Monday, November 12, 2012

Kirtle Pattern Class Handout

Ultimate Kirtle Pattern
Lady Asrune Russtikus-dotta

Kirtle:  (Kyrtel) is a fitted tunic-like dress with variations found from the 1350s all the way up to 1650s. It was a staple of the medieval wardrobe.The Kirtle was worn by all different classes of women all over Europe. Typically, a chemise, or underdress, is worn underneath. An overdress such as a houplandie or cotehardie would be worn on top when needed.

The kirtle acts like a bra. The body of the dress can be 2, 4, 8 or more pieces. They can be lined, or not. They can have long, short, or no sleeves. They can have a waist seam, or not. They can be laced or buttoned, on the side or in front. They can be elaborate or simple, heraldic or plain. In short, there are a lot of options to work with when it comes to Kirtles that are all “period,” and can be made with just one pattern!

The Pattern
(Draping method)

Fabric- Linen (most common), Silk, or Wool. Leather is also period, but rare. Avoid synthetic fabrics. You will need 3-8yds of fabric to make a kirtle. You will need 1-3yds to make the pattern.

American Size       Yards for dress      Yards for pattern
Size 2-6                    3-4                             1
Size 8-14                  5-6                             2
Size 16-24                6-8                             3

Before you start- Make sure you have
·         Lots of pins!
·         1-3yds of linen (the lighter the color the better, so you can write on it)
·         Scissors
·         A sharpie or fabric marker
·         A friend to pin you up
·         And a good bra on

Step 1: Take your measurements
Bust (A)

Waist (B)

Hip (C)

Sleeve (H)

Upper Arm (O)

Wrist (N)

Waist to floor (K-M)

1.      Divide you Hip measurement (C) by 4, add two inches and cut 4 rectangles of fabric of that width. This should make four large bits of fabric, that combined are large enough to cover your back and front. They should be long enough to cover your bottom.

Hip/4 + 2in = Rectangle width
2.      Pin  2 rectangles together to form the back of your pattern. Pin the other 2 together to make the front.
3.      Get a friend to center and pin the back and front pieces together at the shoulders on you.

4.      Have you friend pin the sides closed, being careful to keep both sides even. You should look like this:

5.      Pinch the fabric on the pined “seams,” to tighten the fabric around you and re-pin. Work slowly, be careful to keep the sides even, and the front and back centered. 

6.      Tighten the shoulder until you feel “lifted”. You should look something like this:

7.      Get a sharpie or fabric marker, and mark:
l  Your natural waist line. (An easy way to do this is hold a string around you, it will automatically go to the smallest part of your waist.)
l  Where you want your neckline(s) to be. High(neck), low(normal), and sexy (boobs) are the three I usually mark.
TIP: if you leave the neck high, you can use this pattern for a doublet too!
l  The joint where your arm meets your shoulder. This is where your sleeve should start.

8.      Trace all the pinned seams on both sides with your marker. Make sure you get front, back, sides and shoulders, both sides.
9.      Remove all the pins.
10.  Compare the two front pieces and the two back pieces by laying them out. There will be slight differences between them. Chose the front and back you like best, or try to mediate between them. This will be your final pattern.
11.  Cut the pattern out, leaving 5/8in (or whatever you like to use) seam allowance.
12.  Put your name, the date and your seam allowance on the pattern. Label back and front and viola! You’re done!

The Sleeve

1.    Make a “T”  with your Sleeve measurement. One line horizontal. One line vertical.
2.    Center your wrist measurement at the bottom.
3.    Center your Upper arm measurement at the top.
4.    Add seam allowance
5.    Measure 1 in down and 2 in up from the top of your “T” and draw a curve  OR…
6.     Better yet, take a piece of string, measure the sleeve hole on your new made pattern and cut to the exact length on string. Then move the string to fit a curve like the one above on your horizontal “T” line.

The Chemise
Use the same pattern as you did for the kirtle, but cut it on the bias for more stretch and no closures. If you don’t have the fabric to do this, then add 1-3in to the width of the pattern. You may also want a slightly looser sleeve.


1.    You can shorten the sleeves, simply cut off the sleeve pattern where you want it.
2.    You can add gores to make a fuller skirt. I usually add 4 gores; front, back, and sides, for the full “princess effect”
3.    You can also make it into more pieces, this makes a more fitted garment and can help when you have narrow fabric width. It also serves to allow you to add more gores. (think princess seams)
4.    Adjust the neckline shape.
5.    Use buttons instead of laces, you’ve got a cotehardie!
TIP: wrap pennies in bits of scrape fabric from your dress for the perfect buttons!
6.    Try hand sewing your button holes by pushing a hole through the linen and working your way around, you’ll be surprised how easy it is! (on that note, try to avoid using metal grommets, they were not used on dresses in period)
7.    Cut the pattern off at the waist and make a doublet!

