Tutorial: How to pre-wash fabric

So, you’ve been shopping. You’ve got yourself some nice fabric which you’re planning to have turned into your brand new medieval clothing.

Purchases! Including two lengths of fabric for medieval clothes.

However, before you can cut your fabric out and sew it together you first need to pre-wash it. This tutorial will show you how.

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Tutorial: A 14th Century hair and veil style

A popular fourteenth-century veil style is to have a pair of plaits framing your face which are visible under your veil.

Follow our tutorial to recreate it.

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Tutorial: Women’s footed hose

I’ve been re-enacting since 2002, and have made cotes, shifts, veils, hoods and surcotes. I have had a go at making almost every piece of standard feminine soft kit except hose!  I had always been a little intimidated by footed hose. Every time I had looked into making some I saw tutorials which required so many measurements – 26 in one version – or required a complex pattern which I wasn’t happy scaling up to my big feet.

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Show report: Newport Ship Open Day – October 2016

Cardiff Castle Garrison were thrilled to return to the Newport Ship for another Open Day. The charity are continuing to preserve the 15th Century timbers of the ship found in the River Usk in 2002, and hope to finish this process over the next year. They then plan to display the ship in a purpose-built museum.

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Show report: Bank holiday at Caerphilly Castle – 28th & 29th August

Garrison had a lovely time this August bank holiday with a show at the thirteenth-century Caerphilly Castle.

Craft, clothing, cooking, weapons and armour displays were provided for the public.

Please check out our photos below, and thanks to everyone who came and made it such a fun event!

Show report: Grand Medieval Melee at Cardiff Castle – 13th & 14th August

Another old favourite this weekend at Cardiff Castle’s Grand Medieval Melee: a show Garrison have been attending for many years. As usual, we had a wonderful time demonstrating crafts, clothing, arms and armour, and even had authentic music provided by one of our members. Have-A-Go archery was also a great hit with the public. Thanks so much to everyone who came along and made it such a special show for us.

NB: Garrison are going to be super-busy over the next couple of weeks. Please drop in and see us at the Newport Ship Open Day on 20th August, or at Caerphilly Castle on 28th and 29th August. See our event page for more detail.

Review: The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant, 2nd edition

So, I have Sarah Thursfield’s The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant: making common garments 1200-1500 (1st edition) and my friend bought The Medieval Tailor’s Assistant: Common Garments 1100-1480 (2nd edition – revised and expanded). So, as I’m sure many of you are absolutely dying to know what’s in the new edition, we thought I should write a review and comparison.


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Herjolfsnes Challenge

Sometimes an idea seems to spread; you can’t be sure if you thought it up yourself or if you are just catching it from your community.  This has just happened to me with the Herjolfsnes Challenge!

Some of the wool earmarked for my Herjolfsnes garments, from left to right: yellow for hose, blue for a hat and grey twill for the surcote.

Herjolfsnes is a site in Greenland where the dead were buried wrapped in clothes. Those clothes were preserved by the cold and now represent a wonderful collection of ordinary garments which are believed to have been made between 1100 and 1400.  As Greenland was a colony of Iceland and Iceland had close links with Scandinavia these clothes seem to follow European fashions.  As the clothing of ordinary people is so rarely preserved it is difficult to tell how much these garments differ from those worn towards the core of Europe as we have so little to compare them to. Nevertheless this is a fantastic resource for all re-enactors seeking to get closer to an authentic impression of the Middle Ages.

A little while ago I borrowed from Membership Officer Miriam her copies of “Woven into the Earth” and “Medieval Garments Reconstructed” (http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/woven-into-the-earth.html and http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/medieval-garments-reconstructed.html) intending to use them as a source for my new surcote. It looks like I am not the only one with these plans:

Merviand her lovely madder dress: http://hibernaatio.blogspot.se/2015/08/oranssi-mekko-toinen-otos-orange-dress.html

Elina who got us all together on Facebook: http://www.neulakko.net/?p=9988

Andrea who like me and a few others is warming up to the challenge with a hood: http://andrea-hakansson.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/en-till-herjolfsneshatta-another.html

As my plans involved plenty of things I hadn’t done before I decided to start with something fairly small to learn some of the new techniques: a hood for Displays Officer Sam.  As I have no experience with patterns I chose the one that best matched Sam’s measurements without modification which was D10597 (Norland number 66 from the original excavation reports).

The patterns in “Medieval Garments Reconstructed” are at 1:5 scale so a couple of hours’ work with a pencil and ruler on squared paper got me my pattern.

Herjolfsnes D10597 pattern
Main pattern piece for D10597 (Norland 66), I cleverly forgot to include the pieces for the centre front gore and liripipe in this picture, one is a triangle, the other is a rectangle.

My cloth was a little small for the pattern so I had to move it around until it fit. This means I have had to ignore the twill pattern, though the original makers of these garments were very careful to keep the twill pattern continuous around the whole garment.

