Warning: Some motivation required

As I’ve been working on this blog so far, there are a few things that I’ve learned about myself.

First, I’m not nearly as motivated as I thought I was going to be. There were countless projects that I wanted to try and take on this summer, but I ended up barely accomplishing any of them. I’m nearly out of time for summer projects, but I definitely still want to try and create the projects on the list I started at the beginning of the summer.

And second, writing tutorials is nowhere close to as much fun as it sounds like. I realized that when I work on projects, I like to take other people’s creations and, as I go, modify them slightly so that they fit the image that I have in my head. This can be great for the creative process, but not so helpful when trying to explain my thought process to others.

I would like to continue posting things on this site, but I think in the future I am going to focus more on the problems (and hopefully solutions) that I came across while making my own projects. After writing one tutorial, I don’t know that I feel confident enough about anything of my other projects to try and explain them through the written word and the occasional picture.

In the mean time, I would encourage anyone who is reading this and interested in starting a new sewing project to take a look at the ‘Projects’ tab located at the top of the page. That is my list of projects that I have found scattered around the internet that I want to recreate. Most all of them come with their own tutorial from someone more skilled than I, and seem like they should be fairly easy to create, given enough time and attention to details.

I’ll make sure to post pictures when I accomplish a new project, and will try to include any notes and advice that I uncover in the process.

Another thing I would like to do is create more of a database of resources, both ones that I have uncovered, and ones that other people have found and shared. My bookmarks folder is filled with a mass of links to sites with all kinds of wonderful information, and I would love to think that I could help someone else out by sharing some of these great sites.

So, while my summer is nearly over, I would encourage people to stop back by periodically for progress reports on future projects.

A corset of course

One of the projects that I wanted to attempt this summer was a corset. I’m not really a girly-girl, but I just kind of like the idea. Unfortunately, my first attempt didn’t end up well enough that I feel skilled enough to offer instruction to others, but I thought I would pass along where I got my ideas from and a few tips on what NOT to do.

First, here is my inspiration. I didn’t want to try and create something with boning on my first try, and this seemed to accomplish that very nicely.

It’s a pretty straightforward tutorial, but I had a little trouble getting the shape right. I started off by sewing a tube, pinning it to my body, and having my little sister break the seam with a seam ripper. That worked pretty well, until I tried to modify it later because I thought it didn’t fit very well as I was holding it up to me. I forgot that there would be tight lacing helping the fabric to keep its shape, and decided to take some “extra” fabric off the front. It still fits well enough, but there is now a much wider gap at the top of the back than at the bottom.

If I were to do it again, I would try to make the corset using this type of method. It seems to waste much less fabric, and doesn’t rely on guesswork.

This is a tutorial from Threadheads that shows another idea of how to put things together once you have a pattern (which you can make on your own, or try something like this).

Basically, the best advice I can offer is to try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.

Here are some samples of my efforts:

Here is the front of the corset

And the back. See what happened to the lacing? :/

Also, some nifty tools I found that made the project easier!

D-ring lacing tape (awesome) from this person on Ebay. And eye and hook tape from this person.

To the machine!!! (Tunic tutorial)

Now that all of the boring details about the necessities of sewing are out of the way, we can finally create something!

The most important (and wonderful) thing about most medievel designs is that they are created using rectangles and triangles. That’s it. No weird curves to figure out, no pleats, weird zig-zags, or other peculiarities. So in that sense, this should be one of the easiest things you could ever make. But, on the other hand, medieval tunics don’t really come in standard pattern sizes. YOU are the pattern. Sure, if you search around the wealth of information on the internet, you could probably find a pattern for a “men’s large”. But wouldn’t it be better to have something that is made just for you?

I’m going to offer a couple different options, then show you how to make the variation that looks the best (in my opinion) and is the most accurate.

The simplest “tunic” that you can make is the T-tunic. This is basically a t-shirt, made by you. Imagine a giant “T” made out of fabric.

