14th-15th Century

Making a kirtle to wear under my kirtles

Lengberg_bra_600_years_570I’m faced once again with shrinking out of my fitted kirtle (I know, rough problem to have). This means I again need to re-fit my bodice pattern and make new clothes. I hate that. I mean I have four workable if slightly big dresses which I would like to continue to wear and making all new clothes is a pain.

After thrashing about this for a while and reading a few threads in the Age of the Cotehardie Facebook group I’ve decided instead to make a Lendberg bra dress. That way the .. ahem heavy lifting will be handled by an under garment and I can continue to wear the dresses I have for a while longer. That said.. I recognize that I’m trying to recreate late 15th century French fashions.. and the bras are German/Austrian/Bohemian. I’m fundamentally ok with that. Honestly I’m just looking for something to extend the life of my current dresses while I’m shrinking out of them… though I may be tempted to use this as a support layer going forward.

[Edited to add: Yeah, ok I decided to make a Lengberg bra and I said I was ok with it.. but the more I worked on it the less happy I was with the decision. I finally decided instead to just tackle a whole new fitting and make a kirtle to go under my kirtles. I hate fitting a new kirtle. It takes a long time and is just less zen than straight up sewing. Regardless I finally figured out that’s what I needed to do and I just did it. I did -start- with a duct tape pattern.. but that was not the end of it.]

Since the last time I made a fitted bodice I’ve read a couple of very good articles and plan to try to incorporate those lessons into this fitting.

I use the same pattern for both my German garb and my 15th century kirtles. It makes sense to me as I remain the same shape. The difference is that the 15th century kirtle is fitted to my natural waist (about belly-button level) while the German bodice ends at the bottom of my ribs (about 2 inches above my natural waist).

Problems with previous pattern:
– I believe that I again fitted the pattern with me standing at attention with my shoulders thrown back. This means the dresses made with the pattern were comfortable as long as I was standing upright, but if I slouched or laid down I got a pain in my back in between my shoulder blades from the way the fabric pulled on my body. I want to pay special attention this time to see if I can eliminate this issue.
– The last dress was supportive but I could still wriggle into/out of the dress. I think this is because the under-bust breast band wasn’t actually as tight as it should be. I plan to bring this in. This should have the side effect of making a lace mandatory.
– I believe the armseye on the last pattern was too big. On this one I want to fit closer to the arm and eliminate some of the excess fabric the pattern was forcing me to add into the top of the sleeve.
– I am still dearly in love with short-sleeved kirtles with pin on sleeves. That said, since my son is still in my arms and carried quite a bit I can’t use pin on sleeves for fear of poking/scratching him. This time I may do a full length fitted sleeve. That said, I still want to be able to push the sleeve up to my elbows in case I need to wash dishes.

For this fitting I’m using a zipper on the center front seam to make it easier to get into/out of the dress for iterating on the fitting. This has been super great since it’s nice and fast. The only wrinkle is that the zipper takes up a different amount of seam allowance than the final lace placket will. I’ll need to take that into account when I cut out the final dress. I -think- I just need to add 1/2 seam allowance to the center front seam and I’ll be good.


breastbandBreast Band – (outlined in dotted lines in image to the left) In the kirtle, cotehardie, gothic fitted gown the breasts are kept up by having the pattern tightly fitted to the body. There is a band about 2-3 inches wide which runs below the breasts on the rib cage. If this band is nice and tight it’s impossible for the breasts to “droop”. Above the band the breasts are shaped by the space available in the pattern and the tautness of the fabric both from the side seam and from the shoulder seam. Below the band the pattern should at most skim the the body. I do not recomend shaping the body below the breast band.

By My Measure: How to Pattern a Gothic Fitted Dress http://wp.bymymeasure.com/fitting-and-construction/pattern-a-gothic-fitted-dress
My SCA Garb: kirtle Pattern Class Handout http://myscagarb.blogspot.com/2012/11/kirtle-pattern-class-handout.html
Ikatbag: Subtleties in Drafting: Sleeves http://www.ikatbag.com/2014/03/subtelties-in-drafting-sleeves.html

Lengberg sources
Das Eyneforum http://www.eyneburg.eu/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=4695
Medieval Silkwork: Supportive underwear # visual sources
Medieval Silkwork: Supportive underwear # written sources
Good Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/modehistorique/lengberg-underwear-links/
Katafalk: https://katafalk.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/lengberg-castle-brassiere/
By My Measure: Breastbags and Kerchiefs: http://wp.bymymeasure.com/958/breastbagsandkerchiefs


Since I don’t have another costumer readily available to help with a fitting I’m instead going to ask my husband to help me make a duct tape pattern. It feels like cheating but I think that will be a nice quick way to get a mostly accurate form to help make the pattern.

