Betulapendulafrau – a birch coloured early 16th century German dress

I love my blue dress, and I have redone it so many times now, but one thing was bugging me. It is to bright for what I want to do. I am aiming to do a lower class woman, a woman that could have been a follower of the German landsknecht tross. And for that my blue dress was to fancy.
I wanted to do something simpler, a lighter colour and a more “believable” dress. Then the idea of dying the fabric myself using a plant that would be easy to find and use.
There are plenty of birch trees around so I knew that I would be able to gather all the plants I needed to dye the around 4 meters of fabric I needed for this dress.

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I started of by getting a really big pot. I got my 70 litre brewing pot including a lid at www.storagrytor.se and then I ordered some mordants and iron sulphate from www.dengamlaskolan.se I choose to use the twill raw weave from www.medeltidsmode.se for this project. As I love the surface it gets after washing and I had heard that it would be nice to dye.

The raw weave is bought as the name implies “raw”. It is straight out of the loom, filled with spinning oil and the weave is quite loose. It is a fabric that is meant to be washed and fulled and should not be used as it is. It is inexpensive and kind of ugly with a dirty beige colour. But when washed in 60°C it fulls nicely and you get a soft cream coloured fabric with a visible twill structure and it becomes a sightly fluffy but not to thick fabric. You can wash it in 90°C as well to get a heavier, more fulled fabric, but I just washed it in 60°C before I dyed it. One should also note that it does shrink a bit when you dye it as well.

After getting a big pot it was time to add mordant to the fabric to make it possible to dye it. I added 10% of Alun and 5% Cream of tartar of the fabrics dry weight to a bit of luke warm water in the pot. Stirred it well to make sure it was all solved and then filled the pot up with water. Then the fabric was added and the heat was turned on. You need it to heat up slowly to not chock the wool but that really is not a problem with such a big pot. It took me around one hour to get it up to the 80-90°C that you need and I kept stirring the fabric around all the time. Then the temperature was held at 80-90°C for one hour and then the heat was turned down and I let the fabric cool down in the mordant water until the next day.
You can either dye directly on the wet fabric, or you can let it dry (no need to rinse it out) to have for dyeing later. I choose the first one.

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It takes a lot of time to get all the leaves. You need to collect t least the double amount of leafs of the fabrics dry weight. As I had around 1,5kg fabric I choose to pick around 4kg of leafs. Getting more then you need will perhaps not give you more colour but it can help with the light fastness of the colour. Better safe then sorry, also for birch it is good to know that if you pick the leafs after midsummer you can get a green tint to your dye, in stead of a clear yellow. This is what happened to me but I like it. You will want to get only the leafs and not any branches.

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When all the leafs was picked it was time to add it to the dyeing pot that was now emptied of water and rinsed out. I added the leafs and then poured on water until the leafs was covered. Then the leaf soup was brought to a boil and then boiled for one hour. Birch leafs does not smell bad, but they smell special.

After one hour it was time to take out the leafs. All the leafs need to be taken out as they can make stains on the fabric. Emptying a pot of 50 litres of warm water with leafs is a hassle. Really no that easy, but it can be done.
When it was empty of leafs I added more water. I had so much fabric that I needed as much water I could get and also it is a good way to get the temperature of the birch leaf soup down. You do not want to add the fabric if the water is over 50°C as this is bad for the wool fibre.

Then it was time to add the fabric. To make the fabric is even it is good if it is wet when you add it, mine came directly from the mordant bath so there was no need to wet it more. When the fabric is added you need to slowly raise the temperature to 80-90°C and you need to stir the fabric often to make sure that the colour gets even. When the temperature is at 80-90°C you need to keep it there for one hour stirring now and then during this time. When one hour is over I simply turned of the heat and let the fabric cool down to the next day. When cooled down I took it out of the bath and rinsed it well in cold water until the water was clear.

