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Bought Patterns
... and what to do about them.

Many commercial patterns are available but most of these are a mixture of time periods designed to appeal the the Renaissance-fantasy crowd.

Many, many commercial patterns are available but most of these are a mixture of time periods designed to appeal the the Renaissance-fantasy-goth crowd. They are usually not even close to providing a decent medieval pattern and they are harder and more complicated to make than an actual medieval pattern. Remember, just because it has the word "medieval" on the packet, doesn't mean it is.

Modifications of almost ALL of the patterns below ARE NECESSARY for reasonably authentic results! They are included here only as a starting point for sewers.

If you're a historical re-enactor, you might want to try PERIOD PATTERNS or RECONSTRUCTING HISTORY which you'll need to buy online and have shipped to Australia.

So what's a medieval dress supposed to look like?

There are a few styles, but one of the easiest is the 4-panel dress. There's a seam at the front and back in the centre and a seam up each side. There are set in sleeves with a seam that runs three-quarters around the back of the arm (if you have a suit jacket, go look at the sleeves and you'll see what I mean).

It can have triangles inserted into the bottom of the seams in the body of the dress to make the skirt part fuller. It can lace or have buttons at the front and can have buttons all the way up the sleeve. You can wear a dangly arm wrap called a tippet with it.

A lot of old school patterns for sundresses have the same 4-panel construction and and can be lengthened to make a decent sort of dress.

Please remember that even a bought pattern will need to be tried on
and pinned to your own body shape for the best results!

Gowns, kirtles and tunics

Ladies Dress and Surcote
Burda 7977
I've included a big picture here because it's a pattern that's pretty much got it right. Ladies, it comes in all sizes and really does look like the one pictures here. Historically, it's pretty much put together right and you'll look great. If you don't want the lacing (which can be at the back or front) just sew that seam up. Most medieval dresses buttoned up the sleeves. This pattern can be bought from Spotlight and is my favourite commercial pattern.

Men's and Ladies Basic Tunics
Simplicity 8108
Avoid the over-the-shoulder sash and the Roman. The others are a pretty good basic pattern. For the men, the tunic can be made long, short or anywhere in between. For the women, a round or T neckline can be decorated with embroidery or braid. Extra triangles of fabric can to put into the bottom hem seams to make the skirt wider. The dress will pull on over the head and be pulled in with a belt (either thin leather or fabric).
Dress with small hanging sleeve, Sideless surcote
McCalls 3653
Do NOT use the blue dress. The outfit on the right is okay. The cream underdress should actually be two seperate dresses and not one dress with a fake undersleeve, but in the interests of keeping it simple, it's not too bad. It would lace at the back or pull on over the head.
The red surcote would be worn over a dress with plain sleeves and doesn't need the lacing at the sides or trim around the bottom.
Kirtle with Sideless Surcote
Simplicity 8725
I have this pattern. The basic gown or kirtle used a massive amount of fabric (approx 8m) for the dress alone. Sleeves are excellent. The low, wide neckline is nice. I'm really not too convinced about the placement of actual seams on this one but it's better than most. The red sideless surcote is very long, perfect for banquets. Altogether not too bad if you have nothing to work from.
Sideless Surcote & Cotehardie
Simplicity 9785
Do not use the red dress, it's fantasy. Avoid it at all costs. The yellow sideless surcote is a fair sort of pattern. Uses approx 6 metres of fabric, and the same for lining. You can make your own with less fabric. I haven't heard if the underdress pattern is a good one. Anyone out there used it? Please let me know.
Lady's 15th century Burgundian gown
Simplicity 9929
The bottom right picture is good with some modifications. The collar needs to be fabric or fur, not lace. Fake fur usually looks dreadful, so a black cotton velveteen works well. The sleeve needs to to a straight sleeve. Usually this dress opens at the front and is laced on the inside and covered with a really, really wide belt. The V piece you see is your underdress showing, not a sewn in bit. The big picture on the left is too late for a medieval event. It's Renaissance. Avoid the top right pic.
15th Century Yorkist Gown/ Burgundian Gown
Simplicity 9058.
A pair of 15th century gowns and hennins. Between the two patterns, you get one good dress. Start with the dress on the left, but use the sleeves from the dress on the right. The sleeves should be permanently sewn in and leave off the frills at the wrist.
Do not use the big sleeves!! Again, the collar looks bad in fake fur, so use a black velveteen instead. The pointy hat (hennin) is right. Usually this dress opens at the front and is laced on the inside and covered with a really, really wide belt. The V piece you see is your underdress showing, not a sewn in bit.
Mens or Womans Basic Tunic
Style 2313
This pattern can be found in Op shops here and there and can be used for both men and women. Widen the shoulders a little for men. Man can have a split up the front or sides. Try to keep the sleeves straight. For women, use this as either an underdress or to use as an overdress, you can widen the sleeves or keep them straight and make the bottom hem flare out to add fullness. Pull it in at the waist with a belt.

Patterns for hoods & cloaks

Headwear played an important part of dressing in the middle ages. Hoods can be both plain or decorative with daggues (the bits that hand down around the bottom) and long liripipes (the long dangly bit on the hood at the back). Hoods can be made particolour- one colour on the left, another colour on the right. Cloaks tended to be plain and were functional.

No crushed velvet
or shiny satins please.

Mens headwear         
McCalls M4805
I believe this pattern is a bit expensive, but the hood on the top right hand side is GREAT!! This is exactly what would have been worn. You can make this pattern without the daggues and just have a straight bottom instead of the curvy one if you like.
Men or women's cloak         
Simplicity 5840
ONLY the top two patterns are any good medieval wear. The bottom two are not suitable.

For better information on how to make medieval clothes, try Sarah Thursfield's excellent Medieval Tailor's Assistant and remember, it's usually the good choice of colour and fabric which really makes a dress shine rather than a complicated pattern.

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