Projects · Clothes

Designing my first Medieval Garment

I could have found the SCA many ways. The organization was founded by some of my favorite science fiction authors. I’m pretty sure my medieval art history professor nudged me in the direction of the SCA once or twice. (Medieval art historians are considered the most fun loving, probably because we study penis trees). But I found the SCA because I watch costume makers videos on YouTube, specifically Morgan Donner.

I have seen videos of Regency wear events or the costume balls of Venice where many a Robe A La Francaise is worn. But, I had no idea there were places to wear medieval clothes, and the SCA is the perfect place to show off your Viking, French Gothic, and Elizabethan wears.

Morgan Donner has many videos about creating both medieval and modern garments and her tutorials on making a Heraldic Dress and a Merchant Class Outfit were integral to the design and research of my garment.

My previous research into art history has always been based in the 1300s. I am obsessed with this decade because it is the worst decade for the lives of folks in medieval Europe. Three terrible events took place: A mini Ice Age, the resulting great famine of 1315 and of course the black plague. In addition to these worldwide disasters, and perhaps because of them, each country in Europe encountered a crisis of Rule including vicious power hungry rulers. It also was a time of theological crisis, the Papacy moved to France, heretics were burned alive, and then when things kept getting worse, the burners of heretics were burnt too.

Yet, while all of these terrible things were happening, the people created some of the most beautiful and heart felt artwork of the middle ages.

Ivory Mirror Cases seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum depicting scenes of courtly love

These mirror cases, particularly the ones depicting scenes of chess players (of which there are 15), were the subject of my Senior Honors Thesis at Kent State University. If you have way too much time on your hands you can read that here.

It was clear to me that I wanted to make a garment which would have been worn during this period. So I researched far and wide to find something that would fit the bill, and behold:

What is this? An image of medieval chess players? Indeed. Zeroing in on the lovely women in blue on the right side of the image, I fell in love with her gown. And, her pockets! But how to go about constructing such a costume?

To get an idea of what I was getting into, as far as medieval costumes were concerned, I purchased three books. These books were helpful to varying degrees, and certainly gave me a good idea of how to go about my research.

One image particularly struck me:

The Full Circle skirt in Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It by Dorothy Hartley

Now, I have always been a frivolous person, and I love excessive things. The simplicity of creating a clearly absurdly voluminous gown, struck me an I knew this was the pattern I was going to use. This type of skirt was especially popular going into the 1400s, and is the precursor to the voluminous Houpeland. Well to do ladies chose this style because it showed they did not have to do any work, but had the leisure to go about carrying their skirt around, or better yet, employ one of their ladies to carry it around for them!

The proper way to carry your dress. Also look at that pretty lining! Maybe fur?

I decided that I would need three layers, one white chemise, one red supportive under dress which would lace up the front, and one blue overdress which would lace up the sides.

Furthermore, after doing some research, I decided that if I had enough fabric, I would go for vary long sleeves which reached the floor, to really tap into the excessive theme. After, all, I’m a lady about town. Or at least, about the castle grounds.

Look at these silly Sleeves
Gown from Orpheus+Eurydice ; c 1410-c 1414 ; Christine de Pizan, L’Épître Othéa ; BL Harley MS 4431

Because it is spring and quickly transitioning to summer, I decided I would make my dress out of linen. While linen was used for garments, and was the best choice for my chemise, it was not typically used for outer garments, wool was. This makes sense considering the mini ice age that was baring down on Europe during this time. Who wouldn’t want to have a 15 square yard blanky with them at all times? *Raises hand* Additionally, wool is much more expensive than linen.

And so, the dress was designed! For additional reference photos please check out my Pinterest. For information on how I turned 17 yards of linen into a gorgeous and accurate medieval gown, click here and here.


If you would like to support my art, you can donate using Ko-Fi by clicking this button:
Buy Me a Coffee at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s