Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Geometric Construction

One of the cool things about medieval clothing is the fact that much of it can be created using simple geometric shapes such as rectangles, triangles, and trapezoids (which are ultimately a rectangle + 2 triangles). For instance, if we look at this tunic, we can see that it is made from several parts:

Body Block:
The largest of these parts is called the body block. The body block is a large rectangle used to cover the front and back side of the trunk. It can be constructed by either using one long rectangle that is folded over at the shoulders or two smaller rectangles that are sewn together at the top of the shoulders. A neck hole is cut out of the body block, however there is some variation in the shape and finishing techniques used to finish the collar. The width of the body block is calculated by measuring the circumference around the chest/bust. This should measure the largest portion of the chest which is typically under the armpit and across the nipples. I typically add about 4" of ease to this measurement in order to give me some room to breathe/take off the tunic and also add 2" of seam alloance (1" for each front and back) then divide it in half to give me the width for the body block. For example, my chest measurement is 46". I add 4" of ease and 2" of seam allowance for a total of 52". I then divide this in half to give me the appropriate width for my body block, 26". The length of the body block depends on the type of garment you are trying to make. To calculate this, take the measurement from the top of the shoulder (shoulder seam) down to where you would like the garment to end. If you are making a knee-length tunic, this should be just below the knee, for a mid calf tunic, measure to the mid-calf, for an ankle length tunic, measure to the ankle, and so on. You will also want to add 1" for seam allowance. In my case, I found that the correct measurement from the top of my shoulder to mid-calf was about 44", so I added 1" to give me 45". If I were trying to create a patter with a one-piece body block that folded at the shoulders, I would double this number and cut out a body block that is 90" long x 26" wide. If I instead wanted to make the body block in two pieces, then I would want to cut out two 45" long x 26" wide body pieces.

When it comes to creating our garments, sleeves are probably the most difficult part to pattern. At the most basic level, they are tubes that our arms go in, so we could pattern them as a rectangle, however this will result in a lot of extra material at the wrist, so I instead suggest that you pattern them as a trapezoid. In order to do this, we will need 3 measurements.

In order to calculate the length, we will need to measure the distance from the shoulder seam to the wrist, however we need to keep 2 things in mind. First, we need to make this measurement along the outside of the arm with the elbow bent so that we are measuring the longest distance that the sleeve will need to cover. Second, we need to recall that our shoulder seam will occur an inch or two further down our arm than it does on modern clothing because the body block will be wider than our shoulders. If you are confused by this second point, however, it is perfectly fine to use a measurement that is slightly too long, as you can just trim off excess sleeve length when you finish the cuff. We will also want to add 1" of seam allowance as before, so for instance, while my sleeve length measurement is 22", I cut out a 23" long sleeve.

In order to calculate the width, we need to measure the largest circumference around our arm. Once again, this occurs when the elbow is bent and the bicep is flexed. We will need to measure the circumference around the elbow. I typically add 1" of ease to this measurement and 1" of seam allowance in order to calculate how wide our trapezoid needs to be at the middle of its length. In order to finish our trapezoid, we need to take one more measurement that will tell us how narrow the sleeve needs to be at the wrist. This measurement is taken around the hand because, as you will note, your hand is larger than your wrist and needs to pass through the cuff of your sleeve. You will want to add 0.5" of ease and 1" of seam allowance to this measurement. My elbow circumference measurement was 16" to which I added 2", giving a total width of 18". My hand measurement was 10.5", to which I added 1.5", giving a total width of 12". You will note that the 18" measurement needs to be the width near the middle of the trapezoid, so the width at the shoulder will need to be wider. In order to calculate the width at the shoulder, we can simply calculate the difference between our elbow and wrist measurements (18" - 12" = 6"), divide that in half (6"/2 = 3"), and add that to the elbow measurement (18" + 3" = 21). So, my sleeve needs to be a trapezoid that is 23" long and that is 21" wide at the top and 12" wide at the bottom.

Gussets are small squares that help to add a bit of extra space to the base of the sleeve in order to allow for movement. While it may be tempting to simply include them into the sleeve, it also wastes fabric. Gussets should be about 6" square.


Gores are triangles that are added to the sides and/or inserted into the middle of the body block in order to flare the bottom of the garment out and to add fullness in a fabric-efficient manner. While there are examples of dresses with as many as 12 gores, a fairly typical arrangement involves 4 gores, with one gore attached to either side of the body block, and one gore inserted into the middle of the front and back parts of the body block. The insertion of these "center gores" is done by cutting a slit into the body block. You can see an example of this in the picture of the Bocksten tunic above.

Patterning gores is relatively straightforward. The overall shape for a gore is an isosceles triangle, however cutting out this shape is relatively wasteful of fabric. I prefer to cut each gore out as a pair of right triangles by making a rectangle with the appropriate length and height, and then cutting it along the diagonal. These right triangles can be sewn together along their long edge (not their hypotenuse) in order to form an isosceles triangle-shaped gore.

The length of each gore will depend on where the flare is intended to start and where the garment will end. If I wanted a gore to go from my natural waist and the garment was supposed to reach mid-calf, then I would measure the distance from my natural waist to mid-calf. I would then add 1" of seam allowance to this dimension. The width of each gore part depends on exactly how much fullness I want to add to the garment and to some extent, how much fabric I have left. If making the gores slightly smaller means that I can use 2.5 yards of fabric instead of 3 yards, then I should make them narrower. In my repoduction of the Bocksten tunic, I ended up having a measurement of 32 inches from waist to mid-calf, so I ended up with 33" long gores. I ultimately chose to make each gore about 18" wide, so I divided that in half and added 1" of seam allowance, meaning that for each gore, I cut out a 33" x 10" rectangle and then cut that in half along the diagonal.


Now that we have calculated the sizes for each of our pieces, it's time to consider how to lay out those pieces on our fabric. Typically linen and wool come in 60" wide pieces. Fabric should be pre-washed in the same way that you intend to wash the garment. I tend to wash the fabric with hot water, then machine dry. This tends to shrink the fabric somewhat, and I have found that 60" wide fabric shrinks down to about 56" after pre-washing. As a result, it is important to plan for this. The ultimate goal of planning our fabric layout is to determine how much fabric we need to purchase. We therefore want to be efficient with our layout so that we don't buy more fabric than we need. An example layout for a tunic based on my measurements is below. You will note that the length of the body block tends to determine how much fabric I need to purchase, and at 90", this suggests that I need to 2.5 yards of fabric in order to make my tunic.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Buying it: High Medieval Men's Clothing

While there is certainly a lot of pressure in the SCA and other reenactment/cosplay groups for participants to make their own clothing and accessories, it isn't necessary and is not the best solution for everybody. I have mentioned this in several other places on this website, but ultimately for those who lack the time and/or interest in making their own clothing, it is perfectly acceptable to buy what you need. However, purchasing medieval clothing can come with several pitfalls and it is easy to spend a lot of money on clothing that is of poor quality and that isn't authentic. As mentioned throughout the "First Garb on a Budget" series, authenticity, quality, and price are often competing goals, however, I have gone on a virtual shopping trip in order to help take some of the guess-work out of balancing these priorities. To do this, I provided myself with several limitations:

1) Items must be purchased from permanent merchants - I limited my shopping to online merchants who have been well-established within the SCA community and to those where I expect that anybody who is reading this article could follow the link to purchase the same item at any point in the foreseeable future.

2) Items should be off-the-rack - Given that one of the primary reasons for purchasing clothing rather than making it is time constraint, I have prioritized items that are available off-the-rack rather than custom-made pieces. Off-the-rack pieces also tend to be cheaper, which is another advantage.

3) The outfit must include all of the necessary layers and parts - Simply put, it is easier and cheaper to look good by wearing a simple version of all of the right things than it is to disguise the absence of an important part with bling.

4) The number of unique merchants should be limited - this should help to keep shipping costs down.

5) The selected clothing items should be reasonably authentic for the period between 1100 AD - 1350 AD.

