Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Basic 14th Century Clothing

I've been taking a break while focusing on the farm and my business, since it's been summer, and things have been growing like crazy. On the plus side, my garden was the most productive it's ever been in 8 years. On the minus side, I haven't posted much of anything in months.

So I'll be catching up this week. I haven't accomplished much of anything, sadly, but I will start by catching up on those things that I have accomplished that haven't been posted.

First up, my class on Basic 14th Century Clothing.
Disclaimer: this is a class I created because I belonged to a 14th century Living History group for several years, and I had the examples and knew how to make them. I didn't do this research, I merely looked it up, compiled it, and presented it. If you're looking for new info on the 14th century, this isn't the place. What is useful (I hope) is the pattern drafting in the second half.

Basic 14th century clothing

During the course of the 14th century in Western Europe, fashion became much more complicated than it had been in the previous centuries. Clothing became more form-fitting, headwear became much fancier, and shoes became pointy and long-toed.
The introduction of buttons (from Germany in the late 13th century) made it possible to fit clothing very closely to one’s body without having to sew oneself into it all the time.

Always wash your cloth and iron it before cutting anything. Some people prefer to draw on the cloth with lighter or darker pencil or chalk. I do this only for chausses and quilting. I usually mark out the measurements with pins, and take them out again once it’s cut.
Always add seam allowance. Double it if you’re French-seaming.

Linen frays like crazy, so I usually French-seam it. Serging works just as well, but isn’t period (and requires a serger). If you don’t know how to make French seams, here’s how:
1)    The “Right” way: sew your seams from the right side of the fabric. Turn and press the garment. Now sew the seams again from the wrong side, making sure to keep the raw edge of your fabric in between the original seam and the new seam (so it’s hidden when you turn it right way out). This protects the raw edge, giving your garment a longer life.
2)    The easier way: sew your seam from the wrong side of the fabric, leaving twice as much seam allowance as you would if you were serging it instead. Fold and sandwich the raw edges together, press, and zipper stitch or if hand-sewing, use tiny stitches along the top edge of the new seam.

I use 3.5oz linen for undergarments, and usually 5-6oz linen for outer layers. I find it washes up fairly soft and is sturdy enough to wear for a long time.

I have been using wool flannel for my woolen garments. It is very heavy, and fairly expensive. It's quite hard (at least for me) to find lighter weight wool that is still medieval-style, but wool gabardine works quite well. After washing, the wool will shrink a fair amount. Keep this in mind when buying yardage. I have found so far that because of the fulling involved in washing the wool, the flannel hardly frays at all. Therefore I usually use a backstitch for security (the wool is thick enough that a running stitch would gap a lot), and don’t bother with French seams. 

Under garments

White or unbleached lightweight linen (3.5 oz or thereabouts). Probably not silk, almost certainly not cotton, possibly lightweight wool if you’re into discomfort. I find soft wool to be comfortable enough for a time, but eventually it gets itchy.

Chemise (Women):

Calf-length. Sleeveless or long sleeved, could have straps of a different material, straps can be as thin as ½”.

Shert (Men):

Usually just above knee-length and long sleeved. Might have a collar, if your outer garment has a collar. I’m not adding one, because it’s not common.

Braies (Men):

Early in the century they are baggy and the legs can tie up to the waistband to get them out of the way. Later in the century they shrink along with hemlines, and become more fitted.

Chausses (both):

Wool, cut on the bias, sometimes lined with linen. Sometimes only the top half was lined, which is much easier than lining the whole thing.
Master Broom suggests covering the model’s leg with cloth, duct tape it all over, cut down the back seam, over the heel to the big toe, and use this as a pattern.
I just measure everything, create a center line on the bias and lay out the measurements on the center line. Then I cut it larger, baste it together, try it on, and make adjustments before stitching it.

Stitching (used only for chausses):








Outer Garments

Jupon (Men, late century):

This was originally a version of a gambeson—a padded cote worn under your armor for padding. Later on, as armor became more complicated and needed a foundation layer to hold it together, the jupon was used to tie things to. As cotehardies for men got shorter and shorter, the hose needed something to be tied onto as well, and the jupon became an everyday garment. I’m not including a pattern for this because it’s much more complicated in construction, and very late in the century outside of martial use.

Cotehardie (both):

Gestonas and Cassiel the Baudrain playing chess, 1345

Buttons up the front, and on the sleeves.
Men’s cotehardies are knee length or shorter (depending on the decade, shorter=later). The shortest they go is butt-length, and you’ll need joined hosen and a jupon for that.
Women’s are floor length or longer (depending on your station, longer=wealthier).
If you wear a full surcote, your cotehardie ought to be of very pretty fabric. Note the “pockets” on the woman in blue –those are for reaching her purse underneath.

