“Greco-Roman” outfit 

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Be Hellenistic, not fatalistic. 


A friend of mine is going to the annual convention of the Society for Creative Anachronism, otherwise known as the Pennsic War. He needed some garb. The group he travels with are classicists, so a simple Roman-era tunic and a long rectangular himation or peplos — really a simplified toga — are all he needs. I figured out a way to cut two tunics, one sleeved and one sleeveless, from the fabric he brought me. This is the sleeved one. 

I’ll have to wait until his fitting this evening for photos of the pseudo/proto-toga. It’s simply impossible to photograph in a way that makes it look like something other than a long rectangle of cloth with stripes at the ends. Wrapped around a person it’ll look quite different, I believe. 

I have a new sewing machine. I did these projects with the old sewing machine because I’m at a critical stage in quilting two crib-sized quilts, and all my spare thread is wound onto bobbins of the old machine. But if I took down and store the old machine, I’d never finish those quilts. 

But… after this weekend, and this project for my friend, I got most of the quilting done. So I’m ready to store my old machine as of today. I have some time this afternoon, so I’m going to use the new machine to put some decorative stitching on the two tunics and the proto-toga. 

Noble coat

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Time for another project. I lost a jacket in Oregon.  It was a puke green color, and first-generation fleece, and not particularly beautiful, but it kept me warm on cool nights in spring and autumn, and on a river.  I am not in a position to craft a fitted jacket like that, but I am going to be on a mountain in the middle of summer fairly soon, and a beautiful over-garment of some kind that is also warm would be useful. I think I look good in the Jedi tunic pattern I have from Simplicity. It can also be altered fairly easily for a lining, as I did on the Poet’s Coat — but the poet’s coat is a little heavy for mid-July.

(I’m surprised to discover that there’s no entry for the poet’s coat, I must not have called it that in the entry; but the red tunic is a variant of the same pattern).

A friend gave me access to a bunch of wool material.  Wool is warm, even if the wind is blowing through it, and it tends to remain warm even when wet. It might get wet on top of a mountain in July.  So, I made the shell of this coat or jacket out of some of that wool.  The result is a very plain looking garment that is unfortunately quite itchy on the skin.

So it needed a lining.

And if it needs a lining, then it might as well have fancy cuffs, and some beautiful trim.  Which I did put on the coat.  Getting the hems right was tricky. Next time, I’m going to sew the fabric on to the cuffs, then sew the trim on the cuffs… and then make the cuffs and the sleeve simultaneously.  It’s often the case that we learn our working procedures for the future, by making the mistakes of the present.
The cuffs still turned out mostly OK. One of the things that I’ve learned from a designer-engineer friend of mine, is that you should “make the whole prototype so that you learn where the mistakes are, and you have a better chance of getting them right the next time around.” It’s good advice, especially in the Maker movement or in a maker program. The learning in this sort of work comes from the mistakes, not from the perfectly-executed plan.

One of my critical pieces of learning from the last project, the green gown, was to do more pinning and more pressing.  I learned something similar from the shirt-making process.  So, I did more pinning this time around, and more pressing (ironing, really) before and after sewing different steps in the project.

The result was a much more finished-looking product. I still suck at lower-edge hems of garments, though, especially on costume pieces like this one.  Still, the gold trim flashes nicely in the light (it came from Cloak and Dagger Productions, which is fairly local to me).  The grid-like pattern that forms the cuffs appears to be the underlying grid for a tile pattern, and references my own recent obsessions with geometry.

Though not quite finished, the coat has an unusual lining. I had intended to line it with linen, but I turned out not to have enough linen for the project. So I searched around among my fabric scraps and came up with what felt like an inspired idea.  From the outside the coat is very plain and severe — black wool fabric, with trim based on geometric and floral designs.  It’s very orderly and regular, and not very showy despite the gold trim.

It’s very me, in that sense.  The coat has pretty clean lines and a very plain form — not quite shapeless, but not really a modern garment either.  It needs a belt, and I don’t know if I’m going to make a belt and attach it; or make belt loops for a belt and leave the belt for another day.  Either way, pretty plain, right?

However, the interior of the coat is constructed around a piece of tie-dyed fabric that someone gifted to me. I think they thought I would use it as an altar cloth, or a wall hanging. If that was its exclusive intention, I’m sorry. It’s now something else — probably irreversibly, at least until someone cuts this up and makes it into something else, which I hope they’ll do when I’m done with it.

There’s something wonderful about this coat, plain and severe on the outside, almost Saturnian, concealing a riot of color in its lining.  It’s possible the garment will now be too hot for its intended purpose.  I’m sorry if that’s the case. There are still a number of mistakes and problems with it, but it’s a lot better than anything similar that I’ve constructed (and this is now the sixth or seventh time through this pattern). Each time I make this, I make more variations and changes than I did the time before.

The result is that I can now say with some confidence that this is a great pattern for teaching young people the basics of sewing.  Some of the other pieces in the collection are likely not worth the effort — the ‘fake’ undertunic or dickie is a little silly, and the outer cloak requires a LOT of fabric for a first-time sewing student’s starter project, and the shoulder tabards/armor are not well thought out for my taste.

But this tunic/coat has a lot of potential in it, and it can be made to do a variety of cool things.  It’s worth a look in a school MakerSpace that’s trying to build up a sewing program.

Sewing: The Clothes of Timotheus

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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.