A silk bliaut from a saree

Made in 2015

The bliaut is made from a lovely silk saree that I bought from a friend a couple of years ago. The thin silk probably is similar to the fine silk taffeta called cendal which according to French sources was a popular material for bliauts. Cendal is also found in later sources, including Swedish medieval wills, where it is used for lining.
The borders and woven in pattern are not what would have been seen on silks from the 12th cnetury, but not screamingly modern either. And ther are no Paisley motifs, which origin in the 16th century,

For the neck trim on the bliaut I used other borders from the fabric, forced them to lie around a key hole neckline and then edged them with two rows of fresh water pearls.

Edging trim with fresh water pearls is of course something inspired by the tunicella of the Holy Roman Empire.

The construction of the bliaut

I used the saree in the way it was intended to be worn, with one of the gold borders, the most elaborate one, used as hem. The width of the saree was ca 112 cm, and while I'm not very tall that was 40 centimetres to short to make a gown without a waist seam. Or a seam somewhere at least.
Of course that doesn't necessarily mean that the skirt had to be gathered to the waist seam, but I liked the way it looked on my green bliaut. And I agree with art historian Janet Snyder, who specializes in dress, that some of the French 12th century statues show gowns whose look is most easily achieved with a waist seam. (Koslin, Désirée G. & Snyder, Janet E. (red.), Encountering medieval textiles and dress: objects, texts, images, 1. ed., Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2002)

In fact, any other theory of construction of that specific type of gown, requires a higher grade of stylization and distorition from the artist.
And then there's this:

A French manuscript which cannot be interpreted in any other way than as a gown with a low waist seam and a gathered skirt.

I can, however, not stress enough that this is not the only kind of bliaut, or fitted 12th century gown, or whatever you want to call it, that existed. In fact it was probably mostly limited to parts of France and reserved for the very fashionable. From England, Germany and even my home country Sweden you most commmonly find another kind: tight, but not so finely pleated, and without a waist seam and gathered skirt.

On the other hand, there has been found many fragments of pleated thin wool fabrics from western Sweden and Norway, dating from the 12th century. They have pleats fixed with a running stitch and the longest preserved pieces are about the length of a skirt and finished at both edges.
I will probably have reason to come back to this, since you can see a parallel in art, where pleated gowns are more common in the same areas as when the fabrics have been found, than in art from eastern Sweden. Such as this Madonna from Fjällsjö in Sweden, but made in Norway, who also seem to have pleats at the waist.

But this is not a Swedish gown and it is also not permantly pleated, but more or less the same type as the one from the French manuscript shown above.

Anyway, this is how I cut my bliaut.

The downward curve at the top of the skirt is my way of compensating for the fact that I'm keeping the edge straight at the hem, because of the border
The sleeves are of the type called maunche in heraldry. They're quite common in 12th century art, but you rarely see them made – maybe because they feel less romantic. Or because they have a tendency to hook themselves around knobs on cupboards and drawers ;)

The bliaut i slaces at the sides, which one of the things we are lucky enough to know, thanks to art like this statue from Angers:

The sides are reinforced with a strip of brown silk and the eyelets are made with indigo dyed silk yarn.

The lacing cords are made by finger lucet, from more if the indigo dyed silk yarn and  apurple silk yarn dyed with a weak bath of cochineal.

On trim, construction and belts
Now I am going to go into something that started as rationalizing some of my choices when making this bliaut, but which ended up with a theory on deorations both on bliauts and on other tunics or gowns from the 11th and 12th century.

As said above this bliaut is made from a saree. After making the skirt I was thinking about how to make the bodice and came up with the idea to cut it without a shoulder seam (which is a common way to make things when you don't have any shaping at the shoulders) and with the borders at both edges as decoration at the waist. This may seem like something that I just invented, a fantasy idea, but I already had noticed on several manuscript images that some of the borders at the waists really didn't look that much like belts.
So I started looking for more, and noticed that it was rather common to have exactly the same band of trim at the waist (or just above it) as at the hem or on the sleeve, eitehr at teh cuff or where the sleeve joins the bodice.

So, I started thinking about the origins of the bliaut. Many scholars claim that it was influenced by fashions seen in the Orient during the Crusades. While that isn't proven it is quite clear that the fabrics of the Orient influenced European fashions in the 12th century, but also earlier. The cendal, which the bliauts in the songs of the troubadours, were made of, was made in the orient. Oriental silks often had elaborately decorated edges, which were used as decoration on clothing, and we also know that these were given as gifts to Western kings and princes. The word bliaut is by most considered as coming from a word for a specific farbic of Oriental origin – maybe it was these silks with with borders that gave it its name? We must also remember that while we today use the word bliaut for any tight and laced gown from the 12th century this may not have been the case in the 12th century – period clothing terminology is notoriously tricky.

But not only oriental silks, but also European wool fabrics made on vertical looms, which is what was used in Europe at the time, often started with a tablet woven border.

It is therefore plausible that decoratives edges, both on silks and on wool, were used as decoration in several places on the garment and that the presence of them indicate a seam. Previously we have believed that the trim over the bicep shown in many images of tunics from the 11th and 12th century was there to hide a seam, but maybe it was instead the woven edge of the fabric used to decorate a garment as it was.

This would also account for the weird thigh trim that we see on quite a lot of tunics:

It might be that these gowns were made from very narrow strips of silk. And while we would have cut off the border to not draw attention to the seam, or to avoid making an assymetric garment, that apparently was not an issue for the 12th century women and men who wore these tunics.
My bliaut is mostly symmetrical though, because I am apparently too influenced by modern sensibilities ;) At least for now.

Since the oriental silks and their borders were high fashion it is likely that these borders also were imitated with embroidery.

Another thing that I noticed while going through my collection of 12th century images is that the double belt, which we think of as so typical for the 12th century really isn't that common. You do find It on the Chartres cathedral statues, but even there you don't see it on all women. And in most other period art you don't see the belt, just the fabric bunched over it, like in these.

It may not even be a belt there, just the illustrator trying to show a gown that is laced tight at the sides.

I tried that look too, don't know if I'll go for it ;)

Quite often, like in this illumnation of St. George you also see a broad border, that clearly is not a belt, high in the waist and under that a narrow belt.

So I deciced to forgo the broad double belt for a border above the navel and, possibly, a narrow belt below.

So, in the end, it turns out that there are many commonly held “truths” about 12th century women's (and men's) clothing that are questionable and that there is more variety than you usually see discussed.

1 kommentar:

  1. This indeed is a great post on Silk Sarees. We have our own store OghaIndia which has a great collection of Original Silk sarees