I do wear Norman garb, too, even if I don’t like to admit it. It’s one of those “well, I’m married to one, so I need to look the part sometimes” gigs, much like how he also owns Byzantine garb, to humor me. This post is to help start build content for my Norman Garb Basics page I hope to finish after Pennsic.
My first bliaut I talked about here on this blog, in the chronicles of the Norman longdress. Here and Here.
That one was not without issues. It didn’t fit the best, I back engineered the lacing, and the elongated torso does no favors in linen. I have since parted with this dress to someone who could wear it better.
My second bliaut was easy. It’s an earlier design: no side lacing, and a looser, skimming fit versus a tight, completely form-fitting one. A simple keyhole neckline, made of basketwoven wool. It has a nice drape and I like the fit. It’s more accurate to my husband’s timeline of the late 11th Century if I use similar cuts seen in the Bayeux Tapestry as an example. I am unsure if the lining was ever really contrasting, but I like the way the blue just punches out of this one. I guess this could be considered more of a proto-bliaut.
Figuring the experience of these two dresses combined, I could make a late-12th Century version, with the lacing, and the slit neck, and the pendant-style maunche sleeves, and rock it for the William Marshal Tourney at Pennsic as Jeff’s consort.
I will say all of my mistakes could have been avoided by ACTUALLY MAKING A MOCKUP AND PROPERLY PATTERNING THE DAMN THING instead of what became another back-engineering project. The hilarious thing is by this point, I can help people figure this pattern out just fine with good results. I guess it’s a good thing that this particular style is too late for Gieffrei and myself, and I just made it with Pennsic in mind, so I didn’t spend the amount of time I normally would lining sleeves.
It started off easy enough. I make my bliaut pattern with a front and back seam, so I sew together 4 pieces for the body. This allows me to put in back and front gores with minimal fuss, and also helps get a clean neckline. I figured this would work great for the slit neck versus cutting the fabric, and draped it as such.
I applied the trim to the neckline at this point. The V comes down to mid bust. The back opens just below my first vertibrae. I found a vintage sari trim that looks wonderfully Siculo-Norman.
From here on, it went together pretty smooth, except that I cut the gores a bit too long. That was an easy fix, albeit a frustrating one. I was just careful to line up the front and back seams at the trim when I inserted the gores. Easy enough with a liberal dose of pins.
Much like constructing a regular t-tunic dress, it went together, and sat on my dress form like a lifeless sack with pretty trim.
The hard part was the fitting. I don’t know many people yet in my area, so having a friend to come over and actually fit this sucker was out of the question, so my husband helped. I put a gusset in the underarm out of habit, thinking that the sleeve would be okay, it was not. So he pinned and marked what would need to be taken in.
Oops. Either he got too excited, or I did. Crap. The sleeves were too tight! I tried it on with an underdress, and split the seam, so I knew this was going to be a tough fix. I could either insert a new gusset that would close the seam, or just lace it up to where it needed to be. To make matters worse, one sleeve was tighter than the other. I got way too scissors happy. @#$%!
When I spoke at the conference at Fordham in March, there was a session given by Gale Owen Crocker about extent garments and fit. We have a very symmetrical view on clothing in the modern period as a result of mass produced garments. The Middle Ages had no such sense. Clothing was tailored to the person, mistakes were worked around. Fabric was precious and so was sewing time. We’re spoiled with mechanization, and forget the “make it fit” view of the period we’re supposed to be representing. Well, considering I had no extra fabric to make new sleeves, I had to make this work.
The custom gussets were not working out well. I went from triangles to footballs to leaves to giving up. Laces it was going to be.
I measured out 16 eyelets on each panel, for a nice total of 64. I started marking them out, and my husband went, “Uh, you’re going to machine those, right?”
He had a valid point. While machine eyelets are not the best for fabric, handmade ones would take me far too long and far more stress I didn’t need. Machine it would be. Fortunately, my machine does a reasonable job.
Despite it being by machine, these are not that fast, and not without error. I actually ran out of bobbin thread in the middle of a row, in the middle of an eyelet, which was the only way Jeff got me downstairs for dinner. NY Strips on the grill, and I still wasn’t going to leave the machine.
After about 12 hours of work spread out over 4 days (I was getting punchy), I finished it. I was hoping I could use one of my existing underdresses, but I don’t have a white one that is slim enough so…more sewing for me! @_________@ I do need to weave a wider belt and will probably do that on-site at Pennsic, since I’m pretty fast with inkle, and can get nice materials from the merchants. The one I used here is handwoven trim I made last year. I’m thinking it may look nice as the trim on the underdress.
Make a freaking mockup, you lazy bint!
Linen is still not as good for a bliaut as wool, but Pennsic is death.
Triple check your husband’s work, and you know, make a mockup.
Not a fan of the slit neck as much as the keyhole. because of the way it effects the fit on top.
Really not a fan of the lacing, and I don’t think my next one (parti-heraldic for Crown tourney) is going to have them.
After Pennsic, I’ll be posting my pattern for my bliaut block in the Norman Garb page.
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