I really like this gown.


So I made one.  That’s it:)

This is the hat – I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out

My Early French Hood

I don’t have a good pic to the dress unfortunately – in most of them I have a mantle over it – maybe someone else will have one.

Here I’m trying to figure out how to get up from my knees while wearing 15lbs of velvet, silk, and fur.

get up

Alex me dress cropped

me looking down

my cloak

Here I’m doing Dr. Evil for some reasonone million dollars

I’ve been pondering this hood for the past couple of years and even made several different patterns for it. Frustratingly, none of them ever looked quite like those depicted in illustrations.

The explanation often given for this problem is, “it’s the artist’s conception, it didn’t/couldn’t really look like that”.

I’ve never been comfortable with that reasoning.

Artwork in the 15th century was certainly stylized, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the clothing didn’t look essentially as it is depicted.  I never like to assume that because I can’t get it to look right, that it just wasn’t so!  Extant examples of clothing are rare; art is often the only clue we have.  Dismissing it removes one of the few means we have to determine the success of a project.

It arguably gives more insight into “what was” if an object is made using period-plausible methods and patterns AND the result looks reasonably like those depicted by its contemporary artists.  It’s also pretty exciting when it happens!

This brings me back to the mystery of this particular hood.  Someone recently told me they thought it must be simple;  just a piece of cloth tied around the head.  That’s the same theory I’d been working with all this time.  Her comment also made me recall a lady at Pennsic telling me the she believed medieval people would have done “whatever was easiest” to achieve a result, and this got me thinking.

Many extant objects tell a much different story.  In our busy modern age we tend to be convenience-driven, much more so than our medieval counterparts.  Consider as just one set of examples, the extant clothing finds from Greenland.  Far from being “simple”, or made the “easiest way possible”, many show complicated cutting layouts, extensive seam finishing, and even unnecessary false seams added, presumably, for the sake of symmetry.  The makers appear to be more interested in esthetics than ease or simplicity.

With this in mind I chose to approach the hood from the opposite perspective. I gave up simple.

My two new objectives were:

-I wanted a pattern that could be made with little-to-no wasted fabric.
-I wanted the finished result to look like the artwork examples.

The characteristics of the hood as shown in artwork examples are:

The crown is rounded and fits smoothly over the back of the head

The front edge is chin length or just slightly longer; it can be wider with a turn-back or not.

The “ties” are only long enough to tie on top of the head or overlap slightly, they don’t wrap back around the head.

The ties are wider in the back and gather or taper down to being narrower by the time they meet.

Lastly, the look I want most to achieve, the ties follow a gathered “swoop” from the back to the front without sticking out or being too bulky.


After two years, three completely different designs,  four minor variations, many cups of tea,  and at least a dozen more grey hairs,  I finally hit on a design I think really works.

It fits well, is comfortable, doesn’t slip off my head, makes excellent use of fabric with zero waste, and ……….looks like the art!  Yay! :D

It IS more complicated than just a piece of fabric tied around your head, but in the end it’s still fairly simple and works up very quickly – I can make one in just a few hours:  Here is the pattern!

Final pictures and a photo diary to follow.

I have to take some better photos of this but here’s one – the crown has come untucked so it doesn’t look the best.

Update!  I’ve added a few more photos which are hopefully a little better:




Here is an alternate pattern/layout: Alternate Coif layout

Posted by: sevenstarwheel | November 27, 2011

Ashmolean Tudor Costrel – for those really long trips

The last costrel I made was an attempt at reproducing a tiny lovely little example held by the Museum of London, measuring only 4”x3”.  So now, why not head for the other extreme?  I became interested in this huge one from the Ashmolean Museum Oxford when I first came across it doing a Google image search.

Tudor Costrel belonging to the Ashmolean Museum Cambridge

Its measurements are given as 16” long and 13” tall by Oliver Baker in Black Jacks and Leather Bottells.

I have a another good photo of it which I believe came from one of John Waterer’s books, either “Leather in Life” or “Leather and Craftsmanship” although I can’t be certain as I neglected to label the photo copy.  The plate gives it as being 16” long as well, although the information may well be second-hand from Baker.

