Blue Linen Kirtle

This kirtle was made by my friend in a short space of time when I was new to the hobby. I “helped” (ie fetched her cups of tea) and sewed the hem and lacing rings on.

It was my first ever medieval dress. In this picture it’s not closed properly, it did close so the edges met. The sleeves, smock and headscarf in this photo were all borrowed, though later I did make my own.

The fabric is a 60/40 linen cotton blend I got on a bargin sale for about $4 a metre and I bought all I could afford (3.5 metres). I didn’t have enough money to buy matching thread, so I found some grey in my mother’s sewing stash. Fortunatley one of the ladies in my group had an exact match and gave me the spool.


This dress was made in 2004, and while I don’t wear it any more, I’ve done some repairs, sewn some better lacing rings on it and it’s still being worn by new reenactors to help them get to their first event.  It always makes me happy to see someone wearing it because it reminds me of all the people that helped me get into the hobby.


I had occasion to attend a Dark Ages event for which I needed earlier clothing. As usual the clothing looks wonky on Cecil because she is straight and I am not. In the photos the Smokkr (orange apron dress) is not hemmed, I hemmed it before the event.


Viking outfit from Kathelyne’s Wardrobe


Below is the layout I used for my Smokkr, it has four panels and four gores.


Smokkr or Apron Dress Layout from Kathelyne’s wardrobe


Viking outfit from Kathelyne’s Wardrobe



Viking serk from Kathelyne’s Wardrobe

The serk has tapered sleeves and side gores that reach into the sleeve. There is a seam at the armhole as I had to piece the gore there- it was coincidence that it happened at the armhole exactly! It has front and back gores and a keyhole neckline. All these things were new to me.



Viking serk from Kathelyne’s Wardrobe

To Make a Yellow Gamurra

My yellow gamurra began life in 2008 as nine metres of ‘shell pink’ linen, linen so light a pink that it was almost but not quite white.



I ripped the fabric in half (into two 4.5 metre pieces) and dyed half of it yellow with fibre reactive dyes.

I chose yellow because yellows, oranges and browns were (and still are) the most underused colours in re-enactment where I live, blue and red being the most overused. Also I have always loved yellows and oranges.

My first problem was that I didn’t have enough salt (my dad had used it for the pool- which is what it was bought for so I couldn’t really complain) but I figured to just go ahead anyway, and expected I might need to overdye, but I had plenty of dye.

Salt, according to the lady I bought the dye from is not used to ‘fix’ the colour, but to open up the fibres of the fabric and help the dye penetrate.

After soaking the linen in the dye and not-enough salt I added the soada ash which turned the dye bath bright red.

Then followed two hours of poking and prodding to keep the fabric moving, and the dye bath turning from red through to orange to yellow.


I was worried that the colour would come out too light, I’d dyed silk before but never linen.  I thought I would be left with a pale lemon yellow, but this is what I hung out on the line, so I was thrilled.


To date (which right now is nine years later), this dress is just as bright as it was when I first dyed it and I’ve never had an issue with the dye rubbing off onto my white camicia—which is more than can be said for some commercially dyed fabric.

Here is where things get a bit more interesting.  By now I had remembered that I had forgotten to dye some thread to sew the thing with. I had already dyed silk for a dress and hadn’t been able to get matching thread, so I swore nextime I would dye the thread with the fabric.

Sooo, back to my sewing box I went.  It turns out I had silk and linen thread not only the same colour, but the same shade as my fabric.  The linen was almost perfect but the silk matched sooo perfectly it wasn’t funny.  Now, it turns out I bought this silk (and linen) thread from the same lady that sold me the dye, so it would have been dyed with the same dye, but accounting for so many variations it was incredible luck it matched so completely.

Below is a photo of the sewn bodice back, you can see the stitches along the edg of the seam are a perfect match.


I altered my bodice pattern, the version I altered is the pattern I used for my pink V-necked cioppa. I chose that pattern over the brown gamurra bodice as my brown gamurra had armholes that cut in and I was re-shaping the front to give it a bit more shape anyway—I had lost weight and wanted something that emphasised my curves. I’d also be changing the neckline anyway.

