GW: I’m here today with Tasha Dandelion Kelly, expert in medieval clothing who blogs at La Cotte Simple and in my opinion, knows perhaps more than anyone else on the planet about how a gambeson should be made. So without further ado, Tasha, welcome to the show.
TDK: So glad to be here, Guy. Thank you. And I just want to say that even though I have spent many years studying this topic, there are at least, I don’t know, ten or 15 other people out there who have probably far surpassed my efforts to date. So I just feel I have to throw that in there. It’s not false humility, really. These are folks who truly put the time in and continue to pretty much on a full time basis, whereas I am probably at best an independent scholar who does a deep dive every so often, to be fair.
GW: Well, I did say it’s in my opinion.
TDK: Yes, I’ll take it. I’ll take it.
GW: So, how did you get into making historical clothes? What was the beginning point for that?
TDK: Well, like many people, both in the UK and in the U.S. and even in Australia, I was introduced to the Society for Creative Anachronism in my more youthful years, and I was taken by the splendour, the costuming, the wonderful recreations of food, dance, music. And this just piqued my interest, piqued my creativity and imagination. And it sent me down my first set of rabbit holes. And in that time period, I began collecting books, attending online forums, which were very popular in the late nineties when this happened and just started soaking knowledge up the old fashioned way. Independent research. I had a degree in English, so I was already pretty accomplished with writing and analysing and synthesising sources. I also had a career in technical writing and I decided to sort of combine these background interests of mine or expertises to create a website and to start putting up articles and tutorials about what I had learnt. And in doing that, my name obviously slowly began to spread. People began to know my work and give me feedback and encouragement, which of course kept me doing it all these years. So that was sort of the beginning, you know, the SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism. But over the years, you know, we grow, we change, we do different things. We find new interests. And while I still have many friends in that group, I’m no longer active and haven’t been for quite some time. And now I just consider myself an independent scholar of the topic, and I prefer to delve into the academic side of it. You know, the real research, the experimental archaeology, if you’d like to call it that, recreating garments from extant evidence or from a synthesis of multiple sources. And so I started on the costuming side for fun and then eventually just went deeper and deeper into learning the actual truth of what these garments did, how they were made. And it’s never ending and the rewards never end and the challenges never end. So here we are.
GW: It’s a lot like a lot of historical swordsmanship. So for example, I mean, had you always been into needlework or that did that start when you got to the SCA?
TDK: Not at all. Before that, had just been pretty much a book nerd, somebody who enjoyed going to see bands live at the local bars in my twenties. You know, I was just a happy go lucky person in my twenties who fell into this sort of creative endeavour. Out of the blue, it hit me like a thunderbolt. And I had housemates at the time, as one often does in one’s twenties. And I recall one of them was a violist who I came home one day to her practising her viola in one of my dresses that I had made for a medieval re-enactment. And she was standing there feeling very proud in one of my sort of princessy dresses, and that was just a crowning achievement for me. I thought, if I can drag other people into this sort of by sideways fun, then I’m doing the right thing. I had something of a reputation of sewing constantly.
GW: Wow, I’m amazed that someone gets as good at sewing as you are without having been sewing stuff when they were kids.
TDK: Well, that’s actually a good point. I had an excellent teacher. She was a friend who just happened to live close by and had taught herself how to draft patterns, flat patterns from measurements of the body. And I begged her to teach me. She did. And I took that knowledge and ran with it, that basic understanding of how to measure key areas of the body and then translate that into pattern pieces on a flat piece of fabric was invaluable. And with that I could extrapolate so much more. I didn’t need a formal education to do that.
GW: And to my mind, that does sound like the hard bit, getting the measurements right, because I mean, the actual sewing, even I can do a reasonably straight bit of back stitch. The taking a three dimensional thing like a body and then cutting out two dimensional pieces of cloth that all fit together so that they reproduce the shape that fits to the body, that I mean, that goes to places that my brain doesn’t go.
TDK: Fair enough. And you bring up a good point that it is basically maths. When you think about it, it’s really very much a geometry and spatial relations skill and it can be developed. Not everyone just springs fully formed from, you know, the head of Zeus doing this. So for me it was just it clicked, you know, it clicked, I got it. And I was able to do pretty advanced things pretty quickly. I don’t know if everyone can do that, but you can learn to do that. And I have taught many people through the years, I have made workshops, you know, where people come, ten people at a time and we do a whole day of this sort of thing or just one-on-one instruction here and there. But it is very time consuming and I’ve done it less as time has gone by.
GW: So. And do you hand-stitch everything or do you use a machine?
TDK: No, I really don’t. For certain projects, of course, doing something for scholarly purposes or to recreate an historical garment, I would prefer to hand stitch and I do. And that takes hours and hours and hours, depending on what you’re doing. But for fun and re-enactment, I tend to just use the sewing machine for internal seams, things that will not show on the outside. And then you hand stitch all of your hems and necklines and cuffs, the sort of stitches that are going to show. You don’t want machine sewing on the outside of your garment.
GW: I have a friend who makes clothes for re-enactment stuff and she was wearing one of her dresses at a re-enactment and someone came and gave her shit for having machines sewed hems, but she’d sewn them by hand. They were that regular, they were mistaken for machine sewn.
TDK: So then she had the last laugh. Didn’t she? She absolutely was able to say, oh, thank you for this wonderful compliment for my hand stitching, actually. Yes. Well, you should do that. I do not approve of people, you know, the kids these days use the phrase “yucking your yum”. Live and let live. I mean, obviously, if you’re a group that has strong requirements, we’ll say for the way you have to appear, fine, you know, but going up to somebody and offering criticism like that is a real joy killer, I think.
GW: Oh, yeah. Yes. The person was clearly an arse. Okay, now your blog is called La Cotte Simple. What is a Cotte Simple?
