This task was completed many years ago, so there aren’t a lot of pictures. I’m trying to get enough bits together with my original 12th night houpellande to get a photoshoot done, although the gown has suffered quite a bit of damage in the last decade. There are a number of pictures from a newer houpellande (the infamous bag sleeves) and the story on that one follows the gallery.
One of my sons (Arthur, my oldest) was married in the summer of 2017. He asked us to dress in garb for the wedding, so I wore my houpellande and Loren work his regular tourney garb. He also carried the big sword in case of last minute nerves. 🙂
When Arthur saw us, he burst out laughing.
My first houpellande was made from 22 yards of plain, pale blue cotton broadcloth. It used a slit neck and vertical slits for the armholes. The sleeves were open circles, simply narrow-hemmed. …and it worked. I could even dance in it if I was careful. Two-line horses’ bransle saw me step backwards onto the train. My feet shot out from under me and I landed flat on my back. Didn’t damage myself because of the padding of all that fabric! The sleeves began to tear out after a couple of years of use, though, so that fabric got turned into several t-tunics for me and my kids.
(picture is Rogier_van_der_Weyden._Mary_Magdalene._c.1445)
I learned from this one that I did have the shape right. I was looking at the Tres Riches Heures pictures. The full circle sleeves in the lightweight fabric gave the same drape as the pink on in the picture. I also found that this style requires a tight belt that doesn’t have to be very wide to work. A 2 inch belt was just fine to give the silhouette (allowing for artistic license) of the pink and the black women’s houpellandes. I also realized that I needed better underpinnings, so I started researching.
I also discovered from the first one that the posture that you need to stand in as it shows in these photos is quite natural when you’re using a lot of fabric. It’s *heavy*!
Title Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry Folio 4, verso: April
Description Français : Le sujet principal de cette peinture est une scène de fiançailles : au premier plan, à gauche, un couple échange des anneaux devant deux témoins et un autre personnage, représenté derrière, plus petit que les autres. Plus au centre, deux suivantes cueillent des fleurs. À droite, on aperçoit un verger clos de murs et d’un édifice à créneaux. À l’arrière-plan se dresse un château, souvent désigné comme le château de Dourdan. Il pourrait aussi s’agir du château de Pierrefonds.
Date between 1412 and 1416
Medium illumination on vellum
Dimensions Height: 22.5 cm (8.9 in). Width: 13.6 cm (5.4 in).
Current location Musée Condé
Accession number Ms.65, f.4v
References Raymond Cazelles et Johannes Rathofer (préf. Umberto Eco), Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Tournai, La Renaissance du Livre, 2001 (1re éd. 1988), 238 p. (ISBN 2-8046-0582-5), p. 26
Source/Photographer R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda
The 2nd one (the proof) [Pictures will be added]
I spent quite some time discussing houpellandes (as my first one was disintegrating) with several people who were also fascinated with them. After spending some time digging into files about Czech history and costume (none of which I have any longer, because of a fire) I ran across some differences from the garments as they were worn in this area of Central Europe, compared to France and England.
For one thing, Central Europe is much cooler than Southern France, much less Italy, while England may have similar weather. Houpellandes are far more like coats than standard clothing that we would wear indoors, mostly being fur-lined and high-collared, as well. German, Polish and Czech garments were often full circles, even as the period of their popularity wore on, while south and west of those countries, 3/4 and even 1/2 circles became more common, and the men’s garments shortened. There was even a funny bit that the Czechs wore exaggerated full circle garments that they called “Jako Nemtsy” (like the German) as a bit of a slap against their perception that Germans overdo everything!
There was a funny story that I ran across in Czech history from right around 1400. The Czech king was very unpopular with his nobles for the high taxes he was imposing and he was also a notorious skirt-lifter. Matters came to a crisis when he decreed that all the young noble maidens of the kingdom would come to his Christmas Court. Their families were outraged since they were certain what he was planning, so they decided to “tax the king”. As a protest against the high taxes, the girls were sent to court, wearing the multi-layer voluminous garments of decades earlier, since their families “couldn’t afford” more fashionable clothing! Now, something to understand about houpellandes is that even with cooperation, finding the appropriate orifices is darned nearly impossible. (Don’t try to wear one in a regular size toilet stall!) They felt that the frustration that the king would go through trying to catch an unwilling girl was an appropriate revenge!
So, for this houpellande I chose an upholstery fabric in a blue brocade with a cream-colored simple lattice pattern on it. I had seen the exact pattern on a wall fresco in the Old Town Hall in Prague that was being restored when I was there in 1992, only in reversed colors. The frescos date from the last quarter of the 1300’s.
I used 3 full circles for the body, 2 of 9 feet each for the sleeves and 1 of 15 feet for the body. The neckhole is offset, so that from the front of the neckline there is 6 feet of fabric to the hem (…I’m about 5 feet at the shoulder…) and from the back neckline to hem is about 8 1/2 feet. I was going to line it with muslin, but re-thought (wrongly) and simply hemmed the circles and neckline with cream bias tape. If the fabric isn’t too stained to re-build this gown, I may go back in and line the sleeves, because the inside of the brocade isn’t nearly as pretty as the outside.
