Projects · Clothes

The Supportive Kirtle

The supportive kirtle is the magic layer which gives you shape underneath your overdress, and its also nice enough to wear by its self. To make this, I needed to self draft my own pattern.

The design would be simple, a front lacing dress with side gores and long tightish sleeves. These sleeves would peak out from my over dress.

To do this, I first had to draft a bodice pattern, which was easier said than done. I have drafted modern bodice patterns with varying degrees of success in the past. However, medieval patterns are different because there are no princess seams or darts for shaping. All of the shaping in my dress is limited to the side seams and the front and back seams.

I measured out my measurements (also easier said than done), and mapped them onto some tracing paper. Now, as I am a fairly curvy person I knew that the back panels would be quite different from the front, so I drafted them separately. I then, drafted some curves to connect the dots.

The First and Third Versions of my bodice pattern. Look at the changes! (I can’t find version 2).

When I was finally seeing something that I thought might be a bodice, I cut some pieces out of muslin, sewed them together, and laced them up.

And I had a fairly ugly and unflattering and unfitting bodice, BUT it was something I could work with. I pinched in the seams and pinned them into place where I thought they should be taken in and ripped out some others where they needed to come out.

The place that gave me the most trouble was the back, as I have poor posture and thus have a pronounced concave curve in my back in the lumbar area. To smooth this out, I had to pinch the fabric in several inches from my mock up, and add the same amount of inches to the sides, to allow the fabric to hang from my body properly.

Now that I had the back sorted out, the front was still very wrinkly, so I went at it with some pins to pinch things in again, and finally I was happy.

The final pattern with seam allowances. I decided to add 1.5 inches in the front, as this is where the laces would be, and an inch seam allowance in the back, just in case I had fit issues. I used half inch seams every where else.

Next I had to draft a sleeve. I’ve drafted many a sleeve for doll clothes before, but never for humans, and medieval sleeves are different from normal sleeves. For whatever reason, the seam goes up the back of the arm rather than straight from the underarm. I took the measurements of my arm from the shoulder and the widths, and the length around the arm socket of my gown, and fancied up a pattern that looked something like this.

My first and second draft of my sleeve patterns

But my original pattern was crooked, so I folded it so that it formed a tube, taped it together, and then cut it apart so the sides were even. And, then I cut it out of muslin and attached it to my dress. It worked, but it was all kinds of ill fitting, so I went in with the pins again, pinching and pulling so that it fit better.

Fitting the sleeve

Now, when I was happy with all these pieces parts, I took them apart, and traced them to make my final patterns! And I would be ready to cut out my dress!!

WAIT. I had to wash and dry my fabric first.

Hanging my linen to dry in the stairwell of my apartment

Now I was ready to cut out my dress! I cut the four body panels first, using the patterns that I had made, and then continuing down straight. I wanted this dress to hang to the floor so I made the panels longer than I thought I would need so that I would have plenty of room to take up or take out the seams. I also cut out an additional layer of white linen that ended around my hips, to give additional strength and support to the bodice.

Badly Drawn Pattern layout on fabric

Then I cut out the triangles that would form the side gores, based on the length of the bodice patterns. The side gores start around my hips.

After sewing these on and the sides together, I had a dress!

The dress pinned in the front and with sleeves, unattached

Then I sewed on the sleeves. And they did not fit quite right. They poked out at a weird angle, so I took it in at the top of the sleeve so that it laid flatter.

And I had a dress! But was it finished! NOOOOoooo… I still had to hand fell all the seams, turn under the hems, and cover the shoulder seams with bias binding.

But it was all worth it.

The dress at my second SCA event with a borrowed hat!


In fall of 2019, after wearing this dress to many events, I began to have issues with the neckline being too low. I believe the fabric stretched along the bias a little too much. To fix this, I took it in at the shoulders, and reset the sleeves. This meant re-doing all those hand seams along the shoulders, but again it was worth it!

The dress after some shoulder alterations during a virtual event in 2020


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