey fryer setup. When we realized the water was heating too slowly, he wrapped a belt heater around the barrel’s midsection.

Once the water reached the needed temperature, we dumped in the powdered jacquard dye which I’d purchased from Dharma Trading Co., and stirred well to dissolve it. Next came the moment of no return. We dunked the fabric and began a laborious phase of non-stop stirring so the fabric would not be unevenly dyed.

Yours truly; insert requisite MacBeth reference here.

Yours truly; insert requisite MacBeth reference here.

 

Dave, stirring the pot. Why is it that men can stand around in t-shirts in freezing weather?

Dave, stirring the pot. Why is it that men can stand around in t-shirts in freezing weather?

 

In time, we could see the cloth taking up the dye, and the bath was getting clearer. I learned a lot about silk dyeing on Dharma Trading’s website. I highly recommend their products and customer service in this area. I’m just a satisfied customer; no one paid me to say that!

At last, I decided the time had come to take the cloth out and rinse it. This prospect was daunting due to the weather, and the only safe place to perform this task was outdoors, using near-freezing water.

We started by rinsing the fabric in an outdoor sink.

We started by rinsing the fabric in an outdoor sink. This was boring and slow going.

 

We advanced to a much higher-tech rinsing mechanism in the interest of expediency. Brrrr!

We grew impatient with the sink basin method and resorted to laying the folded fabric across a table and blasting it with a hose. We’re talking super-high-tech in the interest of expediency. Brrrr!

 

The final step was drying the soaked silk. Dave tried hanging it from the rafters in his pole barn for a while.

Dave hanging the fabric from a rafter in his pole barn armour shop.

Dave hanging the fabric from a rafter in his armour shop.

 

It kinda-sorta worked. Eventually we gave in and threw it in his clothes dryer. Had this been the middle of summer, I’m sure the hang-it-up method would have worked far more efficiently.

The final appearance of the fabric was as close to perfect as I was going to get.

Undyed lampas on the left; dyed lampas on the right. What a world of difference!

Undyed, original lampas on the left; dyed lampas on the right. What a world of difference!

 

My next task was to recreate the pattern and begin padding and quilting. Stay tuned for that installment coming very soon! (Part 2: Drafting the Pattern)

A fur primer for 14th and 15th century European clothing

I wrote an article on recognizing fur in period figural imagery that kind of ate my brain. I’ve been working on this topic for months. The more I read and reviewed imagery, the more rabbit holes I found myself going down, zero pun intended. But now finally it’s in a state where I feel comfortable sharing it with the world. I would call this a beginner’s introduction to the topic.

The bottom line is that if you are a serious student of clothing in the 14th and 15th centuries in Europe, you cannot skip over understanding fur and its role in sartorial culture. It was integral and ubiquitous. I encourage anyone interested in this topic to find a copy of Elspeth Veale’s The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages and actually read it.

With no further ado, the link to the article: A fur primer for 14th and 15th century European clothing.

The Royal Grave Clothing of 14th Century Bohemia

…Or: The Bonanza I Found When I Went Looking for the Houppelande of John of Görlitz (Jan Zhořelecký)

As part of my husband’s and my honeymoon trip to Prague, we intended to check off a modest bucket list item, which was to see the extant 14th century houppelande on display in Prague Castle. I also arranged to meet in person for the first time an on-line friend, Petr Voda, who is deeply involved in medieval re-enactment in the Czech Republic. Petr is a devoted researcher and writer on the topic of historical clothing, and so it was a marvelous opportunity to spend time with a kindred spirit in a country steeped in a cultural history that is particularly abundant in 14th century lore.

Petr Voda and Vlad'ka Vodava dressed in early 14th century finery

Petr Voda and Vlad’ka Vodava dressed in early 14th century finery.

 

He met Greg and I on the street leading to the Charles Bridge after we’d been in Prague a few days. We then took the on-foot trek up the hill to Prague Castle, which consists of a compound of buildings including St. Vitus Cathedral. It’s a steep walk, guaranteed to get your blood flowing.