Fitting my pattern onto the dark grey wool twill, a charity shop bargain for this first experiment.
Fitting my pattern onto the dark grey wool twill: a charity shop bargain for this first experiment.

Cutting was easy as this cloth is so well fullered that fraying just doesn’t happen, this also means pinning was virtually impossible so I used heavy stuff to hold the pattern in place instead. The nearest heavy thing? “Woven into the Earth”!

The point of no return!
The point of no return!

As the pattern is so straightforward I didn’t bother with muslins or tacking. I started off pinning my seams but that was even worse than when I tried pinning the pattern down!

According to the book the seams used a running stitch from the outside with the allowances whipped down on the inside. I started doing this but quickly found the thickness of my wool made running stitch impossible, I tried a hem stitch but found a stab stitch worked very close to the edge was more effective for a smooth finish. I also found working the whip stitch first on the back made it far easier to manage the seam.

Sewing the seams.
Sewing the seams.

I started sewing with my bronze needle; it is my favourite sewing tool and I have never found one quite like it but have since switched to a modern one as I didn’t want this heavy sewing to damage my precious.

My bronze sewing needle and thread.
My bronze sewing needle and thread.

The Herjolfsnes garments were sewn with an unplied wool thread, probably specially spun to be suitable for the job. Having tried sewing with a commercially produced crewel wool before I thought I would try spinning my own. The bought wool was too thick and rough to sew easily with on wool cloth and if I split it into singles it was too weak. I had some white Cotswold fibre on my spindle so I have been unwinding a couple of feet of thread at a time from the spindle, overspinning it and using that to sew with.

Hood 1/3 done with my spindle.
Hood 1/3 done with my spindle. The whorl is lead and the initial spinning was done on a distaff.

The liripipe pieces were whipped on as I couldn’t find how the originals were done and I wanted to keep the bulk down to avoid any odd kinks when it is worn. As you may be able to see, I have yet to sew the top and front seams or add the centre front gore.

So there should be another post soon as I get this finished, then another when the long planned  D10581 gets started!

If you are working on your own Herjolfsnes reconstruction I would love to see it, so please comment!

Guide: Historical men’s headwear

During the 14th Century, it was normal for adult men to go out in public with their heads covered,  in much the same way as Orthodox Jewish men often wear some form of head covering when outside today. In the 14th Century men would commonly cover their hair with coifs, hats, or hoods. Later in the century chaperons also started to appear.

This post will focus on the different headcoverings available to people of various classes during the 14th Century, and will show both historical images and modern recreations as worn by members of the Garrison. It will focus exclusively on civilian headwear and will not look at military helmets.

Why cover the hair?
There were many considerations which influence the abundance of headcoverings for men. Apart from religious motivations, covering your head was a vastly practical thing to do: it helped keep hair more hygienic by protecting it from wood smoke and also limited the spread of lice. In warm weather, lightweight brimmed hats kept the sun off and in winter a heavyweight woolen hoods helped keep the wind and the rain out and kept one warm.

Coifs were the most basic form of headwear for men in the fourteenth century, and were either worn on their own or are occasionally depicted in manuscripts worn in conjunction with hats and hoods. They were typically made of unbleached and undyed linen (which allowed them to be washed frequently), as they come in direct contact with the body. At the beginning of the century, coifs were worn by a wide cross section of society from the very poorest to wealthy individuals. The main difference between lower-  and higher-class coifs was the quality of fabric used to make them, with lower-class coifs made from unbleached, coarse linen, and higher-class coifs made of bleached, finer linen.

Coifs can be worn in conjunction with hats and hoods as the linen would absorb sweat and grease from the hair. This would stop it from soaking into the (coloured) wool of the hat or hood, which needed to be washed as little as possible to stop the dye from fading.

During the 14th Century, use of coifs decreased dramatically amongst the upper echelons of society and coifs were more likely to be seen on poorer individuals or those who needed to appear respectable and/or conservatively dressed, for example physicians and lawyers. You can see parallels of this today with lawyers even now wearing more formal clothes than the average person (you would also probably be more likely to trust a lawyer wearing a suit than a pair of jeans). Although coifs were much rarer by the end of the 14th Century amongst all class, they did persist well into the 15th Century.

Hats were also common headgear for 14th Century men and were worn by all classes of society. Straw hats were one of the most basic types of hat, and were generally wide-brimmed and used to protect the head and neck from the sun. Pilgrim hats were also common, in a wide-brimmed style similar to a basic straw hat. These hats were worn as a practical garment to keep out sun and rain whilst on pilgrimage. They were made of felted wool in various colours and often had some kind of religious adornment. For example some had one side of the brim pinned up with a pilgrim badge – an accessory which commemorated an individual’s pilgrimage. Other kinds of felted hat were also worn for a variety of activities, for example the “bycocket”, a style of felted hat often worn for hunting.

Note: it is not necessary for Garrison members to wear a hat in conjunction with a coif unless they wish to. It is difficult to know how common the usage of coifs in conjunction with hats is, whilst there are some depictions of them worn in this style hats worn alone seem to be more common.


