Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Elizabethan Coif Presentation

Last year I was honoured to be accepted as a volunteer to create an embroidered coif for the Queen. The item was to be a gift for the outgoing Queen on behalf of the Worshipful Company of Broiderers (the SCA Lochac embroidery guild).

The lovely Megan supplied me with a coif pattern to suit Queen Branwen. This is very important when designing a coif, as not all styles suit all faces, and the amount/thickness of hair a lady has also affects how the coif will sit. Megan used an existing coif as a pattern so that we would know the new coif would be the correct style and shape, and then sent me the pattern so I could start.

Once I had the correct basic shape, I could settle down to create the design. I chose the traditional coiling foliage design which is so common in Elizabethan coifs. I prefer to design original patterns, but use motifs taken from extant pieces and Elizabethan portraits. Roses were an essential inclusion for a Queen. I used flower and insect motifs.

Some extant pieces can be found on my earlier post:

Once I had sketched the design, I traced the pattern and design onto tracing paper with a permanent marker. Using tracing paper or greaseproof paper allows the light to shine through, and the permanent marker makes the design easier to see. The design can be traced using a light box or by taping the foundation fabric over the pattern on a large glass window or door.

In period, ink was often used to mark designs onto white foundation fabric. I used 100% linen for this piece, and chose to use a modern alternative to ink: the Frixion pen. This type of pen irons away, is widely available where I live, comes in a range of colours and is available as a pen or marker. Very convenient for the modern embroiderer, and much more forgiving of unsteady hands than dip pen and ink.

I began the embroidery in silk, but was unhappy with the way it was working out, so I unpicked the stitching and began again with cotton floss (DMC 310). Silk is a more authentic option (as it was used in period) but the cotton worked better for this project as well as being more affordable and easily available.

A variety of period stitches were used including stem stitch and double running stitch. I like combining different stitches on this type of project. It makes the finished product texturally more interesting, makes working the embroidery more interesting, and is also entirely period. I used a double thread for the main motifs, and I used a hoop because it is more portable than a frame.

Once all the stitching was complete, I ironed the design to remove any traces of the Frixion pen. Then I gently hand washed the piece in wool wash, rinsed, dried and ironed it again.

The next step was sewing down pressed metal spangles. I used three stitches of single thread to secure the spangles, and knotted each one off after securing. Once the spangles were sewn on, I ironed the coif again and cut it out from the foundation fabric.

I edged the coif panel with zigzag stitch for extra strength. This is a modern option and one I personally prefer to add because I am quite hard on my clothes. I have whipped the edges by hand in the past, but time was of the essence on this particular project, so I didn't feel guilty about using a modern 'cheat'. I cut a linen lining and sewed the two panels together. This lining hides the spangle threads and protects the embroidery from hair oils and pins.

The cord channel was hand sewn as was the top seam which runs over the top of the head. Only the first two thirds of the seam was sewn up; the last third was gathered with very small stitches to produce tiny cartridge pleats. The pleats were drawn up to gather the back of the coif into a circle and the pleats were secured with buttonhole bars. My earlier coif article below shows an extant example of how the back of the coif is gathered:

This pleating rounds off the back of the coif and makes a space for the hair underneath. I added a single thread decorative stitch in embroidery floss to ornament the seam.

I did a small whip stitch around the edge of the coif to stop the lining moving about. I threaded lucet cord (made by the talented Heather Carter) through the casing. I hand-stitched some commercially made gilt metal lace along the face edge.

The coif was presented on the weekend just gone and I heard that the recipient was very pleased with it.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bee Gonfalon #1

In 2015 I made a couple of banners for a friend who was being Laurelled. I had never made a banner before, so it was all a steep learning curve. The banners were going to be carried in a procession at body height.

I made the body of the banner out of strips of silk and satin. They were machine sewn together and pressed. When the shield shape was cut out, I appliqued it to the figured background fabric and couched black cord around the edge of the shield. The background fabric was quite flimsy, so I interlined it with calico for strength and to stop it warping.

Then I embroidered the bees of the Lady's device. The bodies of the bees were appliqued onto calico, and the black bars and eyes were embroidered. Gold thread was couched down to highlight the wings.

I cut the bees out individually and used needle-applique to sew them to the base fabric.

When the bees were all couched down and complete, I added some iron-on gold embroidered highlights around the shield shape. I used commercially produced motifs because it was only a few days before the event and I was running out of time (and I still had a second banner to make.)

Next I machine sewed the front, interlining and lining pieces together and hand bound the edges with black bias binding. A rod pocket was hand sewn on, and the final thing to do was to make a bag to store and transport the banner safely.

The recipient was pleased and the event was really lovely; I felt very privileged to witness it.

