One rather obvious feature of my heraldic ‘Arrochar’ bliaut is the gores. They stand out because there’s simply not a higher contrast combination than black & white! Unsurprisingly, it’s a feature I’ve been asked about several times over the past 6 six weeks since I debuted this dress.
Gores are a well-documented technique in medieval clothing construction; examples include the Kragelund tunic, which as been dated to 1100 (the very start of the 12th century). However, pretty much all of the extant examples place the gores in the side seams or center front/centre back. My dress is “double gored” with gores in two places in the front and back (in addition to standard side gores), and these gores centered over the legs. I started doing this about 9 years ago when a fellow re-enactor, Sarra Graeham of Birnham, was elevated to the Order of the Pelican (an award within the SCA). She made a bliaut for the event with these sets of twin gores. Her rationale was based on an interpretation of an image printed in the back of Eunice R. Goddard’s “Women’s costume in French texts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries”, of one of the jamb statues at St. Maurice Cathedral in Angers, France. She posted to the 12th Century Garb Yahoo Group list about it, noting, “fine pleats seem to issue forth from two points at the top of the thighs.”
Using extra gores has the advantage of making the skirt part of the dress fuller without putting too much stress on the gore point (the top) or creating two much of an extreme bias edge, both of which are potential problems when using single gores that are too wide. However, looking at the most recent photo I could find of the lady in question from St. Maurice I’m no longer certain I see now what Dame Sarra saw then when she was looking at Goddard’s reproduction of Farcy’s photo of the statue published in 1910 (Goddard credits the photo to Farcy (L. de). Monographie de la Cathédrale d’Angers, 3 vols and album (Angers, 1910).) So I will only go as far as to call this construction hypothetical.
As for the contrasting colours, that is again a nod towards an aspect of the “game” I play in the SCA, an attempt to adapt the parti-colour asthetic popular in the 14th century to the (hypothetical) 12th century construction method I chose to use for this dress. There are vanishingly few examples of parti-colour clothing treatments in the 12th century, although there are a couple, including a woman picture on a coffret from Vannes (c. 1177) and a squire in the Hortus Deliciarum (compiled between 1167-1185). Both of these are divided half and half, like later 14th centuries examples. However, since I was using single body piece construction method of the Kragelund tunic as my starting point, playing with contrasting gores suggested itself.
My next challenge was the width of the gores. I wanted the black and white sections to be of equal width at the hem. However, as my body piece was only 21″ wide to start with, that would yield rather paltry 6″ gores (after 1/2″ seam allowance were taken from 7″ sections) and not a terribly full skirt. But part of the fun of a bliaut is the full, swishy skirt! After playing with the math for a while, I decided to add in black micro gores on the sides of the four white gores I would be insetting in the body piece. This would allow me to end up with equal 9″ sections (at the hem) all the way around. So I cut 10 gores of white linen, each 10″ wide at the base, 2 gores of black linen, the same size as the white ones (there are three alternating gores in each side seam), and 8 skinny little gores of black linen, each just 3 1/2″ wide. Yes, this dress has 18 gores!
Piecing together the gores took almost as long … OK, maybe longer than playing with the math and cutting all the pieces. After that, it was a matter of setting the gores. There are several approaches to doing this, and perhaps outlining them will be another blog post (maybe a tutorial). What I did here to was cut a slit up to where I wanted the top of the gore to be (measure 3 times, cut once!), and use regular seam allowances. I cut my gores so that the point where they were an inch wide at the top was at the height I wanted them to be. The rest of the triangle above that is seam allowance (yes, more math). Once the gores where sewn in place, this left a fold at the top. I pinched the fabric of the body piece and drew a line from the seam allowance to the fold that was about 2″ long, and then sewed a short seam along that line. This allowed the gore to be firmly set with no puckering, pulling or gapping.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the skirt turned out.