Diary Started August 29th 2004 - Dress Finished May 5, 2005.
On this page:
The result - Go on to the picture page (warning, large images, may take a while to load) to see various pictures of the finished outfit.

Research and background

Running costs

Plum wool (4.5 metre @ 80 kr) 360 kr
Thread ~ 40 kr
Yellow linen lining (3.5 metre @ 70) 245 kr
Silk sewing thread (a steal at) 10 kr
White linen (3.8 metre @ 59) 224 kr
Total: 879 kr
I came across a link that showed pictures of 14th century French clothing for women and these outfits along with a remembered picture of one of the aotc-ladies, got me inspired for my next project: to make myself a properly fitted middle-layer dress (cote), and do it in the french style with a surcote, the sleeves that extend over the hand, low plaque hip-belt and braids coiled back up over the ears.

Commonly known in the SCA as a cotehardie, I like to refer to these form-fitting, figure-shaping draped gowns as Gothic Fitted Dresses, and this diary is going to detail the making of one. My first one was a fairly good attempt - making it basically on my own with nobody else to help me fit it, or come with good pointers about sewing techniques. This time, three of the ladies at the Shire sewing circle expressed an interest in the time-period, being the late 14th to early 15th centuries, and we decided that the fall term would be devoted to them.

Links of interest:

As the list of links above shows there are quite a few pictorial sources from this period online for people to peruse. The BNF alone has a large number of Manuscripts from this time showing some wonderful details of garment construction and fit. I can spend hours there looking at the miniatures from these manuscripts for inspiration but before I go completely link-mad I shall stop posting them here. Suffice it to say that if you need more inspirational images go to the BNF site and feast your eyes.

Inspirational pictures

1380s manuscript, Paris, folio 19 1380s manuscript, Paris, folio 125 1380s manuscript, Paris, folio 153v A French lady, 1380

Pattern making

Getting the pins in
Getting the tightness underneath the bust
The pattern that resulted from the fitting
The fabric
Aug 30, 2004 - Making this dress along with four other ladies of the shire made the fitting stage quite expedient: At sewing circle on Saturday the 28th I brought with me cheap cotton fabric to drape on me and produce a well-fitted body block. I came out of it with a pattern for front and back pieces, as did Helwig and Filippa, while Sophia has to wait for next sewing circle Saturday as she had forgotten to bring extra fabric for the fitting.

In any case, I had help getting the first pattern fitted on me, first getting it snug around me, and continuing with me on my back getting it tight for that form-fitting and supportive function, as described by several of the authorities of this type of gown, Tasha of Cote Simple for one and Robin Netherton for another. I am planning on making this out of a red (mauve or plum has been suggested to me as alternative descriptors) wool fabric which I found in Visby and fell in love with. I think it is going to be luscious once it is all made up.

I have not yet decided if I shall fully line it, using linen of some colour yet to be determined, or just do the torso. The sleeves should be either tight with buttons up the back seam to elbow-height OR tight-ish down to the wrist where they flare out to go to the first knuckle of my middle finger as shown in picture number four above. It should be closed by front spiral lacing so that when I make a surcote, as seen in red in picture number one above, I can use buttons for that without making myself uncomfortable. Two tight gowns both with buttons makes for the inner layer ones being squished against the body in a most uncomfortable way.

The lining of the dress The sleeves being cut Sep 26, 2004 - This dress has pretty much been dormant for a while. Sewing circle Saturday on the 25th I devoted to being lazy, as I did the one previous. On the 11th I drew my sleeve-pattern from the description in The Medieval Tailors Assistant. That was pretty much it for last meeting. This weekend I came prepared:
On Friday I got my yellow linen out, this will be the lining, and cut out the pieces for the dress. I only angled out the front and back body blocks at the sides, not centre front/back, which left pieces in the layout on the fabric that I could use for gores.

