Monday, December 21, 2015

Making a Medieval Cloak: A Bit of Geometry

I looked forward to making a cloak to go with my Medieval costume, because I longed for the swishiness and practicality a cloak provided. I wanted a cloak that was full but not too full; a complete circle cloak just seemed like a disaster to hem and a swishing hazard.

I settled on a 3/4 circle cloak, meaning that instead of the cloak resembling a full circle when laid flat on the floor, it would resembled 3/4 of a circle. A 3/4 circle can be assembled with three 1/4 pieces, yet this would give me two seams to sew rather than one, and I was on a severe time constraint (at this point, Halloween was about a week away!). A circle can be divided in several ways. Into quarters, as shown:

Or, into eighths, as shown:

Thus, a 3/4 circle and 6/8 circle are the same size! But how could I get around the issue of all those seams? I cut the cloak in two pieces, each piece 3/8 in size. Below, 3/8 of the circle is shaded. This results in one edge being cut on the bias and one on the selvedge of the fabric. I used the selvedge cut edges for the center back seam, and the bias edges became the front edges of the cloak.

For this cloak, I wanted a material that was lightweight, yet substantial; luxurious, but not busy or overwhelming, since this piece is intended to go with other costumes in the future. I looked to period art for inspiration, and found several trends.

Trend 1: Cloaks were often solid

Lady 1370
Germany Frankfurt am Main
14th century depiction of Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Trend 2: Cloaks, especially those worn in images of the Madonna, could be blue (Throughout the Medieval and Renaissance art periods, and especially in the Renaissance, the Madonna is very frequently wearing a red/orange dress and blue cloak. Does anyone know of the significance/symbolism of these color choices?)

Madonna and Child by Lorenzo Monaco, Florence, c.1410
Madonna and Child by Berlinghiero, Italy, 13th century
Madonna and Child by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Illumination from the Jay Gould Hours, French, c. 1460

Further, as you can see from the images above, cloaks were usually floor length -- some even pooled at the wearer's feet, though this could be artistic license. At 45" wide, my fabric wasnt' wide enough for a floor-length cloak unless I pieced the fabric together, but I didn't have time for that, so a mid-calf cloak was made!

My cloak is made from Kona Cotton (I believe the color is Pacific), which is heavy yet has a nice drape. It is lined with an old white cotton sheet, which needed some clever piecing to fully line the cloak. The lining and outer fabric are attached by hand with a slip stitch, which allowed me to work on the cloak at school or in the car; the hand sewing actually went by rather quickly! I felt that the finished cloak was too plain, so I handstitched gold gimp braid 1/2" away from the edge. Turns out 8 yards of braid was just 2 feet short of rounding the whole cloak, so I had to get clever with disguising my lack of trim, and so the trim ends in swirls at the back of the cloak.

The cloak fastens with two large bronze dome buttons, between which a plastic "gold" chain is looped and then secured with a safety pin behind the buttons. This allows for easy removing and adjusting. This chain-and-button closure also appeared in some examples of period artwork, like the illuminated manuscript above. However, the chain easily slipped inside my dress unattractively.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Edwardian Kitchen Maid Outfit

I occasionally docent tours at Hobart Manor, a registered historic landmark on the William Paterson University campus. Today I had the opportunity to conduct a tour focusing on the Manor decorated for the holidays, and I couldn't miss an opportunity to throw on some old duds to enrich the experience!

Instead of making something new, I reused the homespun skirt and Edwardian shirtwaist I had made this summer to wear as the costume of a late 19th--early 20th century Portuguese baker's wife. I made the costume look less folksy and more Daisy from Downton Abbey by wearing it without the headscarf, embroidered handkerchief, embroidered slippers, jewelry, or patchwork drawstring bag. I wore the outfit with thigh-high black polka dot tights and my American Duchess Gibson shoes. In addition to wearing my tucked petticoat with crochet lace and monogrammed drawers underneath the outfit, I wore an antique Edwardian corset cover and petticoat (fantastic Ebay/flea market finds which I hope to post shortly!).

It was very fun to be a maid at the Manor, a change from last year's bedazzled 1920s lady. It was also very rewarding to see how different costume pieces can be appropriately reused; with just a change of accessories, I went from rural housewife to Edwardian servant! It was also fun to try on the outfit with some of my wool shawls and scarves; carrying around a carpetbag-shaped leather purse, I felt as if I had stepped right onto Ellis Island!

I especially love how I look in the photo on the right!

This shawl/cowl/shrug was thoughtfully handmade for me by my boss! It's very warm and soft, and matches the tones of my outfit quite perfectly!
Good thing this skirt has a strong facing! It was so long that it swept up anything on the stairs!

This costume is especially meaningful to me because my paternal grandmother worked as a servant in a large country house. The daughter of her employers was named Gabriela, and she always desired to have a daughter or granddaughter with that same name. Not only have I fulfilled (unfortunately posthumously) her desire for a Gabriela, I am exploring her experiences of scurrying up and down stairs--albeit to deliver notes in my office (which is located in the Manor)--and standing on her feet all day. This is certainly an outfit I can see myself wearing on many occasions!