A German dress from c. 1130

Made in 2004

 This dress is based on the illustrations in the legend of St. Lucy in a german manuscript from c. 1130. There are several pictures showing both unmarried and married women in the manuscript.

In this picture you see Lucy among a group of virgins, the appointed groom is portrayed in the top field. In the right illustriation St. Lucy is having a vision of St. Agatha (for those unfamiliar with the story of St. Lucy I recommend the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on her). In the lower field you see St. Agatha wearing the dress of a married woman and lying on the floor you also see a married woman, probably Lucy's mother.  Being both married and having children I choose to dress myself in the style of a married woman. In photos above I'm pregnant with my daughter Maja and in this picture to the right you can see me breastfeeding her when she was three weeks old, wearing the same dress.

The nursing slits are placed right in front of each breast and under the dress I'm wearing a shift with a slit down in the front, reaching all the way to my waist. That the openings aren't in the same place ensure some modesty even if I don't sew the nursing slits shut. Since I have rather large breasts I still need to do that, however, otherwise the slits gap too much. If I had made the slits even longer, reaching to below the waist and the dress had been a little wider it might have been possible to keep the slits closed just by folding the dress under the belt so they overlap. It is better though to put the slits a little to the side and if possible in a seam. Then it gets easier to close the slits when you have stopped nursing. I have done that on my early 13th century dresses. Nursing slits can be seen on several pictures of the virgin Mary from the 13th century.

 The dress is made of 100 % thin wool, based on rectangles and gores, one in each side, in the front and back. There are no sleeve holes and the sleeves are cut straight where they are attached to the body of the dress, much the way a modern t-shirt is cut. In essence it is based on the Kragelund tunic (this link takes you to Marc Carlsson's site about archaeological finds of clothing), but the sleeves are cut in just one piece.

For the construction I chose to use a method which gives the appearance of the dress being stitched by hand from the outside, but also from the inside unless you get very close. All the straight seams are sewn by machine, as a straight stitch on a machine looks fairly similar to a handsewn backstitch. Then the seam allowances are felled and stitched down by hand. To do this you first split the seam allowances an iron them, fell them to one side and iron them again. Then you cut the seam allowance that is under the other so it's only ca 7 mm wide, the other being ca 15 mm. You fold the wider seam allowance around the edge of the narrower and whipstitch the felled seam against the main fabric.The finished result looks like this, if you can make something out of the picture, my camera is not so good at close details.

The silk I used for sewing is a bit lighter than the fabric, but it was on sale. Unless your fabric is fairly thick the stitches will show as small dots on the right side, no matter how small stitches you make. This is perfectly period and gives it a nice handstitched look.

 The trim around the neck is something that really chartacterises the gowns in the manuscript, so I chose to trim the neckline even if you can't see it when I am so wrapped up in my veil as on the top photos.

The trim is made from three different parts. There are two strips of yellow felted wool and between them a woven ribbon, also made of wool. If you look at the illustrations you see that the trim on the dresses are probably wide bands with embroidery and maybe applique. There might also have been pearls, stones and gold ornaments attached too it. Note also the similarity between the girls' circlets and the trim. The reasons I choose to do the trim the way I did are two: Firstly I didn't feel like doing all that work on this dress. Secondly I think the woven trim looks so good with the pale purple fabric in the dress.

 I think I didn't do a terribly good job with the shape of the neckline. I cut it slightly rounded in the back and square in the front. It didn't turn out like the manuscript. First of all I didn't remember that "dip" in the middle of the front, when I cut it. There are one or a few examples without this dip so I don't feel too bad about it. Secondly the square became too wide after I turned down the edges, I definitely should have made it narrower. I also think you shouldn't make it prefectly square, but with a narrower angle in the corners. Now it's 90 degrees, maybe it should be 80 or 75? Also I think the back of the neck shouldnt' be cut out at all, just a straight line, because you see in the picture that it goes high up in the back of the neck.

 In this photo you can see the inside of the sleeves, where you see the stitches, which I think are decorative in their own way.

 Most of the gowns in the manuscript have trim at the hem as well, but the people lying down in the picture above don't. This is good for me since I didn't have enough of the ribbon to do that. In the upper section of the same image, Lucy also displays the weird piece of trim around one thigh that you sometimes see in manuscripts from the 12th century. I have no idea how to make it look like that. 

Under the purple dress I wear a sleeveless linen shift (I have no documentation for sleeveless shifts this early, but there isn't any place for sleeves under the tight sleeves on the green dress) and a pale green tunic made of thin wool.

It is made in the same way as the overgown, the only differences are the sleeves and the neck. The sleeves are very tight at the wrist and ca 20 cm longer than needed, to give the wrinkled effect so popular in the 11th and 12th centuries and which can be seen in a detail from one of the illustrations above. The neck is cut as vertical slit that widens sligthly at the shoulders, just like the Kragelund tunic, mentioned above. This is my favourite way of making neck holes when I do 12th century. It is based on a find from the period and you can either leave it open, to produce a V-neck or close it with a pin or brooch. Usually I wear the underunic closed and the gown open so you can see the decorations on both. Since I'm wearing a veil wrapped around my neck with this style you don't see either. I have pinned my braids around my head to give me something to pin the veil to. If you don't have long enough hair for this, a good trick is to wrap a thin strip of linen around your head, behind the ears, close to the hairline in front and secure it in the back of the neck. Then you can pin your veil to that.

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