Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Some things that are not shirts

I'm working on two more Tudor shirts (this time both for me). They're going to become a series of posts that give complete guidelines on how to make shirts, but in the meantime, I've finished a couple of smaller things.

First up, a belt favour masquerading as a sock. Belt favours are a custom in the SCA - non-fighters give them to fighters as a token. Wearing them can mean a whole bunch of things, but literally means that the fighter has found favour with the non-fighter. In this case, it's a running joke with my "wife", who once caught a sock flung at her head and proclaimed herself a free house-elf.

Yarn is leftover Kauni from a shawl I made a few years back. This sock is a Very Significant Project. It's entirely made up from inside my head - I guesstimated all the numbers, including the ones for turning the heel. I also knit the whole of the gusset in the dark while I was at a gig. I definitely levelled up by knitting this.

Second, a SNOOOOOOD for Tyger Friend. Like me, she dabbles in steampunkery, and so when I dug up some discontinued bronze lurex yarn from the deep stash it occurred to me that it would make an awesome gift for her. It took about 7 hours, or one very lazy weekend spent mostly playing Skyrim.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The second shirt, or, THE SHIRT OF INSANITY!

(This project was created as a surprise gift, so I've recorded everything as I went along in a single post. Now that it's been delivered, I can post this publicly.)

Having made one fairly straightforward shirt, I decided to dive immediately into the next one. I wanted to do something more complicated, and as it happened I had the perfect project in mind. This is what I did.

24 August

I've been planning to make something as a gift for Baron P., the guy who taught me to shoot last year and started me off on this whole saga of archery, late-period English clothing, and a million crazy research projects. (Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure why I'm making him a present. But it's too late now.) I figure, all the hours he's put in answering my questions, he deserved something shiny. Coincidentally, he's recently been spiffing up his own garb and at Raglan was elevated to the Order of the Pelican. So instead of the embroidered collar and cuffs I'd originally thought I'd do, I decided that I'd go all out and make a complete shirt with fancy embroidery, frilled collar, the lot.

The first step was figuring out how I was going to construct the whole thing. I've been poring over Patterns of Fashion 4, looking at all the different shirts and how they were put together. Based on those, it looks like the most common method was a single long strip for the front and back, usually made from the full width of the cloth. Sleeves either straight with an underarm gusset or trapezoids without. The cool thing is that the pieces are usually hemmed all the way around and then joined with insertion embroidery rather than being seamed. So that's what I'm doing - a single piece of cloth for the body, straight sleeves with a gusset, and hems and insertions.

I spend the morning cutting out the pieces that get hemmed. The linen I've got is 54 inches wide, which is far too wide for a shirt. Consequently, I'll have a selvedge on one side and a hem on the other. There are examples of this in the book (items 2 and 5, in Munich and Prato respectively), so it's an acceptable option. I've cut the shirt body 30 inches wide, which leaves me with exactly the right amount of fabric to the side to be the full length of the sleeve, leaving the selvedge on the cuff end of the sleeve. I've cut both of them out as well. I then cut a strip 5 inches wide below the sleeves. Two 5-inch squares will become the underam gussets; the rest of the strip will be for me to practice the insertion stitches and test the embroidery. I may use a bit to make gussets for the neckline also.

My next task is to hem all the pieces I cut out. I've hemmed one gusset and one sleeve today. Once the hemming is done, I'll chart up the embroidery and start working on the sleeves. The gussets are small enough that I'll be able to take them in with me to work and do the stitching around the edge that becomes the foundation for the insertion.

26 August

I spent most of yesterday brainstorming the design for the sleeve embroidery. I knew I wanted to do columns and spot motifs like the Bath Fashion Museum shirt I used as a model for shirt the first, but beyond that I had no specific ideas. Those sleeves had three columns of densely stitched vines and flowers running down the length of the shirt. In between were isolated motifs of oak leaves and acorns, and bees. I didn't really want to do flowers again, and the acorns-and-bees thing would just be too similar to what I'd done for my husband. Fortunately, there was a very obvious choice for something to use as a spot motif - a pelican in her piety. I recalled that Patterns of Fashion had reproduced a number of motifs from Schole-House for the Needle (a pattern book published in 1632), and as it turned out, one of them was of a pelican. Serendipitously, on the same page was reproduced a springing stag, which just so happens to be on the Baron's coat of arms.

