Charles VI Coat Armour Repro, Part 4: Sewing It All Together

This is the fourth 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 installment covers the sewing techniques used in attaching all the pieces and finishing all the edges. You can find the earlier installments here:

  1. Dyeing an Imperfect Lampas
  2. Recreating the Pattern
  3. Padding and Quilting on a Frame

Once I had all the pieces quilted and cut to shape, it was time to stitch everything together, make the buttons and buttonholes, and finish all the edges. I used the techniques I observed during my examination of the original. If you want to compare what I’ve done against the original, you should take a look at the photos in my article <link>, which the curator took at my request and which are not published elsewhere.

I acquired red silk quilting thread from Superior Threads and undyed linen sewing thread from Wm. Booth, Draper.

I started by connecting the lining pieces along the long seams, using a sturdy, undyed linen thread and a tight running stitch.

The lining assemblies sewn together into one complete assembly along side and back seams.

The lining assemblies sewn together into one complete assembly along side and back seams.

 

I then did the same for the outer assemblies.

The outer assemblies sewn together along the side and back seams to make one complete assembly.

The outer assemblies sewn together along the side and back seams to make one complete assembly.

 

Sleeve assembly came next. The original coat did not have any exposed seams, including inside the sleeves. This meant that I had to fold the sleeves in half length-wise and first sew the silk edge together, good sides facing each other.

The red stitches are where I sewed first, to finish the outside seam.

The red stitches are where I sewed first, to finish the outside portion of the sleeve’s long seam.

 

I then folded over the edges on the linen and sewed them together using an invisible running stitch that ran between the folds, out of sight. This would have been a stronger join if I’d used a proper ladder stitch, which is this situation’s equivalent to using stab stitch instead of running stitch.

Using an invisible stitch to finish the lining-side seam on the sleeve's long seam.

Using an invisible stitch to finish the lining-side seam on the sleeve’s long seam.

 

A sewn-up sleeve, inside out.

A sewn-up sleeve, inside out. The curved long seam is running down the middle.

 

Very carefully, I turned the sleeves right-side-out when finished.

The right sleeve, laid flat so that it folds along the curved long seam.

The right sleeve, laid flat so that it folds along the curved long seam.

 

A matching set of sleeves. Left sleeve on the left, right sleeve on the right.

A matching set of sleeves. Left sleeve on the left, right sleeve on the right.

 

I was beginning to see the shape of this tiny coat armour coming together.

 

The shoulder seams have not yet been sewn together, and the lining assembly has not been inserted yet, but already it was starting to resemble the real thing.

The shoulder seams have not yet been sewn together, and the lining assembly has not been inserted yet, but already it was starting to resemble the real thing.

 

Next, I put the lining inside the shell assembly, with the flatter, base sides facing each other. I stitched along the back seam on the inside, connecting the shell with the lining with a large overcast stitch. I had to be careful not to poke the needle all the way through to prevent the light gray thread from appearing on the crimson outside fabric. The original maker used undyed linen thread, so I used the same.

The overcast stitching on the original was as crude and obvious as that seen here. This was a brute-force stitch whose purpose was entirely practical rather than for style.

The overcast stitching on the original was as crude and obvious as that seen here. This was a brute-force stitch whose purpose was entirely practical rather than for style.

 

I then attached the lining’s shoulder seams and the shell’s shoulder seams.

A view of the back, shoulder seams attached.

A view of the back, shoulder seams attached.

 

Remember when I mentioned making a mistake in the last blog post? I said that using the undyed linen for outer assembly’s base layer caused a problem. On the original coat, the buttonhole flap was created solely from the outer assembly while the placket behind it was created from the lining assembly. The backside of the buttonholes were going to be visible, of course, and that linen needed to be the good stuff. Instead, the backside of my outer assembly—the base layer of linen that had been stretched on the frame—was the undyed linen that I had intended to hide. To fix this discrepancy, I basted a strip of good cream linen to the backside of the area where the buttonholes would go.

 

I folded the lining assembly back out of the way, and laid down a strip of the finer linen along the opening edge on the inside of the shell or outer assembly.

