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

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.


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.


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.

Padding and quilting 14th and 15th century garments — how much extra fabric?

Hello folks! It’s been forever since I’ve written new content for my site, but I’m back with a new page that covers the thorny questions involved in expanding 14th or 15th century pattern pieces to properly fit the body with padding and quilting. I am frequently asked this question and the answers are a bit too complicated, so this page became a necessary addition to my site. I will be pointing people here from now on.

One of several useful little diagrams in the article

One of several useful little diagrams in the article

The very end of the article states that you can ignore all that I’ve written and simply add in “some fabric” and see how it goes. I’m betting more than one person reading this has done just that (or hasn’t added any fabric at all), and lived to regret it as they found the front of their garment hard to close, or perhaps the circulation in their arms was cut off over time.

There’s a reason a guild existed for this work in medieval France — the pourpointier guild. It took expertise to create these garments, not just from a construction viewpoint, but also from a tailoring one. It’s worth taking the time to do it right.

Read on, and let me know if you have questions or comments.

Patterns, Padding, Quilting — A Complicated Love Triangle

My trip to Verona, Italy in May of 2014

This is a long, meandering tale. If your attention span is not up to the task, just skim through all the pictures.

Almost two weeks ago I got on a plane and traveled to Italy. But let me back up and give you some history first…

The plan for this trip germinated a year ago in Ottawa, shortly after meeting Christian Cameron – an acclaimed author of historical fiction as well as the author of a popular new fantasy series called the Traitor Son Cycle (under the nom de plume Miles Cameron). Wait… I need to back up even further… My sweetheart, Greg Mele, is an avid student, scholar, and teacher of European medieval martial arts, and as such, travels around North America and occasionally the world to attend and teach at gatherings focusing on these topics. Last year I went with him to the Borealis Swordplay Symposium in Ottawa, Ontario, because Jason Smith, the founder of this event, was kind enough to ask me to present some of my work in the area of medieval martial garments. It was a richly rewarding experience, as I recounted in this post, and I came to realize that there was an intellectual home for my niche interests.

So, we met Christian and soon understood we were of the same tribe – passionate students of late 14th century/early 15th century European culture and in the case of Christian and me, the clothing and accessories in particular. I was delighted when he boldly explained to his fellow Western martial artists that his first love was sewing and making things, though sword fighting was certainly fun too. Christian comes from a background of 18th century and ancient Greek re-enactment, and so already had a well-practiced respect for the accuracy needed for presenting a historical impression.

By the end of that weekend in Ottawa, he had hatched a plot, and Greg and I were lucky enough to be included in it – to create a company of adventuring knights to travel to Verona, Italy the following year, to fight in Il Torneo del Cigno Bianco, a late-14thc-themed living history event centered around a series of deeds of arms on foot.

Brochure for Il Torneo

Brochure for Il Torneo

I myself did not qualify for the title of knight – neither possessing the requisite fine armour nor the knowledge necessary to actually be effective in the lists. I also am female, and the knights in this tournament are (so far) only men, in keeping with the historical norm. However, as Greg’s sweetheart and a fellow material culture enthusiast, I was invited, and I brought my own set of skills to the group’s effort in the form of sewing, research, and clothing advice. We also decided Greg’s mom should go, as she was overdue for an adventure.

The company ended up comprising four knights and a squire: Christian, Greg, our friend Sean Hayes of the Northwest Fencing Academy, Marc Auger, a re-enactment compatriot of Christian’s and member of Hoplologia, and Jon Press, a fan of Miles Cameron’s work hailing from the Bailiwick of Guernsey. Jon wrote Miles (Christian) an appreciative letter one day and was promptly invited to attend the Veronese tournament as Christian’s squire last year, as well as this one. A better choice was never made – Jon was the *perfect* squire. More on that later.

The name of the Company became La Compagnia della Rosa en Sole.

Compagnia with standard

La Compagnia with their standard.

