Early medieval styles and clothing is very often thought to be dull, coarse and unattractive – a sort of a potato sack with a girdle. The stereotype might not be far from the truth as far as the lowest classes are concerned, however, once in the realm of middle and upper classes of society, one can discover an astonishing wealth of fabrics, colours and details. True, the basic cut remained more or less the same, but the ornamental details and the richness of materials more than made up for it.
In this article I will concentrate on a wealthy 9th century Anglo-Saxon woman and man – the outfits presented here were made for Black Knight Historical for Living History presentations. The cut of the clothes is pretty simple, but that was not what presented the challenge here: it was doing the research to get the clothes right in the first place! For that, I found the Anglo Saxon England website extremely useful and the study of the extant garments neatly presented by Mark Carlson was of enormous help as well!
Let us start with the male garments.
Throughout the early and middle medieval periods fashions changed very slowly. The most important aspect of everyday life was usually practicality, and so the basic clothes of that period are simple, practical and durable. The rudimentary attire of a man a commoner or a noble man would consist of the following layers.
Loincloth – a piece of fabric worn with hose or under trousers, usually depicted on the representatives of the poorer strata of the society
Braies : simple 2 legged trousers. Made in wool or linen – with the advance of Hose (single legged, tailored to fit the leg tightly and attached by a drawstring to the braires), braires replace the loincloth and are worn underneath. With the advance of Norman fashions later on, they can become very voluminous indeed! http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/trousers/breechesindex.htm
The early braies and late the hose was often secured at the lower leg with winingas – long strips of cloth binding the calves – often with a criss-cross binding of a woven braid on top of the woolen winingas. Winingas were wound spirally up the leg and then secured by tucking the end under, or by a metal tag hook
Undertunic ( smoc or serc) a linen A line garment with light cuffs and often split hem at the sides – a predecessor of a shirt!,
Tunic, or overtunic (cyrtel) a linen or more often, a woolen garment on top of the undertunic. Tunics were of varied length, from mid calf to over the knee, and long sleeved. Often the length of tunics worn one over the other could differ– and the top one could be just a bit shorter to show off the contrasting colour or hem decoration of the undertunic. Their cut was simple- early ones were simply made up of rectangular pieces, split at the sides – later on gores were used to give the tunic skirts more volume. They were not always made of one length of fabric- many finds show that they were often cut from much smaller pieces obviously depending on cloth available (http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/skjolha.html )
Often, the neck, hem and sleeves were decorated either with a woven braid or with embroidery – worked either directly on the garment or on a linen/silk/woollen band of a contrasting colour and then applied to the garment itself.
The tunics were usually belted with a simple braid or with leather belts.
A mantle or a cloak was worn over the whole attire – a large variety of styles seem to be in evidence, from a simple rectangular piece of thick woolen fabric, to semi or circular ones, often decorated with braid and pinned with a brooch.
The outfit would be complimented with shoes or boots and a woolen cap.
The set my client has decided on was 2 tunics and a rectangular cloak. He already owned braies and winingas and a linen undertunic, but wanted a slightly longer woolen tunic and a shorter one to go on top – and the cloak to compliment the image and to keep him warm in winter.
The tunics were cut in the same way, with only the length being different – the overtunic has shorter sleeves too to show off the embroidery on the longer one.
The pattern I used was based on the one from Mark Carlson site – I decided on two side gores with no front gores however:
2 m of honey mustard wool
2 metres of herringbone weave wool
2 metres of thick pale red wool for the cloak
8 metres of hand-woven braid to decorate the cloak
0.5 m of linen for the neck and cuffs embroidery
Silk yarn for embroidery
Cut out the body of the tunic first, making sure there is enough space for movement. Cut out the sleeves, underarm gussets and side gores.
Sew the gussets to the sleeves first. Sew the shoulders together and then stitch the sleeves to the body – mark the middle line of each sleeve, and pin it to the shoulder seam- to make sure it is symmetrical. Sew the gores to the front of the tunic then fold the tunic at the shoulder seams and run one long seam from the cuff to the hem, stitching the sleeve, front and back and gore to back pieces in one go. Repeat on the other side.
Turn the tunic to the right side, try it on and adjust the length and the width of the neck opening.
Repeat for the other tunic. Once sewn, I finish all the edges by hand using linen or silk threads, and couch down all the interior seams: it flattens them out and gives even a partially machine-sewn garment an authentic look. All I had to take care off was the embroidery – and that took much longer than the tunics!
As far as the patterns and techniques are concerned, I found Jane Stockton article most helpful – very detailed instructions and a nice selection of patterns. http://www.axemoor.net/pdf/1_Embroidery_for_Clothing.pdf
Start with preparing your fabric. I used two rectangles, one for the neckline and one for the cuffs. I drew the design on the fabric and attached the fabric to my wooden tapestry frame. Make sure the fabric is taunt and stretches evenly in all directions. Now for the lengthy process of embroidering. I used lovely silks from Sally Pointer (http://sallypointer.moonfruit.com/), divided into two threads strand. I opted for the chain stitch as being relatively easy on straight lines, curvy lines and it is good for filling in shapes nicely as well. It takes a few trials to get the stitch length sorted out, but after a few minutes of practice, I was ready to embroider in earnest. And embroider I did- and for quite some time too!
