Techniques: Stitches, Seams & Sewing
STITCHING - JOINING FABRIC - HEMMING - NECKBANDS
EYELET CONSTRUCTION - BUTTONHOLE CONSTRUCTION - CLOTH BUTTONS
- TASSELS - LUCET CORD - REINFORCED EDGES
Methods of sewing, joining seams and making eyelets and buttonholes
is a topic of great interest to many historical costumers and
Contemporary sewing guides say a
little about actual techniques, and snippets of information come
to us from other sources- such as advice to a young housewife
when caring for fabric that it should be 'sprayed by mouth
as a tailor sprays water on the part of a dress he wishes to hem.'
This tells us that it was fairly common practice for a tailor
to dampen a hem with water as it is being sewed. The image at
right is a detail from a 15th century illumination showing a woman
cutting and patterning.
A little information about the time and costs of making garments
comes to us from the Great Warderobe accounts from the English
Royal Family in the 14th century, and from this we can estimate
the time taken to make certain things.
A pair of hose: about half a
A cloak: 3 - 6 days depending on whether it was lined or not.
A supertunic: 3 - weeks depending on whether it was lined or
A tunic: 1 - 6 days depending on complexity, lining etc.
There is a common misconception about medieval clothing. Many
suppose that because sewing machines were not invented, the stitching
and quality of clothing was rough or poor. This is nothing more
than a gross insult to our women forebears. It must be remembered
that as everything was hand-stitched, sewing was a skill
that a young girl would attain great proficiency in at a very
young age. By the time a young woman was sewing clothes for herself
or her family, a considerable level of skill could reasonably
be expected. Even a poor woman with home spun fabrics would take
care to provide her family with the best sewing she could manage
to produce garments which would be both warm and durable. Shoddy
workmanship would lead to clothing falling apart at the seams
whilst the fabric was still serviceable- a waste that the poorer
woman could not allow.
Methods of stitching fabric were
fairly simple. Shown above:
Method 1. Fell stitch.
Method 2. Running stitch.
Method 3. Combination fell and running stitch for added
Different methods were employed for the joining of different fabrics.
For a comprehensive look at archaeological sewing, please visit
Heather Jones's website ARCHAEOLOGICAL
SEWING. I will not reproduce all the information here
when she has done such a huge amount of excellent research already.
Three simple methods of joining fabric
together are shown here-
Method 1. The fabric is laid
with the outer sides together. A running stitch joins the fabric.
Method 2. A backstitch provides greater strength for a
Method 3. A more time consuming method of seams utilises
an initial join which is then opened flat and overstitched with
two lines of running stitch. This third method makes a very solid
and flat seam.
The images shown here and those shown
below are taken from the Museum of London series of books
about medieval clothing and remains their property.
If a selvedge could be used, it did away with the need for a hem.
Cut edges, of course, required hemming to prevent fraying. The
fell stitch, shown at right, was most common. The fabric is folded
under and the folded again and stitched into place is depicted
below along with variations: combined with a running stitch and
a running stitch used alone. The Goodman of Paris in the late
14th century advises his wife that fabric shouls be:
'sprayed by mouth as a tailor
sprays water on the part of a dress he wishes to hem.'
This example of a neckband shows that a silk strip has been sewn
to the inside of the neck of a high-grade woolen garment. A band
like this one would provide extra re-enforcing where wear and
tear is likely to occur. The opening reinforcing is made from
a narrow silk strip. It is dated between 1325 to 1350.
It is possible that this garment
or others like it had similar bands at the ends of the sleeves
to reinforce the edges which were subject to the most wear.
Without the use of zips, dresses were fastened by either buttons
or lacing. It was more likely that the underdress was laced, providing
and smoother and flatter silhouette and a more snug foundation
garment. The outer dress was more likely to be fastened with ornamental
buttons which were rounded or ball-shaped rather than flat.
Shown at right, a detail of eyelet
holes on silk facing from a deposit dated at the 14th century.
Traces of woolen cloth from the original garment are able to be
seen at the edges of the facing band also.
Eyelets and lacing holes on kirtles were generally no more than
2cm apart. Placing the holes any further apart and the lacing
would not prevent the dress from gaping unattractively. A well-made
eyelet was as strong as the metal ones we use today.
Take a tape measure or ruler and
mark out the eyelets at no more than 2cm intervals. When you have
marked the eyelets so they are evenly aligned on both sides, you
may remove the tacking stitch. Using a double thread or a thickish
linen thread, backstitch a circle around the marked hole to provide
re-enforcement. It will also give you a guideline to keep your
eyelet where you intended and prevent it becoming lopsided.
Using an awl, pierce the fabric carefully
pushing the threads apart. It is very important that you do not
tear or cut the cloth or your eyelet will lose some of its strength
or tear under pressure or repeated wear. Make 4 stitches north,
south, east and west to hold the hole open and gently use the
awl to reopen the hole.
All that remains, it to sew around
the circle with close stitches, using the awl from time to time
to keep the hole open. You will be surprised at how sturdy the
in construction to the eyelet, the buttonhole is achieved as shown
in the picture. The main difference in construction is that the
buttonhole always needs be cut before stitching. The blanket stitch
is then used to go around the opening. Buttonholes were usually,
but not always, sewn onto a garment which was reinforced with
a strip of silk or linen fabric for re-inforcement.
Buttonholes, like eyelet or lacing
holes, were very close set and always ran at right angles to the
edge of the opening of the garment. Care must be taken to make
the buttonhole not too large as it will open a little with sewing.
The images shown here are taken from
the Museum of London series of books about medieval clothing
and remains their property. The image shows buttonholes at the
edge of a woolen garment from a deposit dated to 1325 to 1350.
I have a few tutorials
showing how to make eyelets, buttons and buttonholes as well as
how to make the lucet cord which is handy for lacing gowns or
for using for drawstrings on pouches.Look
for them on the Pattern and DIY page HERE