Read Part 1
The pattern I was using to construct my Landsknecht dress called for the bodice to be made first and the skirt second, but I have a lot more experience making skirts, and felt more comfortable tackling that part of the project. The pattern also called for the skirt to be sewn directly into the bottom of the bodice, but I wanted a waistband on my skirt, since I do not have much in the way of hips and wanted the skirt (which would be heavy since it was made of wool) to hang from a band around my waist instead of around my hips or off the bodice.
I did not use pattern pieces to make the skirt, I simply measured from my belly button to the floor and added 2 inches for seam allowance. The wool I’d bought was 56” wide (54” once it had shrunk in the wash) so I used the width of the fabric for the width of the skirt and cut two pieces of the right height, one for the front one for the back. For the waistband I measured around my waist and then added 2 inches for seam allowance and a bit of overlap. That got me the length of the waistband, I cut the strips 4” wide to give me the height
First I sewed the two halves of the skirt together. I sewed the entire length on one side, but on the other I left the top 5 inches unattached (just reinforced the end of the seam with a few extra stitches.) A few notes on sewing here. I did use a sewing machine. I know some hardcore reenactors do not, but my hand sewing is not as good as a historical seamstress’ and the machine stitches on things like seams are not going to show. In my opinion a well cut, machine sewn dress out of period fabrics is going to look much more authentic than a hand sewn dress that is not out of the right material, or is cut using modern patterns.
Next I stitched up the waistband. I folded it in half lengthwise, right side in and stitched up one short end and the long side, leaving the second short end open. I clipped the corner, then flipped the waistband inside out, ironed it flat, then ironed the open end in. I did not finish off the second end, since I could finish it when I sewed on the skirt and also because the wool was fairly stiff and was likely to hold the right shape once ironed even without the stitches. I can not say enough about ironing. I can guarantee you will not have a well finished seam, any seam, if it is not ironed flat.
Gathering the Waist
The top edge of the skirt was obviously tons wider than the waist band, so I had to use some method to get all the skirt fabric to the right width. The main two methods of doing this are gathering and pleating and, as a general rule, I prefer pleating. But I’ve read some reenacting group guidelines, and have looked closely at the woodcuts, pleating often comes out looking flatter than I was going for. I wanted to try a really tight gather instead of pleating. Many years ago a reenactor in Florida told me that she’d used drapery tape (sometimes called gather tape) to get a nice tight gather to sew into her skirt, this time I thought I’d try it. I purchased gather tape at Osgoods when I bought my fabric, and it proved incredibly easy to sew into the fabric then gather up. On the skirt top I folded and ironed over about 1/3 inch of the skirt fabric, then positioned the top of the gather tape about a 1/3 inch below the fold and machine sewed the top and bottom of the gather tape, using the longest stitches on my machine for easy removal later. Once it was sewn on, I just pulled on the two strings in the gather tape, and I got perfectly spaced, very tight gathers along the top of my skirt.
The difficult part is sewing the gathers to the waistband. Pleats are easier because they lay flat along the same axis as the waistband, gathers lay the skirt fabric perpendicular to the waistband. I like the look of gathered skirts since they tend to poof out from the waist which helps me since I do not have much in the way of hips. In the past I’d tried sewing the waistband along the front of the gather, but that makes a weird fold in the band, to accommodate all that fabric underneath. I’ve done it by just attaching the bottom of the waistband to the top middle of the gathers (by hand) but it seemed sort of flimsy to me, and I never ended up wearing the skirt I made that way. I’ve tried just shoving all the gathers inside the waistband, ie, sewing one half of the band on the front of the gathers, and the other half on the back, but that makes for a very round waistband, which hurts my hips.
For this skirt I chose to lay the top of the skirt gathers against the flat front of the waistband. So the skirt top really is perpendicular to the waistband. All this had to be sewn by hand, I don’t think there is a machine out there that could handle the angles I was working at. Before I sewed a single stitch (in fact, before I’d gathered along the gather tape) I put pins every 1 quarter around both the skirt and the waistband, so that once I’d gathered I could match them up evenly. I then pinned the skirt into the waistband about every inch and a half, with the opening in the seam of the skirt about 1/3 inch in from the edge of the waistband. I had to pin with the skirt and waistband parallel instead of perpendicular (pins don’t go at the angle I was sewing either) which meant that when I was sewing I had to take the pins out a few gathers before I got to them and just hold the last few gathers in place while I was sewing, The gather tape helped with this a lot, as did the fact that I was hand sewing.
I started by sewing up one edge of the gather and down the other, but quickly switched to putting two stitches at the top pucker of each gather along the length of the waist, then going back and putting two stitches in the bottom on each pucker. This part is fairly hard to describe, so I’m putting in photos that I hope will help explain. The stitches in the skirt part were fairly well hidden up against the waistband, and the other side was on the inside of the waistband, where I did not mind if they showed. I used a lot of thread, and the job from the inside is not pretty, but from the outside, at initial glance, it did exactly what I had wanted it to. The skirt poofed out in nice even rolls.
