14th Century Hairpiece Tutorial – Templar Braids

Tutorial 1 – this is the most basic, fastest to make style I have. I think this took me about 60-90 minutes while watching TV. Another, more complex one for crispinettes will be forthcoming.

I have some cheater hair in my accessories box, and I love it. Braids on a headband isn’t fancy or complicated, but it’s a comfortable, versatile thing to have as a base for wearing veils and hats. It’s ideal for people whose hair isn’t long or thick enough to do medieval styles with their own hair. Or because it’s war and the water got messed up due to misplaced tent stakes and your hair is dirty. Or because you’re lazy like me.

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Fake hair is totally medieval. It’s an add-on, not a wig, so it’s meant to be partially covered. You can use fabric tubes stuffed with fluff or you can go to the beauty supply store and get braiding hair. You’ll want to go to an African-American or ethnic hair supply store for these since Sally tends to be overpriced for this project.

 

Supplies:

  • 3 packs of braiding hair. I’ve used inexpensive Yaki Pony hair for mine. It’s synthetic and runs $1-2 a pack. This used three packs of less expensive hair – one for each braid. Make sure it’s long enough! Braiding hair comes in several lengths, and you want something in the 18-20″ range.
  • Thin rubber band pony tail holders in a color close to the color of your hairpiece/hair. If you don’t have them already, get the rubber band kind, not the covered “ouchless” elastic kind. A lifetime supply is $1.
  • A headband about as wide as a finger that you find comfortable. Goody makes ones with bendy tips that are particularly comfortable and secure.
  • Thread in a color that will disappear into your hair/hairpiece and a needle.

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Gum Paste Dishes

My hope to build a castle out of gum paste has had to be deferred. Five kilos of gum paste to try and get one that would hold up like the modern stuff, and not a single one would work right. F-I-V-E. That’s over ten pounds. That’s more than eight hours of time just in hand-grinding the cinnamon for three of the batches. It’s brought my carpal tunnel back in a major way.

I’m going to try again in the summer space between rainy seasons to see if that helps any. However, the research on sugar paste’s historical usage is the same regardless of what shape the final project takes. No sense tossing aside all the reading and writing just because I can’t make a giant, intricate project of doom.

Now I’m making dishes out of gum paste for my competition project! They were all the rage at fancy continental dinner parties in the late medieval period. Guests could eat from them, then smash their dishes and nibble on the shards. These dishes were painted like pottery dishes, according to descriptions. Since no sugar paste plates remain, it seems logical that I should paint mine like ceramics from museum collections.

Ceramic deep dish from Manises, Valencia, Spain. 1430-1440. White tin glaze decorated with bronze and blue pigment. The Cloisters Collection at The Met.

Behold! The glory of Spain’s Hispano-Moresque lusterware from the latter half of the 15th century. (I have a Pinterest board of it if you want to see more.)

Plate with the Name "Maria", c. 1437 Spain, Valencia, 15th century tin-glazed earthenware, gold lustre, Diameter - w:46.70 cm (w:18 3/8 inches)
Plate with the Name “Maria”, c. 1437 Spain, Valencia, 15th century tin-glazed earthenware, gold lustre, Diameter – w:46.70 cm (w:18 3/8 inches)

Everything gold or orange on these dishes was done with powdered bronze. This was also a budget flat gilding technique used in scribal work, and the effect is wonderfully close to shell gold at a fraction of the price. Mix the powdered metal with water and gum Arabic – voila! Golden paint! These are stunning in person. We saw some in Paris this summer, and they’re decorated on both sides with vines, floral motifs, animals, family crests, and sometimes a monogram or a few words in Gothic calligraphy.

I made a plate out of period gum paste a couple of weeks ago, in a final attempt to make the blasted recipe work for me. Here it is after I tried to gently lift it from the waxed paper it was resting on. The good news is that it is delicious, so the tasting samples for judges won’t be a total failure.

I give up.
It still didn’t dry to a hard paste – more like dried frosting or glaze. I give up.

