Blackwork Embroidered Men’s 16th Century Shirt

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We all have that one friend that you should never wager against because luck will always favor them. I have that in my friend Braden. Two years of unsuccessful wagering led to my making him a handsewn and blackwork embroidered 16th century shirt.

Materials Used: 5.3 oz white linen for the body of the shirt, 3.2 oz white linen for the embroidered cuffs and collar, black silk embroidery floss, 25 count waste canvas, wooden scroll embroidery frame, serger, sewing machine

I prefer to make my art as period correct as I possibly can, so I chose to use a design drafted from the Hans Holbein portrait of Henry VIII. The embroidery can be seen at the joining of the seams on Henry VIII’s shirt. I serged the edges of the linen, loaded the scroll embroidery frame, and spent about 100 hours or so embroidering the blackwork design on the cuffs and collar.

Once the embroidery was complete I used Braden’s measurements to cut out the body pieces and sleeves for the shirt from the 5.3 oz linen. I serged the edges of each piece to keep the linen from fraying and then used my sewing machine to sew the front 2 pieces of the shirt to the back piece, and to attach the sleeves. All other sewing was completed by hand. Because of the thickness of the linen I chose to fold each side of the seam onto itself and hand sewed them flat.

Once the shirt was assembled, I box pleated the fabric for the collar and cuffs. I used the sewing machine to attach the pleating to the embroidered pieces and then hand sewed the cuffs and collar on to the shirt.

After attaching the cuffs and collar, and flat felling all of the body seams, I attached hook and eyes to the collar and cuffs and then hand sewed the shirt hem. It was finally complete!

But of course this is where problems always happen. The shirt fit beautifully with the exception of the collar, which was about one inch too short. Thank goodness I ensured that there was extra material on the ends of the collar. I loosened some of the gathering in the collar and extended it to the needed length. My friend was very happy with the shirt and even wore it at the SCA 50 Year celebration.

Blue and Gold Damask Gown and Doublet

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Damask is one of the most recognizable period patterns, which is why I was so excited when I was at my local Joanns and saw an entire roll of a gorgeous blue and gold damask in the clearance bin. Little did I know that 2 years later I would come to regret that purchase and would actually dub poly-damask as the “Devil’s fabric.”

I’m a huge fan of matchy-matchy couple’s garb and there was enough of this fabric to outfit myself and my husband. While planning the outfits I had to address the usual questions: farthingale? tie-on or set-in sleeves on the dress? tie-on or set-in or no sleeves for the doublet? front lacer with a placket or side lacer or back lacer on the dress? cartridge or knife pleats? This is the part of the sewing process that I most enjoy and with this particular project the answers came easily. Since this garb pair was intended to be for court I needed to choose the “fancier” options. The skirt would be made long enough to accommodate a farthingale; the sleeves on my gown would be tie-on; the sleeves on Andy’s doublet would be sewn-in; lacing would be in the back (boy did this turn out to be a mistake); and of course the skirt required cartridge pleats. I usually line my bodices and Andy’s doublets with the same fabric as the exterior, but I chose to use a cream colored silk dupioni lining in order to conserve the damask fabric.

Drawing out my bodice pattern on the poly-damask gave me the first indication that this fabric would be miserable. I use a sharpie when I draw on fabric because it draws smoothly and doesn’t bleed. This fabric seemed to deform whenever the sharpie touched it. I finally got all bodice pieces and doublet pieces cut out and the real fun began as the fabric started to fray immediately. I use duck cloth as interlining and boy was I thankful for that when I started to pin the bodice together because I was able to use the duck cloth to force the poly-damask somewhat back into shape.

I machine sew all body pieces together, but I hand sew all finishing seams. This is a list of all hand sewing completed on this project:

Gown

  • The straps that were secured into the top front of the bodice
  • The skirt hem
  • The cartridge pleats
  • The cuffs on the sleeves
  • The lacing rings for the tie-on sleeves

Doublet

  • The skirting
  • The buttons

 

Final Thoughts on the Project

I truly did not enjoy this project. The fabric was a misery to work with, and even though the dress and doublet have been worn a half dozen times and practically soaked in lavender oil they still reek like formaldehyde. I don’t like how the bodice fits, I feel like when I sit down the front of the bodice almost jams me in the chin. The sleeves feel too large and even though I did not alter the pattern the bodice somehow lost 5 inches in circumference. In all honesty, once I complete my new court ensemble I will probably sell the gown simply because I hate it.

