houppelandes-msg - 9/23/98
Making 14th century houppelandes.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
Date: Sun, 14 Dec 1997 09:37:26
From: Nancee Beattie <nbeattie at blackcat.dunklin.k12.mo.us>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Houppelande & plumpness
Morgan was right about a simple chemise covered by a kirtle (the cote was
the top layer). The word cotehardie gets used a lot to describe all
garments worn in the 14th C, but I think that if you look at the first word
in the compound word, "cotehardie," you'll see that this word probably only
referred to the outer layer. I'm not really a semantics mavin, but this is
something that helps to clear up some confusion, and make discussion easier.
I prefer the generic word kirtle to describe the middle layer, or
foundation garment worn under a cotehardie, and later, a houppeland. It
helps to remember that for a while, at the end of the 14th and beginning of
the 15th C, the cotehardie style gown and the houppeland coexisted (look at
Les Tres Riches Heures de Jean Duc de Berry for a very beautiful example of
this fact). It follows then, that the undergarments were similar.
The bottom layer was a chemise. It was made of thin, usually white fabric
(silk, linen?) It was not very full (in some cases even fitted) and had
short sleeves or was sleeveless (I'm sure there are exceptions with long
sleeves, but I have not seem them), and did not quite reach to the floor.
For these reasons, it was not visible when the wearer was completely
dressed. Therefore, it is usually neglected in SCA costume. I have no
problem with ommitting this garment, especially in overheated feast halls,
and summer tourneys, etc. Passing out for your recreation is not a good
idea. Being aware of it's existance is good, though.
It is the middle garment, the foundation garment, that I would like to
describe. The only extant examples of 14th C garments I know of are bog
finds. Strictly speaking, they cannot be assumed to be the same as the
kirtle worn under a houppeland, because they come from two very different
cultures. There probably are many similarities, however, as the final
products look very similar. The bog dresses were made with a six- or
four-panel bodice, with many gores added at the waist for fullness.
The western European dresses tended to be slim to the hip, and flair at the
waist based on visual documentation (manuscripts and sculpture). They also
tended to lace up the front or back, which would lend itself to a
four-panel bodice better than a six. My construction of these dresses is
based on knowledge of fabric widths (generally about 30 ", but they could
vary greatly), and an attempt to recreate the period silhouette (based on
visual history), with a nod to the bog dresses for all they can teach us.
I am not going to discuss the gores, or the skirt at all, for that matter,
nor sleeves. I just want to help anyone create the proper silhouette
without resorting to ace bandages or sports bras.
First, measure. The important measurements for this part of the dress are:
*shoulder width (across the back, point of shoulder to point of shoulder)
*bust (widest part)
*ribs just under the bust (very important)
*waist (narrowest part of torso)
*hip (widest part of torso--if your tummy is the widest part, measure that,
and when I talk about the vertical measurements, substitute "tummy"
wherever I say "hips")
Note: all vertical measurements are to be done with the measuring tape held
straight, and perpendicular to the floor. Do not follow the curves of the
body. Imagine that you are charting a person's body along an X and Y axis.
When you are done, you connect the dots, and voila, there's your pattern.
If it helps to use a yardstick to keep your measurements straight, do so.
By following the curves of the body, you result in a garment with too long
of a torso. I hope this is clear--it's very important.
*shoulder point to just under the armpit
*just under armpit to waist
*waist to hip
Now, use these measurements to plot a one-quarter bodice on paper or muslin
(note: it's best to slant the shoulder seam down some, but I
*---* couldn't manage it with ascii text)
\_ With the exception of the shoulder
/* width, all measurements used are
/ one-quarter of the measurement taken.
|* The shoulder width (which should be
| taken across the back) will be one-half
| of the measurement taken.
| When plotting points, measure down
|* along the center seam (vertical
| measurements), and then out(horizontal)
| to side seam.
In order to elevate the bust, the bust measurement is lined up with the
armpit. In order to hold the bust in place, the garment is cut to fit the
ribs just under this point. How far under? That depends on the difference
between the bust measurement and the rib measurement. Here's the formula I
use: (note: we are working in one-quarter measurements, because we are
making a quarter panel of the bodice). If the quarter measure of your bust
is 9" and the quarter measure of your ribs is 8", then the difference is
1". In that case, the vertical measurement between the bust and the ribs is
1". In other words, the vertical measure between bust and ribs is equal to
the difference between the quarter measure of your bust and ribs. If your
are very chesty, but small of frame, this gives you a little more up and
down space in which to fit your breasts.
This will give you the unibuzom sitting on a shelf appearance that was worn
under the houppeland. The belt of the houppeland goes right under your
Other tips: The sleeves of the kirtle should be close, but not tightly
fitted. It is my opinion that the million-button sleeve kirtle had gone out
of fashion by this time (and for good reason--what a pain to sew, repair
and wear). Wear a wide belt. If you have a long torso, wear a wider belt.
Tandy sells 4" buckles. If you want a longer one, I've seen merchants
selling hand-crafted, extra-wide belts. Spiral lace the kirtle: Imagine the
lace is a needle and thread, and that you are sewing the garment on your
body. Go in the left side and out the right, all the way up from the
bottom. This is much more stable than cross-lacing, and will not result in
gaps. When lacing, keep pulling your breasts up as you approach the
neckline. It may seem like the garment is too small at first (especially if
you're well-endowed). Have faith in your measuring ability, and keep
lacing. It will fit if you measured everything right. This dress is
positively gravity defying.
I hope this helps. Put away that ace bandage, and save the sports bras for
Meredydd, OL (a hat person, too)