Die Näherin: The Seamstress (Dress and Accessories)
-Herrin Genefe Wӧlfelin
Kingdom of Atlantia (Barony of Stierbach)
Inspiration: The inspiration for this project was a woodcut I found of a Tailor and Seamstress credited to Erhard Schӧn from 1525-1530. I found this woodcut in a book of Landsknecht Woodcuts edited by Marion McNealy (Mistress Sophia Kress).
This image especially appeals to me because of the detail in her pieces. I love the smocking of the sleeves and apron. I love the triangular details along the bottom of her dress. I also see this project as a way to flush out my own period persona.
The four parts of this ensemble that I have produced over the last year are the dress (Kleid), the smocked shirt (Hemd), the apron (Schürze) and the sock (Unter Schuh). Over the next year I hope to add the pouch, canteen, and period Steuchlein.
Materials: All garments and accessories are made of linen. The Kleid is a heavy weight linen dyed to a light blue using RIT dye. It is lined in dark blue cotton and assembled with cotton thread. The skirt of the my Kleid is lined in linen. This garment was assembled by machine and finished by hand.
In period this garment would most likely be constructed from wool and lined in linen. My choice of linen was partly due to what I had available at the time. I also wanted to make something comfortable to wear to the events that I attend mostly during the spring, summer, and fall when it is quite warm here in Virginia.
My Schürze is constructed from a lightweight linen which is period appropriate. My Unter Schuh is constructed of a heavier weight linen. Both accessories were sewn completely by hand. My Hemd is a medium weight linen. This garment was assembled by machine and finished by hand.
The first step in creating this dress was to draft a pattern. The main characteristics of this bodice were the rounded front to accommodate a rounded bust, the square neckline, and wider set shoulder straps. After a few trials and errors, my bodice pattern looked like this:
I cut three layers for this bodice. The outer layer is hand dyed linen. The middle layer is a heavier cotton canvas. The bodice is lined in a light cotton. I choose lighter weight linen and cotton over the period appropriate linen and wool to create a lighter weight garment and take advantage of what I had at hand.
I chose to spend some extra time on construction with this garment partly because there were so many layers of fabric. Once I had attached the trim, I decided to experiment with pad stitching. If you look closely, you will see two thin lines of pad stitching binding the outer linen to the heavy canvas. I really enjoy the extra structure this provides to the garment. The bodice was now ready to be assembled.
The bodice was assembled by machine and finished by hand. Most of the lining was attached by hand. I chose to assemble my garment by machine because my hand sewing is not the best. I find that machine stitching produces a garment that stays together well and wears well. I absolutely value hand-work in the garments I produce. I try very hard to make sure that any visible stitching is hand stitching. The bodice was now assembled and I was ready to start the skirt.
The most challenging part of this skirt by far was the border at the bottom. I decided to create the border separately, line it, then attach to the skirts. I chose the colors for my border partly based on a portrait from Lucas Cranach from about 1513. This portrait shows a woman wearing sleeves trimmed with a similar triangular border. This border appears to be pieced rather than appliqued. I chose to follow the same approach with two colors instead of 3. My experience with quilting was very helpful in piecing the many many triangles that form the bottom of this garment. I pieced together just over 3 yards of linen triangles and lined the back with the same cotton as the bodice lining.
I generally cut my skirts in large rectangles (one width of fabric by about 38 in,) and then pleat them to the bodice. I have experimented with different ways to cut and assemble skirts which are period and produce a nice result with less fabric but not the kind of volume I was looking for in this garment. Both the skirt and lining were assembled by machine, finished by hand, and then pleated by hand. I chose to use rolled pleats to produce nice big pleats that reached far down the length of the skirt. I use this method of construction in most of my Tross Frau gowns.
The skirt I created is about 5 or 6 inches longer than the image I used for inspiration. I have seen many images that depict women of the Tross in shorter skirts so I am convinced that her skirt is not tied up in a belt but actually ends above her ankles. I chose to make my skirt floor length for selfish ascetic reasons. I am short and shorter skirts make me look even shorter. I prefer a longer silhouette.
The last step was to attach the hooks and eyes that I use to close the bodice. Hooks and eyes are quick and functional. I have seen very little evidence for laced front gowns.
This was actually the project I completed first. I have constructed many basic 16th century shirts in the past and was familiar with a very plausible layout pictured below which is also referenced in The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant and The Pleatwork Book. This was the first time I had attempted pleat work on anything other than an apron.
