Recreating a 14th-century Pourpoint

Research

The Pourpoint is a quilted and padded garment adapted from the military silhouette of the mid-14th-century into a civilian garment and can be found in imagery and extant garments in the later 14th-century throughout much of Western Europe. The silhouette is very common on effigies of English and French knights from the 1340’s-1370’s identified by a rounded chest and narrow waist, such as in this effigy of Thomas Beauchamp.

Thomas Beauchamp, 1369, St. Mary, Warwick, England. Combat Society website, http://www.themcs.org/armour/14th%20century%20armour.htm

Thomas Beauchamp, 1369, St. Mary, Warwick, England. Combat Society website, http://www.themcs.org/armour/14th%20century%20armour.htm

This silhouette can also be seen in the Pourpoint of Charles de Blois (pictured below) and the Pourpoint of Charles VI (not pictured) as well as many manuscript images. The first set of images below from the Wailsche Gast manuscript show the rounded chest, but not the deep-set armscye, also known as the Grande Assiette Sleeve, of the Charles de Blois Pourpoint.

When examining the Charles de Bloise Pourpoint other than the rounded chest shape the deep-set Grande Assiette armscye is the other identifying feature. This armscye shape can be seen in some images from England, France, and Italy as well, such as the two images below. Additionally, the extensive quilting on the Charles de Bloise Pourpoint aids in creating the structure and silhouette of the garment, the quilting is sometimes shown in imagery, such as the images above and the center image below, but some garments are shown with the shaping, but without visible quilting lines, such as the right hand image below.

Both the center and right hand images below are from the same fresco and show a wide separation of social classes. The man in the center image below is sitting on a horse and wearing armour indicating that he is most likely of a higher social class, whereas the men in the right hand image appear to be of the working class. Considering the number of hours required to correctly quilt one garment with all of its layers of padding it would not be surprising if those with less means wanting to wear the stylish silhouettes found other ways to achieve those silhouettes, such as the men in the right hand image who appear to be wearing an unquilted version of the garment.

Creating the pattern

To create the pattern I typically start with a tightly fitted body block made of muslin and then mark the armscye shape onto the fabric while the body block is being worn. The left image shows the front, back, and the upper sleeve. With the body block tightly pinned on the body mark the halfway point on the top of the shoulder, the center of the pectoral muscle (just to the outside of the nipple), and about halfway between the old armscye and the spine on the shoulder-blade, finally mark about 2-3” down under the arm on the side seam. Now connect the dots with smooth curves and baste on the sleeve upper to double-check the size of your gussets and sleeve.

Alternately you can make the sleeve fit first and then mark the armscye shape on the body block based on the fit of the sleeve. Either way be prepared to make a couple of mock-up garments before cutting into your fashion fabric to ensure that the pattern is correct.

Pourpoint sleeve pattern Pourpoint basic pattern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Considering the wearer

When first planning this garment the focus of our clothing was English mid-14th-century, but as the planning progressed we also shifted towards Venetian personas of the late-14th-century and I wanted to be sure that the shape of the body and armscye would still be appropriate for the new chosen era and area. The two images above are from Lombardy, Italy, a neighboring province to Venice, both show the deep-set armscye and rounded chest shape similar to the Charles de Blois Pourpoint, making the wearing of a garment in the same style as the Charles de Bloise Pourpoint by an upper class Venetian merchant a reasonable extrapolation.

Also considered as part of the planning of this garment was the related sumptuary laws from the late 14th-century. In selecting these materials for this garment I chose fabrics that were either common for the social class that we portray in the SCA or were used in the original garment. In doing so I realized that I was unconsciously selecting fabrics that also fit within the requirements for the lower nobility as dictated by the 1363 English sumptuary law.[1] In the case of a Gentleman of the lower nobility or his wife, available fabrics for clothing would include quality worsted wools and linens similar to or slightly better in quality than the fabric selected for this project, additionally some silk fabrics were allowed for those who fell into the higher income bracket. These Gentlemen were also allowed silver adornments for their clothing including buttons and embroidery.