I actually made a mock-up for this bodice, which is something you should always do but if you’re me you don’t do enough.
Here are the photos of my mock-up.





Keep in mind the neckline isn’t hemmed and there are no skirts pulling it down. I made the bodice longer than I wanted (apparently even longer in the back) as I wanted to work out the length on the finished bodice.


One change I did make from the mock-up is that I took it in a tad at the top of the back seam.  It was gaping a tad too much.

I made the mock-up with the layers I was planning to use on my finished bodice (except calico for the outer layer rather than linen).  The layers were meant to be yellow linen (outer) cotton canvas (interlining) and calico (lining).  I had never used cotton canvas on a gamurra before, but had on my cioppa.

I wanted to use it because this bodice will be closed fully, which meant that the lacing rings would be sewn a bit back from the edge (where you would place eyelets), and the linen was quite light weight.  I wanted the extra strength to anchor the lacing rings to in order to stop pulling and any possible damaging of the linen.

I also wanted to try out a heavier weight bodice.  It would also mean I could have less of a turn back along the front opening than I usually would, because I didn’t need the turnback thickness to anchor the lacing rings on.


So I sat down and in one day I made the final alterations to the bodice, cut out and hand sewed the whole thing.  I made the bodice by hemming all the pieces first and whip stitching them together. When I hem the pieces I stack all the layers together and tread it like a single layer (but I usually cut the lining to the finished sixe so I am only hemming over the fashion fabric.


But…. I completely forgot the cotton canvas layer. Like, I got the fabric out with the calico and linen, but completely forgot to cut it out at all. OOOPS.  Also, I got carried away and hemmed the neckline, which meant if I wanted to lower it I needed to un-hem it and cut it and re-hem it.


I spent a few days wondering what to do. I had nothing against a light weight bodice (I live in a hot climate), but I did want to try a heavier one for this dress.  I’ve never had any problems with lacing rings pulling in the past, but this fabric is a looser weave than any other dress where I’ve put the rings back from the edge.  While one front edge was sewn perfectly, the other wasn’t quite the smooth curve I wanted.  I was facing the possibility of having to redo the front neckline anyway.

I sat and thought about my choices. They ranged from leaving it as is and seeing how it turned out, to sewing handmade eyelets (that got knocked off the list pretty quick!) to completely re-doing it.

The advice I got was mostly along the lines of “why are you asking? Why dither? You know what you have to do and will regret it if you don’t.”—put in a nice and supportive way. So I started unpicking. Once I started unpicking it, however, I found the yellow panels seemed to have warped differently to the calico lining. It took me a whole evening just to pin the front panels flat with their linings after they were unpicked. I got around this with the back panels by pinning them to a cushion and peeling off the lining as I removed and replaced the pins and repeating once I had the interlining to add back in.

I believe it was at this stage the bodice got the nickname ‘the evil bodice of doom’


Anyway, I sewed the bodice together and most of the lacing rings (from the top down) and I had my mother mark the waist line, and I had a bit of a problem with the lacing rings at the bottom.

Here are the bodice try-on pics.



Please note the waist of the bodice is straight, I and the photo are not.


The top lacing ring isn’t sewn on in the pics, which is why the front is jutting out like that at the top (that and I haven’t finished the neckline) so here is me holding it together up the top.


It curves in once the top is held together (not quite the right shape as I am also pushing in a bit too hard to get a grip, but you get the idea)

At this stage I gave my bodice a break and worked on the skirt.

I used what has become my standard skirt pattern for renaissance dresses for the skirt.

My Z measurement was 29cm.

I pinned a string line to give me a guide for my ruler to draw the diagonal line.


I always remeasure and mark on each panel rather than using one cut piece as a pattern as I find the bias edge starts to stretch as soon as it is cut and that causes issues. I know this because I tried to use my first cut piece as a pattern piece on this skirt and it ended up more work, so I went back to my method of marking each panel.

