Back to basics

In my plans for 2017, one of the big projects was a burgundian gown. That means medieval, 15th century to be exact, and a totally new period for me. And, of course, a new period means new underwear.

Medieval underwear is relatively simple, especially compared to the 1870’s bustle period I did last time. Although not a lot has survived from the era, we have enough visual material to get an idea. The general consensus seems to be that a smock/shift of linnen is worn close to the skin. Linnen could be easily washed and bleached, and was therefore suitable as first layer. You see both sheer and solid smocks, with straps or long sleeves. We know very little about construction, the most common guess is that these are similar to smocks in later centuries.

Lara Corsets - 15th century guide to Women's clothing during England's War of the Roses. The detail on some of these images is astounding.:

Smock with longer sleeves

corset-like undergarments? You can see the lines of stitching which form channels for what is probably cording. An undergarment like this would completely explain the shape and fit kyrtles from the mid14th century thru the 15th. I don't buy the tight, supportive dress theory at all. A corseted chemise such as these would be far cheaper to make in the first place and remake ...:

Smocks with straps

On top of the smock you normally see a kirtle, a basic dress. Kirtles come in various types, short/long sleeves, lacing front or sides, with/without waistseam. They are often worn as under-dress, but also on their own for the lower classes/work wear. A burgundian gown would always have at least one kirtle underneath. Evidence also exists that more than one kirtle was worn at times.

Les Tres Riches Heures du Jean, Duc de Berry, created in 1416:

Short-sleeved kirtle on top of a long-sleeved smock

 

Kirtles also often seem to serve as supportive garments. One medieval bra-like garment has survived, so these did exist, but they seem to’ve been more rare. Generally, the kirtle is cut in such a way that it sits very flush to the body, especially under the bust. That provides the necessary lift/comfort.

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Lengberg castle bra

 

So, before I start on my burgundian gown I’m making both a linnen smock and linnen kirtle. The kirtle is in progress, the smock is done! I’ve chosen to make a long-sleeved smock, as you often see hints of smock sleeves beneath kirtles with short sleeves. I also want quite a low neckline, so I can wear it underneath any type of kirtle neckline.

The pattern I went with is quite simple, identical front & back. A basic flared bodice block, with straight sleeves with gusset. Main inspiration came from the Medieval Tailor’s assistant book, although I kept the bodice straight down to the waist and flared from there. It’s made of plain linen.

Basic construction was done by machine to save on time, because no one is ever going to see the main construction seams on my smock. Finishing was all done by hand. In the end, I might have cut the neckline a bit too deep and it tends to fall off my shoulders when worn on it’s own. I suspect wearing a tight-fitting kirtle on top will fix that though, so I’m okay with it.

This is the only construction image I took… Finishing the neckline in a very narrow seam, because I’d cut it a bit too deep.

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And finished! I should probably iron it a bit…

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The finished neckline

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Holding out the sleeve, sowing the gusset and basic rectangle construction.

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White cotton – Underwear

I had a productive weekend, and made 2 new (under) garments. One is a new petticoat for over my 1860’s hoop, the other an Edwardian shift.

I started with the petticoat. My old one was quite heavy and seemed to do some weird things with my hoop dimensions, compressing it. As it was also not very period correct, being made of black polyester, I decided to make a new one. The new one isn’t quite as full, as I only had 3 meters of fabric, but it should do the job.

It consists of 2 rectangles, the first gathered to the waistband and the second gathered to the first. I started with the first rectangle, and put it on my hoop to measure for length.

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I then drew a line along the 2nd full hoop (so not the half-circle ones). I sewed the bottom strip along this line, and actually ended up with a petticoat which is pretty even along the hem! It’s just a bit short, due to lack of fabric, but with a velvet over-skirt (which is quite heavy), that shouldn’t be a problem. If I’ll ever make a new skirt for over this hoop with less volume, I might need to make another petticoat as well though.

 

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The second thing I made was an Edwardian shift. I used the Truly Victorian Edwardian underwear pattern (top left is the shift):

Edwardian Underwear

 

 

I ended up skipping the lace along the arm holes, and just made a small seam there. It has lace along the neckline, and 4 pin-tucks in the front and 2 in the back. I pieced the back, because I was using left-over fabric and couldn’t fit the whole thing without a seam. I quite like it, there’s just something about white cotton, lacy underwear.

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Front

 

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Front-detail

 

 

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Back

 

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Back detail

 

Regency shift

When buying the fabric for my regency stays, I decided to also buy some linen to someday make a shift. I can wear the stays over a shirt with a wide neckline, but I already had the pattern for the shift (Regency Underthings Pattern, from Sense & Sensibility), so why not do it right. I sewed up the shift this weekend, it does make for some quick sewing! I cheated a bit by doing it all by machine though. I didn’t have any white cord, so the cord is dark red (a leftover from a corset string), but I actually quite like it. I also found out I hadn’t bought enough fabric, so I slightly narrowed the shift and instead of using bias to make the casing for the string I simply hemmed the neckline with a string in it. No idea if any originals do it this way, but it saves fabric, so that at least is historically accurate!

The shift:

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And one of me in the shift and stays. Not a very good picture, but just to get an idea of the fit.

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