Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A Wild Irish(wo)man's Inar

A couple of months ago, my Donna and Pelican was asked to join the Order of Defense, the peerage for fencers in the SCA.

As she had nothing nice to wear for her elevation about 6 weeks later at Winter Coronet, we discussed options, and settled on 16th Century Irish (her Persona and mine) menswear--partly so she could borrow pieces from my wardrobe, and partly because the main outer layer really doesn't require much fabric.  So...I set to procrastinating.  For the better part of a month.  Not a big issue...even with handsewing an inar doesn't take much time, since there really aren't a lot of seams.

Photo by Twobears Photography
However, since it was for a special occasion I wanted the garment to be bling, and elected to try to keep my doing so a secret except from select support crew who were sewn to secrecy. 

Garment Description:

The Inar of 16th century Ireland is still a decidedly odd garment to my eyes, relatively unlike the common garments elsewhere in the period, and is uniquely Irish.  The overall form is that of a rather short vest with rudimentary sleeves and either /many/ peplums or a pleated skirt; two different theories and both are likely correct.  It is typically open to the sternum--which is the location of the fashion waist--presumably to show off your muscular chest (if you have one).  The sleeves are more or less straight strips of fabric and only cover the top of the arm.

Image from McClintock's Irish Dress.
In the artwork of the period, you see three varieties of decoration; large floral patterns, strips of what appear to be fringe, and applied stripes.  Combinations of the three are also seen, usually with the sleeve and body having different forms of decoration (striped or fringed sleeves and floral body).  While I was originally going to more or less duplicate the designs above, I decided to incorporate the recipient's heraldry, as I felt the usage of shamrocks rather than flowers would not be jarring and would make for a nice personalized touch.

My Goals:

My primary goal was to make something I thought the recipient would like.  In doing so, I made a few adjustments for cost, to adjust the fit to be slightly more flattering, or to just personalize it.  Due to time constraints, I did not worry about fully documenting every little thing to 16th century Ireland--that kind of research takes time, and the shortcuts in that department were mostly in the materials section, as well as coming up with examples for things like seams.

From McClintock's Old Irish Dress


The majority of the sources are based on the above Durer and the de Heere artwork, as well as the Kilcommon inar--the only surviving one which is what I based my original pattern and first Inar on.  This is my third 16th cen inar, and while each is slightly different, they are all essentially the same design.


The surviving Kilcommon inar is wool, if a tweedy style, and I suspect that the majority of inar were as well.  After all, Ireland isn't tropical, the wool industry was a thing, and a leine does not keep you that warm.  As such, the base of the garment is made of a red wool the recipient picked up in Korea many years ago.  In working it (pressing, in particular) I found that it is likely at least part synthetic fibers, but you can't tell by appearance.

I additionally lined the torso of the garment in a light weight white linen to cover and protect the back of the applique.

The applique is of blue/gold silk lutestring, a plain woven silk quite of a type with taffeta.  The Tudor Tailor gives several 16th century mentions of taffeta in their fabrics table.  That particular fabric and colour was chosen because I had it available from another project, and it is tightly woven enough to not fray at a glance.  It isn't as gold as I hoped, but combined with the gilt leather outlines shows a greenish blue tint--and green is one of the recipient's heraldic colours.

The fringed trim is made of 1/2" wool twill tape (wm. booth, Draper), and 20/2 silk yarn from Eowyn de Wever in gold.  Gorgeous stuff.  While I suspect that the fibers there are fine, I strongly think that the fringed trim seen in the images would have been woven as fringe, rather than made via sewing.  This was a decision I made due to availability of acceptable fringe (nothing remotely acceptable found...), and time constraints preventing me from learning a new craft at this time.