I folded the lining assembly back out of the way, and laid down a strip of the finer linen along the opening edge on the inside of the shell or outer assembly.

 

 

Before sewing any buttonholes, I had to make some buttons and practice buttonholes to confirm their width against the originals on the coat.

Practice buttons and a swatch for practicing buttonholes. Always warm up your buttonholes on a practice scrap before doing them on the good stuff!

Practice buttons and a swatch for practicing buttonholes. Always warm up your buttonholes on a practice scrap before working them on the good stuff!

 

Next I sewed the buttonholes, starting at the bottom. Tip: Always start your buttonholes or your lacing holes from the least-visible end of the area you will be covering. For front openings, this is the bottom. For sleeves, this is the area furthest from the wrist, unless your buttons extend all the way up your arm. In that case, the elbow area is the best place to start, working your way out from the center. You’ll get better as you go, and your earlier, less-wonderful ones will not be the first ones scrutinized by onlookers.

I left a sparse amount of cotton padding between the fabric layers under the buttonholes; just enough to give it body, but not enough to hinder the sewing process.

 

Some of my buttonholes were noticeably longer than others. Oops. Fortunately, this is barely noticeable on the front. Note the quilting stitches on the body piece are crimson. This is the backside of the shell or outer assembly, which was quilted with crimson silk thread.

Some of my buttonholes were noticeably longer than others. Oops. Fortunately, this is barely noticeable on the front. Note the quilting stitches on the body piece are crimson. This is the backside of the shell or outer assembly, which was quilted with crimson silk thread.

 

 

I then started the placket, or underlap. I laid down a strip of crimson silk lampas over the undyed linen of the lining assembly’s left front opening. This red strip would lay directly behind the buttonholes when finished. I did not attach it on both long sides of the strip; only on the inside long side initially. I took care to attach it at a deep enough distance from the opening to eventually hide the basting stitches between the layers. Also, I had to stitch only as far as the first layer of linen, to prevent the thread from showing on the outside of the lining.

 

I attached the silk placket piece with crimson thread along its inside edge. The outer edge stayed open to accommodate the addition of padding later. Note the quilting stitches on the body piece blend in with the linen fabric. This is the backside of the lining assembly—the undyed base linen—quilted with undyed linen thread.)

I attached the silk placket piece with crimson thread along its inside edge. The outer edge stayed open to accommodate the addition of padding later. Note the quilting stitches on the body piece blend in with the linen fabric. This is the backside of the lining assembly—the undyed base linen—quilted with undyed linen thread.)

 

At this point I had not yet finished any edges.

 

You can see the unfinished neckline, front openings (including buttonhole edge and placket underneath), and hem.

You can see the unfinished neckline, front openings (including buttonhole edge and placket underneath), and hem.

 

Everyone’s favorite part of sewing is sleeve attachment (ha ha). Just as with a normal sleeve insertion, I put the right-side-out sleeves into the inside-out armholes from the inside of the garment. I sewed the silk sleeve edges to the silk armhole edges.

 

The silk outer edges have been sewn to each other. You can see some of the red silk stitching on the part of the armhole closest to the top of photo.

The silk outer edges have been sewn to each other. You can see some of the red silk stitching on the part of the armhole closest to the top of photo.

 

 

To finish the lining edges, I turned them inwards and whip-stitched them to each other with a tight, tiny stitch length for extra strength, as the original had.

 

The finishing on the inside of the armhole.

The finishing on the inside of the armhole.

 

With an s-curve sleeve cap like this coat has, the long seam of the sleeve runs down the back of the arm.

 

The sleeve seam sits in the middle of the back of the sleeve. This combined with the S-curve of the sleeve cap angles the sleeve downward.

The sleeve seam sits in the middle of the back of the sleeve. This combined with the S-curve of the sleeve cap angles the sleeve downward.

 

Once the sleeves were on, I returned my attention to finishing the buttonhole edge and placket. The original placket was padded, separated by a line of quilting down its center. I added raw cotton between the silk strip and the lining assembly and quilted the central line. Then I finished the buttonhole flap’s edge, using an invisible running stitch.