TDK: Well, we should probably start with understanding what a Cotte is. So it’s sort of an archaic spelling for what is the modern day word ‘coat’ and obviously the French spelling of that. And it stands for a garment that both men and women were wearing very commonly in the 14th century, especially. It’s basically just a coat like garment, often with an opening in the front, sometimes buttoned down the centre front closure, usually fitted sleeves. Men’s would range anywhere from mid-thigh down to the ground. Women’s would always be pretty much ankle length or longer, depending on the use and the location and the class, etc. But this is an all-purpose garment that was worn on the outside of your underclothes. So that was what the people around you could see. It wasn’t an under clothing layer. And what made a coat, a simple coat was that it did not have a lining. It was a simple coat. It was not one that had, say, a fur lining or silk lining or in some way a more structured and therefore expensive and fashionable garment. So that’s where I came up with the name. I don’t know if in the scheme of things, that name was great for SEO or, you know.
GW: No, definitely not.
TDK: No, no. It was 2003. I don’t think I was thinking about this too much then.
GW: I didn’t think we had SEO in 2003.
GW: Okay. So it’s an unlined kind of gown like coats.
TDK: A dress, you could call it a dress.
GW: And so what made you pick that for the name for your blog? Was that what you were making at the time?
TDK: Well yeah. Well, yes, that is I was at the time making what we call a bust supportive version of this dress. It was something that another independent scholar who folks in the historical clothing community know well, her name is Robyn Netherton. She had pioneered sort of a way to recreate the style that was seen in the manuscripts where women had these very form fitting dresses that were clearly holding the bust like a prow of a ship. Like, you know, everything was very supported and right up there, very pert and on display. And she came up with a method for draping fabric on the body to recreate this tight style. And I was very interested, and I couldn’t go to one of her workshops at the time. She barely had any, and she was far away. I think she lives in Missouri, in the U.S. and so I just thought, I’m going to try this myself and try to figure this out from her written notes on online forums, which is what I did and I iterated with friends and tried it out and got to a place I felt like I had succeeded. That was the point where I realised I really need a web page to put my results up. And I had been a technical writer at the time, so I had the ability to write instructional steps. That was sort of I could do that in my sleep. So I thought, why don’t I take photos and web this and be sort of the first to do that, since nobody had done it yet and teach other people through the web, this wonderful new thing that we’re all enjoying here in the early 2000s. And I just thought, what can I name the site that, you know, gives a little nod to my interest in French medieval culture and also refers to clothing and specifically the type of clothing I’m making, which were at the time unlined, mostly linen fitted dresses that laced up the front to hold everything in nice and tight. And I thought, this is a good name. It wasn’t a good name, but now it’s late now, it’s too late now, it’s been, you know, 19 years.
GW: Yeah. A bit late to rebrand.
GW: Okay. So the pourpoint of Charles de Blois. It’s like one of the more famous garments. But I’m guessing that the average listener doesn’t have a deep technical knowledge of medieval clothing at all. So if you wouldn’t mind, what exactly is a pourpoint?
TDK: Okay, so that’s an excellent question because I have a mea culpa forever and ever about this word, and that is I was one of the people early on who pushed a definition for pourpoint that was very incorrect. But all of we English speakers had this misunderstanding, and that was that it was defined from the words pour and point, like for pointing in French.
GW: For tying things onto on to.
TDK: Right for tying something.
GW: Isn’t it? Because in the back of my head, that’s what I thought it meant.
TDK: Right? Many people still do, and I’m partially to blame from those early forums I mentioned.
GW: You can make up for it now.
TDK: I’m trying.
GW: Tell us the truth.
TDK: So the truth is I had a great conversation with a very learned French colleague who explained to me that in fact it was derived from a Latin root for piercing. In other words, quilting. So it’s per punctus is the word that it evolved from etymologically and that basically just means pierced many times. So you’re basically sewing in and out long channels of quilting. So a pourpoint in the actual French original term simply meant a garment that was quilted and likely padded, because usually when you had quilting, it was because you were holding padding in place. So that is what the garment needs. It’s a garment that’s basically padded and quilted.
GW: So not a garment for tying stuff to.
TDK: Not at all.
GW: That’s a shame. But you do often tie stuff to pourpoints.
TDK: You do. You can. Yes. And in fact, the original Charles de Blois, which you mentioned, has ties attached to it, sewn to it on the inside, around the waist, sort of the waist, hip level. And the understanding is that that’s to hold up some either some joined hosen or some what they call tailed hosen, which are form fitted.
GW: You’re going to have to tell us what those are. Joined hosen?
TDK: Joined hosen are their leggings that were worn by men at the time. They went all the way up the leg and wrapped around the entire groin and backside and covered sort of like pants. But they were just a lot more form fitting. And there’s a controversy about when this style became common in medieval Europe.
GW: So they’re joined as in the two legs are joined together at the top.
TDK: Correct. Yes. Thank you for getting to that. So what we think happened was this started as leggings that were separate. Just leggings that came up to the thighs and then had holes, little eyelets at the top where they could be tied to a belt that held your underwear up. Your underwear, which we might call a braies, had a belt inside a channel that would keep them around your waist and there’d be little slits cut in the channel so that you could get to the belt on either side where the hips are and tie your hosen to the braies. And this was a very common way for men to keep their legs covered.
GW: That’s how my medieval gear works.
TDK: Okay, there you go. Yeah. And so that’s very well documented. There’s no real controversy around that. Where the controversy comes in is as the 14th century progressed and the hosen got tighter and taller and the men’s coats got shorter to the point where they were grazing the bottom of the, you know, the nether regions, the undercarriage, we’ll call it, the hosen got more and more form fitting in that area and covering more of that area instead of letting the braies peak out.
GW: Because they kind of have to overlap a bit.
TDK: Right. And that’s where the term tailed hosed comes in, which is really just invented by we researcher or re-enactor enthusiast types to describe what we believe was an intern step, which is that first the fabric rose up over the hips and began to wrap around and then eventually it joined in the back, centre back and then in the front and that’s when the codpiece first came into existence. So, you know, like basically a rectangular or excuse me, a triangular piece of cloth that covered the front of a man. And that’s how we get to joined hosen. And so the question is, when did that truly happen? We have pictorial evidence that implies that it was either very well covered tailed hosen or perhaps even joined hosen by the 1360s. We just don’t know for sure, but we think it could be that early. I’m a proponent of the join being earlier than not. And there’s an excellent German paper on this, which if I can afterwards, I can maybe get you a link. If it’s on Academia or one of those sites.
