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

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

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

I got married the last weekend in May….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emperor Charles IV:1316–2016 catalog

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

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

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

Corrections Made to My Charles de Blois Pourpoint Pattern Book

Dear Readers!

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

The pattern book cover

The pattern book cover

The corrections are as follows:

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

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

 

New tutorial lite: Drafting a grande assiette-style upper sleeve from measurements

Another workshop I held during my California trip was on the topic of fitting a grande assiette sleeve in the style of the Charles de Blois pourpoint. I did a quick demo on draping the upper sleeve directly on the body, followed by instructions for drafting the upper sleeve, gores and all, with measurements. I developed a simplified way to take five measurements, derive four more, and then draft the three gore shapes and the upper sleeve itself.

I provided a worksheet with instructions for taking the initial measurements and deriving the additional ones from them. I also provided diagrams of the shapes and how the measurements now applied to those shapes. I had the attendees practice the method themselves, using wide paper, calculators, pencils (and string for make-shift compasses), and a yardstick. Everyone was able to run through all the steps with minimal input from me, which tells me it’s pretty easy to understand, provided you can do some very basic algebra.

The point of this exercise was to show how a complex pattern like the grande assiette upper sleeve can be broken down to basic geometric shapes defined by related measurements. With that in mind, I did simplify it in a number of ways, most notable being that the front gore and the underarm gore are the same length in my worksheet. In the original, the underarm gore is a bit shorter than the front gore. However, I think that once you try this method out, you will be able to make adjustments, either by changing the math slightly or by making adjustments on the body itself.

The link below opens the page I put up in the Tutorials section. At the bottom of that page is the link to the worksheet.

Try it out! See if you like it. Tell me what you think.

Drafting a grande assiette-style upper sleeve from measurements, or: Drafting with your new friend, Math!

Fourteenth Century Clothing Workshops in California

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

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

Grande assiette geometry for drafting

Grande assiette geometry for drafting by Tasha Kelly

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

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

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

Fitting for 14th century Bust Support

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

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

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

 

The cotehardie that ate my brain!

My sweetheart’s birthday is in early November. He gently suggested I might make him something historically-themed and  fine to wear. I thought this was a capital idea, given my experience and interests. I decided to make him a cotehardie in the style of Charles de Blois. I have my own pattern for easy fitting, after all, and I even had enough of the fine lampas I used for the Charles VI recreation left over to use. I was off to the races.

Greg hanging out with a circa 1400 harness

Greg hanging out with a circa 1400 harness

I took measurements and then altered the sleeves on my commercial pattern for a size 42 chest. Greg has really long arms, so I knew better than to go with the pre-sized sleeves. I lengthened them by a good three inches, adding room to the upper arm piece, the forearm piece, and the cuff. Next, I ran the pattern up using a bubblegum-pink linen I had in my stash but knew I’d never have the heart to use for a finished garment. I don’t usually waste linen on a mock-up, but this color was hopeless with respect to my tastes, so it might as well be put to use.

Because Greg lives some distance from me, I mailed him this atrocity and had him try it on while we were Skyping. I took notes for alterations and he mailed it back to me. I reworked it slightly and mailed it to him again. This time the fit was correct. I proceeded to cut out the good stuff.

This is where most people quail. The fabric cost me $58 a yard (a bargain really; it originally retailed for about $300 a yard). But I’m weird and unafraid of cutting expensive fabric. I’m sure this s a fault, not a positive, but so far so good. Ironically, as gorgeous and complex as this silk lampas is, the pattern on it is not medieval. At best, it’s 18th century.

I sewed up the fashion layer and the lining, which incidentally is made from a gorgeous natural herringbone linen which I scored for $2 a yard in a private sale from a retired seamstress. This was the super-easy part. Next came hand-finishing, making all the buttons, and the dreaded buttonholes. By now, Greg’s birthday had come and gone and I was only getting started.

Somewhere around mid-November I began making buttons. And making them. And making them some more. All together, this cote ended up with 67 hand-made buttons. Which meant 67 buttonholes. *gulp*

A surfeit of buttons

A surfeit of buttons

I do believe the buttonholes drove me slightly mad. I had no time for anything else aside from making dinner, attending to my son’s homework and bedtime routine, and going to my day job. When I finally finished, it was the night before Greg was to wear it, this past weekend, at a Yule celebration held by friends of ours in Connecticut. But it got finished! And, it looked pretty spiff, if I say so myself. Greg was happy with it, which is what counts.

Tasha and Greg before the Christmas tree

Tasha and Greg before the Christmas tree