Thursday, June 8, 2017

Whose sleives hang trailing down Almost unto the shoe: the 16th Century Irish Leine

This project has been a long time coming; many (relatively) years ago, I wrote an article on 16th century clothing---my first serious research article, in fact.  It is only now that I have actually gotten around to making a suit of Wild Irish clothing, consisting of the leine and inar, as well as the shaggy brat.

The Project: 
This piece of documentation discusses bottom layer of the 16th century project….the leine.

The leine--a word translating now as shirt--appears essentially as a linen tunic, almost universally "saffron yellow", although lady's versions do appear in white, and I suspect that the lower classes might make due with natural coloured linen (ranging in colour from blue-grey to a lighter yellow[i]--I will discuss this more later).  For both sexes, pendulous or bagpipe style sleeves were the norm, as was the use of massive quantities of linen cloth.  Men, at least, wore theirs bloused over a belt, to bring the garment to knee length.

Over the years, there have been many misconceptions of the features of the leine--, mostly brought about by the phrase “with pleates on pleates they pleated are, as thick as pleates may lie[ii]” which—combined with early research and attempts to get as much fabric as possible into the garment--lead to the incorrect version with pleats in the shoulders and/or running down the sleeves (referred to as the Faire Irish) —or worse, drawstrings in the sleeves.  If you look at images of leines from the period, you see no signs of pleats on them, anywhere; it is my belief that the appearance of pleats was instead caused by the massive quantity of fabric being cinched under the belt combined with the blousing, which causes the skirts to fall in soft folds. 

My theory for how much fabric the garment contained is this: Conspicuous consumption.  Like the Houppeland of a century or two before, wealth was being displayed by showing how much fabric you could afford to wear.  On the note of the houppe, one theory is that the 16th century Leine may have been inspired by the houppelande—Irish clothing tended to lag behind mainland fashions by a good while—a couple generations or so (see the Effigy below) 

(Margaret Effigy)

Sadly, no leine from the period have been found…something about the acidic soil dissolving linen, while preserving woolens [Good, pp. 221].  Luckily, however, there are several watercolours and other etchings of Irishmen from period, the most famous being The Dutch Water Colour below, and with others scattered through this document.

Other sources include certain laws, and descriptions from period.  Most notably, King Henry VIII’s Statute of the Irish Parliament from 1537, where he attempted to ban the most distinguishably Irish forms of dress, including:

·         Certain Haircuts           
·         Any garment dyed with Saffron
·         Using more than 7 yards of cloth in a shirt or smock
·         And, of course, the Irish Brat

There are a number of other specifics mentioned, which cover female clothing.  Interestingly, the law allows “horse-riders to wear native clothing, if their safety on horseback would otherwise be risked”[iii].  But just from above, the law tells us that dyeing with saffron was considered a quintessentially Irish feature, as well as the use of that much fabric.

In the Sixteenth Century, during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Ireland was a divided country, with the native Gaelic culture to the North and West, and the more Anglicized and English towards the coast of the Irish sea.  This garment (and the one following) are appropriate for the native “Wild” Irish.  So called because of their uncouth and barbaric ways—a statement in itself meant to give credential to the invasion and reform by the English—while they lived in what was essentially a wilderness of forest and bogs, divided into small, warring chieftaincies.

In all likelihood, the flax for the leine would have been grown by some people, spun by a number of others, the thread purchased and woven as a cottage industry, sold “in the brown”, bleached by a professional bleacher, purchased again, then finally dyed.  Only after all this could it be cut and made into a garment.  Given the number of people involved in the manufacture of the cloth, and the number of times it was sold (with the price going up each time) I doubt that this particular example of the garment—with the extraneous fabric, and bright colour--would have been worn by anyone who did not have a fair amount of money for the period.

My Goals:
My secondary goal in making this was to create a garment close to that in the images—the Durer woodcut in particular--, with materials I could readily get (rather than sourcing better quality linen, and dyeing it with saffron myself).  I did decide to handsew the garment, and I’m not entirely sure why, other than to make the recent pieces of the outfit all by hand (the brat is currently excepted from this, as I made it 5 years ago).  

