Women in armor, part one

I’ve been thinking about this post for a really long time, but with the 2018 Met Gala bringing armor fashion into the spotlight, I thought maybe it was finally time to write it.

So! Women in armor.

Everyone’s seen paintings or movies or book covers that have women in armor. And (unless it’s modern military body-armor) there’s always discussion of whether it’s realistic, and whether that matters. Maybe it doesn’t matter; it’s hard for female armor designs to be anything but fantasy, since we have no confidently identified historical artifact evidence to back up any claim.

But… Modern depictions of women in armor, however historically they’re founded, are modern fantasies about what women’s armor was like.  And a lot of the well-known images of women in armor from before the 20th century are still from the modern or early modern period– 18th and 19th century imaginings of 13th and 15th century heroes.

Which leaves me with a very fun question: how does an artist of the medieval period– someone for whom armor is not a romantic distant cultural memory– imagine fantasy armor for women?

Continue reading “Women in armor, part one”

Women in armor, part one

1490s sleeve progress

Much too soon to declare victory, but I’m making progress.

I sort of settled on the question of whether historical gowns with big sleeves have the sleeve at the back of the arm (the way close sleeves like on the 1320 dress are made) or under the arm (like many modern clothes).  Reenactors mostly seem to do the seam under, and the one period picture that seemed to have any hint looked like the seam was at the bottom of the cuff. No picture had any visible seam.

Also, I looked at Medieval Tailor’s Assistant again and there’s a man’s garment (“short gown with dagged sleeve”) with about the right sleeve shape and a woman’s garment (“fashionable gown”) with a floor-length sleeve cuff. It turns out they use the same drafting instructions, and have the seam under the arm.

So I’ve drawn that up and, for a little while, I get to think about something other than sleeves as I draft the rest of the pattern and definitely don’t panic about wanting this to be done in three weeks. It’ll be fine. The pattern is the hardest part. I’m sure it is.  There’s no gathering or pleating in my future, at least. Should all be straight sewing. Heck! It’s not fitted, which means I don’t need to pattern the left and right sides differently!

Update an hour or so later: while I’m posting progress shots, here’s a couple of the bodice pattern! This is the “flared gown” from Medieval Tailor’s Assistant.

Making the bodice pattern from draped (“body block”) patterns.

Finished patterns for bodice and collar.

It didn’t come out perfectly– the armscye came out 1.75″ bigger than the sleeve I drafted. My theory is to just add … Wait, math moment. Add half of that to the height of the sleeve pattern, which is not what I wrote in my notes.  As an added bonus, this should take care of the bit near the armpit that I drew half a cm too narrow.

Thank you, math, for helping me be just the right amount ostentatious. I’ll let you, dear readers, know how the muslin of the bodice, collar, and sleeves goes soon.

(In much less interesting news, this is the first post I’ve written on my phone! I can’t figure out how to do a “read more” jump in this interface.)

1490s sleeve progress

Some lighter fare

I love when I mix up words in ways that seem telling about me– like the day I was thinking of a bookstore (McIntyre & Moore) but was sure I’d misspeak and say the name of a furniture store (Mohr & McPherson)… but what I actually said was Michelson & Morley, the scientists who first measured the speed of light.  Or the time I meant to say “Wayne like John Wayne?”… but said Bruce.

My most recent one is not at all surprising: I stopped in the middle of a sentence realizing I’d been talking about Boccaccio’s iconic wavy-blond-haired saints.  Boccaccio is a fourteenth century writer famous for De Mulieribus Claris (On Famous Women), so his name comes up a lot in my research!  But of course I meant Botticelli, who is famous for painting blonds, possibly including Caterina Sforza.

But to bring it all full circle, my paperback copy of Boccaccio has a Botticelli painting on the cover (“Pallas and the Centaur”)which is identified in this article as bearing many symbols associated with Caterina and her family.


1490s sleeve frustration

Well, I’m stumped on sleeves, so I’m trying to feel better by doing research.  (About sleeves.)

But first– the good news!  I found a dress that is fashionable in brocade with fur trim or lining, front-opening, has big sleeves that will fit over my brass aglets, is not closely fitted in the waist, there’s a pattern for it (or something very close) in The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, and also I like how it looks.  How’s that for a win?

Here it is:

Portrait d'une princesse tenant un faucon sur la main droite

Source: Louvre.  The museum only gives the date as “Early sixteenth century” and the place as “Netherlands,” but… I’ll take it.

What makes this dress different from every other big-V-neck “Burgundian gown” with fur trim and big fur-lined sleeves?  Many of those open from the neck past the belt, but until I found this one, all my examples seemed to have openings that stopped well before knee level, with the fur edges getting thinner and disappearing where the opening stops.  In this portrait, the fur edges get wider as they descend from the belt, making it believable that the dress is open all the way down the front. Continue reading “1490s sleeve frustration”


1490s overdress

Back to 1490s again.  Time to examine first principles of my goals and actually decide what I’m doing.


