The Bliauts I’ve Made

I have mentioned that I “play” at re-enactment in the Society for Creative Anachronism. There, I am an apprentice for costuming.  At the request of my Laurel (the woman I’m apprenticed to), following is a list of the bliauts I have made and the differences between them. (Note, this list is only my bliauts, not all my 12th century dresses — no cotes).

1.  The “Bliautardie”

We all make silly things when we are young.  Mine was an odd mash-up a bliaut and a cotehardie.  It was made of a lovely teal 100% microfiber found on the sale rack at Fabricland.  I used an modern 8-panel sundress pattern from Simplity choosen because it did NOT have princess seams (I knew that much).  I lengthened the dress to floor length and drafted my own “angel wing” sleeves.  It had a lovely row of tiny pewter buttons.  I loved it at first.  It now belongs to a friend’s teenaged daughter.

2.  Beginner Blue

My first “real” bliaut, made to entourage for Queen Genevieve of Ealdormere (who had an emphatically Norman persona) was made of linen-cotton dyed a light blue by my friend Larisa.  I used Maggie Forest’s “T-Tunic the Period Way” article and added large squares (folded in half to form triangles) to the bottom seam of the sleeves to make the classic droopy bliaut sleeves.  The body (under bust to hip) section was cut twice as long as my actually measurements to achieve the Chartres-style ruching when laced.  The neck was a simple vertical slit (1/3 behind the shoulder line, 2/3 in front) that forms a V-neck when my head pushes through.  All of this was following suggestions on the 12th Century Garb Yahoo Group list.

Unfortunately, the fabric from Larisa wasn’t quite enough, so I added darker blue gores.  Then it wasn’t quite long enough, so I pieced a band for the bottom of the lighter and darker blue scraps.  I used commercial brass eyelets for the lacing holes and I will never do that again.  The bottom two on each side pulled out and left gaping holes.  I did wear it for a long time because I liberally embellished the sleeves and neck with blue and silver trim from Drix at Calontir Trim (the one and only time he merchanted in Ealdormere) and having spent that much time on it, I wanted wear it!  It has now been passed on to my teenaged neice.

3. Blue Quartered & Cut

Made royal blue linen, this was made by folding a piece of fabric in quarters and tracing my previous dress.  This method is often dismissed as wasteful of fabric, but given a bliaut’s full skirts and sleeves, the only wastage is about a hand-sized piece in the underarm area.  I gave this one a keyhole neck, and sewed the eyelets by hand (I think).  It was decorated with narrow sari trim I bought in Little India.  I didn’t like the way it fit me after my pregnancy, but Countess Aryanhwy (Drachenwald) did, so I gave it to her.

4.  Purple silk Crown tourney dress

This dress was a long time in the making because I decided to embroidery motifs from my heraldry on the chevecaille.  Embroidering with silver metallic thread on silk noil is an exercise in frustration.   This dress took the rectangular construction (T-tunic the Period Way) as starting point, but was my first use of double gores (following the example of Dame Sarra (then of Ealdormere) and a discussion about them on the 12th Century Garb list).  It was also my first attempt at waterfall sleeves.  I ended up having to piece them to get the size I wanted.  It has a keyhole neck and eventually will have hand-sewn eyelets on both sides (they are currently only complete on one side).  I have worn this dress for the better part of a decade and generally have to have someone sew me into it!  It’s kind of my signature dress.

5. The Philosophy Dress

A discussion on the (you guessed it!) 12th Century Garb list about a pen & ink illustration in a German copy of the Consolation of Philosophy and the serendipitous discovery of some cotton fabric (hey, at least it’s a natural fiber!) with a woven diamond texture at Fabricland in Cambridge resulted in my Philosophy dress.  It is made in the German style, with a round neck and far narrower skirt (two side gores only; no front or back gores) cut to tea length instead of ankle or floor length, and is worn over a longer underdress.  I also had some old trim in my stash that had a nice repeating geometric that reminded me of 12th century motifs which I used to decorate it.  Unfortunately, I had already used a significant length of it to make a headdress for a Magi costume for a children’s Christmas play, so I only had enough to put a strip down the centre front (as in the illustration I was working from) and around the hem.

The sleeves were originally lined with yellow cotton broadcloth as that was the only fabric I could find that worked with colour of the trim.  Later I acquired yellow silk which I used to replace the yellow cotton.  These sleeve linings were cut larger than the outer sleeves and the extra fabric was pleated to place to try and re-create the billowing seen in the illustration.  I also found some red and white trim which worked well enough with the original trim and added around the sleeve openings and the neckline.  I also started adding some red glass beads and some faux pearls to dress it up a bit more, but never finished.  Due to its narrow cut this dress really doesn’t fit me post pregnancy (and perhaps more significantly post-nursing), although I did manage to get it on as a Halloween costume last fall!  I do have some scraps of the fabric and could perhaps put in both larger underarm gussets and a narrow strip between the side seams to adjust the fit.

6.  The Moralia Man’s Bliaut

This was intended to be a man’s style bliaut for a friend who was playing in the SCA with a Norman persona.  The inspiration was the illustration often referred to as “St George” (even though it’s not) from an early 12th century manuscript of the Moralia in Job from Citeau.  It was cut out of blue silk noil and was going have red, white, and blue trim.  However the project got derailed (*cough* cats *cough*) and he stopped playing and it was never finished.  The pieces are sitting in a basket in my laundry room …

7.  The Devestiture Dress

For my stepping down as a landed baroness, I wanted to try making the pleated-on skirt of the bliaut from a sari, following Maura Townsend’s instructions.  My friend Larisa who gave me the blue linen for my first bliaut wanted to make embroidered collars for my husband and I and she did a fabulous job.  She and I also spent a day scouring Little India for the right sari for this project.  I wanted a 100% silk sari with a plain (or a very simple patterned) white or cream ground.  That proved surprisingly difficult to find, but we eventually succeeded. The sleeves were cut in two pieces, a rectangle above the elbow and a trapezoid below.  Sections of the sari border were used for bicep bands.  The bodice section was self-lined and I used the tacked ribbon method of creating lacing openings, rather than eyelets.

The difficulties with this dress were that skirt was too light and that the material used for the lacing “ladders” wasn’t strong enough.  I have replaced the lacing structure, and I will probably add a layer or two of twill tape around the hem make it hang better.  I also didn’t have quite enough material in the skirt, in my opinion, but it does raise some questions to explore about the amount of fabric likely used for such a dress in period.

8. The Arrochar Bliaut

This is  my current best-known dress because I entered in’s “I Love Linen” contest and begged everyone I know to vote for it!

Made of 100% linen in black and white, the dress features an embroidered keyhole chevecaille, double gores (like the Crown Tourney Bliaut), and trapezoid sleeves (like the Devestiure Bliaut). Because I was in a bit of hurry, I availed myself of the eyelet feature on my new sewing machine.  I still plan to add some applique to this dress.

9.  (Work-in-progress) The Burgundy Wool Bliaut

This will be my first wool bliaut.  Watch this space for more about it as it gets made!


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