After an hour of sketching and rubbing out designs:

and a little trying things out with needle and thread:

I finally got to the point where I had a concept that I liked.

29 August

My self-imposed deadline for this project is an event taking place the last weekend of November. In other words, I've got just about three months to finish. Because I'm a crazy person, I decided to write up a list of all the bits that need to be done between now and then to get the shirt finished.

  • Finish hemming the second sleeve
  • Hem the body
  • Embroider both sleeves
  • Embroider the neck opening
  • Embroider the collar
  • Embroider both cuffs
  • Embroider and hem the frills for the collar and cuffs
  • Work the foundation for the insertions on the seams
  • Assemble the cuffs with frills and ties
  • Assemble the collar with frill and ties
  • Gather sleeves and attach cuffs
  • Cut and hem neck opening
  • Reinforce bottom of neck slit
  • Gather neck opening and attach collar
  • Lace the seams together.
I also need to decide whether I'm going to embroider around the edges of the body. Fortunately for my sanity, I don't need to make that decision until after everything but the seam lacing is done. I'd like to, both because most of the really fancy exemplars have and because it's awesome. At the same time, it's a lot of work to put in to something that's going to be tucked into trousers most of the time.

2 September

I've finished the hemming! (Ok, the frills still need to be done, but I can't do them until they're embroidered and cut out.) My brain has very kindly been providing me with inspiration and the ability to make decisions over the last couple of days, so things are progressing. I ended up deciding firmly in favour of embroidery all the way around the edges of the body and have started working on them while I wait for the Muse to decide whether she's happy with the modifications I've made to the initial embroidery sketches.

My very scientific method of deciding how many motifs I wanted on the sleeves - cutting out bits of paper roughly the same size as the motifs and laying them on the fabric until it suited me:

8 September

Mental progress, if not a great deal of physical progress. I have finished designing the embroidery. This is the design for the cuff:

The collar will be the same, only with more repeats of the lattice and flowers between the pelicans. The embroidery that borders the neck opening will be the same, only with the lattices running vertically and a single pelican at the base of the opening.

The sleeves will have a similar lattice, but it'll be narrower. Instead of 8-petalled flowers inside the diamonds formed by the lattice, the smaller 4-petalled flowers will appear. There will be three columns of lattices on each sleeve. In between the lattices there will be two columns of five spot motifs, each comprising alternating pelicans and stags (three and two of each, respectively). The frills will have individual 4-petalled flowers without the lattices.

All of the lattices are bordered by a straight double line. That double line is what I am using as the edge embroidery.

Now that the design decisions are mostly out of the way, it's time to crack on with the sewing. Today's mission is figuring out my cutting layout for the collar, cuffs, and frills. I enlisted the help of Baron P's lady wife to get his collar measurement, and I'm making it the same width as the previous shirt. Looking at different frills on extant shirts, they seem to range from 1.5 to 3 times as long as the band they are set in. My frill is going to be 35.5 inches long because that's the length of the piece of fabric I have left. I've decided to use the selvedge edge for the frill to save time hemming - this fabric has gorgeous selvedges, almost indistinguishable from the fabric proper, so it won't be obtrusive.

later on the 8th

No embroidery on the frills. I tried it, and it frankly looked like crap once it was all gathered up. Ah well, at least that's a few hours saved!

10 September

Some photos of my progress to date. The long strip at the bottom is the collar frill, now hemmed on the two short ends. The big pieces are the sleeves, and the two small squares are the underarm gussets. (Incidentally, several of the extant shirts I've been looking at have embroidered gussets. Seriously. Talk about conspicuous consumption!)

 I'm still beavering away at the embroidery on the body of the shirt over my lunch hours at work. It's utterly mindless, and the body is completely hemmed so I don't have to worry about it fraying from being hauled around.

