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



Gone Medieval

After a week full of shenanigans, it is due time to finally reveal my secret project to you.  As I am mostly into sewing Regency costumes, this might come as a little surprise, but: I have decided to make a Saxon robe for this year’s Medieval and fantasy fair. Last year, one of my best friends took  me there for the first time and, as I have quite enjoyed it, we will be going again this year. Last year, though, I wore some weird generic Medieval mish mash and honestly, it did not really make me happy.

So, this year I have decided to make the cut at around 1100 AD and go for something proper. As I am a huge fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred and used to study quite a bit of Old English culture, the idea of making a Saxon gown was born. My inspiration for the whole project was this illustration from an 11th-century manuscript:

Having no real experience with Saxon garments I then had a look at the individual parts of the gown. Usually, it consisted of two t-tunics, a shorter, knee-length one worn on top and a long, plainer under-tunic. The top one, sometimes also called a “gunna” was often more ornate, than the bottom gown, worked with facings and / or embroidery. The sleeves of the gunna were also usually a little wider, to the point of being somewhat flared out at the ends.

Over the gowns, Saxon women of all ages wore differently draped veils, with or without a headrail, and a cape or mantle to stay warm. As the veils were usually pretty long, they also sometimes doubled as mantles, just like in the picture. On the same SCA website, I found this overview of all the parts: To see the whole entry on the site, which has been very, very helpful to me, just click one of the two images. :)

The parts of a Saxon woman’s gown.


So far, I have completed the under-tunic, aka the kirtle. I made it from a very old, off-white bed sheet. As a result, it is really comfy and I totally love wearing it around the house, flouncing the gored skirt. The pattern I used was free and worked like a charm. The tunic has what is called “smocked” sleeves. Those are wider near the shoulders and have a tighter, tube-like fit at the wrists. They were more popular in Norse fashion, but, seeing the huge Danish influence in this period of English history, they were definitely also en-vogue with the fashion-conscious Saxon. ;)

As some of you might have seen, I managed to post a photo of it to the HSF “Black and White” challenge before I ran of to Berlin to partake in the aforementioned shenanigans. As that has been a little meager at best, here are some more pics and a recap of the challenge details. It is my very first Medieval gown and it may not be the height of my sewing capabilities, but still, I am a little proud of it.


The Challenge: HSF #9 – Black & White

Fabric: Old, off-white cotton bed sheet

Pattern: Adapted from this one here: http://eqos.deviantart.com/art/Pattern-Smock-Gown-75003263

Year: 900-1100

Notions: “Belt” from black leather strings

How historically accurate is it? The cotton isn’t, neither is the machine sewing on the inside, but I’m happy with the overall look and feel…

Hours to complete: about 12-14 hours

First worn: For the photos and various fittings. I made it for a Medieval & fantasy fair in late May

Total cost: about € 3 for the leather strings.

The finished under-tunic.

And here is one more picture with the skirt gores spread out, showing off all that awesome flounciness:

Back view, with the gores fanned out.

Meanwhile I have also started working on the matching gunna. It is almost done and the plan is to finish it for the Medieval fair which, luckily, coincides with the dates of the HSF “Art” challenge. Hopefully that will result in a few shots of the whole ensemble in action, outside my living room for a change. Until then, I will keep up the spirit of secrecy for a little while longer. But it would be really mean to let you go empty handed. Thus, I will end this post with a few snippets of the half-finished ensemble:

Flared sleeve.

The center front.

The headgear.


That should be all about the Medieval side trip for now. I will keep on updating it along with the latest Regency dress progress and maybe, a little input on Bavarian folk costume. Given, of course, this topic interests you. Would it? ;)


Love, Nessa