Saturday, May 28, 2016

14th Century Red Silk Brocade Surcote

Sometimes we are ears deep in projects, and then a fabric comes across your path, and it demands to be made into something right away. Sometimes it's a project you'd never think you would do, like a style that hasn't interested you before, or a color you don't typically wear. I knew that I would be making more 14th century gowns in the future, but I didn't think I'd be making one quite so soon- court eventing season is in the winter in Artemisia. But, I found some fabric online and wanted to use it right away!

I spend a good amount of time shopping online for fabrics every week, just to see what's out there- usually I just bookmark it to think about if a specific project needs certain fabric for it, but this time, I saw the fabric and had to snap it up right then. It's a red and black silk brocade from Ebay, in a small geometric floral pattern that I thought would best suit the 14th century. Once I decided on the project for it, I bought some red and black shot dupioni silk on Etsy to line the whole dress.

It wasn't until very, very recently that I realized that I liked the look of the 14th century surcotes with super long hanging sleeves. For ages I thought them impractical (that didn't change with this project, ha!), unusual, probably complicated to make, and unattractive. But when I was thinking about what style of 14th century overgown to make with the silk, I kept coming back to the floor-length sleeves and realizing, "that's what the gown needs".  The surcotes with wrist-length open hanging sleeves are definitely more common, but the floor-length sleeves are still easy to find. These surcotes were worn over kirtles. Here are some historical examples of this style of surcote:

 Queen's Book, fol. 128. Hippomenes and Atalante. Note her red kirtle showing at the forearms.
 This one is 15th century but the style clearly lasted into that century too. Enlèvement de Dinah, la fille de Léa et de Jacob, par Sichem le Hivvite (cf. Genèse 34).
Guillaume de Digulleville, Le Pèlerinage de la Vie humaine. A red kirtle is underneath the blue brocade surcote.

I started construction with my basic body block pattern, but left a little room in the torso for wearing with a kirtle underneath. It laces up my right side with 16 spiral-laced eyelets. It has two hip gores and one front and one back gore. The sleeves had me worried that they'd be difficult to pattern, but after thinking about it (a lot), I ended up using my plain sleeve pattern that has the seam under the arm, not down the back of the arm. I cut out a portion in the front that stops at my elbow, tried on the mockup, and fiddled with how big I wanted the cut out until it looked right to me. It took only a few minutes! I had to add extra to the sleeve length to make them hit the floor- I only bought 4 yards of the silk so the sleeves are pieced near the bottom. I will definitely be using flap sleeves for other gowns in the future.
This surcote is designed to be worn over a kirtle and smock. However, sometimes events are just too warm to wear another full layer underneath a gown that is completely lined, plus the long-sleeved underwear. So, this gown is being worn for these photos with false undersleeves. I made a set out of black silk taffeta, lined in black linen, with little gold (functional) buttons. They are whipstitched to the gown sleeve lining, and can be interchanged with other surcotes and cotehardies. This way, I save a layer to stay cool, and prevent sweating too much in the fancy silks. In period, a kirtle would be worn underneath, and I'm sure I will wear one in the future, but it's already warm here and 50 Year will be hot, so I cheated and did the false sleeves. They worked out awesome!

 As you can probably tell, I really like how the surcote looks with the black belt and fillet- they've become my go-to accessories. I can also wear a gold, metal set with the plaque belt and coronet, but the black looks better to me. I've taken to calling this my "historically-accurate Cersei Lannister gown", because it feels like something she would wear, being red and gold! So here's some pics of me doing my best Cersei:


  1. Gorgeous dress! Also, I love the heraldic banners in the background, especially with their repeating background pattern. Do you have any close ups of them? I have been looking for resources on how to make banners and would love to make something like that.

    1. Thanks Elisa! I don't have any close ups of those banners, unfortunately. I would suggest you go to Pinterest and type in "silk banners", I just did and found what looks like several tutorials. I only have a vague idea of how they're done- stretching lightweight silk onto a frame, and hand painting them.