What do I put my stuff in?

I’ve been obsessed with totes and bags for ages. I have an entire pinterest board ( my pinterest ) ( my pinterest page dedicated to totes) dedicated to nothing but tote-bags! In the SCA, at least in Gleann Abhann, I don’t see much of a practical bag in use, other than the “man-bag” that many a dude will carry court time refreshments in.

Bags are so useful! The bags I’m talking about are the kind with long thick straps that you can throw over your shoulder and carry a ton of stuff = modern day bo-ho bag. But are they period?

It’s a side adventure, but I want to start looking at useful period bags made of cloth. If you have any pics, post them in the comments. Between all of our combined skills and knowledge, we can bring the bag back to the Middle Ages!!


I’ll start. Found this guy in the “Triumph of Death” by the 16th century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It makes sense. If you are running for your life from a bunch of bloodthirsty skeletons, you really need something practical to stick your stuff in.

To me, I see a nice cloth satchel, almost a “messenger bag,” ​with both and adjustable strap and a buckle flap. How awesome is this?!?!

Off to make some art.

Happy sewing!

Making the 16th Century Flemish Working Class Woman’s Gown Part 2: The Construction

It’s been a month since I’ve posted anything about  my 16th century Flemish costume. Where did I leave off? Ah, the dress. On to the construction.

This is a continuation of a series of posts I’m writing on my construction of a 16th century outfit, which would have been worn by a working class woman of Flanders. I wrote about my analysis of the gown in the last post in this series: https://maniacalmedievalist.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/making-the-16th-century-flemish-working-class-womans-gown-part-1-the-documentation/

Most of my construction was based off of Kass McGann’s ideas posted in Reconstructing History: http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/blog/the-netherlandish-working-womans-outfit-part-1.html

When it comes to 16th century Dutch dress, there are two main theorists. Kass is one. The other is Drea Leed: http://www.elizabethancostume.net/lowerclass/makeflem.html . It’s not that I disagree with Drea. I felt that Kass’s ideas would result more in the look I wanted to achieve than Drea’s.  The look I want comes mainly from the paintings by Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aertsen, two 16th centruy painters who mainly worked out of Antwerp.

If you go to Kass’s part two in her Netherlandish Working Woman’s Outfit ( http://www.reconstructinghistory.com/blog/the-netherlandish-working-womans-outfit-part-2.html ), she gives fairly straight forward instructions on creating the bodice part of the gown.

I started out with two squares of my linen. I sewed them together to give the bodice extra strength when lacing.

Using my modern awl, I made the holes for the eyelets. I really do need to get a more period awl.

I laced the square of fabric around the mid-section of my dress dummy.

To prepare for making an armhole, I made a slit from the top of square, where it hit my shoulders, down to about armpit level.

I squared off the hole in order to get to the shoulder seams.

The square I used was way too long. I ended up wasting a good bit of fabric at the top. If I make something like this again, I’ll figure out how to use measurements to get a more accurate piece of fabric.

I sewed up the shoulder seam a bit at a time until it fit fairly snug.

detail from Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Joachim Beuckelaer

The pieces of the skirt are pretty geometric.

At this point, I had not had as much experience making pleats, so I first tried box pleats.

Flight into Egypt, detail
Joachim Beuckelaer

The rear ends of the women in these paintings are awfully large, but I couldn’t justify using a bum-roll. Why would a working class woman wear a bum-roll? My guess is that the look was achieved with pleatings. Box pleats, however, did not work.

So I tried cartridge pleats. I’m not unhappy with the pleats, but I still need to go back an re-attach them. My method of attaching them to the bodice part flattened them out a good bit more than I wanted.

Overall, I’m happy with it. I achieved the look I wanted, minus a few minor errors. I did, however, learn quite a bit.

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

The Deposition – 1470’s
Unknown Master

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


  • 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.


  • A cute little bit of trim on the sleeve edge


  • 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.