The red basted lines are the shoulder "seam" and the neck slit. At least, they will be once I've cut them. I'm still trying to decide whether it would be better to cut the openings and hem the neck slit before or after I work the embroidery around the neckline.

25 September

Sigh. Things are never straightforward. That annoying niggling voice in the back of my head has been telling me that the style of embroidery I'm doing really doesn't match the style of shirt, and after doing rather a lot of thinking and research, I've concluded that the voice is right. (Also the voice didn't like the 8-petalled flowers I'd designed, so I've changed them.)

The problem is with the frills, or rather with the combination of frills plus embroidery. The style of embroidery is very firmly in the style of the 1590s, by which point frills on shirts had disappeared in favour of detached ruffs. Since there's no way in hell I'm redoing all that embroidery, I've decided to just skip the frills. Fortunately the plain straight cuffs and collar are appropriate to the embroidery...

26 September

Onwards and upwards. I eventually decided to do the neckline embroidery before cutting the opening, just because it meant I could keep carrying the shirt body around to work on. I still haven't finished the double-line edging, but it'll get there eventually.

I'm really glad I decided to do some extra measuring around the neckline before I started pencilling on the design. Not because I'd originally mismeasured, this time, but because there turned out to be a flaw in the fabric that would have been right in the middle of the embroidery! It's nothing that will affect the integrity of the shirt, but it would have looked pretty ugly. Unfortunately, that meant picking out and redoing all of the basting. (The shirt is longer in the back, so I couldn't just flip the neck opening to the other side. The shoulder "seam" had to be moved too.)

Transferring the design was made infinitely easier by my mother, who decided she was going to buy me a lightbox. Best surprise gift ever.
The templates came with the box. I'm not putting drumkits on the shirt!

I spent 10 minutes at a table instead of half an hour or more pressed against a window. I use a soft pencil for transferring designs, and only transfer a small portion of the design at a time so that the friction from working doesn't rub it off before I have a chance to embroider over it.

The finished neckline embroidery came out pretty well, I think:

There is, perhaps, too much white space surrounding the pelican, but I think it works. The same trellis-and-flowers appears on the cuffs and collar, and then the sleeves will have just the smaller flowers running down the length.

20 October

Now that the design decisions are all out of the way, there's less out-loud thinking to do here on the blog. I'm mostly just sewing. I'm a little behind where I wanted to be, but I'm making good progress. The neck and collar are completely finished, right down to sewing on the ties. This has the advantage of making it possible to put the body on a hanger and keep it safe and out of the way.

Gathering the neckline into the collar was significantly easier this time around, not to mention faster. Making the collar in two pieces is definitely the way to go. Although it means more time spent pressing, the extra layers of fabric and the seam along the top of the collar help stiffen it, which makes it hold its shape better.

In the further interests of better shape, I've added two pairs of ties to this collar. I had just one on originally, but when I tried wearing it the corners of the collar bent down and rendered the embroidery invisible. Having a pair of ties at the top of the collar should hopefully remedy that issue.

A detail I've added to the collar is a length of twisted cord. It's two strands of embroidery floss that I've couched down around the entire edge of the collar and the neck opening, using a single strand of floss. Most of the very late 16th-century shirts have narrow lace edgings around the collar and neck, but by that point the wide lace trims or frills had been replaced by separate ruffs. I don't have any appropriate narrow lace, nor the time to make any, but there's a shirt in the V&A that has both collar and cuffs trimmed with couched cord. Although that shirt is from the 1540s rather than the 1590s, I think it's a plausible treatment that could have been substituted for the narrow lace. I felt very strongly that the neckline needed something edging it, not for decoration but for reinforcement. The embroidery is too close to the hem to allow application of a reinforcing patch (deliberately close, I hasten to add!), but I don't want it to rip out with wear. The loop of cord will serve to strengthen it. Plus it really brings the whole thing together, in my not-so-humble opinion.