So far, I have been unable to determine a few things:
-How deep the costrel is
-How thick the leather is
-Whether or not it has an extra layer of leather in the handle, or around the ends

Baker also contains a few paragraphs about large costrels including part of a poem “Farewell to the Tower Bottles” by John Taylor, poet, waterman, and apparently disgruntled former wine-collector of 14 years.

John Taylor. Not happy, not happy at all.

The tower bottles were used to collect a “gift” of wine for the Constable of the Tower of London.  This tradition was purportedly very old, and certainly in place formally as early as the 1400’s.  “Regulations framed during the reign of Richard II for the Government of the Tower of London” (see Archaeologia, Vol 18) states that “…the said Coustable shall have, for every Galley that commeth, two roundletts of wyne, and of all manner of dainties a great quantitie” and “…. of every Shippe that cometh with wynes, two bottells, either of them contayning a gallon”

This agrees with John Taylor’s account of there having been two bottles, but the size may no longer have been a gallon each.  The size of the tower bottles was the source of a lawsuit at the time, between the Constable of the Tower and merchants who alleged the bottles had gotten bigger over the years.  Mr. Taylor mentions volume in margin notes accompanying his poem twice.  In the first instance he writes “I filled the two bottles being in quantity six gallons from every ship that brought wines up the river of Thames” but then later he notes “At 3 gallons from a ship, and some but 1 gallon and a half, I account 30 ships allowance is the quantity of a hogshead…”

This doesn’t quite tally.  At 63 wine gallons per hogshead this would mean that the average collected per ship was 2.1 gallons, fairly in line with the Richard II statutes.  Perhaps punctuation, or the lack thereof, is the culprit.  Read as “ I filled the two bottles, being in quantity six gallons, from every ship” changes the meaning significantly.  It may be that the bottles were in fact six gallons each, or three gallons each totaling six, and that it took more than one ship to make up the total collection.

Weight is another consideration.  A three gallon costrel, full, would weigh approximately 27-30 pounds. (25 for the liquid contents)  A six gallon, over 50 pounds.  It seems more reasonable to imagine someone carrying two three-gallon costrels weighing a total 50-60 lbs, rather than 100 lbs or more as it would be if each were 6 gallons.

Baker also notes another example of a very large costrel (pg 181) from the collection of a Mr. W. J. Fieldhouse which is given as having a capacity of three gallons.

So assuming three gallons is a good capacity to aim for, and that the costrel is 16” x13” I resorted to….*gasp* MATH to estimate the depth (and my friends all said I’d never use it again after high school): Ashmolean Costrel calcs

A depth of 167mm gives something close to the three gallons needed and looks right.  It would be difficult to make this costrel with the known dimensions hold much more than three gallons.  Making it more or less would result it either a very fat or strangely thin (and unstable) bottle.  Three gallons seems just about right.

Next post: This is going to take too much leather to make more than once so “Making a mock-up with paper and felt”

Posted by: sevenstarwheel | November 27, 2011

Mary Rose 81A2218 – an interpretation of a Tudor Leather Bottle

In the past few months I’ve been experimenting with flask-style leather bottles made with a mold.

The accepted method for making this style of bottle is to sew two flat pieces of leather together, wet them, and then pack with sand to create the “pumpkin-seed” shape.

For a number of reasons my belief is these were, instead, more likely made by molding over a wooden form.

For more information read my write-up on the project HERE.  Likewise have a look at The Leather Working Reverend who inspired the asymmetry of this design.

Here’s the finished bottle:

Finished Bottle


Hand carved stopper. The Leather washer is "glued" on using brewers (pine) pitch. This one was made from a maple branch.

Close up of the dolphin motif imprinted using a hand-carved maple stamp.

The stamp carving was inspired by this guy!

Posted by: sevenstarwheel | May 2, 2011

Burgundian: Finished Vneck Gown

I’ll be posting some more shots of the various layers when I get time, but here is the final gown with all it’s accessories.

Burgundian gown and accessories - finished!

Posted by: sevenstarwheel | May 2, 2011

Burgundian: Truncated Hennin

Here’s the truncated hennin I made to go with my gown.  I wish now I’d made it a bit taller/bigger and I’ll have to shorten the veil a bit so it fits under my chin tighter.

