When I first began playing in the SCA I had NO IDEA how to sew, much less actually make clothing. I had an entire family to garb, and very little skill in doing so. I fumbled and bumbled and stressed my way through it.
Then Gulf Wars… 10 days… 3 people, including a fighter that would wear multiple outfits a day and a toddler who’d wear several each day as well. We needed clothes, a lot of them. I was on day number next of threatening to throw the sewing machine out the window and run away when I vented my frustrations to my laurel. Who raised an eyebrow and said “just make T-tunics!” My mental picture of an overlarge t-shirt wasn’t flattering on anyone, and I was vain enough that it mattered. “No really” she said “go look at the fighting tunic Jon borrowed from Elesar. It’s just a t-tunic.” I went and looked and it was like fireworks exploded in my brain. Here was a simple shaped 2 piece garment, that looked Good.
Fast forward a bit, and I’ve gotten a lot more experience making garb, but I still very frequently create T-tunics, and it always boggles minds how they can look. So by request.. t-tunics 201:
These are all T-tunic assembly:
By T-tunic I mean as few pieces as possible. Generally the sleeves and body piece are one piece. Sometimes additional length is added to the sleeves or gores to the sides. These should still fit well, and pass easily for historically representative garb.
Here is a booklet I created for teaching a T-tunics 201 class. I hope it is helpful, andplease do not hesitate to reach out with any questions!
The booklet is designed to be printed double sided, flipped on the short edge, and folded in half.
As I’ve continued working on Minoan and bronze age Aegean sea area clothing I’ve ran into some fascinating challenges, and some even more fascinating insight!
“Restored” images & fragments
One of the biggest challenge is fragmentary frescoes, and the recreation of them. Knossos was discovered by Sir Arthur John Evans, a British archaeologist, who “restored” many of the frescoes there as he thought they should be with the assistance of Swiss artist Émile Gilliéro. The artist’s son, by the same name, later did further restoration work when an earthquake damaged some of the remaining images.
More recently, archaeologists such as Dr. Bernice Jones have been challenging some of the assumptions of how these frescoes were restored, and seeking to refine our understanding of the original art. This is an ongoing project, and there is often small disagreements that result in dramatic changes of how a fresco is interpreted.
Minoans LOOOVVVEED their Wallpaper
Frescoes were not a single layer! Many had been painted over several times during the Bronze age, making the puzzle of putting them back together even more challenging. (For example, assemble 3 puzzles on top of each other, now break chunks of them off and mix those pieces into a bowl, try to match the pieces back in the right layer on the right puzzle. Oh, and similar colors and paint styles were used, so make sure your puzzles are very similar too).
When is “wool” wool – and when is it a dollar?
Linear B has been translated, mostly, we think. It’s not a direct translation of ancient Greek, it’s older, and after it passed away on the Minoan isles there was about a 300 year gap called the Greek dark ages before a written language (the Greek alphabet) was used again. Much of Linear B was translated in the 1950s, but there are still questionable translations and complete unknowns.
One of the challenges in language is how certain words were used. There are a group of tablets from the palace at Knossos where the translations result in fabric being compared to various amounts of wool. The way we would say “$50 worth of fine silk” or “$100 of rough cotton”. Wool is compared to cloth and separately to “edged cloths of a royal type” (Panagiotakopulu, Eva, University of Edinborough)
Fabric, fabric, and more fabric!
Minoans had a surprisingly wide variety of fabric and animals that could be harvested for fabric. Frescoes depict a number of goat, sheep, and other furred animals as well as silk moths, cotton plants, and flax type fibers. Some fresco images show fabric solid enough to cover the body completely, while others are depicted as incredibly sheer. Clay tablets written in Linear B have been translated with words for sheep, goats, wool, and fabric. Must of the trade from Knossos was dedicated to textiles.
How did they make that?
A common assumption is that Minoans were limited to warp weighted looms and tabby woven bands, what we frequently call inkle bands. The patterns in trim on the fresco images are incredibly complex, as are those of the fabrics, and could have been created in a number of ways. I was unable to find obvious tablets as early as 1300 BC, but there are bone tablets from 8th Century BC in central Italy that are were clearly used for tablet weaving. The wear patterns along the lines of the cards are the same that my own favorites get after frequent use.
In short – combining a lot of different pieces and angles of investigation is yielding an incredible wealth of knowledge. Creating, and wearing, the clothing depicted in frescoes has added even more information. I’m preparing a more detailed write up piece by piece, and will post it soon!
The first page consists of short notes about the civilization and area
The next section of pages are images from the island, the ruins, and the frescoes there.
The next section consists of reproductions by Jones (major authority!) and a few inspired paintings that are particularly well done.
The colored edge drawings are mine – I started with the basic shape of a woman and outlined the various dresses we see in the fresco images. This helps compare the overall shape and layers of the dresses.
The final pages are jewelry, hairstyles, and shoes to finish off the look.
I had never attempted to sew a garment before the SCA.
I have the abundant hips of a modern woman who enjoys a well fed lifestyle.
So much trial and error!
Several months into my SCA journey I was given a handout on rectangular tunic construction by Hanim Gulenay, OL and HE Suvia filia Heriberti. This handout was a game changer for me. It was clearly written and explained tunic construction and alternatives in ways that made sense to a complete novice.
With permission from Mistress Hanim, here is the handout:
It has fantastic suggestions for fabric, the history of the pattern, as well as two patterns for rectangular tunics, a fuller one and a more fitted version. I use the more fitted version, and most of these notes will apply to that.
