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.

Pourpoint of Charles VI of France article now available in digital format!

My detailed paper on the tailoring and construction methods used to create the beautiful coat armour on display at the Musée des beaux arts in Chartres, France was published in Waffen- und Kostümkunde in July, 2013. Now, over two years later, I am comfortable providing this publication in PDF format for educational purposes to the world at large, rather than requiring that it be bought directly from the journal publishers. At this point, anyone who really REALLY wanted the article has already bought it, and I would like the rest of the people interested in recreating medieval quilting technology to have access to this information.

I am providing it for view/download here, as well as on on my existing page for this paper. You can also find a higher-resolution version on Academia.edu. Note: if you don’t already have an academia.edu profile, you will be required to go through a multi-step process by the site first.

PLEASE READ: If you want others to see this article, please provide the link to my site or the academia.edu site and do not upload the article or any excerpts or images from the article anywhere on the web. Please play nice so we all can share our knowledge in good faith.

Direct link (copy and paste to share): http://cottesimple.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Charles-VI-pourpoint-article-Tasha-D-Kelly-reduced-size.pdf

Sample pages:

p. 159

p. 159

 

p. 171

p. 171

 

Bag Sleeve Tailoring Methods – Beating the Wattle

The turn of the 15th century in Europe brought a spate of extravagant fashions into popularity. Among them, the deep bag sleeve has proven to be one of the more ornery patterns to recreate.1

When we see it in the art, it’s magnificent — men and women swanning about in their finery, looking impressive with their superfluous sleeve fabric. Let’s peruse a few, shall we?

Fig. 1. King Arthur's Round Table

Fig. 1. King Arthur’s Round Table, Boccaccio, Des cas des nobles hommes et femmes, Paris, BA, MS 5193, fol 96v, c. 1411

 

Note the fellow in the black hat — his coat is tailored with a grande assiette sleeve, as signaled by the sleeve gores on his back. More about that later.

 

Fig. 2. Boccaccio

Fig. 2. Boccaccio, Livre des cleres et nobles femmes, BnF, MS Français 12420, fol93r, c. 1401

 

I love those dags on the sleeve – it makes “ostentatious” sound like an understatement. More on those dags later, too.

 

Fig. 3. The Author Presents His Book to the King

Fig. 3. “The Author Presents His Book to the King”, Pierre Salmon, Dialogues; Paris, BnF, MS Français 23279, Paris, 1410

 

The bag-sleeved coat on the right has pleats at the shoulder. And yet more on that later as well!

Sometimes when bag sleeves translate to our modern recreations, they can appear… well… like a rooster wattle; a deflated sort of dangling that does not fall from the arm in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Fig. 4. Rooster photo by shivani

Fig. 4. Hey, wassup?
Photo by shivani.

 

Here I am, with my sleeve wattles, in January of 2004. (Credit to Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson for ‘shopping out my red dress at the neckline; I was looking like a hussy according to le Menagiér de Paris!)2

Fig. 4. The author in an example of what not to do

Fig. 4. The author in January 2004, wearing a bag-sleeved gown and serving as an exemplar of what not to do

 

But we don’t see the wattle effect in the figural art of the turn of the 15th century. Aside from the idea that artists weren’t usually tasked with portraying clothing working badly on well-dressed people, there are other reasons why we don’t see it. The most obvious is that many of these gowns in their time were lined with fur, sleeves and all. This thick lining would create a fullness and weight to the sleeve which prevented the wattle from occurring. We modern folks don’t tend to make these garments with a lining capable of filling out and stiffening the bags in the sleeves.

A reason less obvious to most modern-day recreators of this style is the tailoring choice of an under-arm seam as opposed to a back-of-arm seam on the sleeve pattern. In case any readers are unfamiliar with these terms, I’ll review quickly: an underarm seam is one where the sleeve cap looks like a half circle, more or less. See this rather simplified diagram for a visual:

 

Fig. 5. Sleeve cap for an underarm seam

Fig. 5. Sleeve cap for an underarm seam

 

A back-of-arm seam runs down the back of the arm, along the line where the elbow juts out. The sleeve cap usually resembles a sine wave, or has a somewhat pointed dip about 3/4 of the way across it. See this diagram for a visual:

 

Fig. 6. Sleeve caps for back-of-arm seam

Fig. 6. Sleeve caps for back-of-arm seam

 

When we use the underarm seam on a sleeve with a baggy shape, we get a simpler pattern shape and an easier method of insertion into the armhole, certainly, but it’s prone to producing the wattle look. Here’s how such a pattern might appear drawn out as a diagram:

 

Fig. 7. Symmetrical underarm seam sleeve pattern

Fig. 7. Symmetrical underarm seam sleeve pattern

 

This produces the wattle look because we don’t typically bend our elbows in the same plane as the underarm seam. This seam faces straight down to the surface we stand on. Our arms and elbows, however, move more often in a plane which extends at a 45 to 90 degree angle from the ground. The falling shape of the curved bag should extend from the plane most used by the arm, but in this case it doesn’t.