 

Here you can see the inner channel of the placket is completed, and the buttonhole edge is in progress.

Here you can see the inner channel of the placket is completed, and the buttonhole edge is in progress.

 

 

With the buttonholes finally squared away, I turned to completing the placket. I placed more cotton against the inner channel and then whip-stitched the placket closed, cutting it to the abbreviated, angled length seen on the original.

 

 

The original maker was not terribly concerned about which thread was used to close hems. Finishing was frequently done with undyed linen thread.

The original maker was not terribly concerned about which thread was used to close hems. Finishing was frequently done with undyed linen thread.

 

I then went back to the buttonhole edge and sewed small stab stitches parallel to the opening, about 1/4″ in from the edge to reinforce it, as I realized the original had this, and I’d almost skipped over it.

 

The placket does not extend the length of the front opening, but instead angles inward at the top and bottom, leaving one buttonhole at the top and 3 at the bottom with no reinforcement behind them. I misjudged something somewhere, because the original's placket leaves 2 buttonholes unprotected at the bottom, not 3, like mine.

The placket does not extend the length of the front opening, but instead angles inward at the top and bottom, leaving a few buttonholes with no reinforcement behind them. Here you can see the left front upper assembly folded back out of the way. The crimson lampas lies on the inner-facing side of the left front lining assembly.

 

But then, a small disaster presented itself. I realized I’d accidentally sewn an extra buttonhole! The original had 27 buttonholes, and I’d managed to sew 28. I decided to patch over the bottom-most buttonhole. To disguise the patch, I lined up its top edge against the bottom edge of the buttonhole above it and re-stitched the bottom half of that buttonhole to hold the patch in place. Then I folded over the patch’s edge on its right side, and attached it with tiny stitches. Later, when I finished the left edge and the hem, it would blend completely.

 

You can't see the top edge of the patch at all, because it's hidden under the bottom row of buttonhole stitches. On the inside, there's also a patch of cream linen.

You can’t see the top edge of the patch at all, because it’s hidden under the bottom row of buttonhole stitches. On the inside, there’s also a patch of cream linen.

 

 

With the buttonhole hullabaloo finally behind me, I connected the two assemblies to each other next. I sewed the lining (with placket) and shell/outer (with buttonholes) together with an invisible running stitch, just past the buttonholes.

 

An invisible running stitch connects the inner and outer assemblies to each other. This also hides the original basting stitch holding down the strip of lampas.

An invisible running stitch connects the inner and outer assemblies to each other. This also hides the original basting stitches holding down the strip of lampas on the placket and the strip of good linen behind the buttonholes respectively.

 

 

The neckline isn't finished yet, but you can see the ingenious method by which the placket was originally designed. The maker used the lining assembly edge to create the placket, while the shell or outer assembly was used to create the buttonhole flap.

The neckline isn’t finished yet, but you can see the ingenious method by which the placket was originally designed. The maker used the lining assembly edge to create the placket, while the shell or outer assembly was used to create the buttonhole flap.

 

 

You can see the patch covering the inside of Rogue Twenty Eight, the useless extra buttonhole, in this photo.

You can see the patch covering the inside of Rogue Twenty Eight, the useless extra buttonhole, in this photo.

 

Next came the button-side opening. I finished it by turning the rough edges of the outer assembly in to face the turned-in rough edges of the lining assembly. I whip-stitched them together using the undyed linen thread, as had been done with the original.

 

stuffed some cotton in the open edges of the two assemblies before attaching them to each other.

stuffed some cotton in the open edges of the two assemblies before attaching them to each other.

 

Finishing the neckline was the next logical step. The original coat does not have a collar. Instead, the neckline is bound with an on-grain strip of crimson lampas. I laid the binding strip good-side-down, against the good side of the neckline edge and stitched it with running stitches.

 

I started with a rather wide strip, to make sure I had enough. I could always cut it down if needed.

I started with a rather wide strip, to make sure I had enough. I could always cut it down if needed.

 

 

Then, I folded the strip over the rough edges and ratcheted it down tightly before overcast stitching the tucked-under binding to the lining.

 

The finished neckline. At this point, the buttons still need to be sewn on, and the cuffs and hem need to be finished.