12 November

Racing to the finish now. Real life has delayed things a number of times, which is why I built an entire month of wiggle-room into my schedule! I've spent most of the last few weeks working the blanket-stitch edging around the completed pieces in between visits from my mother, archery practice, and helping out with my new niece. So, current status:
  • The body of the shirt is completely done, including putting the blanket-stitch edging all the way around.
  • The first sleeve and first gusset ditto.
  • The first sleeve and gusset have also been pressed and laced together, ready to go onto the shirt body once it's been pressed.
  • The second gusset is nearly finished. There's about an inch of backstitch left to do.
  • The second sleeve is in progress. I plan to have the last of the embroidery done by Friday evening.
I plan to spend the weekend attaching the second cuff, working the last of the blanket-stitch, and then lacing everything together. Once that's done, it'll just be a case of writing up the documentation and buying a nice box to put everything in. And trying not to go crazy from keeping it a secret...

16 November

It's done. Holy crap it's finally done.

17 November

Now that my brain is functioning after the shock of being done, some numbers and a photo!

  • 19 pelicans
  • 8 stags
  • 26 large flowers
  • 124 small flowers
  • 9 hanks of embroidery floss
  • 35,000 stitches (approximately)
  • 475 hours of work (approximately)

26 November

I've given the shirt to Master P. It fits, and judging by his reaction I'd say he likes it!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Becoming Lord Constantine

Ever since my realization back in June that what I really wanted to do was mid-16th-century English gentleman, I've been thinking away on how to kit myself out appropriately. This process has turned out to be rather more involved than anticipated.

One of the features of the way the SCA does things is the persona. Basically, this means creating a character who might have existed before 1600-ish, complete with name, clothing, kit, and activities. For some people it'll just be a name, and then they'll wear all sorts of clothing from different regions and periods of history. For others, there will be an elaborate backstory with family members, years of personal history, all kinds of things. Kind of like creating a Dungeons and Dragons character - the process is as elaborate as you want it to be.

Historically I've always been a "run around in whatever I fancy" sort of person, since up until now I've not felt drawn to a particular region or period. But now that I've discovered archery and the assorted stuff that goes with, I'm starting to get into the idea that actually, I'd really like to explore this one thing in depth instead of dabbling.

Coming up with a new name was first on the agenda. I wanted to use the given name "Constantine", as the name I normally use is "Constanza". I figured having two names that sounded as similar as possible would reduce confusion. Fortunately, there was a chap named Constantine living in London in 1582. I know this because Boss Herald helpfully wrote an article about the names in three sixteenth century London subsidy rolls. I had no real preference about a byname, so I made the arbitrary decision to go with something archery-related. Happily, "Fletcher" appears in the same article, this time in 1541 as well as 1582. I've submitted the name Constantine Fletcher along with an heraldic badge to be associated with it (Or, semy of strawberries proper). With any luck those will both be registered in the coming months and be all mine!

The next issue, still on-going, is figuring out what to wear. I'd already decided to make two complete outfits, one plain-ish for shooting in and one fancy for going to Court. And I wanted some extra shirts as well, because we have a 10-day event every summer and I don't fancy wearing the same two shirts for the whole thing.

The obvious place to look was portraits of men from the 1540s. With the assistance of Tyger Friend, I've started compiling as many portraits as I can find onto a Pinterest board. I'm using this to get a sense of colour, shape, and composition of outfit. This, combined with access to Before the Mast and Weapons of Warre has given me a pretty good idea of what garments I ought to make. What these resources haven't told me is how many of each garment I ought to have. That's where the wills come in.

See, during the course of my names research, I've spent a fair amount of time looking through extant wills. I'd heretofore been looking for names, of course, but it's impossible not to notice the clothing and personal effects mentioned in these documents. It occurred to me that compiling a spreadsheet of garments and jewelry mentioned in wills would be an excellent way to estimate the approximate size of a man's (or woman's) wardrobe. I've limited my search to the 1540s, since that's the period of history I'm looking at. I have access to a lot of print resources, since I work for a university library, but I'm also looking through a lot of material that's available online. Once I've put together enough data, I'll start working up a list of all the stuff I need to make.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Plotting - the 2015 Selfish-Along

Work continues on sooper sekrit projects, so I will instead write of some of my plans for next year. (That's the trouble with projects that take months - you only get to squeeze a couple in over the course of a year.)

