Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A Cloak for a Medieval Pilgrimage

The cloak
I have an inexplicable passion for short cloaks. They're not the commonest or most documentable of garments, though, especially not for late 14th century women. When it comes to preserved examples, there's the famous Bocksten Man's cloak, which is c. mid-14th century, male, and not particularly short. Then we have the wonderful Cloak of St Brigitta, which is...patchwork, but not short either.

Various types of outer clothing, including cloaks, are mentioned in several medieval Scandinavian wills. The words cappa and mantel are used, among other terms, and while mantel seems to be the more feminine version of the two, both are used by both men and women, it seems. The wills don't say much about the construction of the garments that go along with the different terms, though – whether they are long or short, open or closed... If you read Scandinavian languages, I recommend Kläderna och människan i medeltidens Sverige och Norge by Eva Andersson and the papers by Camilla Luise Dahl in Middelaldercentret's Workpapers vol. 1 for discussions and definitions of various medieval terms for outer clothing.

There are numerous cloak-wearing shepherds in various manuscript from all over the 14th century, all male. From Sweden, we have these two lovely carved fellows from Martebo Church on Gotland, receiving the message of the birth of Christ.
Shepherds from Martebo Church, Gotland. The second one is playing a dog-headed bagpipe. Early 14th century. Pix by Vix.
More often than not, these cloaks have hoods and look more like...well, huge hoods. I personally like to call them hoods, to differentiate them from hood-less cloaks, but this is my modern preference and it may not have anything to do with how these garments were defined in medieval times, of course (I actually tend to call them 'jättehätta', literally 'big hood' – it sounds a lot funnier in Swedish). 

Here's a rather slim selection of 14th century women wearing some sort of short cloak-like garment. The first two are Italian, which is perhaps not the best source when you're reenacting Scandinavia/North Germany like I do. They seem to have done a lot of things quite differently south of the Alps. The last three images are a bit more interesting to me, as they are German in provenance. They all come from an appliqué wall hanging showing episodes from the romance of Tristan and Isolde. Although not particularly detailed, some of the ladies do seem to be wearing what might possibly be interpreted as a short cloak.
BNF MS Français 343: La Quête du Saint Graal et la Mort d’Arthus, fol. 49v.
Tacuinum Sanitatis, late 14th century, Italy. There are more examples of short cloaks in this manuscript, on both men and women.
The Tristan wall hanging, 1370-1400, Germany. Victoria & Albert Museum. Pix by Vix.
I've found that a good place to look for cloaks is on monumental tombs. All those weepers and mourners that decorate fancy people's graves tend to wear more outdoorsy clothing than most. I've no idea why. Maybe it's something to do with the transitional aspect of death and burial, funeral processions or the journey of the soul, as cloaks appear to be typical travel clothing (or maybe that's just my modern schooling struggling to assert itself with fanciful interpretations...). Maybe they just liked their weepers bundled up properly; after all, it can get rather chilly hanging around a tomb waiting for Judgement Day. And so it was that I found my Favourite Cloak Ever: This weeper from the tomb of Thomas and Catherine de Beauchamp in St. Mary's Church, Warwick, dated to 1369. 
De Beauchamp Weeper, Warwick, 1369. From http://www.themcs.org/
I just had to make it, nevermind the fact that it's a one-off garment I've never seen anywhere else - in Albrecht's Bössor we usually require at least two independent sources as basis for the kit we make. It's also English, but I decided to make a prototype anyway of some left-over fabric I had lying around just to see what it would look like. The fabric was a really nice 2/1 twill, but I only had some rather narrow pieces left so the cloak ended up being pieced together of triangular gores.
Me in my 'Warwick' cloak
I liked the model so much that I did a "proper" one, too, in grey and without the piecing. Both have tablet-woven edges around the arm-slits and buttons down the front and they are wonderful bad-weather clothing! Unlike open cloaks, they don't flap open and let out the warmth when you move, and since they're short, they don't get stuck in the vegetation when you walk in a forest, for example. At least not as often as a long cloak does. I haven't mustered either cloak for use with Albrecht's Bössor (we have informally formal inspections of our clothes and gear in AB, to maintain a mutual standard and encourage members to research their stuff) and I don't think I will either, since I personally feel it's slightly off for our chosen period, at least geographically. I make things like these because it's fun, because I learn stuff doing it, not necessarily because I will use them for serious reenactment.