 

St. Vitus Cathedral is a dramatic building!

St. Vitus Cathedral is a dramatic building!

 

We made our way through the Story of Prague exhibit, which has a fair number of interesting textile fragments and clothing items, including the grave clothes of Rudolf I of Habsburg, who was king of Germany from 1273–1291. He had some control of Bohemia, while the widow of his former rival retained control of the territory around and in Prague. There is more to the story of the clothes themselves, but I leave this to my colleague Petr to tell in his own time, as the information is his.

 

Some of the surviving garment pieces of Rudolf I

Some of the surviving garment pieces of Rudolf I

 

In particular I wanted to see the surviving houppelande of John of Görlitz (Jan Zhořelecký), which I knew very little about. For those who are newer to the medieval clothing game, “houppelande” is a French term for a voluminous, long gown style worn by both women and men in the 14th and 15th centuries. To my chagrin, we found that this gown had been moved from the “Story of Prague” to a temporary exhibit in another location. This was due to the 700 year anniversary celebration of Charles IV’s birth in 1316—the city was overflowing with special exhibits in celebration. In fact, I tried really hard to publish this blog post on the anniversary of Charles’ coronation in 1347, September 2nd, but missed it by a few days.

It turned out that the houppelande was on our itinerary for the next morning. Petr had kindly made an arrangement to meet Dr. Milena Bravermanová, the textile curator of Prague Castle, at the exhibit containing the houppelande. She would be giving us a personal tour of the textiles there. In the meantime, we retired back to Petr’s home near the Polish border and had a lovely evening with he and his wife, Vlad’ka. Petr showed us his copious research on extant medieval clothing. I think that his scientific approach to data gathering would be valuable to the historical clothing world outside of the Czech Republic and I hope to see more of it soon. Vlad’ka is a great cook, and an impressive gardener.

 

A hand-cranked railroad crossing guard near Petr and Vlad'ka's home

A hand-cranked railroad crossing gate near Petr and Vlad’ka’s home. I had no idea such things were still in use. The chain travels down the track some distance to a building where someone is on duty to crank the gate up and down.

 

Vlad'ka's beautiful peonies

Vlad’ka’s beautiful peonies

 

The next morning we all set out for Prague again. I was surprised by how early the sun rises in that part of the world in early June. I think the sky was bright before 5 AM. We made our way to the Crown of the Kingdom exhibit, which is on display in the Prague Castle Riding School until September 28th. This was the temporary home of the houppelande.

 

Greg, myself, Vlad'ka, and Petr

Greg, myself, Vlad’ka, and Petr

The Crown and the Kingdom Exhibit

This exhibit did not just have the houppelande… it had many clothing fragments from several royal tombs related to Charles IV’s reign. This was a bonanza of 14th century clothing! The last room in the exhibit hall was devoted to the textiles which have been extracted from the royal crypt and studied. The story behind the grave clothes of the family of Charles IV is frustrating in the extreme. To sum it up, the tombs were disturbed and re-organized many times in the intervening centuries. By the time a concerted study was mounted in 1928, the tombs were in a deplorable condition. Much of the surviving clothing has deteriorated into scraps. Equally sad is the fact that it’s no longer possible to know beyond an educated guess whose clothes are whose in some cases. Charles’ four wives’ bodies were all piled into a single coffin, for instance. For a more thorough treatment of this story, I recommend the exhibit catalog, The Crown of the Kingdom, which is available in English. Some of the details that follow are summarized from the catalog text, while other observations are my own. I’ve attempted to differentiate with endnotes.