The doublet looks great on Andy, although even this gave me a couple of areas to alter. The cuffs on his sleeves are too wide and I was able to trim a couple of inches from the waistline of his pattern.

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Norse Underdress

I created this white linen Norse underdress for HRM Helene of Avacal.

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I was able to use one of her existing underdresses to create the pattern. The underdress consists of two separate pieces, the front and the back. Seams are located on the shoulders, and along the sides. The pattern includes built-in gores.

Because of time constraints I chose to use a serger to sew the underdress together, but did finish the cuffs, neckline, and hem by hand.

I did some basic research on what type of decorations would be used on Norse underdresses. It appeared that the really impressive embroidery would be reserved for the overdress (apron dress), while more practical embroidery was used on an underdress. The herringbone stitch was commonly used as it could be decoration as well as a stitch that could be used for hemming. One of Helene’s favorite colors is red, so I decided to use red linen embroidery floss for the herringbone.

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Sleeve detail

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Close up of the sleeve embroidery

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Neckline embroidery

Andy’s Teal Linen Doublet/Historical Sew Fortnightly 2016 Challenge #1

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The Challenge: Procrastination
 
Material: Lining and outer fabric – teal linen; interlining – duck cloth; metal buttons; Gutterman all-purpose thread
 
Pattern: Pattern drafted by me and based on mid-1500s men’s doublets
 
Year: 16th century England
 
Notions: Black Sharpie, sewing needle, see-thru ruler
 
How historically accurate is it?: The fit could be snugger, but is patterned based on the wearer’s personal preference. All of the body construction and buttonholes was completed using a sewing machine, but the skirting and buttons were handsewn
 
Hours to complete: 30
 
First worn: Barony of Gryphon’s Lair 12th Night (January 9, 2016)
 
Total cost: Linen $50, duckcloth $15, thread $6, buttons $20. Luckily I was able to source all of these items from my stash

Collegium Dress

Once I found out the date that my student ceremony would be taking place I started making plans for a new dress. Not only did I want a new dress to celebrate my new journey as a student to Her Grace Mistress Esabel, but ever since having a baby I can’t really fit into any of my previous garb.

Pattern Selection

I decided not to alter my existing bodice pattern and instead start from scratch. My previous pattern that I’ve used for years divides the shoulder straps between the front and back pattern pieces, forcing you to try and pull the smaller piece (the back sections if the bodice is a back lacer, the front pieces if the bodice is a front lacer) through the shoulder strap channel. While this is not a problem if you’re using a silky material like well silk, it can cause a tug-of-war with some sturdier brocades and velvets. It also puts a lot of strain on the shoulder seams. The really tricky part of this type of pattern is that you have to be 100% certain that the shoulder strap seams match before you sew the body of the bodice together, otherwise you end up with seams at a very visible level that are off kilter.

I admire the dresses a friend (Mistress Serafina) creates that utilize one-piece shoulder straps that originate on the back portion of the pattern and are inserted down the top of the front of the bodice. I knew that with a few slight alterations I could make this version work for my new dress. I studied one of her dresses to draft the pattern and then made the one needed alteration (I’m not as generously endowed in the bosom as my friend so it needed to be slightly downsized).

Front Lacer, Back Lacer, Side Lacer?

I believe that the placement of the dress closure sets the whole tone for the dress. Front lacers without a front placket feel very informal while back lacers are impossible to get into by yourself. I decided to make the dress a side lacer so that I could dress myself if necessary but still keep an elegant look.

Fabric

I was determined that this project was going to be completed using nothing but the material in my stash. Since the ceremony would be happening at Kingdom Collegium, I decided to stay away from my silks and brocades, and concentrated more on the various colors of linen and linen blends. I finally settled on a linen/rayon blend in a lovely shade of turquoise. I knew that the fabric would behave like linen but have the forgiving nature of rayon, something I desperately wanted when creating the first dress with a new pattern. The turquoise fabric would be used for the bodice lining, the outer fabric on the bodice, the skirt, and the sleeves. Duck cloth would be used for the interlining, and wool felt would be used to pad the skirt pleats. Even the sewing thread and embroidery floss for the eyelets came from my stash.