GW: Please, then we can put it in the show notes. Charles de Blois had this pourpoint which had these points for attaching hose of some description to. Can you just let the listeners know, because of course I know all of it in depth already, because I researched it in detail by reading your blog who is Charles de Blois and what exactly is his pourpoint, what was it like?
TDK: Oh, okay. So he was a nobleman in France who when he died, the monks of Angier, France had preserved his pourpoint and a hair shirt ,because he was very devout, in the hopes of having him canonised as a saint eventually. I don’t read that ever fully happened. I think they got part way, but I don’t think the process was ever completed. And over time that hair shirt has disappeared, sadly. But the original note that was written by the monks who were preserving the pourpoint still exists, and that’s been documented in several journal articles. So we know that that garment is from approximately 1364, I want to say. So it’s not a later garment, as some scholars have claimed. It is from the time of his death. And that’s why it was preserved so well, because they were keeping it safe for many years.
GW: Why would they keep his jacket to help make him the saint?
TDK: Well, in this time period, there was a long tradition of preserving items from somebody who was considered saintly so that if they became saints, there would be something reverential.
GW: So they could cut it up into a thousand pieces and sell each bit as a relic of Saint Charles himself.
TDK: That’s very cynical of you Guy.
GW: I’m not far off though, am I.
TDK: You may be correct. Yes. So that’s why it was preserved. We are so glad it was because it is an incredibly complex and deviously brilliant form of tailoring. That’s why we all obsess about so much in this community, because it was made from many, many pieces. It’s a way of cutting fabric and piecing it on the body that is not used today anywhere. It’s a long dead form of tailoring and what makes it special is what’s called the grand assiette, and that translates roughly to large plate. And what that refers to is the extremely deep set armholes that were cut. We’re talking really wide circles that go pretty much from the clavicle, all the way under, you know, down almost to the bottom ribs all the way up the middle of the back and over the top real close to the neck. So what that does is it creates the space that has to be filled in with flared fabric. And that flare in the fabric provides an incredible range of motion to a physically active person. In this time, of course, it was a man. But in my recreations, I have found that it also works really well for women and especially busty women. So that sort of flared fabric fitted into that gigantic armhole is just brilliant. It works great, it looks good, makes everyone look good who wears it. And I do hear that from people who have used, I have a pattern that I sell. It’s more like a book, a pattern book that describes how to make one of these and gives you a pattern that you can cut out, tape together, and then use to make one of these in your size. And they all report back how much it works for them. And we’re talking every kind of body shape. It works for everybody. It just requires tweaking because it is a complex pattern. So the reason this comes up usually in, say, martial circles, people who like to recreate historical European sword fighting and the like is because this upper body configuration is so comfy and extremely versatile and great for physical activity. It makes a wonderful wrestling jacket. It makes a fantastic gambeson. It can be adapted for all of these techniques. And you can feel like you’re doing something that would have been accepted in the time period that you’re studying as well.
GW: So was his pourpoint an arming garment of any kind or was it for show? Was it for feasts and whatnot?
TDK: That’s a great question. And I’m pretty certain that there was nothing martial about this garment. This was what we call a civilian or peacetime sort of fashionable garment that he was wearing. We don’t have evidence of any of the sort of stains that one would expect to see in a garment that had been used martially, certainly. And there aren’t kind of points that might have been installed on an arming garment that’s intended to be worn, say, underneath armour, which that would be the only way this could have been worn would be under the armour because it is so form fitting.
GW: Yeah. My arming jacket has lots and lots and lots of eyeholes in it exactly for putting points through to tie bits of armour on.
TDK: Exactly. Yeah.
GW: If it was lacking that you’d wonder how the armour would stay on.
TDK: Exactly. So it was just originally a lightly padded and then quilted and simple horizontal, not horizontal. I mean it is horizontal, but the lines are parallel to each other. So it’s a very simple quilting pattern throughout the entire garment. And that’s why we call it a pourpoint, because it is just a quilted garment.
GW: Am I right in thinking you travelled and actually inspected it yourself?
TDK: Well, I inspected it through glass. I did not get a chance yet in this lifetime to take it off of the form and do a hand inspection of the Charles de Blois. I have written a lot about it. My website is full of articles, speculative articles in which I derived the width of the fabric that was used to cut the original. And just in general, discussing the grand assiette and how it works. As I mentioned, I have this pattern book that I sell that helps people remake them themselves. But that one garment is not one that I’ve taken off of a mannequin and actually examined myself. I’ve only seen it in person.
GW: So have you had a chance to examine any medieval clothing in person?
TDK: Yes. Yes, I have.
GW: Tell us about it.
TDK: Well, I’ll start first by mentioning there’s a mysterious arming garment that’s at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the US that is purported to be somewhere between the 14th and the 17th century. It has not been carbon 14 dated to confirm one way or the other, but I was able to examine it many years ago, I would say probably 2006, somewhere in that timeframe. And my feeling is that it’s from the 15th century. But I’d have to go back and examine it again because I lost all of my notes Guy. I was very sick the day that I examined it. I was just I had a cold, but I was determined not to miss my opportunity and I showed up like a bad person. You should not do that because when you have a cold, you should not be around other people. But I did. And I examined it.
GW: This is pre-Covid. After Covid people care about this stuff. Pre-Covid, this was normal behaviour. Everyone did it.
TDK: You’re right. But really, I just sabotaged myself because I was so foggy headed I managed to lose my notes almost immediately. So I would like to re-examine that one and maybe one day write something about it. I do occasionally touch base with the curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and ask if I can get in there. And I’ve been told that the conservators are very strict about what gets taken off of the mannequin. So that hasn’t happened yet. But the other garment that I was able to study is one that I affectionately refer to as Red Charlie so that I can differentiate him. I’m gendering this garment.
GW: Well, is it a man’s garment?
TDK: It is a young boy’s garment.
GW: Fine, then gendering it I think is perfectly legit.
