Blanche Mortimer Gown, 14th century

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reproduction in action

One of the latest commissions was a early to mid 14th century gown and a cloak/mantle, based on the effigy of Blanche Mortimer.

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Blanche died in 1347. She is buried in the chancel of Much Marcle parish church.

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close up of the effigy

The customers, lovely ladies from Mortimer HIstory Society, Dress and Textile Group, spoke to me at TORM ( The original Re-eanctors market) last autumn, and after a short discussion we had the basics sorted out – we got 10 metres of lovely wool for the dress and the mantle,  plain linen for the lining of the kirtle, and lovely silk for the lining of the mantle. The buttons, small, pewter with a flower pattern, were also bought there. I purchased the wool for the braid and the silk thread later on.

The dress ( kirtle)  is a relatively simple affair: in the beginning of the 14th century loose and voluminous garments were all the fashion. The middle of the century saw a small revolution in the cut and dressmaking techniques – as the skills and tailoring knowledge increased, the clothes started to follow the contours of the body much closer, and the fit accentuating the silhuette was slowly becoming fashionable. As a result,  the second  half of the century sees much more fitted kirtles ( easily spotted under the loose surcoats, especially the later ones with the fashionable ‘windows’ or ‘gates of hell’ wide side openings), even though the outer garments could still be loose like houppelandes and surcoats, or more close fitting as well like cotehardies.

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the open sided surcoat showing the closely fitted kirtle underneath

Blanche’s effigy shows her gown relatively close fitted, though it is most likely, that, since she died in 1347, she missed the newfangled fashions. Her garments before she died would probably fall within the transitional period – not too voluminous, but also not too fitted either.

The client asked for a more or less size 12, with back lacing so that the gown could be worn by ladies ranging from size 10-14.

Construction/pattern.  There is quite a lot of evidence showing the garments of the period as being constructed from several pieces.  Some of the pieces were purely there as the cloth available was usually too narrow to ensure cutting  big panels in one go – something that the upper class  could occasionally do, though considering the general narrow width of the cloth in the middle ages, even  the clothing of the rich would be pieced.

Generally it may be said that pattern tended to consist of  4 main panels  ( 2 front, 2 back) , sleeves  ( often pieced as well, including a more complex construction  – like the later Moy Bog dress,  http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/moy.html )  and gores in the skirts. The number of the gores varies, their length as well – the evidence from  Molesund or Greenland ( Herjolfsnes) shows a stunning variety – including  the famous woman’s dress with side gores reaching the armpit – a more advanced technique from the ones seen in the previous centuries  http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/tunic2.html.

There also existed a few dresses ( like the Uppsala dress – http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/uppsala.html )  which basic construction was simple – just 4 pieces, flaring out from the waist –  simpler to make, needing less time for stitching, but requiring a wider cloth.

Blanche’s kirtle is a mixture of  the two trends – the body consists of 4 main parts, flaring out slightly, plus gores, adding a bit more volume to the skirts.  The  dress is made in wool  first, with the hem folded up and stitched with silk thread –  the fabric was of a very good quality, and not fraying at all – a godsend!

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hemming with a slip stitch

 Lining is made separately and then  inserted into the garment , the hems folded over and stitched to the wool seam allowance.

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sewing the lining in with a linen thread

  Eyelets at the back are made with an awl: in this way the threads in the fabric are not cut, but pushed aside, resulting in a stronger eyelet

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eyelets ready

 The sleeves are  open to the elbow, and the buttons and buttonholes are worked in silk thread.

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buttonholes son, stitching on the buttons

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sleeve ready!

The mantle is made out of two semicircles.  First in wool, which is hemmed with a stronger stitch, and then the silk lining is added.

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mantle hemmed

the lining is attached to the mantle at the front sides and top only , the bottom is hemmed separately  and is left floating.  There are two reasons for the construction- primo, the silk is stiffer and it would hold its structure, whereas the wool will stretch a little.If that happens when the lining is attached, it will result in unsightly bulging at the base.  Secundo, by keeping the silk layer separate, and a bit shorter, the pricey fabric will not get as dirty as quickly.. similar solutions are used nowadays in modern coats as well – mostly to ensure that the outside fabric hangs well.

You can  join the two layers without problems if the fabrics share  characteristics – linen or another layer of wool will  work well as it will stretch together.

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silk stitched to the front edges of the mantle

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the silk lining hem

 The mantle will close with braid and broaches –  the braid is handwoven, on a heddle loom, and the same braid will be used  to secure the veil.

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threading the heddle with woolen yarn

For  the quickly snapped pictures in the garden, I wore my linen chemise, the gown, medieval shoes and the mantle left open.  My hair is braided in two plaits, coiled at the sides of my  head and covered by a linen wimple and a veil, secured by pins and the braid.

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clutching at my prop:-)

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with the mantle on

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back view showing the lacing

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and a full frontal

 All together, it has been an interesting commission, and i was thrilled i actually got to wear the dress, even if it was just for the sake of the few pictures. The gown goes on display this Saturday, so hope it will be well received!

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3 thoughts on “Blanche Mortimer Gown, 14th century

  1. Pingback: 1320s dress – Darth Kendra Research

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