“You can never have too much garb.”
“Especially at Pennsic.”
In an effort to help all get garb together, I offer the following suggestions.
Garb you do not need to sew: mundane articles from a thrift store that will pass as a reasonable effort at pre-1600s clothing. See “The Thrifty Anachronist” handout (you can get one from Mathilda).
Easiest reasonably period garb to make and wear: tunic. You do not need a pattern, just someone experienced to show you how. Tunics were worn throughout Europe by both men and women from Roman times through the 1500s.
Men: thigh-length; wear pants underneath. Add a belt.
Women: floor-length or at least angle-length. Sleeves should be full-length; if you’re going to want them out of the way a lot, make them so they’ll roll up. Add a belt if you wish.
Amount of material needed: 2+ yards for a man, 3+ yards for a woman. Minimum of 44” wide; 60” is better. A fabric as wide as the distance between your wrists when you hold your arms out away from your body is optimum.
Fabric: as much natural fiber content as you can afford or find. Natural fibers for tunics include wool, linen, and cotton. There are many fabrics that are a blend of two or more fibers. Get at least 50% natural fiber, for instance a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend. 60/40 or higher is even better. Why? Because these fabrics will breathe. You will be much more comfortable, and everyone around you will also because you won’t stink so much. Plus, they’re period. Stay away from 100% synthetics—they don’t breathe. No denim, please.
Go for solid colors. Unless you know what you’re doing, stay away from fabric with patterns. See “The Thrifty Anachronist” handout for weight and weave of material to look for, colors, etc.
How much garb is enough? For Pennsic, you will need garb for both hot weather and cold, rainy weather. If you’re fighting or doing other strenuous exercise, you will need several changes of clothing each day. Even people who loll around in camp all day will want some extra changes so they can get out of their hot, sticky clothing once it starts to cool down.
Patterns available in your local fabric store. Simplicity, Butterick, and McCall’s have all put out patterns in recent years that claim to be medieval or Renaissance. Simplicity’s seem to be the best. There’s nothing wrong with making your first garb from a Simplicity pattern. However, stay away from patterns marked “costume”. These are patterns for Halloween costumes and suchlike and are not designed for comfortable wear. Look for patterns marked with a definite time period. “Medieval” is OK; “Renaissance” is good, something more specific like “1400s Irish” is even better. A few mainstream companies have put out a line of patterns which claim to be historically correct. They’re not, but they are more authentic than their other patterns. They’re also more complex. There are detailed reviews of many of the available patterns at www.reddawn.net/costume/costpat.htm and www.virtue.to/articles/modern_patterns.html.
Patterns for Authentic Clothing: For those who want more authentic garb than can be made from a pattern from your standard fabric store, there are some really good patterns available. They require advanced sewing skills, so they’re not the place to start if you’re just learning to sew.
Period Patterns (that’s the company name). Their line includes patterns for medieval military garments such as a surcoat, arming cap, etc. Most patterns are specific as to time and place.
La Fleur de Lyse Patterns – I recently ran across their medieval line of patterns on the internet. They look as if they ought to be good. One package has patterns for children.
Rockinghorse-farm – another internet find whose patterns look good.
Folkwear – these are designed for making traditional clothing for various ethnic groups. They’re not period, but some of them are close to period garments in places where traditions haven’t changed all that much since the middle ages. You need to know what you’re looking for to select a Folkwear pattern that will work for the SCA.
Also for advanced sewers, there are entire books that show you how to create period clothing:
The Medieval Tailor's Assistant by Sarah Thursfield – covers many basic garments from 1200-1500s Europe (highly recommended—Thomas has a copy).
Medieval Costume and How to Recreate It by Dorothy Hartley. A British theater costumer’s take, but the attention to authenticity is awesome. Thomas has a copy.
Elizabethan Costuming For the Years 1550-1580 by Janet Winter & Carolyn Savoy. This is geared toward the RenFair crowd rather than completely authentic, but an excellent resource. Thomas has a copy.
I’m sure there are more books out there that we don’t know about.
Patterns for authentic garb are more expensive than Simplicity, but you get more for your money. Typically, one pattern will show you how to make the garment for a range of sizes, and often several different patterns are included in one package, not just minor variations. These can be found on the web and also for sale at larger events (like Pennsic).
There are also all sorts of patterns and suggestions out on the web at various SCA sites.
About the author:
Lady Mathilda Harper is a Tudor housewife who has learned to pinch pennies.
Mathilda Navias lives in the 21st century, where she shops frequently at thrift stores. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.