(c) Scion d'Ur-- Original Directions

Cut out the area under the arms, sew, hem, and voila- a tunic! You can also make the seams a little more curved under the arms to be more comfortable, and/or have it flare out slightly toward the bottom.

However. We are going to aspire to something a little more awesome than that.

The best basic tunic for Dagorhir (and looking awesome in general) is the Bocksten Tunic. This historic design was uncovered in Sweden in 1936. Here is a neat site with more background on the original. This design takes the basic “T” and adds gussets and gores to make it fit better and allow it to be more awesome in general. I’ve pulled my method from two main resources, that from House Marsvin, and Alric’s tutorial. The cool thing about this tunic is that it can easily be modified to make a tunic, or, by making it longer, a dress.

Measurements

The first step to creating your tunic is figuring out the size you need to make it. For some of these measurements, you may find that it is easier to enlist someone else’s help.

Start by measuring from the top of your shoulder to around your knees. You are going to lose a little bit of that length in the construction process, and it will seem shorter once it is on, so it is generally better to estimate longer than you think you might need. This will be measurement A.

Next, measure from shoulder to shoulder. If you find yourself with a slightly larger midsection, measure that, divide it in half, and use that measurement instead. Add about two inches to this measurement to ensure room for seams and so that you have room to move. (A note for females: Your first inclination might be to measure the length around your chest and use that measurement instead. As good an idea as that sounds right now, those measurements will cause an extreme excess of fabric. We are going to add in gussets under the arms that will add a little extra room in that area. If you are extremely well endowed, you may have to modify this method slightly, but otherwise, don’t worry about it.) This measurement: Shoulder to shoulder + 2 inches = B.

Now, the sleeves. It may be best to get someone helpful to assist you in this one. You are going to measure from your armpit to how ever long you want your sleeves to be. This is measurement C

Next, we need to figure out how wide to make your sleeves. Measure around your bicep and add about 4 inches. This is going to be the top of your sleeve and measurement D. Now measure around the widest part of your fist for measurement E.

Now, in order to make the tunic more comfortable, we are going to add gores to the sides that will give you more room to move. In order to figure out the dimensions of these, measure from your shoulder to your belly button, and subtract that number, from your overall length (measurement A, for those not paying attention). This will give you the length of your gores- measurement F. For the width, take the about 3/4 of measurement B. This will become measurement G.

Finally, we need to figure out the size of the gussets to place under the arm. I’ll admit, I don’t have a mathematical method for this. You are going to cut a square of fabric, and place it so that when you lay the tunic flat, it looks like there are triangles under the arms (see picture below). For my tunics (about a men’s small, or women’s medium) I used a 5″ square (that is, 5″ on each side). In order to make a men’s XL, I used a 7″ square. It may be better to wait until you have the sleeves sut out and connected to estimate how big you want to make yours.

Cutting the Fabric

First, the body. You are going to cut out two rectangles that are A by B. These will form the body.

Next, measure the arm pieces. You are going to create 2 trapezoids (one for each arm) using measure

ments C, D, and E. They are going to be C long, with D and E determining how wide either end is. For this, it may be easier to fold the fabric in half and measure against the fold. Measure half of D down from one side, and half of E down f

rom the other. If you are worried about getting the two pieces to be exactly the same, cut one out and then trace the other one from that.

Here I've got my two layers of fabric ready to be cut out at the same time (I'm making short sleeves on this tunic).

Now, the gores. For these you are going to cut out two triangles. They are going to be F long and G wide. Measure F down the center of the triangle, and G across the base.

After that, you are good to start sewing! Here and here are some smart options on how you might want to lay out your fabric. Though take note that these are both options for if you want to make a 4 gored tunic.

Construction

Step one- Sew the two pieces for the body of your tunic together along the top. You may want to leave some space in the middle to allow for the head hole. Remember, you are sewing the shorter sides of the fabric (measurement B) together.