On Thursday 1/8/2015 my husband taped me up with duct tape to get a somewhat reasonable proximity of my body shape. I kicked around the idea of turning this into an actual dress dummy and using it for fittings but discarded the idea mostly because I don’t have the space for a dress dummy and because the duct tape was a lot more squishy than I’d like for a dress dummy. I may consider it again in the future.

Regardless, while contemplating fitting the bra-dress the squishiness of the duct tape pattern really bugged me. Finally I decided I’d cut the duct tape into pieces and do my best to flatten those into pattern pieces. This seems to be working relatively well. The back piece and the breast cup came out pretty well. The front piece looks like I’ll have to spend quite a while monkeying with the pattern to get it exactly right.

Sunday 1/25/2015
I traced the duct tape back piece onto some linen and added 1/2″ seam allowance. For this iteration I did a one piece back. I was right that the back is looking pretty good aside from the fact that the “breast band” didn’t end up on the straight grain. To fix this I’m going to add seam allowance to the center back and re-trace the pattern onto some linen with the “breast band” on the straight grain. This has the effect both that the “breast band” will have no stretch and it will allow me to pinch in the center back a bit to get the pattern to conform better to the shape of my back.

I monkeyed with the front pattern piece a bit so that both the center front and the breast band were on the straight grain. Then I added a zipper to the center front to make it easier to get into/out of the pattern while I’m fitting it.

At this point I have Xs where my breast come through the pattern. It’s terribly embarrassing and NO, there will not be any pictures uploaded (breast-a-flailing and all).

Fitting this lengberg-like garment has the happy side effect of giving me a practically perfect fitting for my lower bodice. When I go to fit my next bodice I just need to jigger the upper bodice (ie, above the “breast band”) in order to have a better fitting bodice. I’m kind of liking this. In fact.. I’m almost tempted to skip the bra-dress and jump straight into fitting a more-perfect bodice instead.

Tuesday 1/27/2015
Iteration V1.0 fit pretty well but I think I got a bit slap-happy with the seam allowance. For V1.5 removed 1/2″ from each side of the center front and sewed the side seams each in another 1/4″. At this point it’s fitting well (aside from the whole breasts-a-flailing thing). I decided I don’t like the placement of the shoulder seam so I’m moving that to the top of the shoulder for V2.0.

I also decided for V2.0 to try adding additional inches to the top of the pattern (above the “breast band”) to accommodate my breasts (instead of leaving it as holes in the pattern to be filled with cups). I know this is side-ways from what I originally intended.. but if I can easily get my new bodice fitted then I guess I’d rather make a new dress than limp along my old ones.

Sunday 2/1/2015
(Changes from V1.5 to V2: Moved shoulder seam placement, cut back as two pieces with breast band on the straight, added 3″ to each side of the front above the breastband)
First iteration was too loose so I sewed in the back seam 1/4″ and then another 1/4″. The breastband was still too loose but the pattern was starting to get too tight below the breastband. I sewed the breast band in another 1/4″ and then another 1/4″ on either side. At this point the breast band is nice and tight. To test this I pulled up on the pattern while I was wearing it an bounced. At this point my breasts stay above the breastband no matter how much I relax or bounce.

In adding the 3″ to the front above the breastband I was uncertain what that’d do to the armseye so I re-drew the armseye from V1.5 onto the edge of the fabric for V2. I tried that but it wasn’t in the right place. I ended up having to re-cut a nice high armseye. After I recut the armseye I noticed I have a lot of fabric on the front of the armseye at the armput level. I was able to get rid of some of that by rotating the seam at the shoulder. I left it where it was on the neckhole side and raised it 1/2″ on the armpit side. This pulls the fabric out of that area.