Silk thread was used to sew the garment because purchases of silk thread can be found with purchases of worsted wools in household books, additionally the use of thicker wool or linen thread would have made the quilting uneven. Thread usage is noticeably not mentioned in the sumptuary law, but at least for these social classes the use of silk is only partially prohibited and then only for silk fabrics that also include a precious metal thread, such as cloth of silver and cloth of gold. The lack of information available relating to the social and economic side of the medieval English sumptuary laws is what began my original questioning behind these sumptuary laws, and is a sub-section of a much longer paper.[2] The continued processed of looking for new information and clues as to the context of these laws and how they would have been used in daily life relates to much of my continued research with the findings increasingly applied to new projects.

Interestingly the Italian sumptuary laws of the same period are less likely to dictate the types or amounts of cloth that could be used in a garment and are more likely to limit the total cost of the garment. Venice in the mid to late-14th-century appears to be more concerned with the usage of precious metals than the specific fabrics being used.

Selecting Materials

While the Charles de Blois Pourpoint has a silk exterior I knew that I would not be able to afford the silk for creating this garment and so investigated other fabric options for the garment exterior. Thin fine wools were common throughout Western Europe in the 14th and 15th-centuries and would be appropriate for everyday wear for a merchant. I was able to get some suitable wool in almost the right color and then dyed it to the color that it is now.

The batting is 100% wool quilt batting with no adhesives or other binders, which is not the easiest thing to find. It did sew very nicely and evenly through the entire process and while it will beard, which is the process of the fibers pushing through the fabric, it is barely noticeable except in those areas which take a lot of abrasion such as under the arms, where it pills slightly. Since the exterior is also wool it may be that the fibers are able to hook together as they rub against each other and this prevents it from bearding as much as if it was wool batting inside of linen or cotton fabric.

The lining material is linen, every extant garment that I am aware of that has an intact lining is lined with linen. The linen used is a 3.5oz fine linen, so while the weave is fairly dense the overall weight of the linen ended up be lighter than I was expecting. I will be putting a second lining into the garment that can be removed for washing. The one time I washed the garment it took two days to dry and the dye bled badly into the linen, hopefully being able to remove the lining for washing will help ensure the garment is kept clean.

Creating the Garment

Unfortunately there are not have a lot of pictures of the quilting process and assembly. The initial sewing was a bit frantic while trying to have most of the garment ready for a deadline and in the process I forgot to take pictures.

I started out by cutting out all of the pattern pieces, basting them together with the batting and lining, and then quilting them. While this made it possible to work on the garment while traveling to and from events and at friends’ houses, if I were to do this again I would mark the pattern onto the fabric, baste the fashion fabric to the batting and lining and then set it up on a quilting frame. I believe that setting it up on a frame would make the entire process go more quickly and make the final stitching more even.

The quilting process was tediously slow, and I probably have at least 50 hours of work just in quilting. I chose to make the lines an inch and a half apart since this gave the best balance between what the images appear to show and the spacing on the Charles de Blois Pourpoint. The quilt lines on the gussets had to be carefully marked so that they would align with those on the main part of the upper sleeve when everything was sewn together. All of the quilting lines were done using a running stitch.

The quilting lines on the body of the Charles de Blois Pourpoint are horizontal, but on the image from Lombardy they follow the shape of the armscye. Taking into consideration body shape I chose to follow the quilt lines on the image from Lombardy for the body quilting and the Charles de Blois Pourpoint for the sleeves. This seems to provide the best silhouette for my husband’s body type.