As I wrote in the previous post, planned events really get me working on Stuff I Need – I find deadlines incredibly inspiring! For the medieval pilgrimage I took part in in May this year, I both needed and wanted some clothing for bad weather that would also measure up to the standards I have set for my medieval kit. And that would pass muster for Albrecht's Bössor too, preferably. The usual answer to dealing with cold and rain when wearing medieval clothing is simple: just add another layer. And that's all well and good. But if you're spending a day or two outdoors in constant rain, you will get wet, no matter how many layers you put on. And although wet wool still keeps you warm, it only does so to a certain point and eventually the chill will get to you. It does make a difference if you wring out the water occasionally – wool can retain a good deal of moisture before it starts dripping by itself so it needs a bit of help. Wet wool slowly channels the water towards the lower points of the garment (that's gravity for you!), which means that if you're wearing something with sleeves, some of the water will inevitably stick around around your arms. With a cloak, on the other hand, the water will eventually end up in the lower edge (where it's easy to wring out) and generally the wet fabric stays further away from you body than it would with a fitted garment. So, in short – when it's raining, I want a cloak!

I settled on making one with an integral hood, the shepherd model. The evidence of women wearing a garment like this is...well...basically non-existent, at least in the north European art I've looked at. Short cloaks and hoods with an extended collar seem to work for both sexes, though, so I decided to extrapolate a little. If a woman can wear a hood that reaches half-way down her arms, like the two female servants from Martebo Church on Gotland do, it's not a huge step to lengthen the hood 30 cm so it reaches over the hands. 

Edit: People have commented that the Martebo servants might not be wearing hoods/cloaks at all (both here and on Facebook) - that it's the dresses hitched up over a belt in combination with wide sleeves that narrow towards the wrists instead. Taking another look at the photos, I think I agree. Considering that the carvings are early 14th century, it fits so much better with contemporary fashion and preserved dresses like those of Elizabeth of Thuringia and St Clare. The reason I saw hoods is the rather sharp divide between the upper and lower part of the dresses and the deep fold by the shoulder: I have inserted gores on one of my hoods that look just like that! 
Female servants, Martebo Church, Gotland, first half 14th century. Pix by Vix.
Judging by the terms used in medieval wills, outer clothing seems to be reasonably flexible when it comes to gender. Or at least that's what I'm trying to convince myself... To make my hood a little less like the standard shepherd's hood, I chose to base it on...wait for it!...a swineherd's hood instead. With buttons down the front. A completely different kind of animal! ;-)
Carving from the choir stalls, Lund Cathedral.1370s. Pic by Vix.
The carving comes from the choir stalls of Lund Cathedral. The good thing about it is that it's probably of German origin, which suits my kit perfectly. If I'm going to wear a garment that's not particularly female, I at least want it to be geographically suitable.  

The shape of the thing, pieced together – Sometimes there's just enough thread... Finishing the edges
The pattern I opted for was simple enough. I used an existing pattern of a Herjolfsnes-type hood, did away with the front gore and just added enough length for it to reach down to my hands. I had to piece my fabric a little, but other than that, only one long back seam was needed to put it together. I lined it with a very thin, dark grey worsted fabric. Since both my fabrics were grey, I decided to compensate for the lack of fancy colours by putting more effort into the finishing details. I stitched around all the edges and hems with tiny red stitches. It looked very nice, but took just about forever to do, and I quickly abandoned my original idea to make two rows of stitches (like they have done on some of the Herjolfsnes clothes). I also decided to use pewter buttons for the front, to save time (and add fanciness!). On the choir stall carving, it's hard to tell exactly how the buttons are placed, at least from my photos. Sometimes the buttons seem to be placed two and two together, in places there might even be three. Or maybe they're spaced evenly, but the carving's a bit worn. Since I couldn't go to Lund to double check (or had time to send one of my minions), I decided to place them evenly, but ran out of both time and buttons. For the pilgrimage, I made do with just half of the intended number of buttons and added the rest...well, yesterday, actually.

