Who likes medieval martial garments? Students of medieval martial arts.

A few months ago I was invited to present on my recent research into medieval martial garments of the 14th century by Jason Smith, the organizer of a Western Martial Arts event called Borealis Swordplay Symposium. The event was held last weekend in Ottawa, Ontario. I figured I received the offer to present out of courtesy to my sweetheart, Gregory Mele, who was an invited instructor in historical sword-fighting techniques. I was planning to accompany him on the trip, and I assumed Jason was just trying to make me feel more included, which I certainly appreciated. I expected I’d have five to ten attendees, at most, and maybe two or three of them would be mildly interested.

Martial Beauty: Padding and quilting one's way to a masculine ideal in 14th century France

Martial Beauty: Padding and quilting one’s way to a masculine ideal in 14th century France

I now see that I did not give enough credit to the interest in historical material culture held by the good people who attended the symposium. Not only was my talk well attended, but this audience was the most hungry, excited, interactive audience I have yet encountered. Between the two talks I gave—I’d given one or the other of them to six different audiences in the past year—the reaction to this one was markedly different in the best kind of way.

I forgot to ask people to hold their questions until the end, and I’m rather glad I did. I began receiving thoughtful inquiries a few minutes into my presentation, and they gave me the opportunity to step away from my scripted reading and extemporaneously explain the answers. Greg tells me I’m best when I’m off-script, and I got a lot of practice being off-script. I must admit that it felt better to look people in the eye and speak from knowledge in my head than to read it from a paper.

The pourpoint of Charles VI of France: Structural Details Revealed

The pourpoint of Charles VI of France: Structural Details Revealed

My talks were scheduled opposite an open sparring practice, which is stiff competition, if you think about the purpose of the weekend: sword-fighting. Nonetheless, I had at least 20 attendees, which constituted about a quarter of the overall attendance at the symposium. At least one was an invited instructor, and another was a successful historical novelist who admitted to me that while sword-fighting is great fun, sewing is even more fun. (I enjoyed that confession immensely.) I was even asked to sign one of my Charles de Blois pattern books, which I do believe is a first for me!

My biggest revelation was that while I consider myself a hyper-focused material culture historian (amateur though I am), due to my proclivities for medieval martial garments, my most enthusiastic audience is the branch of the Western Martial Arts crowd that embraces a holistic approach to their learning. Wearing what their forebears wore when sparring or warring better informs their understanding of the skills and challenges in recreating a medieval fighting experience. My work is, apparently, a vital little puzzle piece for those who care about such things.

Christian Cameron vs. Gregory Mele

Christian Cameron vs. Gregory Mele

Here are a few reviews of the weekend from instructors at the event:

Blog post by Devon Boorman, owner of Academie Duello in Vancouver, British Columbia

Blog post by Gregory Mele, dean of the Chicago Swordplay Guild and co-owner of Forteza Fitness and Freelance Academy Press, in Chicago, Illinois

 

 

Sample page from my paper on the pourpoint of Charles VI

The Charles VI pourpoint paper is available for order!

At long last, I have information for ordering a copy of the journal containing my paper on the cut and construction of the pourpoint attributed to Charles VI of France, which currently resides in the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Chartres, France. The paper, which takes up 28 pages of the 2/2013 edition of the journal Waffen- und Kostümkunde, contains color photos never before seen, detailed diagrams and descriptions of the techniques used, along with measurements of the original, the pattern shapes, and quilting pattern.

Sample page from my paper on the pourpoint of Charles VI

Sample page from my paper on the pourpoint of Charles VI

If you are a student of historical clothing and particularly of 14th century European clothing, this is a must-have for your library. This research is brand-new and will expand your understanding of how a particular style of padded, quilted garment was made in 14th century France.

To order a copy, send email to: info@lhdruck.de, which is the email for contacting the publisher/distributor. (It may be written in English.)

Request the 2/2013 edition of Waffen- und Kostümkunde.

