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Red's green bliaut

Side note – does anyone know how the heck to pronounce “bliaut”?

The “client”:
I'm making this dress for my four-year-old daughter, who due to her hair color has acquired the nickname “Red.” Why am I sewing for her if I'm the one who wants to play dress-up? Well, in part because I much prefer playing dress-up with others; it's a lot more fun and she'll be with me anyway so she may as well look nice. It's also partly because sewing for kids takes just as much work and planning and time as sewing for adults, just with a lower materials outlay since they're so much smaller. I can make her a dress as practice, work out all the difficult bits, and then make my own.

The rationalization (er... reason):
I didn't get to go to TRF (http://www.texrenfest.com/) this year (or the last couple of years, for that matter), and my local excuses for dress-up have been limited to two-or-three times yearly steampunk outings. Playing dress-up is always more fun when other people are playing too. I bemoaned my fate to a friend, who told me that there will be a faire (http://www.sherwoodforestfaire.com/) not far from where I live in Austin, starting in late February next year. The time is set as “Robin Hood”, and it promises to be thoroughly fairy-infested. I expect there will be more historical inaccuracies than a certain movie (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0183790/), and as long as it's fun I really don't care.

The research:
I haven't done much with European clothing in this time period (very roughly something in the vicinity of Richard I, who reigned 1189 - 1199). I don't play dress-up with any organized groups and I'm not intending to enter any competitions, so for historical accuracy I'm accountable only to myself. Still, I'd prefer that any anachronisms be deliberately made for good reasons (cost, speed, comfort, etc.), and with as little impact on the overall look of things as possible, rather than accidentally made anachronisms that happen due to inadequate preparations. I wandered through a wide range of web searches, but found three websites to be especially helpful:
The Elizabethan Smock Pattern Generator (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/smockpat/)
The Beautiful Bliaut (http://www.chateau-michel.org/belle_bliaut.htm)
Introduction to Twelfth Century Western European Clothing for Women and Men (http://www.scribd.com/doc/16783848/Introduction-to-Twelfth-Century-Western-European-Clothing-for-Women-and-Men)
Thank you very much to all the various SCA and other historical re-creationists who go do the research, and put your work online. I know the things I'm making are historically inspired, rather than entirely accurate, but they're way closer than they would have been without such easy access to information online.

The underdress (AKA smock): This is just a simple smock, made with a pattern directly from the generator (http://www.elizabethancostume.net/smockpat/). The cloth is white 100% cotton muslin, washed and dried with the highest settings my machines can manage prior to construction. I made myself a smock from the same generator, and while it works well enough for underwear, I think Red's turned out better. Some of this may be due to the fact that the underarm gusset doesn't scale, and while her figure is the standard preschool tube, mine is decidedly not. I gave it a fairly high keyhole neckline, faced with the same fabric. I accidentally made the slit for the neckline too long, so I tacked the two sides together an inch higher, and decided to consider it insurance against her growing too quickly – I can let out the hems of the sleeves and bottom edge, cut the neckline tack, and the thing will still fit. With the exception of hems and the neckline, all seams were run through the serger. I know sergers are about as far from period-accurate as possible, but it's fast, effective, and I like not having to worry about the fabric fraying.
underdress frontunderdress back


The overdress:

The fabric: 100% dead dino, a forest green woven suede with a slippery satin-ish back and a bit of horizontal stretch. It's got a nice weight and drape to it, and it was $4-something a yard on sale, and Her Highness (AKA my fickle daughter) approved of it. I expect it'll be hotter than a natural fiber would be, but that's not much of an issue since the event is at the end of what passes for winter here in central Texas. I like to imagine that with its drape and soft texture it somewhat resembles a heavy (non-satin) washed silk, but that may just be self-delusion. The pale lines in the photo are the chalk I used to figure out cutting lines; they'll rub off, or wash out.

The pattern:
I looked at various theorized patterns and cutting diagrams, did the math, and figured out that my 2 yards of fabric were *just barely* enough, with careful layout. On paper there should have been a small strip of waste fabric to the left (toward the middle of the cloth) of the body of the gown. In practice this didn't exist, and the edge of one piece met exactly to where the next began. I was careful to check the length of the sleeve extension, to make sure it wouldn't drag on the ground. I added a back gore to give her a bit more fullness in the skirt. I might have done one in the front too, but there wasn't enough fabric, so it was as a moot point.
bliaut cutting layout

The construction:
The fabric was remarkably easy to work with; I was a little worried that the mild horizontal stretch would cause problems, especially with the bias-cut sections of the gores and the curve on the lower sleeve, but it went together without any problems. As with the underdress, I serged everything I could. Anything that didn't go through the serger got fray-check, since this fabric frayed terribly. I didn't have a big enough piece of the green fabric left to make a facing for the neckline, so it's faced with some leftover white muslin from the underdress. I followed the order of construction recommended in the instructions for the smock, since the garment is pretty similar in how it goes together. The white serging visible on the edges of some pieces is left over from when I serged the cut edges of the raw fabric before I washed it, and was all cut away in the course of construction.
bliautbliaut sidebliaut back