Next day I needed to dye my accent colour. As I had so much fabric the first round there was no space for that piece. There is kind of a lot of colour last in the bath after the first round, so adding a fabric to the after bath and redo the heating and one hour at 80-90°C would give a nice but lighter yellow. As I wanted to have the same strength but green I added the leafs to the water again and boiled them again, to get some extra colour into the bath. After the same procedure as the last time; straining of the leafs, adding more water to cool it down, I added the last piece of fabric to the bath and let it slowly go up to 80-90°C. When the temperature was right I let my fabric sit for 45 minutes in the bath, stirring well. Then the fabric was taken out temporarily and iron sulphate was added; 5g for each 100g of fabric. I stirred it well to make it dissolve into the water and then added the fabric again. This turns the yellow fabric green. But it is kind of bad for the fibre so I only let it be in the bath for 15 minutes. Then It was taken out and I let it cool down a bit before washing it well in first warm water that gradually was made cooler to not shock the wool.

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Then it was finished and I only had to wait for it to dry, and clean up the mess in the kitchen. Taking a good photo of the colours was hard, but it kind of what they look like but they do change in visual appearance if you are inside our outside, in the sun or the shade.

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Then it was time for the cutting and sewing part. Of course I had very little time to sew this as I wanted to make it for medieval week on Gotland. I only had a few days but I was pretty sure I could make it at least wearable for medieval week. The assembly for this is the same as for my blue dress tutorial. The difference is that for this dress I choose to not use the filler thread as there are no evidence that this was used in the 16th century and also I choose to try hooks and eyes and to not bone the front of the dress.

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Otherwise it was very straight forward sewing, I timed the dress as it is always interesting to see how much time it takes and for this dress it took me 25 hours and 5 minutes. Not bad for a totally hand sewn dress, and yes it was finished enough to wear for medieval week. What was left to do was to attach one more stripe on the skirt as I wanted two and the cast down some of the edges inside the dress but that is included in the 25 hours and five minutes.
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Under this dress I wear my wool under dress. A sleeveless wool dress lined with two layers of heavy linen that is laced in front. The under dress is not boned and I find that wearing the under dress and over dress is plenty of bust support for me. And also it gives you a proper silhouette.
To make this outfit better I will be making a new smocked shirt and veil, pure white and embroidered it not all that fitting for a poorer woman so I will be making them in non bleached linen in stead. And smock using a tone on tone thread in stead.

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I hope you like it as much as I do. I like the fact that it is so simple and not slashed at all. It feels very real and possible.

Hook and eyes 15th-16th century style

I saw this picture before Christmas, it shows different stages of hooks and eyes being made and is dated to 15th to 16th century.

I have until now used modern black or silver hooks for my 16th century projects, lazy as I am. But Seeing the picture it hit me that it is to easy to make them on your own to not be using them. So I dug out my pliers and 1mm bronze thread and did some testing. And sure enough, they are really easy to make. I never you the eyes, I do thread bars for my hooks in stead so I will only show the hook making part.

I use bronze thread as bronze seems to be very common to use in pins and needles, so using it for hooks and eyes should be period correct.

16th centruy hooks - progress
I start out with a 4cm long piece.
Using round nosed pliers I form the loops at the end
Then fold it in half
Press the wire together to make a nice shape, I use my needle nose pliers to do this.
Then I hammer it on an anvil to harden the thread a bit
Then it is time to fold, this was the tricky part and it is hard to get it even and straight. But practice makes more perfect.

16th centruy hooks

Now I need to exchange the modern ones I already have in place for these nice ones.

The yellow dress – or the housebook dress.

It always starts with the idea, I see someone in a outfit that makes the gears in my head turn furiously. So I do a lot of looking at pictures, on paintings and then I sketch my idea. The sketches always look something like this.

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Many lines and text, explaining to myself what my idea is, the drawings are not made for someone else to look at, only so that I can remember that great idea I had about that specific detail.

I have collected my “housebook” dress pictures on a separate pinterest board, if you wish to have a look.

This dress is interesting, with the silly pleated part in the front, the low cut neck. There is a lot of details in the look and as always what I find interesting is “how does this work with my boobs?!

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And as always when dealing with a difficult model, I start with a toille. Drawing new lines, cutting it up after those lines and making it work. The front piece is a square, and then the shape for the bust is pinned to this piece, this makes all the shaping for the bust invisible, as on the finished garment it looks like straight lines.