Hoods were an outer-layer woolen garment worn by both men and women. Unlike today, they were a separate item of clothing and not attached to the main outer garment such as the coat or cloak. There are some differences between men and women’s hood styles. Men’s hoods did not always have a front opening because they did not need to be worn in conjunction with veiling as women’s hoods were. Hoods were worn by people of all stations and men’s hoods were often highly decorated with fashionable features such as dagging, liripipes, embroidery and applique. Hoods appear to quickly replace the coif from the very beginning of the 14th Century and by its end were the most abundant type of headwear, worn by all classes. In the late 14th Century, hoods begin to be worn by younger men in more daring and, to modern eyes, somewhat bizarre styles, apparently for the sake of fashion. It is theorised that this is where the later so-called ‘chaperon’ style comes from.

Note: again, it is not necessary for Garrison members to wear a hood in conjunction with a coif unless they wish to – perhaps if they are depicting someone from a more old-fashioned profession such as a physician.

From the mid-14th Century, some fashionable men took to wearing their hoods in a style now known as a ‘chaperon’. To do this, the face opening was rolled back before being placed on the head like a hat. The liripipe was then wrapped around the hood to create a decorative shape.

As time progressed, this style became more exaggerated until, in the 15th Century it developed into a hat consisting of a stuffed roll of fabric with trailing vestiges of the liripipe and cape.

 Garrison Members’ Hats

A coif:

A straw hat:

A pilgrim’s hat:

A hood, worn conventionally:

The same hood, worn chaperon style:

Note: While we have attempted to find images as date- and regional-appropriate as possible, it was necessary to make some concessions due to the lack of available public domain images, therefore some of these images as from as early as 1250. However, in all cases, the styles of headwear they depict are well represented in mid to late 14th Century British manuscripts.

Working Kit

We have been sharing basic kit guides and authenticity guidelines recently so I thought you might like to see an example of a working re-enactment kit. There are lots of possible additions and variations but this is the kit I wear at shows to cook to spin and anything else that needs doing!

A re-enactor’s wardrobe.

From the skin out we have socks (these are cheap woolly sheep-coloured ones from a high street shop) I always bring more socks than I need. If my boots rub I can layer them if i get wet I can change them and I always forget which pair falls down/is full of holes.  Footed hose are on my to do list to complete my outfit,  the evidence suggests they were more common than knitted socks.

Assorted shifts.

Shift (s!).  one of my favourite luxuries is a clean fresh shift every day. If the show is hot or wet the last thing I want to do is put yesterday’s worn shift on so I take one for each day of the event. The white shift I made in (far too sheer) linen in 2004 the grey one is a  construction that gives me some bust support in a herringbone woven linen made in 2011(it was going to be a lining for something else hence the anachronistic shaping) and the cream linen one is the simplest and therefore the least full of holes made in 2005. The moral is: repair re-use and recycle.  You can never have too much underwear.

Clockwise from top left. Veils and wimples bleached and unbleached. Saint Birgittas cap. Woollen hood lined in linen and embroidered in wool. Veil pins hair pins pins comb and fillet.

Veils and wimples two sets for when I get baked beans/chocolate/ raspberry juice down the first set a cap after the Saint Birgitta’s style and my fillet so I can choose from different hairstyles. Brass hair pins based on a find from London to pin my hair up fashionably and a horn comb to dress my hair with. Three silver veil pins to fasten my veils in place.  The hood goes over the top of everything if the weather is bad.

Blue woollen dress brown leather belt and linen apron.

My blue woollen dress. It made its debut in 2005 and took about a week to make with machine sewn seams and hand sewn hems like all my re-enactment clothes. I hand dyed this after I’d sewn it as I couldn’t decide on a colour when I bought the wool I was very lucky this didn’t shrink it but it does mean the dye has faded in a very authentic way that is unusual with modern chemical dyes. This dress is a very simple style with no fastenings suitable for women of most classes and particularly appropriate for the faded and patched common woman’s dress it is now.

I wear this dress with a long leather belt and if I am doing anything remotely messy a coarse linen apron. Washing plant dyed wool using medieval methods was difficult and as I only have one dress it pays to take care of it. The belt was one of my first purchases back in 2002 and the apron was a gift from a friend.

Borrowed boots.

Boots in a sturdy unisex style. The brilliant thing about re enacting is the wonderful friends you make who will lend you their boots when the ones you bought 12 years ago finally fall apart after rain turns a show into a mudbath!

So this is the basic kit of a re-enactor who has been doing it for a while. It didn’t happen overnight and it is still a work in progress but it has worked well for me. I hope this gives you a few ideas about what you would like your kit to be like and what you need to make or buy.

My outfit in 2005 when it was brighter and smarter and I was slimmer.
Alice, our Chairwoman, and I outside a stall in the market.
My blue dress old and faded but the most comfortable garment I own.