 

Crown of the Kingdom catalog

Crown of the Kingdom catalog

 

Dr. Bravermanová spoke at length to us about the stories behind the textiles. It was a wonderful morning, full of new knowledge for me. For instance: some of the grave clothes were rapidly acquired for the funeral of their recipient. They are presumed to have been hastily made using simplified patterning without linings. In fact, the houppelande is one of these garments, which I’ll discuss further along in this post. (1)

Another more obvious example of a hastily-sewn garment is the sleeveless surcoat possibly ascribed to Joan of Bavaria, wife of Wenceslas IV, who died in 1386. The overly-simplistic tailoring is obvious at first glance. The front and back pieces were cut in one piece that had been folded at the shoulders. There was no consideration given for the slightly-forward cant of human arms or any other differences between the front and the back of a typical female body. If the body was lying flat and being sealed up forevermore, there would be less incentive for the clothes to fit perfectly. (2)

 

Sleeveless surcotte presmumed to be Joan of Bavaria's

Sleeveless surcotte presumed to be Joan of Bavaria’s. Note the fabric-conserving gore arrangement, where two right-angle triangles together form an isosceles triangle. This technique is used so that a rectangle of fabric can be used to create the gore, rather than a triangle. Also note, the gore is inserted into a slit, a common (but sometimes fiddly) tailoring technique in this time period. I have a tutorial for doing this here.

 

Bust of Joan of Bavaria in St. Vitus Cathedral

Bust of Joan of Bavaria in St. Vitus Cathedral; the round structure on her head is not a hat; the sculptor created that plain cylindrical form so that a crown could be placed on it. Originally, such busts were painted in full color, and elaborate crowns adorned the heads of royals. Thanks goes to Petr for this fascinating tidbit about crowns on sculptures. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

Some of the clothing was obviously worn by the person in life, as more care had been put into its cut and make. For instance, fragments of the bodice and skirt of a dress ascribed to Blanche of Valois, the first wife of Charles IV who died in 1348, show that the front closure’s small buttons were made of fabric, with shanks created from the thread used to attach the buttons to the garment.

 

Bodice fragment presumed to belong to Blanche of Valois

Bodice fragment presumed to belong to Blanche of Valois; note the buttons sewn to the edge itself. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

Bust of Blanche of Valois in St. Vitus Cathedral

Bust of Blanche of Valois in St. Vitus Cathedral. Note: remains of red paint can be seen on the bodice of her dress. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

Bust of Blanche of Valois from the side

Bust of Blanche of Valois from the side; this is a casting from the original, on display at the Crown of the Kingdom exhibit. Note her braids do not appear as loops (a common costumer mistake) but rather as straight braids bent sharply back. Based on other sculptural and artistic examples, the braids probably bend horizontally about half way back up the length of the braid in front and meet at the back of her head.

 

As in other extant examples, the buttons were attached to the edge of the front opening, rather than being set in from the edge. (3) The dress apparently had been made with a sewn-on skirt, gathered into the waist area. (4) Perhaps most intriguing about the bodice fragment is the appearance of a trapezoidal expanding panel set into the neckline, and a gore inserted as high up as the breast. This indicates the top half of the garment was quite full and made from at least seven panels (six in front and one in back) or more likely eight or even twelve. I confess I’m having a hard time imagining a garment with such a full bodice being gathered into a skirt at the waist. (5)

 

My drawing of Blanche's bodice fragment

My drawing of Blanche’s bodice fragment. There’s not enough left to know what style of sleeve tailoring was used. The front portion of the bodice had no less than six panels, and as many as two gores set as high as the chest.

 

With the bodice, there is a fragment believed to be part of a cloak which was pleated around the shoulder area. The conservation report from 1928 apparently described this and other similar strips of fabric as “wings”. However, it failed to note that the fabric used for the strips was different from that of the dress fragmants, lending credence to Dr. Bravermanová’s theory that the strips were part of a cloak. (6)

 

Possible cloak piece attributed to Blanche of Valois

Possible cloak fragments attributed to Blanche of Valois. Note the vertical lines at the top; these are evidence of previous pleating. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

Based on the shape of the piece, if it indeed had been part of a cloak, it likely came from the front, as it has the slant one would find around the front neckline. The cloak would have been completed from a set of trapezoidal pieces, using similar tailoring principles to those found in the houppelande discussed below. As you can see in the following images, Blanche’s cloak (if it was indeed Blanche’s and indeed part of a cloak) was likely a modest one that was tailored to lay over the shoulders and meet its edges in the center-front, connected with a brooch. It could have been pleated into a firm, decorative band (now missing) that outlined the cloak’s neckline. (7)