TDK: It was the future king of France, Charles VI as a child, purportedly wore this little red coat armour that is held at Musée des Beaux Artes at Chartres in France, and that garment is on display there. At least it has been, I don’t know if it is right now, but it is this very small, for an eight year old or I’d say eight or nine year old child, very thin, would have worn this and it would have been most likely what they call parade armour in the sense that it would have been for display, for courtly activity. Obviously, an eight or nine year old was not actually going to battle, but there’s no way this garment would have fitted anybody older. My son at the time that I was recreating this garment after examining it was seven and he could barely fit it. So that sort of led my understanding of how old this kid had to be when this happened, when he was wearing this and that garment, I was able to study with the help of the Antiquarian Society there in England. They gave me a grant to travel after I submitted my proposal and had permission to go take this one off of the mannequin and actually study it. So I went in 2011 and took a few friends to help out, and we spent a few hours with it and measured it to the point of every single measurement I could take and all the details of the construction. I had some insights that were new to me, which had been the whole purpose of taking that garment off the off the mannequin, was how was this thing made so that it created this amazing chalice-like silhouette that is so iconic in the late 14th century? And I got those answers.
GW: So how was it made?
TDK: It was complex. It was quilted in multiple layers of fabric that were then placed together after the quilting assemblies were completed. So it’s hard to describe, but I’m going to do my best. If you start with a taut base layer. And the best way to do that is with the frame. We have embroidery frames from this time period and I’m very convinced there were quilting frames as well, or maybe the same frames were used for both, right? And so you’d stretch this taut rectangle of fabric on there, and then you would place on top of it padded channels in the shapes you wanted and you’d stitch fabric over and around those channels. So in other words, you’re not stitching first and then stuffing. You are building topography on a flat surface to create a 3D silhouette that you cannot create any other way, really. And the complexity of these channels with their curves, they’re variable height, they’re variable width. This is something that you cannot easily do without building it, basically, up from a flat surface. So that was my big revelation.
GW: Yeah. The only making stuff I do in the physical realm is woodwork and thinking about how I would make something like that. Yeah, building it up and then covering it. It’s a bit like how we occasionally use veneers to create curved surfaces. You have your stable base and then you create whatever shapes you want on top of it and then you cover that with a thin sheet that’s the thing you would actually see.
TDK: That’s a really interesting sort of cross-pollinating thought, yes, I like it.
GW: Yes, I’m one of those people who when I go to a museum that has interesting furniture in it, I will crawl underneath a desk and look up to see how they put it together from underneath. And I usually let the custodian know that I’m about to do this and I won’t touch it, don’t worry, it’s perfectly fine. And I’ll just crawl underneath and maybe shine a light from my phone. I will go, oh, my God. They put it together this way. Oh, that’s fascinating. I’ll come out and everyone thinks I’m a lunatic. But every woodworker understands exactly what I’m talking about.
TDK: Oh, yes. And I have upset many a docent by being a little too enthusiastic at museums. So I know exactly what you’re talking about.
GW: So the temptation to take Red Charlie apart must have been extreme.
TDK: Oh, goodness. I would have loved to be able to pick a few seams and actually look at that padding and see sort of how it had clumped through the ages. And just to confirm my theories. But I was able to feel it. You know, I spent hours touching it and feeling it, being able to rub the layers together so I could see how the layers around it. Here’s a side note, the curator when he took little red Charlie off of the mannequin, he literally just unzipped it. It’s buttoned from top to bottom. And he just went brrrrr. He did. And the three of us there just we all gasped.
GW: But a button could go flying across the room!
TDK: Right. Just a side note. Curators have a different attitude I suppose, or maybe it’s the French curators, I don’t know.
GW: It’s funny, but I have the same thing. I have a couple of interesting books in my house. I have a Capoferro from 1610. I got a Fabris from 1606, I’ve got a Marozzo from 1568. Right. And when people come to my house I will then hand them the book, one of these books and they can flick through it and the usual response is, “don’t I need gloves?” No. It’s a book. You can pick it up. As long as your hands are dry and clean.
TDK: Mm hmm. This was quite the awakening to the difference between how we were planning to treat the garment versus how he was thinking of treating the garment. And so that day was just a highlight of my life, obviously. I will always look back on that as just a magical dream come true. To be able to a) handle the garment for that long and b) actually learn something new and bring that knowledge back into the world. Because until then, I don’t think anyone had written in any detail about that particular quilting technique. And I did write an article after that and submitted it to my Waffen- und Kostümkunde, which is a very respected journal out of Germany that publishes in multiple languages, including English. And it specialises in that intersection of martial topics and textiles. So the perfect place to publish.
GW: What about the garment told you that it was put on a quilting frame and then the quilting material was laid out and maybe stitched down a bit. And then the top layer was put down on top. How did you get that from it?
TDK: So the way I got that was in the physical examination as I was feeling what the shapes were and where the stitching went. It was clear that the stitching was not going through any padding. It was just stitching the layers of fabric together. And so that told me right away that there were these channels in which there were padding rather than just laying down the sandwich of padding and stitching through it. And so that was the first revelation is, oh, okay, so this is channelled padding, not a sandwich format of padding where it’s all just layers laid flat and stitched through. So once I realised that and I was looking at the complexity of the curves and the variability of that height, width of the channels, I thought, how would how would I do this? How would I sew this up? And the more I thought about it, the more I thought, I don’t think I could pre-plan this correctly, where I’d have the channels being sort of loose before the padding went in there. There was no way to understand how to lay that out and stitch it without the padding already being in place. And then I realised that the interior lining layer and the exterior fashion layer were mirrors of each other. They both had the same design and stitching method going on and the padding was the same. And both of them exactly were mirrors of each other. And when I rubbed the two layers together, I could feel it was basically flat on the inside. There were no bumps or ridges on the inside, and it all just kind of came into my mind, the cross section of it.
GW: Is it three layers? Is it lining, padding, and then exterior layer or is it lining padding, interior layer, padding, exterior layer?
TDK: The first thing, it’s basically that taut layer. Then there’s padding.
GW: So that’s the lining.