The primary goal was, of course, because I wanted this outfit, and have been wanting one for years.

Linen.  It’s quite simple.  The leine is specifically a linen garment [Statute of Ireland].

Thus far in ongoing research, I’m not finding much about manufacture of Irish linen in period.  However,  there are some hints found in the 18th century.  Industrialization of linen manufacture didn’t appear until the late 1700s…so during period it would have been produced by individuals (or families) as a cottage industry, and sold in cities, with the majority of the flax being grown in the Northern part of Ireland[iv].  Linen was woven and sold by the weavers in the brown—that is, unbleached.  Bleaching appears to have been a separate job, commissioned by the linen draper (seller of cloth).

The use of saffron yellow to dye the garments likely had a number of reasons—just wanting bright colours is a possibility, and Flavin mentions [pp. 130] that white linen against the skin was something that the English insisted on as a sign of civility and cleanliness...the Irish use of bright yellow may have been in rebellion to this.  The specific use of saffron—while there are theories that it helped keep lice out of your clothing—was most likely a form of conspicuous consumption, with hundreds of pounds being imported in the first half of the century [Flavin, pp. 122].

The linen I used is from everyone’s favourite (or not) online linen shop,  Because it is a primary garment, rather than an undershirt, I decided to go with the heaviest of their standard offerings—the 7.3oz in their popular Autumn gold. 

Perhaps that particular shade wasn’t the best option for authenticity and getting close to saffron yellow…it seems that lighter, brighter shade would have been called for, based on a saffron dyeing experiment done a number of years ago [Dyeing with Real Saffron], as well as the few colour images from period.  This choice was made deliberately—my skin colouring isn’t the best for light warm colours, and I knew from previous experience that the Autumn gold looks good on me; I felt that having a colour I knew I would like and wear took precedence, and while a little darker, it is close in tone.

The pattern is fairly simple—rectangular construction of a tunic, and pendulous sleeves with the pattern based on that on the Moghroith blog[v].  Some modifications were made from theirs, which has four sets of gores going to the waist, and sleeves which are a bit shorter.  The main modification I made was to set the side gores in as trapezoids running to the underarm.  This pattern was chosen in order to provide maximum fullness at the skirts (I ended up with something like a 4 yard hem—should be nice and swirly when I dance), with the trapezoidal side gores providing better drape when bloused than standard side gores to the waist do.  I did, however, find that I didn’t make it long enough in the body to give the full amount of blousing over the belt.

The sleeve pattern was simple…I draped a measuring tape from my underarm to the knees and fit the resulting measurement into the 20” long sleeve, turning it into a curve.  I based the opening length on the d’Heeres watercolour.  The length of 20” was chosen as it would make the sleeves come only to my mid-forearm, rather than being full length to the wrist; it also plays into my cutting theory for the garment.

The last segment of patterning, and one I did after the garment was mostly done, was the neckline.  Looking (again, at the Dutch Watercolour) I felt that a deep round neckline was the most likely, and it appears as though the neckline is actually draped (I ended up with a deep, narrow, teardrop).  I did not succeed in this.  Later, I remembered that at one point I had a theory that the front body of the garment was cut a good amount wider than the back, with the difference being taken into the neckline where it could drape.

Cutting Layout:
However, this contravenes my current theory about the cutting layout.  After laying it out on my modern, wide cloth, I found something interesting….almost every piece ended up being about 20” wide.  Body…20 inches wide.  Sleeves?  20 inches long, and cut so the bag of the sleeve runs the length of yardage.  Each gore?  Made from a rectangle about 20 (or 10) inches wide and cut on the diagonal. 

This was actually not intentional, but works perfectly.  Linen at the time was woven to about that width, give or take a few inches.  Which means there is actually very little waste in the garment—the only waist cloth is the neckline and the curve of the sleeves…not actually all that much.  This also explains why the sleeves varied in length from mid-forearm to upper wrist—it would have been the most efficient use of the fabric, if you wanted the conspicuously large sleeves.

