Let there be clothes.

There are some people that could probably get away with attending an SCA event naked, I, alas, am not amoung their number.  Clearly an attempt must be made to assemble some sort of garb and, as there is the small matter of my not being able to sew affecting my decisions in this, I’m strongly leaning towards generic medieval for the first attempt, especially since I also have two boys to kit out and a fixed time and budget in which to do so.   I ordered and received a pattern pack (Period Patterns no 16 – Tunics) from  Mediaeval Miscellanea.  So far my attempts have involved taking them out of the pack, staring at them making mmmming noises and carefully packing them away again.  (What, when it comes right down to it, is *goring* anyway, it sounds like something involving boars and deathly infections)   Clearly I need serious help.  Luckily I have the great fortune to be part of the House of Green, and though I missed the first household garb day, there will be another one soon.  I’m looking forward to it truth be told, which surprises me after a lifetime of serious dedication to avoiding such things.

In my usual fashion I have switched into full on procrastination mode.. why do anything when you can go read interesting things on the Internet by way of “research”? Today’s question: Assuming I acquire the necessary skills over time, what would I recreate as something an Irish woman living circe 1160-1300 would actually have worn? 

Unfortunately it looks like I picked a lean period for my poor Órlaith in terms of historical reference. Had I chosen something pre 10th century, and preferably had a sex change and a military bent, things might have been easier.  Similarly the 16th Century is a lot richer in evidence, but too late for me.  From what I have gathered so far I need to try and track down a book called Dress in Ireland by Mairead Dunleavy, published in the 80s and now out of print.  Amazon have some secondhand but out of my current budget prices so I might see what the library can do for me.  I suspect it will be more useful for a male persona, but we shall see.

I think anyone doing research on Irish garb ends up at the Reconstructing History pattern site, which appears to be dedicated to being very authentic indeed, and is therefore a little scary to the novice like yours truly.  (To the point where some superimposed voice in my head that’s definitely not mine has actually shrilled “patterns! patterns?! Those aren’t period til the 19th century!”)

From their site I read

After the Norman Invasion in the 12th century, the area of English influence (known as The Pale) gradually shrank back until it covered no more than the city of Dublin and its immediate outskirts.   Ireland seems to have reverted to its tradition of occupying itself with internal struggles.   While this happened, external interest in Ireland languished and so do our sources.

Awesome.  I have read in a great many places that Irish fashion didn’t really chance much from Pre-Christian times up until the 16th Century, but whether that’s true or just a shoulder shrug “we don’t have evidence, who knows?” I don’t really know.  One interesting find though (for my somewhat grounded in Norman Ireland persona) is Geraldus Cambrensis and his Expungiato Hibernica and The History and Topography of Ireland.   Apparently he hated us, so it’ll be interesting to see what way he describes Irish fashion.

Luckily for me there is evidence that the dress of non-rural Irish people in the main towns followed along European mainstream trends, and since my Household is definitely non-traditional and multicultural, I feel I don’t have to get too caught up with “properly period Irish”.  All that said, I’d certainly like to maintain a strong Irish flavour, which involves knowing a bit more about the Brat and Léine at least.   After all, the Irish style of dress seems to have been considered distinctive enough to have been amoung the things banned by the statutes of Kilkenny to those of Norman descent in an attempt to stop the tide of losing their people to the Irish way of life.    The gist of the style seems to be léine, dress and a brat over all for women.  (I can’t seem to find if the dress is the “guna” of school taught irish or not.)    Anyone I have found describing medieval overdresses seem to be describing what Reconstructing History refer to as the Shinrone Gown, which is too late for my period.    Recreated commercial gowns seem to be front laced at the bodice, open to foot dresses, edged with pretty trims, which are certainly appealing.  I’ll write some more on this when I get my hands on some more detailed reference material.

Edit: After I wrote this I started to work with the pattern mentioned above.  It’s making more sense now I’ve really looked at it *but* tracing patterns from flimsy pattern paper to equally flimsy  tracing paper is difficult.   Trying to do so with a cat who has decided the whole exercise is obviously intended for his amusement is even more so.  The pattern is all the harder to trace because there are guidelines for many styles as well as for many sizes to try to sort through and the bloody thing keeps shifting.

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