Here’s the exterior of my trial bowl. Don’t worry, y’all – it’s in progress. I’m using powdered bronze and powdered cobalt pigment. The paint gums up as you use it, since it reconstitutes the sugar paste beneath. You have to be really careful not to accidentally touch what you painted a few minutes ago, or it will peel off in a strange, mucous-y, plastic strip. Once it’s dry, it doesn’t rub off, even if I rub it kind of hard. I plan to seal it with egg white glair, once I finish painting the whole thing.

Meet Leona Roar, who is using his double-jointed skills to pop and lock through the stars...
Meet Leona Roar, who is using his double-jointed skills to pop and lock through the stars…

My final project is a plate (may show the bowl, may not), which is still drying. I hope it shrinks as it dries evenly. The bowl had problems with that, maybe because I mashed the excess paste around the curves into the rim to try and make a smooth transition from bowl to flared rim. Getting the rim evenly round was surprisingly hard, and then it pulled in at places a little as it dried. Now, it’s rock hard, and I’m not sure how to even it out in a medieval way. Maybe take a rasp to it?

 

Put up or shut up

8fd81a4380630c7ca796ff1be6725b98I can complain all I want about the lack of Burgundian out there in the wild, but I have to be the change I want to see in the world. Now, I think I know how… I’m going to make a Burgundian for war. A practical Burgundian, if you will. I have the pieces for it, I have a fitted dress pattern that works, I just have to pull it all together. I believe that it MUST be possible since I’ve seen photos of them on actual humans who do reenactment in Europe. Pray to the costuming gods for me, ok? I may be doing a horrible thing that will result in me having insufficient clothes to make it through the war. What I really want is Miss Isabella of Portugal over there with her ridiculous Hat of Glory and embroidered goldwork under dress and bejewelled everything. What I’m shooting for is maybe not looking like I tried to make a bathrobe out of some curtains, belted it, and passed it off as a dress. It’s good to have reasonable goals.

A costuming Laurel helped me troubleshoot my cotehardie pattern a couple of weekends ago at Kingdom A&S. This happens to be a Laurel who has gorgeous clothes and is the only person I’ve seen wearing anything from the era of Burgundian gowns. She casually was talking about the layers of under-things, construction options, and how they work really well as maternity and nursing gear if you make them the period way (i.e. laced at the front or sides). I already knew that part from some effigy portraits and a little bit of thinking through how much time you spend pregnant or nursing if you don’t have birth control and only some of your children will make it through to adulthood. That fitted clothing is fitted because it’s laced tight or belted, not because the patterning is absurdly precise and complex.

She says that once you get a kirtle pattern that really fits you well and make it up in a couple of layers of fabric that is of a sturdy, fine weave with no give on the grain (think shirting or high thread count sheets), it can serve as a basis for just about anything if you add a little extra room to let it skim over your layers. You know, like her Burgundian stuff. And with the neckline like that, you can just kind of pull in a shoulder, wiggle it down a little, and have easy access for nursing. I stood there gawping like an idiot for a second. Everything started clicking into place in my head for how the shapes work, how the clothes work, and how the ability to make a few styles of dress with similar fit characteristics from one core pattern makes the most sense of all. Occam’s Razor applies to dresses, apparently… I’m trying not to feel dumb about it.

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I’ve had some discount fabric slated for something along these lines for some time now. It’s blue and gold with diamonds and quatrefoil flowers inside each. I think I have about 8 yards of it at 60″ wide. Not exactly drapey, but not as stiff as most brocade woven decorating fabric tends to be. I think this will be the perfect experiment since I’ve held onto it for a few years now and haven’t used it, plus it was cheap and is synthetic, so I’m not holding it dear like I would silk or velvet or something pricey. My original intent was a houppelande, but in all my research, I wind up really disliking the ones people do out of poly decor fabrics because the drape isn’t there, even on the bias. It takes all the grace out of the thing and makes people look really bulky. I still want one, but it’s worth finding a nice wool gab or light suiting on sale. Back on topic… The train on this particular example is absurd, mostly because I need clothes to go to Gulf War. And also because I do not have a handy manservant to tote my dress around. A wedding dress with a train was bad enough to manage around other people, so I can’t imagine what to do with 15 feet of train while camping.

