Sunday, March 22, 2015

Of Thread and Laces- and my story

No one taught me how to sew. I am self taught, and still learning a lot!

When I was a kid I experimented with crudely hand sewing some lacy curtains into a princess dress, which then proceeded to fray and fall apart, lasting only a few days. I was disappointed, but loved doing it. I would experiment with random things- gloves, embroidery, etc- but never really finished any projects, we couldn't afford fabric, patterns, or any other tools, nor had I any guidance, so things never worked out. My aunt had a sewing machine that had sat unused, that I was forbidden to touch, that she really didn't know how to use either.

First completed sewing projects
It wasn't until I was out of high school that I was able to purchase my own thrift store fabrics, and a mini clearance sewing machine. Still patterns I liked were too expensive- So I taught my self how to sew with pictures and unscaled internet patterns. I learned about seam allowances by having the first baby quilt I attempted fray apart on me. My first big project I decided to take on was sewing my wedding dress, a simple "medievaliod" 2 layer gown, and cloaks, sans patterns, for my now husband and myself 11 years ago. By then the internet was a thing we could afford and I could find tips and clues. After many drapes and fittings the items didn't turn out half bad. Turns out I have a intuitive nature when it comes to sewing.

Fast forward a few years, and several "historical" Halloween type costumes later. I met my good friend Kim at a local pagan gathering. I had taught her kids to make dandelion crowns, and me and her chatted. A couple days latter I discovered that I had shingles and was contagious- so contacted her to inform her her kids had been exposed. And we had hit it off- we both made homemade wine, loved to garden, were hippyish and interested in fiber/sewing. One summer I had a plot in her community garden, and practically lived at her farm that summer. She was the one who introduced me into the SCA. And so my addiction love of history and sewing has been enabled  nurtured, despite the mundane's attempts of resistance!!!

So on to Thread and Laces

One thing that took me awhile to figure out are the differences between all the threads- and what application to use for them. In all honestly I am still in the dark about some of it. For the longest time I would just grab whatever thread was handy (or affordable) in a color that was similar to my project without regard to type.

One thing that is occasional mentioned is the use of linen thread with linen fabric. I have yet to find a source of linen thread that is affordable for me. So what alternatives can be used with natural fabrics?

Red thread - stitches show when stretched
First off  Shiny thread is a big NO- see the red thread in the top picture. It is a poly thread. It is even, shiny and strong. It has a very smooth texture, and very little stretch. The problem with this thread is because it has no stretch, but is very strong, it has a tendency to pull the threads in the fabric- if it is under a lot of tension it will break the fabric threads.

Red thread- just a little tension tore the fabric
It is also slippery. It doesn't grip. This means 2 things- one if a stitch does break, the seam will unravel quite a bit. Also it will be harder to get the right tension on the fabric when hand sewing. It will have a tendency to pucker the fabric when trying pulling the thread.

Blue thread- Barely Shows when Stretched
The Blue Thread is also a poly thread, Toldi-lock Gutermann thread, it comes in large cones, (technically serger thread), and is inexpensive. I use this all the time. It has a sheen, but the thread itself is not so shiny, but is a bit thinner. It has a softer feel to it, some texture. It stretches a bit, but can break a bit easier than the super shiny poly.

The stretch this fabric has means that it stretches with the natural fabrics when under tension. The texture also means that it grabs the fabric. You can make tight stitches and the fabric wont gather and pucker behind it. This also means that when a stitch breaks, the seam unravels less.

Blue Thread -Can you find the stitch holes?
There are some draw backs to this thread- it has a tendency to tangle on itself when hand sewing. Also seems to leave a bit of lint in the sewing machine- which means brushing it out more often.

One trick I have learned- if you are machine sewing on something you know will be torn off (mock up sleeve for example), use the strong shiny thread as a bobbin thread, and the serger thread for the top stitching. When removing the item use a seam ripper to get the first few stitches, or backstitches, then pull the fabrics apart. The strong thread easily breaks the serger thread, with little damage to the fabric. Use caution with narrow seam allowances or extremely frayed edges.

