A Mongolian Case Study: Functionality and Proportions

The Project Begins

“I would like new garb for cut and thrust,” my husband Kian said to me one day last year.

He then told me a particular clothing item he was interested in and a few requirements he had for his new cut and thrust garb.

Kian took one possible approach to functional clothing assessment, he saw a garment that he liked and checked to see if it met his requirements. This method can work but you may have to make compromises or let go of a garment you really like once you start going through your requirements. This was what happened with Kian, as he started listing some of his functionality requirements it became clear that the garment he had in mind wasn’t going to meet them.

So I suggested that we work the other way, make a list of requirements and research what garments might meet all the requirements. For Kian’s cut and thrust garb the requirements are below.

The list of requirements:

  • Durable
  • One layer – tshirt only underneath
  • Good range of motion 
  • Need to be able to comfortable and easily lift hands above head
  • Don’t care exactly how it closes but would like to avoid shank buttons, might prefer ties to buttons
  • Closure must have good overlap
  • Would prefer a collar to go under the gorget
  • Knee high boots
  • Below knee pants
  • Would prefer the pants to hide the knees
  • Top needs to hit natural waist minimum
  • Pants should have a flat waist band
  • Would like a way to put knees in by rolling up the pants rather than having to put the knees on before you put the pants on

A Functional framework

Clothing can and should be evaluated for functionality. Different clothes have different purposes, some can be multi functional, others cannot. Some people have additional considerations such as chronic pain, or sensory processing challenges that also impact whether an item of clothing can be functional or not.

No one can anticipate every potential consideration for every single person. However, I endeavour herein to layout a set of questions and considerations that should help start anyone in the process of evaluating the functionality of a garment. You can start with these questions to give yourself a list of requirements to check garments against or you can find a garment that you like and ask these questions about that garment. I will also share examples of both styles of evaluative process along with some considerations you may want to consider for those particular garments.

The Questions

  • What activities do I plan to do in this garment?
    • Fighting?
      • Heavy?
      • Rapier?
      • Cut and Thrust?
    • Archery?
    • Thrown Weapons?
    • Cooking?
    • Washing Dishes?
    • Riding?
    • Writing?
    • Painting?
    • Walking distances?
    • Running?
    • Caring for children?
    • Tending a fire?
    • Dancing?
    • Standing?
    • Sitting?
    • Serving food?
    • Carrying things?
  • How much mobility do I need to have?
    • A lot?
    • A little?
  • Where will I wear this garment?
    • Inside only?
    • Outside?
      • What will the weather be like?
      • Am I ok with the hem of my pants or skirts getting wet, muddy etc?
  • What is your tolerance for compression?
    • The tighter the better?
    • The looser the better?
  • What shoes are you planning to wear with these clothes?
    • How tall are they?
    • How comfortable are they?
    • Do you want to hide them?
  • Do you need to have pants?
    • For comfort?
    • For the activities you do?
    • For any other reason?
  • Are your measurements stable? Or do they fluctuate?
    • How much?
    • How often?
  • What other considerations might I need to think about?
    • Chronic Pain?
      • What aspects of your clothes make your chronic pain worse? Better?
      • Does compression hurt? Help?
      • Are there aspects of your pain that make certain movements harder?
        • Will putting on or taking off this garment require those movements?
      • Are there certain movements that make your pain worse?
        • Will putting on or taking off this garment require those movements?
    • Can I put this garment on by myself?
    • Can I take it off by myself?
      • If not do I have a plan?
    • Sensory processing challenges?
      • Will this garment be too tight?
      • Will this garment be too loose or flappy?
      • Can it be made or acquired out of fabric that will not cause distress?
      • Are the seams located somewhere that will be problematic?
      • Can I finish the seams in a way to make them less problematic?
  • How long will I be wearing this garment?
    • How may the considerations above change over that length of time?