 

Open front-closing cloak worn by St. John the Evangelist

Open, front-closing cloak worn by St. John the Evangelist in a fragment of the Roudnice Polyptych, painted in 1343 at the Augustinian monastery at Roudnice nad Labem. A brooch would have been used to close this style of cloak. The cloak is purposefully left hanging open, even though the tell-tale pointed edges where a brooch would attach the two sides together are visible. This may signify the subject’s modesty, or perhaps his preoccupation with piety, leaving less concern for neat appearance.

 

The Virgin and Child of Zbraslav

The Virgin and Child of Zbraslav, painted in Prague and donated to the Zbraslav Abbey Church by Charles IV between 1345 and 1350. Note the decorative band around the neckline and the brooch used to close the cloak.

 

Charles’ third wife, Anne von Schweidnitz, was the likely owner of a short-sleeved, green surcotte of some interest, due to the remaining fragment of the short sleeve. (8)

 

Bust of Anne of Schweitnitz

Bust of Anne of Schweitnitz, who died in 1362.

 

The dress is probably a rapidly-made funerary surcotte, due to its extremely simplistic tailoring. What’s most interesting is the surviving sleeve cap, showing a rather atypical s-curve design.

 

Anne of the Palatinate's green funerary surcotte

Anne von Schweidnitz’s green funerary surcotte. Note how the body of the garment was cut in one giant rectangle, a sure way to know this was done hastily for burial. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

Cutting the sleeve cap in an s-curve allows the seam to run down the back of the arm, which comes in handy for creating shapes into which the elbow can bend, as well as placing buttons in the perfect outward-facing position on the forearm. It’s not as useful for short sleeves with no extension past the elbow. What makes this example atypical is the differing heights at the two ends of the sleeve cap. For an s-curve sleeve cap to work, the ends must be the same height. Otherwise, the the long seam edges will not match up. Since the sleeve cap appears to be fragmentary at the top, it’s possible that some of it is missing.

 

Diagram of green sleeve of Anne of the Palatinate

Diagram of green sleeve of Anne of the Palatinate. Note that the seam lengths are vastly different on each side of the sleeve.

 

Diagram of how the exhibited sleeve would sew together

Diagram of how the exhibited sleeve would sew together. The long seam twists and the cuffs of the sleeve don’t come together at all.

 

Diagram of how the sleeve might have originally looked

Diagram of how the sleeve might have originally looked. In this case, the two ends, A and B, are the same height.

 

Diagram of how a proper sleeve cap would sew together

Diagram of how a proper sleeve cap would sew together. Note the ends form an attractive V that points off the elbow.

 

There is also a dress (in fragments) believed to have originally been red, and perhaps belonging to Anne of the Palatinate, Charles IV’s 2nd wife. I find it of special interest because of its surviving sleeve piece. Based on its concave sleeve cap, it clearly represents the underside of a sleeve (the part that would lay against the body, ending at the armpit). The missing half would undoubtedly have a convex curve to complete the sleeve cap. If they were sewn together side-by-side, they would form a typical s-curve sleeve cap. In the case of this sleeve, one seam runs down the back of the upper arm while the other runs down the front of the upper arm. (9) Dr. Bravermanová has made the conclusion that the sleeve may have been cut this way to accommodate an integral tippet. (10) Indeed, this cut simplifies the tailoring for such a sleeve, and the tippet would hang perfectly off the end of the sleeve from this angle. I would probably tweak the speculative shape of the second half of the sleeve to make the convex portion of the sleeve cap larger to match the width of the concave portion. If indeed a tippet had existed, its shape would be narrower and its edges would remain parallel to each other, in the fashion of tippets seen in art in the early 1350s throughout Europe, at the time when Anne died (1353).

