The Apron and the Scoggers – an unexpected project

I’m going to be taking a potentially messy pigments class at Fruits of our Labours (better known as FOOL) a Society for Creative Anachronism event on the May long weekend.

As I’ll be wearing 16th century garb, it struck me that I’ll seriously want to protect my clothes. Which raised the question of aprons.

Almost all the many aprons in 16th century art – and earlier, for that matter – start at the waist and cover the front of the skirt. That’s always puzzled me. I’ve never noticed that splatters and splashes conscientiously restrain themselves to landing below the waist. Surely “women’s work” was just as messy in the middle ages & renaissance as it is now, so where are the full frontal coverage aprons?

I had a faint tickle of memory that I had seen at least one image of such an apron, but I couldn’t pin it down, so I sent out a plea on themedieval washerwoman wearing apron marvelous Elizabethan Costume facebook page. The membership came to my rescue with a number of images, including this one.

Then one of the members had the brilliant suggestion that a pair of scoggers (sleeve protectors) might be a good idea as well. A good idea indeed! Thank you, Tracie!

The construction of the apron is guesswork. From the images, it looks like the aprons were made from two rectangles, and the necklines range from a simple casing with a strap threaded through it to many fine gathers anchored down somehow, with a separate strip sewn on as a casing. I suspect the gathers are the back side of smocking. Even using a very sturdy thread, unsupported gathering lines would eventually break, which would make for a truly annoying mending job.

With the width of fabric needed to cover my skirt & leave enough room to walk freely, the simple-casing design Detail of reverse-smocked yokewould have been ridiculously bunchy & ugly, so I went with the reverse side of smocking. It’s still a serious volume of fabric, but at least it behaves itself!

The scoggers are just sewn & hemmed tubes, with a pair of eyelets at each end for a drawstring.scoggers - eyelets & drawstring

I did cheat a little with the drawstrings – the visible parts are linen tape, but I spliced a piece of elastic into each one blue "this way up" stitchesso that I could get the scoggers on & off by myself. With just the linen tape, I’d have to have had someone tie me into them each time!

I also added a few stitches in blue linen embroidery floss on the inside top so that I wouldn’t have to figure out which way is up each time I put them on!

The is is probably the shortest garb project I’ve ever made. Even with doing everything but the long seams by hand – including felling down the apron seam allowances – I got it done in the few odd corners of time available in two very busy weeks!

Yay rectangles, straight seams and one-size-fits-most!


By | May 10th, 2017|costume, linen, smocking|2 Comments

Knitted silk stockings, first attempt

Raspberry-mousse coloured knit silk stockings - first attempt

My first attempt at knitting the Eleonora stockings in silk was an education! (My first-first attempt was in wool, which I’ve had lots of experience with – and the gauge was way too big, so I abandoned it.)

To get back to the silk: I wanted to dye the yarn a true red with cochineal.

Since cochineal is sensitive to ph – an acidic dyebath pushes it toward red and a basic one towards purple – I used neutral ph distilled water for the dyebath and added vinegar in an attempt to shift the colour towards red.

Though I’ve gotten bright reds with cochineal & vinegar on wool, for some reason the yarn refused to become red no matter how much vinegar I added.

It settled to a raspberry mousse shade and refused to budge, so I worked with that.

When I started to knit the cuff, I discovered that it knit up to significantly fewer rows per vertical inch than the swatch I’d made. This squashed the detail so badly that I could hardly see it, which surprised and puzzled me.

I asked a friend who had knitted in the round with silk, and apparently this was due to the fact that, unlike wool, silk has no “memory”. Wool springs back to its original size; silk stays stretched.

To make the pattern look right, I knit each pattern row twice. This made the pattern a little longer, but that was better than squashed.

For the swatch, I just knit on the needle part of a circular needle, back&forth with very little pulling, so it didn’t stretch. Working in the round on the stocking, I was pulling the piece around the whole needle, so it did stretch.

The other disappointment was that the surface of the yarn scuffed, spawning little balls of purple fluff. If this happened during the knitting, the finished stockings would probably get scuffed & covered with purple fluff when worn, obscuring the pattern.

Which would make knitting so much complicated detail kind of pointless.

So my next attempt will either be in wool or a wool/silk blend, depending on budget & availability, and if it comes out on the purple end of the scale when I dye it, I’ll try overdying it with madder to get a true red.









