The medieval kirtle/gown thing

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JC Milwr
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The medieval kirtle/gown thing

Postby JC Milwr » Tue Jun 27, 2006 3:47 pm

I am forever being told be the great and worthies that not wearing a gown over my kirtle is like being in my underwear. Now I'm not disputing this (yet ;)), but can you lovely ladies (and huswyves) link me to good sources to prove this?

Thing is, I am seeing it a bit like the way Britain was before the forties, you simply didn't go out without a coat and hat on, it just wasn't done. _Except_ in really hot weather, which really only occurs for 3 months a year (whihc happen to be when we do most of our events), then it was kind of okay cos everyone was doing it. So perhaps the gown is really more like that, and less the kirtle being "underwear"? Go on, tear my theory to shreds, I need to be educated :)



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Postby X » Tue Jun 27, 2006 4:42 pm

Being just in your kirtle wasn't exactly like being in your underwear - women did wear just the kirtle if they were doing hot, dirty jobs - but for normal wear, you were properly dressed if you had a second layer over the top. You often see pictures of women with the top layer kilted up, showing the kirtle underneath. One example I can think of is a fairly famous (in some circles) picture of a woman carrying water from a well. Her gown appears to have been tucked into the belt around the kirtle.

The gown didn't have to be in one of the fashionable styles - a lot of the time, apparently, it was basically a looser version of the kirtle, but lacing up the side instead of the front. Some people use the term 'overkirtle' for something that doesn't seem fancy enough to justify the term 'gown' with all its modern connotations.

I don't think there is really a modern equivalent - this is a bit of a problem with re-enactment; we try to understand things in terms of our own experience, and sometimes it just doesn't work that way. The kirtle/gown thing appears to be one of those things. The gown isn't an outdoor garment (like a coat, that you put on when it's cold) and it isn't the equivalent of a dress (which you wouldn't be seen in public without or people would point and stare) - it's an arrangement that we just don't have nowadays.

I suppose the nearest modern(ish) equivalent I can think of is men working 'in their shirtsleeves' in the 1950s. To be properly dressed, you wear a jacket. But if you're doing something hot or dirty, it is permissible to strip off the jacket and work 'in your shirtsleeves'. But you would put your jacket back on when you have finished work, and only the fairly slovenly types would lounge around the house in their shirtsleeves. Respectability requires a jacket.



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Postby chrisanson » Tue Jun 27, 2006 7:11 pm

Women in there underwear ?
Sounds good to me :D
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Postby Alice the Huswyf » Tue Jun 27, 2006 7:43 pm

I think x has said it all for me.

Pet hate no 294: re-enacteurs in hot weather in one kirtle with the skirt tucked up showing smocks and legs, no shoes and the sleeves off, smock sleeves showing, bosoms and DEFINITELY not doing heavy or wet work.

They should swelter like the rest of us, the hussies!



MORE SENSIBLY: I can see the 'one layer in the heat argument' from when I started in the hobby as there was usually only coating weight wool easily available. But now with the range of medium weight twills and even light weight flannels traders are stocking, there is no real reason why NOT to wear two layers of wool. After all it is the thickness of the fabric, not the fibre, which governs comfort.



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Postby Sophia » Tue Jun 27, 2006 10:09 pm

I have to agree with Alice on this count - if you can't face two lined wool garments, even when lightweight, try a lined linen kirtle and an unlined gown (looser obviously) with some classy facings (thinking of items from Museum of London book with silk facings).

It is important to ensure that our kit is appropriate to the activity being carried out. I am certainly not going to cook in my best gear, but I would want to look reasonably well to do when out shopping/visiting.

My basic minimum garb is shift, kirtle plus second kirtle (more decorated perhaps). Most of wardrobe I am currently working on consists of flat fronted kirtles (without sleeves - will make up point on sleeves for winter) and various gowns with different degrees of fit and sleeve shape (looser sleeves for when wearing a sleeved kirtle).

Also don't forget your apron (definite must if only wearing a kirtle) - not sure at what social level you would wear one with a gown.