6) The outfit should include the basic accessories - Long story short, a medieval person without shoes, a belt, and a head covering isn't dressed.


In order to balance the competing goals of authenticity and cost, there are a couple compromises that you might consider. First, some of the items in the list above aren't strictly necessary. You won't need a hat if you have a hood and coif, for instance. Likewise, the cloak, shoulder bag, knives, and belt pouch can be considered to be optional, however you may also decide that they are necessary from a practical standpoint. I will list these items below as optional rather than as part of the basic outfit. Second, you might consider buying outer garments that are made out of linen rather than wool. This is common in the SCA, but it may not be acceptable for other reenactment groups because it is not an authentic practice. Linen tends to be a little cheaper and slightly cooler than wool (though wool is surprisingly breathable and I prefer it to cotton even in the summer). My list below will provide both options so that you can see how this affects price and make the decision for yourself.

Where to Buy:

While there are a multitude of merchants who sell medieval clothing, I have selected only three of them based on their reputation for quality, customer service, authenticity, and price. Furthermore, by limiting the number of merchants, we can save money on shipping. I ultimately chose Historic Enterprises and Linen Garb for clothing items and Viking Leather Crafts for the leather goods. I generally find that HE's clothing is more authentic than LG, but for some items there is a significant cost difference, and so I have included both below:

Underwear Package with Linen Chausses - $134.95

Underwear Package with Wool Chausses - $139.95

Buy Separately:
Basic tunic from Linen Garb - $59.00
Basic linen tunic from HE - $89.95
Basic wool tunic from HE - $164.95

Linen coif from Linen Garb - $10.00

Linen hood from Linen Garb - $39.00
Wool hood from HE - $47.95

Buy a Package:
Bocksten Package - linen tunic, linen coif, wool hood - $153.95
Bocksten Package, wool tunic and hood, linen coif - $224.95


Shoes: Viking Leather Crafts has several shoe options. If you're going for a specific century, follow the headings on this page. The shoes start at $54.95, but I recommend purchasing the rubber half-sole for an additional $15, which will improve your traction on grass and also increase the lifespan of your shoes as gravel and pavement are very hard on leather soles. Total: $70

Belts: Viking Leather Crafts offers several belt options. As a general rule, medieval belts were rather narrow, so go with the 1" or 3/4" belts available here for $29.99 or $21.99 respectively.

Optional Items:

Belt Pouch: I debated whether to include this as necessary or optional because you'll want somewhere to put your wallet, keys, etc. Viking Leather Crafts provides several options, and you may as well order at the same time as your shoes and belt. Price: $29.95

Hat: Historic Enterprises Felt Hat - $21.95

Shoulder Bag: Historic Enterprises Forage or Pilgrim Bag - $24.95

Striking a Balance:

Using the options above, it is easy to see that the cheapest outfit consists of the linen underwear package, the linen tunic, coif, and hood from LG, and a pair of shoes and a 3/4" belt from VLC. The total for that outfit ends up being $334.85 + s/h. However, my personal recommendation would be to splurge just a little bit and to go with the wool chausses and hood from HE, which would add $5 to the total for the chausses and $8.95 for the wool hood instead of the linen one for a total of $348.80. You also may decide that you want a 1" belt rather than a 3/4" belt, which ends up adding another $8.

Depending on your priorities, however, you may find that you're willing to pay a little extra for more authentic clothing. In which case, you might consider the outerwear package deal from HE. It doesn't end up being much more expensive, coming in at $380.80 for the linen underwear and outerwear package + shoes & belt or $385.80 if we get wool chausses. Both versions include a wool hood as noted above. So if we consider the price difference between this package and my recommendation above, we're looking at a difference of $37. This would allow us to save on shipping from LG, which is currently $10 for the items on our list, resulting in a $27 difference in cost, which you will note, is essentially the difference in cost between the tunics.

Based on the above numbers, you can also see how much more expensive it is to purchase all of the appropriate pieces in wool. We'd essentially be purchasing the HE undergarment and outer garment packages in wool, which would run $456.8 total including shoes and a 3/4" belt or $464.80 with a 1" belt.