By | December 3rd, 2014|costume, dyes, knitting, silk|Comments Off on Knitted silk stockings, first attempt

Mining the stash part 2

LiviaDaPortoThiene&Daughter4webTurns out my Mining the stash project is going to be delayed. For the best of reasons: I’m going to Italy with my sister next spring – and the dates are just too close to do both justice.

Much as I enjoy the annual SCA* Arts & Science comptetition, it’s no contest – I’m off to Italy!

A great opportunity to look at lots of art and at any historical textiles I can find.

With luck, I’ll be able to see stuff I’ve never met before and gather lots of information on colour, details and those visual elements that translate poorly at a resolution of 72dpi, or even in book-size photos.

In the meantime, I’ve gone through the stash & chosen the main fabrics for the gown and coat and the fur for the lining and the zibellino (the furpiece the countess is holding over her arm).

fabrics & furs for the Livia di Porto Thiene outfit project


  • The coat fabric is a grey/taupe cotton velveteen – apparently cotton velveteen is closer to what Renaissance velvets were than 21st century velvets. I’m hoping to be able to check this out while in Italy!
  • The gown fabric is dark green silk damask – to show the detail, I’ve made the scale bigger in the sketch than it is in real life
  • The fur lining will come from an tawny mink coat a friend found when clearing out his mother’s estate
  • The zibellino is a red fox fur I bought in a second-hand shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

Tempting as it is to get started making the outfit, this is as far as I’m going to go with the project until I come back from Italy!

Actually, that not quite true –  I’ve made the zibellino and am working on a detail that doesn’t show: stockings. As the countess is dressed for winter, she’s almost certainly wearing stockings.

I’ve used my imagination and am making a pair of knit red silk stockings in the style of the pair found in the tomb of Eleanora of Toledo. I dyed the yarn with cochineal and am waiting for it to dry. It looks like it’s going to be more towards purple than the red I was aiming for, so it’s going back in the dyepot tomorrow.

Stay tuned

* SCA – Society for Creative Anachronism


By | November 6th, 2014|costume, cotton, fur, Italy, SCA, silk, the stash, travel|Comments Off on Mining the stash part 2

Mining the stash

I’m mining my fabric stash for next spring’s Ontario Society for Creative Anachronism Arts & Science competition. The plan is to use mostly what I have on hand, only buying new materials when there just isn’t anything in the stash that’s suitable.

A bit of background: the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is an international organization dedicated to researching and recreating pre-17th century arts and skills, and the Arts & Science (A&S) competitions include all of those except the martial arts.

A&S costuming competition gets into some pretty extreme authenticity, using only natural materials like silk, linen and wool. Which can be financially challenging – hence the mining of the stash. Luckily, over the years I’ve run into some irresistible bargains that I figured would come in useful “someday”.

Well, “someday” is here!

I’m basing my entry on this 1552 Veronese portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene which is now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland:

1552 Veronese portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene currently in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
It’s not going to be an exact copy; for one thing, the colours that suit the Countess look dreadful on me, and for another, my local second-hand stores don’t run to sable, which is what the fur draped over her arm is. Or lynx, the lining in her coat.

So the excavation begins!

By | May 4th, 2014|costume, fur, medieval, museums, SCA, the stash|Comments Off on Mining the stash

May I please grope your houppelande?

Medieval statue of a man wearing a long houppelande…a question I asked a gentleman wearing a houppelande made of luscious-looking fabric at the Pennsic War, a Society for Creative Anachronism event last summer.

It came out more suggestive than I intended, but luckily the gentleman was also a fabric geek so he understood!

However, it once more made me aware that the English language needs a word that accurately describes that cloth-feeling gesture so familiar to every fabriholic – that gentle touch/rub/squeeze that tells so much about a fabric.

While there is something sensual about fabric, both “grope” and “fondle” – with their unfortunate associations with unwanted sexual touching – miss the boat.

In Czech – my first language – there’s a word that does the job nicely. In English it transcribes as “shmatat” and it specifically implies touching. Not groping, not fondling. At worst, pawing – as in “get your paws off that yardage”.

And I’ve often wondered whether there’s a connection between “shmatat” and “shmata”, the Yiddish word for rag – as in “rag trade”, aka the clothing industry. I’d be very surprised if it were a coincidence.

Any etymologists of Yiddish out there who can help with this one?

The image is a statuette of a Dutch count in a long houppelande from the Dam chimney-piece, Amsterdam, ca. 1475. From ‘A History of Costume in the West’ by Francois Boucher.(photo Giraudon)

By | January 28th, 2014|costume, language, medieval, SCA|Comments Off on May I please grope your houppelande?