The same principle with lacing for closing up a garment. The shinier and smoother the lace, the more it will slip and pucker. You want something with a bit of stretch and texture.

In the top picture, the string on the bottom is a big no-no. It is polyester, slippery, and no stretch. It will cause the fabric to gap and pucker, and slide all over.

The Black lace has texture, a bit of stretch, and is good for some applications. It can slide a bit, so garments may pucker over the course of the day as the lace adjusts. This is more of an issue with something that has uneven tension, such as an open V front. I use this on kirtles that just skim the body, not actually shaping.

The top white lace is a cotton cording, it has the roughest texture, with a bit of stretch, and easily stays where you put it. This lace is great for items where the tension will vary. I used this lace on my undergarments, It can be very tight under the bust, but not so tight on the bust itself. Takes more time and patience to adjust.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Supportive Medieval Under dresses

 What follows are some 14th to 15th Century images of fitted sleeveless under dresses. Also some links to great blog posts and articles that helped me find other info and sources. Dates and sources of these images can be found on the pinterest link below.

This and this are great posts on Medieval Silkwork that are some of the most in depth articles I have seen.

By My Measure also has this article about the breast mounds and cleavage visible in art. And her own example.

This web site has the most in depth images of Austrian Tyrol finds.- It is in German I believe- but the pictures speak for them selves.

This pinterest board of mine has some of the artwork in this post, along with others recreations and research. Check it out.

After all the info I have gathered I decided to make my own supportive garment. My biggest reason is because my weight can fluctuate massively from one day to the next. So I can make my other kirtles and surcotes more skimming and still have them fit on my bad days, without them gaping.

I decided to base mine off of the top image and the statue to the left.

The fabric I used was med/light weight of a Linen/Rayon blend, but otherwise hand sewn including lots of eyelets.

Here you can see the spiral lacing. I had to modify it after I had made it, because the fabric was too high into the arm pit and was chafing badly. So I lost the top couple of eyelets. Hence the unused eyelet near the top to create the spiral lacing. I only laced it on one side.

This is THE MOST COMFORTABLE thing to wear! I am a B cup, with a fairly high bust to start with, so I just need gentle shaping. But this could easily be supportive for a larger bust.

The front seam is curved, without any breast bags, or cups. The bodice was cut strait for about 9" under the bust line,  which has been folded up to create three layered band of about three inches long,  leaving only a single layer on over the bust. If you are bustier or want a warmer garment I would recommend more than one layer. As is this will be great at keeping my bust cool!

The lacing strips are 4 layers thick with eyelets every 3/4" Above the band the lacing can be let out or tightened depending on the look required for the garment, and the fluctuating size of my bust. The lacing at the band is kept tighter, so the garment doesn't shift.

The skirt is pleated and sewn onto the bottom of the band. The skirt keeps the band from flipping or bunching when doing actual things.

Drafting sleeves OH MY! Part 1- fitted sleeve

Simple Sleeve
So drafting sleeves- I have always just sort of avoided this. I was so concerned with wasting fabric I never "really" drafted them. I would take the measurement of my shoulder, the measurement of my wrist, and length of my arm from both the top of the shoulder, and armpit, add a inch for ease and seams. Voila- simple sleeve like the one to the right, seam placed to run under the arm, and add a gore to fill out the armhole,  never had to worry about right or left sleeve- they were both the same.

But these always had problems. I always had issues with the elbows, special with a few extra pounds. Always ended up with it pinching and digging into my skin when flexing my elbow. Some garments I was able to let out enough to fix this. One I tried to split up to the elbow crease, but was still to tight just above the elbow to be comfortable. So it ended up being short sleeves. Another still I added extra strips of fabrics around the elbow.

So apart from the movement issues, the garments of the 14th and 15th century often do not have seams running down the underside of the arm. Plus they are generally more fitted than I was able to achieve with my uber simple sleeves. Plus It finally got through my stubborn skull- that making a few drafts would probably be worth the time and energy despite "wasting" fabric.

