CLOTHING PATTERNS & TUTORIALS
COMMERCIAL PATTERNS & WHAT
TO DO ABOUT THEM
FUR & LEATHER NAMES
Fabrics & Sewing
CLOTH WIDTHS - THREADS - MARKING CLOTH FOR PATTERNS -
WEAVES, BROCADE & DAMASK DESIGNS - KNITTING
LINENS - WOOLS - SILKS - VELVETS - HEMP - COTTON - TIRETAINES - FUSTIAN
construction pattern of most medieval clothing did not differ
between a woman of small means and a woman with a large budget. How
the clothes went together was essentially the same. What really set
the classes apart, was not the quality of workmanship, but the quality
of the fabric from which garments were made. All of the clothing
was hand stitched, and there is no reason to believe that a woman living
in the country was less capable of wielding a needle and thread than
her city counterpart. Both women might use wool to make a kirtle, but
the city woman's fabric would be substantially finer and have richer
colours than a woman who lived in the country.
Even naturally dyed clothing could be relatively colourful, and while
laws prohibited some colours to some classes, a poor woman could avoid
looking dowdy by good use of mixing of colours for her wardrobe, limited
though it may have been. This page takes a look at sewing and making
basic medieval dresses. For more information on patterns from existing
clothing, visit the clothing section on the links page.
FABRICS AND SEWING
Scroll down for a look at cloth widths, marking patterns out, medieval
fabric self-patterned weaves and brocade designs.
Scissors, needles, thimbles, irons etc. Tools in a woman's sewing
TECHNIQUES & TUTORIALS
Stitches, seams, eyelets and how they went together.
MAKING TUTORIAL - How to make eyelets
MAKING TUTORIAL - How to make buttonholes
BUTTON MAKING TUTORIAL - How to make buttons to match your
CORD TUTORIAL - Making lacing cord for your gown
CLOTHING PATTERNS & TUTORIALS
How to construct your own medieval patterns!
T- TUNIC TUTORIAL - How to make a basic medieval gown
13TH CENTURY TUNIC TUTORIAL - How to make an overgown with
short, wide sleeves
WIDE-SLEEVE GOWN TUTORIAL - How to make an overgown with
really big sleeves
EASY LACED GOWN TUTORIAL - Basic gown with front or back
OR GOWN TUTORIAL - How to make a medieval dress with buttons
HOSE TUTORIAL - How to make hose based on the London hose
EARLY HOOD TUTORIAL - How to make an early
WITH SHOULDER GORES TUTORIAL - How to make
a 14th or 15th century hood
SURCOTE TUTORIAL - How to make a surcote
with 4 seams
SURCOTE TUTORIAL - How to make a sideless
surcote with gores
SIDELESS SURCOTE TUTORIAL - How to make
a noblewoman's sideless surcote
PATTERNS & WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM
A look at some commercial patterns and how to adapt
Dyestuffs, dyeing and colour names
FUR & LEATHER NAMES
Those referred to in documents and their descriptions.
Spangles, pressed metal, jeweled bands and embroidery.- on clothing.
The width of a horizontal loom governed the size of fabric which was
available. The most common measurements for cloth were the yard (the
length of an outstretched arm), the nail (two and a quarter inches wide)
and the ell.
Of these, the ell was the most common length used for the measurement
of cloth. In England, this distance was usually 45 inches if the cloth
is English. If it is Flemish, an ell measured 27 inches. If Scottish,
an ell measured 37.2 inches. This difference in measurements must surely
have caused serious issues between importers and exporters of cloth
and is possibly why the yard and inch persist today and the ell does
Although these were fairly standard measurements for regular cloth production,
it was possible to produce woven fabric of larger sizes for special
commissions. In 1304, two women wool merchants, Aleyse Darcy and Thomasin
Guydichon, are recorded as having sold to the Earl of Lincoln:
...one piece of cloth, embroidered
with diverse works in gold and silk.. eight ells (thirty feet) in
length and six ells (twenty-four feet) in breadth...
for the huge sum of 300 marks. It doesn't
record what the cloths intended use was, but it does give us an idea
of the possible size of cloth manufacture at that time.
Some looms which required two workers permitted fabric to be made in
lengths up to 30 metres and as wide as two metres, although this was
not the general standard for clothing. The fulling process required
to produce certain fabrics reduced the width of most material to about
a metre and a half. Shown above is an illustration for clothes from
the 14th century manuscript, Tacuinum Sanitatus showing the stages
and processes of cloth production.