I’ll be posting the “how to” on this hennin shortly.

On the left, portrait of a young girl, Petrus Christus, after 1460. On the right...me! 2011.

Posted by: sevenstarwheel | April 17, 2011

Burgundian V-necked Gown

A friend of mine asked me to help her with patterning and making a Burgundian gown.  Before starting on her expensive and gorgeous brocade I thought it might be a good idea to try the dress myself in a less expensive fabric.

I have had mixed feelings about this gown as I went along.  I normally do not like to use man-made fibers and I like my clothing to feel like clothing not a costume.  None-the-less court apparel is a bit like a costume anyway.


The main fabric is a deep-red micro-fiber velvet backed with a white cotton canvas which makes it look like it’s lined.  I liked the way the light caught the folds in the store making it look like something out of van der Weyden.

The fur collar and cuffs are “budge” the period name for lamb or sheepskin with the wool left on.  Budge was a cheaper fur in the 15th century, it’s not too likely that a lady who could afford a velvet gown would have it trimmed in a low-end fur but since I’m using a man-made velvet I wasn’t prepared to spring for a more expensive fur and I preferred the look of the real budge over a faux fur.

The hem, however, is made from a long pile faux astrakhan (lamb fur)  which matches the real fur fairly well (I needed a LOT for the hem, couldn’t afford the real stuff for that!).

Design and Pattern.

Some time ago I worked with a group to recreate Mary of Hapsburg’s Coronation gown seen here.

When I look at M of H’s gown it always seems out of place for the 1520’s.  I can’t help but wonder if it, or at least its design, was reused and is of an older style.   Many of its features, the deep V neck, the collar, the cuffs, the overall silhouette have some similarities to Burgundian fashions from 40 or 50 years prior.

In this project I wanted to explore the idea of using the same cut to create a Burgundian Gown.  Mary’s gown has a waist seam.  While it’s generally thought Burgundian Gown’s did not we usually see them worn with a wide belt which would tend to obscure a waist seam if there was one.

Waist seams on kirtles are depicted in art work from the period so it would seem that the idea of making the dress in two parts was not unknown.

Here you can see the layout of the Mary of Hapsburg gown.  A bodice with a full circle skirt attached.  The waist is off-set toward the front of the circle making the front floor length and the back longer.

For my gown I’m using about 2/3 of a circle instead.  Unlike the M of H gown, the front and sides are floor length and the skirts only extend into a train at the back as this is the silhouette most often seen for Burgundian.

Note the skirts for the lady on the left.  They appear fairly narrow from the front, are floor length at the sides and the train extends out the  back.

Here you can see my pattern pieces for the gown.

Below is a slide show of the gown in production.

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Posted by: sevenstarwheel | April 16, 2011

Burgundian V-necked Gowns: Partlet

Here is my finished vest-partlet based on the theories I talked about in my last post.  I’m quite pleased with the way it’s turned out.  It fits well and gives the look I wanted.

It’s made from a fulled wool that doesn’t unravel.  Since I don’t need to hem the edges, there won’t be any bulky seams that might show.  I might eventually blanket-stitch or bind them.

The front panel is finished with a layer of velvet.

I’ll eventually post some pictures of the whole outfit one layer at a time so you can see how it fits over the kirtle.

Posted by: sevenstarwheel | April 11, 2011

Burgundian V-necked Gowns: Yet another placket theory

Portrait of a Woman, van der Weyden 1464

There it is

That mysterious V of fabric,  in the neckline of Burgundian-era gowns, so long the source of fierce debate.

This type of gown was usually the outermost of three layers of clothing.  A chemise would have been worn next to the skin, then an under-gown (the “kirtle”) often short-sleeved, topped by the V-necked gown itself.

In the deep V of the neck one of the under-layers, or something attached to the under-layer, shows:  the much-conjectured “Placket”.

