HSF #10: An Attempt at Medieval Tunics

For the HSF’s “Art” challenge, I ventured into the unknown waters of a new-to-me period: the early Middle Ages. So, here is the wrap-up of this little expedition: A Saxon gunna, or over-tunic. The occasion for making it was a Medieval fantasy fair I attended with my friend. Since the general focus was more on the “fantasy” aspect, I had a lot of freedom when it came to making the tunic. Hence it was a good entry project to warm to Medieval fashion. The cut I was going for was fairly close to that of a t-tunic, which made drafting the pattern quite easy.

After finishing the initial pattern sketch, I drew it onto a quartered piece of fabric. This way, the gown was symmetrical and got by without a shoulder seam. While researching for the project, I found that this kind of seamless cut is actually period-correct. When I tried it all on though, I found the one-piece tunic to be somewhat shapeless and baggy. So I cut a set of front gores and some side gores from the leftover fabric. Before sewing it all up, my pattern pieces looked like this: And, yes, I was feeling a bit lazy and actually patterned in the underarm gussets. I am still feeling like a total cheat about it. But, on the upside, this little shortcut worked really well. ;)

The three pattern pieces of the tunic.

To finish the tunic’s hems and keyhole neckline, I grabbed a scrap of self-dyed cotton to make facings. This, too, was a very common finishing method all through the Middle Ages. Since I wanted the contrasting fabric to show on the outside, I sewed it to the garment’s insides first and then folded it to the outside. When everything was in place, the finished product looked better than I had expected, for a first dabble into Medieval styles. The biggest embarrassment of it all was that the neckline was not really symmetrical after finishing it. So I whipped the top corners back together, to balance things. As you can see, it looked pretty even afterwards:

The finished tunic, with a half-closed keyhole neckline.

Sadly, my friend and I had little time for taking photos at the fair. So I went ahead and posed for you in my living / sewing room the next day. I hope you do not mind. To round it all off, here is a brief summary of the challenge details:

The Challenge: HSF #10 – Art

The Inspiration: This 11th-century text illustration:

Fabric: Burgundy cotton gabardine and a scrap of self-died cotton.

Pattern: My own, inspired by researching on some SCA sites and “Historical Costumes and How to Make Them”.

Year: 900-1100.

How historically accurate is it? It was my first Medieval gown, made for a Medieval fantasy fair. I hand-sewed most visible seams but finished everything else by machine, for the sake of durability. The pattern though is fairly close to extant sources.

Hours to complete: About 16 hours.

First worn: On the fair, last weekend.

Total cost: Around € 11 for the gabardine. The dyed cotton came from my stash and was free.

That all being said, I will admit that I had wished for the gown to turn out more historically accurate. Usually, I am a bit of a pedant, intent on accuracy and little details. Yet, throughout this project, I felt a little out of my depth. Now that it is done, I am much looking forward to continuing my Regency journey. I am feeling so much more at home in this period.

The other day, I began drafting my first 1810s day dress, using one of Janet Arnold’s patterns. The draft and toile are coming along nicely. Starting this project has excited me so much, I even told my parents about it. And, in the past, especially my dad has frowned at the whole sewing business a little. But this time, he sounded almost as avid about it as me. It was a first and really cheered me on. If he goes on like this, he might end up with his own period waistcoat at some point…

I will try to give you a little update on the Regency progress very soon. :)


All the best, Nessa



11 thoughts on “HSF #10: An Attempt at Medieval Tunics

      • bmary says:

        One of these days I want to get into historical sewing. It’s so interesting and dressy and it looks like a lot of fun. When I was a kid, we did Civil War re-enacting, 1860 to 1865 if my memory serves me right, but a seamstress did all our clothes. Booo! I still have the corsets!

        • Nessa says:

          This sounds so very cool. And it’s not a bad thing to have the clothes made. But of course, making them yourself saves a good deal of money. I’m sure you’ll get there one of these days. If you need some advice, please feel free to ask. :)

          • bmary says:

            I remember the seamstress who made our clothes, she was a friend of my parents and I would watch her make things whenever I could. Probably the only reason I have any clue what’s going on with sewing! Anyway, she made me the most amazing ball gown when I was a teen. It was purple and she brought it over and said “ok, I couldn’t resist, I made the sleeves super puffy. If you don’t like it, I can take some out.” Let me just tell you, they were the most amazing sleeves and it was a gorgeous dress. Off the shoulder, with the fantastic sleeves. Now I have to find a picture of it! What teen doesn’t want the biggest, most awesome dress??? :-)

            • Nessa says:

              I couldn’t imagine any teen, really. It sounds like a proper Cinderella dream dress and I bet you looked stunning in it. I remember my senior prom dress was store-bought but a dream, too. A 1950s-inspired robe de style-like thing with a really poofy bell skirt. It was way too warm for July, but I still loved it. And a picture of yours would be lovely. Might still have one of mine somewhere, too. :)

              Also, it is a great thing to have a sewing inspiration as a kid. At our house, nobody sewed much and my crafts teacher at school said I was hopeless. Yes, really. She is also a friend of my mom’s and was really surprised to hear I can sew now. And I think that wanting to prove her wrong was one of the main reasons that got me into it. ;)


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