Monday, December 9, 2019

A Druid Robe

This project has given me more pause than any other I have made. All throughout the process of planning it and sewing it I stopped and set it aside, to return to it later when I was in the right frame of mind. Sometimes I felt really positive about this project and other times I would think to myself that this doesn't matter; it's silly; people will think I'm weird when I wear it.

Well, yes. In many ways this outfit does not matter. Any person who wears certain clothing for special occasions would probably say something similar; clothing is just a tool. It can help us get into a state of mind where we are more in tune with what is going on in and around us. But we can just as well do what we need to do without wearing specific clothes.

But, of course, being rather interested in clothes and their construction and their history I really wanted to make this! Whether people think I'm weird or not is a non-issue, even though I at times still feel that peer pressure to "conform" to people's expectations (I'm growing out of it though! I promise!) While many neo druid groups encourage the use of "traditional" white robes, I was more interested in what people were actually wearing during the time the ancient druids were still practicing and teaching in Europe. I thought it wouldn't be terribly hard to find out what northern Europeans were wearing during the Iron Age to early Dark Ages but. . .um yeah. It is hard.

This isn't a period terribly well documented, both due to the time that has passed between then and now and the lack of written record. While some possible documentation exists in the form of Roman records and contemporary art depicting captives, it's hard to know what is real and what is artistic license or bias inserted against warring groups by Roman chroniclers.

Some accounts indicate druids did, indeed, wear white, while others indicate bright colors and expensive fabrics.

Of course, I also had to take into consideration a lot of other factors. Geographic location (druidry was rather widespread), cultural influence of neighboring communities, military outposts and trade coming in from other places, contemporary attitudes towards druidic practice (while it was perfectly acceptable early on, Christianity soon attempted to make short work of the druids and "converted" a lot of the druid sacred figures and days to a "Christian" version). I had to take into account who I am, what my role would have possibly been if, in an alternate world, I had been born into a community where druidry was practiced. Would I have been a druid myself? (women were) Would I have been a citizen under the leadership of the druids? (they served as historians, poets, teachers, healers and judges of disputes) Would the druids have dressed differently than laypeople? Or would they have worn similar clothing but indicated their status through the use of color or certain garments?

The hooded white robe of modern druidy finds its origin not in the actual age of druidry but in the druidic revival of the 17th century on. Today, many people still wear the hooded white robe for special occasions but many prefer not to, especially since some hate groups have adopted similar white hooded garments, like the KKK!

I read a lot of books and articles and thought about which direction I wanted to go with this outfit. I was not in any hurry but thought it would be nice to get it done before the end of the year, which also is the end of my first year in OBOD. I also did not want to spend any money on this outfit. Recycling materials is an earth-honoring practice and I felt it was more in the spirit of druidry to use what I already had rather than buy anything new. After looking over available materials that had not been earmarked for other projects, I decided that I would, indeed, make a white garment but I did not want it to resemble the modern hooded robe. There would be no hood and the garments would be of a historic cut, at least, though not of a historic material.

I went back to the first book I had read on the subject of clothing. This book is the fabulous Dress and Personal Appearance in Late Antiquity, the Clothing of the Middle and Lower Classes by Faith Pennick Morgan. While this book deals with the clothing worn in the Mediterranean area under Roman rule, the styles are so simple that it seems the basic shapes could not have been completely foreign to their celtic neighbors. Indeed, most garments are unfitted and vary little between men and women, except in length, and are based on a square or rectangular shape. I could find no evidence for the more fitted gusseted, gored "T-Tunic" pre 500 AD or so, so I decided to go with the diagrams in this book for my robes. (Honestly, "robes" sound far more grand and luxurious than this outfit is; it's really an under-dress or under-tunic with a short overdress!) A long sleeved tunic makes sense for the celts, although certainly bare arms beneath a peplos type dress were worn as well. I live in Ohio; it gets cold, and I like long sleeves 3/4 of the year, so yes, mine is long sleeved. 😁

I had a large flat white cotton sheet and decided to use that for a long sleeved under-dress. This dress is based on the Whitworth Tunic on page 124, which is the closest thing I could find to the later gusseted styles. This cut allowed me to achieve a semi fitted bust and shoulder area, with sleeves that taper to the wrist, and a skirt with fullness that flares out from the underarm to the hem so that I have plenty of movement when walking. It is still a very modest style that does not require much fabric. Instead of the close fitting square neckline of the Whitworth garment I made my neckline in a common straight style, which is merely a horizontal slit from shoulder to shoulder, large enough to allow the head to pass through, and hemmed down to create the very shallowest of shallow boat necks.

