Level of Authenticity
I would call this one good enough to enter, though maybe not to win, at a Baronial level.
Normally I try to use English language terms for my historical garments, even if they are terms or meanings that haven’t been used since the sixteenth century, but I’m just going to use the German language word for this garment, which is gollar.
I started this project mainly based on what I’ve seen other renaissance reenactors do, rather than carefully doing my own research. In person, this is a type of garment that most people wear with their working class or camp follower clothing, and that’s how I intended mine to be used. When I (long after having made the item, of course) went scrolling through my Pinterest board for “German Renn?” what I actually found was that there were more examples on women at the upper end of the social scale, like the Margravine of Brandenburg, and on middle class city dwellers, than there were on lower class women, even though because of the strong tradition of woodcuts in Germany there is no particular lack of representations of lower class or military women.
This German thing is just an amusing sidebar for me, like the Scythian thing, so I’m not getting a lot more precise here than “sixteenth century”.
I have a vague understanding that there is no real such thing as “Germany” in the sixteenth century, much like there is no real such thing as “Italy” in the same period – instead the geographic area is broken up into lots of tiny little city-states and micro-principalities. If I was serious about pursuing the German thing, I would want to pick a particular political entity/locale and do things from just that place, or at least have an idea which place each individual item I was making came from.
One of the things I have focused on with my Florentine research is what I would call the social meanings of dress, so for me the “why” question always has more layers to be dug into. So, my cursory Pinterest search this evening showed me that there are more middle and upper class women wearing gollars than working/military class women. Why is that? Is it something that tells other people something about how seriously they should take you? Is it primarily a garment you use to display your access to luxury fabrics? There’s a book that I think might tell me the answers to some of these questions, if I would ever get around to reading it: Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe, by Ulinka Rublack.
I haven’t read it, so for now my answer is going to be that gollars are cool and fashionable, and also I wanted a couple of accessories for camping season that could make my normally Florentine garments read “German” instead. Gollars can also be used for keeping your neck and shoulders warm on a chilly Avacal summer evening.
This was a 100% “shop my stash” project. The fashion fabric is a 2/2 twill with a slightly fuzzy nap that looks like wool but is almost definitely 100% polyester. There is an interlining, not pictured, which is a sort of heavier weight canvas, also 100% polyester. The fabric chosen (by internet poll) for the lining is linen, and the guard is silk. In all cases, the fabrics came to me already woven and already dyed, both presumably using modern methods and dyes, but the colors are ones that could be achieved with dyestuffs common in and before the sixteenth century – weld for the fashion fabric, indigo for the lining, and I’m not really sure what for the guard, but gold/tawny is a pretty frequent sixteenth century color.
Should you always use natural fibers? When is it okay to use unnatural fibers? First, keep in mind that wool has technical features that polyester might not: warm even when soaking wet; does not immediately melt into a little plasticky ball if a cinder jumps out of the fire onto you. Wool also has some working characteristics that polyester might not: I have been using the same wool-look fabric for a Tarim Basin-style caftan and the raw edges, though folded under and stitched down, are exposed. With a wool, that would be no problem since cut edges of wool tend to felt together instead of fraying. This wool-look frays like nobody’s business, which means it’s not really that good of a choice for the caftan project. For this particular project, integrity of raw cut edges wasn’t a big deal because all the seams were going to be completely enclosed. The wool-look has a weight and drape (and nap) similar to what you might expect out of wool, and is visually pretty convincing, even on reasonably close inspection. I’m proceeding on the assumption that a middle or lower class gollar would probably have been made of wool, though some of the ones on my Pinterest board are clearly actually of brocade or other prestige fabrics.
At first I wasn’t going to interline this garment at all, but as I started working with the fashion fabric and lining it became apparent that they weren’t going to have enough stiffness or structural integrity on their own to give the gollar the shape I wanted, because they are both kind of soft and drapey. I looked through my stash until I found some fairly stiff, canvas kind of stuff that wasn’t set aside for a particular other project. It had come out of the bargain bin for the full mockup for my German by Twelfth Night gown and is also, I’m sure, 100% polyester. It’s good enough for this time, but as I’ll discuss later, before I make a gollar the next time I want to do more research on what kinds and how many layers of interlining I should use in order to shape the finished piece in a more sophisticated way.
