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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sew What: Garb Making for the Non-Sewer

Originally written for a medieval journal, 2003)


At the time I write this I have been a member of the Society for a month less than two years. In all that time I had never made any of my own garb. Luckily I had a lady who was willingly to make some for me, and she has been getting progressively more skilled. Beginning to feel a bit guilty about not helping out in the garb department I finally decided to try and sew something.

Now, I hadn’t really sewn anything since public school, where I made a shark pillow in home-ec. I had tried to sew Thorfinna a favour once, but the result was so hideous that we buried it somewhere and it has not been seen since. So it was with trepidation that I began to plan.

Sine my persona is actually 14th century I decided I should finally get a cotehardie, so with the help of Mahault van der Eych I made a cloth pattern. However, we both came to the realization that this was much too difficult for a beginner project so I will be making it in a few months, and I’ll be doing every step under her guidance. In the meantime I resolved to make some t-tunics and hoods.

So one night I tore myself away from my third draft of the Septentrian history and went down to the sewing room. With Thorfinna’s help and support I then began to sew.

First, I laid down the plaid fabric I wanted to use, and put a tunic on top of it to use as a pattern. I then cut two pieces to be my front and my back. I then laid the arm of the tunic onto the fabric, rolled the fabric over top so I had in effect the front and back of the arm and cut. I repeated this for the other arm.

Then came the tedium. I had to sew the hems of the cuffs for the arms and the bottom of the front and back pieces. When I did the first arm I realized that I had sewn a short side, and not a long side. This was incorrect. The way we had cut the fabric meant that the long side would be the cuff so we unstitched the hem and did it over again. We used a double hem, which meant I folded the fabric over twice. This will make sure we don’t get any ragged looking edges in the future.

We then marked out the neck hole and we did the double hem for that space.

After doing those six hems I cut out trim and sewed it onto the arms, the front and the back, just over the hems. I made sure that they matched up as much as possible so that when the pieces were sewn together the trim would meet.

Taking the front and back I placed them on top of each other backwards, so the trim was on the inside. I then sewed the shoulders together. I then laid the front and back out with the trim on top. The first arm was placed on top, centred on the neck hole, with its trim underneath. The arm was sewn on, and then the same procedure was repeated with the second arm.

The arms were then pulled out flat and the tunic was laid out inside out. Doing this I found that the front was slightly wider than the back so I trimmed it down. I then sewed from the armpits down to the bottom hem, pulling the material tight so that the bottom hems would match up. When this was done I sewed the arms. I started sewing straight out from the cuff until I passed the trim, then went on an angle to the arm pit.

We turned the tunic right-side out and I tried it on. It fit perfectly, though the boat-neck (as the style of neck I had done was called) stuck up a bit. To fix this we turned the tunic back inside out and rolled the neck hem once and sewed it. I then trimmed the excess off the arms, making sure to leave about an inch.

The whole procedure took about two hours.

Feeling lucky I decided I also wanted to make a hood. I pulled out some yellow material and laid it on the floor and traced a hood Thorfinna had made earlier. As I was cutting the material I realized that it had not been laying perfectly matched up underneath so my top and bottom piece did not quite match up. I simply trimmed the top piece until it resembled the bottom.

I then had to do a double hem along the curved bottom of each side, and on the edge of the face hole. I rolled the face hem in and the bottom edge out. The face edge was a double hem, but the bottom edge was a single hem. I then sewed the trim onto the bottom edge on top of the hem, which would keep the hem from fraying and meant I didn’t have to lose any more fabric by doing the double hem. When I was halfway through putting the trim on the first side I realized that I was sewing it to the inside of the hood, and not the outside. As Thorfinna unstitched my mistake I did the other side.

Once both sides were done I laid them on top of each other so the hood would be inside out and sewed from the bottom up to the face hole, then from the bottom up and around the crown of the head to the top of the face hole. My first seam was too rounded and when I tried the hood on it did not hold its shape. Turning it inside out again I sewed a straighter line from the back of the crown to the front and cut off the excess material. This looked much better. The hood took an hour to make.

Neither piece came out perfectly, but both looked good for a first attempt. What’s more, I’ve overcome my fear of sewing and will be able to produce more of my own garb from now on. And that is a good feeling.

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