Once you have all the embroidery done, take the pieces from the frame, and cut them to shape – make sure you leave some fabric so that it the raw edges can be folded under and stitched to the tunic without compromising the pattern.
Iron the pieces carefully and pin onto the fabric. Stitch the folder edges to the main fabric with small, even stitches. Once in place, iron again – and you are done!
With the tunics out of the way all that remained was the cloak, and that was pretty straightforward: cut a rectangle of fabric, hem it and it is ready. You can line your cloak, or leave it unlined, and you can put some decorative touches to it embroider the corners or hems, or, as in this case, you can sew a hand-woven braid on top of it.
Braids were woven using either small heddles for simple patterns or tablets with holes ( pic.13) – three, four six and eight varieties can be bought from at any re-enactment fair, and the basics of weaving are easy. http://www.stringpage.com/tw/basictw.html
Similarly to the male garments, women from that period had a lot of choice as far as fabric, colours and decoration was concerned, even though the basic cut remained simple. The layers a wealthy woman would be wearing would be:
Undergown (smoc) – an A line kirtle with tight sleeves, reaching probably all the way to the ground. It was most likely that women would were one in linen (a later chemise or smock) with another one in wool over it. The second layer is often called the overgown as well as the distinctions here seem to be rather blurred. I usually assume that the undergown is the linen or fine wool dress with long narrow sleeves, always reaching to the ground, on top of which you can have the overgown with straight or flared sleeves.
Overgown proper ( cyrtel) – as mentioned above, a woollen garment with straight sleeves, which In later times started to flare our a bit leading to the long trailing sleeves , particularly evident in the 12th century Norman fashions.
It could have been lined or unlined – the pictorial evidence seem to suggest that both solutions were used, though contrasting lining would present a nice decoration with the flared sleeves style.
As far as length is concerned, again it would be ground or ankle length- though it is argued that it was indeed sometimes a bit shorter, probably depending on the amount of fabric available – or maybe to show off the contrasting colour of the undergown. Whatever is the case, my client opted for the slightly shorter version. Gowns and undergowns are often shown hitched up over the belt – a practical solution for such a long and voluminous garment!
On top would go a mantle- a circular affair in wool, with lots of drape, or, again, for the practical reasons, a rectangular cloak like the men’s one would do the job just as well
Headwear – most women would wear a wimple – a rectangular piece of linen, draped around head and neck, often secured with a fillet- a braid or metal circlet worn on top. Veils were popular among the ecclesiastical community, but with time secular women would wear a veil and a circlet on braided hair as well- again depictures in later centuries and mostly among Norman fashions.
My client opted for a woollen undergown (she already had a linen one) decorated with embroidered bands of silk, a shorter overgown decorated with a woven braid and a rectangular cloak in lovely chequered wool.
I used the following:
3.5 metres of fine, deep aubergine wool
3 metres of red wool
2 metres of chequered wool for the cloak
8 metres of hand-woven braid to decorate the overgown and to serve as a girdle
0.5 m of yellow silk for the neck and cuffs embroidery
Silk yarn for embroidery.
The cut and pattern were almost identical to the men’s tunic, but obviously longer. Also, the overgown sleeves were straight and not narrowing.
For the instructions of how to make the gowns, follow the instructions given in the male attire section – they are the same!
Here are the two outfits worn by Ian and Kindra at the Norfolk Cathedral Christmas Fair – and don’t they look snug and dashing!
Anglo-Saxon embroidery http://medieval.webcon.net.au/loc_england_anglo_saxon.html [Accessed 02/03/2011]
Anglo Saxon England: http://anglosaxonengland.net/rana/docs_files/Anglo-SaxonClothes.pdf [Accessed 01/03/2011]
Basic tablet weaving: http://www.stringpage.com/tw/basictw.html [Accessed 05/03/2011]
Corbis images, documentary http://www.corbisimages.com/Enlargement/AW003493.html [Accessed 05/03/2011]
Carlson, I. M. (1996-). Some Clothing of the Middle Ages Historical Clothing from Archaeological Finds. Retrieved 10/03/2011, from http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/cloth/bockhome.html
Jane Stockton,Embroidery for Clothing – Anglo-Saxon,http://www.axemoor.net/pdf/1_Embroidery_for_Clothing.pdf [Accessed 02/03/2011]
Joan Clarke, English Costume through the Ages, The English Universities Press LTD, London, 1966
10th and 11th Century Clothing in England: A Portfolio of Images http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/rhuddlan/images/[Accessed 05/03/2011]