We planned for a year and in some cases, prepped just as long. Me? I left it to the last minute and paid for it while there. I committed to produce a new outfit for Greg and two dresses and a hairpiece for myself, but really only got down to the serious sewing about 3 weeks before leaving. Insane, I know. I ended up leaving a fair bit of hand work to be done while there, and even missed a day exploring Venice and a chance to see the guys fight each other in full armour on the Ponte di Castelvecchio in Verona, due to sewing buttonholes. (Hear my o’ fellow medieval sewers, there are certain rites of passage you should go through to gain fortitude, and one of them is to hand-sew an obscene amount of buttonholes onto a single garment. Another is to bleed on whatever you’re sewing, but that’s one for all periods, not just the medieval ones.)

Without Christian's help on the buttonholes I would have been in much worse shape.

Without Christian’s help on the buttonholes I would have been in much worse shape.

The work was worth it – it gave me an excuse to explore turn-of-the-15th century northern Italian fashion for both men and women. My process often starts with the figural art of the time, as extant clothing is sparse on the ground and textual sources — while available — are often harder to track down, translate, and synthesize in a meaningful way (but doing so is a worthy venture I take up from time to time – when I’m inspired). My art survey centered on the Tacuinum Sanitatis manuscripts. There are four well-known surviving illuminated copies executed at the end of the 14th century. They’re known today by the names of the cities where they’re housed: Vienna, Paris, Liège, and Rome. The Vienna manuscript can be seen in a great little book, The Four Seasons of the House of Cerruti, and that’s the one I focused on.

But inspiration did not end there. I immersed myself in the art of Giovanni da Milano, Giovannino de Grassi, Altichiero da Zevio, Anovelo da Imbonate, and the beautiful illuminations of the school which produced Guiron le Courtois (BNF Nouvelle acquisition française 5243 Roman de Giron le Courtois) and Lancelot du Lac et la quête du graal (BNF MS Français 343 Queste del saint graal). I took in the Big Picture – the trends and features which identified clothing as northern Italian in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. I also studied the details – the tailoring of certain sleeves, the silhouette variations, the hairdo details.

I used that newly-mined data to design garments for Greg and I. I stepped outside of my comfort zone, which is the curved-front fitted dress, in order to explore the smooth-fronted, side-laced dresses which appeared in the art.

A clear example of side lacing from the Paris Tacuinum Sanitatis.

A clear example of side lacing from the Paris Tacuinum Sanitatis.

My best friend, Greta (hereafter renamed “Super G”), sacrificed two Saturdays in a row to helping me sew. She also helped me in the fitting of the straight front bodice pattern needed for the dresses I had in mind. For Greg, I designed a farsetto (doublet in Italian, basically). It had 64 buttons on it…. Brass buttons, we hoped, which we ordered from Lorifactor plenty of time ahead, but which never arrived due to a snafu with US Customs. We asked them to send them to our B&B in Italy instead. I was appropriately wary and brought a batch of buttons I had on hand – pressed leather ones that matched the fabric well. This was a fortunate choice, because the buttons never arrived in Italy, either.

In the end, Greg’s farsetto and joined hosen turned out well. He cut a dashing figure, and due to his Italian heritage, looked right at home in the clothing.

Greg in his turn-of-the-15th century farsetto

Greg in his turn-of-the-15th century farsetto on Saturday of the Torneo

I think I did justice to the tailoring and hairstyle I chose for myself (a basic Vienna-manuscript lady with two dresses — a fitted rust-red silk dress with long, fitted sleeves and  fitted gold dress with long, open, mini-angel-wings, as well as pearl-wrapped hair), though I think it would have looked better on a thinner version of me. I haven’t come across any pictures of me in the full outfit that don’t make me cringe, so we shall have to finish this story without them.