I chose linen for my lining in preference to other fabric choices because I wanted a lining that would sort of “stick” to my other garments when I put the gollar on, instead of one that would slide around a lot (like silk). Linen was in pretty common use in Europe since well before the sixteenth century, but I might want to do more research to see if I can confirm its use for linings or gollars or both.
I didn’t just want to shop my stash, I wanted to use up things I had already made instead of making new things if I could. I have yards and yards of silk bias tape left over from my elevation gown. I decided to get really picky about my fabric choices here, but I was too lazy to do my own research, so I messaged HL Adelheid, who has been very helpful with all of my random German tailoring questions.
She looked up her research on German sumptuary laws and told me that if I was the equivalent of a merchant’s wife, I could not have a silk gown but I could have a silk doublet or two ells of silk to “dress up the tops” (make guards). I was not, however, allowed to have crimson unless I was a member of the nobility. I hadn’t asked about colors, but the two colors of bias tape I had were crimson and tawny, so I needed to choose the tawny to not be off side the sumptuary rules.
You may be wondering what’s so special about certain colors and not others. For us today, all of our fabric dyes are made with lab produced chemicals or something so presumably there’s no extra cost to producing one color over another. In the renaissance, though, the deep blue-toned red which I call crimson here came from lots and lots of little crushed up bugs from a particular part of the world and was the most expensive dye, hence I guess why the Germans restricted it to nobility. There was a slightly less expensive bluish red called by the Italians grana, which I think came from a different kind of little bug, and then on the cheaper end of the spectrum you can get all sorts of orangey-red tones from madder, which is a plant of some kind that grows easily in Western Europe.
How important is it for you to make a thing that is in accordance with the sumptuary laws of your persona’s culture? Only as important as you want it to be. If you’re super interested in it and want to go down that rabbit hole, that’s awesome and I want to hear about everything you learn. If you’re not super interested in it, no problem! I usually try to choose colors and fabrics that are generally what my persona might have used, but I know way less right now about Florentine sumptuary laws of the sixteenth century than I would like to. In this case though, because I asked Adelheid, who went to the trouble of looking at the relevant sumptuary laws, I was interested in following them.
I used a sewing machine for most of the long seams and hand stitching for the stuff that couldn’t be done nicely by machine, including the guards. I’ve said this before, but for renaissance tailoring I think it’s fine to use the machine for your long seams and stuff. The art you are practicing is tailoring, not seamstressing, and as the tailor, you would have sent everything as piecework to be sewn in the home by undervalued, underpaid female seamstresses while you, the male tailor, took all the credit but also did the higher-skilled work of cutting the pattern pieces and shaping the garment. I’m going to stop now before my nice explanation of how I think you should do an A&S project spirals into feminist critique of my chosen time period.
Normally in drafting a pattern, I would use a modern commercial measuring tape to measure out my shapes in the appropriate sizes. I’m Canadian and always have been but I like to sew in inches. This time though, I decided to try drafting my pattern using only the proportional measuring tape system posited by Mathew Gnagy (the Modern Maker). I think it’s an interesting concept. It more or less worked for me here, but the test is whether you can make it work for multiple people of different shapes and sizes. I also feel like I might want to go back through my sources on Florentine and Venetian tailoring to see if I can find any kind of references to how patterns were measured or drafted out.
Cut and Construction
There are a lot of very simple (circle with a hole in the middle) and intermediate (circle with a hole in the middle and straight strip for collar sewn to middle hole) gollar patterns floating around out there but given that tailoring is apparently one of the skills I was elevated for I wanted to do something a bit more challenging. Specifically, I wanted to make one like this with the grown-on, standy-uppy collar (yes, that is the technical term 😉 )
I wasn’t aware of any extant garments that had a collar just like that, and I also couldn’t find anything in any of the tailors’ pattern books I normally look at, so first I just sat around thinking about what shape to cut to make it look like that, and then I made a sketch and sent it off to my Laurel to see if she agreed.
