best suggestion, once you start looking at different types
of garb, is to go to the library and find a general history
of costume, and look at the styles there to see what you like.
There are some caveats, however. Many of these compendiums
are not particularly careful or reliable with the details
of the costume; the costumes pictured are sometimes agglomerations
of different elements from similar times, or drawings based
on other drawings, which may not be accurate. Use such collections
as a general indicator, and be certain to check books with
period illustrations before starting construction of a new
of the things that sets the SCA apart from your average neighborhood
social club is that we wear funny clothes. In general, SCA
"generic" garb is based on what the European peoples
wore during the Middle Ages; specifically those items in common
use from about 1000 to 1300 or so AD. As people get more experience
with the SCA, they tend to branch out or concentrate their
interests, but for the purpose of this seminar, we'll cover
the "generic" outfit.
If you've been to an SCA event, you'll notice many people
in shirts or tunics that reach to the knee or longer, with
long loose sleeves; worn over trousers or hose. Most medieval
men wore knee or calf-length tunics over hosen. Athough the
Norse wore something like trousers, they were wrapped tightly
to the lower leg with fabric bands. Medieval women wore a
long tunic (ankle length.) Both genders should have on a white
under-tunic, which gets washed more than the overtunic, and
headwear. SCA people tend to wear boots or floppy Chinese
shoes; and the clothing is often decorated with trim at the
neck, hem, sleeve end, and often biceps (over a seam that
falls on the upper arm - no modern set-in sleeves).
how do you construct something these garments? There are two
very easy ways to arrive at the basic "T" tunic.
(So-called because when laid flat, the arms and the body form
a T shape, unlike modern fitted clothing, which doesn't tend
to have as much play in the arms.) The various dress accessories
are also relatively easy to construct, so let us begin!
Tunic -- The Most Economical, Best Fitting, Method:
The first, as illustrated here, is the most economical of
fabric. It is based on rectangles and triangles; very easy
to construct. As it happens, it's also fairly close to the
method used in period for these garments. It is difficult
to describe this method in print, but easy to construct once
you know what to do. Check out this other description of how
to make this tunic, with an automatic measurement calculator.
Note that sleeves and gores were the same fabric as the body
of the tunic.
For the body of the garment, you will have a rectangle that
reaches from your shoulders to the knee (or to the ground,
depending what you want.): Take a measurement of yourself
at your widest point (chest or hips). Add four inches for
comfort. This is the width of your body panel.
friend measure the length for you; if you're doing it yourself,
there's a good chance that you'll measure incorrectly as you
try to see what the number is. Add extra for a hem, or don't
add extra if you plan to finish the hem with bias tape. You
can either cut two of these rectangles out of the fabric,
or you can cut one long rectangle out of the fabric, so you
don't have the shoulder seams. If you're not making shoulder
seams, mark the halfway point with a small snippet at the
cut out the sleeves, which are also rectangles. Take one end
of your body rectangle, and lay it across your shoulders along
the top, so you can see where the edge will come over your
upper arm. Measure from that point to your wrist, and add
seam allowance. This will be the length of your sleeve.
around your upper arm, and take that measurement, plus 2"
and seam allowance, for the width of the sleeve.
wish to have a tapered arm, also take a measurement around
the broadest part of your hand as it would be scrunched for
getting through a tight sleeve, not as it lies normally.
same amount of seam allowance, and this will be the measurement
for the wrist end of your sleeves.
more complex bit: The extra gores (triangles) that are added
to the garment to form the skirt. These usually are set in
starting at the waist, but also can be started higher on the
body if you wish. These should be of the same fabric as the
rest of the tunic.
point on your body where you wish for the gores to start.