Generally, for the bulk of the medieval period, the most common thread
used for sewing garments by far was linen. Raw cotton was imported and
used for a variety of purposes in England, but although it was used
plied for candle wicks, it seems it was not used for sewing. Some existing
stitching in hems may be flax. Silk thread was used extensively for
silkwork and in some cases, for sewing woolen clothing, for buttonholes
and and eyelets. It is probable that linen threads were used for the
main seams and the silk threads used for visible stitching or decorative
stitching as there are indications that both types of thread are used
on a single garment. Commonly mentions silk threads are white, black,
yellow, blue, green, red, flame and purple. In Textiles and Clothing
by Crowfoot et al, we read that although linen is harder to dye and
was likely to be used undyed where it could not be seen internally,
coloured linen threads were used:
"The linen thread supplied to
the Great Wardrobe in the 1330s cost between 2s. and 2s.8p. per lb
and came not only in different thicknesses, but also in a variety
There are examples of woolen thread being
used for stitching in lower classes both overseas and in England.
cloth for making patterns
The Goodman of Paris gives this recipe for making a liquid
for marking linen.
Take axle grease (the dirt at both
ends of an axle tree of a wagon), add ink, combine oil and vinegar,
and boil all this together. Then heat your marker, moisten it n this
mixture, and set it on your linen.
It seems unlikely to me to wash out afterwards,
and I don't know why, if ink is one of the ingrediants, it was not just
used watered down by itself. I would also not like to be the person
cleaning out the pot after boiling that up!
weaves, brocades and damask designs
Fabric was often woven into brocades and geometric designs. Diamond
and square patterned cloths known as diaper were woven from silk, linen
and in some areas, cotton. The fabric pattern was woven in a one colour
With linen, there is a large amount of evidence for being woven into
a number of designs for use on table cloths, towels, napkins and pillowcases.
These self-patterned weaves were single colour and several existing
examples have been found in London, as early as 10th century in York.
The earliest record of self-patterned linen is the shroud of St Bathild
who dies in 680AD in Northern France but other fragments from Anglo-Saxon
burials also include designs like lozenges and herringbone.
rich patterned heavy material of silk or linen featured cloth which
the pattern appears reversed on the back of the fabric. Intricate patterns
of brocaded silk were a feature of silk velvet on velvets. The artichoke
cynara scolymus was grown plentifully during the medieval period
and was featured in many medieval fabric designs from the 13th to 15th
Other patterns featured repeated designs
within circles and teardrop shapes with flowers and animals within.
A beautiful example of this is the silk woven with gold thread patterned
silk, at left, from Sicily dated at between 1325 and 1350. It belongs
to a garment often referred to as St Elizabeth's Cloak.
Very early examples of single-needle knitting known as nahlbindning
are found throughout Europe during the pre-medieval period. Examples
of knitted items have been found in the medieval period, although not
many are complete. Shown at right is a knitted woolen cap from the Museum
of London. It was found in a London deposit dated before or around 1500.
There are a few other examples of two-needle knitting from early England-
gloves, vests and caps. Most of these appear to be the same stocking
stitch we use today.
In a late 14th century altarpiece, Mary is depicted knitting, although
in her essay Weaving and Gender Division of Labour in the Middle
Ages, the author Ruth Karros asserts that knitting was, in fact,
a craft which was restricted to men. I
would imagine that like many of the other regulated town crafts, this
did not apply to the country woman who did her own clothing production
Shown at left is a pair of red socks which
are housed in the V&A Museum. They are dated somewhere about 300-500
AD, are in good repair and have no moth holes. Image used with kind
permission of Amanda and Jane at THEWOMANSROOMBLOG.
While this is substantially earlier than the medieval period and uses
the single needle technique of nahlbindning, it shows that the
skill of knitting items such as socks was known at that time. These
particular socks would have been worn with a sandals like the ones we
Information from the Tacuinum of Vienna describes linen clothing
The nature of linen is cold and dry
in the second degree. It's optimum is light, splendid and of the beautiful
kind while it is described as useful to moderate the heat of the body.
The dangers of linen, however, are that it presses down on the skin
and blocks transpiration.
order to neutralize the dangers of wearing linen, one was instructed
to mix it with silk. The effects were described as drying up ulcerations
and primarily good for hot temperaments, for the young, in summer and
in the southern regions.
As with most other fabrics, linen came
in varying degrees of quality and fineness, from thick opaques to the
very fine. The quality varied for its intended use and the status of
the wearer. Linens were used for bedding, napery, underclothing, lightweight
summer clothing and veiling. The image shown at right comes from the
Processing the flax into fibres, weaving
and finishing was primarily done in rural areas. By the mid-14th century,
the development in looms enabled workers to produce a much longer fabric
woven all in one piece, which required great skill and was prized. In
the late 14th century, Flemish linens were known as the finest. Some
samples of linen damask show a thread count of between 60 to 200 threads
per inch, making them suitable for fine veiling.
