By going to events at the SCA I have had the pleasure of meeting my friend Engle, who is incredibly passionate about a very particular time in history. And that is the time of the Landsknecht. The Landsknecht were mercenary soldiers who were hired by the Holy Roman Empire to fight in various wars and battles in the sixteenth century.
They were brutal soldiers, but now they are far more well known for their elaborate dress. You see, medieval battle is not exactly what we think of when we think of battle. Indeed, it often would involve months of walking and camping and maybe a few days of fighting and looting. Therefore, the Landsknecht kept busy, and spent their hard earned mercenary monies on clothes.
Engle, is (in real mundane life) a member of the Navy, and he had the brilliant idea to design a Waffenrock based on the American flag.
As inspiration for the Betsy Wassenrock, Engle pointed me to an illustration inside the Hofkleiderbuch Des Herzog Willhelm IV und Albercht V. 1508-1551 (Page 72). A lovely text with colored illustrations of many waffenrocks and other exciting garments. Waffenrocks are doublets with knee length attached skirts, which are usually pulled on over the head, and sometimes are worn over armor. They are nonrestrictive to movement, and like other Landsknecht garments, hide the body of the soldier and thus make them more difficult to actually hit with anything.
With this as our inspiration, I sketched out an idea for a waffenrock which was then modified to resemble Betsy Ross’s original 13 colony american flag. And of course, we made the sleeves very large.
To begin, I gathered my materials which involved two yards each of red and blue wool, and two yards I had leftover of white wool from a previous project. This wool was from Dor Mill, which was warm thick and fluffy (but not too thick), and Rennaisance Fabrics which was light and airy. At first I was worried about the different weights, but Landsknecht mixed wool and silk so I didn’t think it would matter too much.
As for the pattern, I re-used a prior pattern I had made for a pair of Landsknecht Wams for Engle. These wams tapered inward at the waist, and because the waffenrock would need to go over the head without closures, I modified those seams so they went straight down instead. Oh, and I made the sleeves bigger. (MUCH BIGGER, Muahahaha!)
Then I settled down and mapped out my cutting diagram. For the blue areas, it was easy, I needed a blue and a white of each of the sleeve, and the front and back of the doublet. But, for the red and white, I needed to cut out strips to make stripes.
For the sleeves and the doublet I decided I wanted my stripes to be two inches wide, so I cut them three inches wide with a half inch seam allouance. For the skirt, I wanted the pleats to match the two inches at the top, so I settled on box pleats, which would need to be six inches wide (plus another inch for seam allowance). The skirt strips were 23 inches long (which ended up being a tad short).
Next came many ours of pinning and sewing stripes together.
The stripes for the doublet had to be sewn together carefully so that they would be large enough to be trimmed down to the size of the doublet pattern.
By this time, I decided it was time to get to work on the blue portions of our flag. Which involved cutting out stars. To do this I printed off a star from online, because stars are strange shapes. I copied this star to a bit of poster board and used it as my template. I then cut out 13 stars out of tissue paper and pinned them to the fabric to determine my star placement.
After I was happy with the placement, I used my poster board template to trace the star shapes onto the fabric in *gasp* sharpee, before I cut them out. I did the same with the stars on the doublet.
The best part of this garment is that it is 100% historically plausable. Woodcuts of Landsknecht often show them wearing slashing in the shape of stars. Though, usually these are six pointed stars that are, ehem, easier to cut out. Indeed, cutting out these stars made me wonder what the heck Betsy was thinking! At this time we decided that I would not “finish” the edges of the stars because it gave the stars a more pointy american feel. Because the fabric is wool it is not likely to unravel anyway.
And so I sewed up the seams of the doublet and after ironing the seams open sewed down all the edges with a herringbone stitch.
It was around this time that I realized the seams of the stripes were too floppy so I sewed them all down too. And then I tackled the neckline, which I folded inward a half inch and sewed down as well, securing each piece by hand as a helpful Tossfrau must have done 500 years ago. I did this treatment to all of the interior seams except the ones inside the sleeves and the skirt.
Next it was time to do my favorite thing, which is sew on those giant sleeves. I gathered the sleeves using two lines of running stitches and pulled them taught. The sleeves were 45″ wide and gathered down into a much smaller hole.
I sewed the sleeves in on the machine, and then did the same to the cuffs. For those I cut out a 14″ by 3″ piece of white fabric and sewed the gathered sleeve to one end before pressing it down and sewing the interior by hand.
Now it was time to focus on the skirt. I had sewed the strips together, and pressed the seams flat. Then I turned under the bottom hem by one inch and began the pain staking process of hand sewing a 132″ hem, where I had to change my thread color every six inches.
It was so worth it in the end.
I then pinned and ironed the two inch box pleats into the fabric. I cannot explain how I did this, only that it was difficult and took more trial and error than I wanted to deal with. I then basted those pleats together so that they wouldn’t go anywhere before I sewed them to the doublet.
Next, suddenly there was only one thing left to do, but to sew the skirt to the doublet and months of quarentine work would be done!
And off the Betsy Rossenrock went to New Jersey to celebrate Independence Day
Overall, both Engle and I were very happy with the way that this project turned out! I love how the Betsy Rossenrock behaves in motion, and I love the bright colors. I also love how we were able to connect the design to history!