I’m starting a new bliaut – that’s a style of 12th century dress. There is some debate about the origin of the word … actually there’s debate about what the word itself referred to exactly in period, but I’m using it here in the sense that most 21st century re-enactors use it: a high status dress with a tightly fitted torso, a long full skirt, and hanging sleeves.
This particular bliaut is being made for a function for a history club I belong to: the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA inhabits a peculiar niche, part way between re-enactment and a LARP, catering on one hand to those interested in serious study of medieval period arts and crafts, and on the other hand to those who just wish Renn Faires lasted all year. In the SCA, I belong to a household called “Arrochar” (named for a village in Argyll, Scotland). Our heraldry includes compass stars and ermine spots and the decoration of this dress will reflect that. I’m not aware of any heraldic dresses from the 12th century, but most of my household have 14th century “personas” and heraldic clothing is known from that century. So this dress is a bit of an adaptation, to suit an aspect of the game, rather than a close interpretation of any specific 12th century artwork. I am making this dress in black and white linen. The choice of linen is a bit of a concession to modern re-enactor norms and North American summer heat. While linen is a perfectly period fabric, it does not take natural dyes as well as wool or silk and so the range of both dark and vibrant colours available to us today would not have been possible with 12th century linen. For that reason, it is likely bliauts were made in more costly wool or silk.
There are three basic approaches among re-enactors to making the bliaut. For this dress I am using the gored-skirt approach. My basic starting point for this kind of dress is Maggie Forrest’s article “T-tunic the Period Way.” The main body of the dress is cut as a single block, which makes for a very long piece of fabric! A basic dress for me is usually cut with a body about 18-19″ wide. However, I am going to be double goring this dress, so I cut it 21″ wide to allow for the extra seams I’ll need.
I like to finish the neckline first when I make garb, while the fabric is still flat and there are no sleeves in the way. This particular cheveçaille (the 12th century French term for a decorated flat yoke on a dress) is embroidered with the compass stars and ermine spots I mentioned above. Because I am not going for heavy authenticity on this dress and because I wanted it to work up quickly, I did the embroidery with #5 perle cotton and added black jasper bead details. The finished cheveçaille was sewn along the inside edge to the wrong side of the body piece, then turned to the outside. The outside edge of the embroidery was turned under and handsewn down.