A theme that I've noticed recurring in conversations with my mother, Lady C (hereafter Tyger Friend), and Weaving Friend is that we all lament not having enough time to make some of the really cool stuff for ourselves. We're all prone to diving in on community projects and gift knitting, you see. And while that's great and fun, sometimes it's good to say "no" and prioritize making stuff for oneself.

I am therefore declaring 2015 a year of selfish crafting. Mostly that will mean making stuff for oneself, but it might also be making stuff as a special gift, or to try out something new that wouldn't work in a selfish project.

For me, I'm hoping to make a new set of 1540s clothing from the skin out, a quilt, some new socks, and at least one embroidery project. I realize that I'm crazy, but then there's nothing to say I can't continue the selfish-along into 2016...

Monday, 1 September 2014

Research trip write-up the first - pins and a cap

Somehow it is already September and the season of secret gift projects has started. Hazards of being a craftsperson - gifts take months of forward planning. Ah well. I have been saving some research photos for just this purpose!

Back in July I was fortunate to be able to go to the Victoria and Albert Museum's research centre to work with some collection items that aren't on display. Mostly I was there to look at a shirt and a handkerchief, and those will appear in future posts. A few days before I went, though, I came across a series of pins in the online catalogue that were mysteriously labelled "ruff pins". There were no photos and only the vaguest of descriptions, so I requested them as well.

They came mounted on board as a set.

I'd wondered whether they were decorative stickpins or functional attaching pins. As you can see, they turned out to be the latter.

It's not clear whether the heads of the pins are separate rings of metal that have been slipped over the shaft, or if each pin is a single piece of wire that has been knotted at one end to form the head.

The pins are made of copper or an alloy, judging from the colour of the corrosion. Each is about an inch long, tapering to a point.

The curator also brought up an 18th-century cutwork cap by mistake. It was very pretty, though, so I took a photograph:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

That thing where you're too busy crafting to post about your crafting...

The shirt is done. I got a fair number of photos during the process, so I'll run through the whole lot.

The first part of the process was designing the embroidery. I decided to base my design on the original embroidery of the shirt, albeit not as densely stitched because my fabric was coarser. I ended up with bees and roses for the cuffs:

and bees and acorns for the collar:

The bees are from his heraldic device, and the acorns are the emblem of a service award he holds. The vines and leaves are also based on the original embroidery.

I drew the pattern up actual size and then transferred it to my fabric by the very professional method of holding it up to the window and drawing it. It worked reasonably well, but I really want to get a lightbox for future projects.

I tacked the full cuff outline onto the fabric before I started embroidering the first cuff, just to ensure I didn't forget my seam allowances. (I did all of the embroidery on a single piece of fabric in a q-snap frame, and then cut it out afterwards.

Things were going great, right up until I ran out of black embroidery floss:

Seriously, who runs out of black embroidery floss? Me, that's who. Still, I went to the shop the next day, and finished all the embroidery that evening.

I don't have any photos of the next phase, but I hemmed the bottom edges of the body fabric so they wouldn't fray horribly. The sleeves went onto the shoulders next; I just used running stitch. After that I put the underarm gussets in and sewed up the arm and side seams. That process was slightly more complicated than I'd anticipated, because Patterns of Fashion doesn't seem to mention anywhere how far open the sleeves were below the cuff, or even if they were at all. Going by the cuff measurements I concluded that they had to be, otherwise you'd never get your hand through. And after some digging on the internet, I found the Flickr album of a person who had been to the Museum of Fashion and taken lots of lovely photos of the shirt, including one where you could see the slit below the cuff. No measurements, but knowing the length of the sleeve allowed me to guesstimate. This is what I ended up with:

I hemmed the open edges of the slits before putting the cuffs on. Incidentally, gathering a sleeve into a cuff is a pain and requires approximately one million pins. I'm going to need a lot more practice, but I think this went well for a first attempt.

In the above photo you can see a classic example of why it's important to double-check your measurements before you do your embroidery layout. The blackwork ought to go all the way out to the edge, but I screwed it up. Ah well. It is at least symmetrically wrong, and the collar isn't nearly so bad.