 

Bottom half of a short sleeve attributed to Anne of the Palatinate

Bottom half of a short sleeve attributed to Anne of the Palatinate. Note the missing chunk in the upper left corner. If the angle is followed, the concave portion of the sleeve cap continues on past its currently mangled end. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

The exhibit also includes a pair of fabric slippers reaching almost to the knee. The slippers are patterned the same way that one of the hosen fragments from the Museum of London finds is patterned, with a separate vamp that wraps under the foot. The bottom of the foot rests on a cross-shaped set of seams. This design gives an aesthetically ideal 14th century silhouette to the feet. It’s the only one I use when I make hosen and I recommend it, especially when making hosen from wool. Walking on wool fabric will quickly full the seams, flattening them until they can’t be felt at all. (11)

 

Redrawing I did from a drawing in Textiles and Clothing: 1150-1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland

Redrawing I did from a drawing in Textiles and Clothing: 1150-1450 by Elisabeth Crowfoot, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. These are some shapes of late 14th century fragments of hosen found in London. The top shape is the portion that encircles the ankle and heel. The bottom shape covers the rest of the foot.

 

My drawing of what hosen made from pieces shaped like the ones above looks like

My drawing of what hosen made from pieces shaped like the ones above looks like.

 

Tall slippers believed to be Charles IV's

Tall slippers believed to be Charles IV’s. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

You can see the cross-shaped seams on the bottom of the foot

You can see the cross-shaped seams on the bottom of the foot. Sorry for the blurry photo. I took it in a hurry.

 

Other items of interest in the royal crypt collection include fragments of two kruselers. (For information on Kruselers, see Isis Sturtewagen’s article A Frilled Veil; The Headwear of Catherine de Beauchamp. Isis also has other papers: Frilled & Pleated Headwear in North-West Europe (1350-1400) and De-/Re-Constructing Frilled and Pleated Headwear which are not published in print or online that I know of, and Unveiling Social Fashion Patterns, A Case Study of Frilled Veils in the Low Countries (1200-1500) which is published in Medieval Clothing & Textiles 7 (2011). For a more general set of resources including visual examples, see Larsdatter.com’s Frilled Veils page.

The larger and more historically significant of the two kruseler fragments in the Crown of the Kingdom exhibit is made of gossamer-thin silk crepe that has been folded over sixteen times. This piece is 275.6 inches long (700 cm) and almost 19 inches wide (48 cm), according to the informational plaque. The frilled edge was created using doubled warp threads with a weaker twist than the internal warp threads have. Once the fabric was removed from the loom, the loss of tension allowed the material to become decoratively wavy. The layers are placed so that each one is slightly recessed from the next one, to enhance the visual effect. It’s impossible to know whether the current arrangement of folds is original, or if it was refolded at some point in the past after the tomb was opened. (12) I do wonder if the weave is crepe-like in order to encourage the layers to stick to each other. A smoother weave would be more likely to slide around. The layers don’t appear to be sewn to each other.

 

Kruseler fragments

Kruseler fragments. Photo from the exhibit catalog.

 

There are multitudes of busts which adorn St. Vitus’ Cathedral, and only one of the royal women who appear among them wears a veil with kruseler characteristics — Elizabeth of Bohemia, or Elizabeth Premyslid, the mother of Charles IV, who died in 1330. She is portrayed with a low-profile kruseler-style veil and wimple. It’s unlikely she wore this in life, as the bust was carved much later, around 1375. The sculptor probably used a modest contemporary version of the style to portray Elizabeth in the most respectable light.

 

Bust of Elizabeth Premyslid

Bust of Elizabeth Premyslid. One last reminder… not a cap. That’s a structure for placing a crown. Note, the wimple is also edged with a frill at both jawline and across her chest.

 

My sketch of Elizabeth's kruseler veil shape from the side

My sketch of Elizabeth’s kruseler veil shape from the side. Note the part that frames her face sticks out slightly from the portion that covers the rest of her head. This appears to me like a nod toward the shape of a front-opening hood.

