Monday, June 21, 2010

Documentation for 'Golden Cotehardie'

Here is my documentation for my A&S Gold Silk Cotehardie! Feel free to use it to help you with your own research but remember to site your sources as I worked really hard on this documentation. Thanks!

Silk Cotehardie, 14th Century
A&S Single Entry

Ysabel la Broderesse (Janique Richard, 2010)

What is a Cotehardie?

The 14th century is described as being a period in medieval history with an “...outburst of creativity on styles of design” (Piponnier, et al., 66). The Cotehardie in particular, described as a “figure-fitting garment”, is far more attractive than the “somewhat shapeless clothes” that had been prevalent during the early middle ages (18, Brooke). It was very tight fitting, often buttoned or laced down the front, with a low “round décolleté over the shoulders” and very wide skirts which suggest gores added to the side seams (Piponnier, et. al, 76). The sleeves were “buttoned from wrist to elbows” with a large number of small ornamental buttons and some dresses portray “exquisite embroidery... [which] must have taken a lifetime to execute” (Brooke, 20, 22). Concrete evidence of the garment is drawn from brass memorial plates, and “ and woman... captured in stone around the doorways of cathedrals, or hidden away between the parchment leaves of gold, purple and sky-blue miniature paintings” (Piponnier, et al., 3). Physical textiles from the middle ages are scarce however because of their fragility and “only a few exceptional examples have survived...” such as the Herjolfsnes Greenland garment (Piponnier, et al.,, 3). Also, instances of iconoclasm in history, and World wars fought in Europe have destroyed a considerable amount of evidence. However, the 14th century is fortunate to have the amount of sources it does, earlier periods in medieval history pose a greater challenge of findings sources!

On the definition of the Cotehardie...

While I was doing my research, I did notice an interesting ambiguity regarding the actual term of ‘Cotehardie’. It was increasingly frustrating and confusing when a description of one Cotehardie is depicted under the guise of a kirtle. Thankfully the book ‘Medieval Clothing and Textiles (volume 1)’ highlights that;

“Documents of the period offer a bewildering array of names that might apply to the various layers of body garments. References to the linen undergarment are fairly straightforward; it might be called a chemise, shirt, or smock, among other names. For the overgown and undergown, however, documents include such specialized terms as cote, cote-hardie, goune, jupon, kirtle, paltok, supertunica, surcot, and tunica, among others. Variant spellings of all these words, as well as terms from different languages, enlarge the list further. It is not always clear whether a particular term applies specifically to an outerlayer or an innerlayer, refers to one gender or both, or carries other implications of style. Much of this confusion arises from inconsistent or ambiguous usage in documents and changes in meaning over time or from one region to another” (page 116).

Historical Construction of the Gown

There are various ways in which the Cotehardie was constructed. The most common is portrayed by Carl Kohler in ‘A History of Costume’. He illustrates that the garment was “fitted very closely all the way from the shoulders to far below the hips” and from the “hip-joint down it was gradually widened by the insertion of gussets at the back and side seams” (Köhler, 182). He further illustrates that the Cotehardie would have been constructed “the same length all long that the wearer had to raise it in front in order to be able to walk” (Köhler, 182). The sleeves were sown “tight from sleeve-hole to wrist, and were trimmed with small buttons at the back and from the wrist to the elbow” (Köhler, 182). Furthermore, “...underarm gusset sewn into place” enabled the arm of the wearer to be lifted without tearing the garment at the armpit (Houston, 74). Without this gusset, arm movements were impossible in a very tightly fitted bodice of the fourteenth century. The following picture from A History of Costume is a historical depiction of the period pattern.

