A Northern Italian cotton gown from c. 1300

In the early 14th century the moralist Giovanni da Nono born near Padua and active in this Italian city, longingly looked back to the good old days when people of all classes were content with simple cotton tunics and giorneas. He was not alone in this: many Italian commentators of the 14th century associated cotton fabric with the simpler styles of the 13th century (1)
Cotton, and especially half cottons such as fustians were above all a mass produced fabric in 13th century Italy, aimed at the lower market segments. If you want to know more about cotton fabric in Europe in the Middle Ages, I have written an article which you can find here.

It was therefore very fitting to make a late 13th century-early 14th century gaurra (tunic/dress) from my hand spun, hand woven cotton fabric.

Cotton gowns were so common that the terms for two types of (half) cotton fabrics, pignolato and fustagno even were used as names for these simple gowns. The meaning of the word pignolato is not certain, but in the 19th century it was used for a all cotton cloth woven with a pattern resembling a pine cone(2) - could that mean a herringbone pattern? It could in any case not have been a complicated pattern, because these were cheap fabrics.

Italian medieval cottons were often dyed with woad, and patterns were commonly woven with both white, undyed, and blue, woad dyed, cotton.

Therefore I chose a blue and white herringbone Indian khadi fabric. Khadi means that the fabric is made in the traditional Indian way, hand woven with hand spun thread. I bought it from Heritage Trading on eBay.
The gown is enitrely had sewn with linen thread, using back stitch, and then felling the seams to one side with whip stitching.

The type of gamurra is one seen both in Emilia Romagna and in Lombardy, with a very high "waist" seam, under, or over the bust. I have previously made a luxury version of this, based on frescoes from Verona - you can see it here. There you will also find links to my blog posts about this type of high wasted gowns.

This time I was greatly inspired by some manuscript illustrations from Bologna:

In the middle image you see women wearing what I have interpreted as coifs, of the St.Birgitta type, and striped veils. My veil isn't striped, but I don't think that is a requirement ;)

For working I think it would have been common to wear just the coif or a headwrap, and not the veil, as can be seen in many of the later 14th century northern Italian manuscripts of the Tacuinum Sanitatis.

The way I am wearing the gamurra in the first images, hitched up for working with a second belt can be seen in Italian depictions from Roman times and up to the 15th century, and is of course very practical, though not in accordance with modern aesthetic taste. But then the seam almost over the bust really doesn't appeal to the modern eye either :)

1. Mazzaoui, Maureen Fennell, The Italian cotton industry in the later Middle Ages, 1100-1600, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge, 1981, p 98
2. Op. cit. p 90

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