  • I want to make an overdress of some sort.
  • I like the idea and look of fur-lined sleeves.
  • I don’t really want to make a fitted bodice or a pleated skirt.
  • I want it to show off my gamurra.
  • I’d like it to be easy to put on, with a full front opening if possible.
  • Ideally, I want to be able to fight in it, should I choose to, so it should have good arm and shoulder mobility and not get caught on stuff too easily.
  • I don’t want to completely overheat if I wear it indoors; doing the fur as trim or as a partial lining may help with that as long as the shortcut doesn’t show on the outside.
  • If it’s going to be fur-lined (or just trimmed), it should probably not have open sides like a giornea.  That seems wrong.
  • I want it to be based on a garment shown in a document from the right time period.  If that garment is gold brocade with brown/tan and black leopard fur and worn over red, so much the better, because that’s how mine’s going to be and it’s good to back that up with documentation.

With all that said, I’m pretty sure I can’t have all of those things.  Here are my candidates for dresses from period pictures.

Continue reading “1490s overdress”


1320s Dress: Possible patterns

Today’s installment of 1320s dress research is a collection of online tutorials, free patterns (printable, scalable, cutting diagrams with measurements, et c), draping instructions/advice, reconstructed garments with dressmaking diaries (in-process photos and notes about lessons learned) or research information, commercial patterns, and a couple of shops offering ready-made options.  All about 14th century cotehardies, cottes, kirtles, and other terms for long-skirted dresses fitted in the torso.

For Walpurgis, I think it will be right to have a fitted dress underneath, and a less fitted surcoat, but most of these cover suitable variations on the shape or silhouette of the dress, close enough that the exact fittedness should be easy to adjust.  I’ll (probably, sometime) do up a separate post noting what details the Walpurgis dress should have based on the source material.

No pictures today; there’s a bajillion links, and pictures are fussy.

Continue reading “1320s Dress: Possible patterns”

1320s Dress: Possible patterns

1320s dress

And now, something else completely different: in which I research a costume that isn’t for me.  (Update: I’m not sure the images linked to bigger versions before; I believe I have now fixed that.)


Royal Armouries MS I.33, also called the Walpurgis Fechtbuch, is the oldest extant European treatise on combat.  The thing that really makes it memorable, however, is the page shown here, in which a woman, called Walpurgis (on the left in both pairs), is learning swordfighting from the priest who seems to be the master of the book.

So… if one wanted to dress like Walpurgis, where to begin?

The manuscript is from Germany in the 1320s.  Unfortunately, that’s far enough back that it’s not as easy to focus on a specific decade, but in this case I’ve already got a leg up in having a specific image to start from, rather than a person or event.  So I can say off the bat, based on Walpurgis’s shoulders and sleeves being different colors, that I need to find out about long-sleeved underdresses (cottes) and sleeveless but not sideless surcoats (or surcottes).  They’ll have full-length skirts; Walpurgis is sporting a lovely calf-length look because, like the priest, she has tucked her skirts up into her belt to keep them away from her feet.  (Fun fact: tucking robes up for swordfighting may be why Robin Hood’s clerical friend was called Friar Tuck.)

So.  I know what she’s wearing, but it would be nice to have more pictures, especially showing the torso area where all the complicated sewing will happen.  And anyway, look at that priest’s arms; would you trust this artist on fine details of fashion?

As it happens, I’m in luck: there is a manuscript from the first quarter of the 14th century which is about German writers of love songs.

800px-codex_manesse_311r_alram_von_grestenThe Codex Manesse has lots of pictures, many featuring women in sleeveless surcoats and long-sleeved dresses of contrasting colors.  Here’s one of a woman with similar fashion sense to Walpurgis: she’s added a headdress that is actually a fillet or gebende and not at all called a “pie-crust hat”, but she has the same sleeveless overdress and long, curly hair.

There are a bunch of examples of this style in the Codex, showing the fashion in different postures, in motion, and so on. There is also some variation in the arm-hole size in the sleeveless surcoats.

Also let’s just look at a lot of pages because this has to be the most adorable medieval manuscript ever.  Sure, war bunnies on snails are cute, but… look at these couples! (Click through for more pages, and a selection of reconstructed dresses and useful links.)

Continue reading “1320s dress”


1490s Fur

Yes, more 1490s.  And more sleeves!  I’m planning an over-garment for my 1490s dress.

I’ll make this one quicker than the last post.


I love these sleeves (left), but this garment won’t quite do.  I don’t want to make a whole second dress (shaped bodice, pleated skirt, et c) and I don’t want to make it black (inappropriate to the memory of Caterina Sforza).88d97c157277e48aa5f8586813f43d79

What other options are there for leopard fur trim around the year 1500?

This big-sleeve style (right) is, I think, after 1520 (as is the picture at left), so really too late for my project (which is 1490s but could reasonably stretch to 1510).

So… what leopard options are earlier? Continue reading “1490s Fur”

1490s Fur

1490s Sleeves

I wrote a bunch of this in January, then, apparently, forgot all about it.  This is not the 1490s fashion draft post I thought I had waiting!  Anyway, some sleeve talk.

This project consumed a lot more of my time and attention than I expected, although some of that actually went to starting a new job.  (Also, the dress was not the only project I was doing for the same deadline!  I’ll post some of the writing I did as part of the same project at some point too.)

But, for now, here are a collection of portraits whose sleeves I studied to determine the proper way of closing detached, open sleeves in and around the 1490s in Italy, plus some side commentary about necklaces.  Note that this is not a representative sample of common styles, or of the full range of sleeve options, just a selection of portraits that could teach me what I needed to know.  Except the weird back of shoulder shape.  I didn’t figure that one out.

Continue reading “1490s Sleeves”

1490s Sleeves