Cloth buttons appear among the remnants of garments found in London quite often, as this was the “chief method of fastening” (Crowfoot et al., 164). Buttons, buttonhole stitches, eyelet techniques and period sewing methods that would have been incorporated and used for a Cotehardie are well documented in Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450. The following images detail the cloth buttons, buttonholes and period stitches used to achieve them taken from the book:


The most common fabrics that would have been used in the construction of a Cotehardie in the 14th century would have been wool, cotton and linen, wool being “the chief raw fibre used for textiles” (Crowfoot et al., 15). Wool was a crucial part of medieval economy and profited the bourgeoisie in Western Europe so much so that “sumptuary laws [were] enacted by the authorities... to preserve the distance between the nobility and the nouveaux riches, who could now afford to dress in silk....” (Piponnier, et al., 72). Silk then, once a rarity in the 12th century, became “ a little more widespread in the 14th century” from the onset of Italian Silk Weavers but did not supplant woollen fabrics; silk was “generally used only in court circles” (Piponnier, et al., 21). Silk ribbons however “[were] one of the materials in most frequent use” and were used to create belts and girdles, and to line the fastenings of garments (Piponnier, et al., 21). Using costly materials such as silk then “...affirmed their wearer’s membership of the ruling class, endorsing... position in society and... power by the display of fabrics and furs, the variety of forms and decoration and the brilliance of the gold and the colours” (Piponnier, et al., 76). The “illusion of luxury” was therefore a commonly sought pursuit (Piponnier, et al., 83

My Garment

The Cotehardie I constructed uses a modern princess line pattern, which is not historically accurate and for good reasons! The modern pattern gets a similar look to the period Cotehardie, however it wastes a lot of fabric. In period, “...the need for avoiding waste in cutting when materials were hand-woven and necessarily expensive” is apparent in the patterning of garments (Houston, 78). I only had a modern pattern on hand when creating this dress, however I am going to fashion future Cotehardies with the period method of block patterns and adding triangular gores as documented in this article (because silk is expensive!) My pattern still incorporates the 8-gored ‘look’ by using 8 different panels, and gussets under the arms for mobility.

I used duipioni silk and 100% cotton fabrics for my dress. Duipioni is an affordable substitute for ‘samite’ or ‘cloth of gold’ used by the nobility in the 14th century. I used a running stitch to hold the seams in place and a hem stitch on the bottom of the dress and sleeves. I used period techniques to create the buttons, adding an extra ‘turn in’ to make the buttons sturdier. I used a buttonhole stitch, which is also period in practice, to finish the front fastenings of the dress. I did not put any buttons on the sleeves however this was very much a period style! All threads that were used are 100% cotton, although cotton was not a fibre widely used. The threads were easy to work with however in the future I would use linen threads as documented in the London extant pieces from the book Textiles and Clothing c. 1150-1450 because they would have been more historically accurate considering the cost of cotton. All seams that are invisible have been sewn by a modern machine to decrease the time necessary to finish the dress (I view my sewing machine as my very own seamstresses!)

Because this dress is fabricated out of silk, this Cotehardie would have been used by nobility and would have been found most likely exclusively in court circles. The length of this dress would have been extremely long in period as well, in order to display wealth and the affordability of not having to do one’s own hard labour; however I modified the length in order to make it more practical to wear. It would have been worn on its own in the first half of the 14th century, and later beneath a ‘gates of hell’ garment or a ‘surcote’ by nobility. Overall, I truly enjoyed created this dress and learned a great deal about historical garments and techniques as it has inspired me to create another gown!


Brooke, Iris., Laver, James. English Costume from the Fourteenth through the Nineteenth Century. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth., Pritchard, Frances., and Staniland, Kay. Textiles and Clothing c.1150-1450. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2001.

Houston, Mary G. Medieval Costume in England & France: The 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries. London: Adam &Charles Black, 1950.

Köhler, Carl., translator, Dallas, Alexander K. A History of Costume. New York: Dover Publications, 1928.

Netherton, Robin. Editor. Medieval Clothing and Textiles (volume 1). Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2005.

Piponnier, Francoise., and Mane, Perrine. Dress in the Middle Ages. London: Yale University Press, 1997.

1 comment:

  1. What an informative paper. I'm teaching a class for My Barony and would like to use your information in this article to help those wanting to learn more about 14th century clothing and fashion. I wanted to ask permission to pass on your good works. I would be more then willing to credit you during the class for writing this documentation.

    YIS to the dream,
    Thlady Symonne