Medieval Kirtle for Ren Fest

For my now nearly annual Ren Fest costume, I decided to go a bit more medieval.  I had learned a lot about historical costume making from draping a replica of Eleanor de Toledo’s burial dress a few years ago, mainly that we currently think of sewing two pieces of fabric together on a two-dimensional plane while people prior to the advent of the sewing machine in the 1800’s did not.  When I was able to finally grasp this concept (only on try #3 of the bodice), I was able to create something that fit like it was supposed to.

I wanted to expand upon that historically accurate context and methods – but go a bit more “High Medieval” with a replica 14th century shirt & kirtle.   I still used my sewing machine to put everything together, because there is no way I had time for hand sewing.  To make-up for all of that machine sewing, I still sewed all of the eyelets by hand, mostly with a glass of wine and a comfortable lawn chair in the garage while Drew worked on the car.

Based upon my trials & tribulations of past Ren Fest garb, I have some lessons learned that I employ to all my costumes.

  1. It’s Texas and hot – so pick fabrics accordingly.  I chose a lightweight green linen for the kirtle and cotton for the shirt.   Yes, cotton isn’t the leading choice for fabrics at the time – but medieval Europeans would probably have used something else if they lived in 90+ degree temperatures with outrageous humidity.
  2. EVERYTHING has to be well constructed (Ren Fest can get a bit ridiculous).  This means well finished seams, some additional backing for wear and tear on the bottom hems, and water resistant.  This is just added time to plan for in the construction process.
  3. It is Ren Fest, so you need some embellishments that are not historically accurate.   Previously accomplished with hoop skirts and fun fabric, this time I choose some not-so-historically-accurate trim and made my shirt have some dramatic sleeves with drawstrings that I could pull up easily (again – its hot).


The shirt is a fairly basic rectangle construction with side gores and underarm gussets.  This is actually the 3rd such one that I have made – my last one was an 18th century chemise and I was amazed at how similar the construction was.  While I did not drape a pattern, the shift is custom to my size.  The width of the main body is based on your body width plus a few inches for ease and seam allowance.  The seams on the sleeves sit below the shoulder and the sleeve length is based on arm length, with the width again based on arm width plus a few inches for ease and seam allowance.  The gussets are 3.5″ square.   I did add the flare of the elongated sleeves.  On top of each sleeve I placed two drawstrings made of the same cotton.  This allowed me to pull the sleeves up and out of my way.

To finish all of my seams, I undercut one side and folded the opposite side over the raw edge and stitched.  This gave a finished look and also provided the strength needed for Ren Fest shenanigans.  I finished the neckline and hem with bias tape.


There are A LOT of resources online for designing and constructing an accurate kirtle.  Here are some of the very well put together blogs that I used:
1330 AD Cotehardie   •  The Medieval Tailor

And fellow costumers:
Fashion Throughout History – Medieval Pattern Drafting  •  Grey Kirtle Diary

However the resource that I used the most is The Medieval Tailors Assistant: Common Garments (1100 – 1480), 2nd Edition, by Sarah Thursfield.  This book had great instructions and context for constructing historically accurate garments from this time period.

Since I needed to drape the pattern for the fitted kirtle on myself and not on the dress form, Drew made a very good assistant.  It took me three tries to get the fit how I liked, so he had to do a lot of assisting.

I started with 3 scrap fabric rectangles, pinned together in the front as I wanted a front opening on the finished dress.  The only other tools needed are a fabric marker and pins.   We pinned me into the scrap fabric by pulling in the side and back seams – no darts or anything fancy, just 4 pieces of fabric fitted only to me – and then marked lines for the actual seams with a marker.  I transferred the cut lines to paper, then back to new pieces of scrap fabric to check fit.  After I was satisfied with the pattern that I had, I added a seam allowance and cut my green linen.

img_2547From the hips downward, I drew straight lines from my natural hip on the pattern onto the fabric to create a wider skirt.  I did not add any gores, but as my skirts ended up wider than the width of the fabric I needed to cut small triangles and piece together the skirt in order to complete my straight line from hip to floor.  I lined the bodice front with spare cotton for added support.

