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)

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!)

Martial Beauty: Padding and Quilting One’s Way to a Masculine Ideal in Fourteenth Century France

Last year in May I presented a paper called “Martial Beauty: Padding and Quilting One’s Way to a Masculine Ideal in Fourteenth Century France” as part of the DISTAFF sessions at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. The paper went over well, and I was offered a chance to submit to the Medieval Clothing and Textiles Journal. I was thrilled to have that opportunity, but life got in the way and enough time has passed that I now realize I should just get this work out there. I won’t have the time or the focus to polish the paper to a level appropriate for such a distinguished journal, and so I made the decision to put it up here as an article.

MS Français 12399 Book of Modus and Ratio f.134v France 1379

MS Français 12399 Book of Modus and Ratio f.134v France 1379

The topics under discussion in that paper are very much a work-in-progress on my part. I am far from expert in understanding all the terminology used for padded and quilted garments, though I do believe I’m more knowledgeable now than I was a year ago, thanks to the research done. I consider the paper an exercise in hypothesis and synthesis born at least partially from other people’s digging up of primary sources. While I dug for and found some of the sources I used, a fair number of the textual sources seen in the figures were supplied by five colleagues in an online discussion forum. I am indebted to their scholarly efforts. I mention their names at the top of the article. I also was led to this topic—the use of padding and quilting in both martial and peaceable contexts for men in the fourteenth century—from the work I did on the pourpoint of Charles VI of France. I think now that I would call it a coat-armour (not to be confused with a coat of arms).

Here’s the article. Enjoy.