The threads and leather shipment...so shiny! 
The last actual material was the gilt leather used for outlining the silk applique to cover the raw edges, used for the stems, and for the chess rooks (which were too fiddly to do in the silk).  I had considered doing the shamrocks fully out of gilt, and decided in the end that the additional colour would look good, plus I had limited materials.  I do have some resources along the lines of documenting this, as gilt leather in Ireland is an (incomplete) research project from a while back.  The Tristan hanging from the late 14th century shows the usage of gilt leather in this manner, although that is too much earlier to truly be used as documentation.  Additionally, there is a reference in Medieval Clothing and Textiles 8 [Pp. 151] along the same lines, further referencing a book on quilting history.  Spenser's A View of the present State of Ireland also makes mention of gilt leather decoration on Irish armour.
Noe: all these which I have rehearsed to you, bee not Irish garmentes, but Englishe; for the quilted leather Jacke is oulde Englishe; for yt was the proper weede of the horseman, as you may reade in Chaucer, where he describeth Sir Thopas apparrell and armor, when he went to fighte against the gyant, which shecklaton, is that kinde of gilden leather with which they use to Imbroder their Irishe Jackes. And there likewise by all that discripcon yee may see the very fashion and manner of the Irishe horseman most lively sett out, in his longe hose, his shoes of costlie cordwaine, his hacqueton, and his haberjon, with all the rest thereunto belonginge.
The leather I used was not real gilt, of course.  While I want make that for my own high end Inar, and using period gilding recipes--hence why I already had research on hand for the topic--,cost and time precluded doing so for this project.  Instead, I used a rather nice Italian foil leather from an Etsy seller.  I believe it is some strange material known as "aluminum" giving the shininess.

Photo by Twobears Photography
Sewing was carried out with linen thread in red, white, and gold.  Visible stitching (for the applique) was sewn with a 60/2 red silk thread from Eowyn de Wever--gorgeous stuff and highly recommended if you need silk sewing thread--, pus an extremely fine black silk thread for the initial application of the shamrocks.


The pattern on the whole is quite simple...more or less rectangular construction with bits removed (I know, I refer to most garments that way, but it's true!).  I made the back panel as a rectangle the correct height and width.  The front pieces have all the shaping; a deep V neck, the shaped armscye, and any waist fitting.

Skirts are a simple strip of fabric three times the waist circumference, pieced and pleated.  Sleeves are also a simple strip of fabric, about the same width as the wrist circumference, with an S shaped sleeve cap to provide the difference between bent and straight arm lengths.

The original draft.  I did make a few adjustments, raising the outside shoulder seam slightly, eventually removed the huge inlays, and deepened the armscye--not sure how I ended up making it so shallow.


Seams were all straight-forwarded, and almost entirely back-stitched for strength and due to the thickness of the fabric.  I did fell the seams, overcasting the raw edge down while keeping the stitches concealed; I treated the hems the same way.  The linen lining was likewise overcast into place with the raw edges turned under.

The applique was sewn with whip-stitches.  On the wider stems, the stitches are in pairs, puncturing the leather roughly halfway across.

The bottom edge of the skirts was also overcast to help prevent fraying.  Naturally, I did this /after/ pleating, because doing so before would have been too easy and require forethought.  Using tiny whipstitches on a raw edge as a form of hem finishing is supported by fragments of textiles from the Vasa shipwreck, sunk in 1628 on its maiden voyage from Stockholm, Sweden (I spent an afternoon going through the textile fragments looking for evidence of such); notably fragments #03410, #27911, and #27913.


Overall, the construction was straight-forwarded.

Everything except the skirts was cut out first, then I made sure to make all the seams and baste the hem down.  The skirt wasn't cut out at this point because it is so rudimentary.

Figuring out the placement of the applique.  I did get second opinions from my secret support crew about the pattern before finalizing.  I wanted something with a decent spread to avoid any large empty spaces, but I also needed room for the stems to curve elegantly...and within the bounds of what the leather could handle, since I was cutting straight strips. 

After cutting out the shamrocks in the silk, they were basted into place, then sewn down with a fine black silk.  This is what is actually holding the shamrocks in place--fairly fine whip-stitches which are hidden under the leather edging.

I worked on the fringe for a couple of hours every morning while waking up.  It is produced with the same method as the fringe on my Brat, using four strands of the silk on the needle.  Working from the right side; take a running stitch forwards, a stitch backwards to the same place and leaving a loop, then a half sized back-stitch followed by a running stitch in order to lock the thread into place and progress forward.  And repeat ad aeternum.  Eventually I will remember to take a photo series showing exactly how I make the brat fringe, since I get enough questions regarding it.