Sleeve patterns were a bit trickier.  I followed the instructions in the book and ended up with the right fit the first time.  One difference that made construction odd was that the medieval garments had the seam of the sleeve attach at the back of the shoulder, verses under the arm like modern clothes.


My 6 piece dress all sewn together:


For finishing, I added trim to the insides of the hem, sleeves and neckline for support.


I purchased some medieval inspired trim from Continental Stitchery Trims which matched the color perfectly.

And for a blog cross-over moment, my eyelet sewing in Drew’s workspace.


After some accessorizing (belt, wooden mug, pouch made from deer hide, feathers), my costume was ready to go!  I liked the book so much that I even made Drew a costume.






Paper Piece Tutorial

A flying geese block, paper-piece block tutorial.  I found that the easiest way for me learn paper piecing was to look at other blogs where the sewer had walked through the process step by step – so I thought that I would do the same.  I am tremendously happy with how the final product turned out, I will probably do more paper piecing in the future.

The final product will be a 9 block flying geese quilt with gray elephant backing for a gray nursery.  For the block, I used the free online paper-piece guide for a circle of geese from  They also have many other free patterns and resources for paper piecing.

I needed 9 blocks, each block is made up of 4 flying geese quarters, so to start I printed 36 of the paper piece patterns.   You are going to be sewing on the back of this paper, so the finished produce will be a mirror image of what is printed.  I did cut the paper down a little bit from its 8.5″ x 11″ size, but the paper should not be trimmed perfectly.   IMG_2403

Each quarter-block has 9 fabric pieces, I will walk through each one below.   The pattern is numbered and labeled by piece.  The numbers correspond to the order in which they will be attached to the paper.   My finished block will be blue geese (pieces #1, 4, 7) on a gray background (pieces #2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9).

To start, fabric pieces should be cut larger than the approximate size of the final fabric piece plus seam allowance, but not cut to size exactly.  You don’t have to worry about accounting for a 1/4″ seam allowance as that will naturally happen during the paper piecing process.  This is different from very precise piece cutting for traditional blocks and takes a little bit of getting used to.  I found that it is most efficient to cut piles of my pieces by number, so have a pile of #5’s, #2’s, etc.  Some of the pieces you can cut one single piece to use for all similar sizes (here, #3 and #6 are similar sizes, as are #8 and 9, and all three blue geese are the same size).  My cut rectangles (below) ended up being ~1/2″ to 1″ larger than the final piece plus seam allowance.  IMG_2426

The first step is to attach piece #1 and #2 to the fabric.  Start by selecting a blue geese (piece #1), and placing it right side facing towards you on the BACK of the paper pattern.  The edges of the fabric should be larger in every direction than the printed piece #1. IMG_2404

Piece #2 should be pinned, right sides together, on top of piece #1 such that when it is stitched and pressed in the finished direction along the seam line, it covers all of the borders for piece #2, with a little extra.  Piece #2 will NOT be pinned directly over the printed piece #2, it is pinned on top of piece #1.  This takes some practicing the first time, but you will be a pro by the time you sew 36 blocks. IMG_2405

Flip the paper over so that you are looking at the printed side.  Put the whole thing on the sewing machine and stitch along the line between piece #1 and #2, going just a few stitches beyond each end.  I don’t do any backwards passes at either end of the seam because the seam lines are going to get sewn over on both ends later in the process, ensuring that the seam ends won’t come undone.

After you have stitched the line, fold the paper along the line you just stitched.  The extra fabric should stick out from the paper.  Get a straight edge and trim all of the extra fabric sticking out 1/4″ from the edge of the paper with a rotary cutter.

Fold back the paper, and look at the fabric side.  Press the fabric as-is first to release any tension on the thread, then fold over piece #2 and press the fabric flat towards the piece. First seam is finished!

Take piece #3 and pin it, right sides together, on top of pieces #1 and #2, along the seam line but leaving some extra over the seam line (~1/2″).  Flip the paper to the printed side, sew along the seam line between #1, 2 and 3.

Fold the paper back along seam line #3 and using a straight edge allowing the paper to fold but not the fabric. Using a straight edge, cut all of the fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper.

Fold the paper flat, press piece #3 in the same way as pieces #1 and #2.


