Sewing: The Clothes of Timotheus

Tunic Pattern 60%22 fabricUpdate: I’ve since secured permission from the maker of the original pattern to share my variation/translation of his pattern. You can download it by clicking on the small image at the extreme right of the blog, which appears to be a bunch of gray-gradient trapezoids and other odd shapes.  It will print on 8.5″ x 14″ paper, otherwise known as US Legal paper.

Original Article below

Tunic of TimotheusThe other evening, I laid out a 60″ wide piece of blue fabric on the floor of my studio. My goal was to make the Tunic of Timotheus, from a pattern I found on Pinterest from Charles Mellor.  Sixty inches is a lot of fabric, innit?

I have to admit, I looked at a lot of patterns on Pinterest before selecting this one. There are some fiendishly complicated patterns for tunics on Pinterest, but I’ve been burned by shirt-making before.  It’s a difficult business, really, and this was no different.  I made quite a few errors along the way.

Charles’ pattern calls for four and a half yards of 45″ fabric.  I did it with a little over three yards of 60″ fabric. This meant taking his measurements and design of the pieces, and transferring them to a new layout format, which I guess is called drafting a pattern.  Charles did all of the hard work; all I did is run his pattern through a relatively simple geometric transformation…. a transformation that I admit I could likely not have done without some intensive geometric study along the way.

Timotheus Tunic: pattern assemblyI took my paper pattern and made a mock-up of the final pattern, and discovered that I’d made a couple of goofs in it.  IF you look closely at my layout, you’ll se that my center strip is a good inch and a quarter longer at both ends — 2.5″ inches! — than the pattern needed to be.  I needed to double check my numbers to affirm that the fabric would cut out the way I intended.

Then I cut out the pieces.

Once laid out on the cutting-room floor, the pieces actually resembled a shirt.  It’s really, genuinely, a tunic, though — it’s mid-calf length, not waist-length, and I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be belted or not. I’m REALLY not sure how to finish the sleeves, which are long in the original pattern and long in my remake of it. Charles seems to think that there was a complex bit of fold-back to expose and display the lining — but mine doesn’t have a lining.  Instead, it has really, really long sleeves, and a bad bit of assembly from me by not really measuring EXACTLY where the fold along the top of the sleeves really needed to be.Tunic of Timotheus Oh well. My mother the artist say that not everything you make is going to be perfect, anyway. This is hardly the exception.

Once I got into the sewing, it was hard to take pictures. THere’s pinning to do, and then sewing, and despite the fact that this design is supposed to be geometric, it’s really not so many straight lines as I’d like — because I don’t have a 60″ wide cutting table and a rotary cutter of the gods, of course… not because I’m a terrible textile cutter.  Really. Trust me.

All the same, I did get a few pictures of the sewing in progress — mostly when the fabric was down on the ground just before pinning, or just after sewing before the next piece was pinned on (which is really the same thing, isn’t it?)
Tunic of Timotheus

The sewing itself is both tedious and refreshing.  It’s tedious because there’s a rhythm to it that speaks of painstaking labor: lay out the pieces to be sewn together; match them up with one another; pin them; swear at and curse the world because you mis-pinned them; pin them again; realize that they’re still mis-pinned but screw it — you want to finish; sew the pieces together; remove the pins; realize you’re not really satisfied with the results, but it would be difficult to go back; repeat until the garment is finished.

I add a step, which I don’t think all sewing enthusiasts and professionals share, which is that I try on the garment and discover that I don’t like it.  Either I don’t like the cut and drape of it, or I don’t like the color; or I don’t like the weight or finish on it.  In the case of this garment, it feels like it’s neither substantial enough, nor is it flattering. But no one is home, so it’s hard to compare my results with someone else’s observations.

Anyway, the result is that now I have a heavier-weight pair of pants that I feel are finished (they need a better draw-string in the waist, but I have a lucet and I know how to use it). And I don’t hate them, but they’re not awesome, or at least I don’t think they are yet. (and of course, because no one is home, I don’t know how to finish the sleeves or the neck hem; and I can’t take an effective picture of myself wearing them.

Tunic and pants Even so.

Let me summarize:

  • I did research and found a pattern for a tunic and a pair of pants.
  • I made the tunic and the pair of pants.
  • In the process of making the tunic and pair of pants, I
    • Altered an existing pattern
    • Did a significant geometry problem on a large scale
    • Improved my fabric-cutting skills, even if only fractionally
    • Improved my sewing skills, even if only fractionally
    • Created an outfit I can wear (even if I don’t want to)
    • Learned to follow a medieval (reconstructionist) pattern

And — I think this post speaks to something important about being a Maker.  It doesn’t really matter whether you choose to be a designer of electronics or robots or art or machines or fancy lighting systems or knitted hats or elaborate Rube Goldberg machines.

The important thing is the doing.  The striving.  This tunic is all wrong; it’s not put together as perfectly or as nicely as it could be. That stinks.  But the doing of it, the processing of simple fabric into a garment that can be worn, is a thing that is not easily captured in words or described in textbooks.  You can’t write a paragraph and then wear it; some other step must be performed first.  The math problems of this garment were solved first, and then that solution was used for the real work that followed.  

Put another way, Making and Design serve an important function in schools and student life generally — it’s through the making and the designing that we put the skills we’re studying in school into genuine practice, and learn to practice them deeply.

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  1. Sewing is very exacting work. My mom taught me how to do simple things like hem dresses and slacks, use simple patterns, etc. Your post is making me worry about my next project: a hooded robe (I’m at that stage in Kraig’s “Modern Magic”). Will it fit? Will I like the feel? Argh!

    • You might look at this pattern:

      It’s pretty versatile: it can be a woman’s underdress, or a man’s long tunic — if you shorten the distance from shoulder to feet, to shoulder-to-mid-thigh, it’s a short tunic. If you cut it down the center front and line it, it’s a jacket or caftan. And it wastes very little fabric. A hood, meanwhile, is very simple. It’s often a large rectangle of cloth folded in half to become two squares, and then one side of the square attached to the fold is sewn shut. There’s a person on DeviantArt that goes by the name eqos who has quite a large collection of medieval patterns, which tend to be geometric and waste very little fabric. You might check this stuff out.

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