Fitted Cotehardie - Heraldic Jackalopes

The Fitted Cotehardie in Period

Many wiser and more eloquent scholars than I have written about the widespread domination of the gothic fitted dress in western European fashion starting in the 1300s and continuing until the mid 1400s. However, I will add some basic context to this garment, and include more resources for research on the fitted cotehardie/ Gothic fitted dress/kirtle.

Advances in tailoring led to the adoption of inset sleeves and multiple buttons on garments. These changes allowed for much more closely fitted clothing, allowing for greater range of movement. The more immediate application of these developments was in men's clothing; greater range of movement was advantageous for military garments and revealed the wearer's arms and waist. This can be seen in the men's cotehardies and military pourpoints of the time, accentuated later by belts and the long toes of poulaine shoes.

These changes made their way into fashion in general, leading to tighter fitting bodices and sleeves for women's kirtles. Kirtles were typically worn over the base chemise layer, and in this period were closely fitted, sometimes displaying the shoulders and neck. Skirts still maintained volume, using inset gores to add volume in the skirt without bundling at the waist.

Women Encounter Bad Advice and Irrationality: MS G.54, fols. 5v–6r. Germany, ca. 1380

An illuminated example of the fitted cotehardie or Gothic fitted dress. Note the tightly fitted bodice and sleeves with wide skirt.

Initial planning of the project, with exterior and lining cut.

The dress roughly constructed, with basted interior lining and inset gores, laid it flat on the floor for the block printing process.

Planning and Construction

To date this was my most ambitious sewing project, and definitely a learning experience. I took my fitted cotehardie pattern from my teal dress and cut out another set of linen material, this time in bright Atlantia blue. I wanted to celebrate my heraldry being passed and make a heraldic fitted cotehardie/gothic fitted dress to wear for an upcoming event. Adding a new skill to my arsenal, I decided to try my hand at block printing a jackalope pattern onto the dress. To further accentuate the Or antlers of the jackalope, I added a yellow linen hem guard to the dress.

First I cut my pieces out of my material, in this case a medium weight linen. I also cut out my bodice lining, and then lined up the exterior piece and lining and pinned in place. I basted the lining and exterior together, to keep the two pieces together while constructing the dress. I hand finished the bottom hem of the lining with a simple whip stitch. I also cut out all gores for the skirt of the dress, using seven gores in total.

Once all pieces were cut and my lining was basted in place, I turned the garment inside out and carefully folded and pressed the seam for the front two panels of the dress. I used small scissors to snip small triangles out of the interior of the seam between the lining and front panels of the dress; this helps the seam to lie flatter after turning and pressing. I sewed these seams, and then pinned and sewed the two back panels and their lining. Next I hung the dress on a mannequin and pinned my gores into place. Once pinned, I sewed in the gores, but did not sew up the sides; this allowed me to lay out the dress flat, with the entire exterior surface exposed.

Planning a Stamping Pattern

This was my first experience block printing, and Lady Anne D'Evreux was instrumental in helping me plan how to best complete my pattern. I ironed the dress and laid it flat on the floor, using a ruler and sewing chalk to create a regularly spaced grid on the surface of the dress. This grid was spaced roughly every five inches apart vertically, and generally followed the lines of the seams. (A photograph below of the grid helps to illustrate the lay out).

Creating a grid on the dress to plot out rabbit stamps.

Full view of the grid created for block printing. This helped to ensure equal spacing and that the stamps were not broken across seams.

NOTE ABOUT STAMPS: There are multiple options when it comes to block printing stamp materials. Period materials would have been carved of wood, which can still be obtained from merchants or carved yourself. A popular modern method is to use stamp kits to carve a moldable material into a custom design. A new modern solution is to 3D print the design using plastics; for my custom and relatively intricate design, I contracted an Etsy seller to make two custom 3D printed stamps.

Block Printing a Pattern

After creating a grid, I used a regular acrylic white paint and a mini roller to apply a consistent layer of paint to my 3D printed stamp. I used a scrap piece of fabric to practice a few stamps first before applying to my dress. This scrap piece was helpful in determining how much pressure to apply, how to gingerly lift the stamp from the fabric to prevent any splatter and produce a clear print. Because I wanted my rabbit to be white and my antlers to be gold, as they are on my heraldry, I decided to have two separate stamps. I first block printed all of the rabbits at the indices points, beginning on the back panel of the dress at the bottom hem and covering both halves of the dress. I then repeated with the gold antler stamps, a more delicate affair.

Block printing the Or antlers of the jackalopes.

Both sides block printed, with grid still visible.

After completing block printing the entire exterior of the dress, including the sleeves, I had to wait a few days for the paint to dry. I returned to the dress to complete the construction and begin the final touches. First I pinned and sewed up the sides, completing the basic shape of the dress and fully securing the lining to the exterior of the dress. I again put the dress on a mannequin, setting it to the same height as myself to determine the length of the hem. I cut this, and then decided that I wanted more yellow on the dress. I chose to add a yellow hem guard to the dress, approximately eight inches wide. I dropped the height of the mannequin accordingly, cut, and then pinned the hem guard in place. I machine sewed this on, and surged the interior seams of the dress.

I then turned the garment inside out and pinned the sleeves in place. Sleeves are a special vex for me; I struggle with properly insetting them without any pucker. My advice is to make sure that any bunching of material is pushed into the armpit seam of the dress, where it will be much less noticeable while worn.

Adding a hem guard of yellow linen.

All finished, except for sleeves!

The finished product, hanging.

Hand Finished Touches

I will be the first to admit that I rely overwhelmingly on machine sewing for my garb. Time is a limited resource, and for most of my projects machine sewing for the construction of the garment produces strong and reliable seams. However, on this dress I hand sewed the bottom hem of the bodice lining, the hems of the sleeves, and all of the lacing holes for the front of the dress.

Sleeve hems were also done by hand, with a basic whip stitch.

Sleeve hems were also done by hand, with a basic whip stitch.

Lacing holes were done by hand, spaced approximately 0.5 inches apart. I used a sewing awl to separate (not cut!) the linen fibers and then used a buttonhole stitch to elongate and create lacing holes.

  • von Zerclaere, Thomasin. “MS G.54, Fol. 6R Der Wälsche Gast.” The Morgan Library & Museum, October 23, 2021.

  • “Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands.” The Morgan Library & Museum, September 19, 2017.

    • This exhibition explores the evolution of courtly clothing from the "Fashion Revolution" around 1330 to the flowering of the Renaissance in France following the accession of King François I in 1515. During this period, the modern notion of changing fashion was reborn. Because few actual garments from the Middle Ages survive, we use the art of this era — illuminated manuscripts and early printed books — to reveal its evolving styles.

  • Netherton, Robin. “The Gothic Fitted Dress: Frequently Asked Questions.” Gothic Fitted Dress Workshop. Accessed April 21, 2022.