Tips, Technique and Tools

Alter Years Pattern Multiple sizes Sm - XXlg

Alter Years Pattern
Multiple sizes Sm – XXlg


This summer, our guild recruited two fine young men to join us in our Renaissance Shenanigans.  As a result they both need a full costume. These costumes will consist of a shirt, jerkin, and trousers.

For the Jerkin I have a copy of the “Easy Peasants / Servants Jerkin”, by Alter Years Patterns. This is a basic pattern, and as the title implies, it is easy.

The pieces fit together well. There is no need to trim edges off, because the seam edges were off, or any other funny business. I find these flaws in many more commercial patterns. Once the pieces are all cut out and sewn together, it looks beautifully tailored and finished. P1020325

There is one thing to keep in mind. Make a mock up. For the two that I have recently finished, I skipped this step. As a result, they do not close all the way in the front. If I had taken the time to make a mock up, for the Medium size, I would have know that the front needed to be adjusted.


As you can see to the right the jerkin looks very nice, but it does not close in the front. I am debating on whether to make eyelets down the front. I still may, if I have the time before our next faire in July. (more…)


Medieval Thimble (or Thymel) on Fettered Cock Pewters

This interesting little number is a Medieval Tailor’s Thimble. It’s a ring-type, meant for sewing heavier materials. I put mine on my index finger and it stops on the second joint. The location and depth of the little indentations makes it perfect, and in my opinion, better than its modern counterparts. The modern ones tend to have shallower indentations that let the needle slip out to jab you with its still sharp butt end. It is a reproduction, but my only complaint is that the bottom flange that sticks up from the surface makes the thimble a little annoying to wear as a ring, which is a great place to put it so you don’t misplace it. It’s also a tad tight for my pinkie finger as a ring.

The thimble can be purchased at Westair Museum Reproductions (I believe it was originally made for them), Fettered Cock Pewters, on eBay and at several other sites for about $8 USD. Other sites, including Etsy, have similar thimbles for sale at different price points.

P1010891I first learned to sew about 18 years ago. The Peasant Guild had up to then only done Renaissance Faires, and we were branching out into the Golden Age of Piracy. I needed a new costume. This then led into my love affair with fabric and thread, needles and trim.

It was my mother-in-law who first taught me to sew with a sewing machine. My high school did not have a Home Ec. class, and I never learned from my mother, though she did make costumes and clothing for my sister and I as children.

My first foray into sewing with a machine taught me to put the foot down, or the fabric won’t go .

My with my current peasant costume, made seven or eight years ago, I found that the serger is a beautiful tool that makes my cuts look straight , and the edges don’t fray.

On my first co-operative project, the costumes for Our Captain and First Mate  that A. and I made several years ago; I learned  patience and how to walk away before I lit something on fire. (Those Pirate pants were very frustrating.)

 This brings me to one of my current projects, a Spanish Surcoat and Kirtle  for the mistress of our Blue Boar Inn. I will post about it in the near future.  I have learned some tips that are new to me. That I have tried today.

The first photograph to the is the cover of the surcoat pattern I will be using. The designer, Margo Anderson, is an expert  in reconstructing historical patterns of the Renaissance Period. This pattern includes a manual, which at first horrified me. I don’t want to read that much to make a costume. However, I have found some very interesting information from its pages.

Most of us know that once you have purchased fabric for a project, it must be washed in hot water prior to cutting. There are a number of reasons for this. It removes the sizing which gives the fabrics that nice crisp finish. It also  pre-shrinks the fabric to minimize the shrinking of the finished product.

P1010884I usually surge or use a zig-zag stitch on both of  the ends. I do not like loosing any more fabric then absolutely necessary, nor do I like having to trim off the frayed edges. I then wash the fabric. Once the fabric was clean, the battle would begin. First I would have to search for one of the ends. Once an end was found I would have to systematically pull out some of the fabric and untwist, then  pull more fabric and untwist some more, until all of it could be placed into the drier. This is a lot of work. Although I could use more exercise, this is not how I want to go about it.

