Apron with Honeycomb Smocking

IMG_1548Recent scribal projects have provided the opportunity to pour over the luminous pages of the Luttrell Psalter.  While looking for design elements to adapt, I’ve kept a running list of images depicting 14th century clothing and accessories.  With these images of hoods, shoes, dresses, and such in the back of my mind, I started another list of articles of clothing that I’d love to add to my kit.  Since it’s summer, a hat was on the top of the list, followed by pattens to keep the shoes I made during the winter out of the dew and mud, and then an apron to protect my dresses from some of the messier parts of camp living.  In the flurry of activity that surrounded GNEW, I had to set aside the plans for an apron, until now.

Looking back at the images in the Luttrell Psalter, I decided to try my hand at smocking, a technique used to gather material.  Some of the examples show beautiful, more elaborate patterns in the way the material is stitched, but since this would be my first go, and I need a utilitarian apron, I decided to use a more basic, honeycomb pattern.

IMG_1481 There are wonderful websites with tutorials and instructions.  I found the links on Medieval Silkworks to be particularly helpful, as well as the basic instructions shown on Tipnut.  Preparing samples using different grids was one of the most helpful things I did as I started planning my own apron.  There are images showing the results of that on a previous post.  For this apron I ended up using a grid where the gathering stitches are placed 1 cm apart horizontally, with the rows of stitches set 1.5 cm apart vertically.  The final stitches that produce the honey comb are worked in number 8 pearl cotton, with stitched nodes worked at the gathered points and 1/2 way to the next gathering point.  Though more laborious to set up, I found that using many rows of gathering stitches helped me keep my final stitches in neater rows.  The final honeycomb is far from perfect, but I can see how it would have been much more frustrating to produce if I had used fewer gathering rows.

The local fabric store only had white linen in suiting weight the day I went, and it feels a bit heavy.  The honeycomb smocking does add a lot of stretch to this rather unyielding fabric, though.  After working up this first bit of smocking, learning the basic technique, and this basic and pretty forgiving stitch, I have many ideas for what I’d like to try with the next project.  Next time, I’d like to try smocking with a slightly lighter weight linen, use linen thread, and pay even closer attention to keeping the pleats in line as I gather to make sure that they are even.  The pressure is off though, now that one is complete and ready to use!


Tests for Smocking

A first go at smocking.  These are samples of honeycomb smocking to test the grid that will determine how the stitches will be placed.  I’m using Medieval Silkwork’s wonderful links.  I couldn’t find clear information about how to set up the grid, so I made my own test piece, as I prepare to make a linen apron with smocking at the top, as inspired by aprons shown in the Luttrel Psalter.

The smocking on the left hand side of the middle photo is done using a grid where the gathering stitches are placed 1 cm apart horizontally, with the rows of stitches set 1.5 cm apart vertically.  The final stitches that produce the honey comb are worked in number 8 pearl cotton, with stitched nodes worked at the gathered points and 1/2 way to the next gathering point.  This produced a fine diamond pattern.

The smocking on the right hand side of the middle photo is done using a grid where the gathering stitches are placed 1.5 cm apart horizontally, with the rows of stitches set 2 cm apart vertically.  Again, the final stitches that produce the honey comb are worked in number 8 pearl cotton, with stitched nodes worked at the gathered points and 1/2 way to the next gathering point.

Straw into Gold

The inspiration for this project was a panel from the Manesse Codex showing Kunz von Rosenheim (394R) from 1304-1340, and the genuine need for a sun hat for an upcoming event.  I learned more about the process on: https://wh1350.at/en/tutorials-en-all/late-medieval-straw-hats-and-a-reconstruction-attempt/

And how to do a seven strand plait with the help of a video clip from Edwardian Farm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyfgdG3w61o

Granted this is post period and may be different from how medieval hats were constructed, but for now it will have to do.  It was a lovely process, and I used dried iris leaves rather than straw, because that is what I had on hand.  It seems like there are so many ways to make them, though, including a hat that looks like it is woven more like a hat shaped basket.  I’m looking forward to learning more!