I joined the skirt by hemming the pieces and whip stitching them together. This method ensures that by the time your garment is wearable the edges are finished.  By the time I had hemmed the panels (except for the actual hem of the skirt—that has to be done after construction) I estimated that I was 10 hours into the skirt including measuring and cutting

Here is my skirt sewn together


I decided not to cut the hem not by eye but by measurement. I extended the trapezoid shapes to make a triangle and set up a string line to act like a compass from its point. This took a long time as I had to make the skirt seams straight and make sure nothing was distorted.


It didn’t work. Like, it didn’t work at all. Don’t do this. It’s not worth the bother.

So then I tried my usual method of pinning and stringing. I mentioned my my diary at the time how much I hated it and commented “Now don’t get me wrong, it works, it just involves sticking HEAPS of pins into the carpet then having to put them all away again.” I don’t mind this method so much now!

Basically I put a pin at either side then stretch string between them then pin the string into a curve. I don’t Pin THROUGH the string, I pin above it which pushes the string down into the curve.  If the string doesn’t touch all pins, then a pin is in the wrong place.  As I said, it does work, it just needs a lot of pins.

Then I had the idea of bending my metal ruler to see if I could get a curve, it worked, but I needed two hands and one foot to do it so I couldn’t get any photos

Finally it was all cut 😀

I don’t know why I tried to go to such pains to get a good curve, I cut the curve of my light blue gamurra hem by eye and it was pretty much perfect.

To finish the dress I hemmed the skirt, finished off the lacing rings on the bodice neckline, pleated the skirt and whip stitched the skirt to the bodice edge.


I had a bit of fabric left over at the waist of the skirt so I decided to make a placard that pinned close.



Click here to go back to the finished gamurre page.

The Jaffa Dress

I made this dress in 2009, and I’ve written this write-up with the assistance of my old livejournal.  One thing I learned in posting this on livejournal is not all countries have the lolly known as the Jaffa.

A Jaffa is a lolly that is round with dark orange chocolate in the middle and a thin coating of candy stuff on the outside that is a dark orange/red colour.  Like an m’n’m but bigger and rounder.  This is how the dress got it’s nickname!

I chose the colours by the following method. I had orange linen/cotton that was brighter and a little lighter in weight than I hoped. A friend was raising money by selling fabric so I ‘helped’ her by buying 13 metres of brown linen which I’m still using to this day—it is the same linen I used in the interlining of the red gamurra. I found putting the brown under the orange dulled the colour slightly.

This is my first and only fully lined Gamurra, usually I only line the bodice.

My first step is I altered my existing bodice pattern, I had the version of the pattern I had used for my yellow gamurra before I rose the waist so I just had to raise the neckline. I did this by tracing the pattern onto my fabric but drawing the neckline a little higher. I didn’t mock it up.

To construct the bodice I used my usual method of finishing the pieces and whipping them together.

I used my normal method for cutting the skirt. I had four rectangles and my Z measurement was 30cms and the rectangles were 135 wide in total.

I cut the rectangles by pulling a thread in the orange linen/cotton


The brown linen didn’t want to pull a thread easily, so I cut one straight line and then used the orange as a pattern for the other. I pinned the selvages together at the top, the sides down the side where I had pulled the thread on both and the other two sides I smoothed till they looked right.


It was at this point my mother looked down and said it looked like a jaffa, hence the name the jaffa dress.

Before cutting I pinned the layers together around all edges, especially along where I was going to cut. The last thing I needed is cutting along the bias and then the fabric not matching up again.

For the sewing of my skirt I decided to use a seam I don’t normally use. I’m not a fan of running stitch, and if I leave the finishing to the end then it will never get done. Which is why I usually finish and whip. This time I decided to run and finish with a difference.

I sewed the wrong sides together then finished the seam on the right side of the fabric by folding it out to one side


and folding it under.


and tacking it down with a whip stitch. Off the top of my head I can only remember this (as in the finishing on the outside)  done on linen (ie, undergarments), but I chose this method so I would have to finish the seams before I wore it, not wear it unfinished and have the seams fray to pieces. For the record—this worked.

