A Cotehardie by Any Other Name Would Look Just as Lovely – Some Thoughts on Research

Terms . . . they make things more confusing than they should be, but that’s life. One of my first big “ah-ha” moments in research is that the word I may use for a specific thing is probably not the word that everyone else in the world uses. Be flexible when looking for something.

For example,  the majority of the world may call it a partlet, but if the best information on the net calls it a gollar, you’re never gonna find it by searching for partlet.

There is a myth (probably perpetuated by those who don’t research) that since the computer age, finding information is as simple as typing a couple of words into google. This anecdote will definitely age me, but back in college before the internet, I remember standing in front of the massive cabinets of the card catalog at my university’s library, pulling out drawers three feet long, and trying to find books on some particular topic. Actually some of my fondest memories are digging through the card catalog for hours and hours. I still remember the way they smelled. But I digress.

It would take hours and hours of sorting through topics and authors to find the books that might contain the bits of information I needed. Researching on the internet isn’t all that different. Sure, if you want some over-generalized, cursory information on a subject, it may take a few minutes. But if you want specifics and primary sources, it will take days. For some projects, I have spent more time researching than actually making the item.  Now, that may be reflected in some of my scores, but I was pretty certain my research was solid.

How does this relate to researching medieval and Renaissance clothing? Here’s a bit of advice.

When labeling a piece of garb, it’s best to be specific, but not term specific.  When writing the documentation for this dress I’m currently researching if/when I enter it into an SCA A&S I would call it a “15th Century Northern European Fitted Gown.” That is a pretty specific title, right?  However, I would not call it a cotehardie or cotte or cote or kirtle. Yes, those are specific terms, but those terms are very loaded and mean different things to different people, in different languages and in different contexts.

Yet, try researching or googling “15th Century Northern European Fitted Gown” and see how much you find. You may only find my blog and not much else that’s relevant. Thus I not only have to use the term cotehardie, which makes me cringe a little each time, but I also have to seed my blog with the terms cotte, cote, kirtle, gown and dress. I write to share the information I find and the conclusions I reach. I write both to help educate others and to get feedback on what I think.  If I don’t seed my blogs with those terms, no one would find these posts on that fitted dress.

Cotehardie is a pretty contentious word for medieval garb. First of  all, that word wasn’t used in period. Not only was it not used to describe what today we call a cotehardie, but it wasn’t used at all. It’s French in origin, meaning something like sturdy dress. I don’t know when it first popped up – I’m not that interested in the term. There is a chapter written on it in “Medieval Clothing and Textiles 4.” You can preview it in Google books here.

To add to the confusion, here are a few more names or variants on the spelling which I use when searching for information on that fitted dress found in the 13th to 15th centuries:

  • Cotehardy
  • Cote-hardie
  • Cotte
  • Cote
  • Kirtle

And that’s just English. Let’s try looking for the “cotte simple” or “Gothic fitted dress” in a few other languages:

  • German
    • Kittle
    • Cotta
  • Italian
    • Guarnacca
    • Cottardita
    • Gonnella
    • Cipriana
  • Polish
    • Suknia  spodnia
    • Suknia rozpinana
    • Jopula
  • Norwegian
    • Kjole
    • kyrtill
  • Swedish
    • klänning
    • överkjortel
    • surcot

Some of these mean “that” specific dress, and others simply mean dress or gown. In my research I’ve learned to say “women’s clothing” and “15th century” in about a dozen languages. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Research isn’t always easy. Don’t look at it straight-on. Try looking at it in as many creative ways as you can. It might surprise you what you may find.

Sometimes I think I should stick with the easy stuff. I have A-LOT of books and articles on period garb. I could just glance through them, pick a project and my documentation would be simple. But then I think, “What fun would that be?”

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Side-Laced Cotehardie – I Think I Found It

After several days of searching through 15th century Dutch painters, I think I found what I am looking for.