The most popular theories about the placket are:

It’s a rectangle of fabric pinned onto the kirtle.
I don’t like this theory, never have.  It seems to me it would be fussy and might not stay taught.  Lucky for me this theory has been tested and written about by the lovely and talented Maistresse Mathilde Bourette  (see her excellent article at:  http://www.mathildegirlgenius.com/Documentation/VNeckGown2009.pdf)

She says it “wrinkles easily and if pinned tightly, pulls in shoulders of under dress visibly”.  Good enough for me!  I hereby cheerfully drop-kick this idea right into the poubelle .  I’m so thrilled not to have to even try this;  I will buy her the beverage of her choice at the Inner Vagabond next Pennsic (really, I will).

It’s a square necked, side-laced kirtle.
I like this idea much better, but many pictures show hems that aren’t the same colour as the placket.  Also, many of the plackets appear to me to look like velvet.  It seems unlikely many ladies would really have been wearing two layers of velvet gown.  I’ll call it plausible though.

To these two I add:

It’s an attached placket
A permanent part of the outer gown sewn onto one side of the neck and fastened up the other.  Why doesn’t this idea come up more often? I think it’s a sensible solution.  None-the-less there is some good pictorial evidence against it.

In the picture on the left, the placket looks as though it’s under the gown, not attached.

On the right, you can see that the sheer tucker is layered OVER the placket and pinned; not possible if the placket is attached.

This brings us to my current personal favorite theory….

It’s a vesty-partlety-thingy!

Sure it is!
Just look at these pictures, would I just make something like this up?

Stark Triptyque 1480 -detail

Well, yes I might*, and I am.  There’s no extant evidence for this.  But my theory is that the placket could be a type of partlet or short vest-like garment worn over or under the kirtle (depending) and under the gown.

This idea is inspired not only by depictions in art from the period but also by the extant stays of Eleanora of Toledo.  Yes, I know she lived from 1522 to 1562, some 50-100 years too late and in another part of Europe, none the less I believe her “stays” may provide a tantalizing glimpse into what “might have been”.

The stays are puzzling in of themselves.  From what I understand, they have no stiffening as you would expect from a payre of bodies.  They are made of velvet, an expensive fabric for a garment that didn’t show under the gown (I assume it didn’t).  Their purpose is sometimes given as having been worn for “warmth” in which case, wouldn’t wool have been just as good or better?

I wonder about the “stays”.  Were they really worn with the gown in life?  Were they contemporary to the gown or could they have been older?

Elenora is purported to have been ill and to have lost quite a bit of weight in the time before her death.  Could the ‘stays’ have been older, pulled from some trunk to help pad the gown over her thin frame either in life or in the rush to dress her for burial?

Whatever the case,  her “stays”,  worn under a Burgundian Gown would certainly give the desired look (except that they have a front opening).

This, to me, is a good answer to the question of the placket, and comes closer than some of the other solutions to giving the right results:

  • The vest-placket can be made of a small amount of expensive velvet.  The garment is small overall and the parts that don’t show could be made of other less costly fabrics if necessary.
  • It is separate from the kirtle, explaining kirtle hems that don’t match the placket in colour.
  • It would stay smooth without tugging at the kirtle or gown.
  • If made side-laced, would look like the illustrations in contemporary art.

So with all of that said.  Step two – make one!

Now that I have my burgundian “harnys” (buckle) I need the girdle to go with it.  Ideally I would like it to be tablet woven, however I can’t tablet weave (yet!:)) and, as much as I’d love to, I can’t justify investing in one made by someone else, like this amazing red girdle by Gina B:  www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=336557646247&set=a.336549881247.152854.74960676247&theater.

I’ve chosen to make mine of silk damask.  There are a number of references to girdles which seem to be made of fabric including silk and “tissue” in the 1484 will of Dame Jane Barre (read a translation of her will by going to Google books and searching “will of Dame Jane Barre”), and damask in one of the wills of the Paston family in 1487 (see http://www.larsdatter.com/wide-belts.htm).

After considering every colour of the rainbow, I finally settled on a deep green like Margaret Van Eyck’s (below); I like olive-y greens with red or burgundy like my gown will be.

I found a checked silk that I liked and dyed it green.

Go to my flickr page to see the girdle’s progress diary: http://www.flickr.com/photos/50505297@N00/sets/72157626242966295/

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