Attaching pieces #4 – 9 is the same as piece #3, but we will walk through them just the same.  For piece #4, pin right sides together along the seam line, plus a little extra (~1/2″) for piece #4.   Sew along the seam line for piece #4 on the printed side of the paper.  Fold the paper along seam #4 without folding the fabric, and cut all fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper.  Here, you can start to see that extra fabric from pieces #1 – 3 is also sticking out, that is ok – just cut through all the pieces with the rotary cutter.

Fold the paper back flat, press piece #4.

Pin right side of piece #5 to the block along the seam line, plus a little extra, for piece #5.  I was using one pin for all other pieces, but this block is larger so I went up to two.  Sew along the seam line for piece #5 on the printed side of the paper.  Fold the paper along seam #5 without folding the fabric, and cut all fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper. Press.

Pin right side of piece #6 to the block along the seam line, plus a little extra, for piece #6.  Sew along the seam line for piece #6 on the printed side of the paper.  Fold the paper along seam #6 without folding the fabric, and cut all fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper. Press.  My block is starting to look like something!


Pin right side of piece #7 to the block along the seam line, plus a little extra, for piece #7.  Here you can see the rectangles that I cut for pieces #5 and #6 in the beginning were too large, but that is perfectly ok and the excess will be cut off in the process when I fold the paper and trim the seams, I do not need to add any steps to trim the excess fabric.  Sew along the seam line for piece #7 on the printed side of the paper.  Fold the paper along seam #7 without folding the fabric, and cut all fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper.  Again, there is a lot of fabric sticking out of the folded paper, but cut through all the pieces.  Press.

Most of the extra fabric has disappeared.


Pin right side of piece #8 to the block along the seam line, plus a little extra, for piece #8.  Sew along the seam line for piece #8 on the printed side of the paper.  Fold the paper along seam #8 without folding the fabric, and cut all fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper.  Press.

Pin right side of piece #9 to the block along the seam line, plus a little extra, for piece #9.  Sew along the seam line for piece #9 on the printed side of the paper.  Fold the paper along seam #9 without folding the fabric, and cut all fabric that sticks out 1/4″ from the paper.  Press.

The sewing for the quarter block is finished!  Turn the block over, and use the rotary cutter to cut along each outer seam allowance line on the paper.  The block will now be the correct size, with all of the edges trimmed.

Now, in reverse order, fold each piece of paper (starting with piece #9) along the perforated edge, and tear off.  You will be left with a perfect fabric quarter-block with perfectly pressed seam allowances.

Make 4 quarter blocks, pin and sew into a larger circle of geese block.  Now only 8 more larger blocks to go!  I got to the point where I could make the quarter, paper-pieced block in about 15 minutes.  I sewed them into larger blocks as I went, instead of waiting to the end.

The finished 9 block circle of geese.  I underestimated the amount of blue and gray fabric I would need, so I broke into my stash for some additional colors which matched the backing fabric that I was going to use.  In the end, I like the color variation verses just the blue and gray.


I added two borders to the 9 block panel.  The first was light green, to highlight the bit of green in the geese, the second was the same gray elephant fabric as the backing.  With the front panel together, I could make the “quilt sandwich”.  Sorry, but I do not have any pictures for this part, but here is my method (it takes 2 people).  I apply Spray Basting on the entire wrong side of the backing fabric and set it on a flat surface.  I then set the batting onto the backing from the center outward, removing all wrinkles in the backing and the batting as I go.  The spray basting is much easier than pinning and it holds well without shifting.  I then spray the basting on the entire wrong side of the front panel, and lay it on the batting, from the center outward, removing wrinkles as I go.  After the sandwich is put together, I press the entire front and back to set the basting.  Ready for quilting, which I do on my regular sewing machine.

After the quilting was complete, I used blue fabric to make my own binding.  To make binding, I cut strips at 2.5″ down the entire length of the fabric and sew them together to give me enough length to go around the quilt.  I press the entire length first in half, then in half again.  I sew the back edge to the quilt first, without worrying about the corners too much, then flip the quilt over and sew the front edge along the fold to the quilt.  Here I will sew the corners in a neat fold.