The jättehätta ready for the pilgrimage – With the last of the buttons added

Edit 2015-01-10: I found another image of a woman wearing a short cloak: Herodias (mother of Salome) in the Triptych of the Martyrs from Dijon, dated to 1390-91. Being worn by a queen, it's a far fancier garment than the swineherd's hood, but not completely dissimilar to the jättehätta I made!
Herodias and Herod, from the Triptych of the Martyrs, Dijon, 1390-91.

The pilgrimage
So, what about this pilgrimage then? Here you can read some of the organiser Frida's thoughts about the project: The medieval pilgrimage reenacted. During four days in May this year, a motley crew of 12 pilgrims, two dogs and four horses walked about 55 km along the medieval pilgrim route between Visby and S:t Olofsholm on the island of Gotland. 

Unlike medieval pilgrims, we slept in tents, and brought all our food with us. In medieval times, pilgrims travelled lightly and would have found housing and food along the way to refuse hospitality to a pilgrim was considered extremely bad manners... In medieval Sweden, there was a law that stated that there should be a hostel or similar place for travelling people to spend the night no more than a day's march apart (a day's march was considered to be about 30-40 km), so pilgrims would have had little trouble finding a place to stay. And sleeping outdoors was of course always an option. Being modern medieval pilgrims, however, we were not particularly used to sleeping rough, and although asking people along the way to let us stay the night would have been the medieval way to do it, sleeping in a modern place would just have felt wrong. So tents it was. The upside of bringing so much stuff with us was the sumpter horses. To have horses around made an already fantastic experience even better. I'm actually afraid of horses, so it felt very good when I, on the very last day of the pilgrimage, even dared to ride for the first time in my life! 

For me, despite not being religious in my everyday life, the pilgrimage still ended up being a spiritual experience. I got time to slow down, to think and feel, and I realised a lot of things about myself. It also gave me a different understanding about medieval life and religion and how different things were back then. Walking 50 km in medieval shoes was definitely an interesting experience, both for my boots and my wimpy modern feet... It was a good thing I finished my big hood, too. The weather was quite good most of the time, but it started raining on the very last morning and it continued raining throughout the day. My hood did its job as you can see towards the end of this little film that Johan made about our pilgrimage:

Medieval Pilgrimage 2013!

I promised myself I would finish this post before Christmas...and well, I suppose I have. I haven't written anything about the leather costrel that I also made for the pilgrimage. Or my staff and scrip, which were blessed by the Bishop of Visby during the send-off mass. But this post is long and rambling enough as it is, so I'll just finish off with a few pictures from the road instead...

Getting to know the horses
The road goes on...
At Väskinde Church, the old wall still had stones with holes for tying up horses!
Johan and pilgrim dog Boudica taking a nap
The boots that did the walking

And last, but not least: Boudica helping to model my jättehätta. With a medieval source...

Happy New Year!

Andersson, Eva. 2006. Kläderna och människan i medeltidens Sverige och Norge. Diss. Göteborg: Göteborgs universitet, 2006. [https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/16894/5/gupea_2077_16894_5.pdf]

Dahl, Camilla Luise. 2005. Workpapers – tekstilforskning på Middelaldercentret vol. 1. [http://www.middelaldercentret.dk/pdf/workpapersvol1.pdf]


Cathy Raymond said...

I did not realize that there was artistic evidence that short cloak were worn in the Middle Ages though the idea makes sense, for the reasons you describe. Thank you for writing about the cloak project, and your pilgrimage; it was very informative and interesting.

Arachne said...

I have a few more images of short cloaks on Pinterest, one of these days I'll sort them properly... There are some really nice German ones with high collars, both from manuscripts and a tomb. Male, of course.

Lena said...

What a lovely cloak. I hope it kept you warm and cosy during your pilgrimage.

But I wonder if the Martebo servants are wearing such cloaks. To me, it seems like the fabric in the sleeve runs in one piece all along the arm, a bit loose over the upper arm and tight around the lower arm. I've always interpreted this as a long dress hoiked up with a belt at the waist, causing the fabric above the waist to billow out over the waistline.