The Evaluation Process

Examples of evaluating a garment you like

Kampfrau
Lady in a german kamfrau dress
Taran in Navy and Teal Kampfrau. Photo by Brighid MacCumhal
The Evaluation:
  • Functional, working class outfit that nonetheless looks “fancy” because of the slashing and extreme colour palette
  • Reportedly comfortable for many activities around an event
  • Skirt can be drawn up and secured with a belt (the so called mushroom skirt)
    • When it is hot, to expose the legs
    • When it is wet, to keep the hems out of the mud
  • Has lots of room in the shoulder and elbow for movement because of the slashing in the shoulder and elbow
  • Lower sleeve should be quite tightly fitted and so cannot be rolled up
    • Can make sleeves with ties at elbow and shoulder which would allow you to unlace the lower sleeve
  • Recommendation to make a documentable wider almost bell shaped sleeve cuff with a slit, which allows the cuff to be folded down to keep your hands warm when it is cold but keep your thumb free for movement
  • Closure at the front
    • Easy to put on and take off yourself
  • Tightly fitted through the torso usually with hooks and eyes
    • May not be suitable if tight clothing is an issue
    • May not be suitable if your weight fluctuates
Italian Men’s Jerkin and Pants
Two people in doublets and pants fencing
Kian on the left wearing an Italian style jerkin and pants
Photo by Maggie Cake
The Evaluation:
  • Good for Rapier fighting
    • Pants have lots of material gathered to the waistband and leg band
    • Good range of motion in the pants
    • Difficult to rip the crotch out accidentally while lunging
  • Jerkins and Doublets when well fitted have good range of motion
  • Good for archery if you have a doublet with sleeves to contain the volume of the shirt sleeves
  • Easy to be made in sturdy enough fabric to meet rapier armour standards
  • Comfortable
  • Layers mean you can add when cold or remove when it is warmer
    • Tie on sleeves mean sleeves are optional
  • Pants come to just above or just below the knee
    • Very comfortable to wear with knee high boots
  • No compression
  • Good for inside and outside wear
    • No dragging hems
  • Flat waist band is very comfortable when well fitted
    • Tie closure means there is a bit of ease to tie tighter or looser
  • Fly is buttoned
    • Very secure
14th century kirtle/cotehardies
The Evaluation:
  • A relatively simple, fitted garment, for men and women, that can be dressed up or down using overgarments and accessories
  • Adding or removing layers and accessories can adjust for a wide variety of weather
  • Quite tightly fitted
    • Not necessarily a good choice for those with chronic pain where compression is an bad thing
    • Not a good choice if you have rib issues
    • May not be a good choice for some sensory processing challenges
    • There are versions of this (including the mens version above) that can be made that look similar but are looser fitting which could address some of the above issues
  • Multiple reports of being able to do many activities comfortable and easily including
    • Riding
    • Archery
    • Dancing
    • Cooking
    • Cleaning including mucking stalls
    • And more, as long as the garment is well fitted
  • Tightly fitted sleeves
    • May need to be ok with getting your sleeves wet when washing up
    • Make less fashionable looser sleeve to allow them to be rolled up
    • May want to Utilize functional buttons from the elbow to the wrist to allow the sleeve to be opened and rolled back
    • Short sleeve versions exist with additional sleeves that can be pinned on
  • Hems are variable in length
    • Be careful with your hem length if you will be wearing outdoors and would prefer drier, cleaner hems

Examples of functional needs assessment that leads to a garment choice

Taran’s list of requirements
  • Garment for fighting rapier and cut and thrust
  • Needs to be comfortable
  • Needs to be easy to move in
  • Wanted a garment that read as feminine, at least to the modern eye
  • Needs to be able to be gotten off easily by herself when sweaty after fighting
  • Will be worn outdoors and indoors
  • Did not want fabric dragging on the ground getting dirty or in the way, where it could be tripped on
Woman in grey and green with a sword fighting man in blue with sword
Taran Daestingr fights Cut and Thrust in a Grey and Green Waffenrock
Photo taken by Maggie Cake
Garment Chosen: Waffenrock
  • Waffenrock was a garment for fighting in
  • Pleated lower half of the garment reads as a skirt
  • ‘Skirt’ provides extra padding across the thighs
  • Wide, loose over-sleeve provides additional padding on the shoulders
  • Ties closed at the front easy to take off after fighting by the wearer
  • ‘Skirt’ ends just above the knees will not drag on the ground
  • Can/Should be made out of sturdy fabric
Ciana’s list of requirements
  • Has chronic pain
    • In particular ribs and spine often are in a lot of pain and anything tight or constricting exacerbates the issue
    • In general soft loose clothing is preferred as it doesn’t add additional discomfort when in pain
  • Needs to be able to get dressed by themselves without help
  • Garment will be worn indoors and outdoors at events of variable weather conditions
    • Hates wet hems
  • Garment will be worn for 12-16 hours at a time and must therefore be very comfortable for the long term
  • Needs some form of pants or drawers to reduce chafing
  • Regular activities include
    • Walking
    • Cooking
    • Washing Dishes
    • Calligraphy
  • Ability to roll sleeves above the elbow is cruicial
Portrait of a lady in a green coat
Titian. “Portrait of a Lady Holding an Apple.” National Gallery of Art, 1550. Accessed 2021. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.435.html.
Garment Chosen: Turko Venetion Coat
  • Loose through the rib cage
  • Overall not too fitted shouldn’t increase pain
  • Not intended to touch the ground
    • No wet hems
  • Sleeves can be rolled up
  • Can/Should be worn with Turkish style pants
    • No chafing
  • Front closure means it can be put on and taken off by the wearer easily
  • Fit looks comfortable
  • Can be made out of lightweight fabric for warm events
  • Can be made out of heavier fabrics or another coat can be added on top for colder events