Measure from their to your designated hemline, taking into
account any extra length added for hem allowance. This measurement
becomes the radius or side dimension of the triangles we are
going to make to set in.
need eight triangles. Two each for each side, and for center
front and center back. The bottom edge of the triangles will
vary depending on how much fabric you have left, but in general,
aiming for a bottom measurement of appx 10" will be sufficient.
of the triangle will be on the straight grain of the fabric,
and one on the bias. You will need to even out the length
along the bias so that your triangles become circle-segments;
do this by folding each triangle once or twice and then cutting
across evenly, from the shortest side. Lastly, the neck hole
must be cut. It is easiest to do this before any other sewing
necklines are easy to do, and very accurate for this type
of garment. You can either cut it out and edge it with bias
tape, or you can make a facing for it, sew the facing on,
and then cut it out. I prefer the bias tape method, because
it doesn't allow little bits of facing to stick out at odd
times, and produces a smoother look.
humans vary in the shape of their necks, generally a squashed
circle will do very well as a neckline.
in this drawing show the center meridian of the body and the
shoulder line in relation to the placement of the neck.
around your neck and fiddle with the squashed circle shape
until you have one that looks like it will work for you.
also determine the depth of the slit in the front. Take the
difference between your neck measurement and your head measurement;
divide in half. This is the minimum amount of slit that you
will need to get the opening over your head. You may make
it longer if you like, of course. Cut it along the grain of
the fabric, in front, paying attention to the weave so that
the cut is guaranteed to be straight.
the edge however you prefer; bias tape is a good choice. You
can either start the bias tape at the center back, or at the
bottom of the slit (see the illustration.)
going to put trim around the neckline, now, when it is flat,
is the easiest time. To fit flat trim to a round neckline,
sometimes it is easiest to gather the trim with a drawstring
at the neck, sew down the gathers on the inner edge, and sew
it flat on the outer edge. Other times, it looks best to pleat
the inner edge to take up the fullness. You could also edge
it with bias tape in a similar, or a contrasting color, or
embroider the edge.
Now that the neck is done, sew the sleeves to the body. If
you're going to put trim over this seam, now is the easiest
time to do so -- when it's laid out flat. Likewise, putting
trim on the sleeve cuffs is easiest at this time.
the gores to the body, as shown, with the bias edge matched
to the straight grain of the body. See the picture; you'll
have two gores on each side of the body pieces. Note: the
gores (godets) are shown a different color in the "laid
flat" drawing. This is only for contrast; all evidence
points to gores being of the same fabric as the rest of the
The next step is a little complex, but worth it. Cut a slit
up the middle front and middle back of the body pieces, from
the hem to the same height as the other gores. This is where
you will insert the remaining gores. Sew them in, like the
ones on the sides, with the bias edge of the gore against
the straight grain of the slit.
almost done. Now all you need to do is sew the gores together
along their bias edges, front, back, and sides, and sew the
underside of the sleeve, and the upper body seam.
done! Now all you need to do is hem it and trim any of it
that you wish to! (remember that it is easiest to trim neck
and arm seams before you sew the side seams.) Mostly it seems
that the hems were not embellished in the middle ages.
Quicker Method -- with wide modern fabric:
If you have a great deal of fabric, there is a very quick
way of making a tunic, which is to simply draw the outline
on the fabric as shown, using a shirt that is comfortable,
over fabric that is folded twice to produce both front, back
and sides from one cutting. The neckline can be made in the
same way that is described above. Be certain that the fullness
at the sides of the body is rounded so that it does not hang
You can insert gores in the center front and center back to
more closely approximate the period method described above.
This will make the skirts hang much better.
The variety of different patterns used during the Middle Ages
is amazing. Diamonds (lozenges), circles, squares, rectangles,
elaborate birds and beasts. Generally, if you are using commercial
trim, anything that doesn't look too modern will work very
well. Stay away from things that are obviously made with mylar
(gold and silver strips), pearls or pearlized colors, or depictions
of critters or flowers that look too realistic. Within those
parameters, though, there are a great many trims on the market,
including basic grosgrain type ribbon, that will do fine.
If you're really inspired, you can do embroidery or beadwork!