TDK: Yes. Well, both of them, they both had the same. Well, let’s back up. The lining was three different materials. There was a flat layer, the padding, and then one more linen layer over that. The top layer was that repeated, but with one more layer of fabric on the top that was silk. So it came to a total of seven layers. Three comprised the lining, four comprised the outward facing fashion side. And that’s just the body. The sleeves were done slightly differently. They started the same way with the flat taut layer and then the padding and then the linen shaped over it. And then the makers just turned that over. And instead of making a whole new, fresh, taut layer upon which the topography was built, they just used that same piece and stitched the fashion layer right on top of it. And then they offset the stitching by like a few millimetres so that it wouldn’t show through on the other side. And so the sleeves are slightly less, they’re a little less thick, one less layer of fabric. And that’s how it was made. And this was all described in a very basic way in the original museum catalogue, and it left people vaguely knowing that these layers existed, but not knowing how they worked. And why? Why did we have all these layers? What was really going on there? So that’s why that inspection in person was necessary to satisfy the geeks like myself, who wanted to know exactly how this all came together and was made.
GW: Here’s a really extraordinary thing. That must have taken a long time. You have several crafts people working, and even so, it’s going to take a while. And you have a kid. I have two kids. Buying shoes for children, you’re shooting at a moving target. So this incredibly sophisticated piece of clothing is made for a child who is presumably growing.
GW: How the hell did they make it so that it fit?
TDK: I can predict about. So we had of course, in this time period, there were apprentices, journeymen and experts or masters and guilds. And I’m sure that this was originally created by the King’s armourer, who probably had a whole group of people just for such tasks to sit around and sew all day long and in my recreation it took me about 200 hours without expertise. And so I’m thinking that with expertise and experience, this would probably have been reduced to about half that time. So about 100 hours, maybe 150 depending and you have four or five people doing different sections of the patterns on their own little frames. You could knock this out very quickly because again, labour was much cheaper.
GW: And the heir to the king of France, you can probably afford it.
TDK: And that too. Absolutely. I would guess they could have knocked this out easily in a week. Easily.
GW: Wow. Okay. Yeah. Your maths adds up. But it’s astonishing to think of that level of clothing being produced that quickly. Not even a seven year old grows that fast.
TDK: Right, exactly. Exactly. Yes.
GW: Okay. Now, actually, I skipped over something that I’m actually very curious about. It’s going back to the Charles de Blois pourpoint. How does the elbow hinge work?
TDK: Oh, I used that term. I made that term up when I was studying it to be able to blog or post an article about the horizontal seam that you see in the Charles de Blois sleeve, just above the elbow, where the bottom piece, the piece that forms around the forearm also cups the elbow. And the way it’s designed is when your elbow is bent, there’s this perfect, gorgeous little pocket that is available to your elbow so that you can bend your arm with no constriction whatsoever. And as anyone who’s worn a very tight sleeve knows, the elbow gets it worse. When you try to bend your arm, you cut off your circulation. It’s a little tight. It’s hard to do. And so the purpose of that, what we’ll call the elbow hinge, was to form that pocket just below that seam. And when your arm is straight, it’s not a particularly attractive look. It’s a bit of a pouch.
GW: A bulge of cloth on the outside.
TDK: Yes. I remember once getting on a video call with a guy who was trying to recreate that sleeve. And he said, I just am having terrible trouble making it fit correctly. There’s this terrible pouch. And he put it on. I said, okay, now bend your arms at a 90 degree angle. And he did. And the fabric just smoothed out perfectly right over the elbow. I said, now look, look at your elbow. And he looked and the look that came over his face was priceless. That was, you know, the little exploding head emoji where he realised, oh, I get it now, it’s supposed to be like, yeah, the elbow needs that pocket.
GW: It looks good when the arm is bent and does not look good when the arm is straight. So of course one must always pose with bent arms. Otherwise, you ruin the cut of your jacket.
TDK: Absolutely. And the original garment is on a shaped mannequin that displays all these tailoring techniques at maximum perfection. So the human body doesn’t always naturally look the way the museum mannequin has that garment looking. Yes, that’s a good point.
GW: Because you can see what I’m wearing. You can probably tell I’m not much of a clothes person, really. But my area of interest when it comes to clothes is primarily about use. I’m very much function oriented and by far the most expensive clothes I’ve ever bought have been clothes to fight in because they need to be tailored and they need to fit just right, they need to move just right and what have you. So what I’m getting from this is that the same level of attention to ability to move was being paid to non-fighting garments as the fighting garments.
TDK: Yes. And there’s an ongoing theory, conversation, what have you, around which inspired which. Was it the military need that inspired the peacetime fashions or was it the peacetime fashions inspiring the military? I think it came from the martial end first, I think that informed peacetime fashion, because there’s always been clout around being an accomplished martial expert. And certainly in that time period there was, especially amongst the upper classes. So it makes sense that the necessity that was, you know, these things caused these designs to crop up out of necessity would just transfer into social and fashionable circles as well and symbolise a form of virility and masculinity at that time. And that’s how we ended up with things like padding.
GW: Yeah, because I mean, you simply would not wear clothes you couldn’t fight in if you had to go fight. There are all sorts of stories of like Napoleonic soldiers hacking bits out of their clothing so they can move properly. And you see in Fiore, for example, in the Getty manuscript at least, you can see where the points that hold the back of the hose to the waistband that we talked about earlier have been undone because it allows greater freedom of movement in the legs.
TDK: So and those are tailed hosen, by the way.
GW: All right. There we go. So there’s an absolute requirement that you are able to move in the stuff you are fighting in. And if you get used to wearing clothes like that, you’re probably just not going to want to put on clothes you can’t move it because it’s annoying.
GW: Yeah. And there isn’t that same sort of strict military / civilian distinction back then. So the clothes that a well-known general would wear, would reflect his generalship as much as they’d reflect anything else.
TDK: Yes, I would say that’s a fair statement. And, you know, I have written about that crossover between the two. That’s somewhere on my website as well, I think I called it Martial Beauty, Padding and Quilting One’s Way to the Ideal Silhouette or something like that. You know, I like flowery titles, but yes, I’m preoccupied with that very topic. So you can read more on my site.
