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

The trials & tribulations of establishing the grain on linen

In a long thread on the Elizabethan Costume Facebook page, Co-Moderator Noel Gieleghem posted an excellent suggestion regarding the challenges of straightening grain in linen – plus a dire warning as to the perils of attempting to tear linen!

The thread is long; I’ve given a link to the whole exchange at the end of this post. It includes a lot of discussion about tearing vs. pull-a-thread-and-cut in various fabrics. Noel chimes in around the middle, passing on a really, really, REALLY good technique for straightening the grain on linen.

Linen does NOT like to be torn; tearing it distorts the grain, and, even with pressing, it stays distorted. The images above are a piece of handkerchief linen that’s been torn (it rippled like mad), then pressed carefully and thoroughly. Even after pressing, the torn threads are still off grain. Also, the first dozen or so lines of weft next to the torn edge are packed together. This may look minor, but it makes the edge behave differently from the body of the fabric, and can distort what’s being sewn.

So the preferred way of establishing the grain on linen is the old, tried-and-true “pull a thread” technique. Which is tedious.

But despair not! Noel wrote: “A tip I learned from Joy Shillaker in England is scribing your draw line with a bar of soap. It lubricates the thread you’ll be drawing and makes pulling it out much, much easier.”

Having spent many hours pulling threads that inevitably break, fishing the broken end out, and going through the cycle way too many times, I decided to test the technique. I’d already spent a serious chunk of time and patience straightening the grain on one end of my test subject, and that was a pain – the thread did not like to be pulled and broke at every opportunity.

In contrast, the soap line worked beautifully! It was orders of magnitude easier and faster than straightening the first end had been – and much, much less frustrating.

The end of the linen was so badly distorted – and crookedly cut – that it was hard to see where to put the soap line. So, I snipped along a thread, eyeballed where it led to, and started with a short (~30cm/1’) line:

Second try at making a soap line

Then I started to scoot the fabric along the pulled thread, drawing more sections of the soap line when I could see where it should go:


The whole process went fast and was super-easy; in fact, it went so well that I got across the whole width without the thread breaking!

linen scooted along pulled thread across full width of linen

In record time, I had an established grain line – and an offcut that’s a graphic illustration of why it’s so important to establish that grain line!

All done - the grain line established; the fabric cut - and the wonky offcut

Thank you, Noel, for passing on that amazingly effective tip!

I’ve pasted a link to the whole conversation on the Elizabethan Costuming page here.

By | December 6th, 2016|damage, fibers, linen|Comments Off on The trials & tribulations of establishing the grain on linen

Fabricland closing at Honest Ed’s – opens at Galleria Mall

This is the second time I’ve stocked up on thread at a downtown Toronto Fabricland that’s closing, and it looks like it may turn into a tradition. Along with my receipt, the cashier handed me a 50% off coupon for their new store – in the Galleria Mall at Dufferin & Dupont.

Another location that’s slated to be demolished in the not-too-distant future! I don’t get it! Is it really good business practice to rent, staff, and stock a store, then close it, and sell off the stock at a serious discount after a year or two? Or even three?

So it looks like I may be making another thread-buying expedition soonish. (Thread is expensive; a 40% discount is not to be sneezed at!)

As for the 50% off coupon, I’ll have to be lucky to find a fabric I want. Since I prefer natural fibres, most of Fabricland’s stock is not something I would usually buy. Amidst the polyester, polyester blends, polar fleeces, etc, they do carry some natural fabrics, but they’re mostly kiddy-print flanelettes, craft cottons, or pricey. The pure linens they had today were $40 a meter before the discount – hair-raising for someone used to or Carolina Calicos, both of whom sell linen at less than $10 yard!

But who knows? As well as thread, this time I was looking for a printed cotton in shades of denim blue, and found one that worked. It’s the one in the background of the image, and it’s 100% cotton. It originally was $24 a meter – more than I would be willing to pay for a workaday cotton print – but at $8, I cheerfully added it to my basket.

(And in case you’re wondering why most of the threads I bought are grey – one of the oddities of colour is that, if a grey thread matches a fabric on the light/dark spectrum, it will happily blend in with pretty much any colour!  The red is because I’ve got a bunch of red sewing planned, and I like the colour.)


By | November 12th, 2016|cotton, fabric stores, linen|Comments Off on Fabricland closing at Honest Ed’s – opens at Galleria Mall

Dye tests – scouring linen

This linen will be red. What shades of red, I don’t know yet – a series of tests with madder, cochineal and brazilwood is my current dye project.

Playing with the colours is fun&exciting, but much as I’d like to get right into weighing out the madder and grinding up the cochineals, I first need to scour the fabrics & yarns. Less entertaining, but necessary – before the colour goes in, whatever is inhabiting the fibre has to come out, and there’s a surprising amount of gunk on even the newest, cleanest, whitest textile!

Of the three fibres I scoured – silk, wool, and linen – the most dramatic was the linen. Though the yardage was new and clean and very white, the water turned this dirty yellow from the waxes and pectins from the linen, plus whatever was added in the processing.

In this case, I suspect there were optical brighteners – the fabric started out bright white. Now it’s still white, but with a more “natural” tone.

The PH meter I ordered just arrived in the mail! Now to calibrate it…


By | February 3rd, 2016|dyes, fibers, linen, scouring, silk, wool|Comments Off on Dye tests – scouring linen