Step two- the sleeves. Separate the layers of the body of your tunic so that the right side of the fabric is facing you. now, you are going to need to find the center of your sleeve, length-wise. Just fold it in half and line it up so that the edges are together and the right sides are facing each other- like so:

Sew the edges together, and repeat for the other sleeve.

Now is when you need to have figured out your gussets. You are going to sew the four sides of the square onto either side of your sleeve, and the side of your tunic. Check Alric’s tutorial for a better explanation of this. Connect one side of the sleeve with gusset before doing the other side, and make sure to keep sewing the right sides of the fabric together. Once you get the first two sides sewn, fold the tunic in half along the top seam, line up the sleeve, and sew the other sides of the square to the sleeve.

Sew the side to the body of the tunic first, and then when you pin the last side, you can pin the rest pf the sleeve together as well and just connect them at the same time.

Now sew the other sleeve, and you have most of your tunic (and the hardest part) done!

Next, you need to insert the gores. Line up one edge of your gore with the side of the body of the tunic, remembering to keep the right sides together. Line it up with the bottom edge, pin, and sew, then prepare to line up the other side.

On this one, you will want to start pinning at the top of the gore (toward the armpit). Line up the fabric between the bottom of the gusset and the top of the gore so that it lays flat, then continue pinning down the length of the gore. Your edges may end up being slightly off, but you can trim those when you hem the bottom edge.

Sew in the other gore, and you have a tunic! Just trim a hole to fit your head through, and you are good to go! When figuring out the head hole, remember to start smaller- you can always take more fabric away, but you can’t add it back in.

Here are some options for the shape of your neck hole, and here and here are some finishing methods if you feel like getting fancy.

Other options

If you read through all of that and decided that it was far beyond your sewing skills, but that you want to try something better fitting than the T-tunic, here is an awesome tutorial by Ilsa showing how to use your measurements to create a tunic with minimal sewing, and here is a similar design from the SCA.

And if all of this wasn’t clear enough, feel free to mix these ideas with some of the other tutorials out there. Modifying things slightly to make them easier is a helpful technique to make sewing less stressful.

Here is the final version of what I created for this tutorial. It is for a friend of mine, hence the size on me:

 

…And all the rest.

Needles

Now that you have thread that perfectly matches your fabric, you need to acquire something to help you sew with it. To be completely honest, I haven’t found much difference in the different needles that I’ve used. For most fabrics, a good “universal” needle will accomplish what you need. There are various types of needles for embroidery work, or thicker fabrics, but unless you are planning to work with those, a standard needle should be sufficient. 

Scissors

Scissors are a very important tool to use when starting a project. You could get your pet rat to gnaw apart the fabric pieces that you need, but it probably won’t turn out very neat. Oddly enough, a poor pair of scissors can have almost the same effect. You know that pair of scissors that you keep in your room and use for pretty much everything under the sun? Turns out those aren’t so great for cutting fabric. If you have been using your scissors to cut paper, plastic, etc., your scissors have been significantly dulled since you bought them and will have a hard time sharply cutting through fabric. Do yourself a favor- buy a pair of scissors and save them just for sewing. They don’t have to be overly fancy, but the kind with a bent handle will make cutting straight lines much easier.

Another note- if you plan on cutting large amounts of fabric that frays (i.e.- all the linen and cotton that looks wonderfully period) you may want to invest in a pair of pinking sheers. This snazzy tool will cut the fabric in a sort of triangle pattern that will help to keep your fabric from falling apart at the seams.

Miscellaneous

There are a couple odds and ends that it is helpful to have on hand:

Pins– I have two types, standard pins with plastic balls on the top, and longer pins with flat, “melt-proof” tops. Lately, I’ve found myself using the flat headed pins more and more, simply because I don’t have to worry about them if I stop to iron a seam. They are a little more expensive, but I’ve found them to be very worth it. Pin cushions are nice, but not necessary. Just make sure you have a safe place to set your pins so you don’t step on them.