The first step was to assemble the shirt attaching the front and back pieces while leaving an opening large enough to be gathered around my neck. I ended up sewing in about 7” from each shoulder leaving me a fairly large opening. The next step was create the front slit using a narrow facing. Next I attached the sleeves at the shoulder and then sewed up the sides of the garment leaving an opening at the cuff. The last step was to add a narrow hem at the neck and cuff.
It was now time to pleat. I decided to take the time to mark out the pleats and was very happy with the results. I marked ¼” dots in 5 rows twice on each sleeve, at the neckline, and at each cuff. I made my marks using a water soluble marker. In period, these marks might have been made using chalk and a paper marking guide. The next step was to sew in the gathers and do the actual pleat work. I chose the honeycomb pattern that I also used on a previous apron. Pleating the sleeves was tricky since they were already closed up the side but it got easier with practice. At one point, I used an empty soda bottle stuck into the sleeve to help hold things in place while I worked.
Because the collar and cuffs were going to get the most wear and tear, I chose to back these with another strip of linen to add some stability. I am very happy with this decision. I also added a line of decorative blue stem stitch for a little decoration. The last step was to attach 4 sets of hooks and eyes – 2 to the collar and 2 to the cuffs.
Last year at Pennsic I had the opportunity to learn basic drawn thread work from Mistress Genoveva von Lübeck. I saw this project as the perfect opportunity to showcase that. My plan for this project was to border the apron with drawn thread work then do another line across the bottom front. The top few inches would be simple pleat work. Mistress Genoveva’s websites are a wealth of information on period pleat work techniques.
To construct this garment, I decided to start with the drawn thread work edging since this technique also creates a beautiful hem as you work. It took about two weeks of work to complete this step of the project. The next step was the pleat work at the top. I measure and marked out 8 rows of pleats about ⅛’ apart. This was the second time that I have used marks to gather – I usually do it freehand. I was very happy with the uniform pleats I got from taking the time to mark out the pleats.
The next step was to complete the honeycomb pattern pleat work. At this point I had already completed my Hemd and although I am happy with that project, I did not like that my stitches showed so plainly on my sleeve pleat work so I tried to adjust my method to keep a lot of the stitching on the back side. Mistress Genoveva’s website was also very helpful with this too! The last step was to attach the waistband. All work on this piece was done by hand.
This was the last piece I finished before Pennsic. This project was completed using many of the resources from the web site “Whilja’s Corner.” The author has assembled museum photos and talked about her own attempts to create this garment. I chose to go with her basic shapes and adapted them to my size.
This required creating a pattern of my foot and experimenting with the best shapes. I also decided to line my sock for extra durability. I do not think I will be lining any in the future as I feel like it is unnecessary after a few wearings. The pattern pieces I developed are below.
The last step was to create the garment itself. I sewed the back heel together then attached the bottom to the top making sure to reinforce all the seams for extra durability. The last step was to attach the outer shoe to the lining. The results are picture below. This garment was constructed totally by hand and I could not be happier with the results.
I am very happy overall with the set of garments I have constructed so far. This Kleid is by far the nicest and best constructed of all my Tross Frau dresses. I love the fit and the silhouette that I have created. I love the fact that the garment has real substance from the interlining. I love that I was able to draft these patterns myself and that I created these garments from beginning to end.
I have been very happy with the wear on my Hemd. It has held up well despite multiple wears and washes with minimal mending.
I am also very happy with my Unter Shuh. I have worn them for a short time at demos and around the house. I can’t wait to see how they work at Pennsic. I do plan on doing another pair from wool and one more of single layer linen.
I do plan on doing another Schürze. I am not happy with the smocking at the top. I think it will be much more tidy and the pleats will be more crisp if I used a heavier weight linen. I also want it to be longer to better match the image I am recreating.
Breunner, G. A. (2013). Landsknecht Woodcuts: Kriegsvolker im Zeitalter der Landsknechte. Nadel und Faden Press.
Lucas Cranach the Elder. Portrait of A Lady. Art Gallery of Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2016, from http://www.ago.net/agoid107395
Mikhaila, N., & Malcolm-Davies, J. (2006). The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century dress. Hollywood, CA: Costume and Fashion Press.
Thursfield, S. (2001). The medieval tailor’s assistant: Making common garments, 1200-1500. New York: Costume & Fashion Press.
The Pleatwork Book Mastering 15th and 16th Pleatwork Techniques – Mistress Genoveva Von Lübeck
The Tross Frau Sock
This is a wonderful website. Look for great examples and tutorials along with information about accessories.
Amie’s site includes many examples of German costume. She has created several dress diaries that take you through the process from beginning to end.
More great resources if you are interested in the life, times, and dress of the Landsknecht.