I went simple—the majority of the construction is a running stitch, with back stitches every couple of inches.  Some spots are heavier on the backstitching—under the arms, in particular.  After that, I rolled and felled each seam to one side or another, securing that with an overcast stitch.  This combination was chosen for a couple of reasons, but mostly as I felt it would give the best balance of stitching speed (important for period seamsters) with strength and durability (compared to a fine backstitch, which would give maximum strength, but be far slower).  

In Patterns of Fashion 4, Janet Arnold mentions something called a “run and fell seam” on several shirts [pp. 71, 72].  While the turn was more likely sewn with a back or prick stitch, you can see an overcast stitch used on the shoulder seam of Nils’ Sture’s shirt [pp.21].

All the hems were double turned to seal the raw edge, and overcast.

 After purchasing and washing the fabric...ironing was--as always--required.  My least favourite part of sewing, that.

And because I needed to lay the full length of the fabric out, cutting (or tearing it into the correctly sized pieces) had to be done at my work. 

Following pressing them flat again (because tearing causes the edges to curl), I cut all the gores and the sleeves to shape.

 And then....commence sewing.  Front and back gores first, then the side gores/sleeves.

Busily sewing away, sitting on my worktable.

As you can see, the seam was trimmed on one side, turned under, and then felled with an overcast stitch (with the grain on the right side).

Just making sure the fabric chosen for my Inar would work wouldn't clash.  I'm quite happy with it, as it's a nice, rustic, English tweed.

Ah....the neckline.  This gave me quite a bit of trouble.  If you look closely at the neckline in the Dutch Watercolour it appears to have a slight roll and drape...being as it was too late for me to get the drape in, I experimented with a few ways:
  • Bound similarly to the St. Lious shirt.  This was my original plan, and would have looked good...but not like the painting.
  • Rolled hem, to the outside.  This--as you can see--is what I ended up going with.
  • Bound without an end, treating the narrow teardrop opening into a circle.  This looked horrible.
As you can see, I decided on the rolled hem, fastened with fine overcast stitches.  After finishing the neckline, I sewed up the rather long side seams--going from wrist and around the sleeve bell, up the arm, and down to the hem.  The last step was trimming the bottom hem so it was even, and hemming it and the sleeve opening.

Conclusions, and What I learned:
This is an interesting piece, as it is an anachronism in its own time—the construction and design is really about the same as a tunic from hundreds of years earlier.  I did find that the neckline I used, and the sleeve pattern are not optimum—neither drape as desired.  In the case of the sleeves, this is probably at least in part because of the felled seam I used stiffens the seam more than I expected.  In addition, my theorized cutting layout made me unreasonably excited, especially since I thought the sleeves would be horribly inefficient. 

I am also happy that I am finally approaching period (professional) handsewing speeds—while not something truly related to the project, it was still a happy discovery while I was sewing on this.

What would I do differently:
·         Primarily I think I would play around it toiles of different sleeve patterns until I got the drape better. 
·         I would definitely cut it longer—ankle length as required; it was shorter than that because I used the selvage to selvage measure to determine the length, as that is the most fabric economical with modern widths. 
·         Plan on and use a different, softer seam for the curve of the sleeves.
·         And lastly…I would not make a stupid mistake in cutting, which resulted in a seam down the top of the was a completely unnecessary piecing.
·         It also would be cool to actually saffron-dye the linen.

How Historically Accurate is it?:
Moderately.  The linen, while probably about the right weight, is overly rough, slubby, and not as densely woven as period linens.  The colour is--of course--off somewhat, as I discussed in the section on materials.  Patterning is perfectly plausible and probably correct, as are the seams used.  It is slightly short, and there probably should not be seams on the shoulders and definitely not on the top of the sleeve.

I would give it around an 80%.

The project took a mere 28 hours and 28 minutes (+ - 15 minute margin of error) to cut and handsew.  Not long at all considering the total seam length of the garment.

