This simple medieval kirtle is angle length, long sleeved with a fitted bodice. The kirtle was the mainstay of Medieval European fashion, changing very little from at least 1066 to the Renaissance, when it was replaced by the equally ubiquitous chemise. I’m simplifying, of course. I have not made a thorough study of foundation garments of the time period (not to be confused with your granny’s “foundations” – the Merry Widow, corset, or some such), but a general overview will show you that the simple kirtle will pass for several centuries and geographical locations.
An interesting feature about pre-pattern clothing is how individual the clothing must have been, despite the apparent simplicity of an item like the humble kirtle. You can imagine that clothing would have been baggy and ill-fitting for the poor and nicely fitted for the wealthy (which hasn’t really changed). We can’t be certain as there are very few images of common folk. Instructions would have been handed down from mother to daughter, but were more about getting the basic shape right, while making the best use of every scrap of fabric that was available. Think about it; if you spend the time to weave your own fabric or remake from an earlier garment, would you cut it into enough shapes that you essentially waste a third of the fabric?
Take the Moy Gown, one of the few extant garments of its time. This gown made good use of gusseting and insets to ensure a close fit. This is one of several reconstructions of the gown, with detailed information and images showing seaming and research documentation. Here is a more detailed study of the gown, as well as a reconstruction.
The kirtle pictured above was made of a light weight natural linen and is lined with the same linen. No pattern was used, but the method of construction sought to waste as little fabric as possible, by using the selvages and fabric width. A slight curve is cut from the sides and lacing runs from armpit to hip for shaping. This design leaves the sides gaping a little and a silk under dress is worn beneath (which is not bright blue, BTW – that is my dummy’s covering). This feature may or may not have had a Spanish influence and most resembles gowns of Henry I and Henry II’s time (1100-35 and 1154-89, respectively), though in English dress this lacing was more likely to be found on the outer garment. Spiral lacing is used so that the wearer can easily dress herself. The neck line is modest and slit several inches down the front. The sleeve is fairly tight and the selvage edge was used at the cuff to help age the garment a little.
The overdress is a sideless surcoat, also of linen in a slightly blue-green shade. The lines are long, clean and simple, the neck wide and feminine. A low slung belt may be worn over the hips for adornment and to carry a small pouch. No period costume is complete without some form of head covering, in this case a simple veil pinned in place in the hair. Age was added to the entire costume and class lowered by leaving some roughness – the neckline is hand sewn, top stitching is used only where absolutely necessary and some edges are stitched to allow some fraying.
The simple kirtle and surcoat are easy and comfortable to wear.