I knew the basic principles of drafting sleeves, and even drafted them for others. So I decided to actually draft my own sleeves. I did some refresher research. Edyth Miller has a post here about sleeves, and a drafting prototype post that I based this sleeve off of. Others of interest include this article bmathildegirlgenius, or this one on Ikatbag.

On the Left Is a paper draft in progress for my sleeves. You can see the big difference between my flexed elbow measurement and the bicep just a couple inches above. The red dotted line represents where my old method of sleeve patterning would have been. OUCH!! no wonder I had so many issues.

Here is a almost finished pattern. (mock up number 4 I believe) The lines have been smoothed out, the s curve is in, and seam moved to the back of the arm. The first mock up I had I just sewed with the seam on the underside, and marked where I wanted the seam and cut it open- sorry no pics. I had major issues trying to draft out the gore in the under arm, but no matter what I did, it just wouldn't lay right and pulled strangely. Part of this may have been the fact that my armhole for the kirtle I am drafting this for was cut a bit low. I have issues with fabric rubbing in my armpit. So I prefer a small gore to a tight seam.

Also sleeves with this kind of seam placement Cannot go on either arm! I found that out the hard way when trying to figure out why my seam was ended up in front of my arm.

Fitting of the mock up before final tweaking. Full range of movement. Just a bit looser than desired. Please ignore the fact that my craft room exploded behind me, and my kirtle looks awful because I have mundanes under, and still have to take it in around the waist!

No problem bend elbow or flexing bicep!
 Elbow point is a quite noticeable when arms are straight.
 Seam placement is right!
Final pattern ( mock up number 5)- the S curve changed a bit, pattern slimmed down about 1/8th of an inch, and the elbow points smoothed out.

Final sleeves on now finished kirtle. Remember to mirror the pattern and mark which side is inside and which is out on fabric without a wrong side! Other wise you will sew one inside out and end up with 2 right sleeves.  Twice in my case. Grrr.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Angel Wing Surcotes

Nouvelle acquisition latine 1673, fol. 52v, Flore: millet. Tacuinum sanitatis, Milano or Pavie (Italy), 1390-1400.

This Dress. This dress is made of awesome.
I have fallen in love with this image. The angel wing sleeves that wave and drape like petals, The purple/blue combo. The soft looking layers, the dagging on the wrist. This dress has the high bust, with a gently scooped neckline, without tons of cleavage. she looks like she is waving to you in a friendly greeting.

I have been looking at several examples from this area and I like the angel wings, such a fancy way to show off finery, but without a bulky houppelande. The following images are also from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, and depict more of these angel wing surcotes. Click for larger images.
ERRR the real melons are behind us Sir!

Wings bottom right
Extra fancy!
Side Lacing

This dress (left and top of this post) is a good transition between the boat neck/gently supported bust of typical 14th century images, and the extremely high bust and scoop neck of the 15th century. See this link that compares bust silhouettes with. And this one for necklines of the 14th century.                                                                              What really intrigues me about this image is the drape of the sleeves. Most of the image I have found show the angel sleeves stiffer,  keeping a basic triangle shape.  Here is a beautiful example of the sleeves on another creation by Maistresse Mathilde Bourette. 

You can tell on the left side that the sleeve forms a 45 degree angle. Many of the other sleeves in this manuscript also have this angle, but these sleeves are soft and flowing. This drape is much more than what I have experienced with all but the lightest linens and silks. I am wondering if I can recreate this drape with linen cut on the bias. (now this is just a theory- and will be experiment with some mock ups shortly) Below is an experimental cutting layout that I will be attempting soon.
hypothetical cutting pattern for bias angel sleeves
This shows a shallow S curve sleeve head with it shifted to have the seam along the back of the arm. For my 18" armscyle this places my cut line approximately 9" from the corners. For me I only need 16" from my shoulder point to my wrist-  so a square yard of fabric should work for 2 sleeves.

to be continued....