Sunday, July 2, 2017

Stolen: Dwarven Vest?

Nope…it’s a 16th century Irish inar.  While the garment appears to be too small to modern eyes, the fit is actually just right…for the style.  The inar was the “outer” garment of the Wild Irishman outfit, and was worn over the loose,tunic-like leine.  To the best that I can tell, the garment is unique to the culture.

Garment Description:

The inar is a short vest or jacketlike garment, most likely made of wool.  It is slightly fitted (primitively), has rudimentary sleeves, and a separate skirt (which is also short).  Did I mention the garment is short?  It comes to maybe hip length, with the waist seam somewhere around the sternum.  The neckline comes down almost to the sternum as well.  As such, it is a somewhat odd-looking piece of clothing, especially being worn over the extremely loose and bloused leine. 

I’m still trying to figure out how it developed, since it doesn’t actually look like any other garment of the time, or earlier.  As for practical reasons for wearing, I found that (at least in non-horrible weather), it does make a serious difference in cutting the wind—something a leine is mostly useless for; I believe it could also help trap air pockets for warmth.  In addition, the snug fit helps both show off your athletic figure (if you have one), and keeps the leine closer to your body and out of the way.


 I used a few different sources for this, basing the general garment off of several period works of art, and documenting the fabric and construction with the one extant example of this garment--the Kilcommon Inar.  For the inar, I think my favourite period images are the Lucas de Heere one, and the Durer woodcut, which shows multiple varieties.

Lucas DeHeer, p. 79


As a rule, these would have only been worn by the “Wild Irishman”.  That is, the patriotic countryman who tended towards opposing English rule.  Given that it was such a symbol of the native Irish, no one who was allied with the English or—in all likelihood—lived in a major city (Eastern coat ones, in particular) would be caught wearing it.  And given that it is made of a rougher wool, I would not be surprised to find that my example—and the Kilcommon inar I based it on--were worn by middle class Irishmen…the ones who couldn’t quite afford the scarlet broadcloth for the fancier inar shown in the images.

Speed's Map of 1610, illustrating Civil and Wild Irish.
As for the makers, I feel it is most likely that this would be a cottage made garment.  The rough, tweed wool; the rudimentary fitting…all parts would be easy to do at home; spinning your wool into cloth, then sewing it together.

My Goals:

I had two goals in making this garment: To test my pattern before making one in scarlet broadcloth and gilt leather, and to allow me to wear the outfit more often than just at court (which is all I would dare to wear the fancy one at).  I would say I succeeded quite well at this.

As for authenticity goals, I wanted to get as close as I could with materials and plausible construction.  To this end, I chose a rougher fabric—as similar in type, if not pattern, to the tweed which the Kilcommon is described as being made of.  I also chose to handsew it…with wool thread, because I’m crazy like that.

Kilcommon Inar


The garment seems to have universally—as far as we can tell-been made of wool of various qualities.  The Kilcommon was “sewn of wool in a coarse tabby weave”.  Unfortunately, this is all the information I currently have—it came from Reconstructing history before she locked it all behind a pay wall.  I’m still kicking myself for not making a PDF backup of the webpage years ago (as I did with a couple others of hers).  From the photo, it appears to be slightly checked, although this could also be pixilation. 

In the few paintings which are coloured, they appear to generally be red.  The wool could be either—as in the Kilcommon example, country produced or of an imported broadcloth.  I am not sure how much this effects things, but earlier in the century, up to almost half of the imports was broadcloth [Flavin, pp. 31-33]; it fluctuated a bit in the mid-16th century, then dropped suddenly.  To my mind, this could translate as nicer processed fabrics being more common earlier in the century, with more homespuns in the later part…however, I could be completely wrong about this.

The materials I used are much the same…a coarse woolen tweed.  While coarse, the wool does have a good, even weave, and a slightly checked pattern.  The three colours in it (dirty white, a light woad blue, and a slightly rusty brown) are all available with period dyes.  The fabric was upcycled from an overcoat I found in the thrift store, hence some extra piecing of the pattern.

For thread, because of the fairly loosely woven wool, I decided to use some wool thread I happened to have laying around; 16/2 white wool.  I’m afraid I don’t recall where I purchased it.  The wool thread was chosen as it lends itself to slightly longer stitches than a fine linen, and because I would not have to worry about the thread cutting my fabric if a seam came under strain (instead, the thread would give first). 


The pattern is pretty simple, and is essentially rectangular construction.  The back is a rectangle my shoulder width wide, and down to a slightly high waist.  The front, on the other hand, has all of the shaping, with a short vertical segment at the bottom, and the side and front angled to fit it to the waist; there is a small front armscye cut out.  The sleeves are simple strips the circumference of my wrist with a basic sleevehead to allow them to drape somewhat.  The skirt, of course, is merely a long strip of the fabric—sadly it was pieced, because I barely had enough fabric.  While elements of this—the sleeves, skirt, and the middle of the front--were based on the Kilcommon Inar, I had to decide the best way to fit the sides.
My original pattern of the garment. 
Not much changed, except adding a sleevehead, and removing the small back collar.

