Weave Structures

I got a new toy. We used magnifiers to look at weave structures in my SHD class in London, and I found a nifty one -it has its own light! – on Amazon. I need to start bringing this with me to fabric stores.


I looked at a couple of “plain weave” or “tabby” woven fabrics today. This is the simplest weave – one over, one under, repeat forever. Look at this clever person’s diagrams and explanations.

Now we’ll look at it in real life.

Looking first at a simple tabby woven linen:


Now looking at the same tabby linen close-up:


And a tropical weight (very lightweight fabric) worsted (from tightly spun threads – as opposed to “woolen”, which is fluffier and from looser spun wool threads) wool tabby:


And the close-up of the wool tabby:


A silk that has very thin warp threads (running up and down the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvedges) and very thick weft (crosswise) threads:


And the close-up of the silk with thin warp and thick weft:


Finally, what modern fabric stores call a “shot” silk – the warp threads are one color, and the weft threads are a different color, which gives it an iridescent effect when it moves in the light. In the 16th century, it was known as “changeable” silk – this one is red and black:


And here is the shot silk close-up, where you can easily see the two different threads.


Now you’d think that because tabby woven fabric is a simple weave that looks the same if you turn it 90 degrees (try it with the diagram in the link above or with the close-up of the linen above), it would behave the same regardless of whether you cut it on the straight grain (i.e., all of your pattern pieces facing so that the selvedge is running from the top to bottom of the pattern) or on the cross grain (i.e., turning your pattern pieces so that the selvedges are running from side to side of your pattern pieces).

You’d be wrong, as I was. I will do some demos in the near future so that you will know it in your heart of hearts as I now do, but until then, I have heard this from a patterner/cutter who has been doing this for decades, and I have seen it with my own eyes. You have been warned. Straight grain – every time, and *especially* for interlinings.

Tailoring vs. Dress-making

I asked this earlier and got some good answers: “Pop quiz! What are the differences between tailoring and dressmaking skills? Extra credit for citations or explaining the history of the two traditions.”

Here is my understanding of the major differences in the 16th century and the implications for historical costuming. If I’ve missed anything or gotten something not quite right (or just mucked it all up), feel free to comment.

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I have decided that I want to master patterning. This is not a small, short-term goal that I’ll accomplish this fall. I took a class with the School of Historical Dress in London last month on “The Art of Cutting Out c. 1600-2000,” taught by Melanie Braun, who probably knows more about this topic than anyone on the planet. It’s hard to summarize what I learned, but it made my head explode a couple of times. It also made me aware of many things that I didn’t know I didn’t know. Her class – two days long – was just a taste, but it was incredible, and I want to learn it all.

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Tailored to a New World

   I don’t know where to start re: describing the conference at Jamestown. The tours, workshops, and lectures *all* rocked. Some bits were of more interest to me than other bits, but it was all full of good information, and the areas that didn’t appeal much to me made my friends squee with delight. I’ll likely write about some of the specific topics later.

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“The right look”

Like most things, I’ve griped about this before, but it came up in a recent conversation AGAIN….

If you are trying to recreate a specific garment or outfit in a specific painting or monument or trying to recreate a specific extant garment, you can get it right or get it not so right because you have a known standard to judge against. Even if you’re just aiming for a general look (e.g., 1560s England), you can get it more right or less right (and sometimes just outright wrong, but that’s not something we say about people’s specific projects unless we’re having a particularly catty moment – even if they used Hello Kitty fabric).

It’s not that “anything goes” just because there was more than one way to do it. Zippers are wrong. Princess seams are not documentable – to my knowledge – for most* SCA times/places. Some things are documentable; others are (currently) not documentable.

The danger lies in thinking that there is one correct silhouette or “look.” I put together a collection of over 500 pictures of portraits, crowd scenes, monuments, and extant garments that I thought were related to the Flanders gown that was all the rage in England in the 1560s/early 7os. There are very few “duplicates” of garments among them. Even if I narrow the field to include only English folks in the 1560s and looked only at the upper class, there are at least a dozen different “looks” to this outfit, and I have no delusions about having pics of all of the looks that existed for this dress. There is no one correct silhouette – some of the skirts were very full and some very narrow. There is no one correct way to do the sleeves – some were huge, some smaller, others almost pointy, some scalloped, and so on (mine are too droopy, but that’s a separate issue that is its own cautionary tale to be told another day).

I am myself guilty of saying something along the lines of “she really nailed that silhouette.” When you hear me say that, you should be hearing, “she made something that looks just like that portrait Gianetta sees in all of her books.” (also, you should remind me of this post so that I say something that makes more sense in the future – “The silhouette is exactly like ones I’ve seen in portraits.” – nitpicky? Maybe, but words actually have meaning, and the former implies that I know all of the right ways this garment should look, and I don’t.)

When a garment *doesn’t* look “right,”maybe the person absolutely blew it, but don’t make that assumption without asking questions first. The fact that a garment looks too long/short, narrow/wide, etc. often means only that it doesn’t look like the portraits that are in the best known books. Anyone who tells you otherwise likely has too high an estimation of their own knowledge of the field. I know that after my adventures in reading and picture collecting in the past year or so and being continually *shocked* by what I find in recently published books, I wouldn’t be caught dead saying that a look was wrong without talking to the person first to find out what they were using as their sources of inspiration. Pro-tip**: “I haven’t seen documentation of that style of widget” is almost always better than saying that something is wrong.

*Those Germans had some wacky sh1t. I’m not sure I’d call them princess seams, but there is some weird stuff in the patterns in that newer pattern book.

**”Pro-tip”usually means I’m being catty, usually at myself, for some past dorkiness – like leaving the container of cat treats on the counter or attempting to sew pants after 9pm or thinking I know more than I actually know about something and saying something foolish as a result – been there, done that.