This site is an online reference for re-creational medievalism, which involves making a sincere effort to reproduce the lifestyle of a race or region of the distant past. I am interested in researching and re-enacting life as a member of the Fifth Century (AD/CE) Irish Celtic nobility. If you found this page without checking my index page first, you will find more information there. Individual sections of this site may be linked to or reproduced for non-commercial purposes (including SCA events and publications), as long as proper attribution is included.

Works cited included in the clothing bibliography.


Echna's Celtic Garb Cloak Page

Mantles and cloaks of all sorts were constructed from wool. Certainly, they would be wool in any season except high summer (considering Ireland has a damp and cool temperate climate). There could have possibly been some sort of linen dust-cloak, but with such a damp climate I don't believe road dust was a significant problem.

Brat

"The brat was the most colorful, versatile, and warmest garment in the early Irish wardrobe" (Dunlevy, pg. 18). As Ms. Dunlevy further discusses, the basic form was that of a long rectangle of wool without hood or sleeves, and highly ornamented with fringes and decorative borders of varying sorts (embroidery, applique, tablet-weaving). They were woven in colorful patterns (either variegated with stripes or plaid patterns, or solid colors edged with other bright colors). Purple, crimson, and green were the most popular solid colors (as collected from myths and stories), but, blue, black, yellow, speckled, striped, and plaid patterns were also mentioned.

According to McClintock (pgs 12-15), the brat was pinned on at the breast. It was long and wide enough to double as a blanket when sleeping outdoors. The four corners of the brat may have been decorated with functional loops to fit the pins through (presumably to avoid separating the wool fibers of the mantle). It could be draped and folded a number of ways depending on what the wearer was going to be occupied with - worn long and sweeping during casual times, or draped and folded when freedom of movement was required. Fringes of gold or silver metallic threads could be added after the fact, as could fringes of contrasting colors of wool.

At least two edges of the brat would have been fringed as a natural result of the weaving process (representing the shorter width edges of a modern length of fabric) when it was cut off the loom. This could be simulated modernly by picking threads out by hand until an even fringe is created. All that would be required to prevent unravelling would be knotting clumps of threads or running a line of stitching along each edge. In order to fringe the longer "selvege" edges, it could have been cut and pulled (which is a questionable practice - why would a weaver remove woven work *and* weaken the garment?), it could have been sewn on after the fact connected to a border of some sort, or, it could have been added as part of the weaving process with loops threaded through the edges after each weaving pass, leaving a fringe when the cloth was finished. Various band techniques (tablet or inkle weaving), or needle techniques such as naalbinding, all allow a garment-maker to add fringes after the fact.

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When looking to make a brat, purchase wool or wool-blends that are as close to pure wool as you can afford. If you know someone who tablet weaves, or, are a tablet-weaver yourself, you can get bands to add to the long edges of the cloak. In this case, use a single bright shade of wool - the 'color' in your brat should come from the bands. If tablet weaving is not an option, then, choose a gaudy plaid. A brat was more than a source of warmth to a Celt - it was a showpiece to display their wealth and the sewing skills of their household women.

Folding a Brat

Because the Scottish Great Kilt is pleated and belted in an elaborate manner, most people assume there is a complicated method behind folding a brat. I have not found any evidence that there was a complex system at all -- the most detail given about how a brat-style mantle was worn (through literary legends), was that it was "five-folded". No one knows what that means. I would guess it was some sort of accordian-type fold to keep a LONG length of wool close to the body. While romantic stories describe mantles trailing to the ground behind people driving chariots...I think that's a bit of creative hyperbole. No one wants to walk/drive around with twigs and leaves collecting in the fringes of their garments. So, there must have been a way for them to gather the long lengths close to their body.

I wear a cloak that's three yards long. My personal 'style of choice' is to fold it several times, until it's about a foot wide...then toss it over one shoulder, so the fringes hang even front to back. This is the way I wear it when I think there's a chance of inclement weather, or, I'm warm now (afternoon) but will be cold later (night). I think people of either sex could do this. It's really the SIMPLEST way to wear a cloak.
Alternately, I drape it over one shoulder, belt it around the waist, and spread it out till it hangs as a sort of overdress on me. The bit over my shoulder needs a large cloak-pin gathering it up, to keep it from sliding all over. In the picture I provide, the pin is not really large enough -- it must be large enough to fit around the entire gathered mass of cloth. I tend to wear this when the weather is moderate and I only need a little warmth - and there's no chance of rain. I tend to think of this style as purely 'feminine'. Your perceptions may vary.
When it's raining, or gosh-darned cold out, I wear it tossed over my head and draped around my body. Think the "old granny" look :). In that case, it's my goal to cover as much skin as possible, excepting my face. If it's so cold I need my face covered, I'm not usually outside anyway (as breathing through wool tends to get it moist and therefore somewhat clammy feeling).

The last wrapping style for the brat I know of is based in Germanic and British Celtic sources(I don't know if the Irish practiced it or not). That would be to flip the cloak around the shoulders, and pin it so that the 'open' side is over the dominant (or sword) arm. For a long cloak, I would suggest folding it at least in half before doing it. I tend to think of this as a 'masculine' style. The men in the clann wear their brats this way, and don't seem to get too cold or have trouble using their covered arms.


Cocul and Cochlin

For folks looking for a warm garment that is more tailored than a large blanket, I stumbled across a useful discussion of jacket-like capes (O'Curry, pgs. cccxc-cccxii).
The Cocul was a short hooded cloak or cape, with or without a second skirted cape over the first, and having arm holes, or sleeves, sometimes reaching only to the elbow, and at others covering the whole arm....Belonging to but not always attached to the Cocul, was a Cenuid or conical hood, sometimes of the same color as the cape, and sometimes a different one, and having a tassel at its apex.
He also includes the tidbit that the Cocul was the Gallo-Roman Cucullus. The Cucullus was actually a cowl or hood, which leads me to assume that he meant that the shape of the Cocul hood was shaped like the Cucullus. Black and crimson were mentioned as two specific colors of Cocul described in literature. Like the inar and trius, the Cocul was worn by common soldiers (charioteers are cited as a specific example).
The Irish Cochlin or small hooded capes appear to represent the Roman or Gallo-Roman Cucullio. The latter, like the fuller mantle, was much used at night and in travelling, especially in rainy weather. The Cucullus seems to have been adopted at a very early periord by the clergy....In the eighth century its use was practically confined by synodal decree to monks bound to it by a vow, and occasionally to priests in very cold weather. In the eighth century the Cocul was considered in Wales and neighboring countries as characteristic Irish dress, and the coarse, long-napped woollen cloth of which it was made continued to be an important export of Ireland up to at least the middle of the fourteenth century.
From this I interpret there was a small hooded cape that originally was popular with soldiers, but, evolved to the point that it became recognized as "Irish" clothing by neighboring cultures. It was the same basic garment as one that was associated with monks throughout the geographical regions closer to Rome.
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Updated: Thursday, June 9th, 2005 8:31:10 PM