GW: Yes. And I think people who are particularly taken by this topic, they’re just going to go to your site and just brain dump the whole thing, because there’s an awful lot there to choose from. Okay. Now, I was chatting with my friend Jessica Finley and mentioned that I was going to be interviewing you. And she has a much deeper knowledge of medieval clothing and whatnot than I do, obviously. And she said, I should get you to talk about bias cut. With reference to the finds made at Lengberg. So you have your brief. Firstly, what is bias cut?
TDK: Okay, so when people refer to something ‘cut on the bias’ or ‘bias cut’, it means the fabric was turned at a 45 degree angle so that the grain of the fabric, which is the sort of up and down, back and forth of the weaving, is turned at an angle and is sort of diagonal to you standing on earth. And so that diagonal cut, when you cut something in that shape, it causes stretch. And stretch is valuable for things like we’ve spoken about hosen in this time period, before there was very fine, fine knitting. The stretch was achieved by turning that fabric at a 45 degree angle and cutting the shapes from it and then sewing it together so that the fabric would stretch. And I think she’s probably thinking about and research by Marion McNealy, who studied at great length a couple of fragments from Lengberg in the company of some other researchers named Rachel Case and Beatrix Nutz, who’s the original archaeological professional on that on that site. And Marion recreated this fragment of a dress from the late 15th century. Which is when these finds are basically dated to that had that technique applied, there was a very deep set of pleats that were going to be put into this dress, I guess. And so they turned it at a 45 degree angle, and that made the whole process more fluid, we’ll say, on the body because of that stretch and what makes that interesting and sort of relatable back to sort of the martial garments that Jessica studied, that I’ve studied is that we are talking about humps of fabric that are similar to pleats. There’s this grouping and hunching of fabric over, in our case, padding, that the question is, should this have been done in a bias cut piece of fabric or should this be done with the fabric facing the straight grain, you know, just up and down and across horizontally? And in the case of the garments we’ve studied, this was done with straight grain. It was not turned on the bias. And if you think about it, that makes sense.
GW: It’s not going to stretch. If it’s quilted it’s not going to stretch anyway.
TDK: Right. You actually don’t want it to stretch when you’re dealing with a martial garment and you want things to be really sturdy and to stay in place. And the best way to do that is with the fabric as straight grain as possible. So I know that might be a little jargony, but hopefully folks followed what I was saying.
GW: Okay. Many moons ago when I was buying my first set of medieval hose, it must have been in the nineties there were two options and one was bias cut and the other was not bias. And the chap obviously explained to me that the thing about the bias cut is because you’re cutting stuff out an angle to the way the fabric is actually woven, it uses up a lot more fabric than if you just have it straight. But in this case the hose is much less like the split if it’s bias cut. So he was he was making an argument for durability. Which I guess is related to the stretch because the reason it doesn’t splits because it can stretch.
TDK: And we were talking just about the elbow hinge and the knee needs a hinge as well. The knee bends pretty extensively. So you need to be able to do that without cutting off your circulation. So definitely have to have that stretch. Very much necessary.
GW: Lengberg. That’s the place where they found they dug up the floorboards to do some plumbing or something and found a whole bunch of 15th century clothing just stuck under the floorboards. That’s correct?
GW: Okay. So what else has come out of Lengberg that has piqued your interest?
TDK: Well, one of the most fascinating things was the fragment of what we’ll call a long line bra. At the time, there had been no understanding of any supportive undergarment worn beneath those dresses I mentioned earlier that were bust supportive and this bra fragment was apparently created with literal cups sewn into a piece of fabric so that the bosom could be lifted and separated in the style that one sees in many of the illustrations and paintings from that time period, especially in Central Europe, in the Germany area. And so these finds were in the Tyrol, which is basically southern Austria, northern Italy. And it all checks out as far as the way the female form was portrayed in the figural art of the time. And this was just a huge find for clothing historians because it showed that indeed there had been this method of containing and shaping the bosom underneath the clothing, at least by the late 15th century. But there are other telltale signs that this could have well been in use earlier. There are statements from sort of moralising religious figures bemoaning women’s use of these sort of methods.
GW: Hang on, okay, so in like 15th century or whatever a bunch of uptight priests are moaning on about women shouldn’t be wearing bras because of sin and the devil. And then because gravity works on everyone pretty much the same, women have been wearing bras since forever. Because why wouldn’t they? But then in the 1960s, you get feminists burning the bra as like, no, this is patriarchal oppression. So 600 years before you’ve got patriarchal oppression means no bra. And then by the 20th century, you’ve got patriarchal oppression is you have to wear a bra. What’s going on there?
TDK: Good, good observation there, Guy. And I do wonder, why were these celibate priests so very interested and concerned about what women were doing underneath their clothing?
GW: I think we know the answer to that one.
TDK: Well, it could have been, you know, a prurient interest or it could have been just simply good old fashioned misogyny. Like anything women do, we’re just going to scold them. I think there is a very robust history of that as well. Whatever women do for fashion, it’s bad and naughty. And we need you to be smaller. Please contain yourself. So, yes, there was this wonderful poem by Eustache Deschamps who I consider sort of the French version of Chaucer at the same time period. And he wrote this this poem that says women should take pity on the breast, basically, and describes methods that women were using to contain and control their bosoms. And it’s just a poem. And it’s meant to be funny, but it’s extremely educational for the likes of us trying to understand what did people do in this time period. So yeah, we take our knowledge where we can.
GW: And if the priests are railing against it, you know people were doing it
TDK: Exactly. Yeah. So that bra was probably one of the most exciting finds from the time period. There were others, too. I mean, that trove brought us so much information about Central Europe in the late 15th century, especially women’s clothing. But there is one piece that came out of it that we know was probably a man’s garment. And that was a pair of what we’ll call bikini braies. They were just these…
GW: Wow, Speedos!
TDK: Yes, string bikini. It was a string bikini style that men wore.
GW: He had a posing pouch! I did not know that medieval men wore posing pouches, or at least one of them did.
TDK: Banana hammock, we’ll say. Yeah. And you can tell because the garment is cut in such a way that it’s very wide at the base, which on a woman makes really no sense. It would just bunch up, but on a man creates a pouch when you wear it.
GW: It’s space.
TDK: It works very well for men. A really interesting find.
