Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Cheater dags! (the story of a 14th century ensemble)

I don't normally write posts about the things I do on commission: I guess I feel a little squiffy writing about something that isn't for anyone in my family without permission, and there is the fact that I don't usually have the model handy to take pictures of. A lot of times too, the work I do for others isn't all that interesting, tunics, pants, basic gowns, nothing really out of the ordinary. But this project I think is interesting all on it's own for being particularly beautiful, and also because I came up with a nifty way to cheat on the dags, which are the super painful part of much 14th century wear that isn't made of wool (fulled wool is a beautiful thing). So I thought I'd do a short write up with some pictures of the cheater dags. (I'm sure I'm not the only person to think of doing them this way, but I haven't seen anyone else do it, so I figure I may as well share!)
The winning design, although he chose

Last fall a SCA friend contacted me about making him a good cotehardie to wear to fancy events, court, and the like. He wanted the full deal: a custom pattern with hand dyed silk, fancy buttons, and trim. I was enthusiastic about the prospect but told him he had to wait until I'd survived Feast of St. Nicks and Christmas. With those obstacles past, we got in touch and designed an outfit together, woolen hose, with a silk hood and cotehardie, all custom dyed to match. Parti colored, and with dags and trim and buttons galore.

In the 14th century dagged edges became all the rage. Hoods, sleeves, hems: you name it, if it was the edge of a garment it could be cut in any number of different kinds of fancy scallops. Square, rounded, long, short, even fancy compound shapes like oak leaves can be found in period images. It was a fashion craze, and it's a real pain to do. Unless you work in fulled wool, which is fray resistant, the best way to make dags is by lining and turning. While this method works, the the points between the dags tend to be fragile, and it's hard to get it totally flat after you turn it. It's far from impossible, but it is fiddly and bothersome.

 I got to thinking about it while I was drawing up the designs, and it occurred to me, why not do them just like the tabs on a doublet: make them separately, line and turn them, sew them onto the edge, then just hide the seam with trim? it would be significantly easier than finishing a scalloped edge. So, that's what I did, and it worked out really well.

Dags in progress. 
I did some math to figure out how big the dags should be, then cut the correct number in both colors. This is silk satin, over 4.7 oz linen, lined with tissue weight silk habatoi (the silk is hand dyed, everything is from Dharma Trading as usual). I sewed the dags, clipped and graded them, turned and ironed them, then top stitched around the edge. Then I just sewed them
onto the edge, and flipped the seam towards the body of the garment. I sewed the trim so it overlapped the seam, then sewed the edge of the lining down to the edge of the dags. Voila. you could do any of the simple dags this way, square, curved, even some of the simpler compound shapes, although not the really crazy compound shapes (I've seen beautiful wool hoods with oak leaf shaped dags around the edge.) Those should probably be reserved for fulled wool. Doing the dags was still time consuming and fussy, but on balance, much easier.  A side benefit of doing it this way is that you don't have to worry about the tips of the slits, where the seams allowances are very small, and quite capable of working their way out of the seams. Fray check is your friend there, but traditional lined dags are still a little fragile. these are not.

It was a little more tricky to apply the dags to the curved edge of the hood. if you sew a straight edge to a curved edge, it cups, like the bottom of a basket, Obviously that's not a great look for a hood, so instead I turned the edge of the hood, including the lining towards the outside of the hood, and laid the dags over it.

Then I top stitched along the edge of the lining from the reverse to attach the dags.

I then applied trim over the exposed edges. Trim on a curved edge like this is tricky. you can see how if I make it tight to the larger circumference of the outside edge, it bubbles along the inside edge. Where the curve is gentle, many brocaded synthetic trims like this, if steamed thoroughly (careful about the heat of the iron, they will melt) can be eased into the shape of the curve. However, where the curve is sharp, this is not enough: you can see how much excess there is on the left picture of the hood edge. Then you have to find a way to take tucks in the edge. In many patterns you can find a spot to take small regular tucks that will be disguised by the pattern.

There are six tucks in the trim on this side of the hood. once they're sewn and steamed into place, you can hardly tell, even from quite close to the trim.

Here's the hood on my volunteer mannequin. I'm not sure about the lining in the hood: I was just lining all the things with my standard silk lining, which is lightweight, nice to work with, and comfortable to wear. After I got the hood all finished I put it on myself to see how it looked, and noticed that the weight of the liripipe (long tail at the back) was pulling it down off my head. Because the silk lining is so silky and smooth it was just sliding straight off. Another time I think I would line the hood in something with a little more natural friction, linen, or even tropical weight wool, to give it some grip against the head. I told the recipient that if it continually slides down, he can send it back and I'll stitch a little pad of something with more grip to the crown of the head to keep it in place.

This was a time consuming project, I had never sewn a cotehardie or hose before (thankfully the customer had a pair of hose that fit him to be cloned. which made that easy.) so I got to learn some new things, which is always exciting. Really the cotehardie is the progenitor of the suit jacket, the first truly fitted men's garment in a long line thereof. Like other very structured garments, it was a lot of work, but the result is very sharp. It kind of looks like a blob laying on the bed, but it fits the recipient like a glove. The sleeve, although tightly fitted, is constructed for full range of motion.It has gold and black modern brocaded trim in a period style, and pewter buttons cast in a period style.  I'm hoping to get more chances to play with cotehardies in the future, because it was a great deal of fun. I'm actually now looking at drafting a grand assiette sleeve for myself, as taken from the purpoint of Charles de Blois, to use in a gambeson to wear under my armor for heavy combat. I wouldn't have gone down that rabbit hole (Which is a very FUN rabbit hole) without this experience to start me. (which is one of the many reasons I really enjoy doing work for other people, I get to play in periods and shapes outside the norm for me).


  1. This is the suit where we had to talk him out of silk hose, isn't it?
    And Grande Aissettes are fun.

    1. Yes! He's very happy with the wool crepe I found. Thanks for all your advice on that point. I'm looking forward very much to drafting the grande assiette. I've looked over a few tutorials and it's both fascinating and practical, which is pretty much the ultimate combination!

  2. The blog are the best that is extremely useful to keep.
    I can share the ideas of the future as this is really what I was looking for,
    I am very comfortable and pleased to come here. Thank you very much.