Matilda’s Wedding Bliaut
I designed this outfit based on the near-contemporary illustration of the 1114 wedding of Empress Matilda and Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. The illustration of from the Chronicle of Ekkhard von Aura. I made the dress out of a lightweight wool flannel in dark green. The trim is silk brocade in geometric patterned stripes. I chose the stripes to match Matilda’s trim as closely as possible, where her trim had motifs such as dots (neckline, tight sleeves) and zig-zags (loose sleeves). Her dress also lacks bicep bands, so I omitted this common 12th century decoration on this garment. It’s hard to tell if she is wearing a belt, or if the lines at the waist represent wrinkles in her dress. I chose to make a ceinture (wrapped fabric belt) out of the same silk brocade that I used to the trim. The skirt has 6 evenly-spaced gores, since I have found this skirt style to be suitably voluminous and dramatic for what I imagined the skirt of an imperial bride might look like. The skirt had to be left to the imagination, since the Empress is sitting behind a table in the illustration. I constructed this garment with a sewing machine, and finished it by hand.
Trapunto Quilted Chemise
Many 12th century depictions of women show necklines and cuffs with even, parallel lines or ridges. Since these ridges often travel around curves, particularly on keyhole necklines, a quilted texture is much more likely than pleats or gathers, which would only be able to form straight lines. The style of quilting I have used here is called trapunto, and it is characterized by the process of back-stitching the design onto 2 layers of fabric, then stuffing desired areas with yarn or batting using a blunt needle through the back layer of fabric. The earliest extant example of trapunto quilting is from 14th century Sicily (the Tristan Quilt). This intricately illustrated quilt was made with linen fabric and linen thread, and stuffed with cotton. I used linen fabric and linen thread as well. I chose wool yarn as my stuffing material because it would have been more readily available in northwestern Europe where my persona is based. I quilted the keyhole neckline and the cuffs to just below the elbow. This garment is entirely hand sewn. I have washed this garment twice, and the quilting has held up very well. I would like to thank Mistress Helewisa de Frejous for bringing trapunto quilting to my attention.
Purple Brocade Bliaut
This garment was based on depictions of dresses with narrow, ankle-length skirts that are made from patterned fabric. I suspect that these dresses were made from heavy brocaded silk fabrics that would hold a relatively smooth shape, rather than falling in folds like other styles of 12th century dresses. Heavy silks such as these would likely have been quite expensive, so a narrow and slightly short skirt would have saved fabric. These dresses are worn over another layer with a longer and fuller skirt that is usually white, but sometimes a pastel color. I suspect this inner layer is made of linen. I made a chainse to wear under this outfit (described below). It could be worn with just a chemise under it, but none of my chemises are floor length. I constructed this garment with a sewing machine and finished it by hand.
Smocked Cuff Chainse
I needed a linen layer to wear under my purple brocade bliaut, so I decided to make a chainse. This is a 12th century woman’s garment, generally made of white linen, that was an outer garment in its own right. The chainse is distinct from the chemise, which was an undergarment. An analysis of the descriptions of these two garments in contemporary literature can be found in Eunice Rathbone Goddard’s Women’s Costume in French Texts of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. I gave this garment a V-neckline to show the quilted chemise under it. The V-shapes in the front and back were accomplished by putting a slit in the centre of the fabric, then pleating the fabric at the shoulders. I constructed this garment with a sewing machine and finished it by hand. I also chose to make smocked cuffs with a ruffle. Ruffled cuffs are depicted in at least one 12th century carving (shown below). Smocking was also a common surface treatment in the 12th century. Extant examples of 12th century smocking are on the tops of gores from church vestments that became saints’ relics.
I wanted to try some structural elements that I had seen in a few pieces of 12th century artwork. I wanted to make the pleated and beaded V-neckline on a Chartres Cathedral statue. I also wanted to try the sleeves from a French enamelled casket from about 1180. I used a silk and wool blend herringbone twill fabric. I sewed it with linen thread where the thread wouldn’t show, and silk thread where it would show. I decorated it with freshwater pearls and silk embroidery. The sleeves are simple tunic sleeves made extremely long, with slits at the wrist area to put my hands through. I wanted this garment to be easy to wear, so I made it in a T-tunic shape that could be pulled on over my head and didn’t need to be laced. This garment is entirely hand sewn.