GW: Wow. I can imagine. If you had your druthers, what surviving clothing would you get yourself permission to go and disassemble if you were allowed. Or handle or take apart and measure?
TDK: That’s a great question. There are several pieces out there I’d love to get my hands on. I mean, obviously, the Charles de Blois pourpoint was my first love and I have never felt it in my hands. And I’d love to do that. I don’t know if that will ever come to pass. But there’s also a really interesting garment in Portugal from roughly, I think, the 1370s. That’s what we would maybe modern day refer to as a Jepan. It’s this sleeveless padded garment that may have some quilting. It might be interior underneath the top layer of the fabric. It’s really not clear to me, based on the sources I’ve seen so far and the photos I’ve seen so far, exactly how that was constructed. And I would love to be able to go there and see that in person. And that one, yeah, I think that’s, like I said, 1370s, if I recall. There’s also a fragment of a garment in Romania, of all places, that I’m fascinated to learn more about, because it has buttons still extant on it. And I’d love to just take a look at the techniques used there for the buttonholes. Another topic that is near and dear to my heart is teaching people how to do a proper medieval buttonhole.
GW: How does one do a proper medieval buttonhole?
TDK: Well, you make it, I think, it should look boxy. In other words, it should look like a rectangle and the ends should be straight. And you basically fill it in with buttonhole stitch from end to end. Sort of looks like a double sided comb, if you can imagine that. And many of the extant garments do have that style on it. Not every garment. Not every garment. There are other kinds of buttonholes that are certainly extant in this period. But that’s sort of the ideal. And in the martial world, it seems to be, or at least in the masculine space, that seems to be how the buttonholes were constructed.
GW: That’s completely different to holes for points though. They would be circular. The person who made my arming jacket was very careful not to break any of the threads. So she kind of pushed the threads of the linen apart with some pokey thing to make a little hole and then stitched around it so that the fabric is actually intact. So it is much less likely to tear. So, with those buttonholes, are they using like a chisel to kind of cut out a slit or?
TDK: Exactly so. In the case of buttonholes, you can’t avoid. You have to cut the fabric.
GW: You have to cut it.
TDK: Yes. But you are correct that for the eyelets or the holes that were made for points are usually best created by using an awl that graduates from pointy up in size to circular and then, you know, just wedge it in and sort of… I don’t know if those sound effects will come across well in audio, but you do want to spread them and break them as least as possible. And then there’s two sewing techniques you can choose from that are both documented to this time period, which is you can either use a buttonhole stitch to make sort of a sunburst where your knots on the buttonhole stitch are facing the hole, not outside on the fabric – that comes later. That’s sort of a method that involves decoratively later in the 16th century. But for the 14th and probably 15th century, the buttonhole stitch was applied so that the knots reinforce the opening, which has obvious benefits. We want to keep those openings strong and tense and able to withstand the pressure of a lace really pulling on it. And the best way to do that is with a buttonhole stitch that’s just done circularly. The other option is just plain old whip stitching, which is just looping the thread in and out of the hole and again making that starburst look from it. And so both exist. I use the buttonhole stitch because I like to reinforce the eyelet.
GW: All right, for your buttonholes, how would you like people to do it?
TDK: With the buttonhole stitch, which is a known documented stitch. I don’t think I should try to describe it here, but it essentially forms a knot. Each stitch creates a little knot, and you would make your buttonhole stitches parallel to each other, the same height so that you get a nice even rectangle of stitches across one side of the slit fabric. And then you would come back to the other side of the fabric and perform that same set of stitching all the way across on the other side. And when you’re done, you have what is essentially a rectangle shape.
GW: So how do you do the ends, the ends of the slit?
TDK: Well, there’s something.
GW: That is where it’s most likely to tear.
TDK: You’d think, you’d think. You can reinforce it with straight stitching up and down. Bartack is the modern term for that. But the actual extant ones, even the ones on the little red coat armour, the ones on the Charles de Blois pourpoint, these don’t have a lot of reinforcing on either end. The goal of buttons is not to contain the body in a tight bit of clothing that has a lot of tension on it. Buttons by nature are not as stable as lacing for something like that. If you want to reshape the body or be tight around the body, really tight with tension, that’s where eyelets will do the job better. The holes, the little round holes and a lace. The buttons are really just to keep a form like a form fitting and skimming garment closed on the body, but not something that’s truly tight. So you don’t need to have that deep reinforcement on the ends for that purpose.
GW: Yeah, I’m just thinking about the button that holds my trousers together, and that definitely needs some reinforcement.
TDK: Sure, sure. And again, it’s all a matter of how tight is this garment. If you know it’s going to be really tight.
GW: Getting tighter in my case.
TDK: Well, we all battle the bulge.
GW: So if someone wants to start making their own historical clothing, how would you recommend that they get started? Probably not with a reproduction of the pourpoint.
TDK: Right, right. This is a tough one. While I do have that pattern that goes through every single step with an illustration, a really determined beginner could make one. I want to just say that we have had people do that as their first sewing project, and they’ve done it well.
GW: That’s determination.
TDK: I don’t actually recommend it as your first project. It is possible, but I don’t recommend it. I would say if they’re interested in this time period that we’ve been discussing, there is an excellent book out there. It’s been out there for about 20 years by Sarah Thursfield called the medieval tailor’s assistant and I think it’s she’s on the third edition these days and you can get that on Amazon. It’s pretty widely available, but it’s a fantastic beginner’s introduction to all the types of layers that people wore in this time period. We’ll call it early 14th through mid-to-late 15th century certainly in England, but probably also suitable for most of Western Europe as well, and maybe even parts of Eastern Europe. But it goes through things like the hosen and the braies. Those are the underwear, the shirt you would wear underneath your coat, your coat or your kirtle. It’s another term for almost synonymous to coat in the texts of the time and your gowns, which would be more elaborate garments that you’d wear in fancier or colder occasions. They’re just more voluminous garments usually and then your accessories. And she gives you patterns in there that you can extrapolate and use visually, see the pattern and then extrapolate it to a full size piece of paper. And I just think it’s an excellent resource for people just starting out. So I recommend that book. As far as online resources, that’s a little tougher because I don’t know of any site that systematically pedagogically goes through the process of teaching you everything you need to know to become a good sewist and a good patterner and good researcher. Because if you’re really interested in doing this right, you need a certain amount of knowledge too that’s beyond just the crafting knowledge, just the sewing ability or the patterning and tailoring ability. You also need to know why you’re doing it the way you’re doing it and then make those choices appropriately. If that’s your goal, if you’re a LARPer, maybe you just want to get it in the ballpark. You just want to feel, you know, sort of like Lord of the Rings version of medieval aesthetic we’ll say. But if you are trying to do this for a serious re-enactment or a living history group, you’re going to have to put the hours in and it’s going to be multiple different sources, including lots of books. I recommend books to this day. I think there’s tons of knowledge that is in books and journal articles that is not webbed and is not in a video, is not on a podcast. It’s just one of those put in your dues, read the actual scholars on these topics, and then you have to synthesise, you have to take all these disparate sources and put them together in a meaningful way. And for me, that’s the fun. That’s what I love to do. So that’s what I recommend.