Iron– There are going to be certain hems and seams that you will want to press down before sewing, and it’s a good idea to have an iron on hand so your super-easy-to-wrinkle linen doesn’t look like you just slept in it, rolled around in the dirt, wrestled a bear, swam through a creek, and then wrung the shirt out and threw it back on. Unless, of course, that’s the look you are going for. But even then, it’s a good idea to keep an iron around during the sewing process. If you don’t have one, just steal one from a friend, parent, or random stranger.

Straight edge/measuring tools– The ability to draw straight lines could make or break your project. Medieval styles are made almost entirely with straight lines, and no matter how straight of a line you think you can draw, it will probably end up crooked. Do yourself a favor and stick at least a ruler in with your supplies. Of course, rulers are only so long. I recommend a yardstick to make sure you can measure most of your lines in their entirety. You will also want to keep a measuring tape on hand. While not so useful for measuring fabric, they do a wonderful job of measuring people.

Seam ripper– No matter how wonderful of a sewer you are, you are going to make mistakes. Probably often. Just embrace it now and get a seam ripper, no matter how invincible you feel. You’ll thank yourself later.

Marking pen/pencil– These can be incredibly useful for marking your lines and patterns. Regular pens can work, but aren’t guaranteed to wash out later if you mess up. I’ve got a nifty one that washes out if I just brush lightly at it with a wet washcloth. It’s saved me a good deal of frustration while marking out patterns.

Snacks– You are settling in for a project now. You are going to need nourishment. So find yourself some sugar and caffeine, and lets get to work!

Up next- a super spiffy tunic that even you can’t screw up!

The right tools for the job

Unfortunately, the fabric fairies don’t magically show up overnight and turn material into awesome clothing. But who needs pixie dust when you have a sewing machine?

For future reference, I’m going to assume that you have access to a sewing machine. You can sew things by hand, but it requires more patience than I possess. If you choose this path, all the more power to you.

Sewing Machines

For the less tenacious of us, sewing machines are one of God’s greatest inventions. (No really, look in the fine print. God came back on Day 8 and gave Eve a sewing machine.) For any guys out there who think sewing is women’s work, etc., just remember that it is a sewing MACHINE. There are all kinds of wheels, gears, and mechanical bits inside there that make the sharp, pointy object impale the helpless fabric as it is drug to its doom.

Now that we are all on the same page, it’s important to find a good machine. You can wander into your local Joann’s or Walmart and pick up a cheap one, but the best sewing machines are actually the older ones. Way “back in the day” while your parents were climbing uphill both ways in snowstorms to get to school, sewing machines were all made with metal parts. The one’s you find in stores now have mostly plastic parts. This allows for them to be cheaper and lighter, but in the long run, more likely to break down.

Instead, go pester an older relative or scour the thrift stores looking for a nice, old machine that has all of its parts. That may end up being the tricky part. If you find one that is too old, you may have a hard time locating pieces for it if something *does* happen to break. I was blessed enough to acquire my mom’s old machine when she got an (even older) new one. It has all metal parts and runs great. I haven’t had to fix a thing in the time that I’ve had it, which is more than I can say for most of my other electronics and machines. Try to find a manual for your machine that will show you how to thread it and explain any idiosyncrasies that the machine might have. Each machine threads slightly differently, and setting it up the wrong way could either jam your machine or give you a headache. Neither of these are preferable.

Thread

As wonderful as a good sewing machine is, you still need a few more things to start your project. Thread is a very vital piece to the sewing puzzle. It is the only thing that can hold your projects together. (I tried duct tape once. Never again.) There are a number of resources that try to help you skirt the need for thread and even a sewing machine, and I’ve tried several of them. But my experiences with things like Wonder Under, Stitch Witchery, velcro, and, yes, glue, have left me with a mess and an immediate desire to undo what I just did so I can do it correctly. I mean really, thread is generally between $1-2. Just suck it up, make the purchase, and take the time to do it right.

