Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tunic Necklines : A Tutorial


There is a lot of information out there regarding tunics, and their construction. Most articles and diagrams show a rectangular body with isosceles triangular shaped gores either on the front and back, on each side or in all four places. These patterns and diagrams show different ways of laying the tunic out on a piece of fabric so that you may cut out the tunic in a way that utilizes as much fabric and prevents as much waste as possible. Not a lot is said about the construction of the neck of the tunic though, and so that is what this article is about.

In the 1200s, the shape of the neckline seems to be mostly oval to round. There are some that are more square or pentagonal cut, and some, such as the shirt of Saint Louis (which we’ll come back to shortly) are tear drop shaped, but most are rounded. You can see these different shapes from the Maciejowski Bible. Here are a few examples:

Images from the Maciejowski Bible

The St Louis Shirt

When we look at the neckline of the St. Louis shirt, we see there is a bit of tape, or a band around the collar that crisscrosses at the center of the front. This band has several purposes; it serves to provide reinforcement so that the neckline doesn’t rip or wear out from usage, and it absorbs the body oils from the neck and prevents them from damaging the cloth of the tunic making it wear out faster. The tape band is also easily replaced when it finally does wear out. My friend Robin tells me that many of these pieces of tape have been found archeologically in London where old tunics had been refurbished for the second hand clothing trade.

Close up of the St Louis shirt neckline

When it comes to making tunics, I like to assemble my tunics first. Once the gores and gussets and sleeves are all assembled, I then come back and cut the neckline. This is however, just personal preference. If you’d like to cut the neckline and dress it first so that you can check the fit of your tunic (or medieval dress, for you ladies) as you sew, that is perfectly fine as well.  The first step is to put the shoulder seams of the tunic together, and fold the body in half lengthwise to find the middle. Then find the point one third of the way from the middle of the body towards the shoulder seam, and mark it. This is where you will make your cut.

Middle of the body in my left hand, the shoulder seam in the right

Pointing to the 1/3 mark, while Naomi takes up slack for me.

Once you find your one third mark, you will want to make a quarter inch long cut at about an 80-85* degree angle perpendicular to the top of the fabric, with your scissors angled towards the middle. You don’t want the first cut to be at a full 90*. You may find it helpful to have someone keep tension on the garment while you make your cuts.  Once you’ve made this cut, angle your scissors towards the middle of the body, and cut a straight line to a point about three quarters from the top edge of the fabric.

Making the initial cut

Cutting a straight line from the initial cut to a point ¾” below the edge

If you look at the collar on a modern t-shirt, you’ll see that it is slightly higher in the back than in the front. This is to help prevent that choking feeling of the collar feeling too tight. Our medieval tunic will be cut in a similar fashion as well. Next, we want to pinch the center of the front of the tunic in one hand, and pinch the center of the back of the tunic in the other hand and pull them apart. This will pull the sides of the neckline (the parts that would rest on our clavicle) together. You want to then pinch this area together in your right hand so you can make the next cut from here.

The middle front is in my left hand, the middle back is in my right. You’ll see the
Shoulder/clavicle area in the middle now

The shoulder/clavicle part in my right hand, front middle of the body in my left

At the point where my right hand is now is where I’ll make my next cut. I’ll make another quarter inch long cut at a 45* angle this time towards the front middle, and then a straight line to a point about half an inch below the fabric’s edge.

Making the cut

The cut

Cutting a straight line to a point a half inch below the edge of the fabric.

Once you’ve made these cuts, try your tunic on. If it is too tight, repeat these steps but only cut an eighth to a quarter inch the second time. It’s easier to cut cloth little by little than to add it back if you cut too much. If you want a tear drop shaped neck, then cut it deeper than a half inch from the top on the second cut. You may want to practice on a piece of scrap or muslin to get the angles and measurements correct before you cut into your good fabric of your tunic and ruin it. You may notice that what you thought was a straight line as you were cutting wasn’t 100% straight. Now is the time to asses that and trim up and uneven spots.

A high spot

Trimming it straight

Our rounded neckline, higher in back than the front

For the next part, we’ll need our neckline binding. To make this we’ll need to take a piece of white or natural colored linen or muslin and simply rip a strip off. You’re tape should be between five eighths of an inch, to one whole inch. When you tear your binding tape off the side of your fabric, if your fabric edge is not straight from having cut the fabric for something else, then you’ll want to cut a wider piece, and pull threads down to the desired width and trim the fringe off so that it is straight. If you make your tape any wider than an inch, when you try sewing it after turning it to the inside, you’ll find that the neckline will not lay properly at all.

Measuring an inch and a quarter

The strip is uneven, as you can see. I’ll trim and pull threads till its 1” wide

Once your tape is made, just pin it around the neckline of the tunic. With the right side of the tunic out, you want to start in the front middle, and work around the neck coming back to the front middle. When you start and finish, you want about three quarters of an inch of excess tape on either side of the middle of your tunic. Once you have it all pinned, just whip stitch around both of the raw edges.

Start ¾” to one side of the middle, unroll and pin

The tape is pinned, and the excess is cut off, leaving two overlapping flaps ¾”

Whip stitch the raw edges…

…until the raw edges are whip stitched all the way around and look like this

Once you have the top edge sewn to the neckline, simply just flip the tape to the inside. You’ll fold it so that the remaining raw edge of the tape is against the edges you’ve just sewn. Once it’s folded, just lay it down to the inside and the whip stitch the bottom edge of the tape to the tunic. You could do a running stitch, but the whip stitch will hold it more securely, and help it to lay batter. Remember to fold the excess flap edges under too, when you sew.