Kian and The Mongolian Deel

A Mongolian Deel is a relatively loose fitting garment that was designed for riding, fighting and traveling. Even if an undershirt is worn, it does not show once the deel is on, meaning the undershirt is optional. It has good range of motion. Deels overlap in the front all the way across the chest. Deels can have ties or a few soft buttons that are not located centre front. The deel is between calf and ankle length and is worn with pants. Based on this it seemed like a garment that would fit the functional requirements my husband had. Which meant I needed to learn more about them.

History of the Deel

There are two main styles of deel, one with a wrapped front and one with a collar.

Diagram of a wrap front deel
Diagram of a Wrap front deel from a Yuan era burial (1271-1378) from the article “Clothing in the Yuan Period” p. 388
Deel layout from The book how to sew mongolian stitches
Diagram of a traditional collared deel from the book “How to sew Mongol Stitches” p.10




In discussing with my friend Nereugei, who has a Mongolian persona and took a trip to Mongolia in 2019, he suggested that if I wanted to try for a deel that would be appropriate for between 1500 and 1600 that the collared deel might be best. The transition from the wrapped front deel to the collared deel is not a clear one and did not officially shift until the transition between the Ming Chinese and the Manchu Quing dynasty in 1644. However, the shift in Chinese fashion from wrap front garments to collared garments tied at the shoulder began sufficiently early (mid 1400s to mid 1500s) that it is plausible that collared deels also existed before 1644. On this basis I chose to work from traditional 17th century patterns and methods that are still in use for deel making today.

For more information of wrap front deels be sure to take a look at the following resources:

Traditional method of patterning a Deel

My friend Nereugei was kind enough to provide me with a book on traditional deel making, called Моигол дззлнууд зсгзж оёх арга [How to sew Mongol Stitches], that he acquired on his trip to Mongolia. The book is in Mongolian and written in Cyrillic script. Even with the wonders of modern technology like Google Translate with a camera function, the translation is sketchy at best. However, it has some amazing diagrams and between the diagrams and some context from google translate I think I have managed to get the gist of it. The most fascinating section is the part about traditional measurements for deels. The text says (according to google translate) that the length of the arms is the length (or height) of a person and that everything is proportion to itself. There is a diagram of the traditional measurements (based on fingers and hands) and of the deel showing which measures to use where. My conclusion is that this is a proportional drafting system! This was reinforced when it became clear quite quickly that a deel pattern drafted using my measures (of fingers and hands) would be far too small for my husband, however a deel drafted using his measures was just right.

Proportional Pattern making beyond the Bara System

Foot next to fore arm showing they are the same length
Ciana’s right foot next to her left fore arm showing they are the same length

Proportional pattern drafting is based on the concept that your body is wholly in proportion to itself. For instance the length of your foot is the same as the length of your fore arm. On average your arm span is the same as your height. Many other such proportional correlations exist.

This is the basis of the bara system which was used in Spain in the 1500s and beyond. Many people now are familiar with the bara system and the bara method thanks to Matthew Gnagy and his series of Modern Maker books and workshops. The bara method is a robust system that uses your height, along with the circumference of you chest, waist, and hips to allow you to draft any garment using fractions of that total measure. A number of pattern books that we have available from pre 1600, including Alcega (1580) and Freyle (1588), use the bara method.

