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Medieval Linen Undertunic

Discussion in 'DIY and Traditional crafts' started by Nomad, Aug 9, 2019.

  1. Nomad

    Nomad Nomad

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    After having a good time recently at the Traquair medieval fair, I've developed some interest in medieval clothing. After a bit of research, it seems that just about everybody wore some sort of light tunic as an undergarment, and they were invariably made of linen. I decided to have a go at making one, and got some natural (not dyed or bleached) lined fabric from the Cloth Shop in Edinburgh (a branch of Remnant Kings).

    To work out sizes and overall style, I used my Swanndri Bush Shirt as a basis because that's a pretty good fit and has some features that I wanted to include in the tunic (the general cut, and the gussets in the underarms and at the hips). After a bit of measuring and sketching, I had some material sizes worked out and did some cutting.

    I had got just under 3m of fabric 1.4m wide, so went for a single-piece body with the fold at the shoulders, and hanging down 90cm from the ridge of my collar bones...

    Linen Undertunic 01.jpg

    The neck hole size was worked out on some scrap cotton (easy to get on over the head without being too large), and then drawn onto the fabric using a home made compass...

    Linen Undertunic 02.jpg

    The neck hole has to be offset from the centre because humans aren't symmetrical from front to back. There's a faint blue chalk line on the centre which I've indicated with a couple of blue marks. Again, the scrap bit of cotton was used to work out where the ridges of my collar bones were when the neck hole was sitting about right.

    The linen has quite a loose weave and tends to fray easily, so I used my plastic fantastic domestic machine of many stitch patterns to overlock all of the cut edges...

    Linen Undertunic 03.jpg

    The unsewn edge on the top piece is the selvedge of the fabric and shouldn't fray. It was very handy having two sewing machines - I was able to leave the multi-stitch one set up for this and use my old Singer for the actual sewing. I had found that setting the tension was quite finicky and needed tiny adjustments to get it right, so a couple of machine swaps was less hassle than trying to readjust.

    The arms were sewn on, and the fabric was then folded into quarters along the centre of the neck hole circle and the hole cut out, overlocked, and a narrow fold applied for a hem...

    Linen Undertunic 04.jpg

    You can see how the centre lines of the arms are offset from the centre of the circle. I really like these little clips instead of using pins...

    Linen Undertunic 05.jpg

    I've found pins a bit fiddly to use, especially with a narrow hem like this (about 6-8mm). These go on without having to flex the fabric, have a good grip, and are easy to remove when you're sewing at the machine...

    Linen Undertunic 06.jpg

    With the neck and arms done, I then made the gussets...

    Linen Undertunic 07.jpg

    The arms have a slight taper, so the gussets for those are a slight rhombus shape, which means the garment will lie flat - if they had been square, the arm seam would have been pulled out of line. The sizes for these and the hip gussets are the same as on the Swanndri Bush Shirt. (Most of the seam allowances as 12-15mm, incidentally.)

    An underarm gusset sewn along two edges, to the body and arm...

    Linen Undertunic 08.jpg

    ...and a whole arm / gusset / body seam clipped together prior to sewing...

    Linen Undertunic 09.jpg

    I didn't sew this in one go, but did the arm seam first, then flipped it over to do the two gusset seams, and then the body seam. This let me feed the arm into the machine from the cuff with the bulk of the fabric to the left, then do the gusset with the smaller piece on top so that I could keep an eye on it, and then flip back over to do the body seam from the gusset downwards, again with the bulk to the left. The other side was the same but mirrored. The hip gussets were hemmed on their unsewn edge and then done similarly. Then the lower parts of the unsewn sides were hemmed, along with the bottom edges. Finally, I tried it on, set the length of the sleeves and hemmed those.

    And here's the finished article...

    Linen Undertunic 10.jpg

    It all fits nicely - goes over the head easily, and upwards arm movement is very good. If anything, there is some gathering of the cloth in front of the shoulders due to the simple arm holes, but I expected that.

    I'm pleased with the result. It was pretty easy to make and I didn't use a pattern apart from the gussets, which were small enough to print - just some careful measuring and marking, using dimensions from my sketch.
     
  2. Billy-o

    Billy-o Settler

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    Nicely :)

    I love linen. Don't think I have ever knowingly seen a linen t-shirt though.

    Linen seems to be making something of a welcome return to the market. Prices can make a person wince sometimes though, but I think it might always have been like that.

    I guess before the start of the C17th, pre-cotton, everything was made in wool or linen, leather and silk. All the technical fibres. :lol:
     
  3. Nomad

    Nomad Nomad

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    I've never had anything in linen before, so trying the fabric was part of the motivation, especially with the recent hot weather (it's about as windproof as a bit of gauze). Aye, not cheap - it cost £15 a meter, albeit with the convenience of walking into the shop and seeing it in front of me, and being able to feel it in the hand. This is washed linen, and is pretty flexible - drapes quite nicely. They also had some slightly heavier stuff with a coarser weave, and that was pretty stiff.
     