Once I had put in all the hand stitches and had the skirt entirely attached to the waistband, I needed to take the gather tape out. The tape was much stiffer than the wool it was stitched to, and made the sides stick straight out at the waist, also the two rows of stitching holding the tape in place were very obvious. This was not as easy as a normal seam removal, so much of the tape was hidden from view in the folds and gathers, but removing a seam always feels easier to me than putting one in. Once it was all out I hung the skirt on a clippie coat hanger for a few days In order to see if the skirt would relax and if the fabric would stretch, so I could hem the thing with some degree of accuracy before affixing all of the guards.
I sewed a couple of hooks and eyes that I had purchased from Reconstructing History on to the waist band, two on the outer overlapping side, and one on the inside. I wanted to do that before I hemmed so that the skirt would always sit at the same spot on my waist. I chose the closure to be on my left hip, so that I could put a pocket underneath (a colonial pocket that ties around the waist, totally un-period, but great for holding a wallet and inhaler.)
Stephen pinned up the hem for me while I was wearing the skirt, since we females are not even all the way around. Unless you are very oddly shaped you will need more fabric in the back of the skirt than you will in the front. Also, my hips are uneven, so one side will always be higher than the other. My legs are the same length, but because my hips are uneven, nothing of mine will look right unless the bottom hem is measured from the floor. This is also the reason why I had to pick where the skirt closure would be before I hemmed it.. Stephen pinned up the hem just about at my ankles. Since this is a working dress, I will wear it kitled up most of the time (more on that later) so I wanted a pretty good length on the skirt. My machine has a blind hem stitch, which I used on the bottom of the skirt. Still, I promised myself I would pull out the machine hem and put in one by hand once the whole thing was done. In the end I never got around to it.
My next step was to sew on the guards, or stripes of a different color wool around the bottom of the skirt, in good landsknecht fashion. I hemmed the skirt before attaching the guards, because I wanted the guards to be even with the bottom of the skirt. When I was cutting the skirt I made sure to measure the width that the skirt fabric had shrunk to, because the guard fabric had shrunk differently. I had to make sure my guards were not too short, but also not too long either since I was planning on slashing them, and having to sew a seam in the middle of a slash is a pain.
I wanted to put three stripes on my skirt. I have a theory that the more srtipes, the higher in standing the person wearing the skirt. Not in any codified sort of way (i.e. one stripe, soldier’s wife, two stripes officers wife) nothing like that. But still, I wanted to show off a little, and thought three stripes would do it. The two upper stripes I cut narrower bands and did not do any slashing, the lowest stripe I cut a fairly wide band, and slashed it.
The thing about slashing the guards, is that I’m told the colors underneath the slashes is not necessarily the same color as the skirt itself, and that sounded good to me. I wanted to put another solid color band underneath the slashed band, without bunching, puckers, or becoming too heavy. I had green wool to make my guards so I chose black linen to use underneath. I washed the heck out of the linen just like I had the wool. I also cut the linen on the bias, that is, I cut the stripe at a 90 degree angle to the weave of the fabric. This meant that the linen was stretchier and had plenty of give, in case it wore out differently than the wool over time.
I drew my slash pattern on the inside of the wide guard with chalk, before actually cutting it. I used a pattern of almost “x”es for my slashes since it is a good idea to slash in the direction of the bias. That way you get less fraying on the edges of my slashes. This is another incredibly good reason to pick wool, you can be fairly certain that a good wool will not fray on an unfinished edge. I slashed the guard with an exacto knife on a cutting mat. I’m told that scissors work, but that seemed a little fussy to me since I was slashing in the middle of a piece of fabric and not right up to the edge. I am also told that a rotary cutter works well, but they scare me a little, and the exacto worked fine.
Once the big guard was slashed, I folded the top and bottom seam allowances over (on the wrong side of the fabric,) ironed them flat, then opened them back up. This was so I could tell where to position the black linen layer, and also to help me attach the guard to the skirt. I cut the black linen under piece a little less wide than the green wool guard and stitched the right side of the linen to the wrong side of the guard, just on the outside of the fold lines, so I could be sure that the lines of stitches would be hidden. I ironed the seam allowances folded again so that the black linen would have the same fold lines as the green wool. And I was finally ready to attach the guards to the skirt.
I measured 2.5 inches up from the bottom of the skirt, and drew a chalk line all around the bottom of the skirt. I pinned the guard, right side of the guard to right side of the skirt below the chalk line and pinned it in place. Yes, it was upside-down and inside out, but it was all part of the plan. I machine stitched just on the outside of the fold line, as close as I could get to it without being on the line. Then once the seam was in place I flipped the guard upright. S since the fold had been ironed in, it was a nice flat line that totally hid the machine stitch. I could have done the upper edge of the guard in this fashion instead of the lower edge, but I was measuring from the bottom of the skirt, and figured the less distance I measured the better.
Now, I can hear you asking, how did you hide the seam on the upper side? The trick above can really only be used on one side of the guards. For the other side I just folded it along the seam fold that I had already ironed, used a machine baste stitch to hold it in place, then hand sewed that side in place since the hand sewing is so much easier to hide. I took out the machine baste once the hand stitches were in place.
I sewed the first guard in place, then measured a few inches up and used the same trick to sew the next two guards into place. I almost put a fourth guard on the skirt, but that looked like overkill to me.
With that, I was finally finished with the skirt, and ready to start on the bodice.
Read Part 3, Read Part 4