At about $10 a yard (sale price and including shipping) x5 yards, and a wage of $10 an hour, that puts the value of this garment at $340 US.

Worn with inar and brat for the photo shoot at Selviergard Spring Offensive. 
Photo by Halfdan Ozurson (Travis Abe-Thomas)

1.      Arnold, Janet, Patterns of Fashion 4 : The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women c.1540-1660, 2008
2.      Flavin, Susan, ‘Consumption and Material Culture in Sixteenth Century Ireland’ [accessed 24 May 2017]
3.      Ellis, Steven, ‘BBC - History - Turning Ireland English’ [accessed 24 May 2017]
5.      Good, Irene, ‘Archaeological Textiles: A View of Current Research’ [accessed 24 May 2017]
6.      Webb, W.H, ‘Irish Linen, A Lecture by W.H. Webb, F.t.I’ [accessed 17 May 2017]
7.      ‘Making a 16th Century Leine & “Kerns” Jacket’ [accessed 3 March 2017]
8.      ‘Manufacturing & Mining’, Ulster Historical Foundation [accessed 24 May 2017]
9.      McGann, Kass, ‘Dyeing with Real Saffron’, Reconstructing History, 2008 [accessed 24 May 2017]

[i]   Re: Natural linen colours.  A number of years ago, I undertook a research project to find what was the most likely in medieval Ireland.  Unfortunately, several of the most applicable studies are no longer available, and I do not have the titles to find them again.
[ii] Derrick’s Images of Ireland
[iii] Statute of the Irish Parliament (1537), 28 Henry VIII, chapter xv. 'There is [...] nothing which doth more conteyne and keep many of [the King's] subjects of this his said land, in a certaine savage and wilde kind and maner of living, then the diversitie that is betwixt them in tongue, language, order, and habite, which by the eye deceiveth the multitude, and perswadeth unto them, that they should be as it were of sundry sorts, or rather of sundry countries, where indeed they be wholly together one bodie, [...] His Majestie doth hereby intimate unto all his said subjects of this land, of all degrees, that whosoever shall, for any respect, at any time, decline from the order and purpose of this law, touching the English tongue, habite, and order, or shall suffer any within his family or rule to use the Irish habite, or not to use themselves to the English tongue, his Majestie will repute them in his most noble heart as persons that esteeme not his most dread lawes and commandements [...] wherefore be it enacted, ordeyned, and established by authority of this present Parliament, that no person ne persons, the King's subjects within this land being, or hereafter to be, from and after the first day of May, which shall be in the yeare of our Lord God a thousand five hundred thirtie nine, shall be shorn, or shaven above the eares, or use the wearing of haire upon their heads, like unto long lockes, called glibbes, or have or use any haire growing on their upper lippes, called or named a crommeal, or use or weare any shirt, smock, kerchor, bendel, neckerchour, mocket, or linnen cappe, coloured, or dyed with saffron, ne yet use, or wear in any their shirts or smocks above seven yards of cloth, to be measured according to the King's standard, and that also no woman use or weare any kyrtell, or cote tucked up, or imbroydred or garnished with silke, or couched ne layd with usker, after the Irish fashion; and that no person or persons, of what estate, condition, or degree they be, shall use or weare any mantles, cote or hood made after the Irish fashion; and if any person or persons use or weare any shirt, smock, cote, hood, mantle, kircher, bendell, neckercher, mocket, or linnen cap, contrary to the forme above recited, that then every person so offending, shall forfeit the thing so used or worke, and that it shall be lawfull to every the King's true subjects, to seize the same, and further, the offendor in any of the premisses, shall forfeit for every time so wearing the same against the forme aforesaid, such penalties and summes of mony, as hereafter by this present act is limited and appointed.' The Statutes at Lare, Passed in the Parliaments held in Ireland, vol I (Dublin, 1786). The act goes on to permit horse-riders to wear native clothing, if their safety on horseback would otherwise be risked.
[iv] Flax Cultivation, pp. 165
[v] I got the pattern from here

© John Frey, 2017. 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.

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