I sewed the skirt in cotton quilting thread that looked like linen thread. I chose white to be similar to bleached linen thread which I was reading at the time would have been used rather than expensive dyed silk thread for lower class garments. I like the finished look.

Here is a closeup of my stitches. I couldn’t make them smaller due to the thickness of the fabric- would have had to do stab stitch to get them smaller.


The skirt once sewn together. Yes, the panels are all the same size, it’s just the middle ones are closer and all.  Still to do was to cut and finish the seams, hem the top, cut and hem the bottom and whip stitch it to the bodice.

Well, first thing I did was cut the hem of the dress even. To do this I laid it out on the floor, eyeballed what the curve would be and cut it panel by panel, using the first one I cut as a template but adjusting it where needed.  I made sure I pinned above the cutmark before cutting so the lining didn’t shift.  Then I hemmed the thing and it didn’t take as long as you might think but by the end of the nine metres (or whatever the hem is) I was jolly sick of the whole thing!

It took me a couple of days to figure out the pleating. I had wanted to hem the top then do tiny box pleats, but as at the seams there would have been about 21 (if my maths is right) layers of fabric it really meant that none of the folds of the pleats could fall on the seams. I considered pleating it then binding the top with something, but decided not to. In the end I hemmed it, and pleated it with larger pleats fudging it where needed to make sure they didn’t fall on the seams where needed.


Here is my (almost) finished bodice

I usually prefer to use lacing rings to close my bodices because I am lazy and hate (making) hand bound eyelets  and lacing rings are period. But at the time I couldn’t find any lacing rings as it was re-enactment season and the fishing shop had none of the solid rings we used to buy for $4.20 a pack of 12 (this is why my shop now stocks lacing rings, because I want them when I want them and for much cheaper than fishing shop prices! It does mean I miss out on getting flustered old men at the counter in the fishing shop saying “why are all you ladies coming in and buying them! You’re the third!”)

I didn’t have a shop back then so I had the choice of waiting until my father finished work to ask if I could raid his stash or making eyelets, so I chose the latter.


I finished the dress by whip stitching the skirt to the bodice edge. At the time I worried about the weight of the skirt damaging the fabric at this seam but eight years on it is fine and I still wear this dress.

Click here to go back to the finished gamurre page.




This item, known better by it’s English name partlet among many costumers, is what a modern person might refer to as a ‘dickie’. Among the lower classes it would likely have been linen (or possibly wool) and worn for practical purposes.

The story goes that the upper classes often wore them in response to sumptuary laws that determined their necklines must not be below a certain level. With a fazzoletto they could have their gamurra neckline as low as they liked and used a sheer silk fazzoletto to bring their neckline in line with the rules while flaunting them at the same time.

You can see the fazzoletto worn either under the gamurra or over it in period art but you might need to look close– sometimes they are hard to spot.

1475-1477 Domenico Ghirlandaio Annunciation of the Death of St. Fina (detail) .jpg

This detail from Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 1475-1477 Annunciation of the Death of St. Fina shows lower class women wearing a simple cut of opaque fabric.


Leonardo Da Vinci’s Portrait of Ginevra Benci dated 1474 shows the fazzoletto worn tucked into the bodice.

1400s bghirlandaio.jpg

This portrait by Ghirlandaio suggests that if the fazzoletto was worn over the gamurra bodice it was worn under the outer garment.

1485 dghirlandaio woman.gif

Domenico Ghirlandaio’s  Portraitdated 1485 shows the fazzoletto was sometimes held closed with a pin or button.


Agnolo e Donnino del Mazziere’s Portrait of a Young Woman shows a very sheer fazzoletto over the bodice of the gamura.


Domenico Ghirlandaio’s  Portrait of a Lady dated to 1490 also shows a sheer fazzoletto over the bodice.