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


  • Waist line
  • Large pleats in the front

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

Rogier van der Weyden

This one is, of course, the pregnant Elizabeth.


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


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


  • 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.

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

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.

Making the 16th Century Flemish Working Class Woman’s Gown Part 1: The Documentation

This gown or overgown was worn as the outer most piece of full body clothing in the 1540’s to 1560’s by working class Flemish women in Antwerp, the largest city of Flanders at the time. This first note of two will describe the features of this specific type of 16th century Flemish gown. Since no extant gown from this place, time and social class exists (as far as we know), I’m mainly using paintings done by two artists who painted many portraits of Antwerp’s working class. Pieter Aertsen’s and Joachim Beuckelaer’s paintings captured so many aspects of the working class’s life. Through these, we can glimpse the everyday activities of a class of people that are rarely noticed.

My second note in this series will focus on how I made my version of the gown.

On left: Pieter Aertsen, Cook in Front of the Stove
On right: My gown

Let’s start with the top of the gown and work our way down.


  • Seam on shoulder nearer the back than the front
  • Loose fitting: the outside edges are not necessarily form fitting


  • Possibly constructed using a solid piece of fabric and cutting the armhole out of the top middle. No side or back seams present.
  • Inside edge skirts the outside of the breasts adding some support to the bosom
    • Joachim Beuckelaer’s “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”

  • Tapers inward on the laced part
    •  Joachim Beuckelaer’s “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” – above
    • Pierter Aersten’s “Vegetable Vendor”

  • Laced edges do not meet & are laced together using metal or fabric loops
    • Pierter Aersten’s “Vegetable Vendor” – above
    • Joachim Beuckelaer “Allegory of Negligence” – above
  • Spiral laced
    • Joachim Beuckelaer “Allegory of Negligence” – Above
    • A great tutorial on spiral lacing is Jen Thompson’s The Zen of Spiral Lacing

Under the Apron

  • What goes on under the apron is less evident.
  • Looking at details from Hieronymus Francken’s “The Witches’ Kitchen.”
    • The front opening seems to be open down past the navel, almost to the groin. Yet it only has lacings for the area from the waist to the top.  You can also see this in Johann Theodore de Bry’s illustration.
    • by Johann Theodore de Bry

    • Hieronymus Francken’s “The Witches’ Kitchen.”



  • Gathered in the back with large, loose pleats
    • Bueckelaer’s “Flight into Egypt”

    • Pieter Aersten’s “Cook in Front of the Stove”

And that is all.

Coming soon . . . How I Made My Gown

Making the 16th Century Flemish Working Class Woman’s Partlet

As I promised, here’s how I made my 16th century Flemish working-class woman’s white linen partlet. I found a cool painting that I forgot to include in my other Flemish partlet post.

No extant working-class woman’s partlets from 16th century Antwerp exists. The best I could find is a slightly out of period (1607) painting by Jan Breugel the Younger. The painting shows a “bleach field” – a large field where the washer women lay their laundry to dry.  The best copy I could find is still blurry, but I am almost positive that the figure I’m pointing to is a partlet.

The pattern itself looked simple enough: one solid piece of fabric for the front and back and then a separate piece for the neck. However getting it to hang right was a trial.  I did about 6 full cotton mock-ups and several more partial ones that were rejected immediately.

The pattern I settled on, of which I didn’t take any picture (by that time I was doubtful of ever finding one that laid right), was not the rectangle version I started with below.

Proto-type #1. Did not work.

Looking at it now, it would seem obvious that the shoulders would be way bulky on the area nearer the arms. No, no, no. This did not work. What I eventually ended up with looked more like this:

Once it was finished, it was obvious. The flaring out of the front pieces make the fabric on the shoulder ends much less, thus solving the bulging problem.

Totally unrelated: One of the things that has been a detriment to my teaching has been those “ah-ha, that should have been obvious” moments. When things finally click, I always feel like such an idiot. The solution should have been apparent the whole time is generally the way I think. I discount all those little gradual “ah-ha”‘that all added  up to the big one. So then when I go to teach, I try to go straight to that “this makes perfect, logical sense” answer, and it doesn’t always work.

