Now that Connecticut Renaissance Faire is over, I finally have time to put up my dress diary for the new outfit from this year! I am dividing it up into parts, because the diary is so long!
The first Landsknecht dress I attempted was made with luck and a lot of chutzpa. I was (and still am) madly in love with a Landsknecht reenactor, who is also a fantastic tailor. Back when we were first getting to know each other I desperately wanted an outfit to match in time frame and geography. I had a bit of sewing experience, but not very much, and a borrowed pattern. Stephen really saw me through the first outfit, though he swore he was no good at teaching people to sew.
Today, five years after that original Landsknecht dress, Stephen and I are engaged and have started our own Landsknecht unit. My original dress served me well, but going into the new venture I was looking for one that was more historical. Also, I needed to be able to teach others in the unit how to make their own Landsknecht dresses, since they are practically impossible to purchase. I wanted to document my whole process to help the other females in our new group.
Before making my outfit I wanted to know about the character I would be playing since clothing varies widely by class, and clothes tell a story without using words. My first thoughts about character were that Gutstav (Stephen’s character/persona) is a soldier’s soldier, so Gustav’s wife Hanne (also spelled Hannah) would have to be a soldier’s wife in order to be happy (and playing happy is much more fun than playing miserable.) I also wanted my character to spend a lot of time around the fire, cooking and such. So I determined that I should not go with something too upper-class, and could be a lot wilder in my color choices than I was last time, as long as those colors were still historical.
After I decided on what I wanted, Stephen determined that in order to lead the fahnlein, he needed to captain the unit, and be noble, a baron in fact. As the wife of a baron I had to alter my costume plans a little, but I still wanted to make a basic kampfrau outfit, so I could help the others in the unit, and because I liked my original plan.
The first thing I did when preparing for this new dress was look at a lot of woodcuts and portraits from Renaissance Germany. There are a number of woodcuts portraying the Landsknecht, less of the women camp followers than there are of the soldiers themselves, but still quite a number, both online and in books. I also looked at paintings and portraits from the Holy Roman Empire, 1500 to 1550. The most disappointing part of my research has been that I have not seen any photos, drawings, or examples of extant German Renaissance clothing. Woodcuts and paintings are good, and show quite a bit about construction, but it is nothing like looking at the real thing. If anyone reading this has seen the real thing (or photos at least) please let me know, I’d be delighted to learn more.
I ended up mixing and matching a bit to get to my final dress. My initial inspiration and color choices came from the spring panel of Die Augsburger Monatsbilder, a German wall painting from the 1520s that I found on a dress diary by the Curious Frau. In the “spring” panel the woman in the lower middle playing cards was my initial inspiration, though I liked the darker colors of the woman just above her. I wanted to go a little more kampfrau since I needed to be able to tell others how to make guards etc. so I went for the guards on some of the woodcuts that I’d seen especially Musketeer and Wife c.1535 woodcut, also from Curoius Frau. I used sleeves straight off the pattern “Period Patterns”. For headgear I went for the small cap found in Cranach paintings, and a more traditional hat pattern that I had seen on various reenactors. More on that later.
In order to make our new Landsknect outfits, a bunch of us went wool and linen shopping. We encouraged everyone in the group to go with natural fibers since, obviously, back then folks did not have the newfangled fibers that we have now. Though there are some synthetics out there that try to mimic natural fibers, they rarely succeed, the most historical looking and feeling fabrics will, in my opinion, always be the real thing. We asked our crew to stick mainly with wool and linen as those are the most prevalent fabrics in continental Europe in the sixteenth century. There was a little bit of cotton, but it was expensive, especially in the northern parts of Europe. Silk is a little more common since by this time Italy is producing silks, but would not necessarily be found on the common soldier.
For wool and linen we all trekked down to Osgoods in Springfield, MA. It is a long drive from Southern New Hampshire but totally worth it. They have a ton of wool, all year round. They’ve got all sorts of colors and weights, they have linen, tons of upholstery fabric, really anything a historical costumer could want. Stephen and I then spent the next month washing wool.
We washed and dryed all the wool at least twice for a number of reasons. First, we’ll be wearing these clothes non-stop in the fall, so they will get dirty and we will have to clean them later. If we did not pre-shrink all the wool they would undoubtedly shrink later, and the colors could run, and make a mess of everything. Also, Landsknect clothing is often slashed, that is cut in various ways, and if your wool is tight enough, or fulled, then you will not have to worry about finishing the edges, just like felt. Washing wool shrinks it and tightens it so you can slash to your heart’s content and not worry too much about the edges.
As far as I am aware there are two patterns out there for making Renaissance German gowns, the original I used which is “Period Patterns” and another made by Reconstructing History. I decided to go back to Period Patterns since the last dress turned out so well. I again had to borrow a friend’s but the next time I make a landsknecht dress I will probably go out and buy the pattern since it has served me well twice. To help with patterning Stephen helped me make a duct tape bodice pattern which would help me get a better fit. I wore an old t-shirt and he taped me in, we drew on the duct tape with sharpie where we thought the neckline, seams, arm openings etc, would go, then cut me out of it.
Since I had borrowed the pattern I traced out the individual pieces instead of cutting them up, that way I could get my size, and others can use the pattern for other sizes later. To do this (and to make my own patterns from garments, measurements etc.) I have a roll of yellow tracing paper that I bought at an art supply store. The first time I bought it I was told it was architects tracing paper, so if you are looking to buy any, I’d ask for it under than name. Using my own tracing paper also meant I got to lay my duct tape pattern under the same piece that I’d drawn the pattern out on, and reconcile the two for things like arm holes which will have to match up with the pattern pieces for the arms to work.
With a good design, pattern, and cloth I was ready to actually start construction.
Read Part 2, Read Part 3,
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