The added 3″ above the breastband was just about perfect (I’m a DDD and the fitting guides say that translates to a bust which is 6″ larger than your breastband). I’m now tinkering with the angle which should be on the side between the breastband and the breast area. Initially I started with something like a shelf.. but that lead to folding under the bosom. I’m now tweaking the fit to get a gradual slope instead. I’m a little bit worried that if I push the breast mass up any further it will pop right out the current neckline. Since I’m totally committed to pushing the mass up I’ve decided to move the neckline up a bit in the next version so that I’ll have fabric to work with.

At this point the breastband is fitting nicely but I’ve snorked the pattern in too far under the breast band. When I sit or relax in the pattern it’s bunching above my belly. Also I’m seeing stress lines along the breastband. Both of these signs tell me that the pattern is too tight below the breastband.

Wednesday 2/4/2015
(Changes from V2 to V3: keep the breastband the same, smooth the transition from the breastband to the breast area above the breastband to be more gradual, adding 2″ to each side in a swoop below the breast band, add 2″ at front neckline just in case it’s needed.)

I tried on V3 and decided that the breast band needed to be snorked in a little bit further so I sewed it in yet another 1/4″ on each side. The added flair below the breastband is working out well so I’m leaving that alone. I decided that the 2″ I added at the neckline was too much so I cut out 1″ of that. I also squared off the front and back necklines since I’ve decided to go with a square neck on this pattern. In all the futzing the seam on the top of the sleeve had drifted forwards so I marked where I wanted the seam to fall and resewed that. When I did that I think I got that a bit too tight (I’m feeling a lot of tension over my shoulder at the neckline) so I’ll need to re-adjust that but other than that this version is looking good and possibly done.

While I had V3 on I put my blue kirtle on over it. The back neckline is the only place where the new under-kirtle shows. Husband confirmed the girls now look “perky” in my blue dress. So I count that as a win.

Plan #1: Faced with several less-than-supportive garments and West Coast Culinary Symposium happening in less than 2 weeks I don’t want to try to make a whole new dress between now and then so instead I want to make something supportive to wear under my current kirtles. This new garment will have the supportive shape I’ve achieved from this set of fittings. The front will be a single piece of fabric (ie, eliminate the seam where the zipper is now) and I’ll add side lacing in order to get into/out of the garment. I’m planning to end the garment just below the breast band (it seems silly to have the extra fabric on the bottom in an undergarment). I may end up adding light linen sleeves and a skirt to the garment and using this garment instead of my current chemise. The sleeves/skirt are both TBD depending on how quickly I can make the new garment.

Plan #2: THEN after Plan #1 is complete and I’m no longer under a time crunch I plan to make a host of new kirtles using this pattern as the base. New garments will have square neckline and use a center-front lacing. I also plan to try out the skirt pattern outlined in “The Queen’s Servants” to see if I can get by with less-full skirts. That said.. the patterns in “The Queen’s Servants” are for “average” sized women.. and we all know I’m above average.. so their skirt pattern may not work for me. We’ll see.

Friday 2/6/2015
(Changes from V3 to “Supportive Fitted Under kirtle”: Pattern only extends down to the bottom of the breast band. Front is cut as one piece (ie no center front seam). Squared off the front neckline and re-cut the back neckline to match my previous set of kirtles.)

Underkirtle construction notes.

I tried on my V3 mockup and then put my blue kirtle on over the mockup and had my husband mark the neckline in the back. Then I cut the mockup so that the underkirtle will not show under my existing kirtles. This will work for the underkirtle but I think I’ll have to go back and re-do the neckline on the mockup for a V4. The new pattern with the old neckline is just too narrow in the back.

For the underkirtle I decided to remove the fabric below breast band (it wasn’t used in the support and it doesn’t seem to be necessary for the function of the under kirtle). This led me to think about the flair I currently have below the breast band. In a full kirtle this flair is necessary so that I can sit comfortably without my belly pushing the bodice up. At this point in the mockup I’ve tried to keep the center front and center back seams on the straight grain. The theory being that straigh grain fabric has the least amount of stretch and will provide the best support. In thinking about this I have decided that the straight grain is only necessary at and above the breast band where all of the “supporting” occurs. So in the next version of this mockup I’m going to move some of the flair out of the side seams and into the front/back seams instead. This will cut down on the “flappy-ness” at the side seam and give even more space for me to relax. I think this will also release the few remaining stress wrinkles I’m seeing below the breast band in V3.

