Thursday, September 24, 2020

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Comfy purple tie-on sleeves

 Last month I was chatting to a friend about how we might previously have thought that a global pandemic (and subsequent SCA shut-down) would be a great time to catch up on projects and get things done, and how surprised we were by how tired and unmotivated we were. We decided that we would try and motivate each other and challenged ourselves to complete a pair of sleeves each in a month.

The first step was the pattern. I had a nice comfy one that needed a bit of a tweak, but my friend didn't have a pattern. We had a fun Zoom session with me trying to help her draft a pattern by draping.

Next step was cutting out. I was lucky that I had some fabric set aside to make a set of sleeves. Two lots actually, which was lucky because I was tired when I cut the first pair out and I cut out two left sleeves. Ugh! I know better, but if I didn't do any cutting or sewing when tired, I would be getting even less done than I am now.

Take 2 and the sleeves were cut out along with a matching lining. I ran a machine zig-zag stitch around the edges and then sewed the seam.


Then I finger pressed the seams open and ran a little stab stitch along the inside to keep them open. 

(I cut this pattern wrong which is why the edges at the the of the seam don't match up. I trimmed it later.) 
I always find the next part tricky so I put the lining inside the sleeve the way it is supposed to look when finished, put a pin in at the top of the sleeve, and then turn the lining inside out. Then I pin around the top edge and machine sew it. I clip the curves so it sits better, and then turn right side out. Hopefully all the seams are hidden inside! Then I push a bone folder or blunt knitting needle along the seam from the inside so that nothing is tucked up, and then do a whip stitch along the top edge to stop the lining from rolling out with wear.

I lay the sleeve flat and pin the outer sleeve (fashion fabric) hem. It is important here to make sure that the inner lining is nice and smooth too with no bumps or folds. I use tiny stab stitch to sew it in place. Then I fold the lining hem under, leaving about 3 mm of the sleeve showing. I used to just marry the two edges together, but I was finding that the lining would often start to bubble out slightly after a bit of wear, especially if the lining was a different type or thickness of fabric.

At this point, the sleeve is ready for eyelets. I use eyelets because my Italian style gowns have a series of ties inside the top of the armhole. In period, it is more likely that a single lace was used on sleeves where visible ribbons or buttons weren't used, but I find multiple ties are very handy because I can take my sleeves off for pack-down at events when it starts to get a bit warm in garb. Honestly, at this stage of sleeve-making I usually mark out the holes for the eyelets and then put the sleeve in the To-Do pile indefinitely because I hate eyelets. (Hence the wisdom in doing the challenge with a friend.)

My eyelet holes correspond to where the ties on my dresses are. I make 5 eyelets (or sets of eyelets) which gives me some options with lacing. (With some pairs of sleeves, I only use 3 sets of laces and tuck the other two down inside the sleeves.) Having no ladies maid, fluctuating weight, and usually no-one to help me dress, my clothing has to be versatile.

This lot of eyelets is not the best that I have done, mainly because I haven't done any in so long and because I was rushing. But they work fine, and I got them done in a night. I actually wore the sleeves to a virtual online event. It was nice to be back in garb again and I was happy to have finished them. I like my 'comfy' sleeve pattern because it is not restrictive, unlike some of my tighter sleeves.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Spring Cleaning - Or Lack Thereof!

I have been really busy with study and officer duties lately, and have only had energy for the bare minimum when it comes to my daily A&S work. It is Spring here now, and I really should organise and tidy my stash and sewing areas, but that has not been happening. I have managed to start tidying my embroidery threads and floss stash..... I suppose that is better than nothing!
I am gradually swapping all the floss on plastic cards over to more historic-looking wooden ones, and matching up all those random floating skeins spread out amongst my sewing baskets and UnFinished Object piles.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Making the Purple patterned, Italian Style Caul

It has been a while since I posted a how-to on making a caul, so I thought I would share my technique. The photos and description refer specifically to the purple patterned caul that I finished recently, but my technique is pretty much the same for all my cauls, with minor changes to allow for different styles and head/hair sizes.

For this caul, I started out with a circle of pre-washed and ironed fabric. I prefer natural fabrics because they tend to breathe better than synthetics and are not as hot or as much of a fire risk. In period, this type of headwear would most likely have been silk, linen or possibly a fine wool or cloth of gold or silver. Budget is an issue for me, so sale cotton is my go-to. I prefer fabrics with a bit of body so that the hat won't look too limp. I love the way cotton velveteen sits when made up in this style. This particular fabric is a quilting cotton that I picked up on sale last year. The printed gold pattern adds a bit of stiffness.
Cutting out a plain fabric with the same pattern
The size of the circle that you use as your pattern really depends on three things:
How pouffy you want your caul to be
How big your head is
How much hair you have.
This image gives you an idea of the size circle I prefer for my large head
I tend to prefer a pouffy caul because I can just plait my hair and shove it in there without worrying about elaborate hair -dos. It also allows for when my hair is long or short, thick or thin. I have quite a bit of variation in my hair depending on which medications I am on etc. so a bit of extra space works for me. I usually use a large wire ring that I think is designed to be a wreath base.

