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Sewing a Surcoat


James has been working on a chainmail hauberk for ages (and has ages to go).  This year, as his birthday approached, I asked him if he’d like me to make something to go with it.

Hmm.  Looks like it needs ironing.  Continuing on!

From the Codex Manesse

From the Codex Manesse

Surcoats were common from the 12th to 15th century in Europe.  They started as a way of protecting one’s maile- to keep it from heating up in the sun, and to help protect it from harsh weather (which would lead to rusting, which is OBNOXIOUS to clean off chainmaile.  I speak from experience).  They also were a handy way to display one’s coat of arms.

Praying Crusader, 13th Century

Praying Crusader, 13th Century

This is the first garment I have designed, drafted, sewn and finished all by myself.  It’s not exactly a complex pattern -a rectangle with holes for head and arms, really- but I found ways to make it more difficult.  It’s totally lined, for one.  The bottom half flares out at the sides.  The seams are all finished with bias tape.  And hey, there’s the snake.

The snake was hard.

Knights had Clotheslines, right?

So how did I make this thing?  It begins, as all good garment sewing should, with my trusty measuring tape.  I took the following measurements:

A: Chest at widest point, plus four inches ease.

B: Shoulders to desired bottom hem.

C: Shoulders to top of desired front/back slit.

Then I drafted (well, if you want to call something this simple drafting) a rectangle whose width was A/4, and length was measure B.  I marked C inches down from the top on one side of the rectangle, and on the other side, added a triangle reaching from the same point to the bottom of the rectangle to flare out the sides of the surcoat.  At the bottom, I curved the seam to make it hang neatly.

The neckline and armholes were cut large, to accommodate armor, movement, and movement in armor.  These are fighting clothes, after all.  I’m not sure of the exact measurements, however, because I modified them once James had tried on the proto-surcoat.

I cut the lining first and sewed it together.  When James tried on the lining I decided to cut the arm and neck holes a bit larger, which is why I don’t have the exact measurement for you- I eyeballed it.  The front of the neckline is lower than the back.  I got the lining fitting how I wanted it, then cut out alternating pieces in green and black and sewed them together before basting the outside of the garment to the lining.

Then I bound all the edges in bias tape to make it look neat.  Then I forgot to tear out what basting stitches showed before taking pictures, which does not make it look neat.


And then I made the snake.   Twice. I’m not going to go into detail on that one- all I want to say is that interfacing is your friend.

He makes a rather handsome knight, no?  T-shirt, shorts, sneakers, farmer’s tan and all.  And he’s always happy to defend a damsel in distress (when the damsel grows tired of defending herself against turkeys, of course).

Particularly if said damsel makes him cool stuff.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 07/15/2010 5:47 PM

    LOVE THIS. I don’t really have a more substantial comment than that to make. I just think this is georgeous.

  2. 07/20/2010 12:15 PM

    That is gorgeous!

  3. Jacqueline permalink
    10/09/2011 11:52 AM

    Thank you so much for posting these instructions!

    That’s a good looking costume for your good looking knight.


  1. Nerdiness Olde and New

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