Double checking placements, and making sure it looked fine.  The gilt leather strip was sewn with whip-stitches perpendicular to the edge, and cut at each leaf since making that sharp of a corner wasn't neatly possible.  The ends each got a stitch through the leather to help anchor them.

The strips of leather for the edges were cut at 1/8" wide or slightly less, using a metal ruler and rotary cutter.


 Still going, but now on the front.  You may notice there is something off on the placements of two of the shamrocks....I didn't until after the they were fully applied and I was getting ready to do the vines.  It wasn't hard to stitch rip and redo, but was a major pain in the butt.

The first piece of trim produced for the waist.  This is made of three rows of loops, and took about 9 hours to produce.  Much faster than actually weaving it.

Yeah...this is when I realized I messed up and had to redo two of them.  Needless to say, I was not pleased with myself.

The fronts finished!  I had to think a bit on the stem sizes, but eventually felt that 5mm for the smaller off-branching ones, and 5/16" for the larger ones would be appropriate.  I didn't want to go too wide, or it wouldn't blend into the shamrocks properly, and the rooks needed smaller vines due to their own smaller size.

Likewise on the back.  The center back vine needed to be the widest, of course, but having it go directly to the center rook wouldn't have looked good...so I went left instead.  The stems on the topmost rooks are slightly narrower than the 5mm, I believe, as they are essentially tertiary stems.   I'm not quite happy with how the center stem looks, but I'll have to live with it....unless I steal the garment back and redo it.

When applying the stems, I went small to large, that way the ends of the branches would be covered by the larger originating stem.  The stems were also done before I applied the rooks, which were sewn with as tiny of a whip-stitch as I could manage.  Figuring out how to anchor the larger pieces of leather was...interesting.  I ended up using long pins to baste over them, so that I wouldn't make holes in the leather.

Side seams sewn, showing the hole of one side!  I also trimmed the bottom down from the original length.  You can see hints of the front facing in place as well.

Pleating, pleating, pleating.  On each of the three inar I have made, I have just eyeballed the knife pleats rather than measuring each.   The fabric was pieced, and I did not bother felling those seams, but just pressed them heavily.

 The skirts were applied with a heavy back-stitch, and the trim set just above in order to cover the waist seam.

Before applying the trim, I cut all the little loops free.  It is only sewn down on the top side and ends, with matching linen thread.

The sleevils!  These pieces of trim were made to length.  Raw edges turned under and overcast down (silk thread) and turned to length.  Rather than trimming the end to the correct length, I left a good six inches, just in case I was mis-remembering the length even though I marked it on the sleeve during the try-on before I began decoration.  This also provides some weight to the end of the sleeves so they hang properly.

In the end, I chose to go with simple self cloth buttons, as they are the least obtrusive and the buttons are not a form of decoration shown on these garments.  You do see these kinds of buttons on the Dungiven jacket, which is 16th-17th century Irish.  Buttonholes are standard Elizabethan form, worked in silk buttonhole twist.  I figure the buttons can be replaced with something more decorative later, if desired--I did briefly consider covering them in the silk thread or even gilt leather but...as said, I felt that unobtrusive would look best.  In order to support the buttonholes and prevent them from going through the linen lining (which may need replacing eventually) I applied a facing of the same silk, but apparently neglected to take photos.

For the sleeve fastenings, I made the buttons smaller, and instead of buttonholes I used picot loops in the buttonhole silk (loops of thread, then covered with half-hitches/blanket-stitch).  This choice was made primarily to allow the sleeves to be lengthened if I found it necessary--the loops can be removed, buttonholes can't.  You can just barely see one below the fringe on the left sleeve.

Other Garments being Worn:

Leine:  This is essentially the same pattern as my first one, made a good 10" longer as  I planned.  I also obviously used a lighter shade of yellow linen, which is closer to the colour from Saffron dyeing.  The other difference from there is that I used inset sleeves, with a fairly simple S curve sleeve cap and armscye, and turned it so that the underarm seam was slightly to the back in the hopes that it would improve the drape (jury is still out, as I haven't yet worn it to compare).

