Monday, October 21, 2013

The Bocksten Man Tunic

The tunic worn by the Bocksten man
The Tunic:

The first garment we will focus on for our reconstruction of the Bocksten man outfit is the tunic. The tunic worn by the Bocksten man is a fairly typical example of geometric construction, meaning that the pattern is comprised solely of geometric shapes (rather than complex curves). There are several advantages to this method. First, this method avoids wasting fabric by making use of rectangles and right triangles. Second, this method simplifies the process of patterning, as it breaks the body into component simple shapes. It should therefore be obvious that this fits our design principles of being both cost effective and simple. However, it is also a highly authentic method of construction, as geometric construction is present in archaeological finds that date back to pre-roman times and forms the basis of garments well into the 19th century. With regards to historic costuming, understanding geometric construction will serve us well not only in making medieval tunics, but also in the construction of virtually every other garment including medieval braies, chausses, hoods, dresses, and arming garments as well as shirts and other undergarments during the renaissance.

Tunics as an Undergarment:

In general, two layers of tunics or more is appropriate. Historically, an undyed or bleached white linen under-tunic would have been worn against the skin. This layer had the benefit of being more comfortable against the skin than wool and would also have been easier to wash, which would have been important considering that its proximity to the body would have meant that it would be soiled with sweat and oil. This garment does not seem to have survived the burial of the Bocksten man, which is somewhat typical, as vegetable-based fibers (like linen) are more prone to rotting than animal-based ones (like wool). The outer layers of tunics would generally have been constructed out of wool and could have been dyed fairly bright colors.

When making an under-tunic for yourself, it is reasonable to make it slightly shorter than your outer tunic and also to skip the insertion of the center gore (the triangle inserted into the middle of the front and back). I find that it takes me approximately 2 yards of 60" wide linen to do the undertunic and about 2.5 yards of 60" fabric to make the outer tunic.

Tunic of St. Francis of Assisi , also geometrically constructed

Geometric Construction:

One way to layout the Bocksten man tunic
To the medieval tailor, the purpose of using geometric construction was to waste as little cloth as possible. Fabric was expensive in the middle ages, as it all had to be made by hand. Wool, for instance, required that somebody raise sheep and shear them, that this wool be carded, spun, and woven into fabric. This fabric was then further treated by the process of fulling and was finally dyed. The production of other fabrics such as linen weren't any easier, and you can imagine the difficulty in unwinding the cocoons needed to make silk. The resulting fabric would have been rectangular in shape and would have been about 22" wide, limited by the arm span of the weaver. As a result, geometrically constructed garments are patterned primarily using rectangles and, at times, using triangles that can be formed from rectangles. The resulting patterns waste very little fabric and also allow medieval tailors to take advantage of the selvedge (finished edge of fabric that runs down both sides and that doesn't unravel). Modern technology has changed how fabric is woven, so these days we typically have 60" wide fabric to work with. This allows us to make our pieces a little wider if we need to, but really it just changes how we lay out our patterns. The image to the right demonstrates roughly how to lay out a geometric pattern for the Bocksten tunic using modern 60" wide fabric. That layout comes from a rather good tutorial on making the Bocksten tunic (link in the caption). The tutorial was posted by a user named Alric on the Dagohir forums and it provides fairly detailed instructions on the construction of the Bocksten tunic, so rather than reinventing the wheel, I'm simply going to direct you to go read that tutorial on how to make the tunic and will instead provide guidance on a few key features that I think are a little tricky or that the tutorial doesn't address well. 

The Historical Pattern:

The original bocksten tunic is a fairly simple tunic constructed from rectangles and triangles, as we've mentioned previously. The original would have had full-length sleeves and would have been long enough to reach mid-calf. You will also note that the triangular "gores" that are inset along the sides and center front and back give the tunic some added fullness. These gores seem to start around the natural waist, in contrast to the St. Francis tunic shown above, where the gores proceed all the way up to the armpit. The original was made out of medium-weight twill-woven wool. For recreating this tunic, a plain fabric or a herringbone pattern would both be good choices. In the SCA, we often use linen as a substitute for wool because it is a little bit cheaper, a little bit cooler, and a little bit easier to acquire. If you choose to use linen, I recommend a medium to heavy weight linen (5 - 7 oz) for constructing the tunic

This Site provides details on the actual pattern and pieces of the Bocksten tunic. You'll note that some of the pieces (like the right sleeve) are actually pieced together from smaller pieces. This would have been done on the original piece simply because the tailor ran out of fabric pieces large enough to make the whole sleeve, so instead he put two together, and voila! sleeve without waste. You probably have enough fabric to make this a single piece, so you can probably simplify the pattern by avoiding some of those seams. However, if you find that you need to piece fabric together in order to get a whole piece, by all means, do that, it's period.

Sleeve and gusset layout from original
If you examine the historical pattern closely, you'll see that Alric's tutorial made a few deviations from the original. First off, you'll note that Alric uses square armpit gussets where the original uses triangles. Second, you'll note that the sleeves of Alrics pattern are simple trapezoids, while the sleeves of the original are more rectangular from the shoulder to the elbow and finish with a trapezoid for the forearm. Don't worry, Alric's method is completely reasonable and falls well within the normal variation in geometric construction. However, if you look closely, you'll see that the pattern layout for the sleeves and armpit gussets could actually be cut from the same rectangle.

Another difference you'll notice is that the neck on the original Bocksten tunic is a simple oval, whereas Alric's tutorial uses a hole with a slit, forming a "keyhole" shape. Once again, both methods are reasonable and well within the variation of construction seen in medieval tunics, so feel free to use the method you prefer. Note, however, that on the original, this ends up requiring a larger neck hole (because your hole head needs to fit through it), but allows for a simpler method of neck hole finishing. I will address finishing the collar in a future post, as it is probably one of the more complicated aspects of tunic/shirt design.

Other Notes:

  • Alric's tutorial doesn't address seam finishing techniques. Seam finishing is crucial if you want to wear your garment more than once, because well, fabric falls apart after you cut it unless you do something to prevent it from unraveling. Because there are several possible methods of seam finishing and because it is important for all garments, not just this tunic, I will be posting a separate post that is dedicated solely to seam finishing techniques. 
  • Alric assumes the usage of your shoulder measurement to find the body block width. This might not work if you are on the heavier side. Instead I recommend also measuring the circumference of your chest (at the nipples) and your belly (at the bellybutton), dividing those two values in half, and using the larger of those three measurements (shoulder width, chest/2, belly/2) as figure "B" when following his pattern. 
  • Alric doesn't really mention adding seam allowances. I typically add an inch to each measurement to give me a half inch of seam allowance on all sides. If this is your first attempt at making a pattern, I recommend adding 2 inches, because it is far easier to remove material than it is to add it later. 
The next post in this series will show you how I begin making my own Bocksten tunic. I'll also be posting some tutorials on seam finishing and on finishing the collar.