Buttons (shank type) are also known throughout our period
for fastening and decoration.
Not only linen, and wool were available; fine silks were also
available at times and places in our period. (Fine silks are
those without slubs and with very small fibers; they are lustrous
and thin. Silk noil would not have been used in period, but
its nubbliness makes it resemble wool, or poorer cloth, and
it breathes well.)
Many people find cotton to be an economical choice, but be
advised that you'll be happier in pure cotton than in polyester-cotton
blends. The weaves used, even early in our period are often
quite complex. One of the most popular for the upper classes
was a diamond-patterned twill; the pattern of the weave makes
diamond shapes, somewhat like a squashed grid, in the fabric.
In general, a woven geometric pattern that is symmetrical
will look believable. Colors varied greatly, so you don't
have to worry too much about that for your first few outfits.
Much later in period, colors became more codified, but for
the most part, that doesn't happen until the late Renaissance.
Wear the colors that you want to, and avoid florescent hues
unless you're very certain you know what they used!
The hoods section has been turned into its own separate page.
Once you've got your tunic done, the next most useful thing
to own is some kind of headwear. Not only does it protect
your head from the sun or the cold, but it keeps off random
tourney dust and helps avoid tangles.
Men often wore the close fitting cap pictured, or a hood.
Women sometimes wore hoods, and I think they have worn coifs
like this, but evidence is scanty. In some cases, they would
have more constructed hats (felted wool, etc.) with brims,
but these two will serve you well until you decide what sort
of hat you prefer. Only vary rarely would an adult be seen
without some sort of hat.
See the other handouts on hood construction or coif and/or
snug cap if you want more detail. The close fitting cap is
easily made out of a folded piece of fabric which has been
sewn with a curve across the back, as shown, and ties attached
to the ends to fasten under the chin. It is going to wrinkle
along the upper seam; my understanding is that the 3-piece
caps were only very late in period, but they solve this characteristic.
these were white, but I have seen illustrations of this in
both green and red; there may have been other colors in use.
See also this page for photographs and a great many details
Women's veils were circles of white cloth (usually linen)
held on with bands of the same fabric. I have not yet seen
any other color than white used as a veil in the illustrations
for this time period, although many people like to have different
colored veils. Use opaque lightweight fabric; a good cotton
if you don't have a source for white linen. Opaque fine silk
would work well also.
Later in period there are apparently records of veils with
dyed bands of color along the margins, but I do not have a
good source for that either. It does produce an interesting
effect, as does beading the edge, another common mostly-modern
veils were square and used as a shawl over the tops of the
shoulders, but for ease of wear until you are used to them,
I recommend a round veil, about 1' in radius (ie, 2' diameter).
that hold the veil on are thin strips, about 1" wide,
and about a foot and a half long, depending on your head size.
the first one with a straight pin under your chin and passing
over the top of your head, just forward of your ears, and
not over the highest part of the back of your head. This one
will resist the downward and backward weight of the veil itself.
next one across your forehead, circling your head parallel
to the ground. Fasten it also to the chin band where they
you have a secure base for your veil, which will ensure that
it does not fly off in the wind, or as you do things. The
veil is then pinned to the bands at the center front, center
top, and the sides where it lies over the crossed bands over
your ears. If you have the time, many people like to make
pleats in the veil at the temple, to provide a little ruffling/fullness
to Make, How to find at K-Mart
Belts during this time period are not particularly complex.
For the most part, a belt a few inches longer than your waist,
with a simple buckle, will do just fine, especially for men.