Surcote (both):

Loose and Sleeveless (Men and Pregnant Women): Women might lace up the sides.

Full Surcote (Women): 

same as the cotehardie, only less spiffy fabric. Fold it up when sitting or walking to show the spiffy cote underneath. (no pattern, same as cotehardie).

Short Sleeved Surcote (Women): 

cotehardie with short sleeves. Use cotehardie pattern, adding to the shoulder area the length of your desired sleeves (usually no more than half the length of your upper arm).

Sideless Surcote (Upper Class Women):
The Marriage of Maria of Brabant
to Philip III of France:
she is wearing the gates of hell,
he's wearing a houppelande

Early period was about mid-breast width, later period got skinnier in the middle, and far more embellished (priests called it "the gates of hell").

Houppelande: (both)

A show-off garment, usually made of very pretty fabric, velvet or silk or brocade, as much as you can afford. Women’s houppelandes belted just under the breasts. Men’s started floor length, then slowly worked their way upward to about mid-thigh. As they got shorter, they were belted, usually around the hips.

Accessories and Outer Gear

Edward the Black Prince
effigy 1380


Either relatively thin and leather with pewter or brass embellishments, buckled around the waist, or a plaque belt of metal links, worn around the hips.

Hats and Hair

Men most often cut their hair in a bowl cut and were clean shaven. Hair served as extra padding in the helmet, but it wasn’t long enough to get in one’s face during battle.

The arming cap was very popular prior to the 14th century, but during the 14th century, was mostly worn only under the helmet. It may have been worn under hats to protect them from sweat, or in bed to keep the warmth in. It was made solely of white linen, and was sometimes padded.

Men’s Hats:


Jan van Eyck,
Giovanni Arnolfini
Developed from the hood.

Arming Cap

 Made of white linen, strapped under the chin and was often padded for use under a helmet.
the arming cap is visible
under the helmet



Women's Hats:

veils as turbans,
veils with wimples
stiffened fillet over braids
goffered veil
jeweled fillet over caul

Women’s hair 

was uncut and usually braided. Unmarried women could get away with loose hair, but a woman’s hair was thought of as sexy, so to wear it loose after marriage was considered loose behavior. Even showing it a little through a sheer veil or a metal crespinette or hair net was a bit risqué (and therefore fashionable).
The modest married woman wore a wimple and a veil of linen or silk. A linen veil might be goffered, or woven with pleating on the selvedge, or plain edged, or beaded or embroidered on the edge. 
The only women who cut their hair were nuns, the sick (the weight of hair was considered detrimental to the health when very ill), and women in deep mourning.



Clarice de Gascogne, 1468
were the most common footwear. They could be ankle length, calf-length, knee-length or thigh-length. Most of them were slightly pointed at the toe, but how pointed depended on how fashionable you were. Usually they didn’t extend (even on the most fashionable person) to more than a few inches. The myth of tying your toes to your knees is almost certainly just that. Turnshoes sometimes had extra soles on the outside.





were worn outdoors over turnshoes if they only had one sole.
When making pattens for yourself, make sure the seam for the ball of your foot goes perpendicular to the grain, otherwise they will probably split the first time you wear them.




Cloaks were usually made of fulled wool, and circular with a smaller circle for the neck. They did not have attached hoods, and usually did not have attached fasteners, but were closed with a pin (allowing for the amount of closure to change with the wearer or the weather).


were separate, and overlapped the neck of the cloak to allow the rain to slide off the outside rather that creep in your collar. They were always wool, usually lined with linen or silk, and either buttoned or toggled or fastened with a cloak pin. The depth allows one to keep the rain off, or to fold it back and show the lining in nice weather.
Royal MS 20 1335





 Early Braies

Sew together 2” below top for a few inches, then from the center bottom up to 2” below the top again. This allows a nice gap for accessibility, as well as a gap at the top for the drawstring to show so that you can tie things to it (points, and the pointy back of the leg when it’s hot)

Late Braies

Measurement A is ¼ the waist width, measurement B is the length of the leg, and measurement C is the rise. The gusset should be about 4” square for children, 5” square for medium sized men, and 6” square for large men. Like the early braies, allow enough room at the top for turning it over to make a tube for the drawstring. This pattern doesn’t allow for gaps to tie things to, so you could either cut and hem some, or not, and tie your chausses to something else (or pin them or what have you).



Lay this out at a 45degree angle on the fabric. Cut it a little larger than you think you will need for seam allowance, baste it together, and then try it on. Have someone other than the intended recipient do the re-basting, and take it off. It might want to be tried on one more time before final sewing. If you just pin the changes, you may not be taking into account the need to have room to remove and re-insert the leg in the future. You can’t be re-sewing it every time you want to wear it.

The alternative is to create a pattern with cloth and duct tape.


female version

male version

The female version is floor length or longer. The gores start around the point of the hips, as do the buttons (going up, the gores are going down). Gores are set in point upwards, and there are eight of them.
The male version is much simpler. Length can be anywhere from just below the hips to knee length.

Setting a sleeve

The gusset in the sleeve is measured as follows:
A is the length from the start of the shoulder (in back) to the end of the bicep (approximately).
B is the difference between the width of the arm at the elbow and the width of the arm at the armscye (around the shoulder).
The sleeve, as above, is a rectangle the width of the arm at the bent elbow. The difference in width at the shoulder is covered by the gusset, and the difference in width at the wrist is taken in by buttons that reach from wrist to near the elbow.


For men, this would be shorter, and probably would have no gores. It was used by men as a covering for armor, often heraldic, as well as an everyday garment.

Women frequently used it as a pregnancy garment, because it is quite roomy. You can also lace it up the sides and leave them sewn only in the skirt, which allows it to be worn loose during pregnancy and tight during the rest of your life.

Sideless Surcote

The early sideless surcote was wider and less embellished. The  shoulder-shoulder width is covering modern bra straps. It can be fur lined for warmth, and it ought to reach the floor.


The later sideless surcote, nicknamed “the gates of hell” by priests railing
against the loose ways of fashion, was much skinnier in the middle, and the center piece was frequently stiffened and jeweled. It was almost always a different color in the skirt than the rest of the garment. Alternately, the belt-like portion and the top piece can be merged to form one piece (erase the scallop shape at the bottom of the Y). The layout will be a bit different in that case. I included two Y shaped pieces on the doubled cloth for stiffening.


This is the rotated point quarter circle version of the pattern (my favorite, although there are plenty of other versions out there), courtesy of Mistress Cynthia du Pre Argent. You can either sew the back together up to the shoulders, or you can leave it gaped like it is in the front, and add a triangular gusset to make up the difference. There is lots of evidence for the triangular piece in the back, especially for men’s houppelandes.
The woman’s houppelande would have a belt, probably of contrasting cloth, under the breasts. I close mine with a hook and eye arrangement.

Sleeve and collar options are below


The gore in the hood goes point first (the illustration doesn’t clearly show that, I’m afraid), and the liripipe can be as long or as short as you desire. Longer indicates foppiness, of course…


I am indebted to the following gentles,whose knowledge is the basis for this class:
Julia Hamilton and Krista Crosby, who taught me the basics of 14th century clothing, and whose information formed the basis for my own garb.

Master Broom (SCA name), whose wonderful class and website on medieval undergarments was extremely helpful in filling the many gaps in my knowledge:

I. Mark Carlson, whose website on the history of shoes and shoemaking is fascinating, even though I prefer to buy my shoes rather than make them:

Mistress Corisander Seathewaite, whose information on kirtles was very helpful, and whose website was also helpful when I learned about houppelandes (sadly the site is apparently no longer around--a lot of people used it in their documentation, so I hope at some point it finds a new home online).

Rosalie Gilbert, a 14th and 15th century reenactor with a marvelous site on the clothing and lifestyles of the periods in question:

Mistress Cynthia du Pre Argent, who not only taught me (through the internet) the best (in my opinion) version of the houppelande pattern, but also about hair and headdresses and many other interesting garb-related things: http://www.virtue.to/articles/

And no, I haven’t cracked a book for this class, but all of the above gentles have lots of books listed in their reference sections, and sadly, the only one I have immediate access to as of this writing is The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, by Sarah Thursfeld, which, while very helpful in some ways, is highly suspect in others.

Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince, by Stella Mary Newton, is a wonderful resource.

Places where I get my fabric:

www.fabrics-store.com: the best source I’ve found thus far for linen. Cheaper than the rest, really good deals, lots of colors and weights, and usually pretty soft once washed.

www.wmboothdraper.com: an 18th century sutler, but a fantastic source for relatively cheap period-esque wool. If you happen to do 18th c as well, they’ve got patterns, too.

www.hedgehoghandworks.com: specializes in reenactment fiber-arts supplies. Excellent source for linen, wool, and silk thread, and silk ribbon.