The handbag:
I have no idea if these are even vaguely accurate to period, but there were two triangle pieces left after I cut the sleeves, and they begged to be made into a little bag. I lined it with white muslin left over from the underdress, and used some thin black ribbon left over from hair bows for a double drawstring to cinch it closed and to carry it. I don't know what a four-year-old might need to carry, but she loves it. She can't decide if the bag or the big, swoopy sleeves are her favorite part of the outfit.
bag openbag closed

Things I still need to deal with:
1. Attaching pointy little gores with a serger, without chopping off too much fabric, tacks practice. I'll need to go in and hand-stitch an inch or two on the tips of two gores that didn't quite get attached.
2. The sides need to lace up. I'm not entirely sure the best way to deal with them. I serged the single thickness of cloth just so it wouldn't fray while I was working with it, but obviously it needs some kind of edge treatment. I'll check the small amount of leftover green fabric I have; I tried to lay things out to leave myself some bias strips. If they're long enough, I can use those. I inherited some little round plastic rings (probably intended for curtain-making?), but I don't know if they'll look right as lacing rings.
3. Once the sides are laced and I've seen how the whole things fits on Red, I'll hem the bottom. I ran the bottom edge through the serger to minimize fraying during construction.
4. The big, swoopy sleeve hem seems like it should have some kind of interesting treatment beyond just a simple hem. I have some very soft fake fur in a milk-chocolate brown (done in sort of strips, maybe to imitate mink?) that might work. I'm a little intimidated by the thought of working with it, though, which is why it's still in my stash after I picked it up from the remnant bin years ago. I'm also considering lining the lower part of the sleeves, but I don't know what would look best.
5. The neckline seems like it could use some ornamentation, as could the seam on the bicep where the lower part of the sleeve attaches. Again, I haven't decided what to do there. I've got some (rusty, rudimentary) ability to embroider, but I don't know jack about tablet weaving.
6. There probably needs to be an ornamental belt of some sort, which will need to be attached to the dress in some way, since little kids really don't have the waist / hip differentiation needed to hold up a belt reliably.


My assessment:
I'm pleased with how it's turned out so far. Red likes it, never a sure thing when sewing for a small child. She tried it on before lunch today, and was running around the kitchen flapping her arms squealing “I'm a bird, I'm going to fly away!” I spent a couple evenings in research and drafting the pattern / cutting layout for the bliaut, one evening in making the smock, and two afternoons making the bag and bliaut. I may change my opinion after attempting to deal with the side lacings and various other remaining issues, but so far it's gone together quickly and easily, and I'd be happy to make it again. This is good, since I don't plan on going to the event naked, and I still need a dress for myself.

(x-posted to my personal journal)

Comments

She looks adorable!! As far as sleeve decoration goes, you might put some trim (jacquard ribbon) around the arm just before the flair. I guess that would be just above the elbow. Also maybe around the neckline. Sort of like this: http://www.gelfling.dds.nl/bliaut/Hortus%20Deliciarum%20color.jpg I think that would be really pretty. Though in the image the band around the arm is a bit higher than I would put it (probably because her arm is raised). Good luck and it definitely looks good so far! Oh and it is pronouced Blee-Oh.
for side lacing, i have an article on using ribbon to make casing for ladder lacing, and it gives that pull across the tummy like in the statues if done taughtly enough. remind me and i'll find it tonight.
I've always heard it pronounced Bleeee-Oh, not sure if that's correct or not, mind you ;)

Note, most common places in illumination and statuary for trim is around the cuff (the big long cuff) and neck; you usually don't see it around the bicep, I've seen it in about 3 out of 100 images, so you can still do it, it's just not the most common spot for it (though it -is- the most common spot in modern recreations, probably because you can do it with just a small bit of trim and save mula) I've seen some great images with bands of trim across the calf height, chest height and thigh height too, if you're feeling adventurous ;)
That's how I've heard it pronounced, and that's accurate for a French word, which I'm sure it is *flexes my rusty college French*
I believe that in the 12th century, the -t on the end wasn't silent yet, so more like "Blee-oat".
do you mind if I post a link to this entry to garb_the_child? it is a comm I mod that deals with children's medieval and renaissance clothing.
Sure, go ahead! I should go read that...

Red's green bliaut

i'm gonna texasfy it and call it a " blowout" LOL.
Thanks for asking how to prenounce bliaut, I've always wondered (and I was way off the mark).

(Anonymous)

Arianna (the author of the beautiful bliaut) actually uses plastic rings and her work is always LOVELY. She says "[T]he smallest functional rings I have been able to find are a half-inch in diameter, ... Plastic cabone rings cost pennies a piece ... Modern-looking rings can be easily covered once they're sewn on by chaining buttonhole stitches around the visible length of ring." You can get how-to's at this dorset button tutorial through Step 5 http://www.homeofthesampler.com/howtos/craftypod.html You can also do the first step of a "crochet button with ring" here http://www.knitsimplemag.com/node/53.

Regards, Beth/Lisbet
Oh, excellent advice! Thanks!

August 2014

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