To assemble the pieces I started with the body and sewed the two back portions together first before sewing them to the front panels. The sleeves were assembled by first inserting the front and underarm gussets and then attaching the lower sleeve to the upper sleeve before attaching the back gusset to the upper sleeve and closing the upper sleeve. Once the sleeves had been fully assembled they were set into the armscyes. Much of the assembly of the sleeves was done using a back-stitch since I was going through at least four layers of fabric and batting and to get the stitches short enough a back-stitch was required. I found that it was more difficult to trim all of the batting out of the seam allowances on the sleeve gussets. The sleeves were also set using a back-stitch for the fore mentioned reasons. Because of the thickness of the fabric when the seams were finished most are tacked down with a simple whip stitch instead of being felled, and since the garment will have a second lining I am not worried about threads fraying.

Many of the edges of the garment are finished by turning both seam allowances to the inside and then whip stitching the edge. While this takes a little bit longer to accomplish than simply rolling the hem, it is the same seam finish that was used on the Charles VI Pourpoint and gives a very clean finish to the edges. I found that it worked best for the center front and the edges of the sleeve. The bottom hem and neckline are both rolled.

Sewing a 14th-century Buttonhole

The finishing of this garment includes both eyelets and button holes. All are done with silk thread in as close a color match as I could find. I tried several different threads on a scrap piece of cloth before deciding to use a single strand of the Trebizond thread for the eyelets and the full thickness of the Trebizond thread for the buttonholes. While the full thickness of the thread is a little bit thicker than what I would have preferred I could not find another color match as good as the Trebizond.

When looking for silk thread to sew the eyelets and buttonholes I knew that I wanted filament threads instead of spun thread, filaments have a much better sheen that looks much nicer when finishing a buttonhole and I have not found much evidence for the use of spun silk threads in the Middle Ages. To that end I located a number of different brands of thread online and ordered them so that I could try them out on a fabric scrap before deciding which threads to use. I really like the buttonhole threads and the Guedebrod, and I would definitely try all of them again on another project where I could get a better color match.

I chose eyelets instead of buttonholes for the front of the pourpoint since I will be making a silk cioppa, the Italian version of the houppelande, to go over top and the Italian style fits much closer to the body than the French and English style garments. I didn’t want the buttons to show through on the front so the decision was made to close the front with eyelets and a lacing cord instead. The lacing cord is a longish finger loop braid made from the Guedebrod thread and finished with a metal aglet. The buttons for this project are made from the same wool as the garment and are simple cloth buttons with a finished diameter of about half an inch.

Summary

I have been asked several times if I intend to make another of these. While I would like to make another and try out some of the other ideas I had as I was making this pourpoimt, the time investment in making one of these garments must be carefully considered before starting another project like this. I definitely did not have a clear idea of the time commitment going into this that I had towards the end of the project.

Breakdown of the time commitment in creating this garment:

Step 1: The quilting lines – All of the quilting lines are sewn using a running stitch. (The first 70-80 hours.)

Step 2: Assembling the pieces – Most of the pieces are sewn using a running stitch, but the sleeve gussets and the setting of the sleeves are done with a back-stitch to prevent the seams from coming apart. (Another 20-30 hours.)

Step 3: Main body finishing – Center front and the edges of the lower sleeves are finished using a whip stitch, and the neckline and hem are finished using a rolled hem. (Another 12-15 hours, again, whip stitch is slow, but it looks very pretty when finished.)

Step 4: Eyelets and button holes

Part A: Deciding on thread – I located a number of different brands of twisted filament thread online and ordered them so that I could try them out on a fabric scrap before deciding which threads to use. (I probably spent 4-6 hours on the sampler.)

Part B: Sewing the eyelets – A single strand of the Trebizond thread was used for the 30ish eyelets down center front. (Another 6-8 hours).

Part C: Sewing the buttonholes – The buttonholes use a full thickness of the Trebizond thread and there are 24 buttonholes on each sleeve. (Another 12-15 hours of work)

Step 5: Cloth Buttons – Each button is made from a 2 inch square of fabric sewn around in a circle until it pulls in neatly on itself to make a round button. (These are pretty mindless so I have a less accurate gauge of the time spent on them. I can usually do 8-10 in an hour, so about 4-6 hours of work.)