1490 Sebastiano Mainardi Portrait of a Woman.jpg

Sebastiano Mainardi’s  Portrait of a Woman also dated 1490 shows a thicker, but still sheer fazzoletto edged with a decorative stitch.

My pattern is below:

Picture 16.jpg

It’s not a pattern you can print and use, but hopefully it will help with the general shape.


I have only made one fazzoletto which I made in silk, and hemmed it with silk thread using a decorative stitch.




To Make a Red Gamurra

You can read the full write up about this dress in The Fifth Annual Italian Renaissance Costuming Challenge.

I usually make my gamurre bodices by cutting out the lining the finished size, the fashion fabric including the hem allowance, hemming the pieces and whip stitching them together. For my red gamurra I tried something a little different in response to reading about quilted bodices and also having a VERY fine red wool for the dress.

I cut my white linen including seam allowance, then brown linen and red wool without seam allowance. Finally another layer of red wool with seam allowance. The white, brown and first red layer I quilted with tinny running stitches. Then I basted the final red wool layer over the top.

Then treating all layers as one I sewed together with a small running stitch, ironed seams to one side and sewed down.

Here is the pattern I used for the bodice. I’ve been using the same pattern over and over since I had a friend draft me a Flemish pattern as a teenager and I’ve just altered it over and over again.


In the picture below a quilted front piece (left) is ready to have the fashion layer (right) basted to it. You can see how fine the red fabric is in this photo and just make out all the layers.


And a closer up picture of the quilting


And an inside view of the quilting


Here are the back pieces finished (but not sewn together) you can see how sheer the fabric is and why I wanted to have a layer of red wool under the red wool.


Here is the bodice at a try-on able stage.

Picture 30.JPG

and the inside for posterity. My stitching is nothing to write home about, but it does the job.

Picture 31.JPG

Here are photos of me doing the final fitting the bodice and ‘hemming’ the skirt. As you can read in how I cut and sew my skirts I hem them first, but this skirt did need balancing from the waist—I lengthened the bodice dramatically so I had to make sure I pinned the skirt at the waist so it hit the ground straight. Because I am not straight up and down this means my bodice waist seam isn’t straight when I have a lower waist. This isn’t such an issue with a higher waist.




The brown hanging down was the left over linen that I used to reinforce the skirt top, I have since cut that off.

Click here to go back to the finished gamurre page.

How I Construct my Gamurre Skirts

Over the years I have tweaked something each time I’ve made a gamurra, but one thing that hasn’t changed is my basic skirt construction.

We don’t have archaeological examples to go by so I follow what looks right, archaeological evidence from other times/eras and thinking about what would have worked for their fabric widths and ‘wast not want not’.

I tend to use this with wide fabric, as I don’t bother cutting my fabric narrower, but it works for narrower, you just need more panels.

Firstly I think about if I want single or double pleats. Then I look at how many ‘drops’ I have for my skirt. Then I work out ‘Z’. Z is the measurement of my bodice waist, multiplied by 3 (or 5 for double pleats) divided by twice as many ‘drops’ as I have for the skirt. I then cut each skirt drop as per the below diagram.

skirt pattern

It is important that ‘Z’ is smaller than the side market ‘hem’. If it is not then the skirt won’t flow. I had this problem only once and my solution was to switch from double pleats to single pleats.

You may notice I don’t add any seam allowance. I include hemming allowance in working how long to cut each drop (120cm for me) but when I hem the top of the skirt (the side at the bodice edge) it makes the length of this edge longer and it all just works out.

I cut my panels into the trapezoid shape, I usually use string and a ruller as a guide.

I then sew them straight edge to slanted


I mark the hem with string and pins (I pin straight into the carpet to anchor my pins).

Picture 22.jpg

I then cut the hem straight. Sometimes I cut by eye without marking first. The skirt is now ready to hem.


You will notice I don’t allow my skirts to hang. Using the selvage edge on every seam, even though it’s just one edge per seam, I think helps. It means I can hem my own dresses and have a look at the below image—my hem is very even.


Click here to go back to the finished gamurre page.