The week leading up to the tournament was full of sights to be seen. On Sunday we got an amazing tour of the medieval sites in Verona, thanks to Chiara and Alessio, members of the hosting group for the tournament. Chiara is a professional tour guide, so this was a treat. I didn’t bring my camera that day (still quite unhappy about that), and so missed some great photo ops of Cangrande della Scala’s and Consignorio della Scala‘s funerary monuments. But Sean snapped a sweet picture of Greg and I touching the brass breast (of Romeo & Juliet fame, naturally) for luck in love.

At Juliet's house in Verona; rubbing the statue's breast purportedly provides luck in love.

At Juliet’s house in Verona; rubbing the statue’s breast purportedly provides luck in love.

On Monday, we went to Padua to see the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel, as well as  Altichiero’s frescos in the Oratorio di San Giorgio and in the Basilica of Sant’Antonio. It was a veritable orgy of 14th century figural art. I felt a bit like I had gone on pilgrimage and was finally standing before the exalted relics of my favorite long-dead saints. Photos were verboton at these locations, so I had to rely on Sean’s stealth photography with his phone. My giant camera was not going to get a pass. I haven’t seen Sean’s photos from these sites yet, but we came across some really curious details which I look forward to sharing in a future blog post.

We went to Venice Tuesday, where we soaked up the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of San Marco.

The Doge's Palace

The Doge’s Palace

Sunset on the grand canal

Sunset on the grand canal

Bocca di leone — rat out your friends, frienemies, and enemies here!

Bocca di leone — rat out your friends, frienemies, and enemies here!

Wednesday was a day of rest and sewing for me, while Greg, his mom, Jon, and Sean went back to Venice for more exploration. I spent a quiet day sitting in the dappled shade outside the villa where we were staying for the week, sewing. In the evening, Christian, his wife Sarah, and their daughter Bea returned from a trip to Chioggia and cooked dinner, to which I was thankfully invited, as I had no other dinner options and no transportation to go get some elsewhere.

On Thursday we went as a group to see Castelvecchio and the museum attached to it, in Verona. Finally, a museum that allowed photography!

Saint Cecilia, mid-14th century; note her long,  split braids — the 12th century visits the 14th.

Saint Cecilia, mid-14th century; note her long, split braids — the 12th century visits the 14th.

Next, we visited the Basilica of San Zeno. Some great art to see there, too.

San Zeno fresco of St. George and the Princess; she looks pretty unconcerned.

San Zeno fresco of St. George and the Princess; she looks pretty unconcerned.

The weekend of the tournament was a busy one. On Friday, May 30st, we all went to the site, Castello Montorio, which sits atop a steep hill. The castle was a stronghold of the della Scala family, who ruled Verona for most of the 14th century, until Gian Galeazzo Visconti took over.

The list below Castello Montorio

The list below Castello Montorio

So already, the setting was slightly magical by American standards, because we in this hemisphere don’t get to play history in the shadow of 600-year-old castles. The site was set up as a sprawling camp with a list, a row of merchants selling very high-end gear, and vendors of modern-day food and drink. (By the way… no hot dogs and Coke for these folks… The food was gourmet by our sad North American standards, and the drinks ranged from espresso through limoncello.) There was a performance stage as well as an archery area, where members of the hosting group, Doppio Soldo, gave talks and helped the public try out bows and arrows. The camping setups were top notch; something to aspire to.

Merchants and demonstrators set the bar high.

Merchants and demonstrators set the bar high.

That evening there was a man-at-arms tournament with one-handed sword and shield. We watched our friend Alessio Porto compete in the lists and enjoyed the honorable comportment of the participants.

Alessio fighting; fool watching.

Alessio fighting; fool watching.


I was dressed in street clothes, as I had not yet finished my sewing. Greg wore the Charles de Blois coat I’d made him for his birthday in 2012, because the farsetto was not yet done either. Aii! I missed so much because of all that sewing. A lesson learned.