 

The earliest examples of kruselers in a Bohemian source I could find is from the Velislav Bible, dated 1325–1349.  Based on the clothing and illumination style, the illustrations of women wearing kruselers appear to have been drawn closer to the latter date than the former. (13)

 

A highly fashionable lady from the late 1340s in the Velislav Bible

A highly fashionable lady from the late 1340s in the Velislav Bible, which dates from 1325 to 1349.

 

Another fashionable lady in a different version of a kruseler from the Velislav Bible

Another fashionable lady in a different version of a kruseler from the Velislav Bible, folio 12a.

 

The Houppelande of John of Görlitz/Jan Zhořelecký

And now finally, let’s talk about the houppelande. If you are fascinated by medieval European fashion, you have likely seen the sparse photos of John of Görlitz’s houppelande, which many of us in the Western hemisphere first found on the site Kostym.cz, a Czech resource for extant medieval clothing examples. It’s the only extant houppelande that I know of. For a concise summary of the garment know as a houppelande, see Rosalie Gilbert’s page on the topic.

 

The picture of the houppelande most of us have seen

The picture of the houppelande most of us have seen. See how long those sleeves are? Odd.

 

The back of the houppelande

The back of the houppelande. This picture seems to be in less circulation than the front-facing one.

 

John of Görlitz was the son of Charles IV and his fourth wife, Elizabeth of Pomerania. He was born in 1370 and died abruptly at the age of 25, in 1396. He was living in a monastery in Neuzelle, which sits on the modern-day German border with Poland. He apparently retired there after having fallen out of favor with his half-brother, King Wenceslas IV. Accounts state that he went to bed healthy one night and died in his sleep. Some believe he was poisoned, (14) but it is also possible that he may have had a sudden medical event that caused his death.

I don’t know how many people know this, but the latest conservation report written by Dr. Milena Bravermanová in 2005 has been translated to English and is available online here. The referring page is The Brazen Burgundian. I found this only after I had met Dr. Bravermanová and received a copy of the original report in Czech from my friend Petr.

There is a seamed diagram of the garment (front view only) in the report, which is a fantastic resource for better understanding the tailoring used to make voluminous gowns around the turn of the 15th century in Europe.

 

Seamed diagram from 1993 by N. Bažantová

Seamed diagram from 1993 by N. Bažantová, published in Dr. Bravermanová’s 2005 conservation report.

 

Placing multiple trapezoidal panels together while retaining a set-in armhole shape on the panels that encase the sleeve is ingenious. This is achieved by attaching all the trapezoidal panels to the neckline, leaving the shoulder seams to the four panels that have armholes cut into them. This makes the shoulder seams themselves smooth and simple, and bunches the fullness toward the center of the chest and back. This is less obvious on the garment itself, however, because the supporting form underneath it is built with extra bulk in the chest and upper back area in order to better distribute the fullness of the fabric. The front is made from nine panels, as is the back. There is a center panel, and then an equal number of panels working their way out to the side seam from there.

 

My sketch of how the seams appear at the top of the garment

My sketch of how the seams appear at the top of the garment. The standing collar is no longer crisp. The front opening was probably closed by a brooch.

 

 

The seams as seen from the back

My sketch of the seams as seen from the back.

 

The strange piecing drawn at the bottom of the front panels in the seam diagram is mystifying, though. While it is possible the original maker did this for decorative reasons, I would be more inclined to see it from a fabric conservation point-of-view, since the garment was assembled in haste due to the unexpected demise of its wearer. And yet, I’ve not yet been able to puzzle out how those particular angles and cuts would ever be necessary when working with rectangular cloth.

 

One of my own photos of the houppelande

One of my own photos of the houppelande. As you can see, the glass thwarted clarity with its pesky reflective properties.

 

My photo of the upper back

My photo of the upper back. You can see how the form was purposefully bulked at the top to help spread the panels a bit more generously than they would have hung in real life.

