A 15th Century Simple German Gown

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Ladies of Bohemia, Chronicle of Ulrico de Richentala, 1483

When I was first looking into making one of these gowns, I was thinking it was a transition gown between an earlier houppelande style and a later house-book style. However, in further researching into the dates of the images for this gown and the house-book gown, it appears it is actually a contemporary style to the house-book, only a more simple version. However this style may have been around longer since some images date into the 14th cent. The house-book dress is characterized by stuffed pleats in the front and usually a clasp that connects either side of the neckline with long strands (see image below). In these gowns you can see the pleats are sewn in place because of their shape being very symmetrical, showing a seam at the top/straight line, and sometimes the wearer has on a loose belt, that is not gathering the pleats (see the orange gown below).

House-Book Gown

15th Century Simple German Gown

The simpler gown I am making does not appear to have stuffed pleats-there is not a straight line at the top and they are not always regular enough to suggest being stuffed and sewn. Most of the gathering appears to be naturally due to belting in the gown at high-natural waist. There is not as much pleating as is seen in a houppelande which would have been earlier to this gown. The gathering also does not extend up to the shoulders as with a houppelande.

There are images that show both gathering in the front and the back. However there is not usually gather along the sides, and I used this observation as a key aspect in my construction design. The bodice is soft but close fitting and a chemise is not usually seen above the neckline, but sometimes edges can be seen. Many images show a white underskirt likely from the undergarment (discussed next) or a chemise.

Possible Undergarment

The bust is soft and separated, suggesting perhaps the use of Lengberg Castle find style undergarment (I hope to do further research on this as another project). In many images the bust seems to be lifted enough that some sort of support is occurring, but is not compressed together as with a gothic-fitted-gown construction. Some images also show perhaps evidence of the sprang detail found on the Lengberg Bra (see “Codex Schürstab.1472” and “YoungGirl.1480” images below) and are in the same time period. For these reasons I felt using a modern bra, similar in fit to the Lengberg Bra, would give the right silhouette until I could make a Lengberg undergarment. There are many images that show a likely undergarment with a skirt attached, and this is the style I plan on making eventually. Lacing for the undergarment is usually along one side, but can also be in the front. All examples that I have seen are sleeveless.

Making My 15th cent German Gown

In looking at the images, the following aspects were inferred as far as construction for the garment:

  1. The bodice is made from 4 pieces, with seams in front, back and along the sides
  2. Skirt is full with a long hem resting on the ground
  3. Sleeves are either baggy or close fitting, with both loose and tight cuffs possible. No gathering of sleeve cap at the shoulders. Some images show a slight “grande assiette” style construction seen in the back of the garment.
  4. A belt is used at high-natural waist. In most images there is no waist seam, it is usually seen with a belt. Some images suggest a possible waist seam but this could also be due to rolling the garment over a belt. For my construction, I’m presuming there is no waist seam.
  5. Pleating is in the front and back only, from below the bust, flowing into the skirt under the belted area.
  6. The angle of the show pleats are pulled toward the middle front under the belt. This suggests that the fullness of the garment in in the sides. (See Images below)
  7. Lacing is not seen. The front seam is sometimes found with a two clasp closures perhaps.

As I said previously, I used how the pleats gather to help determine the construction of the gown. Since the pleats are pulled towards the middle front, this suggests that the fullness of the skirt is along the sides. If the front was also full, we would see vertical pleats in the middle in addition to the ones gathered in from the sides. This is the case however for images showing the back of the garment. The back has both fullness in the center and  from the sides. It usually has a train as well.

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MES.YoungGirl.1480s
germanback
Hugo, von Trimberg

Construction

Taking these clues into consideration I came up with the following pattern:

a = underarm to hem, b = shoulder to hem (over bust), c = shoulder to hem plus train

There are four panels, two front and two back. Sleeve pattern is a basic close-fitting sleeve style with a seam along the back. I chose not to use skirt gores to achieve the flare since I did not see other seams in the images and it worked fine without them.

Note that this pattern does break the “no bias to bias” rule. However, since this seam goes into a train, it’s not much of an issue. Otherwise The front seam is “straight to straight” and the side seams are “bias to straight”. Cutting this out used lots of the 6 yards I had on hand. The flare uses the length of the fabric and thankfully I am short and can use the width of the fabric for shoulder to hem measurements.

I used 100% linen that was 5.3oz. I wanted to try this out in linen first before maybe doing it in wool and I’m glad I did. Plus this gives me a possible under dress for another layer under a wool version.

I sewed the pieces together on the machine and then hand finished the hem, cuffs, neckline and all the seams as flat felled method.

20161028_201813

I decided to stitch my pleats in place so that they would be even at all times and I wouldn’t need as much help with the back pleats. This is not necessary by any means. It was nice not worrying about the pleats while wearing it, but I may eventually take the stitches out and let the belt alone hold them in place.

**Update** Since this post I have come across images where the the belt is low and loose,  but there are still gathers in place. So perhaps stitching the pleats down was typical.

I didn’t include any lacing. There are some later dated images that showed open front lacing but most images didn’t show any lacing. It’s not needed in getting the garment on/off. It seems lacing in the front and a possible waist seam were other styles that may have come after or around the same as this garment, along with the house-book gown.

Finished Dress

20161210_212606I wore the dress over my Italian gathered camica with a modern bra underneath until I make my undergarment. The gown was very comfy and easy to put on and take off. My hem needs a bit of adjusting, I wish I could have made it longer, but the way it was cut it could only be so long because of how wide the fabric was. I’m glad I tried it out in linen and would like to make a wool version with baggier sleeves. I should maybe redo my sleeves as well, they need to be a bit taller in the sleeve cap. At the moment the shoulders pull outward a bit and there is some strain on the seams.

All in all this was a simple garment to make other than using lots of fabric. A hem resting more on the floor would reflect the images better. I look forward to making another version in wool and eventually making the undergarment to go with this style.

Quick and Dirty Wulsthaube

I plan to make a better “Wulst” (the roll), but in the mean time I simply rolled up a cotton handkerchief, tied it behind my head and tucked the ends in. My “Schleier” (veil) was a rectangular veil I had on hand that was just big enough to use (28″x 38″). I’ll make a slightly wider and definitely longer one to do more styles with. It was very fun trying out different looks!

Overdress next? After finishing my dress I saw this image showing what seems to be a looser over gown-the red at the bottom.

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