…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.