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The pieces, now comes the real pattern work.

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The old darts of the toille is cut away and then put together to close up the pattern pieces for one single pattern piece without the seam. Some of the width is lost, but if it is only this small amount you will not notice it.

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The pattern when finished looks like this I have added a skirt piece that widens in stead of putting in gores. As the paintings show no visible lines for gores in the skirt, and they show every other seams there is. The pictures show wide hems, so I did this and also have 75cm of fabric in the front and back pleated panels.

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Here we have the panels, my panels are 75cm wide, and the front panel have a slit down the front to allow for an opening of the dress centre front.

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I have a sturdy linen as a base for my panels.

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I decided to make rolled pleats. Many recreations have stuffed cartridge pleating, but looking on the paintings and drawings they never have more then ten pleats, but very wide hems on the dresses, so I decided that even if there is no “evidence” for rolled pleats in this period they would be perfect. There is no need for stuffing the pleats, they fall just as in the pictures and you can get a lot of fabric to fit on a small area.

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They are made like this, They are sewn onto the linen linings with running stitches.

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then they are rolled one at a time and secured like this.

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The dress is then sewn and the pleated panels inserted in the front, they are attached at the top like this.

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I decided to do the open back sleeves, so here we have lacing holes, they look like golden silk suns.

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They are backed with a sturdy linen.

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I sew in silk with buttonhole stitches, as this makes for neater and sturdier buttonholes, and it is also the period way to do.

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The neckline is a single fold hem finished with stab stitching and on the back with a filler thread.

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Last thing is to finish the hem. I always put the dress on, make someone put one needle in each seam at the height of where I want my hem. Then I take it of, fold the dress in half and make a nice line working from these needles.

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As I did not want to take away the wools ability to stretch and shape around the body, I only put lining around the waist, where I wanted to make sure that there was no tension on the pleated panels. If they strain you can be sure that the hidden lacing will show. There is a corsets steel behind the lacing holes, to keep it all straight and nice. I guess the period way would to have reeds there in stead of modern spring steel.
The Lining is only secured in the back with big stitches, and then in the side seams and at the front on the pleated panel.

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A picture on neat seams in the inside.

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I have hooks and eyes in the top, as the lacing only goes up to the height of the pleated panel.

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The sleeves have one continuous lace, I did not work that well to have it free so I have stitched it to keep it from bunching up when wearing the dress.

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There is many pictures with elaborate veils, so I was inspired to make something that looks like “Meister des Amsterdamer Kabinetts: Das Gothaer Liebespaar” so I made a paper guide where I made a hole in each crossing with a big needle and then made dots on a thin linen fabric with the help of a pen.

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The long lines was couched in silk.

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And then I made stars with the same silk but another tone over each crossing.

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Some details in the front.

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Sadly there was not enough silk to make the last three stars, but this place is hidden in the back and never visible.

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Under the dress I wear my Lengberg castle brassiere, and to wear over that I made a now hemd, I use the same method as in my kampfrau tutorial, but in stead of the high neck I choose to make it low and only honeycomb smock and to have less fabric in the body.

Then there came the problem of closure of the top of the dress. When I saw the big golden closure of THIS and THIS ladies I was in love, but with no metal working skills there was no way that I could make them.

But then suddenly I saw this blog post. And of course! I can make one like that to.

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So I turned to good old Etsy and ordered a pile of golden filigrees and started building. Layering the filigrees gave it a very nice solid look.

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To top it all of I needed a wulstahube that was so big that it looked really silly. This was important for me, to make it so high that I could almost not wear it. There are numerous pictures of really big wulsthaubes in period artwork, and as I love the silly headdresses I wanted to top this silly dress of with something equally silly. As stuffing this wulst with fabric would make it to heavy I turned to thin birch branches that I made into a wulst and padded with linen wrapping.

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And yes it turned into a really silly wulsthaube, it took me several weeks to decide if I could wear it. But I finally started to like the sillyness of the height.

And this is how the dress turned out, the yellow and golden dress.

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