Sophia



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Postby gregory23b » Wed Jun 28, 2006 1:22 am

Depends on the task at hand, plenty of gownless gals at work, milking, gathering straw etc...somewhere posh. er no.

But 'kirtles' well that depends on what you think that means, it just means skirt and the term is applicable to some men's clothing too. My little banana of fun.


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Postby Tuppence » Wed Jun 28, 2006 1:55 am

One way of looking at it is that you have your shift, your underdress, and your dress. And then in cold weather you have a cloak or a coat over that.


Using the thirties forties analogy, the shift would be your bra and pants, the underdress (aka kirtle) would be your petticoat, and the dress (gown / kirtle) would be your dress.
It's not a brilliant illustration, as again, it's trying to use modern eyes to look at it, but hopefully you get what I mean.

if you went out in just your shift you'd be indecent - if you went out in your kirtle you might be indecent - but it depends what you're doing - and if you went out in your dress, you'd be fine.

And I agree that the heat of tody isn't really an excuse, though many, many people use it as one.

(Lightweights - they should see my C17th kit - shift, corset, 2 petticoats (1 of them quilted), skirt, bodice, coif, hat, hosen, kerchief, shawl - and that's just to be decent!!!!!)

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Postby Alice the Huswyf » Wed Jun 28, 2006 1:02 pm

Sophia - just out of interest, you are talking of flat fronted kirtles with pointed on sleeves - what date are you doing?



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Postby Alice the Huswyf » Wed Jun 28, 2006 1:03 pm

Bloody echo!
Last edited by Alice the Huswyf on Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:21 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Postby JC Milwr » Wed Jun 28, 2006 3:56 pm

so, sleeves then. Obviously on the shift (although I have seen one wbsite claiming sleevless ones were okay under posh kirtles, thoughts?)

Where are they compulsory and where not (again, sources would be nice :)), also the cap sleeve/sleeveless thing too.

I shall be making new kit for next year, may as well up the correctness of it all!

Incidentally, I reckon it'd be good if off-the-peg traders actually offered under/over dress combinations, as no-one does at the moment, which I'm sure contributes to the errors. Thoughts?



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Postby X » Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:00 pm

Regarding sleeveless shifts, I would wonder why. It's not as if one layer of linen is going to make much difference to how warm you are, and one of the purposes of the shift is to provide a barrier between your mucky self (and people are mucky even if they have a bath every day) and your hard-to-wash clothes. Which it will stop doing so well if you remove the sleeves.

Does this website provide references? If not, I would ignore it.

Sleeves. You wear long sleeves on something (that is not just your shift) whenever you are not doing a hot, dirty job. Wandering around with your shift sleeves showing is not OK.

I seem to recall something along the lines of:

Kirtles with short sleeves (just less than halfway down the upper arm, ish) is OK, and you can pin detachable long sleeves to them. I am not aware of the 'usual' kirtle style (front lacing, fairly fitted, body made out of four pieces) being sleeveless.

Lacing sleeves to kirtles isn't an English fashion. I don't know whether that's because it's an Italian fashion or something, or whether it's just a re-enactorism.

Flat-fronted kirtles a la Medieval Tailor's Assistant never have sleeves and you have to wear a gown over the top.

As far as I recall, a 'cap sleeve' is a tiny little short sleeve that barely covers the shoulder, and I've never seen one in a mediaeval context - are we talking about the same thing?

I guess the key points are:
*If you are doing a hot, dirty job you can wear just one layer of kirtle and it may have short sleeves which will expose the long sleeves of your shift. There is a facility to pin long sleeves onto a short-sleeved kirtle.
*If you are not doing a hot, dirty job, you should be wearing two layers, and you should have long sleeves

Of course, if anyone can elucidate under what circumstances you pin sleeves to your short-sleeved kirtle and at what point you just put another layer over the top, I'm sure we'd all be interested.

It would be nice if off-the-peg traders did gowns/overkirtles as well; has anyone ever suggested it to them? I suppose in a way, the problem is that there is no demand for it because most re-enactor women are wandering around in just one layer and most groups think this is OK. If standards change and two layers becomes the norm, then they will probably start making top layers.

On the other hand, if they stocked top layers, would people start changing their kit standards?

Chicken and egg...