For example, I’m teaching my homeschool co-op class how to make and draw your own Celtic knots. The subject to any normal person should be fairly intimidating. I’ve been doing it for a few years now, and so it all seems logical. Last week, I tried to skip all of the baby steps and lead my class (of mostly 10 year olds) to that logical end. I got one student who caught on right away and a bunch of others who had no clue as to what I was getting to.

It’s not that I don’t remember the baby steps, I just think I’m an idiot for having to go through them and for not jumping to that end conclusion immediately. At times I give myself such little credit.  I try to think of Columbus when I do that. There’s a story from after he came back from the Americas. He was at a dinner party, and the other guests were making fun of him. “So you think you made this big discovery! Any idiot could have just sailed west and eventually run across that land.”

Columbus picked up a cooked egg from his plate and challenged his fellow diners. “Show me how you can get an egg to stand on its smaller end.” The men tried getting it to balance for a few moments before they asked Columbus to show them. He took the egg and smashed it on to the table, small end first.

“Well that was obvious!” the guests shouted. Columbus then replied, “Yes, but you didn’t think of it.”

In other words, take pride in your “ah-ha” moments, even if it seems that the answer should have been obvious.

On to the parlet.

Once I had the pattern figured out, it was on to the cartridge pleats. Now, I love me some pleats, but cartridge pleats were sent from hell to torment us folk who have even a slight trace of OCD. Getting them to be perfectly even is not easy.

Carefully measure 1cm dots along 4 yards of 1 1/2″ fabric. It doesn’t have to be 4 continuous yards. I used the scraps that were left from cutting out the body. There were a total of 4 pieces – three that were about 1 1/4 yards and one that was about 1/2 yard.  All of the fabric was ironed in half before I began marking.

Because I did not want an excessive amount of marks to wash out, I used long quilting pins to run a straight line with each mark.

Each mark equals 1 running stitch made at the top and 2 at the bottom (about 4 threads from the bottom edge and then another 4 threads up). I wanted my stitches as even as possible, so I used a magnifying glass to make sure each stitch was where it needed to be. The extra effort makes the pleats look nicer.

Normally I would have used white thread for these spacing stitches. I used a dark color simply so that they would show up against the fabric.

At this point the pins are unnecessary, so pull them out. Yes, cartridge pleating is very tedious.

By pulling all three threads, the pleats come together nice and evenly.

Now do it again for all of the other lengths of fabric.

Each length of fabric will probably take more than one piece of thread. Just leave a long enough tail on the end and tie them together once they are gathered.

The lengths of fabric can be sewn together post-gathering.

I used and overcast stitch to bind the fabric edges.

Making sure that the pleated fabric is long enough.

Sewing one side of the collar onto the pleats.

One side of the collar is sewn on. At this point the pleating stitches are still in.

Make a double row of back stitches to make sure that the pleats stay.

On the opposite side make a line of back stitches through the pleats to make sure that the pleats stay put.

At this point, the gathering stitches are still in, but not necessary. Using a small, sharp pair of embroidery scissors, snip and pull the stitches out. I used scissor grip tweezers to pull the threads out without disturbing the pleats.

At this point I wish I had not used red as one of my contrasting thread color choices. Since the pleats so tight, when I pulled the red threads out, it left a trace of red color. It’s very faint, but it’s still there.

Stitch the other side of the collar on with 2 more sets of back stitches. Turn both sides of the collar down, and make a running stitch to tack the sides down to the pleats.

And that’s it!

Attach the collar to the partlet, hem the partlet and then it’s done.

Here are some great sites to for more ideas and extra help:

16th Century Flemish (Netherlandish or Dutch works well too) Partlet

I spent most of this year working on one of my first complete outfits made not using a commercial pattern.  Let’s start with the outer most layer, and I’ll work my way in.