Greg in his Charles de Blois-style cotte

Greg in his Charles de Blois-style cotte

After the tournament, we left for dinner, intending to find a nice spot in the center of Verona and drew bemused stares due to the historical clothing. We finally settled on a restaurant on the Piazza dei Signori —

Piazza dei Signori Verona, picture by Lo Scaligero

Piazza dei Signori Verona; a statue of Dante Alighieri stands in the center. Picture by Lo Scaligero

—which straddled both that piazza and the inner courtyard of the Palazzo della Ragione.

Palazzo della Ragione, picture by JoJan

Palazzo della Ragione, picture by JoJan

We sat under the loggia, our table providing a view of the courtyard and the beautiful medieval stairs leading up to a higher floor.

The men of our company informed me that they wanted a picture taken at the top of the stairs. Rain was threatening and my knees were not at their best, but I could feel something Important in the air, so I complied. When we reached the top, they immediately left — except for Greg. I turned and looked at him, and then I was sure… he was going to propose marriage. He got down on one knee and said some beautiful things to me, and asked me to be his wife. He gave me a ring that his beloved grandmother had worn, and I said “of course,” because there was never any question that he is the One. I kissed him to seal the deal, and then he stood and spread his arms wide, and yelled, “She said yes!”  We heard applause from below, both from our party and others dining at various locations around the courtyard.

Post-engagement kiss

Post-engagement kiss

The next day, Saturday, the men arose early to go into Verona to spar on the Ponte di Castelvecchio, the beautiful bridge leading across the Adige River to the Castelvecchio. Again, I stayed back to sew (there is a terrible theme going here). From the pictures and video I saw, it was a resounding success for them, as well as the tourists who happened upon the scene and got to enjoy some flashmob medieval fighting.

Ponte di Castelvecchio, which was faithfully rebuilt in the late '40s, thanks to WWII destruction.

Ponte di Castelvecchio, which had to be faithfully rebuilt in the late ’40s, thanks to WWII destruction.

Ponte di Castelvecchio

Another view of the Ponte di Castelvecchio, scene of the flash-fighting.

Later in the day, after I’d finally finished sewing, we all got dressed in our medieval finery and made our way up to the Torneo to see the sights, meet people, and attend the Knight’s dinner, presided over by the “Il Conte” hosting the event (portrayed by Simone Morbioli).

Simone addresses the knights

Simone addresses the knights on Sunday

Christian, the captain of our visiting English company, outdid himself with a sumptuous array of finery fit for a proper noble, let alone the capitano di ventura he was portraying.

Christian in finery

Christian in finery; note the beaver purfelle on his gown.


While the light was still out, I got to hang out a bit with Giulia Grigoli, one of our contacts and an event organizer, who was wearing a beautiful reproduction of a dress seen in one of Giovanni da Milano’s most famous works, a fresco in Florence (see caption for details).

Giovanni Da Milano, Birth of the Virgin, Rinuccini Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence

Giovanni Da Milano, Birth of the Virgin, Rinuccini Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence

The dress was made by a lovely lady named Monica Rossi. You can see more of her work on Facebook, here.

Giulia, Beatrice, and Margherita, a friend of Giulia's with a lovely tippeted dress

Giulia, Beatrice, and Margherita, a friend of Giulia’s with a lovely tippeted dress also made by the same tailor, Monica Rossi.


Giulia and her sweetheart Maurizio were the reason we were all there, and they were the kindest, most gracious of hosts.

Bea, Giulia, Maurizio, and Sarah at dinner on Wednesday night.

Bea, Giulia, Maurizio, and Sarah at dinner on Wednesday night.

The dinner that Saturday night was utterly magical. We ate inside a large pavilion with red walls, one side open to the cool night air. A talented group of medieval musicians played softly at the back of the tent, providing the perfect ambiance. Candlelight glow warmly illuminated our tables, and the courses and conviviality were unmatched by anything I’d experienced before this. We slowly dined on dishes that once graced the tables of 14th century nobles. We drank wine, toasted many worthy subjects, and laughed the night away.