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Postby JC Milwr » Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:21 pm

Certainly I have in the past judged what kit I _should_ have by what the "best" traders sell. The whole overgown thing never really came up cos I've never seen them for sale... Certainly my first kit was shift and kirtle. I then saw a few women wearing thick overgowns in a kind of coat context, but that's all.

When I said cap sleeves, I mean basically short ones, like this:
http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/sca/15th/nikuli ... s-det1.jpg

that's a weird piccy actually, seems to have false sleeves (yes I know it's Flemish)



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Postby Sophia » Wed Jun 28, 2006 5:26 pm

Alice in reply to your question I am doing 1450 - 1509 and because I am claiming continental roots (hubby brought me back from travels) I am using Northern Renaissance paintings for this period as my inspiration (think van der Weyden, van der Goes, etc.). They show waist seams on kirtles and a variety of pin on sleeves. There are also waist seamed gown by the 1470's with a variety of sleeves and bodice fit.

Everybody draws such a hard line between Medieval and Tudor - the stiffened kirtles, pairs of bodies, etc. didn't just appear.

The Medieval Tailors Assistant is not the Bible though it is excellent - it simply represents the state of research at the time it was written. (and I have that from the author).

Also the "so and so isn't English" line really irritates me. There was considerably more to-ing and fro-ing between England and mainland Europe at that period than there was post reformation.

It is also thanks to this Reformation that we are lacking a large part of the Northern Renaissance art that survived for instance in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Our finds of extant clothes are limited due to soil conditions and there is very little full length representation of "English" women at this period.

Sophia :D



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Postby Alice the Huswyf » Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:08 pm

Personally I think the transitional period between Plantagenet and full-on 'Tudor proper' is very interesting. The higher status clothing becomes very much easier to wear due to changes in fitting (ie cutting bodice and skirt separately) and the changes in headwear, bodice fastening and sleeves. And probably comfier too before they all took to bodies and stays. But our group stops short of this change at court levels. I think it is a pity that it is a period rarely covered by re-enactment groups.

It is quite interesting that despite the slow roll-over of fashion, (including flemish influence in certain levels of society) there was quite a change between 1450 and 1509, so I can see why you are going to have to make a lot of kit to cover it all.

Yes, the Medieval Tailor's assistant is an excellent book - I suggest it to all our new members so that I do not have to teach the same things over and over again, but I like to work from period sources, so I am aware of Van der Weyden et al and the later examples of bodiced garments. True, life would be so much simpler if we didn't have to search through surviving memorial effigies etc for remaining hints as to the english style but that is what makes it interesting. Apparently you could also distinguish the later english adoption of the bodiced garment as one nationality used a small central gather in the skirt panel and the other didn't . I forget which version was the flemish style and which the english as it's a long time since I chatted about it with the Dutch lady who demonstrated it to me.

I would be very wary of tied on sleeves if I were you - this is an Italian influence - and they were doing their own thang at the time everyone else followed the Burgundians or the Flemish. (Although I rather like the strange things Polish 'white ladies' were doing too - very practical against the cold.) The tied-on sleeves discussion was also had on the previous Forum - You might be able to dig them up fromt he archive . Though the only example I have seen in female non - italian dress was a spanish female figure attributed to 1470, and as she was wearing a farthingale even at that early point that shows how far adrift Northern and Southern European fashions were.

Jalea - For shame you shopaholic! That is the best bad excuse I have ever heard regarding being allowed to buy more kit. I must use it myself. I shall ask for the particular wording that works with your pet Goldenpockets when I get to munch sprog two. Save money and time - wear your new kirtle over your old one. That's the basic principle involved, which is probably why no-one is doing a specific garment.

Cap sleeves are actually barely sleeves at all they just cover the top of the shoulder and go round into the armpit. Some modern cap sleeves are only baseball-hat-peaks for the shoulder. The Flemish slaughter of the Innocents detail you've found shows a short sleeve. The other sleeves should be the sleeves of her underdress, but as she is part unlaced to feed the infant, perhaps the details of the edges of the undergarment are not painted in to emphasise her nakedness and thus their vulnerability. They do that sort of thing, artists! There is another picture of a Flemish housewife (or servant - I don't remember) feeding the indigent at the door which shows an extremely short sleeve (which could have been called a cap sleeve in the staider 1950's) with a long sleeve pinned over it. However, you can see from the picture that a longer sleeve would have worked better, as the oversleeve is gapping underneath and flopping over at the top.