The absolute worst case scenario is that I’m pretty sure I could pull off something like this from Christine de Pisan, which is still 15th century, but less of a departure from the basic shape of a cotehardie. Plus, it has flappy sleeves! They could be lined in something obnoxious and fancy, which I’m all about. Plus, I could wear it over existing stuff when it gets chilly at night or for court.

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Burgundian – why doesn’t anyone around here wear it?

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For the number of manuscripts and portraits out there featuring Burgundian gowns, it always surprises me that I see so few of them on people at events. They have the princess hats, they’re kind of the official mental picture of what medieval ladies wore, and they seem like they shouldn’t be that hard to put together. Maybe it’s just Ansteorra and our logical objections to wearing so many layers.

Maybe there’s a big secret I don’t know about why they’re awful – a friend did suggest that nobody wears them because they’re tied up with the post-plague aesthetic for making sure women look like they could be pregnant. However, people wear bliaut dresses with the belts doubled over, and that definitely makes all but the very thinnest among us look pregnant. My best guess is that we’re not entirely sure how they go together, so wearing them is fraught with “I’m doing it wrong and look dumb” anxiety. I get that – I look pretty dumb in this picture, but it’s from my first year, and people let me slide a lot on things. Although, that hennin is made with an Ikea lampshade, and some women were just thrilled with it. I felt good at the time, but now I’m embarrassed by it.

Fabric is a big deal when it comes to the 15th century. It looks like people live in clouds of fabric and have dresses so long you wonder how they walk anywhere. Maybe people get intimidated by the fact that fabric drape matters an awful lot for something like this and it’s a higher yardage count than many other styles of dress. Why does it matter so much? Just check out this picture of me in a hand-me-down Burgundian… It’s upholstery fabric, which has no real drape, so it creates unnecessary bulk. I’m cool with looking a little bit pregnant, but I’m not ok with looking like a circus tent. In all fairness, I’m not wearing the right stuff under it, I used the wrong thing for lacing rings, and they all popped open and ran away by the end of the night, and I think the belt would have helped a little. But… This would have worked far better in a nice mid-weight wool that could gather and drape without being bulky. The wisdom of experience!

These questions bother me a lot because it’s the style I’m most drawn to when I look through art. I really love the idea of pursuing a full wardrobe and set of skills for the time and place of my persona, but I don’t do that because I get daunted by making Burgundian gowns. Same goes for houppelandes for almost the exact same reason. Nobody wants to splurge on fabric when they’re reasonably sure they’re going to wind up not looking as good as they could have if they’d stuck with something simpler.

N8470041_JPEG_25_25DM - cropToday, I found this tree full of people, and it made me notice some things that would remove some barriers that keep people from making the gowns – namely the one where the materials used are silk and velvet and fur. Just look at the variety in this tree full of women dressed in the Burgundian style (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 202, fol. 9r). There are six hat styles, two varieties of dresses, and some interesting details re: the dress linings, collars, and the triangle parts across the bust. A couple look to be lined in fur, a couple in a contrasting fabric. Some have the plain black placket across the bust, but one has a red one with gold spiral lacing across it. Some backs look to be scooped lower than others.

Cursory research will show you a lot of conflict over each of these details, and while each argument has merit, I think they make for a lot of unnecessary worry about making the dress. While there are plenty of examples of these dresses being absurdly luxurious (heavy silk lined entirely in fur!), we have plenty more examples of them being worn by women of all social classes with a fair bit of variety. A placket pinned across the bust would account for all of those nearly identical necklines, but so would a dress underneath (ah, the kirtle… you make everything make sense).

It’s a dress that evolved from the houppelande, and you need to understand that for things to start clicking and stop worrying. What I’m talking about here is making clothes to wear, not making them for A&S projects. You’re on your own for A&S, kids. You should read Mistress Mathilde Bourette’s amazing presentation, Discovering the 15th Century V-Neck Gown: The Sexiest Bathrobe You’ll Ever Wear. She takes a lot of the mystery out of construction, has a ton of pictures, and is funny.

Having read through that, I feel like I could make myself a nice gown in something like wool, line it in a nice, heavy linen, and try starting out wearing 15th century styles for cooler weather or indoor events. They’re dramatic and romantic, even if they’re not exactly the most practical things to pack up and take to war. Maybe if I wear them, other people will start wearing them too.