The knights' dinner on Saturday

The knights’ dinner on Saturday

Jon, Christian’s squire, served at table, and was amazing. He has the perfect combination of good nature and alacrity of service, and we all pretty much adore him.

Jon Press, head squire

Jon Press, head squire

At the end of the evening, Greg stood up with Alessio, whom he named “Bocca de Ferro”, due to an injury he’d received in the man-at-arms spear tournament —

Greg, Bocca de Ferro, and Sean

Greg, Bocca de Ferro, and Sean — Greg “helpfully” hides Alessio’s bandage

— and gave a thank-you speech to our hosts. He began in Italian and eventually settled into English with Alessio translating. He explained to our hosts that we had figured out the strategy of Italian knights — to serve so much good food and drink to the visiting foreign knights, that they would be incapacitated and therefore unable to fight well in the lists the next day. This got a hardy laugh from all.

It is worth noting that the dessert servings were so gigantic and delicious, we all set to whimpering as our stuffed bellies had to cry “uncle!” before we could finish it. We escaped into the night as the grappa came out, and we were told later that many of the knights stayed up at least an hour or two longer, drinking grappa and talking. We doff our proverbial hats to their fortitude.

The next day, Sunday, June 1st, the knights fought in spear and long sword tournaments. I baked in the sun as I watched, unwilling to give up my precious seat as I took photos from the modern viewing area. Hence, one of the marshaling nobles was pretty much constantly in the middle of all of my photos. I will work on adjusting my priorities when trying to capture good photos. At least he’s wearing something with fabulous fabric!

This would have been a good action shot, but...

This would have been a good action shot, but…

I confess I did not want to wear my headdress again, and so I wore only my first dress (rust red with long, fitted sleeves) and let my hair fall free. It was far from historically correct, but I was pretty exhausted by this point, and it was the best I could summon.

The day was great, though long, and we lost Christian for a long swathe of it, due to a finger injury he sustained that required treatment off site. Our group found a tree under which to siesta. I couldn’t help but think of it as the “English Diaspora” tree, due to it serving as shade for people from the U.S., Canada, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and the UK, as we also had a visit from Guy Windsor (from the UK by way of Finland).

Our English diaspora shade tree, and our B&B hosts

Our English diaspora shade tree, and our B&B hosts, who came to watch the action

Now back to the tournament! Greg fought well, as did Sean.

Sean, bringing it

Sean, bringing it


Greg, parrying

Greg, parrying

Which one of these is not like the others?

Which one of these is not like the others?

Christian, alas, had injured his finger during the spear tournament earlier that day, and had to sit this one out. Marc had also injured himself and could not participate. I thought that Greg and Sean demonstrated martial sprezzatura in their bouts while simultaneously placing honor above all else. These deeds were not about winning at any cost. They were about the joy of crossing weapons with a worthy opponent. They won some and lost some and all agreed it was a good day of fighting.

That evening we retired to our B&B where our hostess fed us a dinner to end all dinners — a singular honor which we were looking forward to. Course after course of delicious Italian food was set before us, culminating in shots of grappa, which I declined, but which several others accepted with gusto. I coined a new verb: “to grappinate”, which is the act of an Italian person plying a North American with grappa until they are either under the table or begging for mercy.

It was so pleasing to see Senora‘s enthusiasm for our avocation, one which is frequently misunderstood and unappreciated by those not involved in it themselves. In fact, she enjoyed it enough to ask for a loan of medieval clothing so that she and her friend Max could be dressed in it at dinner.

Sunday night dinner at our B&B; our hosts are wonderful people

There are many other tales to tell of this trip, but I think that’s plenty for one (extremely long) blog post. The end result of this adventure for me is that I have a profound appreciation for playing this history game in Europe, the source of all of our fascination. I believe that events like Il Torneo del Cigno Bianco are just the ticket to satisfy my yearning for an immersive experience in the coming years.