At times plain, undyed linen thread was used for sewing, but there are
records of dyed linen thread being used for sewing. In the Museum of
London book, Textiles and Clothing, information about linen thread
The linen thread supplied to the Great
Wardrobe in the 1330s cost between 2s. and 2s.8p. per lb and came
not only in different thicknesses, but also in a variety of colours.
Wool was the staple of medieval clothing for all classes- the quality
varying hugely between the worsted fabrics of the poor to the very fine
wools produced in England which were exported to Europe. Wool was weighed
by the tod, which was usually measured at 28lb, although this
was liable to local variation. The standard sack of wool for export
was 364 pounds, and it was calculated that approximately 240 sheep were
needed to provide the wool required for one sack. By the 13th century,
there were about 50 different grades of wool. Woolen clothing and its
properties are discussed in the medieval text Theatrum of Casanatense
having a warm and dry nature, the
optimum kind being "the thin kind from Flanders." It's usefulness
is it protects the body from cold and holds warmth although its dangers
were that it causes skin irritation.
of the dangers of wool were advised by the wearing of thin linen clothing,
presumably underclothing, worn between the wool and the skin. Shown
at left is Wool, from the Tacuinum Sanitatus.
By the 13th century, Italian woolens and
cottons were being sold internationally and there was an estimated eight
million sheep in England alone. By the second half of the 14th century,
Paris was at the very top of the field in the production and export
of middle range woolens called biffes. Wools produced in Flanders
in the 14th and 15th centuries became better and eventually rivaled
the English ones for quality. The shorter the woolen fibre was, the
tighter the weave and the heavier the finished cloth would be. The difference
between better woolens and the lesser worsteds was essentially in the
fulling and finishing. After fulling, the wet woolen cloth was stretched,
burls removed, and the imperfections repaired before being placed over
a bar and then teased before the final shearing. Dry shearing could
be performed by repeated napping and clipping to produce a silky, smooth
Often woolen clothing was dyed twice- once
in the wool and again in the piece. Prices for woolen cloth varied depending
on the finishing process- the more times a cloth had been sheared and
finished, the more expensive the cloth was.
Wills and bequests often made particular
mention of woolen clothing and specified the worth of the garment indicating
what quality it might be. In 1313, Anicia atte Hegge, a widow from Hampshire,
made a will on the surrendering of her holding to her son which included
the stipulation that among other things, she would be provided with
various items of clothing including a woolen garment every other year
worth 3 shillings.
Silks were expensive in the early part of the Middle Ages but popular
with the wealthy, not only for the fabric's luxurious texture but its
ability to hold dye and produce brilliant colours not available in other
fabrics. Oriental silks were imported from the east and patterned or
brocaded silks are often written about. Unlike other fabric, silks were
almost always sold by the ounce rather than by length.
Shown above are some existing samples of Italian silks from the mid-to-late
14th century. They show a diverse range of designs, colours and themes
which were probably brighter when new.
In Europe, silks were also locally produced. By the 14th century, silks
from Lucca, Venice, Genoa and Bologna were known to produce silks of
exceptional quality which were much desired by nobility. Records from
1324 indicate that Paris was producing silk and gold thread brocades
and that English Royal household accounts show purchases of Parisian
silk from the years 1324 to 1333.
velvets were extremely expensive and were a luxury fabric only for the
richest of the rich. They were often brocaded with large patterns, often
floral. The green, patterned silk velvet shown at right was made in
Venice in the late 15th century and features an artichoke design. It
is interesting to note that the artichoke was believed to have strong
aphrodisiac powers and one wonders if wearing artichokes was hoped to
invoke the same feelings of desire to the wearer.
Velvet was produced with either simple
or compound weaves being elaborated by introducing a supplementary warp
over a series of very small rods. The rods are removed leaving small
loops, which can be shorn or left as loops which form the velvet pile.
Both simple and compound velvet weaves can be enriched by sets of yarns
on the surface of the cloth which produces a brocade. Mustyrdderyllers
is known to be a 15th century cloth from Muster-de-Villiers. It is suggested
that the name may also be derived from mestier de velours meaning
half-velvet- similar to velveteen.