Folding the flap edge under

Putting all the raw edges together

Folding the tape to the inside covering all of the raw edges

Whip stitching it all down

Folding the edge of the second flap over to hide the last raw edge

All finished

And there you have it! How to cut and bind the neckline of a circa 1200s medieval tunic! I’d like to give special thanks to my friend Robin Mazza for always answering my questions about medieval tailoring, and sharing her knowledge on this subject. It was she who taught me this technique after discussing the St Louis shirt. I’d also like to thank my wife Naomi Wilson for being a photographer and an extra pair of hands.

- Josh Wilson, 2017 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

13th Century Shoes




Assize of Arms 1181

(1) Whoever holds a knight's fee must have a hauberk and helmet and shield and lance, and all knights should have as many hauberks and helmets and shields and lances as they have knights' fees within their lordship.

(2) Whichever free laymen who have chattels or rent of 16 marks should have a hauberk and helmet and shield and lance; whichever free layman has chattels or rent of 10 marks must have a light hauberk [aubergel], an iron cap and a lance.

(3) Likewise all burgesses and the whole body of free men must have a gambeson [wambais], an iron cap and a lance.

(4) To that end everyone must swear an oath before the Feast of St Hilary [Jan 13] that they will have these arms and will carry them faithfully for our lord king Henry, son of the Empress Matilda, and that he will be armed according to this order in allegiance to our lord king and his realm. And none who have these arms must sell them nor pledge them nor give them away nor in any way alienate them; no lord must in any way deprive his men of them, not as punishment nor as a gift or as a pledge nor in any other fashion.

(5) If anyone who has arms should die, his arms should remain with his heir. And if the heir is of too tender age to use the arms, he who has him in wardship should have them, and he should find a man to hold these arms in the service of the lord king until the heir comes of age to carry said arms, then let him have them.

(6) Whichever burgess has more arms than he should according to this assize, let him sell or give or bestow them to such a man who can retain them in service to the lord king of the English. And no one should hold more arms than he should according to this assize.

(7) Also no Jew [Judeaus] should have or hold a hauberk or light hauberk, but should sell, give or otherwise dispose of it so it may remain in the king's service.

(8) Also no one should take arms from England except by order of the king; nor should anyone sell these arms that thereby they are carried from England, nor traded nor in any other way carried from England.

(9) Also, let justices cause an oath to be sworn by lawful knights and other lawful and free man of hundreds, neighbourhoods and towns, as many as they deem necessary, who have goods worth by this account a hauberk, helmet, shield and lance [ie, those with 16 marks or more] to name individually everyone of their hundred, neighbourhood or town who has 16 marks either in chattels or rent; similarly those who have 10 marks. And thereafter let the justices ask the oath-swearers and others named how much chattels or land they have, and whereby what arms they should have; and thereafter, in their communal presence and hearing, he should cause this assize of the holding of arms to be read, and have them swear they will have arms according to the value of their aforesaid chattels or rents, and that they will hold them in the service of the lord king in accordance wit this aforesaid assize, and at the command of and in allegiance to the lord king Henry and his realm. If in fact it should pass that someone who should have these arms is not in the county when the justices were in that county, let the justices set a time by which he must come to them in another county. And if he is not in any county through which they travel, and is not in the land, let them set a time for him to come to Westminster, before the seventh day after Michaelmas, to make his oath of allegiance, if he loves his life and all he owns. And before the Feast of St Hilary let him have arms as he should as far as concerns his holdings.

(10) Also let justices cause to be said in every county through which they travel, if any does not have arms in accordance with this order, the king shall take his life and limbs and not only his land and chattels.

(11) Also no one will swear concerning good and free men who do not have 16 marks or 10 marks in chattels.

(12) Also let justices order in every county through which they travel that no one, if they love their life and all they own, shall buy or sell one way or another a [ducendum - 200-weight?] ship from England, nor shall anyone carry or cause to be carried ?timber [maironiam] from England. And the king orders than none shall take the oath of arms except free men.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Clothing, Weapons and Accoutrements No. 1

2. Moreover, every free layman who possesses chattels or rents to the value of 16m. shall have a shirt of mail, a helmet, a shield, and a lance; and every free layman possessing chattels or rents to the value of 10m. shall have a hauberk, an iron cap, and a lance.

3. Item, all burgesses and the whole community of freemen shall have [each] a gambeson, an iron cap, and a lance.
-The Assize of Arms 1181

 Our illustrious member, Josh Wilson has done an excellent job really honing in and using the Assize of Arms of 1181 as his guide to a laymans weaponry and accoutrements at the start of the Baron Wars. He writes : 

 “My medieval kit has largely been taken from the Maciejowski Bible. (Also called the Morgan Bible and the Crusader Bible) It consists of a hood, tunic, belt, braies, chausses, and shoes. We have very few, if any, remaining examples of clothing from the time of the first Baron’s War. This means that we have to rely on what articles, or fragments of articles are left, and also on contemporary drawings and paintings for clues. This is where experimental archeology comes into play, as we try to reverse engineer some of the fragments we have, and images we see. Books such as Sarah Thursfield’s “Medieval Tailor’s Assistant”, Dorothy Hartley’s “Medieval Costume and how to Recreate it” and “Medieval Costume in England and France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries” by Mary G. Houston are excellent sources for learning to make your medieval clothing to put your impression together. “Medieval Garments Reconstructed” by Lilli Fransen, Shelly Nordtorp-Madson, and Anna Norgard is also a good book for seeing surviving examples and patterns. 

 I chose to recreate the basic working clothes of the average man from the time.