I'm afraid I don't have time to look up exact references as we have a bit of a family crisis on, so you can all outdo me and yah-boo-sucks me with correct links and save me a bit of time.
Last edited by Alice the Huswyf on Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Postby JC Milwr » Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:22 pm

I only bought kit when I first started, I make most of it now, honest!
In fact, thinking about it, I made it then too, just copied what was in the "shops", it's the mans stuff I buy, cos that's just too much like hard work.

Nope, never bought kit for myself, apart from the odd hat :)

"Of course, if anyone can elucidate under what circumstances you pin sleeves to your short-sleeved kirtle and at what point you just put another layer over the top, I'm sure we'd all be interested. "

Yup, this is the reamining bit that I am confused about.

I apologise in advance for the awful frock I will be seen in at Tewkesbury, but I just don't have time for anything better at the moment! It's a badly fitted linen sleeveless kirtle; either that or I melt in the thick woolen winter one!



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Postby Alice the Huswyf » Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:30 pm

Don't apologise. Anyone with a Sprog up their shirt half the time is a fool to wear their best clothes anywhere with said sprog until it has stopped spewking all over them!

All my best clothes seem to end up on other people's backs. I shall be wearing what I have got.

PM me if you like - have you got everyone kitted out yet for the big day?

Greggie-Dear - who in particular are you calling 'your little banana of fun'? Shall one of us be pleased and the rest of us get huffy with you? And yes, I know, and that was my bijou spanner of delight.......



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Postby Sophia » Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:41 pm

On the when to pin on extra sleeves issue, I am to be quite honest bemused by this one.

Looking at the evidence from paintings I think the extra section might have served a number of functions:

a) to provide an intermediate degree of decency, either within the household or when answering the door. A bit like popping on a cardigan or overshirt if you are only wearing something very skimpy on top you wouldn't normally wear out.

b) For women who wished to maintain status but still worked (thinking of the sort of oversleeves worn in some professions until recently) - easier to washsleeves than to wash a dress.

c) To extend the repertoire of one's wardrobe - the amount of fabric required for fitted sleeves is relatively small and brocaded sleeves can be used to suggest money without the expense of a brocade kirtle. Certainly by the end of the 1400's early 1500's we are seeing what are probably false undersleeves. (at this point I cross refer to the comments about fabric compromises on the 18th kit thread).

I think despite all our hard research we have to also consider what is appropriate to the activities we are engaged in.

Sophia :D



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Postby Drachelis » Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:51 pm

Actually I do have under/overdress combinations in my off the peg range - sideless surcoats don't look right by them selves :shock:

I must admit that I have split the combinations when someone wants either part and I have plain underdresses with tight buttoned sleeves which go under the gowns with wide sleeves be they early medieval or houppelandes I do the underdress in silk with the very posh houppelandes but obviously this pushes the price up.

A plain linen kirtle is perfect for the underneath part and another perhaps in fine wool as an overdress/gown so selling seperately works too.

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Postby JC Milwr » Wed Jun 28, 2006 7:00 pm

Drachelis wrote:Actually I do have under/overdress combinations in my off the peg range - sideless surcoats don't look right by them selves :shock:



Cheryl, I tend to think of your lovely things as "posh", it's the common woman who seems to not be wearing enough clothes!

Oh btw, green fabric has not yet arrived, need to shout at John Lewis tomorrow.



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Postby Lena » Wed Jun 28, 2006 10:44 pm

JC Milwr wrote:so, sleeves then. Obviously on the shift (although I have seen one wbsite claiming sleevless ones were okay under posh kirtles, thoughts?)


You don't recall what webpage that was, or why they claimed that sleeveless shifts were ok under posh kirtles?

Sleeveless shifts exist, but it seems mainly (AFAIK, anyway) to be in central Europe, c. 1400-1450-ish. If anyone wants links to pictures, let me know.