In the picture to the left you can see how I temporarily sewed the pieces together and then pinned on the two gores at centre front. At the back I have a single gore. I could do it the other way around, but I probably need the lacing to go down to where the gores start in front to be able to get in and out of this dress comfortably, so I chose this way instead. I had that already done and the only thing I did to it at sewing circle was spread it out and take a picture, then I tackled the sleeves. I tackled them badly. The picture showing the pattern on the fabric is nice, I did the pinning very well, but when it came to cut them out it was a mess. Discouraged by that I did other things instead. Hopefully next update will be more interesting.


The seam attaching the two pieces of the lining
The backstitching on the sleeves
The look of the finished seam on the inside.
The two finished sleeves
The finished seam from the outside.
Oct 17, 2004 - This weekend I started on the assembling of my sleeves by sewing on the extension pieces I cut out for the lining layer after the botched first attempt. I decided since the sleeves were so bad that I should cut them in half, along the front-line, with the grain and shorten them so I could attach flared pieces at the bottom, thus getting the lovely cone that goes to cover the top half of my hands. Sewing those together was a nice way to spend the shortened Saturday sewing circle, and I was so inspired that when I got home I cut out the sleeves from the shell fabric and started stitching away. I decided to treat the layers as one and started with a backstitch along the two long seams of the sleeves. I think I did quite a good job on the sewing, taking relatively small stitches fairly evenly all along the way. The picture I have of the backstitching is taken on the reverse-side from the sewing. Once the seams were done up I clipped the linen lining layer down to around half the seam allowance and pressed the seams open. Finishing the seams up by folding the shell seam allowance back under itself it was a fairly quick job to stitch it all down with evenly spaced stitches. I think it looks good, even though in a couple of places the seam allowance was accidentally clipped on the shell fabric as well as the lining and the fold had to be very, very shallow.

The finished cuff Oct 23, 2004: "A day (or three) late, and a dress short." - I have another picture of the sleeves. I was in such a good groove with the hand-sewing that I wanted to do more of it, and looking at the cuffs I decided exactly what to do with them. Rather than folding it up like a hem on itself, like the picture above shows, I decided to go with sleek and folded the two raw edges inside the sleeve and slipstitched the opening together. Said and done, I did it while listening to an audio-book and was quite pleased with the resulting cuff. Now all they lack is an armscye to attach them into and the dress will be done! (Hah...)

Oct 31, 2004: The first cut - Yup, I finally got my shell fabric cut out. On Friday I tested a small swatch of it on the wool cycle of the washing machines here, and it worked beautifully with basically no change in the fabric, so I threw the whole length in the wash and nursed it through its program and a hanging in the warm-air cubicle to dry it all out. Thus pre-washed I brought the fabric to sewing circle and finally got the pieces cut out. I actually have just under a metre left of this wool now, with sleeves already cut out and finished, I can easily get a hood out of this amount if I want.

Nov 20, 2004: Thoughts on surcote - I really like the look of Elizabeth's sleeves on the surcote in this folio of Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

Feb 23, 2005: At last, some progress - I have in fact made progress on this project. I brought it home with me over Christmas and at that time assembled the lining and the shell separately into garments. I then had two open-fronted robes to put on. Woo, Yay. I took two pictures of the backstitching and flat-felling on the lining as well. After Christmas I have not done very much sewing at all, but I have now sewn the lining and shell together all along the front edge and around the neckline with silk thread. I finished this work at last Saturday's sewing circle. Next step is to (1) clip seam allowances, (2) press seams and (3) stitch seam allowances down neatly before (4) turning the whole thing inside out and (5) attaching the sleeves. The front edge will be closed by lacing, so I have to (6) do eyelets (about a million of them), then (7) whipstitch the rest of the front closed and (8) turn a hem in at the bottom and (voilá) this dress will be done! Oh, (9) will be to (find or) manufacture lacing cord.