The finished neckline. At this point, the buttons still need to be sewn on, and the cuffs and hem need to be finished.

 

The finished neckline, placket, and buttonhole flap.

The finished neckline, placket, and buttonhole flap.

 

Next came the buttons. The original coat had 11 spherical buttons and 16 flat-faced buttons, both covered in the silk lampas. The flat-faced buttons were stitched through in concentric circles. For the spherical ones, I was hard-pressed to come up with the right material for the stuffing. They were clearly not made from wood or metal, as they had some amount of give. It was also clear that self-stuffing them with the lampas would not achieve the desired firmness or smoothness. I know I’m going to get teased for this admission, but I ended up using lint from my clothes dryer’s lint trap. What can I say; it worked perfectly!

I made the flat buttons from a thick sheet of industrial, 100% wool felt from McMaster-Carr. I cut out disks and shaved off some wool at an angle on the underside to sharpen the edges and create the mild conical shape seen on the originals. Then I covered them with silk and stitched through in 3 concentric circles of stitches.

 

The buttons sit ready to be sewn to the front opening with a thread shank.

The buttons sit ready to be sewn to the front opening with a thread shank.

 

I sewed the buttons to the right front edge using a silk crimson buttonhole twist thread. To form a sturdy shank, I looped the thread between the backside of the button and through the edge 3–4 times before winding the thread around the loops as tightly as possible. I then poked the needle back through the edge of the front opening and tied a knot on the inside, between the outer and lining assemblies. Since the hem had not yet been sewn, I could easily reach up between the two assemblies and tie hidden knots.

 

The top button is flat, followed by the 11 spherical buttons, and then the remaining 16 flat-faced buttons.

The top button is flat, followed by the 11 spherical buttons, and then the remaining 16 flat-faced buttons.

 

 

Buttons in this time period were not off-set from the edge; they were placed directly on the edge and typically had shanks, rather than being the kind with holes cut in them for stitching them down flat on the surface of the garment.

Buttons in this time period were not off-set from the edge; they were placed directly on the edge and typically had shanks, rather than being the kind with holes cut in them for stitching them down flat on the surface of the garment.

 

 

Close-up of the flatfaced buttons attached.

Close-up of the flat-faced buttons attached.

 

On the original, the maker had done a running stitch about 1/4 inch in from the finished edge, presumably to keep the padding from bunching against it and reducing its sharpness. I did not take this step, but in retrospect I should have.

On to the sleeve hems. They were something of a mystery on the original. The original bottom edges had been worn away, so there is no way to know whether the current conserved finishing is accurate to the original. There may have been a binding like the neckline, or perhaps even a full separate cuff.

I chose the most straightforward course and folded in the rough edges, whip-stitching the hems closed using the red silk thread.

 

Maybe this is how the original coat's sleeve hems were done. It's plausible and in keeping with the techniques applied elsewhere on the garment.

Maybe this is how the original coat’s sleeve hems were done. It’s plausible and in keeping with the techniques applied elsewhere on the garment.

 

The skirt hem, with its shallow, wavy scallops, was the only remaining piece I had to finish. And man, it was the hardest part of all. This is because the deep fullness of the stuffed channels results in a superfluity of fabric at the hem. There’s no easy way to smooth out the rough edges before finishing them in the wavy shape seen on the original. Indeed, the hem on the coat armour is slightly gathered all around in order to make it lay flat rather than buckle.

Complicating matters further, the original assemblies had each been prick-stitched about 1/2 inch in from the hem edge, presumably to hold the padding up so it would not pool at the hem. The lining assembly had been stitched with linen, while the outer assembly was stitched with red silk. The short, widely-spaced stitches show on the front (i.e. on the lining and on the outside of the coat), while long floats must exist on the inside, out of sight. This means the maker had to finish the prick stitching first, and then attach the two assembly edges together last.