What Margo recommends is to surge or zig-zag the two edges together. This minimizes the amount of twisting that goes on in the washer and dryer.

I have tried this twice today. The first was a 2 yard piece of brown linen, That I will be making into a Peasants Jerkin or vest for our Assistant Guild Master, D. When it came out to the wash it was not twisted at all. I then put it in the drier. Once again there was no twisting. Then again it was only 2 yards.

P1010894The second trial was a 90 inch wide cream-colored  linen cut of 15 yards long. This will become one or two table cloths for our Lord Mayor’s Pavilion. This piece was folded length-wise, twice and left on a bolt. One edge was not an even cut, so I zig-zagged that edge once, and again with the two edges together.

I washed the fabric. Once it was done I found that, although it had twisted, it was not nearly as bad as usual. It was much easier to pull out with minimum effort needed to untwist and stack to go into the drier. It took me about fifteen minutes. Previous efforts could last half an hour with only ten yards.

I haven’t done a post on tools in quite a while.

I’ve just discovered a new one that is in a similar vein to one of my favorites (temporary spray adhesive) – Liquid Stitch. It’s not for everyone, of course, but is another tool to add to your bag of tricks, particularly for those who hate, but need to, pin and need more control than temporary spray adhesive allows. Be sure to test on your fabric in a hidden place or on a scrap as the product may seep through and/or leave marks. As I said – it’s not for everyone.

It has occurred to me that I never explained the name of the blog – By the Bodkin.

The most obvious reference, that many sewers will know, is that little tool that allows you to grab something like elastic and feed it through a casing. It makes such a task much easier than using a safety pin. I have one that is about 3″ long that resembles a tiny clamp. You put the elastic in the little jaws and slide the ring down toward the gripping end which clamps that end tight. It is also useful for turning slender tubes of fabric right side out or anything which sews to a point and also requires turning.

Most sewers through history would have known a bodkin as a sort of large needle with a big eye (or two) and a blunt tip. The use would have been the same, though of course most of them would have been pulling ribbon or twine, not elastic. If you google “sewing bodkin(more…)

There are a million sewing machines out there, each more complex looking than the last. It’s not very often that someone comes up with a sleek new design that actually changes the way the sewing machine functions at its most basic level. This one is intended for the beginner and is completely uncomplicated with fewer parts (no separate foot) and obvious, simple, threading. It also uses a flexible drive shaft that allows there to be much more room on the right side of the sewing area in a gentle curve, which most sewers will appreciate. The speed of the machine is controlled by a touch sensitive sensor on the bottom left of the machine. Press down gently and you are sewing slowly, press harder and you’re flying along. I think for an experienced seamstress it might take some getting used to, but considering that you shouldn’t really be pulling your fabric through the machine, merely guiding it between the feed dogs, this pressure sensitive approach might work well.

Alto is currently in prototype from Sarah Dickins, a designer from Loughborough University.

At some point I managed to damage the heel on one of my Victorian boots. Cracked the front section of the heel clean off!

Now I’m sure I could take my boots to the local shoe repair man and have them fixed up in a jiffy, but why let someone else do something when I can try to fix it myself? (Please note, there is some sarcasm pointed at myself here – there is nothing wrong with paying the professionals to do what they do and if I wore these boots every day, I would. This is a temporary fix that I acknowledge may not even last an evening.).

This is where poly-clay comes in. Work it into shape, bake it in your oven and, in this case, apply the piece with sturdy glue.


After baking the piece (10 minutes for each 1/4″ of clay at 275 degrees – don’t over bake!) it’s is ready to be applied. I’m going to attach it with Gorilla Glue, which has epoxy-like qualities. Considering the boot material I *should* be able to pry it off without absolutely destroying the heel when it’s time to take it to a real cobbler.

I’ll let you know how this works out for me.

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