Provide your credit card number, expiration date, the security code (the three digit code on the back of your card), and the name as it appears on the card. If you are concerned about sending such sensitive information through email, you can always split the information up over a series of emails. Beyond that, I believe you will have to trust the integrity of the publisher/distributor.

That said, I have also sent an email myself, asking about any other ways to order, though I don’t believe Germany accepts international money orders. Options begin to get complicated after that. I await a response and will post here with anything more that I learn.

The cost is €17.80 per copy, with €4.20 for shipping one copy. I don’t know how much shipping will be if you order more than one at a time, but a helpful person named Silke Rüger will likely be the person who sees your email and she speaks/writes English. She can answer such questions.

When they charge your card, the cost will be automatically converted to your home currency. Right now the conversion rate makes the journal cost approximately $23.07 a copy in American dollars, and shipping is $5.44. Fortunately, the American dollar appears to be stronger than it has been the last few years against the Euro ($1.30 per one Euro).

Happy reading! Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions, comments, etc.

Medieval Martial Lovefest in Kalamazoo

This coming week is a busy one! I’m flying into Chicago on Wednesday and will then travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan with my beau to attend the 48th Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies held on Western Michigan University’s campus from Thursday May 9th through Sunday May 12th. Bright and early Thursday morning (8 AM), we’ll open the Freelance Academy Press booth in the Book Room. I will then spend a part of the day visiting dear friends in another town in Michigan. Lots of driving for me that day.

Friday morning at 10AM, I will take part in Greg’s Judicial Duel Demonstration, which is set to be a fascinating overview of judicial duels in Europe followed by a re-enactment based on a fictitious accusation. A cast of thousands (I really mean “maybe ten of us”) will thrill the audience with a salacious tale of alleged adultery followed by pitched combat waged between the accuser and the injured party. I play one of the accused, though not the one in armour defending my virtue.  That task falls to the other injured party. I sure hope he wins! My reputation in my guild will be forever tarnished if we are proven guilty by his loss. *bites knuckles dramatically!*

Friday evening at 5:30 PM, I will be displaying my reproduction of the Charles VI pourpoint as part of the DISTAFF exhibition. If you are coming to the conference, please come say hi!

Saturday morning at 10 AM I will be presenting a new paper, “Martial Beauty: Padding and Quilting One’s Way to a Masculine Ideal in Fourteenth Century France”. I present last as part of the DISTAFF session entitled Dress and Textiles III: Interpreting Surviving Artifacts. I will speak for 17 minutes, hopefully on the nose, and will be showing slides as well.

At some point I will fly home and collapse in exhaustion. My only regret is that this conference is consistently held over Mother’s Day weekend, which seems awfully unfair for the moms who want to attend. Nonetheless, I look forward to presenting my new synthesis of data and receiving feedback. I also look forward to the conviviality amongst those of us whose passion exists in the peculiar niche of late medieval martial matters.

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.

 

Examination in France

I made arrangements to visit the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Chartres, France on the 1st of July, 2011 to examine the pourpoint of Charles VI, a crimson-colored, padded and quilted jacket dated roughly to the late 1370s. This was planned as part of the fulfillment of my contract with the Society of Antiquaries of London for the Janet Arnold Award.

I do not speak fluent French, and so a local French-born acquaintance, Mathilde Poussin, kindly translated my missives to the museum for me. I was granted 3 hours, beginning at 9AM, on Friday, the 1st of July. Sadly, the museum had recently lost some funding, and that Friday was to be the first of an indefinite number of Fridays when the museum would now be closed instead of open to the public. As a result, I was able to examine the garment in the same room where it is on display. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

My trip to France was scheduled to be a full week, so that I could also take in some cultural and historical highlights, mostly concentrating on museums and cathedrals in Chartres and Paris. My friend Greta Nappa came with me, and she made the trip about 10 times more enjoyable than it would have been had I gone alone.