I was running out of time, as I was working on this last task in England, on my way to the International Medieval Congress at Leeds in July 2012. I was presenting my paper and planned to show the reproduction as a visual aid. As a result, after completing the prick-stitching on the lining assembly, I gave up on prick-stitching the outer assembly. I proceeded directly to hemming the two assemblies together with an overcast stitch. It was a challenge to wrangle the extra fabric to create smooth wave shapes. Later, I should have gone back, picked it out, and done the prick-stitching first to hold back the padding. Now, 5 years later, some padding has migrated south and is plumping up the hem too much. It’s on my to-do list.

 

View of the lining hem. Could be better. At the time, I had not differentiated between running and prick stitch, and so the stitches you see here are running.

View of the lining hem. Could be better. At the time, I had not differentiated between running and prick stitch, and so the stitches in linen you see here are running stitches.

 

View of the outer hem. Not quite right, but close.

View of the outer hem. Not quite right, but close.

 

At last, I was done (more or less). It turned out remarkably close to the original and I’m proud of the project. I finally understand how makers coaxed such sleek, structured silhouettes from puffy, quilted panels of fabric. With densely packed cotton built to varying and curving heights and widths with the help of a quilting frame, the body can be transformed into a new shape.

 

The final reproduction, back view.

The final reproduction, back view.

 

 

The final reproduction, back view.

The final reproduction, back view.

 

 

The final reproduction, inside view.

The final reproduction, inside view.

 

The inner and outer assemblies are only attached in a few places: the center back seam (the rough overcast stitching mentioned above), the armholes, and all the edges (front opening, neckline, and skirt hem). The original had a line of light stitching that ran horizontally around the waist on the lining side, but does not show through, obviously, to the outer fabric. This could have been an anchoring stitch at the time it was added, but felt as though it were disconnected by the time I examined it. I omitted it from my reproduction, unsure of its necessity or purpose.

 

Displaying my project in August 2012 at the Arts & Sciences Exhibit at Pennsic War, an event sponsored by the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Displaying my project in August 2012 at the Arts & Sciences Exhibit at Pennsic War, an event sponsored by the Society for Creative Anachronism.

 

I estimate that the time it took to create this garment once I had the materials in place was approximately 200 hours. Surely a more experienced maker could move considerably faster through the quilting and sewing. Even so, if the time were cut in half, that is still a significant resource sink. It’s clearer than ever that such garments could not have been cheap to purchase. In fact, they likely existed solely at the pleasure of the most monied classes. These were not cheaper substitutes for other forms of armour, but armour in their own right. Men-at-arms wore them in a complementary manner with other armour pieces, such as mail and possibly plate.

I hope you enjoyed this series and learned a few new things. I certainly learned a lot from the process, and as always, my mistakes taught me the most.

Charles VI Coat Armour Repro, Part 3: Padding and Quilting on a Frame

This is the third 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. The prior installments can be found here:

  1. Dyeing an Imperfect Lampas
  2. Recreating the Pattern

The truly laborious stage was upon me now. I had dyed the silk lampas, mapped out the exact reproduction-sized pattern, and had acquired key materials:

  1. Appropriately weighted and twisted threads in crimson silk and natural linen
  2. High-quality, off-white linen for the lining (washed, dried and ironed)
  3. Medium-quality, natural linen for the interfacing (washed, dried, and ironed)
  4. A large amount of raw cotton
  5. A big, white, plastic quilting frame.

 

 

Clockwise from top left: undyed tabby-woven linen from fabrics-store.com; a warm, oyster tabby-woven linen from ulsterlinen.com, the crimson-dyed silk lampas, and raw cotton.

Clockwise from top left: undyed tabby-woven linen from fabrics-store.com; a warm, oyster tabby-woven linen from ulsterlinen.com, the crimson-dyed silk lampas, and raw cotton.

 

I deduced in the course of my examination of the coat that the complex padding and quilting design could best be executed with a quilting frame. The quilted channels are complex and variable in their size and curve. The cotton was placed between the quilt lines as well, rather than layered between fabric pieces and quilted through, sandwich-style. Given the variable nature of the channels, the least complicated way to proceed was to build the padding and quilting on top of a stretched-flat surface. Indeed, the original was made in two assemblies that bulged outward on their surfaces, but which lay relatively flat against each other on the inside. The give-away hint for the use of a frame is a D-shaped cross-section. Don’t forget to read my formal paper with my analysis if this topic interests you.

