Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Constructing The Kirtle - Step 2: The Fabric

Thanks to everyone who had advice and tips for me on my last post! I am working on getting my shift/smock complete and making a mock up of the sleeve and then will baste the sleeve in and try the mock up on one more time to make sure of the fit before I cut into my wool.

I have also decided to forego the linen kirtle, at least for now. Thank you for your advice on that as well. I think the wool will hold up much better anyway.

So, after fitting the mock up my next problem was my fabric. I had 8 yards of a beautiful wool/silk blend fabric that washed up very prettily, with a slightly fuzzy surface. The problem was the color - a light tan. Skin tight bodice + skin colored fabric = a very uncomfortable Sarah and a husband who won't let her out of the house. I spent a loonng time trying to decide if I ought to dye the wool a different color or just buy new wool. Frugality won in the end, and I decided to try to dye the wool.

My last dyeing experience was not successful at all (overdyeing an already-constructed 1860's style dress). The dye came out splotchy and uneven. It was a failure. It was hard for me to actually dye the wool when it came to the point. I didn't want to ruin it. I prayed about it and spent about an hour on Sunday night heating water, standing over a steaming washing machine and agitating the fabric in the dye for about a half hour before giving up hope and letting the cycle finish and plopping the wet fabric in the dryer. I had no idea how it would come out.

Much to my suprise and thankfulness (why I am always suprised when God answers my prayers?) the fabric came out splendidly. The dye was even and clean and the color was almost exactly the same color as the linen I had planned to get for a linen kirtle - a pretty blue-green. The wool is a few shades darker than the linen sample, but still! I'm very pleased. I used 1 box of Rit dye, dark green, and 1 box of Rit dye, royal blue. I dissolved both packets in 4 cups of hot water and agitated it in the hot-water-filled machine before adding in the wet, warm wool fabric. The color came out very soft and muted since I used the 2 packets to dye 5 yards of 60" wide wool.

Now; another question for you experts. To line or not to line? I do not really want to fully line this dress but am thinking I may need an extra layer of fabric for support in the torso area. Has anyone done this? How does it work? My wool fabric is a tad stretchier than the sheet I used for the mock up. I have some sturdy and tight woven dark brown linen I could possibly use to line the torso. From what I've read, linen was only blue, cream or white in period but this would be hidden anway and seems a better choice than cotton. What to do?



  1. Sarah...this is great. I'm definitely NOT a sewing expert, so I won't comment on any of that...but I do love the color of that wool after you dyed it. It turned out very nice!!!! I can't wait to see how your project turns out :) :) :) Oh, I LOVE it when God answers prayers....in unexpected ways..and how God gives to us, even when we don't pray for things. Those are the instances I call mini-miracles, surprises etc :) :) :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  2. Love the colors! I know nothing about this period, sorry :-( I'm not much help. But I can't wait to see what you create!

  3. I always made a lining for the bodice that reached about hip height. The bottom edge I let hang free. I also tended to line the sleeves as well but this was mostly because I wanted to do buttons and buttonholes.

    One last note on that rufflrd dress I mentioned - the woman in the tapestry is wearing an overdress which covers up the waist area so I don't know if there was a waist seam there. The figure is also curiously devoid of seam lines except for the ruffle at the hem. I'm hoping to go back and make a line drawing for myself and take some pictures if they'll allow it.

    I hadn't heard about the colour limitations of linen. I know madder was a popular dyestuff for most of the medieval period and it can make some very vibrant shades of red and orange.

    One other tip I can suggest is to place the skirt gores, or the start of the skirt angles if you're not using separate gores, higher than you'd expect by about an inch. This technique is talked about here if you scroll down past the first batch of images to the section titled "The Construction" there is a paragraph describing that costumer's experiencs.

    Another neat thing. This gown has a tablet woven or card woven edging along the front openings that helps to reinforce or stiffen the edges. I tried this technique ages ago but not on a gown. This link also does not have how-to instructions but it's a nice example.

    I'm so glad your dyeing experience worked out! I really love the colour!

  4. Wow, this is so exciting! :) I can't wait to see how all your clothes come out. I've never done this type of reenacting. Sure is a change from CW.

  5. There is *some* evidence for lining garments in the 14th century, and some people do line their kirtles. It's up to you, really. Wearing a shift under the kirtle make things stay in place better than when you don't have a shift, but depending on figure and the wool, you might want to line it. I should use linen, as it behaves differently than cotton, and only line the torso.

    A woman in my group is very skilled in natural dyes, and she's managed to dye linen in some spectacular colours, BUT - the thing with naturally dyed linen is that it's rarely light proof, and fades quickly. That wouldn't be the case if you used it as lining, so I'd say go ahead. No need to spend a lot of money if you don't have to.

    I really like how the wool came out, well done and congratulations!

    (Btw, I agree on how uncomfortable it'd be to wear a tight skincoloured dress - and the comment about David made me laugh)

  6. Thank you! Heather I love your comment about mini-miracles. That is exactly true!

    Renna, thanks for the links! I have been to the first site before and definitely am gleaning what info I can. That site has been SO helpful! I would love to do a tablet woven edging for the center front edges at least to strengthen things up there a bit. I just have no idea how to go about it. :( I've read about tablet weaving and have made some cards but haven't atually done any weaving yet. Would this be something added to an already finished garment, or would it have to be worked in during the construction?

    Thanks for the tips about the lining. I think I will at least line the torso with the brown linen, and use facings for the sleeves where the buttons/buttonholes will be. I don't want to wear my gown to my first event and have it stretch and experience droopage issues after a few hours - this is definitely something new. NO supportive garment on underneath! Ahh! I'm so used to corsets.

    I read on the Living History UK forums about a lady making a tighter-fitting shift to help keep everything supported. I plan on doing that. Not really tight, but not loose, just loose enough to wiggle into without having any openings. It will help smush things in place I think.

    Now to find my tape measure, which the boys considerately "borrowed" from me, so I can keep sewing. . .

  7. I also know nothing about this period in costuming (though a fair amount in literature!) but I just wanted to say your wool came out SO pretty. What a lovely colour! And definitely more comfortable to wear than that "nude" shade :-)


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!