I’ve previously been to the regency era picnic at one of Brisbane’s museums, I can’t make it this year as it’s the same day as the Commonwealth election, but instead I am keen to go to the annual tournament. In aid of my attendance I have been researching Middle Ages/Medieval clothing, mostly through looking at lots and lots of paintings and manuscript illuminations. There are 3 main styles over the centuries now called the Middle Ages:
*Romanesque style – billowing shapeless robes, sometimes belted, with cloaks. Sometimes the pillbox hat held on around the neck to frame the face appears. Later in the middle ages, a similar style also appeared that was more of an a-line billowy gown cinched at the waist.
*Round Open necked style fitted dress with tapered sleeves. Sometimes the sleeves go over most of the hands. Worn only with a hood for poorer women. The skirt is full. The dress is spiral laced at the front or back. There are a variety of garments worn over this dress for wealthier women:- Rectangular sleeveless tunic; tunic (surcoat) in fine fabric with large arm holes, sometimes going to the waist and often trimmed with fur; a second dress with long wide sleeves or long sleeves that have a split to the elbow, resulting in draping.
*V-neck style dress (Burgandy style) – bodice and skirt match, sometimes being separate, with deep v-neck, filled with contrasting fabric, often the v seems to have contrasting lapels. This style of dress seems to be accompanied by the most ridiculous head coverings – henin – the point high hats some of us may have made as children – gold nets on either side of the face, huge rolls on the head, or even rolls and points resembling horns.
One big question, for a seamstress like me, is: are the sleeves attached? I have understood that inset sleeves are relatively modern and in the past they were laced on. Also, occasionally, contrasting sleeves are seen in paintings. Some patterns also call for a gusset to give movement in the arms.
Other garments include a cloak or mantle, much like one a bishop would wear now. It’s made by a big semi-circle of fabric, sometimes with a smaller circle to accommodate the neck, and is secured around the neck by a decorated band of fabric or a metal clasp (think two circles on each side of the garment and a chain attaching them.
And also an under shirt or dress would have been worn. One early painting I saw had this sitting above the neckline of the dress with a gold ribbon at the top, but generally it’s unseen.
Belts worn below the natural waist seemed to be pretty big until the v-neck took off. They were called girdles. Which is interesting as that is not what the modern word girdle means! (Although for an interesting aside, the word corset was also in use but it did not mean a shape altering under garment).
The other two considerations for these garments are colour and fabric. The colour schemes seem to be fairly unvaried, with bold colours favoured.
I’ve read up on this a bit and colours were generally produced naturally and depended on social status. So undyed fabrics, which are kind of in vogue now for people into organic food and eliminating plastic packaging now, were then a sign of lower social status and wealth. Also if you were poor, black fabric came from the wool of black sheep, not from dying, like the black clothes of wealthier people.
Blue was a common colour as wode was readily available and given that the Britons used to cover themselves in it before going into battle the Romans (although as with all modern historians people are questioning this idea now). Blue is also the colour that features in garments in the most common subject matter of all medieval paintings, the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus.
Earthy colours including orange, brown and green were common for serfs and peasants.
Purple was not common, particularly as the mollusc that was previously used to create royal purple dye had been harvested to extinction. However the colour was sometimes achieved by mixing blue and red dyes.
Red seems to be pretty common and often associated with the aristocracy and monarchy. Yellows and pinks don’t feature too heavily, but are not unseen. Gold seems more popular than yellow.
Also in-between (tertiary) colours that we use now, like teal (ie inbetween blue and green) or magenta (pinkish purple) didn’t seem to be used. Primary and secondary colours were the mode de jour.
As for the fabrics. Well in Europe in particular wool and linen, which is made from flax, are most common. Wool being the most common. Cotton was known to be imported from Egypt and India, but it was not nearly as common as it is now. Silk was used by the very wealthy having been imported from China (interestingly there is evidence of silk in the hair of an Egyptian mummy dated 1070BC so the silk trade between Asia and Europe has been going on forever!) Although the Italians also produced silk. Also furs are used in many instances. And if you see someone with ermine, you know it’s a painting of a royal wedding or the like. So sorry if you’re vegetarian or vegan!
I should also note that fabrics, whilst depicted as plain in illustrations, seem to be richly textured in paintings, unless it depicts servants and labourers (serfs and peasants). I suppose it depends on social status!
So, what does one does one do to attend a Tournament at the local Museum in 2013?
Well it all depends on my level desired of effort. I have decided to stay well away from anything that starts to look a bit Renaissance. But that still leaves about five centuries of fashion to choose from. I also feel that the Romanesque style will look a bit frumpy on my rather large figure.
At the very least I need to make a dress. I plan to do this without forking out for a pattern, so I am going to use a sheath dress pattern I have with princess seams and change the skirt to be long and flared. I know princess seams were not used at the time, but they are used in commercial patterns, and they are the easiest way to achieve the fitted bodice without darts. Allegedly they were not used because of primitive cutting techniques not allowing for curved seams, but given that mantles were big semi-circles, I’m not so sure about that. I’m also going to do something else that was not typically done until relatively modern times to make the skirt full, and that is cut on the bias. Otherwise, what was done is gores were cut into skirts to make them form fitting at the waist and full at the bottom. The modern equivalent is the godet, which are not my favourite bit of sewing. If I can find a decent colour discounted, I’d like to make this garment in linen. Otherwise I’ll cheat and use cotton. I will also need to adjust the pattern to split and lace at the back, which will require me to cut thick facing for the opening and put in some metal lace holes. Typically the holes would be stitched, but that’s more time than I want to put in. I also know that the tapered sleeves should have buttons from the wrist to the elbow. No plastic buttons!
So that is the dress and then I think that I can easily do a cloak by cutting out a big semi-circle. As the cloaks seemed to be lined (with fur if you were particularly well to do). So I’ll need two bolts of fabric the same width, with the length a little over twice the width of the fabric. It can be in wool or linen (possibly with a silk lining if I can find it at my discount shop) and possibly with a woven arabesque pattern (ie like upholstery). I can join the lining and outside together by making a binding from decorative ribbon or sew them together except for the top, turn it right way out and just do a fancy binding around the neckline. If I can find some really wide fancy ribbon that I can interface to make stiff I will use this to make the closure.
Finally if I still have time and am not sick of the whole enterprise, I figured that I can make either a surcoat out of something silky, velvety or upholstery like with some faux fur trimming or I can make a light undershirt with gold ribbon trim. I won’t do a hat, I don’t want to feel as well as look ridiculous.
Some inspiration pics (I’ve just realised I need to find some more with billowy sleeves on the over dress for you!):
Fur lined surcoats over fitted under dresses with full skirts
St Margaret – the patron saint of my old school. Actually picking a saint and looking for images is a good way to find inspiration for an outfit
A Muse by Cosme Tura, showing rich fabrics, spiral lacing, buttons at the wrist, lined mantle over round necked dress with fitted body, and contrasting, possibly not inset, sleeves.
V-necked dresses with contrasting lapels and henin headwear. But also depicted next to the round necked layered style