  4. Billy-o

    Billy-o Settler

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    You can get different types of waffle linen too. It is used for towels. Comes in different weights from pretty thin to pretty heavy. I can't help thinking that one could make beautifully breathable but warmer linen clothes than we tend to immediately think of. There's also Huckabee linen, which looks a bit like herring bone twill. I picked up a very affordable jacket in a kind of sailcloth colour in this stuff. It is pretty heavy, so that might be why we don't see so much of it .. but very very comfortable ... I am thinking waistcoats, jerkins, or them BretonCornish fishing shirts/smocks .. what would be the word for a mediaeval sweater? :)

    Try an avoid looking like a Terence Conran advert c.1984 though.

    One of the benefits of the fashion industry getting recently interested in workwear of different types is that the stuff they sell is well made but, of course, goes out of fashion at the end of the season and becomes terrifically cheap! Linen clothes are right in there. But you might end up looking like a slightly stylish Fred Dibnah or an extra in a Peter Mayle narrative . Have a look for labels like Vetra, Le Laboureur etc in Sept/Oct. Shops are already letting some things go, now. (Note ... just in case you go this way ... they size ultra small. I wear a 44 usually but it is a French 50 (XXL) that fits me)
     
    #4 Billy-o, Aug 9, 2019
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  5. Janne

    Janne M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)

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    Great and useful project!
    I suspect they used linen because the over-tunic was made from coarse wool, and ultra scratchy&itchy!

    Poor peoples linen was not much better though. Coarse.
    When cotton became cheap, it was a Gods gift.
     
  6. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    Linen only lost out to cotton because cotton was dirt cheap because it took easily to mechanisation of spinning and weaving....well, that and slave labour production.

    There are actually four really good bast fibres, linen, hemp, cotton and nettle (which includes ramie), and cotton's awfully useful but it's not the best in any way except ease of manufacture and price.

    Linen wears softer and softer, and it breathes under wool in a way that cotton doesn't. Cotton stays wet while linen, because of the long phloem cells, doesn't, and helps sweat evaporate. Same is true for nettle and for hemp. Hemp is excellent fibre when made for clothing quality and not sacking.

    @Nomad ? if you want linen then Herts fabrics sells to the re-enactors at a better price than Remnant Kings, and Maggie Stewart sells on eBay and usually has a really good range of linens.
    Good on you tackling the kirtle :D it'll look fine next to others wearing similar kit, especially at Traquair.

    M
     
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  7. Chris the Cat

    Chris the Cat Full Member

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    So linen base layers under wool Mary?
    Simple crew neck, like a long sleeve t-shirt.....that would be fabulous ( possibly!!?)
    Wonder if anyone makes such a garment.
    C
     
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  8. Janne

    Janne M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)

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    Plus, high quality linen has a wonderful, silky sheen.
    Mother has quite a few linen tablecloths and napking, inherited. Early 1800'.

    During WW2 Linen and nettle made a comeback in German ruled Europe. No available cotton.
    Dad told me how horrible those fabrics were. Coarse. I guess quick production process, done by unskilled labour force.

    Once the pre war tock was used up, all bandages were made from Nettle fabric. High resorption rate.
    Stuck to the wounds. Nasty!
     
    #8 Janne, Aug 9, 2019
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  9. Janne

    Janne M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)

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    Nomad, if you have any fabric left, make yourself a pair of underpants. You will never buy those tight briefs again!
     
  10. Nomad

    Nomad Nomad

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    Duly noted. Part of what got me thinking about linen recently was the hot weather and images of British representatives overseas in places like Morroco, wearing linen suits. I tend to run warm and can't be doing with hot weather, so I've been wondering if it might be worth trying some linen garments for everyday wear. The medieval clobber idea kind of surfaced at the same time, but independently, and then I found out that a lot of that is linen.


    Found some dark brown linen from Maggie reduced to £3.20 a meter, so I nabbed 5m. I see Herts are doing something called Highland wool - have you any experience of that? I'm thinking of some of the sage for the tunic, proper.
     
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  11. Nomad

    Nomad Nomad

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    I'm not so sure about that. :)

    I did get enough to make braies as well, though.
     
  12. Janne

    Janne M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)

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    Here in the Tropics, we prefer silk over linen, and then linen.
    The young people just buy anything though.

    I prefer silk underwear including socks, and linen trousers and shirts. Silk shirts are great too, but incredibly difficult to find ( of the correct, 'rough' quality)

    Natural materials rule.
     
