The House of Tatterdemalion

Unfashionable, unskilled, inexpensive--but still sewing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Medieval Tailor!

Are we sick of tailoring books yet? No! I have long wondered what the difference was between a "seamstress" and a "tailor". Somehow, I always wind up thinking that tailors take their work more seriously. A seamstress just wants to get the job done, and a tailor wants to get the job done right. So, as one wanting to learn how to excel at the craft of sewing, tailoring seems very relevant.

However, the
Medieval Tailor's Assistant: Making Common Garments 1200-1500, by Sarah Thursfield, isn't your typical tailoring book. It's about the roots of garment making as we know it, but the roots are very far from where we are at now. In all honesty, this book isn't geared toward one wanting to excel in sewing--it's aimed at the historical re-enactor, which I am not. Does all of this mean that this was a disappointing book? Far, far from it! I loved this book.

Back when fabric was terribly expensive, clothes were cut to be the most economical, wasting the least amount of fabric. Not only which, but they were also cut (for the working class) to give complete ranges of movement. The shirts are straight sleeved and gussested--never will it bind in the armpit! The pants were particularly intriguing. Pants, nowadays, look considerably more like a loose pair of hose than they do of the original pants. The "original" pants had a lot of ease right at the joints, so there would never be any binding. On top of all of this, they are simple. Simple enough that I could show my 6 year-old brother (who keeps begging for sewing lessons)how to make a shirt---and probably pants as well. No fitting issues, only straight seems, and quickly coming together.

Although in some ways the medieval clothes seem quite stupid (shoes so long that you can hardly walk?? Hose that's so skin-tight you can't even bend over??), for the most part they seem to take more consideration into movement than modern clothes. The seam joining the seam to the dress bodice does not fall at the joint, it falls further up the shoulder. All movement takes place with in the sleeve. (This is a practice many costume makers for dancers still follow.) The lower sleeves are fitting quite closely, but not without leaving a puff of extra fabric at the elbow to allow easy bending.
It was also fascinating reading about how to make the dresses, which were sometimes quite close fitting, without using darts!

This book is quite thorough, not only in styles, social classes, and fabrics, but also in construction. The book begins by showing you how to drape your basic block, and throughout the book it shows you how to manipulate your block to achieve the different clothing styles. (These skills, of course, are quite handy for anyone interested in sewing, wether you're sewing medieval style or not.) It also shows you how to drape full length hose, if for some reason you were crazy enough to want to wear it, as well as how to make shoes, hats and headdresses.

It is even thorough enough to cover medieval underwear, although she claims that only men wore underwear. I find this rather difficult to believe. For one thing, she freely admits that there isn't very many pieces of medieval clothing to examine, and most of their information comes from paintings, books and tapestries. As she also points out, in that day underwear "functioned differently"--which is to say, it was quite common to see it. On men, anyway. Women, of all classes, wore floor length gowns. Probably the most they know about women's undergarments comes from a painting of a woman being dragged off by her hair, thus revealing her legs up to her knees, by which you can see that women's hose stops at her knees.

Why I am quibbling over women's underwear in the medieval times, I don't know. But I do know that this book stirred my imagination, and made me itch to sew like few books have. I have always found medieval clothes to be rich sources of inspiration, but to see how simply the clothes are put together makes the end result seem so easy to reach out and take ahold of, and it is hard not to want to do just that.


Post a Comment

<< Home