Frilled Veil, phase one

I’ve been eyeing Cathrin Åhlén’s amazing tutorial for making a starched frilled veil for some time. Her very complete instructions have made this project so much fun! https://katafalk.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/starched-frilled-veil/  Here are my first steps…

Saint Birgitta’s Coif

During the 13th through 15th centuries, it was expected that married women living in Northern and Western Europe wear some kind of hair covering. Over time, women covered their hair in a variety of ways, as the fashions of the day changed. In art of the time we often see a simple white cap (huvete, huve, huva, or coif) made of linen or silk. The cap is sometimes worn alone, or as a foundation for wimple and veil.

Head coverings for married women are an interesting cultural phenomenon, especially since they are no longer as common throughout Western European society, though still practiced by others, often as part of the religious/social context of a specific community. For those in Western Europe in earlier times, it was thought that once a woman became sexually active, her hair “gained supernatural potency” that could affect the world around her. Thusly, it became important for her hair to be covered, “especially when near farmland or entering a church.” [i] These ideas may seem antiquated to some in the West now, but allow us a deeper appreciation for how society viewed women’s power and potency as a volatile or unpredictable force, and these seemingly simple pieces of cloth were used to mitigate it.

This coif that I’m presenting here was inspired by a cap attributed to the 14th century Saint Birgitta of Sweden. This example is constructed of light weight linen/cotton cloth and cotton thread. The interlaced herringbone stitch of no. 8 pearl cotton is used to create a lace web to connect the two hemispheres of the cap.

[i] James, Ronald M., Introduction to Folklore: Traditional Studies in Europe and Elsewhere.


1300–1400 in European Fashion, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1300%E2%80%931400_in_European_fashion#Headdresses

Carlson, I. Marc, Some Clothing of the Middle Ages – Hats and Headwear – St. Birgitta’s Coif, Copyright 1998,1999.

Katafalk, St. Birgitta’s Cap: https://katafalk.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/st-birgittas-cap/

Medieval Silkworks, Women’s Caps: http://www.medievalsilkwork.com/2008/11/womens-caps.html

Reddit AskHistorians: Why did medieval women wear headscarves? Was it simply fashion, or were they worn for reasons of modesty/morality?: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/2heb8s/why_did_medieval_women_wear_headscarves_was_it/ or Introduction to Folklore: Traditional Studies in Europe and Elsewhere, by Ronald M. James

New Autumn Garb

It’s been a flurry of activity… drafting dress patterns, gathering dyestuffs, and sewing and sewing and sewing. All these clothing items have been sewn entirely by hand. I lost track of how many meters of thread I’ve gone through! A sweet indulgence, but my 14th century woman’s kit is really filling out.  The linen kirtle is dyed with ground acorn meal and iron liquor, sewn from a Reconstructing History pattern.  The woolen dress is based on the Herjolfsnes dresses (number 42) from Greenland.  For the Greenland dress, I studied drafts of the original dresses, and poured over Matilda LaZouche and Isis Sturtewagen’s websites, and then dove in and drafted my own pattern, sewing a sample from an old flannel sheet.



Blue Wool Liripipe Hood

The new 14th century hood with liripipe is finished!  This hood is a modified version of the Herjolfsnes no.72 hood from Greenland and hood no. 246 from the excavations in London.  Done all by hand, this was a laborious and very rewarding project. I learned how to make cloth buttons and a tablet woven edge, and used up almost every last scrap of this luscious blue wool.

And once more, much thanks for Cathrin Åhlén fantastic tutorials. https://katafalk.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/buttoned-and-lined-liripipe/

Saint Birgitta’s Cap, first round

Receiving a friend’s well worn linen shirt became an invitation to start in on a prototype coif, inspired by the Saint Birgitta cap.  Working up the interlaced herringbone embroidery that connects the two sides is very satisfying, though the learning curve is steep at first.  If you wish to make your own, there’s a wonderful tutorial by Cathrin Åhlén at: https://katafalk.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/embroidered-st-birgittas-cap/

Arched Top Hedeby Bag

Another style of Hedeby bag, these arched top handles support a smaller bag than the saw-toothed top. I really like these ones! This bag is also based on finds from Viking era Hedeby. Beautiful oatmeal colored wool lined with white linen, with a tablet woven woolen strap based on a woven band from the Oseberg ship burial.