  13. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    I know that good linen fabric is beautiful to wear, and that good nettle, even mixed with wool, is superb. It's finer than linen when properly done. Hemp, even hand produced hemp fibre and cloth is excellent too. Only the American opprobium on hemp stopped it being much more widely grown and used. Eastern Europe had no such issues and their fabric is beautiful.
    Starching either might make for a fine looking tablecloth or shirt front, but it's not good for the linen or nettle.
    Washing and wearing creates tiny micro fractures in the yarn and that creates that wonderful soft handle and much less creasing. Don't leave either folded for years if you can avoid it, much better rolled. Old tablecloths eventually become napkins because the fibres break over the decades. The Queen is still using Queen Victoria's tablelinens because they are rolled in storage, not folded.

    I didn't know that about nettle bandages. I do know that linen (and cotton, and the fibres of cotton are worse) can stick to wounds. That's why the poultices were made to lift off complete and stop airborne bacterial infections taking hold. Traditionally vinegar was used to help soften the bandages for removal and help with debridement . Must have stung, but it's supposed to kill buggits too.
    Much better to use strips from Piptoporus betulina if possible. If you wrap sphagnum moss (pick it clean of debris first) into linen bandages though, it's less likely to stick and it's mildly anti-bacterial and anti-biotic.
    My Dad recalled picking sack loads of Sphagnum moss when he was a little boy with his Grandfather during the first world war. The old man had six sons in Highland regiments and they were all at the front. The moss was used for bandages for the soldiers.
     
  14. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    I have made kirtles for menfolks before, and then struggled to get them out of them to get the blooming things washed !

    I don't do well in hot weather. Linen is a pleasure to wear, it really is, especially if made in traditionally cut garments.

    I have patterns for linen shirts that easily pass as modern clothing though. Tombear is the fellow for those shirts :) He favours the 'Grandad' style. Very comfortable, very practical, and very wearable too.

    Nice catch on Maggie's linen :) At £3.20 a metre I'd have bought that too :)....might go and have a looksee. She had some OD coloured stuff a while back too.
    I have bought wool from Herts (also known as Ali the Trader in reenactor's circles) before, and it was very good indeed. Sometimes he has marled stuff, and that's not really 'authentic' because historically either the cloth was woven from solid dyed yarns (weaves checks, tartans, etc.,) or the whole cloth was dyed. Doesn't seem to be much of the dye loose wool, mix it up and then weave from the multi coloured yarns. Anyhow, the marled wool cloth is lovely, but often goes slighly more cheaply because it catches the attention of the 'authenticiy police'. Certainly an excellent way to try out something.

    M
     
  15. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    See if you're making braies ? Make the side gussets deeper than you think you'll need. You'll thank me in the comfort stakes in the long run :D
     
  16. Janne

    Janne M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)

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    Interesting!
    Dad got hurt quite a bit in late -44. Soviet shrapnel met his left upper arm. Took off some muscle, skin and a piece of bone. . Wound got infected. He told me the doctor had to rip off the inner bandage, to expose fresh tissue, every day....
    Initial wound was bigger than his hand ( he could not cover it with his right hand to stop the immediate bleeding) but once it was healed months later, the pergament like new skin covered his arm from shoulder to elbow.
    He was visually disfigured until the day he died.

    No antibiotics, not even sulfa.
    I think linen is coming back in Scandinavia, people are insanely environmentally aware, and prefer now coldpressed local Flax oil to cook with, so they have started to sell things made from the fibre.

    Coldpressed, filtered flax oil is really tasty. Nutty taste. We have started using it over Olive oil when we are over there.

    What is a Kirtle, braies?
     
  17. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    A kirtle is the basic tunic, and braies are pipe drawers.....think a long tube folded in half and the middle of the seam left open to form the waist. Then you stitch in two triangular side gussets to that opening so that when pulled up there's an even edge to drawstring (or use elastic) at the waist.

    There's a fellow selling British Army wool/mix fabric at a very good price on eBay just now if anyone's wanting to have a go.
    Not sure how spark proof it is though. Someone might ask them to do a test and let us all know ?

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Khaki-Ba...458&pg=2047675&_trksid=p2047675.c100005.m1851
     
  18. Nomad

    Nomad Nomad

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  19. Nomad

    Nomad Nomad

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    I picked up a couple of patterns for men's shirts at Hobbycraft a while back when they were half price. Haven't done anything with them yet, other than glance at the sewing directions. I think the half-baked plan is to try one using cheap cotton first, and then maybe look at a linen version. I'll want to adapt the pockets to something like the 5.11 double layer thing.

    There doesn't seem to be any OD at the moment. I'm thinking of a lightweight cloak for this, and maybe some basic trousers (I'm not into the hose).

    It was this wool in particular, which seems to be a recent addition...

    https://hertsfabrics.co.uk/index.php?route=product/product&path=37&product_id=480

    Lots of colours to choose from. I ordered some of the sage, so I'll report on what it's like.
     
  20. Toddy

    Toddy Mod
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    Looks good, but Herts stuff usually is good. The 'hair' might make it a tad uncomfortable though. Think outer/outer layer, and maybe line it with linen at collar and cuffs.
    Be interested to hear what you think of the wool when you actually have your hands on it :)
     

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