First of all, a  partlet or gollar is a woman’s piece of over-clothing, which covered the bust, back and shoulders.  It’s akin to a sleeveless jacket, but ends directly beneath the bust. In 16th century Flanders, all classes of women worn one if they left their home. It was actually more universal than that. The women in nearly every European country at this time wore some kind of partlet or vest.

I’ll be using the English term: partlet, although in Flemish literature at the time it would have been more likely called a gollar.

The variety of partlets all over Europe was pretty wide. From the  sheer silk Italian partlet that didn’t conceal anything:

Italian Partlet. Very sheer.

To the very fancy English one:

Although it’s not so black and white as that. Most cultures around Europe at this time had varying degrees of extravagance for their partlets, from the plain white linen to ones that were made of very  detailed lace with pearls and gems.

My partlet is one of the white linen varieties. It’s the style worn by middle and lower class women. This partlet is meant to be worn as a vest over the overgown. It can be worn as the last layer of clothing on the top half of a Flemish woman wore or worn under a black wool partlet in colder weather.

There is no extant plain white partlet from the Netherland area. What I used to base my idea upon was the paintings of the time.


  • The collar varied between stiff  to limp and folded down.
  • Had pleats of some kind, but mostly cartridge pleats


  • In the front it comes down to just under the bust and a matching length in the back
    • P. Aersten “Cook in Front of the Stove” (above)


  • The front two corners meet, but don’t overlap. Meaning they must be held down by separate pins.
    • J. Beuckelaer “Vegetable Seller” (above)
    • J. Beuckelaer “Market Scene” (above)


  • End near the ball joint of the shoulder – sometimes before the gown strap ends.
    • J. Beuckelaer “Vegetable Seller” (above)
    • P. Aersten “Cook in Front of the Stove” (above)
  • Not as tight fitting as partlets from elsewhere in Europe
  • Other Details:
    • It seemed to have no side seams, or at least this was an option
    • The collar was sewn on from a separate piece, and it seemed to be the only separate piece from the main body.
    • Unlike partlets from other areas at this time, it was a very simple design with no shoulder or back seams.
    • It was wider at the bottom than it was at the shoulders.

Coming soon . . . “How I Made My Partlet.”

What 16th Century Flemish Working-class Women Wore

That IS a really specific topic, isn’t it? I’m not exactly sure why this topic took my fancy, but for the last 9 months it has been a bit of an obsession.  I wanted a project that was big, but not so intricate that it took years to finish. And there is something pretty in the simple styles of the lower/middle class women in Flanders.

Towards the end of the 15th century in a mid-sized city in Flanders, Antwerp, became a leading financial and commercial center of Europe. By early years of the sixteenth century, the upper class copied the fashions of the times and dressed in very Tudor-like clothing.

The working class could not afford to copy the expensive clothing, but they developed style of their own that is, although similar to the working class women of England, different.

As the lower/middle class grew, and a larger group of people were now able to afford artwork, especially original paintings. A large number of artists came from this increase in demand. At the same time, the popular trend was to paint the working class – to show common people doing common everyday things. You also see a similar trend going on in Italy at the same time.

If one studies the paintings of Pieter Aertsen (1508–1575), his nephew Joachim Beuckelaer (1533–1574), and a few other 16th century Antwerp painters, a clear picture forms of the women of the working class and their style of attire.


Beuckelaer, Joachim. Kitchen Interior. 1566. Musée Du Louvre, Paris. Commons.wikimedia.org. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. .

It looks awfully similar to the outfits of working-class Tudor women. Chemise, gown, apron, partlet, comfy hat. The styles of each, though, are slightly different from their English counterparts. I’ve worked this year on picking apart those differences and making a Flemish outfit. I have the details all saved up, but I’ll post them a little at a time.


On the Left: Beuckelaer, Joachim. The Four Elements: Fire. A Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary in the Background. 1570. National Gallery, London. ‘Joachim Beuckelaer | The Four Elements: Fire. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. . On the right: Me.