Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The story of my grey dress 2008-2013

DISCLAIMER: I have to warn you up front: this post will contain a lot of me, and of my bodyparts! Haha. You can't complain I didn't tell you.

Sometimes when you make a medieval dress, it doesn't turn out quite as you imagined. Sometimes you loose or gain weight, and it doesn't fit as well anymore as it used to do. The options are to either make a new dress, or to alter the one you have. Making a new dress, or having it made is expensive. It is expensive now, and it certainly was expensive back then. Fabric was a costly thing and was treated as such. Garments were used and reused and altered. They were bequeathed to next generations by will, they were sold on the second hand market and adapted to be up to date with changing fashions.
That is why I usually go for the second option. Not only is it easier on your purse, it is also in line with medieval practices and you learn a lot of it - about your own body and about how to translate your body shape into clothing.

Back in 2008 I made a grey woollen dress. It was the second fitted dress I ever made. The fabric was a gorgeous twill from Naturtuche (it is still one of my favourite fabrics to date). I made it using the curved front seam method from Le Cotte Simple. Apart from some small details I was very happy with it. I just love the buttons. I love the flow of the skirt. I love that it is all hand sown.
The things I didn't like, were the neckline, which was slightly too high, the combination of the curved front seam with buttons (works better with lacing, I find), and the sleeves. The sleeves are a story in themselves. The attentive reader will notice that the sleeves on this dress are not symmetrical ... 

Me and my grey dress in September 2008. Photo by Bertus Brokamp

This is me wearing the dress for the first time, at an event in The Netherlands. I'm not wearing a modern bra underneath, just with a linen skirt underneath, since it is supposed to be supporting enough by itself.  However, as you can see, it is just a bit too loose under the breasts. I couldn't somehow manage to make it tighter and still be comfortable in it. It even sometimes got me the 'double boob' effect. Very nasty. V-e-r-y nasty. Also, you will notice that, very uncharmingly, my breasts are not at the same height. Left is lower than right. This is not becaus eof the dress, this is just my body, but the dress does nothing to visually correct it. I'm sure i'm not the only woman with asymmetical boobs, and I'm sure I'm not the onlyone frustrated with this.
Now, we could ask ourselves 'Isn't this just a modern obsession? Did medieval people aslo bothered about superficial things like this? Well, I still have to see the first medieval allumination of a clothed woman that has one boob that is lower than the other.

Since I changed my eating habits somewhere back in 2008 (because of gluten intolerance) I started to slowly shrink out of my new pretty dress. Because I didn't attend many events in 2009 and 2010 (I was too busy writing a thesis on frilled veils and trying to get a position as a PhD student) this wasn't a very big problem.
In 2011 I did lower the neckline a bit, by cutting away the top two buttons on one side and top two buttonholes on the other. Although the dress was getting too big, at least I didn't feel restricted in my movements when wearing it anymore, Something that made me very happy attending Visby, an event that lasted a whole week.

Visby, 2011. Not the best pic, but you can see the deeper neckline when you look between my hands with mittens-in-progress. Photo by Bertus Brokamp

Between 2008 and 2012, I lost so much weight - 25 pounds, to be precise - I had to do something about my dress. I could no longer deny the fact that I couln't wear it without modern underwear, because well ... I don't think I have to spell it out for you. It was just too big everywhere, also in the waist.

Front view. 2012. Photo by Franziska Schatek 

The grey dress in 2012. Photo by Franziska Schatek

On al the pics taken during this period, you can see me walk and sit about in a very awkward posture - curved back, shoulders haning down and pointing foward a bit - trying to avoid 'double boob' embarrasment. It wouldn't be far off to say I'm a hunchbacked woman here. Wouldn't it? Nothing to be happy about I say.

From the back. 2012. Photo by Franziska Schatek 

And then this also happened. Photo by Bertus Brokamp

And then this happened: the bra-shirt (I still don't know how to call it without using the anachronism 'bra'. Maybe I should stick with 'supportive underwear' instead? For those of you who missed the whole 'supportive underwear' hype, here and here and here you can read up on it. Also, if you don't believe me and want somebody else's opinion, go here and here.

Taking in lots of centimeters, winter 2012-2013. Photo by Bertus Brokamp.

Luckily I lost enough weight, to also get rid of the curved front seam...

New size! September 2013. Photo by Mervi Pasanen

This is the same dress with the straight front seam! I still have to make some small adjustments to the back and neckline, and replace that damned sleeve. But at least, I finally truly feel comfortable in it and enjoy wearing it.

And sitting. September 2013. Photo by Mervi Pasanen

But maybe, what I love most about this dress in it's current state, is the wrinkles on the torso, exactly as in this altarpiece from Bad Doberan!

Kreuzaltar / Lettneraltar, c. 1370 in the Münster of Bad Doberan, Germany.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mending an old shirt

This is one of my oldest medieval shirts. It dates back to my early years of living history, when I still sometimes used the machine for sewing (the hemming is done by hand though). Even though I don't really like wearing machine sewn clothes anymore, the linen of this shirt has become so soft because of the long use, that still love wearing it. Off course with wearing comes wear and tear, and my poor shirt ended up with two torn seems under the armpits.

So, something had to be done, bacause I can't possibly imagine parting with it just yet. So one evening not so long ago, I put myself to the task. What I did was weave a small piece of new fabric directly fixed on the base fabric of the garment. I'm not sure wether there is any proof of this method used in medieval times. I was inspired by 18th and 19th century darning samplers and this link.

The main reasons why I chose to try this technique are
1. that you do now need to take any fabric in for making a new seam. This way you do not have to compromise on shape and fit.
2. this technique doesn't add the extra bulk you would get with patching, since there are no raw edges you have to fold under. You do not want extra bulk in your armpits, especially whith tightfitting 14th century overgarments.

And well, of course also because

3. it simply looks pretty neat!

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