For starters, it should be clear that one of the first considerations in purchasing garb is to establish a budget and consider the degree to which you are willing to make trade-offs between cost and authenticity. My findings suggest that a basic outfit can be accomplished with a budget of about $350, though this involves compromising authenticity in terms of material (choosing linen) and construction (LG vs. HE's tunic and hood construction mainly). For SCA purposes these are completely reasonable compromises, but will likely result in an outfit that is not acceptable for stricter reenactments. If we instead consider a $400 budget, then we still will likely need to compromise on material, but we can expect to be able to also purchase some of the more optional items. I would recommend starting with a pouch, as it really is helpful to have somewhere to put your wallet. If our budget is instead closer to $500 or more, then we can afford to purchase the appropriate garments in wool and can also afford some of the optional accessories.

In general, the idea behind this guide is to get a newcomer started. For the vast majority of SCA events, a single outfit is sufficient clothing, as most events occur on a single day, two at the most. However, eventually you may decide to attend one of the SCA's larger week-long wars such as Pennsic, Gulf Wars, Estrella, Lillies War, etc. For these events, wearing a single outfit for a week is going to make it difficult for you to make new friends (and also to keep the ones you already have), so you will need even more clothing. One of the benefits of the outfit and options that I have written about here is that it is modular. By this I mean that you will only need multiples of certain items and that you should be able to mix and match those items as needed. For example, you probably only need 1 pair of shoes, 1 belt, and 1 hood because if you stick with the same time period, you will be able to wear those items with different tunics, etc. So, how do we expand this individual outfit for going to a week-long war?

The "War-drobe" 

As noted above, you only need one pair of shoes, one belt, one pouch, one hood, one hat, etc. However you will need several sets of clothes, as otherwise, you're going to get stinky. In general the primary cause of clothing getting dirty is our bodies, so it is the layers that touch our skin that will get the nastiest. Therefore, we will need more underwear than anything else. I generally recommend no fewer than 3 sets of underwear. Historically the layers of clothing that touch the body were made from linen precisely because linen can be boiled in a pot and left in the sun to dry. There was no need to dye this fabric, as this treatment would ultimately bleach it in the sun. We can do something similar at war by rotating through our clothing, wearing 1 set, letting another one air out in the sun, while keeping a third set dry in our tent in case it rains.

We need fewer outer garments because they aren't in direct contact with our body, so I recommend at least 2 outer tunics. I also recommend more than one coif, as it will pick up oils from your hair, but you can probably get away with only having 2.

There are a few other ways to stretch your clothing. For starters, wool is much better at resisting moisture than linen. As a result, wool chausses, tunics, and hoods are going to stay fresher over the course of the war because they will resist dampness in the air and will wick sweat rather than absorb it. Wearing modern clothing as an additional under-layer can also help stretch your medieval clothing. Most people are wearing modern underwear beneath their braies and while many do it for comfort, it also helps to keep your braies from getting quite as funky. Another trick is to wear a pair of wool hiking socks underneath your chausses. They will help keep your feet dry, provide a bit of extra padding for your feet, and can generally be dried out quickly using the same method as the one used for the other undergarments.

Overall, my recommendations for a week-long war are therefore 3 shirts, 3 pairs of braies, 2 pairs of chausses (if they are wool or we use the hiking sock trick, otherwise we'll want 3 pairs), 2 tunics, 2 coifs, one hood, one pair of shoes, one belt, one of any accessories that you may have. In other words, starting from our basic outfit, we would need to purchase 1 additional tunic, 1 additional coif,  1-2 additional sets of chausses, 2 additional shirts, and 2 additional sets of braies. We could accomplish this by purchasing 2 of HE's basic underwear packages (I do recommend the wool chausses) for $139.95 each, a tunic from LG for $59, and a coif from LG for $10 for a total of $348.90. If we really needed to cut costs, we can save some money by buying only 1 additional complete set of underwear and 1 of HE's basic underwear sets that do not include chausses at $89.95. This would result in a total cost of $298.90. If we put everything together then we can see that enough garb to attend a week-long war will run a minimum of $633.75.