Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sideless Surcote

I finished my surcote today and now, with a few accessories I still need to make, I will finally feel "fully dressed" for the 14th century.

The sideless surcote was worn with fitted kirtles/underdress and though at first glance it may strike you as dowdy and plain, once on a female form this is a *very* feminine style. During the few months I've been researching this kind of cote I have run across several contemporary descriptions that indicate that, in the 14th century, this was rather a revealing garment to wear. I don't know if the phrase "gates of hell" is authenticated (but it certainly often turns up when reading about this garment) but it creates an interesting mental picture of the way the curves of a woman, revealed through the cut away sides of this cote, may tempt a man into sin. Honestly, clothing and the inevitable people who complain about what they perceive as immodest styles have not really changed *at all* over the centuries!

Well ladies, if you have curves you might as well show them off. This is one period where being curvy is a good thing. :)

My surcote is made in a dark gray wool. I only had 3 yards of it but it was more than enough for this style. The construction and cut is really very simple and the drape and cut away armholes is what makes this garment stand out. The colors are a bit drab; in contemporary art brighter colors are often depicted. But, it is what I had and is what I used. Maybe my next outfit willl utilize some more cheerful colors.

I based the cut on the sideless surcote in The Medieval Tailors Assistant. I didn't follow the diagram exactly since the way it was cut would have created more width across the torso. I wanted it fairly straight to the hips, where it flares out with the use of four triangular gores to a full hem. A website that was helpful was this one: The Sideless Surcote Another helpful site was this one: Sideless Surcotes.

I apologize in advance for any typos. Our computer is kind of working, but the monitor is still very, very difficult to read.



  1. I think it looks lovely! I really like the sideless surcotes, and must make one for myself - it's still way down on my sewing to-do list though.

    It's an interesting thing, colours - when I do 14th century living history I wear colours and combinations of them I'd never wear normally, and I like it....

  2. Sarah, it's lovely! I can't wait to see what it looks like on you :) (I didn't notice any typos either - well done!)

  3. I like this alot.

    I wanted to tell you that we have linked to your blog from our blog because we drafted some patterns after looking at your blog for our costumes for a New Year's ball we are going to.

    We used the ones for the tunic and the baby/child's gown. Thanks for the inspiration and links.

  4. Lovely! While all of your civil war clothes look lovely too - this looks comfortable! :O)

  5. How I wish we were neighbors and I could come ask questions in person. I have admired all your clothing efforts, but this collection is just perfect!

    We are attending March Crown (an SCA event in the West Kingdom) and have not prepared at all. I am suddenly overwhelmed with the idea of making garb and thought of your 12th night right away. I feel completely lost as to where to begin- For myself, my husband and 4 children 2, 4, 6, 8- my 6yo is a daughter.

    Any advice? I was browsing Reconstructing HIstory but the mere cost of all the patterns at once was overwhelming. Let alone the idea of me sewing it all in time!


  6. Tabitha, thank you! I have really enjoyed getting started in the SCA and the 14th century clothing styles in general. They are just so pretty, so simple and so elegant.

    If you can find it through inter library loan, or even buy it from Amazon (that’s where I got mine) I'd really recommend the book "The Medieval Tailors Assistant" by Sarah Thursfield. I paid about $25 for mine and that is about the same cost as one Reconstructing History pattern. For that price, you get a whole book full of pattern diagrams, instructions and helpful hints and ideas for a whole wardrobe of garments, including men, women, children and babies.

    For ease of construction and simplicity of fitting, you could make every person in your family a T-tunic to start out with. This would be appropriate to pre-1350 for all classes and appropriate for lower/working classes after that. Long and flowing for ladies, girls and toddlers, just-below-knee to mid calf for men and children. You can find instructions for making a tunic like this in several places on the web. One of my favorites is here:

    As the 13th century progressed, clothing became tighter and more fitted. The garments evolved from a simple pull-on-over-the-head style to ones requiring openings, which lead to lacing and buttons/buttonholes. The degree of fitting becomes important. Instead of square and rectangular shapes, the shoulder seams, armscyes and sleeve heads became shaped, which enabled the tailor to get a tighter fit. For my clothing, I decided to use a combination of square/rectangle construction and the shaped seam construction. I'm shooting for the last quarter of the 14th century with my stuff; I'm still pretty new to this so feel free to check anything I say against other sources. ; )

    Anyway, the book I mentioned above will have patterns and diagrams for everything I've mentioned, and also goes into stuff like headwear, accessories, aprons. It is like a sewing Bible to me!

    Also, if you aren't able to get *everything* you'd like done before your event (it sounds like it is coming up very soon!) don't worry about it. I have seen a very big range of costuming just in the few events I've gone to, and an SCA creed is that as long as you are making an attempt, you are good! It gives you a lot of freedom to do what you can, stress-free and have a great time.

    I do think the T tunic would be the way to go for your hubby and the kids. For yourself, if you like the more fitted look of kirtles, there are some good tutorials online on how to fit and make this dress. I like this one: This website also has instructions on how to make a sideless surcote, like the one I made here. Mine is basically two rectangles of fabric, cut to be as long as I need (shoulder to floor) and half as wide as my hips. I cut out the sideless sides (if that makes sense!) and a wide, scooping neckline and bound the arm openings and neckline with fabric. Then I cut four rectangles, as long as my hip-to-floor measurement and put them in at center front, center back, and the sides. That’s it!!! Super simple and super quick. No openings needed, since it slips on over the head.

    Good luck! Have fun! Let me know if you have other questions. I'm just learning about all this too but maybe we can share resources we have found useful!


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!