The main thing to keep in mind while picking out thread is that you want it to match your fabric. Sure, you can get an additional color if you feel fancy and want to try some kind of embroidery later, but for the actual construction, you want thread that matches and helps hide any mistakes. The best way to pick out thread is to take a little piece of your fabric with you to the store when purchasing your thread. Also, try not to rely on just the color that the thread looks like on the spool. If there aren’t any employees looking over your shoulder, unravel the thread a little bit and hold the individual thread over your fabric. This will give you a better idea of what it will actually look like. After all, you aren’t going to stick a large bundle of thread on your finished product, so why compare it that way to begin with? Looking at a single thread may actually help if you have an odd colored fabric that you are working with, or if the store simply doesn’t have your shade. The thin line will be less noticeable in general, and will help you to get the closest color, if not an exact match.

~Next, more information to keep in mind before starting your project~

 

So…Where do we start?

The first thing you need in order to start any sewing project is fabric. It seems simple enough, but there are countless types of fabric and blends of fabric out there. When creating medieval clothing, it is best to work with natural fabrics like wool, linen, and cotton- not just because they are more accurate than a cheap polyester blend, but because they actually breathe better and keep you from freezing in the winter and overheating in the summer.

I’ll admit that I’m far from an expert on the subject, but I’ve found it to be very true and extremely vital. Here is a great rundown on the benefits and disadvantages of each: Dagorhir Web Forum: Natural Fabric Advice

There are also some wonderful links included in the post. I’ve started a list in the right column of this site with some links and sites that I’ve found useful. I’ll keep adding to it as time goes on and I discover new things.

After you obtain your fabric, the next step (especially with natural fabrics) is to wash it up. Natural fibers with shrink a good deal when you first wash them. The worst thing that could happen is that you spend hours creating the perfect garment and then the first time you wash it, it shrinks and no longer fits. The solution? Wash and dry your fabric on the hottest cycle that you can in order to get the most amount of shrinking out of them from the start.

Another great tip for fabrics that tend to unravel, like linen and cotton, is to zig-zag all the edges of the fabric first before you wash it. This will keep all of the newly freed threads from wrapping around the fabric and your washer. You don’t want to break your washer or leave your fabric ridiculously wrinkled. To zig-zag the fabric, just set your machine to the maximum length and width and run a stitch around all the cut edges to keep them from fraying. It should look like this:

Pinking shears are another great tool to keep fabric from unravelling, but we’ll get to that later.

So we’ve acquired fabric and prepared it for use. What next? Before you start hacking your fabric into a million pieces, there are a few more things you will want to compile. I’ll go over those in my next post.

Greetings!

I suppose an explanation is in order.

My name is Dani Henkel, and I’ve been sewing for the past year. In that time, my projects have been inspired by a medieval-style foam based fighting sport called Dagorhir. In order to fight on the fields, participants are required to have medieval-esque “garb.” I’ve been faced with a pretty steep learning curve, but since then I’ve made several awesome pieces (if I do say so myself) and I’ve learned a lot of tricks about how to create simple, but effective garb that fits well. All well following medieval style or medieval inspired designs through the creation process.

In Dagorhir, each person comes up with an alternate name that that they go by. This, plus the garb each person wears helps to create an alter-ego that allows them to reach outside of their comfort zone and do things they may not usually do. My name is Nika Caelyn and I’ve decided to write this blog through that persona because of the strong influence those experiences have had on my sewing experiences.

I’ll be posting pictures of past creations as well and tutorials for my future projects. I don’t have much experience in writing tutorials, but I’m going to give it my best shot and make everything as clear as possible. I have created a list of all the things I would like to accomplish this summer, with links to pictures and tutorials that I have found in my research. I’ll also be posting some of the information and experience that I’ve gathered along the way. Whether it be a simple compilation of resources, or a full-blown how-to, I’ll do my best to share my learnings.