Also being worn is a brat which was one of my rare commissions by a friend (colour choices based on his heraldry).  Construction of that is also the same as on my Brat (linked somewhere above).  Used instead of mine, because my Brat is heavily worn.

Finally, she is wearing the thrum hat I gifted her last year.  Perhaps not the perfect hat to match the outfit, but it was bloody cold out, and it is appropriate for her 16th Cen sailor persona (who I suspect would have been more likely to be wearing anglicized clothing).

Conclusions (and what I learned):

This was a rather interesting project.  Not just because I was using a few new techniques and working with new materials, but because of the deadline--I had two weeks to make it.  Which meant I had to push myself physically and especially mentally, particularly due to the cold snap we had coinciding with it; when it's -30F, I do not want to sew, or do anything except be buried under blankets.  The silk was fairly easy to work with--it is tightly woven enough to behave, and I did test fraying before deciding to use it for the applique.

The gilt leather was definitely a new experience to work with, but also wasn't difficult to use.  I found that it was best to avoid stretching it any more than you have to, as that dulled the shine, and because of the size the seam allowance (small as possible), when they are pierced it was better to have the needle enter from the right side of the leather.  Keeping my stitches even was difficult, and I definitely had to keep concentrating to do so.

I did not originally plan to line  the garment, but decided to do so after the fact in order  to neaten up--and more importantly protect--the back of my embroidery.  I'm glad I did.

Photo by Twobears Photography

What I would do differently next time:

I would really like to step up my gilt leather game, and use both real gold leaf and documentable methods of applying it to the leather (initial research says a combination of gum ammonia and garlic juice....yum).  Likewise actually weaving the trim. 

For the construction, it was mostly standard techniques.  I would definitely take more care that the width of the skirts was properly even--I missed that until after I had sewn it in place and had it all overcast, so I couldn't just trim it.


Overall, the project took 47 hours, with approximately 16 of that spent on the trim (but the hours doing trim were relaxing, so went fast.  The Witcher was binged during that step).

Costs:  Unknown, as I would prefer to not think of it.  I used one piece of the gilt leather (bought two), and maybe 1/2-2/3 of the silk thread, so probably not as much as I think, really.  Value is somewhere around or a bit over $600US (at $12/hr).


‘A View of the Present State of Ireland’ <http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/E500000-001/> [accessed 23 November 2016]

Mikhaila, Ninya, and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor Tailor, 5th edn (Costume and Fashion Press, 2015)

Netherton, Robin, and Gale R. Owen-Crocker, Medieval Clothing and Textiles 8 (Boydell Press, 2012) [Accessed 1-28-2020 as a Google Book sample]

‘Textil #03410’ <https://digitaltmuseum.se/021026989779/textil> [accessed 28 January 2020]

Flavin, Susan,  ‘Consumption and Material Culture in Sixteenth Century Ireland’ [accessed 24 May 2017]

Ellis, Steven, ‘BBC - History - Turning Ireland English’  <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/elizabeth_ireland_01.shtml> [accessed 24 May 2017]

‘Making a 16th Century Leine & “Kerns” Jacket’ <http://moghroith.blogspot.com/2013/01/making-16th-century-leine-kerns-jacket.html> [accessed 3 March 2017]

McClintock, H.F.  Old Irish and Highland Dress.  (Dundalgan Press, Dundalk.  1943)  PDF Copy.

Have some cheese for reading so far.  This was an attempted fresh Bel Paesa style cheese I made for the event and her elevation.  Given that maybe 4oz survived out of the 2.5lb wheel, it was apparently popular.

© John Frey, 2020. 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


  1. Wow! That is an incredible project anyway, but to learn you did it in two weeks! I am very impressed.

    The cheese also looks very awesome. Will you blog about your cheesemaking sometime?

    1. Thank you!

      Not on here; I suppose I could on my companion brewing blog (brewing and occasionally food). It's linked in my header bar, but is mostly defunct.

  2. What a strange and delightful outfit! The colours all look so lovely together. I feel like that's a comment I repeat a lot, but it's true! The dark red and the gold and yellow are just so nice. Looks comfortable and warm too.

    "So...I set to procrastinating." ah, yes. Very relatable.