she who keeps this diary

2003-07-18 - 1:29 p.m.

Confessio Textricis

If there has been an advantage to being phoneless (and therefore internetless) for the last several days, it is that some distractions from my pre-Pennsic sewing frenzy were temporarily cleared. As usual, there is plenty of work to be done to make sure the Viking and I are outfitted for war.

I have a confession about this.

I hate sewing for men.

This is sort of an embarrassing admission for someone who was (theoretically) recognised in part for her costuming skills when she was Laurelled. I can't explain why I don't like sewing for men, really. Viking Age garments are not marvels of complex construction, so tailoring shouldn't be a problem. But it is. Maybe it's just that I spent so many years sewing only for myself, and sewing for men is a relatively new thing for me.

Part of the problem is that men and women are different, and I don't mean mere factors of social conditioning or reproductive biology. The whole shoulder assembly, for instance, is different on men than it is on women. The places that men carry their weight are different than the places women carry theirs. I have an intuitive understanding of how a female body is shaped, and how cloth needs to be cut to drape over that shape. When I look at a man, I know, on a intellectual level, how things are different. Broader shoulders, higher centre of gravity, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But I have a devil of a time making cloth behave over the male body.

I have tried. I know how to take measurements. I have taken the measurements. I can also drape, although the Viking gets fidgety when I do too much of that. I have wasted more fabric than I want to think about making tunics that look OK, until the Viking puts them on and reveals all the problems. Too tight here. Too loose there. Armscyes not deep enough, sleeves too long or too short. I correct one problem and six more spring up to take its place.

It's not logical. Not remotely. It's probably all in my head, the clothier's equivalent of some psychosomatic ailment. Munchausen's Tailor's Syndrome?

The Viking desperately needs new tunics for Pennsic. He is counting on me to make them; he can sew, after a fashion, but not terribly well. I care how he looks. I have a (probably baseless) fear that people see him at events and mutter "his wife is a Laurel and she lets him run around looking like that?"

I broke down. I bought a pattern. I should not have needed to buy a pattern. I can, after all, take measurements properly. I have all the best books. Viking tunics are not difficult. I should be able to do this. But I can't. So, in case there are any more closet cases with problems sewing tunics, I think I can recommend a source of help.

La Fleur de Lyse is a small Canadian company with a good reputation for their patterns among 18th-century reenactors. In the last couple of years they have branched out into some medieval patterns. One of these is the "Men of the Medieval Romanesque Period." This contains pattern pieces and directions to make ensembles for northern European peasants and noblemen of the years 1060 and 1150, in sizes small (38" chest) to extra-large (44" chest). You are supposed to be able to produce a chainse (shirt), cote (tunic), bliaut (overtunic), and coif from the patterns.

For pattern pieces you get: one body piece, for two lengths (approximately knee-length, and approximately ankle-length) with options for round and keyhole necklines; two sizes of godets; two sleeve styles (full length, and a flared 3/4 length); and the necessary pieces for a linen coif.

The accompanying packet includes suggestions for fabrics to use and to avoid; directions for assembling the various pattern pieces to make the different garments shown, and which garments you need for which ensembles (the lord of 1150 is going to require different clothes than the peasant of 1060); an explanation of how to make a half-circle mantle; and illustrations showing options for accessories, closures, and so on.

For purposes of authenticity, the pattern and its supplementary information are good. The finished product resembles the 13th-century tunic from Rønbjerg Mose or the 14th-century Bocksten tunic more than Viking-age tunics in that it has set-in sleeves rather than sleeves cut in a piece with the body and augmented with underarm gussets. However, the sleeves are not overtailored, and many will find the set-in sleeves easier to manage.

The marking of the godet pieces baffles me; I have tried repeatedly to figure out what it is I am meant to do with them and have failed. I know how to insert godets and am proceeding according to what I know. The effect is fine, so I am not overworried.

The directions are given both in French and English, and I gather that the people behind the patterns are Francophone, because the English translations are sometimes a little strange; "sires" in French is translated as "sirs" rather than "noblemen" or "lords" or some other more natural English locution. Nevertheless the directions are clear enough and save for the godets and possibly the coif, it is fairly clear just from the pattern pieces how things are supposed to go; even a beginning costumer should not have too much trouble.

I finished the first tunic, save for hemming, and pitched it over the Viking's head last night. It fits comfortably across his shoulders. The armscye is the right depth. The sleeves are the right length. It looks good.

verso - recto

The WeatherPixie

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