Bodice Construction

I began the construction process by cutting all needed pieces (2 front pieces and 2 back pieces) out of duck cloth, and then sewed in boning channels. The original dress had far fewer boning channels than I’m used to, but as this would speed up the construction process I decided to stick with 4 straight down the front, 2 diagonals on each side of the front boning, and 1 piece of boning on each edge to ensure the edges would remain straight when the dressed was laced up. For boning I used 1/2″ wide industrial zip ties, cut to length and rounded on each end (previously I’ve made dresses where I didn’t round the ends and they rip through your fabric pretty quick).

Once the boning was secured in the appropriate channels I cut out the outer pieces from the linen/rayon fabric (2 front pieces and 2 back pieces). The outer back pieces were 1/2″ longer on the bottom than the inner pieces, and the outer front pieces were 1/2″ longer on the top than the inner pieces. I do this intentionally so that when I hand sew those parts closed I don’t have to fold over the duck cloth, thereby deleting any unnecessary bulk. After machine sewing the interlining and outer pieces together, I hand sewed the remaining top and bottom open edges. I had forgotten to add a seam allowance to the ends of the shoulder straps, so they were sewed shut with my machine and then butt stitched to their places on the top of the front bodice pieces.

Eyelets

I do all of my lacing eyelets by hand using an awl and DMC embroidery floss. The lacing pattern I decided to use was spiral, which would give me 5 eyelets on the front edges of the bodice and 6 eyelets on the back edges. Once I had marked the locations of each eyelet, I used the awl to open the fabric, and a sturdy needle with my embroidery floss to buttonhole stitch each eyelet.

An appropriate length lace was found for each side and a shanked button was tied to one end while an aglet was tied to the other. I learned the trick of using the button from Mistress Jaquelinne. It enables you to pull your lacing tight without having to worry that the knotted end will pop out of the eyelet (freaking genius!).

The Skirt

I decided to use cartridge pleating for the skirt to add a little poof. I used a yard and a half of material for the front portion of the skirt, and two yards for the back. After cutting out the two panels, I sewed the tops of each panel to wool felt strips and marked out the location of each individual pleat. Next, I threaded my needle using 4 strands of thread (it needs to be super strong so that I can tug on it and not worry about breakage) and went to work. Once I had the pleats pulled tight I started sewing them to the bodice. This is the big reason I make sure to measure out my pleats first, because you need to know how many to sew along each inch of the bodice. I usually try to sew 3 o 4 per inch.

After the pleats were sewn on the front and back I let the dress hang in the closet for 2 days to get any stretch out of the skirt, then I sewed the front panel to the back panel using zig-zag stitch and measured out the hem. I marked the hem length for the back and front and pressed it. What followed was 2 hours of sitting and sewing the hem using teeny tiny stitches.

Sleeves

Once the dress was completed I finally had time to move onto the sleeves. I like using a single piece pattern rather than 2 piece sleeves for simplicity sake.  I used my serger for all of the inner seams and to attach the ribbon ties. I hand sewed the cuffs using a basic running stitch. Once the sleeves were sewn together I attached the aglets to the ribbon ties and my dress was done!

Lessons Learned

After I wore the dress at Collegium, I discovered several changes that need to be made:

  1. The straps have to be shortened by about 1 inch since they kept falling off of my shoulders ALL DAY LONG. This means I will also have to reattach the lacing rings for the sleeves
  2. I can take about 2 inches out of the bodice circumference to ensure the tight fit that I prefer
  3. I need to lower the top of the bodice by about an inch
  4. I need to remember to leave fabric on the skirt edges to overlap and cover my underskirt when the dress is laced up
  5. NEVER serge grosgrain ribbon, it just makes the ribbon fray

Luckily these are easy fixes and can be incorporated into my next dress. Overall I enjoyed making the dress and have finally gotten over my fear of linen