Story of Gates of Hell

Story of the medieval gown.

 Pinterest is good place for learning new things and superb for ideas if you are planning something. I completely forgot myself amongst living history sites and SCA ideas that circle around there. I used to be interested in it some years back, but never got seriously around to it. I was active in Hanseatic Day celebrations though in 2005 – 2010 and even got around making myself a dress.

The materials were not right and the undercoat was done slightly differently, because the material wasn’t big enough, but the way we made it, I think it is still pretty medieval – first I was measured and as we had to make the pattern up ourselves, because I only had small images of medieval costume construction I found from library, I was then laid down on the cloth and traced on the fabric. We learned great deal on making patterns out of air. I researched a lot for the dress and though there are “prettier” dresses out there, I’ve always been in love with the Gates of Hell (the sideless surcoat, which got its name, because men found them too alluring). It was in fashion around 13th century and I think a strike of genius. The surcoat can be built up so the middle section of the dress is leaner and this creates optical illusion of more slender body. I’m an hourglass shape and thus this dress nicely stresses the shape even more.


The fabric itself is actually meant for furniture. The decision for it was though through, because I dislike formless and shapeless things that put emphasis in all the wrong places. It started as a joke and turned out to be a good idea, because differently from all the painted-on fabrics, we actually found a woven through fabric with nice gentle pattern that held nicely and gave some much needed protection against one of the hottest summers we had in the first decade of 21st century. The tunic material was chosen purely by how it went with the surcoat.  The surcoat was cut higher, because it didn’t allow wrapping it in my hand without creating the fallen over crinoline effect. This meant that it still had the show-all-underneath, but I could still do all I was asked without stumbling over it. Though it was popular to mix the colors like a parrot, I wanted something easy for the eye.

The decorations I have on the image here were put together from other finds. The buttons were my liberty on depredation, because I love the Viking chains like crazy. The big chain is the belt. No one would have noticed anyway, because they weren’t going for the historical accuracy. The button chain could be removed if asked. The belt is a find from second hand shops (perfect for materials if you need to test out patterns first or do small-size crafts). The image I found in 2006 showed the woman wearing belt. Because I wasn’t planning any modern bag hanging and ruing the image, I made few simple bags I could hang from the belt. We were looking out for some leather to make the belt, but then noticed this one! I still treasure it and it is waiting for what ever next dress, because even though made in modern era, the patterns on it are ethnic enough to suit the dress and it is just a lovely bling to sparkle up the dress. I had a leather belt, too, to hang things from and this kind of hanged over it and many thought they were part of the same belt. But what a bling! It wasn’t obvious for all to see, but when someone noticed it, it was worth the metal work. So I’m keeping it. Forever.

Why am I suddenly talking about a dress I made 6 years ago? Perhaps, because I miss it. I miss the excitement and the excruciating study for one detail, the search for fabric and putting it together. Or is it, because I found several sources that lead me back to local groups reenacting history and suddenly there shines a chance to get back on that old love with new knowledge and new information and renewed energy to built more realistic costumes. It’s as if the childhood of costume creating is over and it’s time to move on from stage costume to making something real.

How odd is that? I think I just put in words what has been bothering me so much lately. Pinterest is full of let’s-fake-it kind of tutorials and I feel I’ve grown tired of them. What’s the point of pretending something to look like something if I could actually learn the craft and to the real thing? That I don’t paint the bottles over anymore to make them look as if they’re made of clay, but I could actually learn clay work and make them. Or I don’t use tea or coffee to make the paper look old in BoS.

By the way, what is up with that? It’s like a must-have to take your beautiful new empty book and just sink it somewhere so it could look old! Yes, it will look nice now, but it will lessen the life of your book. Don’t you want your hard work to last for years? After all – you write it by hand and many draw in it. I have my handwritten books I wrote 10 and more years back and never done it. But I must say they look pretty old and used anyway. Young witches around the world, I turn to you – don’t do that to your book! Let Mother Time take care of it for you! I am living proof that those books that have not gone through the coffee treatment do last far longer and they will look like that and even better in your future. The usual commercial glues only keep your scrapbooks together for about 10 years, by the way, that’s why I’ve taken up illuminating my dear Luain. No glue included if I can help it.

I guess Pinterest has put me on a new path in my life. I want to lessen the sort of crafts that imitate another craft and learn the skills to create something original. Something that is real. Some would say we don’t have the time to make those things. Don’t we? We take the time to imitate, why not to create?


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