Thankfully, after all of the many hours I have put into this garment it fits my husband wonderfully!

Glossary

fulling – A process by which woolen fabric is beaten in water to felt the fabric and create a densely woven fabric.

woolen – Any fabric that has been woven with short staple wool fibers and then fulled, teased, and sheared to create a very densely woven and smooth fabric.

worsted – Any fabric that has been woven with long-staple wool fiber, often lighter in weight than woolens.

Bibliography

The Statutes of the Realm, Printed by command of his majesty King George the Third. In pursuance of an address of the House of Commons of Great Britain. From Original Records and Authentic Manuscripts, Volume 1, Printed by William S. Hein and Company, Inc. (Buffalo, N.Y., 1993.)

Ashley, Kathleen, “Material and Symbolic Gift-Giving in French and English Wills” in Medieval Fabrications: Dress, Textiles, Clothwork, and Other Cultural Imaginings, editor Jane Burns, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, 2004), pp. 137-146.

Baldwin, Frances Elizabeth, Sumptuary Legislation and Personal Regulation in England, The Johns Hopkins Press (Baltimore, 1926)

Bolton, J. L., The Medieval English Economy: 1150-1500, Billing & Sons Ltd. (London, 1980)

Bridbury, A.R., Medieval English Clothmaking, Heinemann Educational Books, Ltd. (London, 1982)

Britnell, R. H., The commercialization of English society 1000-1500, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1993)

Burkholder, Kristen M., “Threads Bared: Dress and Textiles in Late Medieval English Wills” in Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Volume 1, editors Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen Crocker, Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2005)

Heller, Sarah-Grace, “Limiting yardages and changes of clothes: Sumptuary Legislation in Thirteenth-Century France, Languedoc and Italy” editor E. Jane Burns, Medieval Fabrications: Dress, Textiles, Clothwork, and Other Cultural Imaginings, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, 2004)

Hunt, Alan, Governance of the Consuming Passions: A History of Sumptuary Law, St. Martin’s Press, (New York, 1996)

Killerby, Catherine K., Sumptuary law in Italy, 1200-1500, Clarendon (Oxford, 2002)

Oldland, John, “The Finishing of English Woolens, 1300-1550.” Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Volume 3. editors Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker. The Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2007)

Quinton, Eleanor and John Oldland, “London Merchants’ Cloth Exports, 1350-1500” in Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Volume 7, editors Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Boydell Press (Woodbridge, 2011)

Sponsler, Claire, Drama and resistance: bodies, goods, and theatricality in late medieval England, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, 1997)

University of Manchester Lexicon – http://lexisproject.arts.manchester.ac.uk/index.htmlhttp://lexissearch.arts.manchester.ac.uk/

Register of Edward, The Black Prince Preserved in the Public Record Office, Prepared under the superintendence of the deputy keeper of the records. Part IV (England) A.D. 1351-1365. Published by authority of his majesty’s principal secretary of state for the home department, Published by his majesty’s stationery office (London, 1933)

Accounts of The Chamberlains and other Officers of The County of Chester, 1301 – 1360, (From the Original Rolls preserved in the Public Record Office, London) The Record Society for the Publication of Original Documents Relating to Lancashire and Cheshire, Volume 59, Edited with an Introduction by Ronald Stewart-Brown, M.A., Honorary Secretary of the Society, Printed for The Record Society, (1910)

Accounts of the Obedientiars of Abingdon Abbey, Edited by R. E. G. Kirk, Printed for the Camden Society (1892)

 

[1] For a transcription of the 1363 English sumptuary law, please see the appendix.

[2] Sarah Kelly Silverman, The 1363 English Sumptuary Law: A comparison with Fabric Prices of the Late Fourteenth-century (master’s thesis, The Ohio State University, 2011), http://etd.ohiolink.edu.proxy.lib.ohio-state.edu/view.cgi?acc_num=osu1322596483

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