I’ve wanted for a while to make a lower-status 14th C dress. As I’ve continued to read and learn I discovered that the fitted dress+deep-cut surcote we think of as being quintessentially 14th C was actually only worn at the end of the 14th and early 15th and primarily by upper-status women.
Inspired by a couple of my favorite 14th C living history groups to follow on Instagram, I decided to branch out into clothes that would’ve been worn by more people in more places.
Earlier this year I took Darrin to Discount Fabrics and bullied him into buying fabric so that I could make him another surcote. We found a grey 2/2 twill Ermenegildo Zegna mill end for $25/yd, which is pretty much perfect for a Herjolfsnes replica.
I went home and realized about 5 seconds after I cut into it that it was fabulous and went back to get a few more yards for myself. Sadly as it wasn’t cheap (although much reduced from the original price of $159/yd!) I didn’t get quite as much as I probably should have which will be very relevant shortly.
When I made Darrin’s surcote I just enlarged it straight from Medieval Garments Reconstructed, which involved a lot of futzing to convert it from sq cm to sq in. I didn’t feel confident to do that this time.
Because I still don’t have my own copy of Medieval Garments Reconstructed (I deserve judgement for that, definitely) I mostly relied on Some Clothing of the Middle Ages which also caused some…er…dilemmas.I decided eventually on a mash-up of #39 and #42, with long sleeves and a plain gore instead of the decorative M-shaped style.
This is the diagram for #39 from Norlund’s original article published in 1924. I wasn’t entirely sure how to draft this so it would fit me. What I ended up doing is tracing my draped body block on some pattern paper. I straightened the front out and added some ease.
The original body block trace is in black, the modified pattern is in red. Then I just…chopped the side off.
Because I was short on fabric I ended up cutting with a CF and CB seam, which is kind of cheating since I didn’t have to insert the godets into a slit! We know how much I love THAT (Elizabethan Jacket is still in time-out).
All the seams are handsewn in unbleached linen thread. There was some debate about how to topstitch the neckline– turns out Norlund was not actually very good at identifying stitches and thought an angled stab stitch was a backstitch.
I went with backstitch anyway because the Herjolfsnes fabric was very tightly woven while this modern wool is…not.
A lot of the extant pieces have two lines of topstitching, which looks really off to a modern eye. I think it’s because it looks like flatlock machine seams. I went with it anyway.
I did not do the sleeve style with the small gore at the back because I had to piece the sleeves so much anyway, so I used the later one-piece medieval sleeve that I am more familiar with.
I also wanted to play with some different wrapped veil styles. Because I was using a sheep’s colored wool this was a lower-class outfit immediately, so I wanted something that didn’t require pins.I’ve always liked this style from the Medieval Tailor’s Assistant
However….trying to make that actually happen didn’t go so well. I nearly choked myself a few times, but after 9-11 tries I got something!
Thus far the outfit looks like this!I’m pretty happy with it! It still needs a hem, obviously, but it’s got the elegant simplicity I was after.