Overall, the measurements were easy to determine, as it is a fairly closely fitted piece of clothing—I only had to take my shoulder, chest and waist circumferences, and front chest measure over the leine, and add a little ease.  With the back as a square, that meant any fitting to the waist and shoulder had to be taken out of the front panels.


Because this is a cottage made and fairly rough garment, I went with fairly simple seams…almost no seam treatments to flatten the wool, because it didn’t need it.  Overall, I used a backstitch to put all the pieces together—chosen for strength--, and a blind overcast stitch for any hemming.  The few buttonholes were roughly sewn.  Pretty simple.  I left the skirt unhemmed for a couple of reasons—I see no sign of hemming on the Kilcommon, which I could admittedly be wrong about given the low resolution of the image; secondly because I didn’t want to hem that much, and thirdly (oops) because I felt it would mess with the evenness of the knife pleats.


 All the pieces cut out from the overcoat.  Clockwise from the top are: Sleeves, fronts, all the skirt pieces, and the back.

 First order of business was assembling the parts I had to piece...the back and skirt.  Only 3:46 hours to do all of that...not bad considering there were something like 20 pieces in the skirt.

 The sleeves being hemmed with the blind overcast stitch. 

 Rather than measuring out every pleat, I found that I could just eyeball long at the pleats don't overlap, each inch of pleat takes up three inches of fabric.  I needed to reduce the length to 1/3rd.  So that made it easy.  After getting it to the correct length, I basted it top, center, and bottom.  The decision to eyeball the pleat size was made based on the Kilcommon (again)...those pleats aren't all the exact same size.

But before doing that, I assembled the three pieces of the body.

 And left it basted until the garment was finished.  This photo was taken right after pressing the skirt with a gratifying amount of violence (press, then pound it flat)

I found--after pinning the skirt into place--that the body of the inar was too long...I ended up removing a full handspan from the bottom.

I draped the sleeves.  On the left is the original sleevehead, then I took a fair amount out of the front so that the sleeve would hang more forwards than perfectly vertically.  This slight forward hang can be seen in the Kilcommon.

After getting the sleeves on, I adjusted the length with an extremely wide hem.

The last step was to make the buttons--self cloth--and buttonholes, which were roughly sewn in the wool.  I used two buttons on each cuff, and two on the center front...I think 6 buttons is the fewest I've ever done on a period project (ok...not quite, but close).


This was a decidedly interesting garment to make, and I learned about few things about pleating and the sleeves:
·         If your fabric to be pleated is 3 times the length of the desired finish length, you can easily eyeball the pleats instead of measuring.
·         Violence is the key to knife edged pleats and flat seams (seriously!).
·         The sleeves are more complex than I thought they would be.
·         As for the overall length, I found that the bottom of the skirt needs to be shorter than the bottom of the blousing of the leine.  Which means, if the skirts are about 6” long, the “waist” seam has to be rather high indeed.

Photo by Travis "Twobears" Abe-Thomas

What I would do Differently Next Time:

A few things. And since this was a rougher trial run for the fancier version in scarlet broadcloth, I actually will be making it again.  I intend to use the same pattern for the body and quite probably skirts, but I will probably go through a few mockups of the sleeves; I made them too short on this version, and—assuming there isn’t artistic license on the fit in the images—experiment with cutting them with some angles or something to allow a longer back than front so I get a smooth fit even when my arm is bent, while allowing them to drape more or less straight.

How Historically Accurate is it?:

I think I did quite good on this.  The pattern is perfectly plausible (although not a copy of the extant), the fabric is suitable if not completely documentable (due to sad lack of info on cottage produced wools in 16th century Ireland), and the stitching if by hand in the correct thread.  The overall look of the garment is also within margin of error between the different paintings.  I’m going to give it around 95%, with those few points docked because the look isn't /quite/ perfect and I can't document the fabric as well as I would like.

Back of the Kilcommon Inar.


Extremely quick.  Even though I was using backstitches, the sewing moved along amazingly fast—the project only took 10 hours and 45 minutes.


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

Ellis, Steven, ‘BBC - History - Turning Ireland English’ [accessed 24 May 2017]

‘Making a 16th Century Leine & “Kerns” Jacket’ [accessed 3 March 2017]

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



  1. Nice.....but may I say, from personal experience, that the Léine and Ionar are perfectly comfortable for everyday wear,


    Proinsias Mag Fhionnghaile (yes, my real name)

    1. I didn't say it wasn't...this is probably one of my favourite outfits now.
      Learning to manage the sleeves for shooting a bow was tricky, though. Everything else was no problem.