Referring back to that novice seamstress part, a half dozen dresses later I’ve finally learned a good bit about how to measure, cut, and assemble squares to fit a very not-square body. Here are a few notes that I hope will help:
The handout gives the following graphic for measurements:
A: I prefer a higher shoulder seam, so use a measurement that is just a little past my bra straps. I use favorite tank tops that aren’t tight but fit well for most of my measurements.
B: Because A is higher up on my shoulder, it’s important to start B from the same spot and measure all the way down to my wrist.
C: This is the measurement that took me the longest to work out. I was told to use my full shoulder circle, and then later to use half of that. What I’ve learned is that “it depends”. Generally, individuals with larger biceps and upper arms will want a larger armhole for more movement. For me, about ¾ of the total circle works well. I use a shirt with comfortable armholes as a starting point, and measure this way:
D: This measurement works with C, and it’s important that they stay together. The top of D must start where the bottom of C ends.
NOTES: This is probably the measurement I’ve played with the most to get the pattern to fit. I’m very pear shaped, and in order to have a fitted torso but enough ease to comfortably flare over my hips, I’ve shortened this measurement to about 5.5 – 6″. This means the flare starts higher on the sides, and affords me plenty of wiggle room, while still giving a nice silhouette.
Page 7: This page is where you’ll calculate the measurements for the side gores. Do add the 4″ of ease, and don’t forget seam allowances on both sides of pieces. Make a note of the top measurement of your top gores, you’ll need that in the next step!
Shaping the Pieces
Sleeves: The sleeve shape is not a flat top triangle, but actually has some shaping at the widest part as well. Like this:
Begin with the arm measurement plus seam allowance and draw that line. Add straight lines at a 90 degree angle that are the same length as the top of your upper gores. Then angle the sleeve inward until you reach the length and width of your sleeve and wrist measurements.
I’ve used this pattern a LOT now. For Viking underdresses, Rus over and underdresses, and even just cut the front all the way down for a perfectly fitted Ottoman coat.
Please feel free to ask questions if I can be of any help!
I bring whole new meaning to the word novice seamstress
Toddler factor (it’s like trying to layout and cut fabric with a dozen cats in the room)
I am very pear shaped, not something all dress dummies work well with
Budget, budget, budget
I’ve heard about the “duct tape dress form” a few times in the SCA but didn’t have much more than a vague idea of some silver tape, my body, and a pair of scissors. Today a group of ladies got together and actually made them – successfully! So here is a walk through of the process, guidance courtesy of Mistress Marion Leoncina da Susa.
Things you’ll need:
A sacrificial t-shirt, form fitting
Duct tape – about 3 rolls, doesn’t have to be name brand but that did seem to be more stiff and hold shape a bit better.
Filler – packing paper, newspaper, etc
Something to hang your dress form on that is your height
2×4 stand that is shoulder height
make a stand from PVC pipe and joints
Floor lamp and cross beam
A Friend! This is definitely a 2 or more project
Get dressed! Mistress Marion pointed out that you’ll need to wear the same undergarments you plan on wearing in your finished garb. Bust silhouettes changed over the SCA period and using the right undergarments will let you shape your finished garb to the shape you’re working towards.
She also suggested two t-shirts. This let the scissors slide between the duct taped sacrificial t-shirt and the undershirt, rather than on bare skin.
Make sure hair is pulled up and out of the way. Stand in a comfortable position with your arms loosely at your side. Don’t suck in – you’ll want to be able to breath both during this and in your garb!
The first layer of duct tape carefully follows the contours of the body. The key here is to keep the duct tape flat. You’re not looking for straight lines, but for smooth tape.
Step 2 notes: Keep standing still (ish – I’m bad at this!) and keep breathing :). Having someone to tear strips of tape while the other person applied them made this a lot easier.
Step 3: Apply a 2nd layer of duct tape. You want these strips crossing over the first layer in an X shape. Make sure to cover from neck to hip, and over the top of the shoulder.
Watch out for hair! Our tape tearer also served as a hair holder upper 🙂
Step 4: Apply a 3rd layer of duct tape, again crossing directions with the 2nd layer. The back and forth layers function like a basket grid – holding the shape firmly.
Step 5: Cut! Using sharp scissors, slide a hand between the two shirts at the lower back and then cut up the center back of the shape.
Step 6: Wiggle out! The form is shaped!
Step 7: Build / find / jury rig a frame. You’ll need some kind of vertical post and a crossbar that is slightly narrower than your shoulders.
Use 2″ x 4″ wood to build an armor stand or pell shape
Use PVC pipe and joints to build a stand that can break apart for travel
Use a standing lamp and cross bar! I used strapping tape to afix a shoulder bar to the lamp just a little below my shoulder height.
Step 8: Stuff it! I started at the top and used packing paper to adjust the dress form to be right at my height.
I ended up doing this in a few steps. I stuffed the very top and shoulders while it was standing up. Then angled it onto a chair to stuff the chest and upper back. Then a very supportive hubby held the entire thing upside down so I could stuff the bottom and hips of the form. A few more strips of tape across the bottom of the arms, over the neckline, and under the body of the form and voila!
Delia and Margarett kindly added some additional suggestions!
Use a dowel drying rod to hold additional strips of tape. This goes fastest with at least one tape tearer and two tape appliers.
While the form is still on -use a sharpie to mark the belly button, center of the chest, center of the back, and shoulder seams.
If you want a high neck, use a separate scrap of cloth to wrap around your neck.
Putting a tight T-shirt on the form after it’s stuck will cover any sticky edges and give your pins something to stick into.