DIY Cold Weather Medieval Clothing

For those interested in cool to cold weather SCA clothing on the cheap, a good way to get it done is with surplus $7 – $25 wool blankets from the second hand or surplus store.

Step one is draw the pattern. If you double your blanket so the full length is up and down; for the average person it will be wide enough to be perfect for the sleeve length and chest width, you should also have minimal drafting. I measure the cuffs at 6 inches down from the fold for viking, larger for later period. At the shoulder I measure down 12 inches and come in sharply to simulate an armpit gore 3 inches wide.
The Chest measurement again works out for normal sized people when using a surplus blanket. Once you trace out both sleeves you can use your tape to see if the chest is too big or too small. If it is too big you can redraw the sleeves closer to center take off the extra at the cuffs, if it is too small you can expand it outwards and add some scrap to the sleeve cuff to lengthen it after the fact. If you plan ahead you can find center and work out from there just writing measurement numbers on scrap paper then transferring them to fabric. Depends on your skills and style.
The bottom hem is the length of the blanket (knee length on most people, dress length for the very short) plus some flair at the sides. I usually pick a point and come out from the body at 30-45 degrees. Then I use a piece of string on my chalk and protractor myself a curve that bisects the bottom hem and gore line. Once drawn, cut everything out. Remember to draw everything a bit bigger for seam allowance (1/2 to a full inch) and a loose garment is a warm garment.

For extreme historical accuracy you can cut all the pieces out of the blanket and resew them to impress the seam flippers but why? It is to keep you warm… If you want to be warm, listen to Lloyd, if you want a laurel get advice from one.

IMG_5739Step two is to sew your edges. Since you will sew your garment inside out make sure any blanket logos are on the proper side where it will not be seen when you are done. The CN logo is not period so keep it hidden. Sew it on the outside wear it on the inside.


Step three is to draw the neck line. I usually go 6-8 inches wide depending on how snug I want it. If you wear a hood over the garment snow will not go down your neck so if you think wool is itchy, go a bit bigger. I come down an inch at the back of the neck and 3-4 at the front depending on what I am going for. Vikings thought low neck lines on men were effeminate so higher round necks on the early period stuff there boys. At this point you decide if it is a key hole neckline tunic or an open coat. I cut a slit 5-7 inches down for a tunic and all the way for a coat or cotte.


Step four is to line and reinforce the neckline with a softer fabric like a linen or cotton.  In fact is is best to line the whole shirt. This can be a royal pain in the ass and doing it right is a class onto itself. I take a piece of fabric about 6 inches wide and sew it to the outside of the garment and fold it into the inside so the seam is invisible, and then fold it under a few times to make a thick neck protector. Really this protects the tunic or jacket from sweat and grime and is less itchy. I only sew it at the top of the neck line as sewing the bottom is asking for trouble.
The same method is used to reinforce the bottom of your key hole or your buttons and button holes. Use a softer piece of tight weave cotton or linen and sew it to the outside face then flip it in. You can also use one big piece for a keyhole neck line but I just use scraps. If there are no buttons or button holes then it does not need to be several layers thick and one thin layer will do. Doing this part or lining a garment is a small book onto itself so if you get there and need help, let me know or find someone else that is in the know. Basically to line a whole shirt or coat you are creating a second garment from the lining material and sewing both together inside to inside. There are some tricks to it but there you go.


Step five is buttons and button holes if you are making a cotte or jacket. You know what.. my advice is just don’t do it. I hate them and refuse to talk about them. There are plenty of people that will help you with this part if you are doing 14th century but I will not do it unless there is beer or ice cream involved.


The Finished Coat (Cotte) complete with patches on the holes. The sleeve openings are large enough to accommodate under garments and mittens.


Now it must be said, this is the quick and dirty stay warm version. This is not the pattern you want to use to impress your friends at royal court. It is based on some 14th century working class garb, and the viking style variant  shirt I mentioned with the key hole neckline would be a bit different too but less so.

In my experience your regular garb if light weight wool will be good down to temperatures of 10C 50F, and less if you are working. At the point you start to feel uncomfortable you can add on a blanket weight layer in the form of a tunic, cotte or cloak. With this you should be fine to freezing or less, and -10C or 14F if you are working hard. Another layer of blanket weight wool will let you sit comfortably at very low temperatures. A double thick hood will add even more cold protection.
While working at -30C -22F I am quite comfortable with a linen undershirt, a normal weight wool shirt, with a blanket weight tunic and double thick hood. In fact mittens and a hat make it too warm. Were I to be sitting still, the hat and mittens are welcome additions as well as well as a third layer in the form of a heavy weight or double thick wool cloak.

So; good luck and stay warm. The SCA is not just 2 months outside and 10 months of rented halls. With a bit of wool and even mediocre tailor skills, you can extend your outdoor comfort several more months of the year and maybe even look pretty good in the process. Not bad for a $7 surplus blanket.