 

The lining and outer body assemblies were padded and quilted to separate base layers of linen.

The lining and outer body assemblies of the original were padded and quilted to separate base layers of linen. The silk lampas was reinforced with a layer of linen interlining. This would provide structure and support to the silk. It makes sense to use a backing of linen for any coat armour project involving a silk outer layer.

 

Since this entire garment was made from two mirror-images of padded and quilted assemblies, I decided to begin with the lining assemblies of the front pieces. First I prick-and-pounced the pattern stencil to transfer the lines and curves to a large rectangle of natural linen fabric. Then I reinforced the powdered ink with pen. This fabric would serve as the base upon which I would build the padding and quilting. The drawing of the pattern and quilt lines would be my guide. Because this fabric would never be seen anywhere on the finished garment, I used serviceable natural linen from fabrics-store.com.

 

Front piece patterns stretched on the frame. I went over the original prick-and-pounced outline with pen, though it appears faint in this photo.

Front piece patterns stretched on the frame. I went over the original prick-and-pounced outline with pen, though it appears faint in this photo.

 

I stretched the stenciled fabric on my quilting frame. I then laid another rectangle of high-quality cream-colored linen down on top of the stretched linen base. This linen was a perfect match to that of the original coat’s lining. I found it on ulsterlinen.com. It was tight plain weave with even threads, no slubs, and was simultaneously buttery to the touch and sturdy. Beginning in the middle, I pinned the top layer to the stretched layer along a central quilting line. This involved lifting the fabric and checking the stencil guides on the base fabric at regular intervals.

 

Smaller rectangle of creamy linen pinned to stretched base linen along a line of quilting in the piece's center.

Smaller rectangle of creamy linen pinned to stretched base linen along a quilting line in the piece’s center.

 

I stab-stitched the linen along this line, holding one hand above the frame and one below it to speed the stitching along. Stab-stitching is similar to running stitch, except that the needle is passed through the fabric at a perpendicular angle. Running stitch passes the needle at an angle well below 90°, because the needle is wiggling in and out of fabric layers before being drawn all the way through. Stab stitching is a sturdier stitch as a result because there is more thread moving between the layers for any given length of stitching.

When finished the first line, I folded the linen back to one side and placed a line of shaped, compressed, raw cotton padding up against the sewn join.

 

 

The first channel's padding, laid out and ready to be secured with stitching.

The first channel’s padding, laid out and ready to be secured with stitching.

 

In retrospect, I included two errors in my handling of the cotton for this project. The first was the density I achieved in each channel’s padding. My results felt too pliable and airy, and I was never quite satisfied with it. In casual conversation in 2013 with a new friend, Christian Cameron, he wondered whether soaking the cotton in water and then squeezing it to the shape desired might be a better way to get increased density for each channel. I discussed this with another friend, Jessica Finley, sometime later in 2015, who immediately experimented with it. She generously sent me her sample results, based on the dimensions of the top half of a front piece of the coat armour I had studied. It turned out markedly more rigid and compressed than mine did. Unfortunately, you cannot experience this with a photograph, but here’s a picture of her sample:

 

Bowed and carded cotton rolled into tubes and then secured into channels by machine. Jess added the silk layer by hand afterwards. Remarkably stiff!

Bowed cotton (see below for more on bowing) rolled into tubes and then secured into channels with machine sewing. Jess added the silk layer by hand afterwards to avoid staining the silk with soak-through from the wet cotton. The result was remarkably stiff—more so than the original—but the intervening centuries and handling of it could have contributed to an increased laxity that wasn’t there in the beginning. It could also be that the original had slightly less-compressed padding, but the method used here by Jess is completely plausible and scalable for different densities.

 

To get the cotton in the shape needed to fill the flaring and curving channels, she did the following:

  1. Soaked bowed (see below), raw cotton in water until it was fully drenched,
  2. Drained it and then pressed it flat on a level surface (like a cookie sheet),
  3. Treated it like a sheet of thick paper and rolled it up tightly, pulling off or adding portions as needed to expand or contract the shape, and
  4. Used a rolling pin to squeeze out excess water from the rolled tubes of cotton.

