Blue Cotehardie and Kirtle

The Idea

The idea behind this project was to make myself a useful dress. Something that does not have sleeves trailing the floor and getting into my food or illumination while in garb. The natural choice was the cotehardie, kirtle, whatever you want to call it: dress of the late 14th, early 15th centuries. I’ll go with cote (for short) for the topmost layer and kirtle for the one beneath that. Underneath it all should be a chemise of some kind, but that will have to wait. I am basing the dress on a period source from around the second decate of the 15th century – Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, April. The cotehardie is made from dark blue wool and a “middle-layer” beneath that from lighter blue cotton.

The fabric for this project came from Ohlssons Tyger & Stuvar. A light blue cotton (I got six metres of it for 45 SKR/metre,) a darker blue wool suiting fabric which was in the remnants section and I had just slightly too little of it to make the dress with long sleeves and buttons as I had first planned.

The Kirtle

The kirtle I actually meant to be the mock-up for the cote, but since I had it cut out I couldn’t bear it to just throw the pieces aside. It wasn’t until I was busily sewing up the seams that I realized that I could just as well have kept the pieces as a pattern for future dresses.

The kirtle is cut out something along these lines (image gone forever). The fold in the back-piece making this a three-panel dress with gores for width and long, tapered, tight sleeves. The sleeves were shaped with the fitting after I cut them out as simple rectangles. Also making sure to use the selvedge on the cuffs, saving me the trouble of finishing that in any special way. They may be a little too long right now, they go to the first knuckle on my thumb and are a bit tight to do that, but that can be simply solved by folding over the selvedge edge and stitching it down.

The sleeves when I was busy making them up have the seam running up the back of my arm. I accomplished the S-shape to the sleeve-head by just stitching it together, turning the sleeves the right way out and cutting a curve.

So much for sleeves, the neckline had to be finished as well. Also shaped some. I opted for a somewhat rectangular neckline and bound it with bias-tape cut from the same cotton. I think it worked out just fine when I finished the front edges of it. The front closure is going to be eyelets and laced, so being a little paranoid about that I added a facing which is folded over back into itself and stitched down. Through this I started the first few eyelets from the bottom since I had sort of a feeling that they might not be pretty. Boy was I right! My first attempts were quite frankly horrible. Mis-aligned, crooked, different sized and at uneven distances from each other. When, on the fifth hole, I stabbed myself in the finger quite deeply with the needle I gave up.

But I did not give up completely. Starting over, this time actually *gasp* measuring where each eyelet should go and sewing in long basting stitches through these points with a bright red thread so I would be sure not to loose them. I also used a leather punch to make holes large enough to use buttonhole stitch around. I did not have anything to push through with to avoid cutting, but I know better for next time. (Push through the fabric and enlarge that hole, don’t cut the threads.)

When the eyelets were all done all I had to do was try the thing on! The gores I added in the sides. I maybe should have done centre front and back gores instead, but I have enough fabric left so that I can add that if I feel I need it. It is quite wide enough to accomodate much legroom, but might not fall perfectly. We’ll see. But I think the finished product as it looks now is quite nice. I also tried it on with my one chemise underneath and although it was a -tight- fit, it did fit. But if I want this layer to be supporting I will have to do a bit more fitting underneath my bosom. I also have to turn up the hem and finish it off, as it is just now I’ve just run a machine zig-zag over the edge to bind it and keep from fraying. But that’s a relatively simple job and can be done when I’m wearing it at events even! I’m considering this dress done, finished, complete. Except for aiglets for the laces. And proper lace, fingerlooped, instead of the old shoelace I’m using now. (But it was just the perfect colour for it, I couldn’t -not- take it, right?)

The Cotehardie

I need something that’s going to be less voluminous, less in the way of my hands if I’m do to stuff – and since I’m still not sure I don’t want to land in the Age of the Cotehardie this is the time to make one. I saw one of the lovely ladies on the SCA-Clothes list who had made one that was awsomely flattering on her body. Our figures are quite similar and I really like the simplicity of style of these gowns.

Stage one – get a first fitting based on the period source, (Très Riches Heures, painted between 1412 and 1416, april – the lady sitting down in the middle in blue undredress and dark blue or black overdress), done in a cheaper fabric. I bought a periwinkle blue cotton – six meters of it, just to be sure – and three cuts of dark blue wool fabric from the remnants bin. I did mean to make this with long sleeves, but I haven’t enough fabric for that. The cotton turned out to become the kirtle (see above) and the cotehardie is stitched together. All the seams on this one are flat-felled so that I can wear it inside out if I want to. I originally did this because I was not quite sure which side would look best, or most period, so to avoid making that choice myself: enter flat-felled seams! The only thing about this is that I was over-ambitious with the seam allowance at the shoulders and it’s been quite impossible to get the very tips sewn down properly.

