After making a medieval smock, it was time for a kirtle!
Definitions are tricky, and I’m no expert on Medieval fashion, but as far as I could find the term ‘kirtle’ generally just means a close-fitting dress. Usually they were worn underneath another dress, or layered, but this depends a bit on the era and the social class of the wearer. Lower class working dress often had a kirtle as outer dress, while an upper class person would be much more likely to only wear them as a base layer.
Blue kirtle worn over what seems like just a smock. Short sleeves, clearly working dress.
Kirtles were probably most often made of wool. The other option is linen, which was more often used as fabric for undergarments. I’ll be making mine out of linen, also because I’m mainly making this dress as undergarment for a silk burgundian gown and I suspect linen will be more comfortable (=less warm) than wool. But I also want to be able to wear it on its own, which means a linen kirtle as outer dress. I believe this did happen, but was most likely as a working outfit, and not really what a higher class lady would wear.
I’m making a green linen kirtle. There’s plenty of examples of green dresses, but in retrospect I’m not entirely sure how likely this would be, especially as outer dress. The reason for that is that linen can be a bit tricky to dye, it doesn’t take color quite as well as wool or cotton. Additionally, green isn’t the easiest color for fabric as it requires 2 layers of dye, a yellow and a blue one, dye specifically for green didn’t exist yet. That makes green a more expensive color. Taken together, it makes me wonder how likely it is that a linen, more lower class kirtle is green. If anyone has any thoughts on this I’d love to know!
I’m sticking with it though, as I do love the color. You do also see plenty of green in paintings, which makes me wonder if it’s because it was more expensive as a dress color, so showed status, or also because green paint was easier? Anyway, here’s an example of a green kirtle.
Anyway, on to the dress diary! I patterned the kirtle using a variation of this method. The difference was that I didn’t lie down, and didn’t have anyone helping me. That mainly just meant more taking it off in between to pin, then putting it back on again. For the gores and sleeves I used the Medieval tailor’s assistant book by Sarah Thursfield as base. I read some conflicting things about the width of the gores, and in retrospect I think I made them a bit too wide. I suspect the variation comes from variations in gore height, mine are actually not that high up, which means they could be narrower. I might go back and change this in the future, but for now it’s fine.
After patterning & cutting, the first thing I did was sew the lacing holes. My kirtle will be front lacing, with 19 eyelets on both sides. Suffice to say, sewing those took a while.
Patterning, fitting, cutting & sewing
With the eyelets done I could check the fit, and as that was right I moved on to the sleeves. Back to mock-up time! I’m pretty happy with how these turned out, and the mock-up shows I could move my arm, which was the most important thing.
Never mind the huge seam allowances, I tend to be a bit cheap and avoid cutting in mock-up fabric. But I could move!
With the sleeves in, I made cloth buttons. Again, as I’d never done this before, google helped me out. This was a great tutorial, and after a couple of tests I got it down.
Follow the link above to get a description, but this is what the process looked like.
After the buttons, time for button holes. They didn’t turn out very pretty, but they’re functional. My main problem was a combination of too many fabric layers (hem+facing made 5 layers in some places) and thin thread. I really wanted to use silk thread though, and I couldn’t find that any thicker, so I tried to stitch super close together and be patient. That took ages, and didn’t make it perfect, but a little better. Conclusion: try to avoid too many layers when sewing button holes!
When buttoned they look okay, not perfect, but good enough.
Final thing was finishing. Although I did the main seams by machine (I know, cheating, and not correct at all but quicker), I did hand-finish all the edges.
So now it’s done! To take the pictures I also made a fillet (following the Medieval Tailor’s book again), and a round linen veil, 1m across. I was greatly helped by this tutorial for the size, and a short instagram tutorial she made for narrow hems. I think I need to wash the veil because it’s a bit stiff still, which makes it hang a little weirdly, but overall I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. It definitely finishes the outfit!
The full dress:
And a little closer (I do love the little sleeve buttons!)