My quilt is finished, and I am very happy with the way that it turned out.

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My blue-collared fancy dress – Part 2

Time to start on the skirt!  Unlike the bodice, I did not have a pattern for the skirt, only a vision.   The skirt is a wrap skirt, so my idea was to have 2 mirror-image pieces in the back (in order to fit in the zipper in the final step), and two pieces in the front: a right piece which would be pleated and attached first, then a left piece which would be attached second and overlap the piece from the right.

To make a pattern I cut some large pieces of extra muslin to pin on my mannequin and trim down to the correct size.  I am sure that there is a more efficient way to do this, but my self-taught method works pretty well.

Pattern muslin pinned to bodice
Pattern muslin pined to bodice

My main objective when creating the pattern pieces was to align the darts and pleats with the seams in the bodice in order to make the lines in the entire dress continuous.  The finished hem of the skirt is also higher in the front than the back, giving an asymmetrical look and allowing your shoes to be seen.  Although I cut my patterns at an angle to account for the higher front, I was not concerned with getting it perfect the first time as that is easily altered once the final skirt is assembled.

After I had all 4 pattern pieces complete, I used the muslin as a template to cut a freezer paper pattern piece.  I transferred all markings to the freezer paper.

Once my freezer paper patterns were ready, I could cut from the blue satin.  Each piece would also get polka dot lining, which I cut in a mirror image of the blue satin, pinned them together and essentially treated the blue silk and the lining as a single piece.  Attaching the skirt turned out to be fairly straightforward and I did not have to do a lot of rework to make it look right.  Attaching the zipper was a bit troublesome, but I ended up getting everything to go together.  I was pretty happy with my first fitting and almost-finished product.


Although I hemmed the skirt, the front of the skirt is very long as you can only see my toes peaking through and you can not see any of the lining on the back side.  I took the front edges in about 8″ for the final look.   I also sewed a quick sash out of the blue satin to complete the dress.  The finished product looked appropriately fancy next to Drew in a tux.

My blue-collared fancy dress – Part 1

I wanted to take a break from baby quilting to sew something different, and opportunity struck when my husband will be wearing a tux in an upcoming wedding – I decided to make myself a something to wear so that I would look equally dressed for the occasion standing next to him.  I wanted a long dress, because why not (even though the forecast for the outdoor wedding is 95 degrees), and I found the skirt inspiration that I wanted while browsing on Pinterest – the “Duchess Oragami Skirt”    (mostly to show off the ridiculous shoes I am wearing).

It is essentially a wrap skirt with big pleats, a high hem in the front to show off your feet but floor length in the back, it also seemed relatively simple to make my own pattern.  Just to complicate things, I decided to line the skirt in a contrasting fabric so that the lining would show through the skirt opening in front.  I had todo a bit of searching for a bodice style that would match.  I finally decided to use the top half of the dress from Vogue Pattern’s V1182  with my own skirt design.

I bought all the fabric at High Fashion Fabrics in Houston (I love that store).  Nearly seven yards of a cornflower blue satin (yes, its poly-satin, but then I can wash it and it is easier to work with – not to mention less pricey – and the store has every color imaginable available in big 60″ rolls), and seven yards of a white satin with cornflower polka dots.

I bought the Vogue pattern and went about the top first.  I always trace my pattern pieces onto freezer or parchment paper instead of cutting them from the pattern paper provided.  That way I can use the pattern again, can pin through freezer paper many times before it tears, and I am also a tinkerer and have found ways to make my dresses fit better by altering the pattern.

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For some reason I decided to do this part in the main house verses my sewing room, so the cats were a big help in this process.  After I trace, I cut out my pattern pieces.  In this case, I cut the pattern pieces to about 10″ past the waist, but not the full length of the dress as I was replacing the pattern’s skirt with my own.  I would later end up cutting all of the bodice fabric off past the waist, but I wanted to make sure that I had enough for any design changes along the way.  More to come on that later.

