An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel: Layout, Seaming and Finishing

In order to create a garment similar to that of the women illustrated in the Bayeux tapestry and Countess Judith, I looked at similar cut garments in close chonological proximity. I found similar drape in the coronation robes of the Holy Roman Emperors of the 12th century (Payne, 1965, 164) which is later, but is very simple in cut. The Thorsberg costume – dated somewhere in the first through third centuries which is much earlier – is a very simple T with sleeves sewn into place (Payne, 1965, 137). The Egyptian child’s tunic (fig. 13) is dated to the 9th-10th century AD. and has a cut identical to my layout. It is loom-based narrow and has gores to add fullness. (Harris, 61). The cut would have been similar to the shape of a “T”. I have deviated in the cut of the garment from a typical “t” tunic recreationists favor (fig.10) of a wide fabric with a minimum of seams to a loom based cut: a piece for the body, gores for fullness and separately pieced sleeves. (fig. 11)

Fig. 10 – T-Tunic Layout, modern

Fig. 11 – Layout used for dress

I believe this more accurately reflects the use of fabric in the period. Since the fabric would have been hand-spun and hand-woven, it would have been far more economical and less wasteful to have extra seams in a cyrtel than to spin and weave the extra fabric to add fullness.

The sleeves are of moderate cut – not too tight to hide the garment underneath, not too full to restrict the ability to spin or perform other tasks. Illuminated pieces show some sort of ornamentation at the wrists and hem (Owen-Crocker, 1986, 139) although I did not include any ornamentation at this time. The length of the dress is ankle length (Owen-Crocker, 1986, 139).

The fitting of this gown owes itself to two plackets at the side, sewn into place at each wearing. It is seen in the illumination of Judith Countess of Flanders (fig. 12 & 13). It would be useful to have such expansion available when pregnancy was frequent, but a close fit was fashion. There is scant evidence of this in other sources so this may be an anomaly or a representation of a half-hidden girdle (Doyle, 1999, 27) (Owen-Crocker, 1986, 137).

Fig. 12 – Countess Judith of Flanders

Fig. 13 – Side of dress showing placket

I sewed all of the seams using a running stitch (Walton, 406). I then felled – that is, I rolled the edge of the fabric over itself and sewed into place – all of the seams to prevent wear and fraying (fig. 14). I used an overcast stitch to stich the fells into place (Walton, 406) (Crowfoot,156). I used a rolled hem on the sleeves, neck and hem. (Walton, 405)

Fig. 14 – Fabric & seam finishing

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