Event venue with hand painted banners made by Mistress Sir Eva von Danzig and Viscountess Mistress Ingerith Ryzka

Monday, March 13, 2017

Friday, March 10, 2017

More Bead Necklaces and a Caul Pin

I finished off a couple more bead necklaces last week. And I also scored a pearl pin for $5 from a second-hand market; perfect for the front band of a plain caul. Win!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Beaded Necklaces

This week I strung some new necklaces. They are glass beads on tiger tail. I also did a couple of extras for use with mundane wear.

Cream glass beads

Green glass pearls

Red and green glass beads
And the mundane necklaces

Green glass beads with purchased pendant

Red glass beads with purchased glass pendant

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Gallery of Gowns

Here is a gallery of gowns and tunics that I have made over the years. Some people have asked me why I use so much cotton in my garb. The answer is mostly cost and availability. Cotton is certainly acceptable for use in clothing during the SCA period, although not as common as wool and linen. (Cotton linen blends were used a lot for lining and undergarments/lower class garments and there was a big Italian cotton industry pre-Renaissance as well!) Wool and linen are just very hard to find where I live, and are very expensive. If I limited myself to wool and linen, I would be lucky to make a new dress every two to three years. And I would not have developed my sewing skills very much or been able to experiment. In the last two years I have experimented with a variety of bodice construction techniques (including bagging out, sewing to an interlining, hand sewing completed bodice pieces together and binding with bias). I would never have been game to 'play' with construction techniques and patterns if I had been using expensive materials. So I am very grateful to humble cotton!

Here are some of my garb projects over the years:

Woollen baby tunic


Infant and child size tunics

Rus style tunic

German style gown, side lacing

Italian gown, side lacing

Italian gown, round neck bodice and side lacing

Italian style gown, square-neck bodice and side lacing

Italian gown, side lacing

Italian gown, side lacing

Short loose coat, pattern adapted from an Elizabethan loose coat

Front lacing Italian style gown, inspired by Portrait of a Woman Holding a Book (Vittore Carpaccio)

Front lacing Elizabethan gown

Front lacing Italian style gown with puff sleeves

Front lacing Italian style gown, inspired by this portrait

Cotton/linen blend Roman tunicas

Front lacing Italian gown

Front lacing Italian gown

A short coat

An early attempt at a side lacing Italian gown in linen

Side lacing Italian gown

Side lacing Italian gown

An early side lacing Italian gown made out of curtains from the op shop

Simple cotton tunic and undergown

Elizabethan loose coat and undergown

One of my very early efforts: front lacing Elizabethan ''wench'' style garb

Jerkin from Patterns of Fashion made by my Mum, linen skirt, sleeves etc. made by me. Quite early in my SCA experience

Side lacing Italian style gown. Experiments with and against the 'grain' of the fabric

An experiment in chemise construction

Girls' dresses in the Italian style. I have made a couple more that I don't have good photos of. The green one is my latest attempt and is much closer to historic construction techniques. Most of it is sewn by hand. I appreciate that children's clothing takes a lot of wear, so I probably wouldn't completely hand sew kid's garb again.


My latest front lacing Italian style gowns, made in 2016. I feel happier with the patterns and have used two different bodice construction techniques.

I have a good range of tie-on sleeves, but a lot of these photos were taken pre-Event, in the heat, before I put my sleeves on.

I haven't listed all the complete disasters or half finished dresses, or included men's garb because I haven't done much of that. I have at least six in various stages of construction that were not working out well or had problems. All great learning experiences. I'm not sure that I will ever love sewing, but I certainly don't hate it like I used to. I am getting better at it, and slightly more confident. Experimenting with different construction techniques, seam treatments, stitches etc. has been a (sometimes excruciating,) very valuable experience. I need to become more conscientious about blogging the dress diaries. (Taking photos is now automatic during the creation process, but writing it up at the end can seem daunting.) Because I don't enjoy sewing and have health issues that restrict my time and energy, I have tried almost every hack and short cut to make it easier. Everyone needs to find what works for them, but I would advise sewers not to cut any corners in regards to durability and wearability. I have learnt the hard way that if you dislike sewing the first time, you are going to hate it a lot more when you need to re-do what you already did shoddily because you were rushing or trying to cut corners. I am always careful to make sure that my pleats are very well secured to stop skirts being ripped off when I inevitably step on them. I take the time to reinforce the  joins in seam openings on skirts etc. I haven't yet had any major problems, and I am very clumsy when tired (which is often!) I also always hand sew trim because I like the way it looks, but also because I can more securely attach gimp braid, picot points etc. so that they don't get torn.

I'm not sure that I will ever not be hesitant to cut into expensive silk, linen or wool, but I am more confident about it than I used to be, and that is thanks to my friend - poor, put-upon and much maligned cotton!