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.


Miriam said...

It is great to see how you've adapted the dress - in fact I think it looks better now than when you originally made it.

This is very useful - I'm currently trying to find the time and the nerve to do exactly the same fix on my wedding dress. (Also, I'm super-glad to see that altarpiece. I get those wrinkles too!)

Mervi said...

What a wonderful post. I hope this gives people ideas about remodelling dresses instead of making new ones all the time. Yes, I have been making a lot of new dresses, cause I'm sort of still trying to find which is my "the dress", the one I hope to wear and wear and wear...
This is a thing what people are starting to talk about more and more and therefore it is nice to see someone also writing about it.

Anonymous said...

You are an accomplished seamstress! How wonderful that you can create as you go.


Silviage said...

I did the same mistake with sleeves once :P
I see medieval brafitting - good job :)

Best regards, Sylwia.

Matt Ward said...

That is absolutely awesome. You are amazingly skilled. Would this be some a medieval peasant would wear?

How long did it take you to make and perfect?

A True Amateur said...

I can't believe this question didn't occur to me earlier, but are you wearing both a shift and the supportive underdress and, if so, what goes closer to your skin?

Isis said...

it depends! i prefer to wear the supportive underdress under my shirt, because all women depicted wearing one have bare arms. so it appears they are not wearing anything underneath. but when i go to events dressing and undressing in shared sleeping accomodation is a bit easier when you wear the shirt first and then the supportive dress. that is, i prefer to sleep in the loose shirt as opposed to the tighter supportive dress. and yes, on all occasions i wear both, because the shirt keeps my woollen upper garment clean.

Fia Makalös Lindblom said...

Nice work with the reshaping, it is really a good looking dress! I have only one question, and it's about the front seam. You mention that you now can get rid of the fitted front seam, is the straight one prefferable and if so, why is it better?
Happy Easter from FiaLi

Isis said...

hi sofia!
for me the curved front seam never seemed to really satisfy. it just didn't sit right on my body. and also with a button closure it seems to work differently as with lacing. i have a green dress with a lacing closure and a curved front seam and that works much better. it's just a matter of preference i think! a straight front seem does give more of a push-up/corset effect to your bosom :)

Anneth Strinnholm said...

Hej! Jag är inte riktigt säker på vilket språk jag ska använda men misstänker att du bor här i Sverige? :-)

Jag har länge haft det här inlägget bland mina favoriter på datorn - älskar tyget och skulle gärna vilja göra en liknande överklänning. Har dock lite svårt att hitta ett liknande ylle i Sverige; jag bor i en ganska liten stad så jag föredrar webbshoppar. Kan det vara detta tyg som du använde till klänningen tror du, minns du det?

Jättetacksam för svar. Med vänlig hälsning, Anneth.

Isis said...

Dear Anneth! luckily we have google translate, because otherwise I would have understood a word of what you said. I'm not Swedish :) I live in Belgium. But you are right, that is precisely the wool I used for this dress.

Anneth Strinnholm said...

Aha! :-D Sorry! And thank you so much.

Vanja said...

Beautiful. :) Can I ask - is there any period drawing with this kind of button´s kirtle? Thank you in advance. :)

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