Greta in Chartres

Greta in Chartres

We started our trip by meeting a local friend, Mathieu Harlaut, who is a core member of the Company of Saynte George, for lunch in Paris. We made final arrangements with him as to when and where we would meet the morning of the examination. I needed a native French speaker to accompany me, in case the curator at the museum did not speak English. Mathieu was the perfect candidate, being of the same small, loose-knit worldwide community of medieval clothing students as I was.

Turn-of-the-15th century female figure on Chartres Cathedral

One of the few late 14th/early 15thc figures outside the Chartres Cathedral

Greta and I then traveled by train to Chartres and checked in at our B&B. We stayed with a delightful lady named Danielle who took her time and spoke in very slow French with us, thereby allowing us to comprehend and speak back, as halting and incomplete as we were. She was an excellent teacher. I was also glad I’d invested in French lessons before the trip.
We had a day to spend before our appointment at the museum, so we explored the gorgeous Notre Dame de Chartres Cathedral, inside and out. We also visited the 12th century church up the street from our accommodations, which had been converted to an art gallery and which also hosted a medieval box garden. We explored the quaint city streets and ended up having dinner at a restaurant where no English was spoken. We stumbled through our communications as best we could. Unfortunately, I ended up with a form of sausage I truly disliked, because I mistook it for the American version of Andouille. I shall never make that mistake again.

The day of the appointment, we met Mathieu in front of the museum and at 9AM sharp, we were allowed into the building. We met with the curator, Monsieur Philippe Bihouee, who did not speak English after all. I was triply glad I’d arranged for Mathieu’s inclusion in the adventure. He did most of the talking for me.

The garment had been pulled from its display case and sat on its dummy in the middle of the room, surrounded by photographic lights. I indicated that I would prefer to examine it before photos were taken, and so a table was brought in, the garment was unbuttoned and removed from the dummy, and then I set to my task in earnest.

I put on white cotton gloves, pulled out my various measuring instruments and notebooks, and began to measure. Not only did I measure lengths, of seams and distances between points, but I also measured depth of the padding and distance between the quilting lines. I took all measurements in inches, because they are more meaningful to me conceptually than metric units are. I have since translated all measurements to metric, and these will be available as part of my forthcoming paper on the results of this day’s work, appearing in Waffen- und Kostümkunde in July 2013.

After measuring, I began to examine the construction techniques used. I noted how the placket behind the buttonholes had been made, how the neckline had been finished, and how the hem and front openings had been finished. I noted the types of stitches seen and unseen and was able to compile a storyline for the order in which the garment was put together. Greta took notes for me on my laptop as I worked and spoke. Mathieu assisted in the handling of the garment and with communicating with the curator.

Greta, Tasha, the pourpoint, and Mathieu

Greta, Tasha, the pourpoint, and Mathieu

After about 2.5 hours of non-stop intense scrutiny, I felt I’d covered the minimal ground needed to go home and write a paper revealing useful detail about the garment’s construction. That left us with one half hour to have photos taken by Monsieur Bihouee. He used a high-end digital Nikon camera, along with professional lighting. I directed him for the photos I thought I would need. Finally at the dot of 12 noon, we finished the photography and I was given a DVD of the raw image files. Those images will be published also as part of the forthcoming paper.

Mathieu, Greta, and I went to a local restaurant with outside seating and celebrated our victory.

For the rest of my week in France, we went to Vincennes (which is pretty much Paris) and sublet the apartment of my French teacher’s best friend, Aurelie, for 4 days. We visited: The Cluny (twice), The Louvre, The Musee de l’Armée, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, and the donjon at Vincennes, which was perhaps the scene of a perfect moment of time travel for me.

The donjon at Vincennes

The donjon at Vincennes

I stood in a gloomy stone room where His Majesty Charles V of France – the father of the king whose garment I had just examined – had spent so much of his time in the 1370s. I could feel the ghosts of those long-ago people in their impossible finery, taking for granted the exquisite embroidered tapestries that surely hung on the walls there 640 years ago. I felt like I could see it all, just out of the corner of my eye.