Sewing Techniques: Stitches, Seams & Sewing
SEWING TUTORIALS - STITCHING - JOINING FABRIC - HEMMING
- NECKBANDS - EYELETS
EYELET CONSTRUCTION - BUTTONHOLE CONSTRUCTION - REINFORCED EDGES
Methods of sewing, joining seams and making eyelets and buttonholes
is a topic of great interest to many historical costumers and re-enactors.
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
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 day.
A cloak: 3 - 6 days depending on whether it was lined or not.
A supertunic: 3 - weeks depending on whether it was lined or not.
A tunic: 1 - 6 days depending on complexity, lining etc.
On the following pages, 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.
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
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 durability.
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 seam.
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
'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
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 result is.
Similar 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, 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.