Kingdom Arts & Sciences Festival 2015
Barony of Raven’s Cove, Wallace, NC
Category: Costume and Needle Arts – Costume: AD 1451-1600
Note: I made this entry for KASF but weather prevented me from attending.
Typically, there are two types of German dresses seen in the SCA: Landsknecht (soldier’s wives/girlfriends), and Cranach princesses (upper class). These styles of dress are flashy and sexy and therefore understandably attractive to many costumers. This focus has left a large part of the 16th century German population’s garments unstudied. The truth is that neither Landsknecht nor Cranach princesses comprised the majority of the population. I have gone even further down the socioeconomic scale and have begun to study woodcuts depicting peasants. In the Structures of Everyday Life, Fernand Braudel states, “The world between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries consisted of one vast peasantry, where between 80% and 90% of people lived from the land and nothing else. The rhythm, quality and deficiency of harvests ordered all material life.” This paper focuses on dresses (kleider) worn by working class women.
Dresses in Artwork
The types of dresses (kleider) worn by peasant women are very basic. They are made from wool or fustian, which is a mix of cotton and linen. The images of women in this section are from woodcuts depicting country fairs. These dresses are representative of the basic dresses worn by peasant women.
• Peasant dresses were often shorter than town dresses. Many of these dresses stop about mid-calf.
• Key items of dress for women: dress, apron, headwear, shoes, belt, waist pouch, keys, knife.
• Optional items for colder weather dress are jackets and capelets. These were often lined with fur. Germans loved squirrel fur.
Fitted Bodice with Square Neckline and Fitted Sleeves
This dress that I made for this competition has a fitted bodice with front hook-and-eye closures. The bodice has fitted sleeves that seam up the back. The skirt is made of two panels of 60”-wide fabric pleated into the bodice.
The skirt of the dress is a straight piece of fabric pleated into a band and whip-stitched to the fully-lined bodice. I learned the construction technique for this dress from Marion McNealy who has the instructions for drafting a body block and sleeves on her website.
The general shapes for my pattern are at left. I have made this garment many times for myself and others.
Cloth itself was a very valuable in the 16th century. People paid in cloth. Cloth held its value more than coins (Rublack, page 5). Wool was the cloth of choice for peasants for outerwear. Linen provided a barrier between the body and wool outer clothes. Fustian (a mix of cotton and linen) was also available, though whether that was available to peasants is unknown. “Cotton woven with local fibers” is mentioned in Rublack’s book on page 44.
Germany got its cloth from Italy, Spain, Flanders, Turkey and England. The fabrics used in period:
• linen for undergarments and possibly summer outer garments
• fustian, wool or linen for outer garments (dresses, jackets, hose, hoods)
• leather for hose, jackets, hats, and purses
• felt was also used for hats
Wool is made from animal fibers. Mostly sheep but camel hair was also used.
Linen is made from flax, a flowering plant. Linen does not take dye well.
Fustian is a mixed weave of cotton and linen, though some fustian is listed as having been made from cotton and some “local fibers.” What those local fibers are is not explained any further. The fustian that I have found modernly is almost denim-like in weight and toughness, which would explain why that type of fabric would have been great for 16th-century farmers.
The Color of Clothing
The unfortunate aspect about working with woodcuts is that they provide no color reference except for those that are painted, which seldom depict peasants. So, in the absence of color on the woodcuts, there are two methods of determining period colors: text descriptions and examination of paintings. I found that the most useful paintings for my German peasant research are the series of seasonal Augsberg paintings from the 1530s. While the artist or artists for the paintings are unknown and the patron(s) who commissioned the paintings is unknown, the colors are breathtaking.
In the Augsberg seasonal paintings below, there are a wide variety of men, women and children from all different social strata. Bright colors appear to be available to all people: white, red, orange, brown, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, black, and gray.
Thread and Stitches
We have very few working-class clothing available for analysis. At this time, most of the publications about 16th century period German clothing is based on men’s clothing. In the analysis of Schaube T 4749 , the threads used to sew clothing were determined to be brown or black silk and colored linen. Both linen and silk threads were used in the same garment. The scientists analyzing the threads were uncertain if the threads were really black and brown or if the color had changed over time.
The same study, while uncertain of all the types of stitches used to sew the fabric together determined that the most-used techniques were “jerk and loop” stitches used. I have to do more research to determine exactly what “jerk and loop” stitches mean. The exact paragraph is shown below.
“Die genauen Sticharten an den Nahten lassen sich entweder nicht erkennen oder es sind nachtraglich uberstochene Nahte. Deshalb wurde darauf verzichtet, sie hier einzeln darzu-stellen. Insgesamt ist jedoch festzustellen, das hauptsachlich Vor-, Ruck- und Schlingstiche Verwendung faden.”
This dress is made from wool and lined with linen. The interlining of the bodice is another layer of heavyweight linen.
The outer bodice and the lining are sewn together at the front and neckline. The bottom edges of the bodice are turned under and whip-stitched closed. The cuffs are also turned under and whip-stitched closed. The entire front and neckline is stab-stitched in place to keep the edges from rolling. Then the hooks and eyes are attached, thus making the bodice an entire finished piece before the skirt is added.
This type of dress is very basic and very comfortable. I can see why it appears again and again in the German woodcuts. I don’t have any lessons learned from this dress because it is a staple of my wardrobe that I’ve made so many times, the kinks have long since been worked out.
I highly recommend this dress to intermediate seamstresses who want to develop to the next level of sewing competence. This dress pattern can be adapted to many forms and it can be made as plain or fancy as you want it to be.
1. Ainsworth, Maryan W. and Joshua P. Waterman. German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350-1600. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013.
2. Berghe, Vanden, Margarita Gleba and Ulla Mannering. “Towards the identification of dyestuffs in Early Iron Age Scandinavian peat bog textiles,” Journal of Archaeological Sciences, April 26, 2009.
3. Braudel, Fernand. The Structures of Everyday Life: Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century Volume 1. Harper & Row; 1st U.S. ed edition (1982). Page 49.
4. Fagan, Brian. The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850. Basic Books, New York, 2000.
5. Geisbert, Max, and Walter L. Strauss. The German Single-Leaf Woodcut, 1500-1550 (4 Volume Set) [Facsimile] , Hacker Art Books: Revised Ed edition, June 1974.
6. “Kurzweil viel ohn’ Mass und Ziel”: Alltag und Festtag auf den Augsburger Monatsbildern der Renaissance (German Edition). Hirmer Verlag Munchen, 1994. No author not listed.
7. Lübbeke, Isolde. Early German Painting 1350-1550: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Philip Wilson Publishers, 2003.
8. Rublack, Ulinka. Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe. Oxford University Press, 2012.
9. Schnittbuch. No author listed. http://www.elizabethancostume.net/schnittbuch/index.html.
Bibliography for Images
1. All woodcuts are from The German Single-Leaf Woodcut, 1500-1550 (4 Volume Set) [Facsimile].
2. All photos of the author provided by Basil White.
3. All photos of patterns and instructions taken by the author.