I have another blog

Good evening, dear readers,

I know things have been quiet here in the world of Romanesque clothing and I apologize for that.  However, I do other costuming besides 12th century and I recently started a blog for those projects as well, since they do not belong here.  If any of you are interested, the other blog is called “Wencenedl’s Closet” and my most recent post is about the dress I’ve made extrapolated from the shirt of the Skjoldehamn find:



Dress Diary – Wool Bliaut

My laurel (to whom I am apprenticed for costuming) and I have a medieval-style contract, part of which is that she agrees to “pay” me for my service in fabric.  The fabric she gave me the second year as her apprentice is a lovely dark burgundy wool.  I immediately knew I wanted to make a bliaut from it — as I’ve previously mentioned, it’s more likely that bliauts were made of silk or wool than linen.  I purchased trim to that end, but then the project languished.  I’m picking it up again.

Uma Thurman Maid Marian wedding dress

My original vision for this dress was inspired by a movie, the 1991 Robin Hood with Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman (NOT Prince of Thieves).  In it, Maid Marian wears a brown dress with cream embroidery, and there’s even a scene of her being fitted in this dresUma Thurman Maid Marian dress fittings.

There are some things I see as wrong with this dress as a bliaut; most predominately the complete lack of ruching across the abdomen.  While it’s true there are images of what are evidently bliauts without that kind of decorative gathering of the fabric, they are generally styles that don’t show side lacing.  While the sides of this interpretation are not laced in the usual way, they are fastened and in a way that leaves rather pronounced gaps. It reminded me immediately of the side of the dress of “the lovers” from the Hortus Delicairum.

Hortus Deliciarum Lovers - lacing detail

Now it could be argued that the scallops in that drawing are merely the original artist’s attempt to show the ruching created by “standard” bliaut lacing, or that they are an artifact created by Christian Maurice Engelhardt when he copied the miniatures in 1818.  However, the scallops are interesting and they are something I have wanted to experiment with, so this bliaut will have clasps on the sides instead of lacing.  I’m also drawn to the rounded, decorated neckline, a detail more common in Germanic illustrations of the period than French ones.

So … where does the project stand?

Well, I have all the pieces cut out (… except the underarm gussets, which I can’t seem to find.  That’s OK; I have extra fabric.)

Six full gores and four half gores

Six full gores and four half gores

The neck facing is (mostly) sewn in and the upper arm pieces are attached.

The neck facing is (mostly) sewn in and the upper arm pieces are attached.

These are lower sleeve pieces.  All the maunches in the Hortus Delicairum are volumous.  These have been bag lined with steel-grey linen that matches the trim I'm going to use.  They are, unfortunately pretty wrinkly from storage.

Lower sleeve pieces. 

All the maunches in the Hortus Delicairum are voluminous. These have been bag lined with steel-grey linen that matches the trim I’m going to use. They are, unfortunately pretty wrinkly from storage.

My first steps are going to be to iron the sleeves and finish attaching the neck facing.

12th Century UFOs

UFOs – Unfinished Objects.  Every crafter has then.  I’m not sure every costumer has them (I’m sure some costumers are much more diligent finishing projects than I am), but I do:

12th Century UFOs

The light brown/autumn gold linen in the back left is the pieces to make a new underdress for the bliaut I made from a cream-coloured sari with a copper-coloured border.

The green wool and deconstructed fox fur coat is going to be a pelice.

The navy blue linen and red & blue trim is the start of a dress inspired by the blue tunicella from the coronation garb of Roger II.

The green linen with the black border is man’s tunic also inspired by Roger’s blue tunicella.  The embroidery is a joint project between my husband & I.

The burgundy wool and grey linen twill is all the pieces for a bliaut.

(Not pictured are the man’s bliaut mentioned in my last post and an underdress intended to go under the burgundy wool bliaut.)

I’m going to tackle these UFOs in the coming months.  Hopefully have made this public in my blog will help keep me on track.  There is an SCA event in our province in two weeks called Tournoi du Coeur de Glace.  It’s my intention to wear the burgundy wool bliaut to Tournoi.

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 fabrics-store.com’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!

All About The Gores

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.”


West portal of St-Maurice Cathedral, Angers, France, left side. The statues were carved around 1170. The woman second from the right is the one in question.

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.

10 white gores for the Arrobliaut

8 white gores for the Arrobliaut. Apparently I forgot to take a photo of the 10 black ones.

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.

I Love Linen Contest

This is a picture of my finished heraldic bliaut, aka “The Arrochar Bliaut”.  I entered it in a contest sponsored byFabrics-store.com’s “The Studio” called “I Love Linen”.  The rules are:  “Share your best Arrobliaut Three Quarter Viewdesigns, whether it’s Apparel, Interior Design/Home Decor, Reenactment or a totally new and innovative use of linen, the sky’s the limit here. Please keep in mind that designs must be made primarily out of 100% linen fabric. Show your best work!

There is a “people’s choice” element to the competition and the voting is going on for another four days.  Once registered, people can vote once per day.  I would be honoured if any of my readers would consider voting for my dress.

The link is here:  http://fabrics-store.com/thestudio/index.php?r=photo/detailedPhoto&contest_id=10&id=1247

Thank you!

A Cheveçaille for the House Arrochar Bliaut

I like using period names for period things.  Minature Paris, Bibl Sainte-Geneviève, ms 0008, f 178vCheveçaille is the 12th century French term for a decorated flat yoke on a dress.

While there is not an extant ladies’ court dress which has survived from the 12th century which we can look at and say definitively, “oh, that’s how it was made,” there are extensive descriptions in the literature of the day, and numerous depictions in both sculpture and painting.  A recurring feature is a heavily decorated yoke, such as this one from an illustration in a Bible produced in Champagne around the year 1185.  In fact, Eunice Goddard, in her work, Women’s Costume in French Texts of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries asserted that that the cheveçaille “is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the twelfth century, and one which is not seen in the thirteenth”.

Rather than the very wide type of cheveçaille shown in the illustration above, for my heraldic bliaut (which is already a bit anachronistic) I decided to go with the SCA standard “keyhole” style outline.  Looking for inspiration for layout, I started with this design by Jane Stockton in Lochac, and redrew the fleurs as alternating compass stars and ermine spots, both elements used in the heraldry of my household.  I wanted it to work up quickly, so I did the embroidery with #5 perle cotton and added black jasper bead details.  There is a picture of the finished cheveçaille in my previous post.

I used four stitches/techniques in this work:

The large compass star was done in Bayeux stitch, outlined in stem stitch.Large Compass Star

The smaller compass stars were done using a “star stitch” technique described here: http://www.needlenthread.com/2012/11/stitch-play-star-stitch-snowflakes.html#comment-330847

Small Compass Star

The ermine spots were accomplished using stem stitch as a fill.

Ermine SpotFinally, the looping line which unites the elements was done using a braided chain stitch.  A tutorial can be found here:  http://www.embroidery.rocksea.org/stitch/chain-stitch/braided-chain-stitch/

Stem stitch and Bayeux stitch are demonstrably appropriate to the period.  Chain stitches are among the oldest embroidery stitches known, but I don’t know of any use of this particular variant in the 12th century.  I just liked the raised look.  The star is probably a modern technique and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was invented by the woman whose stitchery blog I linked to above.

The black and white embroidery is simple, but striking and suits the style of the dress very well.