 

One thing this diagram and the exhibit catalog does not mention is the grain direction, and I did not think to record it when viewing it in person. But, even without that information I can come to some educated guesses based on the presumed shapes and number of pattern pieces. Since the pieces are all basically trapezoidal (which really means isosceles triangles with a squared off upper point), and there are eighteen of them in the body, I would guess that they were cut six abreast, laid so that every other piece was upside down. This would allow almost every scrap of fabric to be used and would have been done three times to accommodate all eighteen pieces. Moreover, since the fabric was velvet, which has a nap, the maker would hopefully have taken care to match all the pieces going in one direction on one side of the body, and the pieces going in the other direction on the other side of the body. (15)

 

How the panels were laid out to be cut from rectangular fabric

How the maker laid out the panels to be cut from rectangular fabric. Note that each panel has one straight grain side and one slightly bias-angled side (in red). I would bet money that if the maker was experienced, he sewed the panels together so that a bias side always met a straight-grain side. The drape would be more even all around the garment this way and encourages the skirt to wave.

 

According to Dr. Bravermanová, the houppelande—while of the latest style near the turn of the 15th century—was hastily constructed after John died. Indeed, it has no lining, (16) and the sleeves are oddly long in proportion to the body. Even in haste, the maker took the time to sew so many panels together, rather than taking a short-cut with wider panels or making the garment more narrow. The garment lies over a shaped form with underlying evenly-placed humps which allows the folds of fabric to wave in a sumptuous and uniform manner. In real life, however, this unlined garment would have fallen in more haphazard folds, pressed down by a belt. A version made for a high-class man at that time would also have likely been fur-lined, helping to hold the structure of the flowing folds. (17)

As many of the grave clothes for the royal men were more tunic- or dalmatic-like and thus more suitable for a coronation than for every-day fashionable wear, it’s clear that the custom was to bury actual rulers in ceremonial clothing, including a semi-circular cloak, while a royal non-ruler like John could be buried in something perceived as more contemporary at the time. (18)

A few more details I gleaned upon seeing this houppelande up close: the front opening and the long vertical seams are top-stitched in tiny running or stab stitches of silk thread. No doubt this is for the purpose of finishing seams on the inside using a run and fell method. While the garment was originally made from velvet, it’s very damaged and doesn’t bear much of a resemblance to anything we would recognize as velvet today. (19) The conservation report states that it may have at one point been black velvet, though it appears taupish-brown all these years later, with perhaps the slightest cast of yellow-green about it. The shoulders are somewhat narrow for a full-grown man, but John was reputedly a slim fellow, and was at most 5 feet and 6 or 7 inches (172–173 cm). Perhaps his somewhat small frame extended to his shoulders.

I saw many other clothing fragments at this bountiful exhibit, but these were the highlights for me. My only regret is that photography was not allowed. I would have taken far more photos, had it been, and I could have perhaps reported more.

 

Endnotes:

  1. Discussion with Dr. Bravermanová
  2. My thoughts
  3. My thoughts
  4. p. 100 of the exhibit catalog
  5. My thoughts
  6. p. 100 and 102 of the exhibit catalog
  7. My thoughts
  8. p. 102 and 104 of the exhibit catalog
  9. My thoughts
  10. p. 103 of the exhibit catalog
  11. My thoughts
  12. p. 108 of the exhibit catalog
  13. My thoughts
  14. https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Zhořelecký and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_of_Görlitz
  15. My thoughts
  16. p. 110 of the exhibit catalog
  17. My thoughts
  18. p. 92 of the exhibit catalog
  19. My thoughts

Sources Consulted

Bravermanová, Milena. Personal Communication. June 2016.

Bravermanová, Milena, Petr Chotěbor [editors]. The Crown of the Kingdom. Prague: Prague Castle Administration, 2016.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard, and Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing c.1150–1450. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2001.

Fajt, Jiří. Charles IV—Emperor by the Grace of God: Culture and Art in the Reign of the Last of the Luxembourgs 1347–1437. Prague: Arthis, 2006.

Royt, Jan. Medieval Painting in Bohemia. Prague: The Karolinum Press, 2003.

Šroňková, Olga. Gothic Fashions in Women’s Dress. Prague: Artia, 1954.

Voda, Petr. Personal Communication. June 2016.