This is a wonderful, comfortable basic garment. I thought it was ugly and hugely unflattering til I put it on and I didn't want to take it off. Unflattering or not, this is comfortable! And it is warm. The neckline took a bit of getting used to, but eventually I didn't notice it at all. To construct this under dress, I cut two rectangles of fabric for the front and back body, two rectangles that I later cut down to taper towards the wrist for the sleeves, and two triangles to sew to the sides of the body to add fullness at the hem. The interior stitching was sewn by machine with all seams felled by hand afterwards.

The over dress is a short peplos style dress (also known as a bog dress) without the fold-over at the top. It is short because the fabric I had was pre cut into panels (probably for curtains?) and I couldn't lengthen it without piecing. I do like the shorter length, though, especially as this fabric has a tendency to grab onto anything it touches. An overdress that goes nearer to the ground would pick up all kinds of little twigs and leaves and would be a pain to clean after wearing. This dress is simply a tube of fabric, hemmed on both open edges and pinned into place on each shoulder. To give the dress a bit of shape, I belted it, as was done historically. This is just a self fabric belt but one in the colors of the "grade" in OBOD you are working in would not be out of place, either. Of course, a tablet woven belt is my eventual goal but for now. . .I like this just fine. The over dress blouses out over the belt at the sides and hangs down a bit, so that the hem remains relatively even. In period, tapering tucks were sometimes sewn into tunics around the waist level, to bring the hem up evenly.

I also made a short, sleeveless white chemise or slip. This has no base in history but is purely practical, since the sheet I used for my under dress is a bit see-through. I used leftover cotton knit fabric and my fitted t-shirt pattern to sew up this quick little garment. This actually could double quite well as a summer dress if it's too hot to wear the full ensemble! 😁

Since there are no pockets I threaded my self fabric belt through the back loops of a leather bag I've had forever. This works just fine to keep any necessary items in and I'm thrilled to finally have a dedicated use for this leather bag! Although I am not part of the ADF (for several reasons) the ADF does have a local presence and when we gather to celebrate special days this bag will be a great place to keep ones small offerings.

The only additional thing I want to make is a cloak. This will either be based on the circular cloaks in Dress and Personal Appearance  or the more probably historically accurate for the celts rectangular cloak, pinned at the shoulder and which can be worn in many ways. I had a large white cotton hospital blanket I was going to make such a cloak from,  but it wrinkles easily and my kid decided they wanted it to use as, well, a blanket. 😂 I have some grey wool blend fabric that may work well for a cloak but haven't made it a priority to make it up yet. . .I will though, probably over the winter. It's getting cold outside! My son David has told me he will help me make a pennanular  brooch to close the cloak with his forge and metal working tools.

I finished this in late October and Malachi took some pictures for me. It's still lovely in the woods though now there are far fewer leaves and it's cold. As I get older I dread the cold and the winter a little more each year and feel anxiously restless. I need to remember that this time is necessary and good so that the earth can rest before new life begins again in the Spring. I still am very much looking forward to the return of longer days and warm sunshine, though!

If anyone is interested in my experience so far in OBOD, I did start a blog for that. It's still newish but I will be reviewing the Bardic grade again this coming year and trying to organize my thoughts about it.

Much love,


  1. Your robe and blog post are both absolutely beautiful. I will also visit your OBOD blog.


  2. Where can I find the items you have shown here. I would love to have these in my Druidess wardrobe. Thank you.


Thank you for your lovely thoughts!