Also with all the tugging and snorking of V1-V3 I think the back of the pattern got pulled up a bit. This means it’s sitting a bit above where I’d like it to be for a full kirtle. I’ll adjust this in V4.

Lastly, I will note I’m very very please with how high and tight the armseye is on the under kirtle. My previous kirtle’s armseye was very big and this led to a lot of issues fitting sleeves. I’m hopeful that when I finally get to making sleeves for this newest fitting it will be a much easier task since the new armseye fits so nicely.

I wore the under kirtle all day on Saturday and Sunday for the West Coast Culinary Symposium and then again on the following Saturday for the Northern Wolf Tournament.

On the plus side this kept my girls perky all day and not once did I notice any droop.
On the minus side: at WCCS I found the left strap was pulling uncomfortably on my shoulder (I have a shoulder impingement which makes the shoulder painful occasionally but this strap made it painful all the time). Also I found that as I moved around through the day (sitting and standing) the lace on the sides also moved. Occasionally this pinched me horribly. I think this happened because the lace was against bare skin. For Northern Wolf I wore a chemise under the under kirtle and changed the strap seam allowance to 1/4″ (from 1/2″) on the left side (giving my shoulder and extra 1/2″ range of movement). These changes fixed both issues.

After wearing the underkirtle for two days at Beltane I noticed that the armseye was cutting me a bit across the back of the arm. When I took off the underkirtle I noticed it had creased in such a way that told me where the back pattern needed to change just a bit to be more comfortable. I will be removing a small triangle from that pattern piece to make the armseys more comfortable.

Also looking at the underkirtle I decided that the seam for the shoulder strap needs to be at least 2 inches further in the back than it currently is for a full kirtle. I’ll move that on V4. Correction, I meant to move it but forgot to actually move it so instead I’ll move it on V5.

Sunday 5/17/2015 and Tuesday 5/26/2015
(Changes from “supportive fitted underkirtle” to V4: Redo back neckline about 2″ higher (eliminate weird narrowness of the back shoulder straps). Flare front and back seam below the breastband. Cut back on the flair of the side seams below the breast band. Lengthen back piece by adding ~2″ at bottom, straighten bottom edge of front piece based on back moving down, add 1/4″ onto each shoulder strap front and back. Open up the back armseye from the seam and up another 1/4 to 1/2″ )

We moved and I finally got everything else done enough and my sewing room arranged enough to get back to work on updating my bodice. Frankly I “lost” my sewing thread for 3 months so had to find it again before I could work on anything.

Since I already have my underkirtle done and wearable I’m now moving on to finishing the fitting for a new kirtle. This new fitting will not be worn under my existing kirtles so I’m no longer concerned with keeping the neckline of this new fitting matched so it doesn’t show under my old kirtles. I’ll continue to wear my old kirtles with the underkirtle until such time as I have enough of the new kirtles to get rid of the old kirtles.

I did take the learnings from the supportive fitted underkirtle and a couple other tweaks and incorporated this into the new pattern. Unfortunately in cutting out V4 something went wonky. Either I’ve changed shape again (totally possible) or I munged the pattern. Regardless I am going to have to make a few tweaks to this new pattern to get it workable. With the first iteration of this new pattern I found it’s just a bit sloppy. I took 1/4″ off of each side of the front and removed the 1/4″ off of the top of each arm strap I’d added. This made it better. The boobs are no longer drooping but there’s still a few problems. With tightening the straps I can again feel the pull in my bad shoulder. I’ll have to muck with this a while to make sure wearing the dress is not painful. Also when I bend over and shake I practically fall out of the neckline of the bodice. It looks like the issue is that there’s too much space between the straps at the top of the neckline.

There’s two possible fixes to this. I could take the excess fabric out of the center front or I can move the straps in closer on the outside edge. The first solution would cause my center front seam to no longer be on the straight grain above the breastband. Since I don’t want that I’ll instead go with the second (harder) solution. This is harder because this change may also change the top of the straps. Regardless, it’s what I’m going to do.

I pinned the top of the neckline and removed a “dart” from the V4 pattern to make V4.5(see pictures). This feels a lot more secure and I no longer feel like I am going to pop out of the neckline. Happily with removing this dart I can still flatten the V4/4.5 front pattern piece so I’ll just trace this over into a V5. Also with removing this dart its possible the angle of the shoulder straps has changed just enough that it no longer pulls on my bad shoulder. Win-win.