Visitation – 1463
Master of the Life of the Virgin

  • Side-laced
  • No waist-line

I was so excited last night when I found the picture. I just sat and stared at it for several minutes with glee. But then today I actually read the title: The Visitation. That refers, again, to the point in the Bible when Elizabeth visits Mary, both of whom are pregnant.

Perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel and just admit that an un-waisted side-laced 15th century cotte was mainly used as a maternity dress. In another 500 years, when some futuristic SCA group is re-creating the 21st century, it would look pretty silly for the non-pregnant women to be wandering around in maternity wear. So until I find more evidence, either it’s a side-laced cotte with a waist-line or, if I want no waist-line,  it’s a front-laced cotte.

So what do I have so far?

15th century Flemish cottes could be either laced in the front or the sides, with the former being more common than the latter. But in my own interest, let’s start with the side-laced version. I have not been able to find many articles or writings on the side-laced kirtle, so hopefully what I’ve gathered will help others.

15th Century Northern European (Flemish) Cotehardies
Side-Laced

The Deposition – 1470’s
Unknown Master

This is a great example of the side-laced cotehardie. In this painting you can see:

A

  • The lacing goes from the armpit down to the waist-line.
  • The eyelets are off-set and the lacing is done using a spiral lacing method.

B

  • A cute little bit of trim on the sleeve edge

C

  • The dress has a waist-line. The skirt is separate from the bodice.

If you look at the skirt edge, the gown is lined with a green fabric all the way down to the hem.

The Deposition – 1455
Dieric Bouts

Since Mary Magdalene is wearing the dress, I’m assuming that she’s not pregnant.

A

  • Side laced
  • Lacing runs from slightly under the armpit to the lower hip or thigh

B

  • Waist line
  • Large pleats in the front

If you look at the rolled up hem, the gown is lined with a grey fabric.

Annunciation
Rogier van der Weyden

This one is, of course, the pregnant Elizabeth.

A

  • Side lacing goes from slightly under th armpit to slightly below the waist
  • Spiral laced, but laced skipping every other hole

B

  • No waistline, which makes sense if it’s maternity garb

C

  • Hem is edged in fur or fur-like trim

I have a few more iffy pictures that could be side-laced, but, until I get versions of them with better resolution, I’m not willing to assume that they are side-laced.

The Elusive Side-Laced Cotte

Finding evidence for this cotehardie that I want to make is proving a bit more difficult than I thought. It’s out there, but under what conditions, I don’t know.

Here’s the problem: for the most, part the pictures from manuscripts are very cartoon-ish.  They give a general shape and idea, but they don’t show seems or closures.

Here’s what I found so far:

Visitation – 1445
Panel painted on oak
Rogier van der Weyden

This is a definite side-laced fitted gown.  Of course, you can’t just look at the what, you also have to look at the who. The lady on the right is Elizabeth, cousin to Mary (from the Bible).  They are both pregnant, Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist. Thus the intimate feeling of the bellies.

So yes, the cotte exists, but was it maternity wear?

Abegg Triptych
1445 – oil on oak
Rogier van der Weyden

Yes, it’s the same painter. Also, the side-lacing isn’t completely clear. A search for a better resolution of this pic may be in order.

Depostion
15th Century

The lady in red is definitely wearing a side-laced gown. It is waisted, and I am looking for unwaisted examples. But it is certainly a side-laced dress.

I’m not sure who painted the one above. Heck, I’m not even sure that the name is correct, but it does look like the same style of der van Weyden’s 15th century Flemish style. It gives me something to go on.

Tacuinum Sanitatis
1390’s

This one is a bit earlier than I wanted, but not so terribly early that it’s un-useful. Those sleeves, though . . . Wow!

I have a couple of other iffy pics from manuscripts. If they were of a better resolution, I could maybe use them. The only other solid thing I have is this one:

I have no idea where it is from, what time period or the artist, but it certainly is a side-laced kirtle. And a good shot of spiral lacing.

Tip: if you are going to make any kind of medieval or Renaissance laced dress, check out Jen Thompson’s Zen of Spiral Lacing post: http://www.festiveattyre.com/p/the-zen-of-spiral-lacing.html It will help you get it right the first time.