Such a belt would not have a "keeper" -- that little
circle of leather meant to keep the extra belt length smooth
along the belt on your body. The picture is from the book
Dress Accessories and shows a belt fragment, still in a knot,
with buckle and all, that was dug up from a medieval trash
Many people in the SCA wear belts that have a long tongue
hanging down from the belt at the buckle. I haven't found
a good illustration of this style in the early period, but
if you want to wear this style, make sure that you 1: use
a belt with a real buckle, and then loop the extra "behind"
the buckle area so it will hang straight, and 2: don't wear
a belt whose tongue hangs below the hem of your tunic.
buy such belts in almost any menswear department, out of many
substances that resemble leather. If you want one that hangs
down, shop in the Large Men's or Large Women's departments
or stores; they sell sizes that will give you more than enough
length for the fashion statement that you want. You may have
to punch extra holes in these, though.
such a belt is easy, if you don't want to shop for one. Go
to the fabric store and buy the appropriate length of "Belt
Interfacing" which is a plastic product meant to be the
guts of a fabric belt. Buy a suitable buckle, fabric to cover
it (black heavy cotton is good) and a few "brass drapery
rings," which can be bought from a good fabric or upholstery
store. They are about 1/2" across, and solid -- no butted
or overlapped ends.
fabric into a tube that is 1/4" larger than the interfacing,
and about 3" longer than the interfacing. Turn this inside
out, so the seam doesn't show. Insert the belt facing into
the tube, leaving about 1" of extra fabric at the non-buckle
end. Fiddle with the tube so that the seam runs along the
"inside" of the belt facing, where it won't show
when you're wearing the belt.
at the non-buckle end, roll the belt up very loosely; about
the size of your waist, maybe a bit smaller. When you get
to the end that the buckle will be attached to, put a pin
through both the belt fabric and the interfacing, and let
it unroll. This will allow a little ease in the belt for stretching
of the plastic, and for the effects of converting a straight
bit of plastic to a belt that encircles something. Sew the
buckle to the belt, making sure to go through the plastic
a few times in the process. Any bad stitching will be hidden
by the rest of the belt; don't worry here. Don't forget to
cut a little hole for the buckle prong itself.
belt on. Figure out where the best spot would be for the hole
you will use most often; make a mark there. Also add two more
marks on either side, about an inch apart, for variations
in clothing thickness.
a leather needle, take one of the brass drapery rings, and
sew it securely to the belt, going through both the plastic
and the layers of fabric. This will ensure that your belt
will not tear under heavy use (it is plastic, after all.)
Either sew these to the underside, or to the top; but if you
sew the rings to the top, be prepared to cover any shiny bits
with more sewing thread.
(with an exacto knife or hole punch) the holes inside of the
reinforcement, and make sure that the tail end of the belt
looks good. You're done!
The other thing that is very, very useful for SCA garb is
a belt pouch. Although I suspect that carrying stuff around
with oneself didn't become particularly important until life
became more complex in the 1300s, we here in the modern world
need something to carry our authorization cards, driver's
license, car keys, etc. The belt pouch is one way to accomplish
this. Most illustrations of belt pouches show them hanging
around the knee to lower thigh area of the wearer. In the
1400s, noble women are rarely shown with pouches, but the
occasional illustration may say why: they wore them between
their outer garment and their next-inward garment, usually
below the knee. Surprisingly, it doesn't whomp on your legs
when you're walking.
The basic belt pouch can be made out of leather or fabric.
Both versions work easiest using a simple U shape of material,
sewn along the bottom and edges, and with a drawstring at
the top. If you are inclined to get fancy, you can line it
or decorate it.
version was certainly worn by men and is also easy to make.
Take a rectangle of material (I suggest about 7x14");
fold it and sew up the sides. Finish the top edge if necessary.
In the center back, sew a finished loop of material to make
a belt loop -- finished dimensions of the loop should be about
2" wide by a little longer than twice the width of your
belt. Sew it to the pouch firmly at the bottom of the loop
and also at the top edge of the pouch.
or cut a flat strip of material that is twice the width of
the pouch, plus a little extra. (If you're using fabric, you
can do this as a tube.) Cut slits in the pouch to take this
drawstring; four on the front and four on the back. Be symmetrical
with this (same placement front and back.) Finish the holes
as you see best; (Fray Check is one option; buttonholes another)
and thread the drawstring through the holes.