/Lena



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Postby JC Milwr » Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:02 pm

It was an american site: http://www.revivalclothing.com

referring to the Bohemian King Wencesclaus IV Bible (c.1400), so indeed European.



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Postby Drachelis » Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:26 pm

Jalea wrote
Cheryl, I tend to think of your lovely things as "posh", it's the common woman who seems to not be wearing enough clothes!


As is always the way down the centuries - :D

Have a good shout at John Lewis -it usually works - we still have time at he moment. By the way I am obtaining some swatch books from a couple of silk suppliers for my own use so that folk can choose from a range instead of me dashing about sourcing fabric - if the worst comes to the worst there may be an alternative there

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Postby Karen Larsdatter » Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:47 pm

They're actually referring to illustrations of women associated with (employed at?) baths & bathhouses -- not necessarily that the garments in the Wenceslaus Bible are definitely showing the sleeveless shifts were worn under kirtles, posh or otherwise.

Some illustrations (mostly from the Wenceslaus Bible):
http://gallowglass.org/jadwiga/pictures ... epers.html
http://www.briaca.com/art/bocotte.html and http://www.briaca.com/mygarb/shift.html

I like Revival Clothing -- especially 'cos it means I don't have to sew breeches & hose (braies & chausses) for my husband every year :lol: -- but to be honest, some of their redrawings are misleading, so the level of historical accuracy ends up feeling ... well ... chancy. Clearest example I can think of is this hat. Can you find anything like that on Robert Braunche's head? (Here's a clearer line drawing ...) I suppose it's on the back of his head, so you just can't see it in those images ... right? :wink:

(But to be honest -- I sometimes wear a kind of sleeveless smock under some of my 13th century sets, and some of my Luttrell-peasanty outfits. Much simpler to construct, and less fussy to wear -- no bunching under the sleeves. The big event we'll be going to this summer, we'll be there about a little more than a week, and temperatures often get up to 100°F -- I guess that's about 38°C -- during the heat of the day. Having a few sleeveless smocks packed away for the hot days ends up being a lot more comfortable.)



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Postby Tuppence » Thu Jun 29, 2006 1:33 am

Obviously on the shift (although I have seen one wbsite claiming sleevless ones were okay under posh kirtles, thoughts?)


There is an extant shift without sleeves (believed to be from earlier, though - late 14th I think), and (again offhand) from France. But I do recall reading something about how they weren't sure if the sleeves had been removed at a later date, or whether it was made like that.


Certainly by the end of the 1400's early 1500's we are seeing what are probably false undersleeves.


Question - I had it my head for some reason that this was the case with the furry / brocady / embroidered sleeves of tudor gowns (think anne boleyn) - have you found evidence for it being so with other styles??

apologise in advance for the awful frock I will be seen in at Tewkesbury


don't apologise - alice is right (and besides, it'll be more 15th C than the linen trousers and t-shirt I'll be in :lol: )

I would be very wary of tied on sleeves if I were you - this is an Italian influence - and they were doing their own thang at the time


ain't that the truth - there was a painting I saw the other day with a dress where the sleeves were in four separate sections, all tied together!

Though the only example I have seen in female non - italian dress was a spanish female figure attributed to 1470, and as she was wearing a farthingale


is that the one where there are several women wearing early farthingales (with hoops in the outer skirt), or a different one??

Our finds of extant clothes are limited due to soil conditions and there is very little full length representation of "English" women at this period.


Although the former is undoubtedly true, especially of anything linen (it rots easily), and extant pieces are of course the only primary sources in clothing research, there are more depictions (full length or otherwise) of women in England than most people would think - you just have to know where to look and what to look at (and not always in this country - for example, one of the best sources of pictures from 14th century England is currently in Holland).

To be honest the early medieval purist in me can't get away from the idea that although there was an awful lot of travelling between European nations for the well to do, for normal everyday women it wouldn't have been so, and you have to go back to the English sources, if you're portraying somebody who's English.
If you're being somebody who's European, than use European sources to your heart's content, but to portray an English person and use a European source in all but the most extreme lack of evidence is really kind of a cop out.