How you can use your kirtle pattern
drawings by Heather Morgan for this class, all right reserved

Kirtles in History
(in broad sweeping terms, not an end all be all)

Kirtles begin to appear in the early 1300s all over Europe. The fashion seems to have started in the north and worked its way south to Italy by 1400. Like all fashions Kirtles are first worn by the upper class only, but work their way down to the lower classes fairly rapidly.

1350-1400: The most commonly seen kirtle style from this time has short sleeves, a wide scoop neckline, no waist seam and closes in the front, usually with laces.  Solid colors. (This style of Kirtle stays in fashion up until the 1450s with the lower classes of women.)

1400-1450: Long sleeves become more common. Wide scoop neckline, no waist seam, closes at the front usually with laces. They were mostly of solid color, but can also be found in heraldic styles (such as quartering), cloth of gold, and other patterned fabrics.

1400-1450: the neckline seems to narrow into a closed scoop or a “V” shape, and side closures become more popular. We also start to see the sleeveless kirtles, often with detachable sleeves. So you can “dress up” your look.

1450-1500+: brings the waisted kirtle into vogue. At first, the skirts attached to these kirtles were pieced skirts that were wider at the hem and narrowed into the waist. However, there is a rapid progression to gathered and then pleated skirts. The waisted kirtle is used in many forms, for many styles all the way into the 1650s.  

Kirtles in Action

Front laced, classic Kirtle. Notice the fake sleeves.

German style, the yellow kirtle is likely a side laced kirtle with a wide square neckline. The overdress or kampfrau uses the same pattern with a scoop neckline and a closed front lacing or hooks.
waisted square neck sleeveless Kirtle, working class . Notice the wide lacing.

Two short sleeved working class kirtles. The left is a looser pull over gown, the right kirtle is front laced with a wide scoop neckline. You get a good look at the Chemise here too.

Waisted Kirtle

Waisted Kirtle with short sleeves and box pleats

Split Skirt

Wide front lacing and cloth of gold underskirt with metal eyelets

Heraldic Kirtles

Bi-colored Kirtle.
Alternative Pattern theories:

The Quick and Dirty Geometric Method-Some people will swear by this method as the “most period” due to its simplicity, and there are some extant examples....but there are extant examples of other styles as well. It is a perfectly wonderful way to make a early period kirtle, it is NOT however form fitting enough to be a bra substitute. In my opinion it's a less flattering method as a result, but great for looser wear-around-the-camp dresses.

1.      Fold you fabric lengthwise.
2.      Divide your Hip measurement by 4 use that for width of rectangles
3.      Cut either 2 large rectangles (leave the fold), OR 4 smaller rectangles (cut on fold)*
4.      Cut 4 gores, the height of your waist to floor (W-F) measurement, and width desired.
5.      Cut 2 rectangular sleeves the width of your arm-2 +1 in.
6.      For long sleeves, make sleeve as long as arm-1 + 1in,  and narrow to wrist + 1in
7.      Cut 2 diamond shaped gussets 2-4in across.
*if you would like a front lacing kirtle, you must cut at lease the front into 2 pieces.

  Measure and draft Method
1.       Patterning the good old fashion way! Instead of draping, take all of your measurement form the first chart and plot them out on graph paper.
      Continue as before. This method is great if you don't have a buddy. If you measure very carefully, you'll get something very close to the form-fitting Kirtle like you would get from draping. I find that this method doesn't always produce the support that I want, and generally has more wrinkles but they still look nice!


  1. Excellent explanation with historic underpinning! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  2. Thank you, this is less steps to completion than in The Medieval Tailor's Assistant. Faster and probably more accurate.

  3. Hallelujah! Thank you so so much! So ive been scowering the internet for this. I love that you took the time to explain how to pattern draft it as well as draping. My problem is that i do not have someone that can help me for draping and it seems like thats the ONLY tutorials out there and i wasnt sure how to do this with pattern drafting instead of draping. Thabk you so much. I was getting so discouraged and frustrated. Ive literally been searching for a whole week.

  4. This looks great! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you so much for this; deeply appreciate your wisdom and time in sharing :)

  6. Thank you. Am starting to make a pattern for a short sleeve cotehardie to wear over a long sleeve kirtle, neither will be tight and a modern bra will be worn. Cotehardie will be laced at the front. As I intend wearing it on a regular basis in daily wear I am not too bothered about strict authenticity and am using a cotton poplin for easy washing and long wearing. Thank you for the article and will be using it to make a more authentic version for SCA wear next year, when money allows. Until then maybe I'll start a "new" fashion instead.

  7. Thanks for explaining different methods and showing period illustrations. With all the options together and explained so simply and clearly, it's so much easier to figure out which route to go! One further suggestion for getting the bra effect when draping: lie down on your back while you tighten the sides at your bra band area. That allows a tighter fit right there and results in more support when you're vertical. (I wish I could credit the source for that idea, but it's been years since I saw it.)