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 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

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

1560-70 Fencing Clothes

It’s time, once again, for a new sewing project.  This time, I’m making clothes after the illustrations in Joachim Meyer‘s fencing treatises.

Meyer produced a printed book (which saw two editions) and a manuscript, both with illustrations.  Here’s one of the woodcuts from the printed book:


The manuscript has color, painted illustrations.  I’m basing my sewing project on this one, because I like the colors and also because it’s one of the simplest depictions of this fashion, with relatively restrained slashing.  (It happens to also be the first illustration, but I have looked through all of them and still like this one best, even better than the other lavender, white, and black pluderhose.)


In order to recreate this fabulousness, I’m using patterns from Janet Arnold‘s 1985 Patterns of Fashion; she studied and measured the clothing of Svante, Erik, and Nils Sture which was preserved by Marta Sture, Svante’s wife and Erik and Nils’s mother, following their deaths by politically-motivated murder.  The clothing they died in, as well as some items that had belonged to a third brother that died two years earlier, were preserved and buried in an iron box, discovered in the 18th century, and displayed ever since.  Here’s a photo of the display (source), which is in Uppsala Cathedral:


This collection is of course wonderful just as examples of well-preserved clothes, but the details of the provenance make it especially valuable to costume historians: these suits were all fashionable at the same time, with a young dandy kind of variation (Erik, whose clothes are on the right, was 21, which might explain his extra poofing and stripes everywhere), a practical sporting kind of variation (Nils, center, more in a moment), and a middle-aged man’s more sedate clothing (Svante, at left, with wider panes and shorter poofs, a less dramatically shaped torso, and rich but not elaborate braid-trimmed velvet).  Also, both Svante and Erik’s suits have been altered to accommodate weight gain.  Erik’s suit appears in a portrait of him from a few years earlier.

I’ll be working most closely from Arnold’s patterns of Nils’s clothes, shown in the center.  She believes this outfit might have been his riding or traveling clothes; it’s made of sturdier materials than the other two, with the puffs of the pluderhose made from wool rather than silk (although the panes are still velvet), and the doublet and internal structure of the pluderhose made of chamois leather (originally probably also black).

Since the guys shown in Meyer aren’t wearing hats, I’m not planning to do a hat for this costume, but if I do, I may base it on the hat remains in the center of the Sture display.  I actually haven’t read much about the hat itself in terms of fashion details, but it belonged to Sven Svantesson Sture, who wore it with the small glove seen at the left edge of the display case pinned to the band.  The glove is knit very finely with a fancy pattern and the name of Sven’s betrothed, who may have knit it for him as a token.  You can see a better photo of the glove and read more at Knitting Daily.

So… that’s my sewing agenda for the next month or two!  I’ll let you know if I survive the trials of linen blend, microsuede, and poofing.


1560-70 Fencing Clothes

When is Pinterest Research useful?

I wrote previously about some of what I mean when I say “Pinterest Research.”  But there’s another important piece of the process: Pinterest research is right for some projects, but I don’t use it (or start with it) for everything.

I used the process used for my first Regency dress to explain that Pinterest can help find an individual example to imitate, or look at lots and lots of examples to understand “rules” and trends of some particular category (time, place, activity, et c), or look at lots and lots of examples to find one that shows the exact under-arm-cuff-seam I’m having trouble with.  Additionally, though I didn’t mention it there, I often find examples of modern reconstructions whose creators have documented their projects online, which are also very helpful for technical details as well as broader advice. Continue reading “When is Pinterest Research useful?”

When is Pinterest Research useful?

What is Pinterest Research?

I get asked from time to time what Pinterest is “for” or how it might be used (by people who aren’t looking for household how-to stuff).  I can’t speak for everybody, but I can say a little about when I turn to Pinterest.

I started using Pinterest because it worked as an aggregator for photos of items held in many, many museums across the world.  I enjoy searching museum catalogs, but I don’t always know which museums have good collections for what things, and finding that out can be a challenge in itself.

But let’s rewind a little– why do I need to aggregate photos of museum items?  You can probably guess from this blog that I do a lot of historical research, and much of it is about clothing.  I started using Pinterest for museum collection research when I decided to make a Regency ballgown– but I didn’t know anything about them.  I had a pattern, but I needed to buy fabric, and I didn’t know what colors were good choices, or what kind of trim was appropriate.  So I looked for pictures online, which led me to photos of museum items (extant clothes and portraits), which led me to a lot of Pinterest pages. Continue reading “What is Pinterest Research?”

What is Pinterest Research?

La Maupin

And now for something completely different…

My unexpected project this winter has been a new-from-the-ground-up Swordswomen Through the Ages combat and history presentation.  The idea was to pair biographies of women we know got in sword fights with combat appropriate to their time, place, and social milieu.  We chose Caterina Sforza (the Tigress of Forli), Catalina de Erauso (the Lieutenant Nun), and La Maupin (that hellion contralto), later adding the less-well-attested Walpurgis of the Walpurgis Fechtbuch after concluding that Nadezhda Durova (the Cavalry Maiden) was really exciting but we didn’t have time to develop mounted saber combat or hussar uniforms.

I researched and wrote some of the material, and I’m now pleased to bring to you: a short biography of La Maupin, whose real first name is unknown, which makes her hard to talk about casually.

Continue reading “La Maupin”

La Maupin