St. George in Prague—His Corazzina and Other Armour Details

Fair warning, this post is for all my armour peeps out there. Also, please do not download and repost my photos without linking back to this blog post and attributing my name as the photographer.

Right in the middle of the Prague Castle complex sits a faithful reproduction of a statue of St. George and the Dragon. The original dates to 1373 and languishes in somewhat dim lighting inside the “Story of Prague” exhibit. Our friend Bob Charrette of La Belle Compagnie requested that we photograph it as best we could, and so I did, even taking some photos of the original version in dim lighting, though the exhibit does not allow photography.

These photos are a mixed bag—when the sun was at my back, the photos came out well enough, but when the sun was in front of me, predictable trouble ensued. I’ve tried to lighten them up as much as possible to pick out detail. I was further hampered by the fact that these are iPhone pictures. I chose not to bring my good camera on this trip due to its bulk. I didn’t want to cross the line where I’m only documenting historical stuff and no longer really on vacation with my sweetheart.

Fortunately, we arrived in the courtyard containing St. George at the perfect time to photograph the back of the statue, an aspect that is under-represented in images found in your typical Google search. But first, some background information:

 

The information plaque with the original statue of St. George

The information plaque with the original statue of St. George

Have you wondered exactly how many buckles close the back of George’s corazzina? The answer could range from 9 to 10, depending on whether or not you believe there’s a buckle under the knightly belt around his hips. There is also another buckle at the bottom, obscured by the saddle. This was confirmed for me by Bertus Brokamp, who has seen another casting of this statue in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where it is low enough to see.

Isn't he gorgeous?

Isn’t he gorgeous?

 

The back of George's corrazina

A closer view of the back of George’s corazzina. Eight, nine, or ten buckles?

I love that this statue shows us that medieval men at arms did not sit in their saddles like we sit in chairs. They didn’t bend their knees a lot, except as necessary to twist around. They held their legs straight and braced for the most part. This position gave them the most collected body mechanics possible for the fast and brutal application of upper body strength.

He might as well be standing up on his stirrups.

He might as well be standing up on his stirrups.

 

The medieval man-at-arm's legs splayed over their horses like an inverted V.

The medieval man-at-arm’s legs splayed over their horses like an inverted V.

 

The original statue. Note his left leg is slightly bent because he's twisting to the left.

The original statue. Note his left leg is slightly bent because he’s twisting to the left.

 

Another view of his leg position.

Another view of his inverted-V leg position.

Another noteworthy feature of our George is that he’s wearing nicely tailored mail from his neck down to his toes. His greaves are particularly shapely, as are the pointy-toed soles supporting his feet. Note, the mail appears as simple, overlapping, circular discs, no indents in the middle of each disc.

Front view of corrazina and upper body mail.

Front view of the corazzina, tailored mail shirt, standard, and a spaulder.

 

Such shapely legs you have!

Such shapely legs you have! But… I don’t think you have enough lames in your gauntlet.

 

Note the mail hosen are supported by a sole which wraps up at the toes into a solid point that mimics the most fashionable shoes of this time period.

Note the sole of the mail legs wraps up at the toes into a solid outward-angled point that mimics the most fashionable shoe shape of this time period. I think the sole was most likely water-hardened leather (cuir bouilli).

 

Lastly, I offer some skeptical observations. Here’s a photo of George’s long, thin arm, raised to strike down the dragon. Note his elbow cop. It’s shallow at best, preventing total coverage of the elbow when the arm is bent. The straps are so wide apart that they are going to bind the arm should it bend any more than it is already. I have to wonder if this is artistic license rather than a faithful representation of an actual elbow cop’s strapping. The bell on his gauntlet is narrow, even in comparison to surviving examples, like the Black Prince’s. There’s not a lot of wrist range before the flesh is fighting the metal.

George's arm. Note his elbow cop.

George’s arm. Note his elbow cop.

In conclusion, the cast bronze statue of St. George and the Dragon in Prague portrays an idealized example of transitional armour in later 14th century central Europe. It’s a treasure for armour historians, not least of which because it provides copious material for critical analysis.