The checked bliaut

Made in 2004

The dress is based on this picture in a german manuscript from the end of the 12th century. It's motif is Boëtius, consoled by Philosophy. The first time I saw this picture was c.10 years ago, when I bought a book on the high middle ages in Germany. I found it intriguing because it was so different. Usually bliauts are depicted as very full dresses, or with finely pleated, probably very full skirts. But if you look at other examples of bliauts made of patterned silk (which I assume they are made of), like this and this, also from a german manuscript, they are also very narrow. The reasons for this can be many. One is that the artist had problems with drawing pattern fabric and folds at the same time, so that there wasn't any narrow bliauts, just not-so-good artists. But if we assume that there were these rather narrow patterned bliauts a reason for making them so narrow is the price of silk brocade. You also wouldn't want to obscure the pattern by hiding it in folds, even if you could afford all those metres of fabric. Brocaded silks also came in very narrow widths.
  The fabric I used is old curtains bought at a thrift store. They are made from rayon and probably rather old. I bought them in 1993, intending for them to become a bliaut, but as you can see it took some time. The width of the fabric was 50 cm, which is a plausible width also for period silk. Since my waist measures something around 95 cm currently I didn't have to cut away anything at the waist but could only add gores at the hips and bust. So I used two pieces which were half the width of my waist + 3 cm ease + seam allowances X the length I wanted. The shoulders are straight and if I had had one continuous piece of fabric I might have cut this in one and then have no shoulder seams. Then I added two 21 cm (+ seam allowances) wide gores at each side, starting at my waist (to give enough width when they reached my rather broad hips). The gores have one straight side and one on the bias. The straight sides are joined to the main body pieces but the fabric patterned isn't perfectly matched ( I was lazy). To give room for the bust gores/gussets are added there too, which start under my bust and connect to the sleeves in the "normal" way for under arm gussets. They are just bigger; the side sewn to the body piece is 12 cm long and the side sewn to the sleeve is 18 cm long. The sleeves probably should be shaped with straight pieces and gores too, but I just made them bell shaped (straight at the top of course, so they fit the straight body piece). The bliaut is sewn shut at the sides, but even if there are no visible traces of side lacing in the "Philosophy-picture" I might use that anyway later if I need it to fit into the dress after I've made the neck slit shorter, since there are pictures of side lacing from the same manuscript. Side lacing is also the only manner of closure that we actually have pictures of from the 12th century (but pictures of the back are very, very rare).
  The skirt is narrow, it only measures 2,15 m and I actually think I could have made it even a little more narrow, around 1,5 m. I might change that later, but as you can see in the pictures it is trimmed at the hemline, which means that I would have to take off the trim first. The trim is black with a pattern in brass thread. I have chosen not to put trim along the front all the way to the hem beacuse I didn't have enough trim to make it double around both the hem and sleeves too. Maybe it's okay to have broader trim along the front, but I have to think about it. The sleeves are lined with orange viscose which looks and feels so much like silk that I had to make a burn test to be sure. Maybe I should call this dress "The wood pulp bliaut", since rayon and viscose both are regenerated cellulose fibres.


In this image you can see the trim more clearly.
The neckopening is very long so that I can nurse through it. Later I may sew it close so I get a smaller opening.
On my head I'm wearing an egg-shaped veil of thin silk and a circlet made from green silk (stiffened with thick interfacing) and decorated with beads, pearls (fake) and "gold" flowers. Circlets made from fabric and decorated with beads, pearls, metal ornaments and gems, both fake and real, are described in Mediaeval European Jewellery by R.W Lightbown. I am not wearing the "typical" two long braids of the 12th century, mainly because "Philosophy" doesn't wear them, but also because they are not nearly as common as we are led to believe. First, they are mostly worn by young, unmarried women. Even if there are examples of queens with long braids, a veil and a circlet, quite a lot of women have a veil and a wimple and no visible braids. The braids and veil combination, which indicates that also married women wore the hanging braids seems to be more common in France than in other parts of Europe and since the image I based this dress on is german, I thought it more fitting to put my hair in a bun and just wear a veil. It is also much easier not to have hanging braids when you have a 4 months old baby (A picture of us can be seen here).But I do have long enough hair for braids.

  Under the yellow bliaut I'm wearing a chainse in very thin, pale green linen. I used two pieces of thin linen that was 150 cm wide and 160 cm long (I'm 1,68 m tall). The pieces were gathered with rows of running stitches, 5 cm apart at the top and only 20 cm apart when I reached the bust area, because I just couldn't be bothered to do that many rows. Yes, I'm lazy. The gathering stitches were pulled tightly and the fabric was soaked and then twisted tightly (like you do with crinkly skirts after you've washed them) and then dried at a high temperature (in a drying cabinet, not a dry-tumbler)When it was dry, which took several ours, it was unwound and the gathering stitches were taken away. _Except_ for the three rows in the top end, which were only a centimetre apart. These were only loosened enough to make room for my neck (using both pieces of course). I cut a front slit in the piece I decided to call front and bound the edges with the orange trim, thus also locking the gathers in place. The gathers/wrinkles were further "locked" by sewing a row of chain stitches on the inside of the (soon to be) garment, catching the top of every wrinkle. Then I put it on and pinned it together over the shoulders to were I wanted the sleeves to start, took it off and sewed them together. This method uses parts of what should have been the side seams in a more normal garment to make the shoulders, but the fabric is so wide so the dress isn't noticeably shorter in the sides. I also pinned were I wanted the sleeves to "stop" on the sides and the sides were then sewn together. The sleeves are cut with a straight upper part and tapers towards the very narrow wrist opening. The fabric was gathered every ten centimetres, after I cut the sleeves, which are 1 metre long, and then soaked and dried the same way as the body. When sewing the sleeves together I sewed the seam a little wrinkly which will help in keeping the wrinkling. Then they were sewn into the sleeve opening left in the side seam. I hemmed the wrist openings, the hem and the front slit and that's it. I haven't washed it yet, but I've used it twice and inbetween those times I store it twisted and wound together. It is entirely hand sewn.   I don't know if there was chainses that were gathered to a neckband like this, but there are at least examples of tunics gathered to a round neck from Sweden in the mid-13th century and I thought it would be nice to try this method. There is also a tunic from a reliquary od St. Ludmila (Bažantová, Nina: "The tunic from the Reliquary of Saint Ludmila" in Textile History #21(I), 1990), which is dated to the 12th or 13th century and which has this type of gathered neck. The sleeves on the chainse were also gathered and pleated and some of these pleats are also sewn into the seam to make them more permanent.

Another, very nice reproduction of this outfit is made by a ladey called Wencenedl and can be seen here.
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