A 13th century surcot in progress

Hardcore hand sewing

Parts of 13th century surcot

Currently I’m working on a surcot – a sleeveless dress – for my 13th century garb. Since the yearly knight’s dinner (Rittermal) in my reenactment group is taking place on the 7th of November I wanted to have something a bit fancier than my peasant’s clothing to wear. A surcot like this creates a quick illusion of a slightly richer person, even if wearing it on top of my simpler dress or one of my older short tunics. I will put some embroideries and woven bands on it to give it some more life once the main seams are done. Like that I can also upgrade it bit by bit over time and turn it super-fancy if I want with silk appliqué, pearls etc.

Later I would like to invest in a nice silk or fine wool under dress, but since I don’t know the “house colors” of the person I will be serving under, I will wait with that for now. We have a system in the group where you serve a noble woman for some years and during that time you’re supposed to wear the colors that she wears or has in her weapon.

I had a piece of off-white wool fabric lying around and decided to use it for this. It’s a lovely fabric with a smooth surface, but it comes with a disadvantage for hand sewing. It’s so dense that you’re fingers suffer quite a bit when sewing by hand, but I’m making progress. I just have to cut a piece of leather to protect my fingers when finishing the last seams since I hate working with a thimble.

Surcot gore seam

One of the seams on the gores.

The construction of the surcot is quite simple. It’s basically just two straight pieces of fabrics attached at the shoulders and then gores attached to the sides and in the middle front and back. To fit the middle gores I had to cut the fabric open to the length of the gores. I recommend to do gores that start above the waistline for this kind of garment. Shorter ones tend to not look proportional. Since I had a limited amount of fabric I had to do some measuring and thinking to make sure I had enough to make it wide enough but I believe I managed quite OK.
Cutting for gores

Cutting up the middle to be able to attach the gores.

The only part that requires some experience is cutting out armholes in the right shape. First make sure that your garment is wide enough to fit over your chest. Sew or pin the shoulder seams together and try it on. Then decide how far out you wish the fabric to reach on your shoulders and mark it. Thereafter you cut out the difference on a slight curve. Later I might do a proper tutorial on how to do this. For someone inexperienced I recommend using an existing garment to copy or a finished pattern – for instance from a jacket or other relatively loose fitting garment.

Here’s a quick image of how the surcot looks as a whole (turned inside out). As soon as all seams are finished I’ll try to take a picture with it on to show how wide it actually is at the bottom.
Surcot inside out

The not yet finished surcot inside out.

When sewing I try to always press down the seams to make the drape of the garment better. For fitted garments it’s a must, but I like doing it for garments like this surcot too. Right now I just have an ordinary iron to work with, not a heavy pressing iron but it still works well enough. Have a look at the instructions from Katafalk on how to do it properly. She’s a very talented seamstress specializing on historical garments. Her tutorials are great!
Pressing seams

Press down your seams folks!

Some days ago I came across a company producing wool fabrics in Bavaria. Since I’m a supporter of buying things from local suppliers I ordered their fabric samples and received them yesterday. Dangerous stuff! I’m now in love and want to buy rolls upon rolls of several of their fabrics… Until October is over I won’t buy anything as I have agreed with myself, but after that I think it’s time that I stock up on some materials to update my everyday wardrobe and hopefully also produce some garments for others. I’ll keep you posted of course.
Wool fabric samples

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Veronica is the founder of Hyperbrain.me. With one foot in the past and one in the future she takes inspiration from older aesthetics and ideas to apply them in updated form today. She is passionate about teaching timeless skills and believes that the world needs more polymaths.

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