Thursday 5/28/2015
(Changes from V4 to V5: move seam on shoulder straps towards the back 2″(remove from front, add to back), remove dart of fabric from edges of neckline and incorporate into pattern, widen back straps and make sure the width is even and matches up with the front strap, trim bottom edge of back piece to make it match up more correctly with the front, flattened the seam at the breast band area and adjusted the slope in the breast area, set front and back breastbands on the straigh grain)

The three big change here are moving the strap seam 2″ further to the back of the garment, removing the darts from the front edge of the neckline and flattening the seam at the breastband area. The breastband seam had started to slope into the breast area. I want to be sure that the breast meat is kept above the breastband so I nipped a bit of fabric out of the breastband and then smoothed the transition from breastband to breast area. I’m hoping this will help to eliminate the last of the remaining wrinkles I see below the breasts in V4.5.

I also had a few fiddly changes that came up when I started to lay out V5 to cut it out. I finally realized that it’s not possible for me to have both the center front seam and the breast band on the straight grain. They’re just not perpendicular. After considering it for a while I decided it was more important for the breast band to be on the straight. Any stretch on the breastband will allow for my boobs to droops and wriggle their way into the breast band area. So I redrew the front pattern piece with the breast band on the straight and stopped trying to get the center front seam on the straight. This may also have the added bonus of removing some of the breastband level wrinkles I see in V4.5.

Also while laying out V5 I realized that my front and back straps were of slightly different widths. I adjusted the back straps and made them a bit wider by adding fabric into the neckline. I figure the armseye is pretty close to perfect so I didn’t want to mess with that side of the strap.

I also trimmed the bottom of the back piece to get it to match up better at the seam with the front pattern piece.

Tuesday 1/12/2016
(Changes from V5 to V5.5: Snorked in the breast band a bit more and tightened above the breastband, re-marked the bottom edge of the bodice to more correctly match with my natural waist)
After a very long break I’m back to this. A lot of things got in the way but I’m finally back to this. I tried on the pattern again. I’m seriously loving the zipper on the center front. That has made fiddling with the fitting of this SO much easier. In the last half year I’ve put on about 5 lbs but seem to have lost a bit right around the ribs (yeah?). So after I put on the pattern I was able to jiggle and jump around and droop my boobs a bit. I tightened the breast band by about 1/4″ on each side and then tightened above the breast band a bit. I’m still getting a weird burble on one breast (the one that’s a bit bigger than the other) but no amount of fiddling could get the burble to go away so I’m going to just move on to the making a dress out of this.

My new sewing area has much better lighting/mirrors than previously. In looking critically at the pattern I realized that both the front and the back of the pattern were too long and I re-marked them at a more appropriate level. This brings them both a lot closer to my natural waist.

With that I’m ready to move on to actually making a dress out of this. Wish me luck.

6 thoughts on “Making a kirtle to wear under my kirtles

  1. Pingback: Five Things: Sparkly! « Results Typical
  2. I'm tempted by the pictures posted here: http://wp.bymymeasure.com/958/breastbagsandkerchiefs and the similarities to these types of medieval images: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/164874036334513419/

    In the pinterest picture the gal on the left (middle class) has something white which makes a V over her shoulders.. and looks A LOT like the pictures Charlotte Wurtzel Johnson posted on her site.

    The gal on the right (upper class) has something black in the same position. The book Illuminating Fashion has a very interesting note about the black bit seen in a picture of Margaret of Austria:

    Specifically: Per "Illuminating Fashion" p. 248 "[neck of gown is filled by a] divided gorget of black velvet… Its inner edges are embroidered with her initial M alternating with a C… Her headdress … rectangle of cloth of gold is anchored on a narrow black velvet templet embroidered with a row of little gold scallop shells. Over it is a shoulder-length frontlet, likewise of black velvet edged by gold embroidery, and over it a long net of velvet-backed gold braid"

    The temptation is to make the leap and say that middle class women were just showing their bra-strap.. while upperclass women added a black velvet divided gorget to hide the strap. LIke I said, that's tempting. Especially when you start looking for that black gorget and see it almost everywhere on the upper class French/Brittany images.

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