You also have an option to make your base fabric an ova shape rather than a rectangle. Doing an oval shape tends to result in a bit more fabric around the ear area which reminds me quite a lot of the cauls that sixteenth century German ladies are shown wearing.
Once you have decided on shape, cut out your pattern piece. You will also need to cut out a piece of fabric to make the band, if you are making it out of the same fabric. I usually make my band the same length as the measurement around the head vertically, with 0.5cm allowed for ease plus seam allowance. I make the piece double the width that I want plus seam allowance and just fold it in half, but you could make the inside/lining part out of a different fabric if you wanted to. (For instance, making the lining piece out of velveteen might help it grip the hair better.)

At this point, you will need to add any decorations such as beads, ribbons, etc. I added a gold bead in the centre of each main motif,
If you are not adding extra decoration, give it the fabric a press. I usually run a zigzag stitch around the edge on the machine also, just to give it a bit more strength.

Next, run nice, even stitches all the way around your circle panel to allow you to gather it up into the headband. I actually do my gathering stitches in two separate lots to make it easier to get the gathers 'just right'. I usually mark the centre of the circle perimeter at top and bottom and run my threads between those points. On this particular caul I decided to try something different and to not gather the section on the top of my head in front of where my jewelled billiments sit, to reduce the pouf level at that point. Don't make your stitches too big or your gathers will be correspondingly large and the hat will not sit nicely. I prefer smaller gathers.

You will also need to sew the headband part. If you have cut a single piece, you'll need to sew the ends together so it is a joined piece like a ring of fabric. Then fold it in half and fold the seam allowances under, pressing or finger-pressing as you go. (Some people make the band a little shorter than they need and pop a piece of elastic in between the ends of the band. This is (obviously) not historically accurate. I don't find it necessary as I use clips to keep the caul on. I have also seen the ends of the band hemmed individually and ties or ribbons attached to tie it onto the head.)

Once your headband is sewn, gently pull up the gathering stitches until the circle (or oval) of fabric is the same size as the band. This is the part where you start adjusting the gathers so they look nice and even. Just gently move the gathers around until they look even and the bulk of fabric is evenly distributed.
I pin my gathers into place and handsew them on the inside and the outside. You could do this by machine if you prefer, I just don't like seeing visible stitching.
Once the band is on, you could call the hat finished. I thought it was lacking something at this stage though, and so experimented with different types of trim and ribbon. I chose this thin metallic ribbon and hand sewed it on to finish off the band.
The last thing that I do is add a metal hair comb at the centre front, sewn into the band. Some of my cauls have a wig clip sewn in at around the ear point. If you decide to do this, experiment to find out where it sits comfortably. On others I have made a little buttonole loop behind the ear to slip a bobby pin/kirby grip through to help it hold in place. You may not need this, but I have very slippery, fly -away hair, so this works for me. (I love a netted caul, but by the end of the day I have bits sticking out all over the place, despite how much product I use.) This is also why I make my bands quite wide. I have used bias binding for bands to more accurately match the portraiture, but the bigger bands work better with my difficult hair.

There is quite a lot of variation in the size of cauls depending upon the decade, as these portraits suggest:
 Titian's La Shiavona (Portrait of a Lady) 1510 held by National Portrait Gallery UK. Image from:

Bellini's Portrait of a Naked Woman In Front Of Her Mirror c. 1515,  Image from:

Portrait of a Woman by Vincenzo Catena c. 1520
Image from:

I've been tempted to make a caul that sits further back on my head like these, but I'm not sure how comfortable I would find it. I like having the bulk sit higher up on my head and not feel like it is pulling my head back.
Portrait of a Venetian Woman c. 1505 by Albrecht Durer
Image from:

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Mamluk Counted Embroidery

I started a new embroidery challenge with my local group of SCA embroiderers last month after seeing Mistress Miriam's Mamluk embroidery class at Politarchopolis University. Mistress Miriam graciously shared her notes so that we all had a sound research base, and I've been quite excited about the opportunities for future projects. I want to do some non-counted pieces, but I thought that I should try some counted work first.

I haven't done any counted embroidery since my early teens (I started cross-stitching at about age eleven) and I have already learned a lot. I have spent more time unpicking errors than actually stitching so far.
I have learned
* that I had a false appreciation of how good I actually am at counting
* the medication I was on has affected my eyesight more than I realised
* I shouldn't try and do counted work when I need to concentrate on something else
* my recollection of how much I dislike counted work was underrated 😃

It has been a very stressful week with multiple catastrophic technical issues (which is probably not the best time to work on this type of embroidery) so there have been a lot of errors. I have re-started a couple of times. The base fabric is a very loose weave, so the black thread has a tendency to slide under the base threads. To combat this I am working over two threads rather than one.

I am slightly further along than shown in this picture; I am onto the next line of embroidery (which now has an uneven motif in one corner). I decided to leave the wonky mistake in as a reminder to myself to concentrate.