December 7 – Inspired by the corset to do some more sewing – I did not want to cut out and iron bias tape from the self-material for the corset – I finally cut off the hem so I have fabric to use for the front-closure facing. I had not done anything to this part of the gown as yet. The markings that I had from the cotton kirtle having long ago faded and I didn’t think so fill in the line with basting stitches. Without being too chatty; I pinned the gown closed in front with needles wearing my finished, but un-hemmed kirtle, infront of my bathroom mirror. Then I moved the pins so that they were only in one side so I could get out of the dress. Next I laid it out, evened all edges and pinned it together along the front closing line.

At that point I wanted to wriggle into it again, just to make sure. I had to remove the underdress first since the wool cote got stuck on the cotton. Even without the dress on underneath it was -quite- a tight wiggle and I had to exhale as much as I could to get the girls up into place. But if you want a good fit, that’s what you do. It did fit, with only one pin having to be moved. At that point I grabbed a fabric-pencil and marked the line of the pins down one side of my front and let myself out of the dress.

Evening out the line into a nice curved front seam I then lined up all edges (front and neck) and pinned, cutting through both front panels at the same time. The off-cut I then used as a guide for the facings which came from the hem. These are now pinned to the front ready to sew in, by hand as the hemming will be done.

Next in the process is finishing the neckline. It has to be cut back quite a ways and turned over and finished neatly. Then there’s buttonholes that need to be made as well as buttons. I’ve got some self-buttons done already, and plenty of scraps to make more from.

All in all, it’s coming together quite nicely, but I probably won’t finish it by tuesday when our Shire is holding the Annual Clothes Photo Session! (does not it sound grand? Actually it probably won’t be anything much. We just bring our newest garb that we may want pictures of and snap away at each other.

December 9 – Well, today I finished putting on the facings for the cote. It was fiddly business turning them over and making it all neat and tidy and I pinned the heck out of the whole thing. Don’t want to loose all that work pressing it!

And I did press open all seams, snipped on the curves (not that it was strictly needed, but what the hey) and it’s now waiting to be stitched down.

December 19 – Completing all of the eighteen buttons I needed gave me a nice handful of little (mostly) round pellets, ready to be attached. I decided to place them two centimetres apart which ended up being eighteen buttons, and quite close enough to prevent any gappage. Well, ok so there was some when I was hunching forward and all of my flesh gathered at the front, but really it was very good and I’d probably go with that for any future dresses that need to be as tight as this one is.

But I finally did finish it – at the event I wore it to. Sewing the last six buttonholes on the site wearing my kirtle. I did need a little help getting into this since the buttons are not all completely uniform in shape and size nor are the buttonholes – I had to have one of the holes snipped with a knife to fit the damn button in. But it was invisible as I wore it and a quick fix with a needle.

A note about the headdress for this gown, now that I have sat down to look at period images I did find some images with the wimple and veil construction.

The Result

Now for the list of things I want to change, or do better for next time:

The Neckline. (orange in picture) The neckline, although nice is a little square. I’d have liked to have it more rounded as in the original illumination pictures. It shouldn’t come quite so close to the neck, the shoulderbands are a bit too wide. I made the same mistake on the underdress however, I was unsure how much to cut away there.
Facings. (yellow in picture) Using facings as I did here where I’ve stitched from the back through the front – you can see the squared lines when I’m wearing the dress, although it’s not immediately obvious to the eye at a glance. It’s not quite ideal, but I felt too lazy to do bias-tape out of more blue cotton. (What, you can buy bias tape? What’s this I hear?)
The fit. Now although this dress looks nice, there are some places where the fit is not quite as it should be. Across the abdomen things are peachy, but around where the buttons end there’s a bit of a “pouf” This is the curve in the front that has extended too long. Also at the bust, the second third and fourth buttons also create a little pocket of air between the dress and, ahem, me. Not quite sure how to fix this, except to not curve the top part of the front closing so much and pinch in the shoulders instead.
Gores. (inserted at green line) I think I pretty much made the biggest mistakes in this area. I didn’t have all that much fabric to work with and thought that what I have left over should go at the sides. Not so.
I also didn’t measure properly when cutting it out so that the dress was overlong before hemming and in putting the gores in I measured from the -bottom- of the dress up the distance I knew I needed the gores. Yes, I know. But now I really know and hopefully won’t be so silly in future. (The height of the gores can better be seen in the other picture.) Fixing the gores should also take care of the problem I had in the fit at the bottom of the row of buttons. The gores -should- be inserted above this line, but they are below it. Big nono. Probably should have been somewhere between the two orange lines in the picture, the lower one being the level of the last button.

Things I might consider doing with this dress:

  • Undo the seams, move the gores up, will require hemming it shorter, or adding another strip at the bottom to lengthen it
  • Pin on sleeves? as per this painting from the National Gallery of Art. Although this is an image from the 1480s, not 1420s, and the dress is two pieces, with the skirt gathered on.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: