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This is reprinted here from my personal journal. Back dated 6/4/2009

The 5 year old blue linen kirtle is nearing completion. I finished the eyelets on the front, and basted the sleeves into the armscyes (I'm about to take the dress off and machine sew the sleeves into place). Everything looks good. It will go into the closet to hang for a day or three, and then it will be hemmed and ready to go. Pictures will have to wait until after A&S, but for now...

I'm going to pause here and say a few things about the two different methods I used for both 14th c. kirtles. In all honesty, I'm referring to both as 14th century, but I think the blue linen one seems a lot more 15th c. to me, in terms of silhouette. Maybe I can split the difference and just call it "late 14th/early 15th century"...

But anyway, about the two different methods of construction... For the gray linen dress, I used an 8 panel fitted pattern, which was modified heavily from a commercial pattern that I used as my starting point. Nothing wrong with this, I think... Lacking assistance from someone who understood how to drape such a thing from scratch, it allowed me to have a good basis from which to modify into the right shape (or nearly right. I've got some things I need to fix). It bears the closest resemblance to Herjolfsnes no.39, though I wasn't adhering strictly to the construction lines of H39 and the fit is much much tighter in the torso than H39 apparently was.

For the blue linen dress, I have to search the recesses of my memory to recall what I was basing the concept of the dress on... But I do remember at the time that I was heavily preoccupied with tashadandelion's fitting methods on La Cotte Simple. I am pretty sure that I was basing the initial construction off of her straight front fitted gown tutorial and trying to piece together some of the instructions I'd gleaned from Robin Netherton's "Gothic Fitted Dress" method. In the process of working on the kirtle, half a decade ago, I discovered that the straight front method didn't work on my figure, and the dress was summarily wadded up and thrown into the basement, where it was unearthed last week and reassessed. I discovered that letting out the center back seam about 1/4" gave me just enough room to eke out a curved front seam, and was thereby able to achieve a fit that worked for my body type.

Both dresses are partially lined to the hip with medium weight linen. For the gray dress, I flat lined the lining to the outer fabric, treating them as one piece. For the blue dress, I did what I call "facing" the lining to the outer fabric by placing wrong sides to wrong sides and then basting them together. Both dresses have edge finishing done with a strip of linen bias which was sewn to the right side of the neckline and front openings and then turned to the inside and stitched down. This gave a bit more stability for the lacing holes. Ladder lacing holes are worked about 3/4" apart, from a doubled length of silk thread. The gray dress has button hole stitched eyelets, the blue dress just has whip stitched eyelets. There's no real reason for the difference, other than I was in a hurry with the blue dress.

The sleeve pattern for both dresses was based on the drape done by etaine_pommier, about which I cannot say enough wonderful things. She rocks. Seriously.

Personal take on both patterns:

I really prefer the look and fit of the gray linen dress. I feel it has a more graceful line, due in part to the fact that there are more seams, which means a more streamlined fit to the torso, and more flare in the skirt, which gives the body a really sexy, feminine, sleek look. It also forces my belly fat downward, which gives the right "pregnant" swell to the lower torso, while emphasizing the waist and keeping a rounded bosom so particular to the silhouette of the 14th century. I did learn that the curve of my spine is much more pronounced than I anticipated, necessitating an addition of a gore at the center back to allow the torso of the dress to fit without developing a deep horizontal wrinkle across the back.

(Note: Some wrinkling at the waist and torso is normal. The kind of wrinkling I'm referring to above, isn't)

The blue dress is attractive, but with less pieces, the fit of the bosom is more flattening. The swell of the bosom is less pronounced and more "corseted" like what you might expect from a 16th century silhouette, and the torso is less contoured. The skirt, while actually wider in circumference than the gray dress, does not behave the same way as the gray dress, and tends to fall straight from the hips, rather than flare out more. This could be due in part to the difference in weight of linen used between both dresses, but I feel it is also due to the fact that less seams create a less flattering (to my figure) shape. YMMV.

Issues with both dresses:

* A slight twisting at the neckline, near the shoulders, can be seen on both dresses. I feel this is probably because I still haven't perfected the fit of the shoulders, and haven't yet found the "sweet spot" for the shoulder seam.

* My scoliosis makes getting the fit accurate on this style of dress difficult. My spinal curvature is pretty slight, in that it isn't really apparent when you look at me, but in terms of patterning garments that are fit over the hips, it becomes an issue. My right hip is 3/4" higher than my left hip, and the left side of the torso is less curved at the waist than my right. In making the gray dress, this presented a bigger issue, since the pattern pieces require contouring over my waist and to the top of my hip, and I didn't really account for the difference. When I wear the gray dress, there are more wrinkles apparent on my right waist than on my left due to this oversight. To avoid this issue with future 8+ panel dresses, I will likely need to fit each side individually, which will make keeping track of the different pattern pieces all the more difficult. It was hard enough keeping track of the panels without worrying about which panel belonged to which side of my body! With the blue dress, it appears less of an issue, no doubt because there are fewer seams to contour in the waist and hip region.

What I learned:

The fitted dresses of the 14th and 15th centuries are very pretty, but when compared to my "comfort zone" of the 16th century, the learning curve is rather challenging. For me, it is easier to shift my knowledge forward and apply it to later styles of clothing, but to shift it backwards, required essentially starting over from scratch. This did, however, give me a working basis for some theories on the evolution of Tudor and subsequently Elizabethan clothing-- it is readily apparent that early Tudor clothing grew out of the previous "fitted dress" styles of the 14th and 15th centuries. It is also easy to see where corseting would not be necessary, particularly in early Tudor garments, if the underlying layer of clothing is fitted in a similar manner as to 14th century fitted garments. I'll be exploring this concept further with a very early Tudor gown that is in the works, and will report on my findings in due course.

Back to the learning curve: For all the practical similarities in terms of fit and silhouette to the early Tudor styles, the clothing of the 14th century is actually more complex than that of the clothing 150 years later. The pattern methods utilized in the 14th century, as evidenced by the so-called bog clothing like Herjolfsnes no. 39 and others, is based on manipulating the fabric to fit the body, rather than manipulating the body to fit the fabric as was done in the 16th century. I can see how, towards the middle part of the 15th century, fashion began to shift away from the former and toward the latter, as the increasingly tight fit of fashionable women's clothing began to alter the body shape in increasingly extreme ways. As a means for exploring the early concept of shaping garments, this is useful for the study of the origins of corsetry. However, when your basis of expertise is firmly rooted in the 16th century, everything you know about fit is based on the shape of the corset, which negates issues such as how to pattern a bust curve. It also eliminates the issue of scoliosis, as the bodice and skirt are constructed in two separate pieces and therefore easily conceal the difference in hip height. Having to more or less admit that the crutch of corsetry was going to be no use to me in the 14th century, I was forced to reckon with the difficulties and challenges inherent in dealing directly with the female form.

My overall take on creating clothing from the Gothic era is largely positive. For all the difficulties, it provided me with a really good challenge and the ability to flex some creative ingenuity which I haven't had much reason to use after getting so comfortable with 16th century clothing. I definitely like the aesthetic and fit of Gothic era clothing, and that is a huge reason for me to keep at it. These two dresses represent test runs for different methods of construction, and therefore the impetus wasn't on trying to reproduce a garment using period construction techniques, but rather for perfecting a workable pattern that could be used for more historically accurate construction experiments. To that end, I think I was successful, and I will certainly be revisiting this era on a regular basis.