In this pattern the back piece is cut on the fold (it’s the one on top) and then the two front pieces are separate and curve forward quite a lot in the front to account for the curve of my bust. I cut it out of practice fabric, pinned it together, and tried it on.
Using practice fabric to make mockups, by the way, is a thing that period tailors did, though probably not as often as I need to. The most frequent time this practice shows up in the record is when some noble or royal wants a new garment in a different style that their own tailor has never made before, at which point the wardrobe account books note some amount of cheap fabric going to the tailor. When you look at Juan de Alcega’s introduction to his tailor’s pattern book, he talks about setting out the range of garments that an apprentice tailor needs to be able to draft out before he can matriculate as a master tailor. Alcega’s theoretical apprentice tailor, though, only needs to know how to draft a small, fixed set of garments, and that’s probably really the only thing he does with his time, so he can get really good at, and be able to eyeball, the various garments he needs to cut. I’m always trying new stuff, and it’s only my hobby, which is why I need new mockups all the time.
I thought my mockup looked mostly okay from the front, but I trimmed down the extent of the shoulder cape and the collar so I didn’t look quite so much like a Time Lord or Doctor Strange. For my body shape, though, the grown-on collar in one piece with the back cape did not sit right at all, so the eventual shape for me has a separate collar piece in the back and then a one piece collar and body in the front.
Once I had a pattern I liked, I cut all of the pieces out of fashion fabric, lining, and interlining. I zigzagged the fashion fabric and interlining together so I would be working them as one piece, and then put together the outer shell and lining separately. Finally, I sewed the shell to lining right sides together, except for a small opening at the back to turn it right side out, which I slip stitched together by hand afterwards. I stitched the guards on by hand.
Just a note that when I wore the gollar, I used straight pins to pin the front to my kirtle, and that holding different parts of your outfit together with (sometimes decorative) pins is a custom in the renaissance well attested in written accounts, financial accounts, and pictorial evidence.
I was not 100% satisfied with the shape of the finished product. As you can see in the picture, the collar is sort of flopping over like the collar of a modern dress shirt. I think I need to do two things to address this in the next version.
One: I need to cut the back pattern pieces more carefully. Once I saw that the grown-on collar shape wasn’t going to work on the back, I should have gone back and re-drafted it properly as though it was a doublet back with a collar, instead of just going with the results of draping and pinning it, especially since self-draping is unreliable to begin with and self-draping the back is especially unreliable.
Two: I need to spend some more time getting to understand how advanced tailoring techniques like pad stitching and steaming/stretching affect the way fabric sits. These are techniques that Mathew Gnagy sort of addresses in the Modern Maker, but only with respect to really specific doublet shapes and not as a general skill set. I haven’t been able to find any other current books that teach you these things, but a friend of mine who I trust with my real world alterations likes to watch videos about couture techniques on YouTube so that seems like a useful avenue for research.
Juan de Alcega, Libro de Geometria, Pratica, y Traca, 1589 (In facsimile, 1999).
Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, 1988 (? Amazon is giving me dates all the way between 1784 and 2015, and I’m too lazy to go over to my own book shelf to look on the actual inside of the book.)
Carole Collier Frick, Dressing Renaissance Florence, 2005.
Mathew Gnagy, The Modern Maker, 2014.
HL Adelheid Holtzhauer – personal correspondence (2017), but check out her blog here for lots more 16th century German goodness.
Mistress Issabbella Kendal of Ravensrift – personal correspondence (2017).
Roberta Orsini-Landi and Bruna Niccoli, Moda a Firenze 1540-1580, Lo Stile di Eleonora di Toledo e la sua influenza, 2007.
Pinterest (accessed 2017) – it’s great as an image search engine, but the minute you find something you want to use in a competition, I recommend that you do your best to track that image back to its source. Things are not always correctly sourced on Pinterest. Once I found a picture of the Fellowship floating down the Anduin towards the Argonnath that was labeled as “Yangtze River”.
Web Gallery of Art (accessed 2017).