GW: Fair enough. Okay. All right. Now I have a couple of questions that I ask all my guests. And the first is, what is the best idea you haven’t acted on yet?
TDK: I am very partial to Italian clothing. I just love the aesthetic of the medieval Italian look that is seen in in figural art and some of the extant clothing that still exists. And I would love to do a deep dive on specifically northern Italian clothing or even just all of Italy, whatever is available and do sort of a comprehensive book on the topic. Some people have done books on that topic, but I haven’t done it. I haven’t done it because it’s quite the undertaking and I don’t speak Italian, which is a huge barrier and that’s a big problem, not actually reading or speaking the language. So it’s a dream. It’s a dream I have. I don’t know if I’ll get to it.
GW: Step one, learn Italian.
TDK: Just simply, oh, go ahead and learn that language, you know, no big deal.
GW: Yeah, people do it all the time, seriously.
TDK: That would be my dream. Sure. Oh, absolutely. And reading is different. You can learn to read a language much faster than speaking.
GW: It’s a lot easier to learn to read language than it is to understand what an Italian person has just said to you. Because when it’s read, you can read it as slowly as you want and you can look words up as you go. And it’s like, you can take it apart, whatever. But you know, if you’re in a in a pub and Italians are talking very, very fast and there’s like six of them speaking at once, that is super hard. I fail at that generally. But yeah, I mean, learning to read Italian it’s not that hard. Promise. You will not regret it.
TDK: And I can sort of read French to some degree and that certainly informs my understanding of Italian because you can see the roots, the Latin roots are similar and you can extrapolate and understand. So my reading comprehension is a little better. I mean, I have no speaking comprehension at this point. But I could piece together some of the written, written sources. So, yeah, maybe. I mean, that’s one of those. It takes years. Maybe I’ll do it. We’ll see. We’ll see where life takes me.
GW: But also, the way I would go about it is I would start writing the book immediately. And then when I need to do some research that requires some other skills, go get those skills and do that research and add it to the book. Right? Because that way you have a really concrete reason for actually doing the next thing.
TDK: Right. And I do have many, many colleagues and friends in Italy who do this work. And even a friend I have in Germany, who does specifically this this topic as well. So it will be a collaborative effort. I can’t imagine doing this all by myself. I think I would enrich such a work with that collaboration because I would need it, I would need it, and they would have access to things that I wouldn’t know about. So I do dream of doing that someday. A joint project.
GW: I think there’s no day like today.
TDK: Thank you for the encouragement.
GW: When it comes out let us know, come back on the show and tell us all about it. Okay. All right. Now, my last question. Somebody gives you $1,000,000 to spend improving historical martial arts worldwide, or in your case, it doesn’t have the historical martial arts. It could be historical…fill in the blank. How would you spend it?
TDK: You know how there are these writing retreats that are available to people who do fiction writing or there are creative retreats where you can get a grant to go to a beautiful location with others who are doing similar things and spend a week or six weeks in an intensive environment on that topic, or at least on that effort. Oh, I’ve lost you. Shoot. I don’t know if you can hear me. Guy, can you hear me?
GW: No. You went away.
TDK: I came back. Okay, should I start that again?
GW: You know there are these retreats.
TDK: Yeah, there are these retreats that people can go to spend, say, anywhere from a week to maybe six weeks writing or doing some particular creative endeavour in an idyllic environment. And it helps their creativity. It helps them synthesise new projects and thoughts. And usually there are grants for these sort of things. I would love to start an organisation that creates that environment for people who are interested in historical clothing. So whether it’s a long conference where people come together from all over the world to cross-pollinate their knowledge and ideas and teach classes on the topic. Or it’s just an actual retreat where people can spend time doing things like writing their medieval Italian book on clothing. That would be a fun thing to do with $1,000,000 for seed money. Although in today’s economy, with the inflation being what it is, maybe I need 5 million. I’m not entirely sure, but it would be a lot of fun to bring people together yearly for such gatherings and probably creative get togethers. That would be my dream. Sort of like what Greg, my husband has, you know, he’s involved with WMAW and there are others like that, like sword retreats. You have sword retreats, similar, you know, like it would be great to have an historical clothing retreat.
GW: And I think you would need people who know how historical movement worked to come along and try some of the clothes. And, you know, because we have it both ways. Like you have to try your historical interpretation of the sword fighting art in clothes of the period because clothing affects movement. But if we know that this motion was required in this art, therefore that clothing must be able to accommodate that motion. So the information flow goes in both directions. So I think when you organise one of these things, you should invite me to come along and model the clothes and make sure that they move properly.
TDK: It’s a great idea, Guy. You’re right. And that is really true, that people need to use the clothing so that you can improve the cut and the function of it over time. And that’s how I became somewhat of a tailoring expert, was giving my clothing to people actively using it in a martial context and then getting their feedback. And that would improve the next version that I created based on their use. Yeah, absolutely.
GW: There we go. Excellent. If I had the money, I’d give it to you.
TDK: Thank you.
GW: Very well. Thank you so much for joining me today. Tasha, it’s been lovely talking to you.
TDK: It was great talking to you, too, Guy. Thank you for having me. This has been a delight.