Designing for Heat

Hopefully some of you remember the Avoiding Heatstroke Dress from a while back, which was intentionally designed and built to keep one (1) tiny human who is bad at homeostasis from developing heatstroke at events in the 95-105 ºF range.  It was….moderately successful, I survived June Crown 2018 but Purgatorio 2019 killed me.

Darrin and I in the two or three hours I managed at that event


It is called Purgatorio for a reason, guys.


That dress has been given unto Gold Key for more tiny humans to wear when it is stupid hot, and I am working on its replacement.  This process is…. interesting.  And I haven’t seen anyone talking about building historical costuming for heat, particularly, especially while using relatively accurate techniques and materials.

My goals for this dress are as follows:

  • Support Florentine 1520s silhouette.  This is neither super rigid nor super soft, the bodice has structure but the bustline is curved and not flattened
  • Be made of as few layers as possible, all linen
  • Be as breathable as possible
  • Be washable, because it is going to get sweaty.

The last dress was flatlined with 10 oz linen from fabrics-store, which had the benefit of both being relatively stiff and breathable as it is quite loosely woven.  That isn’t an option this time given that fabrics-store is, well, in the wrong country.  Also as you can see in that photo it wasn’t quite as supportive as I might like– although that may have been issues with patterning, not the material choices.

I’ve chosen a similar fashion fabric– a very lightweight linen.  This time I’m using this crepe georgette from Sartor that is extremely lovely.  Sadly I bought the last four meters and I sincerely hope that will be enough!

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I also grabbed a meter of what was advertised as Linen Fabric White Heavy 100% Linen and while it probably actually is 100% linen…. I would not describe it as heavy.  I wouldn’t think twice about using this for a camicia.

I’ve thought about using linen canvas, but that tends to be dense and heavy.  Something like hair canvas would be breathable but the sizing wouldn’t survive a wash.  Right now I’m running with two layers of my not-heavy linen padstitched together, but I’m worried that will be too dense and I’ll just…sweat and then keel over.

This might be a wild goose chase and not worth stressing over– I’ll do the best I can but once it gets to a certain point one will always be hot, and I don’t deal with it very well to begin with.  I spent a lot of last summer on the floor of my parent’s house feeling like a slug.

Because I’m me, I’m trying to figure out easy ways to determine how breathable these various fabrics are, and the one idea I’ve got is to make two closed chambers separated by a piece of fabric, with a RH meter on both sides and a humidity source (read:bowl of water) on one side, and then you can watch how the RH equilibrates and how long that takes and know how well the fabric breathes…. but that seems perhaps excessively complicated, and I should just get on with making this dress.  And my endless padstitching.

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