"Of course, if anyone can elucidate under what circumstances you pin sleeves to your short-sleeved kirtle and at what point you just put another layer over the top, I'm sure we'd all be interested. "
Yup, this is the reamining bit that I am confused about.


probably one of those things we'll never know.

at least not until somebody uncovers that lost text entitled 'the etiquette and rules governing women's sleeves' :D

it's probably in the same place as the book covering the early history of padded armour....

Incidentally, I reckon it'd be good if off-the-peg traders actually offered under/over dress combinations, as no-one does at the moment, which I'm sure contributes to the errors. Thoughts?


phew - for once, I really can say not guilty (cos don't really do o-t-p) :lol:
good idea for display at some point though...


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Postby Karen Larsdatter » Thu Jun 29, 2006 3:08 am

Tuppence wrote:There is an extant shift without sleeves (believed to be from earlier, though - late 14th I think), and (again offhand) from France.

This one? http://www.kostym.cz/Anglicky/1_Origina ... _01_12.htm

X wrote:Of course, if anyone can elucidate under what circumstances you pin sleeves to your short-sleeved kirtle and at what point you just put another layer over the top, I'm sure we'd all be interested.
Tuppence wrote:probably one of those things we'll never know.

at least not until somebody uncovers that lost text entitled 'the etiquette and rules governing women's sleeves' :D

There was a discussion on the subject of pinned-on sleeves on the Armour Archive a few months ago: http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB2/ ... hp?t=57131



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Postby Lena » Thu Jun 29, 2006 9:19 am

Karen Larsdatter wrote:They're actually referring to illustrations of women associated with (employed at?) baths & bathhouses -- not necessarily that the garments in the Wenceslaus Bible are definitely showing the sleeveless shifts were worn under kirtles, posh or otherwise.


There are other non-bathhousey images as well. I have images showing Medea, Isolde, and a female potter in sleeveless shifts. I might have others but these are all I can recall at the moment.



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Postby Drachelis » Thu Jun 29, 2006 9:53 am

Correct me if I am wrong but would the shift sleeves have been short or eliminated when the sleeves of the houppelande became tight in order to give a smooth line?



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Postby X » Thu Jun 29, 2006 10:48 am

Or are the shift sleeves eliminated as a practical measure? Bath-houses and potting both involve getting your hands/lower arms wet or mucky - and hands and arms are easier to wash than linen. Pushing your sleeves up isn't really a good option if they've got to be up all the time, because they tend to slide back down again.

There's always the argument that

a) While there should always be space in re-enactment for the unusual (just portraying the usual is just as wrong as only portraying the unusual) the unusual should be correctly portrayed and under the right circumstances. If you have resort to long, complicated and far-fetched explanations of why you're doing what you're doing, you probably shouldn't be doing it

there is also the argument that

b) If you're wearing long gown sleeves who cares whether your shift sleeves are short or long? Be comfortable.

(Although I have to admit I like to get everything right, whether it shows or not)



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GinaB
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Postby GinaB » Thu Jun 29, 2006 10:49 am

would the shift sleeves have been short or eliminated when the sleeves of the houppelande became tight in order to give a smooth line?


Thats the reason my shift is sleeveless - I couldn't actually move my arms once I had shift, lined kirtle, and lined gown. Seeing the image (mentioned above) of Medea - I ripped out the sleeves. (Nearly literally) Life became easy again! :D

With regards to the whole 'dirty' thing and sleeveless shifts, the lining of the kirtle can always be removed for washing.



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gregory23b
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Postby gregory23b » Thu Jun 29, 2006 12:14 pm

Alice

"Greggie-Dear - who in particular are you calling 'your little banana of fun'? Shall one of us be pleased and the rest of us get huffy with you? And yes, I know, and that was my bijou spanner of delight......."

No one, it was in reference to my comment re kirtles....for a bit of controversy, the wine and beer I had that prompted that failed to tell me that it wouldn't work.

Get to meet you are Tewks then eh lady???


middle english dictionary

Isabela on G23b "...somehow more approachable in real life"

http://medievalcolours.blogspot.com

"I know my place." Alice the Huswyf


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