8 different measurments used in deel making from the book How to sew mongolian stitches
Diagram of different measures from How to Sew Mongol Stitches page 9

The proportional method in “How to Sew Mongol Stitches”is a much simpler method using only the hands as measures. The pictured measures include the width of 1, 2, 3 and 4 fingers, the length of the first finger joint and the distance between the thumb and index knuckle, thumb and index finger and thumb and middle finger. The deel diagram only usessome of these measures: the width of four fingers, length of thumb to index knuckle and length of thumb to middle finger.

Similarities and Differences

Both methods use the proportionality of the body to create a simple way of drafting a pattern that does not require standardized measurements or math. Both methods create garments that fit the person whose measurements they were made with. Both methods allow for being able to draft the pattern directly onto the fabric.

The finger method (as we will call it) has more measurements, 8 total, but no increments. The bara method has only 4 measurements but divides each one down into 11 pieces for a total of 44 increments. The finger method uses your hards, or someone elses, which a very easily accessible. The bara method requires an object such as a string or ribbon to be marked. The finger method is used for much a looser fitting and therefore does not need a particularly precise fit. The bara method was often used for pairs of bodies and close fitting doublets.

Further Research

This discovery leads to the question are there, or were there, other proportional drafting systems that existed pre-1600s? Additionally the finger method is discussed as being the traditional method for drafting this type of deel, but how far back does this method go? What are the other measurements listed used for? Has anyone made a catalog of all the body parts that are proportional to each other? Would that even be useful?

The Making of the Deels

Proportional Patterns

I drafted the patterns for the deels based on the layout in Моигол дззлнууд зсгзж оёх арга [How to sew Mongol Stitches]. The image with the deel and the traditional measurments is, in the book, very small and not to scale. Additionally there are a couple of gaps in information that means that some guess work and extrapolation was necessary. The resulting pattern seems to work but I cannot absolutely guarantee that my extrapolations and inferences are correct.

Measurements used

What we know for sure

Deel layout from The book how to sew mongolian stitches
  • The length between the centre on the garment and the end of the sleeve is 4 times the length of thumb to middle finger plus the width of four fingers
  • The width of the wrist is the length of thumb to index knuckle
  • Half the width of the chest is the length of thumb to knuckle plus thumb to middle finger
  • The width at the very top of the flap is the length of thumb to index knuckle
  • Half width of the bottom hem is the length of thumb to middle finger, plus the length of thumb to index knuckle, plus the width of four fingers
  • The width of the sleeve at its widest point (before it curves to meet the body) is the length of thumb to middle finger, plus the width of four finger

Extrapolations

  • The width of the flap is wider than the width of half of the neck hole
  • Half the width of the neck hole is half the length of the length of thumb to middle finger
  • The placement of the widest part of the arm before it curves to meet the side seam is the length of 2 times the length of thumb to middle finger from the centre
  • The distance vertically between the bottom curve of the flap and the width of the sleeve at its widest point is half the length of the length of thumb to middle finger
  • The length is 6 times length of thumb to middle finger
  • From later in the book we know the neck hole starts as round and then is offset by one finger width to the front.

The Pattern

  • The collar length can be measured based on the neck hole of the pattern
  • The height is between 1 and 2 inches
  • Curve the edge between the front and the top
  • Add 0.5” (or whatever your seam width will be) to the bottom of the lining for the collar

Construction

Based on the images and translated instructions in Моигол дззлнууд зсгзж оёх арга [How to sew Mongol Stitches].

  • The pattern is laid out on folded fabric with the fold along the top edge and the centre along the selvedge
  • The extra arm length, the collar and the flap are cut out of the extra fabric in the middle
  • The body pieces are sewn together at centre back
  • The additional arm length is sewn to the arms
  • The side seams are sewn together
  • Cuffs are finished with bias tape
  • Flap is reinforced with canvas interlining along the top edge and curve
  • Flap is finished with bias tape along the top, curve and, if desired, the side edge or the side edge is hemmed
  • Hem the right centre front
  • The flap is sewn to the left centre front 0.5” from the top (or whatever the width of your collar seam will be)
  • The collar is interlined (I pad stitch one and just treated the interlining as one with the outer layer as I stitched with the other. There is no noticeable difference in the finished product.)
  • Stitch bias tape to the top edge of the collar and interlining
  • Stitch bias tape to the bottom edge of the collar and interlining with an inch extra on each end
  • Fold the bias binding up and stitch to the interlining
  • Place the collar lining and fold the bias tape on top and sides down and stitch in place
  • Place the inside of the collar lining facing the inside of the neckhole and sew together
  • Clip the neckline
  • Fold the seam inside the collar and stitch the bottom of the bias tape to just outside the neck seam
  • Hem
  • Add button and loop closures