[Needs a write-up of sleeves and armscye with the Barbie pictures]
Rather than use a fur lining I had a cream-colored rabbit fur collar that I pinned on and my hair was done up in two gold wire crespines under a cream-colored veil trimmed with pearls. This was from a mis-reading of what I was seeing in pictures. The veils I was looking at were probably ruffled, rather than edged with pearls, but the effect was similar to that in the picture above of the lady in blue.
The outfit was entered in the Costumers’ Guild competition. I had full undergarments of a short, sheer A-line slip, a very full gathered chemise/shirt (Central European, definitely) a “stuha” (of which more below) rather than a corset and a very full-gathered drawstring underskirt. (see “undies” below)
>>>>>>> from The Story of Adam and Eve, circa 1413-1415, Boucicaut Master >>>>>>>>>>>
Now, I’m a large woman and I’ve had six children. That gives me a permanent “five months gone” belly. I had the posture right, as well. During the competition one of the judges said, “Excuse me if I’m being crass, but are you actually pregnant?” I laughed and told her, “Nope!” and proceeded to prove it by lifting the main garment and pulling aside the undergarments that had been pulled into place to make me look so! The whole panel was shocked.
During that same weekend I also discovered exactly why these garments became popular. Think about winter in unheated, stone floored and walled castles! The event was held in a Masonic Temple in the vicinity of Seattle in early January during snowy weather. Even though we had rented the whole thing for the weekend, the heat was turned off mid-day on Friday and by Sunday everyone was freezing and bundled up in cloaks and cold-weather gear. One persistent memory is a Norseman in a chain-mail shirt with a parka over it, shivering and saying, “I know, but the Chivalry Council will just have to deal with it!” I was toasty-warm, almost too much so, and I was glad for the cotton and linen undergarments that I was wearing, since I was perspiring most of the day! In fact, several times I sat directly on the marble floor with my gown spread out around me, rather than under me, so’s to bleed off a bit of the heat!
…and the garment slid smoothly across the floors, trailing gracefully after me, even the crazy sleeves and scooting out from in front of my light leather-soled-hose-clad feet. Houpellandes cause you to walk toes first, pushing the garment ahead of you. You can lift the front of the skirt as seen in many of the portraits, but on a slick floor the over-long gown is no trouble. The bizarre moment was when down the 3rd of 5 flights of stairs I suddenly realized that folks were bowing and getting out of my way. No, the gown didn’t take up more than 1/2 of the very wide steps, but something about the enormity of the gown caused that reflex even in one crowned head! I also realized, as I turned the corner to the next flight down and happened to look up, that the train of the gown was just turning the corner at the top of the previous flight!
This green bag-sleeve houpellande was the 3rd one I made. I found a bolt of $1 a yard calico at Fabric Depot in their outdoor sale and started stitching. It’s 26 yards…. 3 full circles, and the first one with full circle armholes, but when I got it done I found it even clunkier to wear than the 2nd, which was made of upholstery fabric! I was hoping to wear it to an Ithra the next day, so I finally just gathered the whole circumference of the 9 foot circles into wristbands and wore it that way. As I was packing up to go to the event I got to thinking about how I was going to carry all of my stuff and manage the houpellande… and then got an idea. I dressed at the event…. …and the pictures below are of my brother, son, a buddy and a student all wearing my houpellande, and the last pic is me!
…I got myself from the dressing area to my classroom and the teacher was already there. I found a spot to sit as we were chatting about the garment (sitting is interesting in that much fabric in a student desk!). He told me afterwards that he wondered how I was going to manage taking notes. …and he watched as I smilingly extracted a small notebook, a pencil case and then a mug from one sleeve, then a sewing bag and another drawstring pouch from the other. After that I dipped back into the first sleeve and pulled out a padded insulated lunch bag, a 3 ring binder and a small basket. He was starting to giggle at that point, but he burst out into full-blown laughter as I pulled a 6-pack of Coke out of the right hand sleeve!
I based my underclothes on a series of drawings in a manuscript of Bathsheba heading for the tub, dropping clothing all the way. First are her pattens, then slippers, then hose and belt. Next is a heap of fur and fabric that I’m reading as a houpellande, then an tunic of the laced up sort, then a shirt, next is the A-line slip (that may be only Czech, as far as I know), then a wide bit of fabric that I’m reading as a hip-wrap, then an immensely long, narrow ribbon (stuha literally means, “ribbon”) with a pair of narrower loops at the one end and skinny ties at all 4 corners.
I had seen in a number of inventories a listing for stuhi and made an assumption that these were simply decorated ribbons or sashes although opaski (belts) are also listed elsewhere. No corsets or bodices or tit-bags were listed and I found that puzzling, although I had an “aha” moment when I saw that ribbon in the picture. It’s a breast wrap! The two loops go over the shoulders and the person is wound up in the wrap. The 4 ties are to hold things in place. If you’re very busty this wouldn’t be particularly comfortable, but I…. squash… is the politest way to say it, and this kind of thing acts and looks very like a sports bra.
I have plans to make another of the full-circle houpellandes at some point in the future, although making a proper headdress for the green one is where I am right now.
Houppelande – http://www.snipview.com/q/Houppelande
Herigaut – http://www.snipview.com/q/Herigaut
Page created 6/3/15, published 6/10/15 (C)M. Bartlett
Last update 6/20/18