 

Fig. 8. Wattle effect illustrated

Fig. 8. Wattle effect illustrated

 

I propose two ways to fix or mitigate the wattle effect in bag sleeves, aside from lining them with fur or a fur substitute. The first is the easiest, in my opinion, and similar to the same design suggested by Adrien Harmand in his influential work, Jeanne d’Arc, Ses costumes, son armure, published in 1929. His example portrays a version of the  s-curve sleeve cap, which causes the curve of the bag to fall from the back of the arm, rather than underneath it. The exaggeration of the s-curve in the example below, however, is not strictly necessary. I recommend a more balanced and shallow version as shown in Figure 6 above.3

 

Fig. 9. Adrien Harmand's pattern for a bag sleeve

Fig. 9. Adrien Harmand’s pattern for a bag sleeve. Note – no seam allowance included.

Fig. 10. Back-of-arm seam illustrated

Fig. 10. Back-of-arm seam illustrated

 

This method is certainly documentable for sleeves with a much shallower bag shape during this time period — my examination of the coat armour at Chartres’ Musée des beaux arts revealed a back-of-arm seam on that garment’s sleeves. This is common sense, as the location of the seam places the deepest pocket of the bag directly in line with the plane on which the elbow bends, where the room is needed most.

The second method may seem conceptually easier if the drafting of an s-curve seam intimidates you (it can drive people crazy; it is known!). It starts out as the symmetrical pattern that uses the underarm seam sleeve cap. The bag portion of the pattern is then elongated on one side, and shortened on the other by the same amount.

 

Fig. 11. Alternative sleeve pattern for off-set hang solution

Fig. 11. Alternative sleeve pattern for off-set hang solution

 

The end result is similar to the s-curve back-of-arm solution above, the only difference being that the seam originates under the arm before moving to the back:

 

Fig. 12. Off-set hang solution illustrated

Fig. 12. Off-set hang solution illustrated

 

There you have it; two ways to minimize the wattle effect in your bag sleeves. If only I’d used the back-of-arm seam when making the green dress in the photo above. I recall the idea occurring to me, but I opted for the easiest method because I was pregnant and tired.

If your fabric is really limp and drapey, you may also want to consider interlining it with a stiffer or thicker fabric that will give the sleeve fullness and weight. The fur option is always there too, if you want to invest in the costly pelts, learn how to take a fur coat apart and resew it in the shape needed, or work with fake fur.

So now let’s talk a bit about the figural sources shown above and some of the knowledge they impart on the topic of bag sleeves. In Figure 1, we see a two-toned coat with bag sleeves where the miniaturist took pains to paint the seam lines of sleeve gores on the back of the garment. This is unequivocal evidence for grande assiette tailoring, which works best with a back-of-arm seam. So, even without the painting of the seam line on the bag sleeve, we know where the seam goes.

In Figure 2, the dags provide another deductive example for the back-of-arm seam. This style is created by sewing the dags into the seam itself, and in this case, we see the dags heading straight to the outside of the wearer’s wrist, which is a strong vote for the back-of arm seam. Additionally, the pink fabric appears to the left of the dags at the bottom of the bag, which suggests that the seam line is offset to the outside, another vote for the back-of-arm seam.

Finally, in Figure 3, the sleeve cap shows pleating into the armhole on the black coat. This was likely done on the portion of the sleeve cap that traverses the top of the shoulder, so in order to translate that to a pattern piece, elongate the curve that sits at the top of the shoulder by a factor of three — a simple knife pleat takes three times the fabric. It’s worth nothing that this image richly demonstrates the lushness of fur-lined garments.

Notes:

1. Thanks to Ian LaSpina for making me think about bag sleeve tailoring again.

2. Le Menagiér de Paris states, “And before you leave your chamber or house, see you first that the collar of your shift, and your blanchet, your robe, or your surcoat, straggle not forth one upon the other, as befalleth with certain drunken, foolish, or ignorant women, who have no regards for their honour, nor for the honesty of their estate or of their husbands, and go with roving eyes and head horribly reared up like unto a lion, their hair straying out of their wimples and the collars of their shifts and robes one upon the other, and walk mannishly and bear themselves uncouthly before folk without shame.” – translation by Eileen Power from The Goodman of Paris, A Treatise on Moral and Domestic Economy by a Citizen of Paris, c. 1393, Boydell Press, 2006.

3. Harmand’s version of the s-curve is probably a reflection of the tailoring of his time period, rather than medieval tailoring. I haven’t seen evidence yet for that type of curve in extant clothes, but that’s not proof of non-existence, necessary, given our small extant sampling. I recommend the shallower version because it’s easier to draft and documentable to the time period based on extant clothing examples.

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

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

One of several useful little diagrams in the article

One of several useful little diagrams in the article

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

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

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

Patterns, Padding, Quilting — A Complicated Love Triangle