Fit

The deels fit really well. They are not a particularly closely fitted garment, but as you can see in the gallery below my deel is too small for my husband, but fits me well and his deel is ginormous on me but fits him very well. Interestingly I am able to push my sleeves up higher than he can, but we are both able to push them back far enough to be able to wash hands, or dishes. They are very comfortable and functional.

Based on my husband’s original list

  • Durable
    • Yes
  • One layer – tshirt only underneath
    • The deel can be worn completely by itself with nothing under it
  • Good range of motion 
    • Yes (See photos)
  • Need to be able to comfortable and easily lift hands above head
    • Yes (See photos)
  • Don’t care exactly how it closes but would like to avoid shank buttons, might prefer ties to buttons
    • No shank buttons
    • Can be closed with ties
    • All buttons are ties are off to the side and less likely to be struck
  • Closure must have good overlap
    • Flap goes from centre front all the way to the opposite side seam
  • Would prefer a collar to go under the gorget
    • Has a collar
  • Knee high boots
    • Generally worn with boots
  • Below knee pants
    • Generally worn with full length, wide trousers
  • Would prefer the pants to hide the knees
    • See above
    • All other pants considerations are not applicable yet as the pants have not been constructed
  • Top needs to hit natural waist minimum
    • Top extends past the knee
    • Closure at or around the natural waist

Feedback

Please let me know what the most interesting part of my exhibit was for you.

Please tell me one thing you learned, and one thing you are interested in more information about.

Please let me know if you have any further research or information on any of the following topics:

  • Proportional pattern making systems outside the Bara system that date to pre 1600 from any part of the world
  • Mongolian Deels between 1500 and 1600
  • Assessing clothing for functionality
  • Accessibility considerations for clothing

Citations

  • Thank you to Taran, Lantani and Annisa for discussing the functionality of their clothing with me
  • Special Thanks to Disa, Maggie, Lantani, Brighid, and Annisa for allowing me to use their photos
  • Extra special thanks to Nereugei for all his help over the last year working on this project

5 Replies to “A Mongolian Case Study: Functionality and Proportions”

  1. I was really interested in the proportional systems, as I have made several garments from measurements of extant garments, and resized them for my (or the recipient’s) dimensions based on proportions of the original. I gave a little squee when I saw the hand measurement thing, as I have done that myself and thought I was cheating!
    So, I actually went back and re-read bits of your work and am really impressed and jazzed about the subject again 😉
    So, thing I learned that I am thrilled about is the proportional systems, and want to get more into that.
    I will definitely pass on anything more I find on :
    Proportional pattern making systems outside the Bara system that date to pre 1600 from any part of the world
    Mongolian Deels in general
    Assessing clothing for functionality
    Accessibility considerations for clothing

    cheers
    Tanikh

  2. Please let me know what the most interesting part of my exhibit was for you: I thought the functionality framework turned out great! Especially for new people, OR people looking to shift persona time period/dress, it sets up so much useful information in a practical way that steps outside (and is stronger) than a simple pro-con list. I also LOVED the range of motion photos. It was such a clever way to demonstrate proof of concept.

    Please tell me one thing you learned, and one thing you are interested in more information about: The comparison of the two proportional drafting systems was great! I know we’ve discussed it, but getting the breakdown was helpful. And yes, 8 measurements sounds a lot better than 44 increments right now. 😉

  3. The proportional measures in this system is fascinating! Thanks so much for putting this together. I’m a 16th Century fiend, but, this seems so fascinating I might want to try it out myself.

    /Lia de Thornegge, OL, Drachenwald

    1. Isn’t it! 16th century is also my main thing which is why I was looking for Mongolian but 16th century. The wrap front deels are earlier. They may be slightly out of period but plausible for 16th century for sure. Please let me know if you do try it out, I would love to know other people’s experiences using the system. Also I know I sort of skimmed the construction details so if you are going to try it out and need any additional details please let me know!

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