Another pattern item that I wanted to change was that the Vogue dress had ruching.  I don’t physically need the ruching, and as I was changing up the skirt and aligning the pleats of the skirt with the seams on the dress, it wouldn’t flow if I left the ruching as is.  However, the entire shape of the pattern would change with or without ruching.  To fix, I cut the pattern piece out as printed (on my freezer paper), and actually ruched the paper as directed in the instructions, and trimmed the pattern piece in a nice straight line.  It made the pattern piece a little wonky, but it will be good enough to use to cut the fabric.

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With all the pattern pieces done – time to cut the fabric.


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I didn’t follow the cutting diagrams in the pattern because I had removed a lot of length from the dress pattern pieces, so I made sure that I used the grain lines on my pattern pieces.  On the blue satin, it was also important to cut all of the pieces in the same direction to make sure that the shine on the fabric is even in every piece.  While this is technically the case on the polka dot fabric as well, when finished you won’t be able to see all of the lining at the same time, so I didn’t fuss too much about it.

The top ended up being 12 separate fabric pieces of the blue and 8 separate pieces of the polka dots.

On to the assembly.  I first put a brand new needle on my machine.  While cotton is forgiving, it is important to have a sharp needle to not snag the satin fabric.

I had to differ a bit from the instructions as in the official pattern directions, you add the back zipper pretty early in the process.  However, I needed the zipper to go both through the top of the dress and the skirt, so I actually did this last in the construction because I needed the skirt to be attached to the bodice.  It didn’t really cause an issue, it just made for a lot of pinning.  The first, and easiest step in the assembly was to apply interfacing to the collar pieces and sew them together.

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A word on pinning.  I found that with satin fabrics, even though you cut pieces with the grain, there is a lot of stretch in anything that is not cut 100% with the grain.  When sewing my silk wedding dress (0n the bias, but some items in this pattern are cut on a 45 as well), I discovered that you can really never pin too much.  I pin about every inch with new sharp pins, if a pin doesn’t stick in right away, I throw it away – otherwise it will snag the fabric.

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My first pass at the outer shell put together and pinned up.


Here I worried a bit.   Not about the extra material in the waist – that is easy to fix and I expected some nips & tucks to get the waist right.  But the collar pieces are huge and stuck out about 2″ from my shoulders!  I worried that I would look like a cartoon princess at the wedding with big collar pieces and a big skirt.  This became the first item of the day that needed to be removed and redone.  I ended up taking the bodice apart, removing about 1.5″ off of each collar piece, and reattaching.  This is why basting and trying on is important before final stitching.


Attaching the lining.  And my least favorite part – slipstitching.


Mostly done – and with a much more proportionate collar size.


I had a problem with the weight collar pieces pulling the front of the dress down and away from me when I tried it on.  I ended up topstitching along the edges where they attached to the dress.  I also did some nips and tucks where the left collar attached to the dress, took about an inch off the waist line along the princess seams in the front, attached the sides together, and it looked great and well put together!  (Don’t believe that you can just sew pattern pieces together using the measurements on the back of the package and it will fit great the first time – that never happens!)

All put back together, side seams sewn and ready for the skirt.


Since I had a pattern to go by for the bodice, the relatively straight forward work is done.  More to come tomorrow when I will have to make my own pattern for the skirt.

A Patchwork of Baby Quilts

Over the years, I have been making baby quilts for my close friends.  My “patchwork” of past projects are below, and I am currently working on two more.  My inspirations are Pinterest, Craftsy, and the Moda Bake Shop.  Going back to 2010, some quilts are older than others, and at least I can clearly see that I have gotten better at quilting over time.  I have a few other quilt projects (not baby-themed) that I will post at another time.  Other than a quilted tree skirt that I made for our home last Christmas, I have given every quilt that I have made away.

Looking forward to having a place to share my work in the future!

Baby Quilt themes: 
Applique sheep in a pasture, hand sewn with blanket stiches
Houston Texans pennant quilt for a sports themed nursery
Patchwork scottie dogs
Layer cake pinwheel quilt
Princess and ruffles quilt
Day & Night farm animals rainbow quilt
Necktie baby boy quilt
Jelly Roll flower quilt
Pink chevrons with navy sail boats for a nautical themed nursery
Pirate quilt for a pirate-loving mom
Tumbler and lion applique quilt, with a fabric tab mane
Rainbow applique united states quilt