At this point, I decided to get as many of the inside seams finished as I could before starting to work on the collar. The original shirt had run and fell seams, so that's what I did too. Here's the finished underarm gusset, made possible by a Pinterest tutorial on felling underarm gussets that Lady C sent me.

I've never done felled seams before, but I'm very happy with how they turned out. Next up was cutting the collar opening. Again, no photos, but I had tacked across the shoulder "seam" so that everything would be in the right place. Cut across the shoulders and then down the front to form a slit. I hemmed the sides of those next, before gathering the opening into the collar. This was unexpectedly tricky, because you're left with no fabric at the bottom of the curve to turn into the hem. Again, I am really pleased with how this turned out.

The rectangle at the bottom of the slit is a reinforcing patch. The original shirt had them at the tops of the hip slits. I've also put them in here at the neck and on both wrists. The original shirt tore and was mended at the neck, and Himself has historically ripped out the wrists of his shirts, so I decided to put in a little extra work for caution's sake. The patches also have the bonus of covering the slightly unattractive point where hem turns into seam.

Once all the seams were done and reinforced, I had to suck it up and do the gathers for the collar. Instead of running a single thread across the full length, I started in the centre back and ran threads out to both sides. This made it a lot easier to get the gathers evenly distributed, and also meant that I was able to centre the collar properly. I think the next time I'll do three lines of gathering stitches instead of two, as some of the gathers got a little lumpy.

I managed to find a lady (at WorldCon of all places) selling 8mm linen tape. The original tapes were 6mm, but seriously, who's going to quibble over 2mm? I bought 5 yards of the stuff, so should be well stocked for the next few shirts. As in the original, I sewed them to the inside of the collar and cuffs:

though I think next time I'll enclose the ends inside the cuff. It looks better and I think is more secure.

The finished shirt is very long.

It's designed to be that way, though. When worn properly it gets tucked into the gentleman's trousers:

It should also have a doublet over the top of it. Without, though, it gives one a marvelous chance to pretend to be on the cover of a bodice-ripper:

Monday, 14 July 2014

A shirt for a spouse

My spouse, in fact. Ordinarily I have a policy of not making clothing for him (because he's perfectly capable of sewing his own), but since I'm planning fancy gentleman's clothing for me I figured I might as well practice on him.

The exemplar I'm using is a linen shirt dated between 1590 and 1620 that's apparently in the Bath Fashion Museum. (I say apparently because I can't find it on their website, though it appears on a number of Pinterest boards attributed to that museum.) It is also one of the patterned examples in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 4. 

The body of the shirt is a single continuous length of cloth with no seams at the shoulders. The 38-inch-wide fabric is the full width of the cloth, with the selvedges left attached. The sleeves are rectangles, gathered into the cuffs and with a square gusset in the underarm. The neck opening is a T-shaped slit with a rolled hem along the front and with small triangular gussets inserted at the tops of the shoulders before being gathered into the collar. The back of the shirt is several inches longer than the front.

The sleeves and gussets are attached using run and fell seams. Below the underarm gusset the selvedge edges are butted together until just below the hip, at which point it falls open to the bottom hem. The bottom hem is a very narrow rolled hem. There are reinforcing strips sewn in at the tops of the side openings.

The original shirt is heavily embroidered in black silk. There are alternating columns of scrolling flowers and leaves and isolated motifs of leaves and acorns on the front and back chest and both sleeves, as well as bands of similar scrolling flowers on the cuffs and collar. The columns running alongside the front neck opening merge into a single column below the opening.

Narrow linen tapes are sewn to the wrists just above where the cuff joins the sleeve, though it is not clear whether these are the original tapes.

My fabric is wider than the original, so I'm not going to be able to use the selvedges in the same way. I'll work run and fell seams all the way down the side openings and then continue the hems up to meet them. I'm also not planning to do nearly as much embroidery - just the collar and cuffs and possibly around the neck opening, in black embroidery cotton.

First up - cutting out the body and sleeves, and setting up the fabric that's going to become cuffs and collar on my embroidery frame.