Tuesday, March 18, 2014

16th Century Irish Brat

Shaggy Brat


Photo From McClintock's

The brat was one of the quintessential garments of the Irish.  For a while now I have been wanting to make the shaggy variety with the thick layer of fringe at the neck and along the straight side.
Description of the 16th Century Brat
This form of brat, or cloak, is semi-circular(ish) or rectangular, and has a layer of fringe along the straight edge, with the fringe being thicker towards the neck.  It seems that it was also often either dagged or ragged along the bottom edge, in addition to, or instead of the fringe.  Something I noticed (after finishing mine) was that the fringe in at least one case appears to be set on the inside, and the fabric is turned back while it is being worn.  The length of the brat seems to have run the gamut from barely knee length, to nearly brushing the ground.
Photo From McClintock's

When being worn, it seems that it was draped over the shoulders (and sometimes head) in various ways, and not pinned, but rather being held in place by a hand and/or gravity. 
Photo From McClintocks
Materials Being Used
The materials being used are, of course, wool—in two layers.  The exterior is a brown and cream twill with a fuzzy finish, and the interior is a wool knit with a diagonal plaid in grey and black.  The materials are both from my stash, and I had no other use for either of them, being as somehow I ended up with several extra yards when I bought the brown twill, and didn’t realize that the knit was a knit until it arrived from the fabric store (it is somewhat hard to see that it is a knit) and ordinarily have no use for that form of material.
              The fringe is constructed of wool yarn (Fisherman’s Wool brand) primarily in a heathered grey, although there is a layer of white in there as well.  In addition one of the rows is constructed of 2/1 grey/red yarn for colour.
The main body of the cloak is basic, just a simple, rough, ankle-length semi-circle—the fringe, however, is the time consuming part, as you are basically making a long knap on the material.  There are a couple of different methods by which to make the fringes—tablet weaving, rug hooking, weaving it in the material to start with, layers of raveled material...
I used the second way, by passing a short length through, then tying it off on the wrong side.
The procedure I used to do this was to thread a tapestry needle with wool yarn (usually doubled, but sometimes three or four strands), and use it in a form of backstitch, leaving a long loop of yarn on the right side of the material, taking a stitch back and two small ones forward on the wrong side, before exiting on the right side for the next loop and repeating.  After completing a section of stitches, the loops get cut.  I made the fringe graduated, so that it is thickest around the neck, and down to only a couple rows at the bottom hem.
After over a year and a half of regular use (if only for curling up under with a book--a highly recommended use) I have had no pieces of fringe come loose.
First start of loops
Wrong Side.  At this point I was still tying it off for
security every couple inches.  I eventually stopped doing so.
A couple rows done

Mostly Finished Fringe, at the thickest part.

Wrong side.  As you can see, it is a rough backstitch.
After the Fringe was completed I sewed it to the main brat with a wide whipstitch along the edge and a backstitched the other edge down to the body of the cloak.
What I Learned.
In making this piece I learned, for one, it’s kind of difficult to trim a semi-circular cloak to shape by yourself.  I also had to figure out a good method to make the fringe, something that was within my abilities, not too bulky on the back, and looks like I wanted.  I look on this brat a being a good start on a suit of 16th Century Irish clothing (although I will be wearing it with early period as well), and think that I will continue with the Irish Kern project—and make another cloak in the end, if I feel the need.
There are a few things that I would do differently if I do this again:  These are mainly in the construction of the trim—work from the bottom up (while this seems obvious, I chose to do it from the top down, because I couldn’t envision how it would turn out, and constructing the fringe in that manner allowed me to see the end result better); I would use quadrupled strands of yarn, with the rows closer together; I would make the fringe shorter with the top layer about a handspan long and each of the layers underneath maybe a finger width longer.
Approximate Time spent on Construction: 23 hours, 15 minutes
Main source:
McClintock, H. F. Old Irish and Highland Dress.  Scotdisc Digital copy
mac Finnchad, Brann  16th Century Irish Clothing.

Just for fun.  Yes, I'm a geek.


© John Frey, 2014.  The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photos of my work may not be duplicated.

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