She also tested two different oils soaked into the cotton and compared them to cotton that had been doused with water and then compressed as described above. OIL 1 was boiled linseed oil combined with carbon while OIL 2 was plain boiled linseed oil. OIL 2 made the tube incredibly stiff while OIL 1 did not, and the third tube—made stiff with water—had an ideal result. The cotton was packed densely but still had some give.

 

Channels hardened with oils and water. This was a Goldilocks experiment—Oil 2 was too hard, Oil 1 was too soft, and Water was just right.

Channels hardened with oils and water. This was a Goldilocks experiment—Oil 2 made the cotton too hard, Oil 1 left it too soft, and H2O was just right.

 

The second problem was lumpiness. I did not work hard enough at homogenizing the raw cotton to reduce lumps and clumps. Jess helped fill in a missing piece of this puzzle again when she found evidence of a historical method called “bowing”, which makes raw cotton fluffy and uniform. I think that would have greatly helped prepare the cotton for compression, had I known about it when making my reproduction. Here’s a video of her trying it out. She confirms that bowed cotton is far easier to compress into flat sections that can then be rolled into smooth, curved shapes.

 

Two 10 oz. lumps of cotton. The top lump has not been bowed while the bottom lump has. Bowing helps create uniform air pockets throughout the lump and provide improved fluffiness.

Two 10 oz. quantities of cotton after being stored in identical plastic gallon-sized bags. The top lump has not been bowed while the bottom lump has. Bowing helps create uniform air pockets throughout, which improves fluffiness.

 

I now think that bowing the raw cotton in combination with water-assisted compression is the best way to achieve the density required in the real coat armours of the 14th century. When applying silk on top of a water-damp wad of cotton, however, it will be up to future experimenters to decide whether to baste down the interlining until the cotton is dry and then more carefully stitch the silk on top (as Jess did in her experiment), or to take a chance and apply both the interlining and silk at the same time over the damp cotton. If any of you try these techniques, please do share your results with me.

Meanwhile back in 2012, I folded the fabric back over the line of wadded cotton and pinned down along the next quilting line. I replaced the pins with another row of hand-stitching. I repeated this process, working outward from the center. Working from the center outward helps to minimize the fabric’s grain distortion as it is sewn down over humps of cotton with varying degrees of height and width in different areas.

 

The first channel of the first front piece, stuffed and quilted down.

The first channel of the first front piece, stuffed and quilted down.

 

Three padded and quilted channels.

Three padded and quilted channels.

 

When I reached the center-front opening, I then worked from the center to the side seam.

 

The first front lining assembly, padding and quilting completed.

The first front lining assembly, padding and quilting completed.

 

I continued this work from the center outward until the lining assemblies of both front pieces were completed.

 

Both front lining assemblies completed on the frame.

Both front lining assemblies completed on the frame. Note the parentheses-shaped waves in the fabric bracketing the waist area. More of the fabric was taken up in quilting the wider areas than in the waist area. This causes buckling and grain distortion. If you work from one side to the other, by the time you get to the far side, your fabric will be stretching in an increasingly wavy pattern. Make sure you work from the center outward.

 

While the single piece of base linen was cut large in order to fit two pattern pieces entirely on the quilting frame, I cut the finer linen smaller for the process of covering over and quilting the cotton in place. I took a guess at how much width to allow, though there were two other ways I could have arrived at a more precise measurement for the fabric width.

  1. While examining the original, I could have molded a measuring tape over every hump in each pattern piece’s widest points to find the width of the original fabric.
  2. Or, I could have used math—π × diameter/2, where diameter = width of the widest channel—to find an approximate width of fabric used to create each channel. If one were to slice a channel in half to look at its cross-section, it would look similar to a semi-circle or the letter “D” turned sideways, hence the formula for finding a circle’s circumference, divided by 2.

I moved on to creating the linings for the back pieces and the sleeves next. When I completed all lining assemblies, I cut out the body pieces with a generous seam allowance included. I left the sleeves attached to the original base fabric rectangle because I would eventually pad and quilt the other side of that fabric with the silk crimson assembly. More on that later below.