One thing I find utterly ironic about this quest of mine is that it has led me to Flemish artists as the main source.  At least for the moment.  I was certain I would find what I was looking for in Italy or France, but never back to Belgium. This whole obsession of mine with period garb started out with the 16th century Flemish peasant dress. So in the last year, I’ve come full circle.

Searching for the Side-Laced Cotehardie

I’ve spent that last 2 days looking for pictorial evidence for the side-laced 15th century cotte. So far, I’ve found very little. The problem is that I have something specific in mind.  I’m trying to find evidence to match what I see in my head rather than looking at what is really there and formulating the idea off the evidence. It’s neither the first time nor will it be the last time I’ve had this problem. Stubborn seamstress may have been a more appropriate title for my blog.

Then, of course, I have two other things working against me. One: I’m trying very hard to focus on the kids’ schoolwork (btw, I’m a homeschool mom as well). And two: I get distracted very easily (“Ooo, shiny! What was I looking for again?”).

Okay. Here’s what I have in mind:

  • 15th century cote, or fitted dress
  • Laced on the sides rather than the front or back
  • Short sleeved
  • Tippets optional
  • Not lined

What I don’t want:

  • Lined, and especially lined with a patterned cloth
  • Floppy sleeves
  • Bizarre neckline
  • Overly baggy

Interesting things I’ve found so far:

In my search I’ve come across some interesting garb concepts.

Gathered lower-edge of chemise

The lower edge in both of the under-dresses in the picture have a definite gathered edge that was also seen on every prom dress made in the 80’s.
Horae ad usum Parisiensem
c. 1475-1500

Cotte lined with a wild pattern

This wasn’t the only example either. There are tons of pictures of men’s and women’s cottes lined with patterned fabric that is no where near the color of the dress itself.
Evrart de Conty , Le livre des échecs amoureux moralisés
c. 1401 to 1500

Really cool Liripipe hood

This hood has an awesome triangular back. I also love the contrasting fabric on the edge, the tassel and the fact that it doesn’t have a tail that Rapunzel would envy.
Horae ad usum Parisiensem
c. 1475-1500

I’m still searching, and I have no doubt that I will find evidence to match at least most of what I have in mind. It’s just a matter of time and patience.

Side-Laced Cotte Project

Missed going to an event yesterday due to a mild case of accidental self-inflicted food poisoning. Turns out that I cooked that chicken 2 weeks ago and not 1 week ago. I used to wonder why food contaminated with bacteria wasn’t safe to eat after being cooked properly. Heat does kill the bacteria, after all. Turns out that it is not only the bacteria that gives you problems. Bacteria can both excrete toxins and produce them upon death. Killing them won’t make the food any safer to eat. The bacteria may be gone, but it’s still toxic. In fact some bacterial based diseases, like Lyme disease, can cause more pain during the cure than during the illness because it produces toxins as the antibiotics kill it.

All of that summed up, staying home with accidental self-inflicted food poisoning isn’t fun. And I missed teaching my class on patterning a simple coif. Staying in bed all day, watching tv shows on Netflix did give me the time to organize my research files. Also staring at the dress I was going to wear, my bi-colored cotehardie, still hanging on the back of the bedroom door, made me realize that I need more garb and that it doesn’t necessarily need to be all hand sewn to look nice.

What’s my new dress going to be? A solid colored cotte, laced on the sides rather than the front, and with short sleeves and tippets. I’m going to make false chemise sleeves and neckline so that when it’s over 100 degrees here in the summer, I’ll be in a cool one layer of linen. That light green linen I have will have to be dyed – I’m not making another dress of that color. I’m thinking dark green or dark blue would be nice.

I’m looking at the styles from the late 1400’s. I like the look of the 15th Century cotehardie.

The fabric is atrocious, but I like the style.

This one will be based on the four-paneled design rather than the 8-gore one. Now on to the research!