Archaeological evidence exists of a garment in which King Philip 1 of
France was buried, was constructed of woolen velvet. It is dated at
1108. A further reference to woolen velvet comes from a study of velvet
production in the early middle ages from Tournai in 1380. According
to research by Lydie LaBarthe:
fragments of twill and cotton velvet
have been found dating back to 9th century in France. The textile
known as pile on pile or double velvet is also one of the oldest known
velvet weaving techniques. Three dimensional textiles with looped
or cut pile are supplementary weft compound weaves. As early as 2000BC
the Egyptians made linen fabrics with extra linen weft pulled out
into loops for both effect and warmth.
Hemp was cultivated for cloth production in the middle ages. There are
several references to crops of hemp which were to be harvested for textile
use. One such reference comes from Christine de Pisan in Le Livre
des Trois Vertus. She writes of the duties of an aristocratic wife
and says that while such a wife may not actually do any of the weaving
in her household herself, she must be knowledgeable about every facet
of the process so that she may oversee each and every stage of the process-
from the selection of the fleeces to the final construction of finished
garments. She adds specifically:
..she will have her tenants grow hemp
that her chambermaids will spin and weave on winter evenings.
It appears that clothing made of cotton or cotton/linen and cotton/silk
blends was not entirely unknown, although the production of cotton is
accorded to specific time periods and countries. From the 7th to the
13th century, cotton and cotton/silk blends came out of the far east.
Merchants in Egypt exported flax, dyes and cotton fibres. It is not
unusual during that period to see references to clothing made entirely
or partially of cotton.
During the 13th century, according to Mazzaoui's publication the
Italian Cotton Industry, the manufacture of cotton items in northern
Italy rivaled wool in the numbers of workers it employed. The cloth
produced was of medium weight and used for undergarments, bedding and
summer clothing. According to Piponnier & Mane's Dress in the
Middle Ages, in northern Italy, Spain and southern Germany, it was
often mixed with hemp or linen to form an expensive twill fustian. Another
source, Ibed, speaks of cotton clothing and blankets, flannelettes and
quilted cottons which competed with coarse linens. It should be mentioned,
however, that Italians did not produce luxury cotton fabrics, prints,
tapestry weaves or brocades.
Frances and Joseph Gies, in their book
Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel, Technology and Invention in the
Middle Ages discuss weaving of cotton and go on to say that during
the 14th century, the use of cotton spread throughout the continent
and Europe for use as coifs, veils, wimples, handkerchiefs, purses and
clothing linings. There seems to be no reference to cotton clothing
in England at these times.
Tiretains were produced with a linen warp and woolen weft. It was commonly
believed to be a fabric which was low-priced and lightweight- a fairly
popular fabric for those of low status.
Recent research suggests that tiretains were bought and used by nobility
and royal household accounts show the purchase of it also for clothing,
indicating that some tiretains were not as rough as we used to believe
or that like wool, tiretains were produced in varying degrees of quality.
It appears to have been used for lightweight summer clothing, usually
lined with silk and in one instance, lined with fur. One assumes that
silk linings were not used in conjunction with a low-cost fabric popular
with the lower classes. .
In one record of the 1315 accounts of the
Mahaut of Artois, there is a mention of tiretain being purchased at
26 ounces, also indicating that silk was an ingredient of that particular
piece of fabric. It is speculated that in that particular example, the
silk may have replaced the linen warp.
It appears also that kermes, an extremely
expensive dye, was used to dye tiretain. In 1268, two kermes-dyed tiretains
were purchased for the English king. In 1328 the widow of Louis X owned
an outfit of black tiretain, also dyed with kermes. When the French
Queen Clemence of Hungary died, it was noted that 4 of her 35 garments
were of tiretain of different colours and her husband the King had a
coat also lined with tiretain. A dye as expensive as kermes would not
have been wasted on a fabric which was not of a suitably high quality,
and the fact that it was purchased for king's clothing also indicates
that the quality of the fabric was far superior to the rough fabric
it was previously supposed to be.
Fustian appears to be constructed in the same way as velvets, being
described as a coarse twilled cotton cloth sometimes made with a linen
warp and cotton weft, woven in the same way as velvet and with a sheared
surface. As mentioned above, Piponnier & Mane's Dress in the
Middle Ages, in northern Italy, Spain and southern Germany, states
that cotton was often mixed with hemp or linen to form an expensive
twill fustian used for making doublets, outer summer clothing and winter
The word fustian can be found in records as early as the 11th and 12th
centuries and is associated with heavily wefted materials, especially
those with weft floats that could be cut to produce pile. Fustian was
made in Italy, Spain, Germany and Holland and was first mentioned in
England in 1114.