 

Front lining assemblies completed and cut out with a generous seam allowance.

Front lining assemblies, completed and cut out with a generous seam allowance. I could not create the scalloped hem until later when I had the silk assemblies done and everything could be sewn together.

 

One of the back lining assemblies, completed and cut out.

One of the back lining assemblies, completed and cut out.

 

I then repeated the entire process for the outer body piece assemblies topped in crimson silk lampas. I used the undyed linen as the base layer as well as for the interlining mentioned above, which reinforced the fine silk.  I used the modest, undyed linen for these layers of fabric because they would be out of sight once the garment was finished. Turns out I was incorrect on this matter. In the next post in this series, I’ll show you exactly where I went wrong and how I fixed it.

 

A line of padding applied on a front assembly made with an interlining of linen and the outward-facing silk lampas.

A line of padding applied on an outside back piece assembly made with an interlining of linen and crimson silk lampas. Here, the linen and lampas are folded back on the right.

 

 

A channel in the middle of one of the front pieces.

A channel in the middle of one of the back pieces, loaded with cotton and pinned for the next line of stitching.

 

Progress on one of the back pieces.

Progress on one of the back pieces.

 

 

Back piece assemblies, still on the frame.

Back piece assemblies, still on the frame.

 

On the right front piece, I mis-judged the width of the fashion fabric needed. I had to patch a small section as seen on the left in the photo below. On the finished garment, this mistake is virtually invisible.

 

Outer front pieces, still on the frame. Due to an under-estimation on fabric width needed, I had to patch the most bulbous part of the chest.

Outer front pieces, still on the frame. Due to under-estimating the fabric width needed, I had to patch the most bulbous part of the chest.

 

For the sleeves, I had to flip over the sleeve lining assemblies finished earlier and re-stretch them on the frame. The original coat’s sleeves were made this way—both the lining and outer assemblies were attached to the same base linen piece. This is why the sleeve was made of 6 layers of material while the body pieces were made of 7 layers. The lining and outer body pieces each had their own base layer of linen. As with the body assemblies, I used the fine crimson lampas and an interfacing of undyed linen for support to complete the outer portion of the sleeves. I stitched the quilt lines slightly off-center from the lining’s quilt lines to avoid making the crimson thread visible on the lining side.

 

The sleeve lining assembly and outer assembly were both attached to the same base layer of linen. The quilting thread of the outer layer had to be slightly offset from the quilting thread of the lining layer to avoid showing through on the lining side.

The sleeve lining assembly and outer assembly were both attached to the same base layer of linen. The quilting thread of the outer layer had to be slightly offset from the quilting thread of the lining layer to avoid showing through on the lining side.

 

 

Both sleeves completed.

Both sleeves completed on the frame.

 

Both sleeves, cut out. One is shown outer-side-up and the other is shown lining-side-up.

Both sleeves, cut out. One is shown outer-side-up and the other is shown lining-side-up.

 

At last, I completed all assemblies and was ready to sew them together!

 

All body pieces cut out and ready to be sewn together

All body pieces cut out with a generous seam allowance.

 

These garments were hefty and highly structured. Quilting frames enabled makers to put together thick and complex padded and quilted assemblies with relative ease. Embroiderers used frames in this time period for the same reasons pourpointiers, gambeson, and coat armour makers did—they make it extremely easy to control the materials involved. Without a tense base, you have to wrestle your materials quite a bit more and may even require special tools to control them. This is a clear-cut case for the use of Occam’s Razor. In addition, a D-shaped cross-section for any padded and quilted assembly reveals frame usage.

If you have the ability to make an adjustable frame that can be held on a sturdy base, all the better. I made due with a fixed-size frame and had to waste a lot more base linen as a result. Your frame needs to be held by something other than you, because you will need both hands free for the quilting.

In the next installment, I’ll show you how I sewed everything together, added buttons and buttonholes, and finished all the edges using the techniques found on the original. Stay tuned for that monster of a post next week! Update: Sewing It All Together, the final post.

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)

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.