Arachne said...

Yes, I can see that too. But the divide is so sharp it could be a collared hood and the deep pleat by the shoulder might be a gore - I've got that effect when inserting a very wide gore. But then again, since they're early 14th century, the look definitely fits the wide upper sleeves and narrow lower sleeves of that time. Like the inserted sleeves on the Elizabeth of Thuringia-dress.

I stand corrected - the sleeved/bulged-up dress interpretation is much likelier than cloaks! :-)I'll add a comment of that to the original post when I get home from the holidays. (I love it when people respond like this - it's so easy to see things with wishful eyes and get stuck in a favoured interpretation! :-) Thanks!)

Anonymous said...

Just love it! Thank's for sharing.
/ Maria

Miriam said...

What a lovely post and a lovely hood. You have beaten me to it - I had (on my very long list of things to do) a Warwick hood, having fallen in love with them via photos on the internet and then having made a visit to see them.

There are actually a few lady weepers wearing short cloaks on the Warwick tomb. On some of them, it seems to me (particularly when seeing them in person) that the arm slits actually reach to the hem and can be completely closed via buttons. E.g. http://www.themcs.org/costume/Female/Warwick%20-%20St%20Mary%20Thomas%20Beauchamp%201369%20and%20wife%20Katherine%20mortimer%201369%20weeper%2032%20female%2097.JPG

Arachne said...

Panth: That one is absolutely lovely!!! I really want to go to Warwick too... (my poor boyfriend tends to get dragged to medieval churches around the world on our vacations!)

I've been wondering if the one in your link is a chort cloak or a long dress-like garment with open sleeves that buttons up instead. It's difficult to see what belongs to which layer on the photos. Having seen it in person, do you think that's a possiblity?

Then again, there is a short cloak with slits to the hem that buttons up on both sides on a German tomb, which together with the Warwick one would make two separate sources for a cloak of that type...even if the German one is decidedly male... :-)
(it's also from www.themcs.org:

Miriam said...

There are several decidedly weird things about the female Warwick weepers. The layering that is apparent when one looks at the weepers in real life (or when one zooms in on the themcs.org website) is very inconsistent with what we think we know from all other sources.

The short cloaks are hardly the most weird garments on those figures! I'm still unconvinced whether it's rubbish carving, my eyes deciving me, or that the weepers (as you said) appear to be in outdoor / winter clothing, which is not usually depicted elsewhere.

I'm afraid I have no idea where my Warwick photos are at the moment, otherwise I'd offer to send them to you. From memory, and looking at the themcs.org photos, the one I linked (their weeper #32) appears to be wearing a button-fronted gown. From memory, I was convinced that the arm slits were buttoned and went to the hem. I'll have to try to find my photos...

I agree that something similar appears to be going on with the male German weeper's cloak.

It's fascinating, particularly as good, practical wet-weather outerwear is something I really need. ^_^

Anonymous said...

Your warm clothing looks good. I need some myself, the problem being that I need some 2/1 twill, since that seems to be the dominant cloth in the period I'm wanting it for, i.e. circa 1300 in Scotland. Hence I found your interesting blog through searching for 2/1 twill.

Can you please tell me where you got yours from? I have some from naturtuche.de but it's very heavy and I'll just make a cloak from it.

Arachne said...

I usually get my cloth from either http://www.handelsgillet.se or http://www.medeltidsmode.se. Handelsgillet has a lot if 2/1 twill that is more on the thin side. As far as I know, they both take international orders and when they say their cloth is 100% wool, it really is 100%, which I like.

But the brown 2/1 twill I used for the cloak was a lucky find from my local fabric shop.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the urls. I have ordered sample swatches, now I can't wait to get them. 2/1 twill at last!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I'm doing research on cloaks worn by medieval pilgrims and stumbled across your blog. I love that you made your own cloak. I'm waking St James''s Way next year on the Camino to Santiago and am seriously considering a pilgrims cloak rather than a rucksack and regular clothes. This has given me inspiration to continue my quest.