Mar 5, 2005: Almost done now...- Well, today's sewing circle was very nice. It was only I and the hostess, plus a newbie who came to her first Tuesday meeting last Tuesday and today came to be inspired to make her own garb. This meant that there was less chattering at the tea-table and more sewing got done than usual! So, looking at the list from last update I did 1, 2, 4 and 5. I skipped 3 as these seams will be entirely encased and not likely to move anywhere. I also did a simple running stitch about 4-5 mm in along the edge of where I turned the dress inside out. This to make sure the lining stays hidden at the edges, and it also helps protect the raw seam allowance on the inside.

I then also pinned the sleeves on, decided it was good and stitched those on with a backstitch all the way around. Amazingly, they fit the armscye without any puckering or pleating. Now left to do is:

  1. b) Sleeves, well, actually just fell the seam there.
  2. Eyelets on about 50 cm of the front
  3. Whipstitch from there to hem
  4. Hem the dress
  5. Lacing cord procurement.
And after that is done, I will probably need to re-do the back of the neckline, as it looks a bit odd right now. It will probably profit from being cut a little lower.

Eyelets all done Apr 8, 2005: Eyelets of Doom - Actually, the eyelets were not that bad this time. Despite there being 52 of them. I did half while watching "The Empire Strikes Back" at last sewing circle, and I did the rest now and then every day since then. When you break it up into smaller time-slots it all goes that much quicker. Anyway, regular buttonhole stitch, silk buttonhole floss and my trusty bone awl and voila - we have eyelets. I also added a facing to the edge where my lacing is, with more of the shell fabric and there's a fairly good shot of that here. It was meant to show the inside of the eyelets, but never mind.

Ideally this should mean I only need to hem the gown and whipstitch the front closed (7 & 8) as I can use the cord I have been using so far as a lace. At least it does not scream "Replace me, I'm a bad, bad cord" which is good. We do not, of course, live in an ideal world so I must also add a strip of fabric to the hem because it is uneven and does not even reach my feet at the back. Bugger, and again, with feeling, Bugger.

Trying it on Apr 16, 2005: It looks like a dress - Well, the weekend so far has been productive. I found all the lost patterns, and decided what to do about the hem. I was also able to remember to take pictures of me trying on my dress, and you see me in it to the right. I am wearing the chemise in this picture as well, and it can be seen peeking out in the left of the picture. Hopefully this problem will go away once it has sleeves. There is some strange draping doing on right where the lacing ends, and the gores are inserted - I think I will opt for flaring the front body blocks out at the front rather than adding width by gores here next time.

The chemise itself is drafted from a rough pattern which I took from my finished dress. All curves in the torso were eliminated and I extended the skirt to the full width of the fabric once I hit the hips. This means a simple four-panel white linen dress, with a neckline somewhat larger than the middle layer dress so it will not be seen. It is only lacking sleeves and then it will be done. Working with linen is most satisfactory.

The Result

The finished dress The finished dress June 2, 2005: An update after the fact - The gown is finished. Nearly. I had it wearable and at the event (Double Wars) I hemmed it and wore it being quite pleased with the result. To the left is one of the two pictures of me wearing it. To the right is the other. The gown is most comfortable, and the linen lined wool over a linen chemise kept me quite warm enough long into the night with the liripipe hood to cover my shoulders and chest. I did wear it with the proper headgear and with my hair up in braids the day before, but I took no pictures. Unfortunately I had also skipped my pretty belt with mounts for the generic SCA ring-belt for these pictures. In the one to the right I am holding up the skirt, which also shows a bit of the lining peeking out - I need to take out my hem, adjust for the lining having stretched a little bit more than the shell fabric, and redo it. Other than that, I still have not got proper lacing cord, so I used a bit of narrow satin tape to lace it. It is unobtrusive, but not ideal.

Re-hemming September 2, 2006: The re-hemming - Although it has now been done for some time (since June 17th to be exact) I decided that this dress diary deserved an update on the state of the hem. In the photo to the left you can see how horrible it looked after doing it on site at my first Double Wars. I finally decided that I could not leave it like that and set about with mister, iron, scissors and pins to rectify the situation. It turned out very nice indeed.

Photo Gallery

For images I may not have linked in the diary, close-ups and overviews et cetera please have a look at the photo gallery.

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