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 Measurement and Fabric Page

Once you know what style of garb you want to wear (based on social class and gender), you will need to decide what type of fabric to make it from, and how much fabric to purchase.

Fabric Choices

Many fabrics, styles of weaving, and colors were not accessable to the residents of Ireland during the fifth century. Cotton did not appear in Europe until centuries later, complicated brocade weaves and even regular satin weave fabrics were not produced on early looms, and the richly vivid colors modern eyes are used to could not be produced by natural plant-based dyes. However, there was enough creativity amongst the Irish people and their neighbors to overcome these seeming limitations to produce clothing that was more decorative and colorful than the most extravagant modern runway creation.
Linen is a type of fabric, usually formed from spun plant fibers such as flax, nettle, or industrial hemp. It can be a standard weave, or twill (which is a slightly angled design worked into the pattern of the fabric). If you look at a typical pair of twill shorts in your local mall, you'll see a diagonal pattern to the threads. That's one example of what twill looks like. Twill can also be formed of different colors of thread to create a variety of patterns like herringbone or diamonds. A real benefit of natural linen is that it "breathes" wonderfully. In hot weather, a linen léine will keep its wearer cool and comfortable, while those parading by in velvet and wool will be wilting from sweating! Linen does not wick sweat away from the body. I discovered this at my first Pennsic in the 80-90 degree heat. However, it is very cool in a breeze. Suggestions for hot and muggy weather - wear a linen cotton blend, or wear a thin layer of cotton under the linen (slip or undershirt) to soak up any moisture. Otherwise, linen is a wonder fabric. It looks wonderful rumpled (no ironing needed). One side effect of linen being made from plant fibers is that it doesn't take dye well. Look for it in white or a variety of shades of light brown to cream. Colored linen can be found, but, since it was so difficult to dye, historically it is recorded as only being worn in light, natural shades. If you do insist on dyeing it, be sure to find a fabric dye formulated for linen specifically and read a good book on period dyeing to find the range of shades proper to your chosen time.

When purchasing linen for garb, avoid polyester linens (usually seen in public as tablecloth linen)! Not only are they less comfortable and attractive than natural linen, but, if your garment should catch on fire, the cloth will melt and stick to your skin. Natural linen smolders differently, and is less likely to cause more severe burns. Natural linen will cost more, but buying polyester linen is truly a case of "penny wise and pound foolish". Polyester linen looks wrong, feels wrong, and can be a fire hazard. If you can't afford natural linen, there are some cotton weaves that make an inexpensive substitute. Linen blends will also work.

As a side note, industrial hemp (banned in many areas for years now because of its associations with marijuanna, despite the fact that THC levels are too low to get a high from smoking it) is being phased back into agricultural circles in Canada and Great Britain. Industrial hemp weaves into lovely linen fabric, although it can be tremendously expensive to purchase at this time. If you can find some in a weave you like, you might want to consider purchasing it. Signs of hemp production were traced back to the fifth century in the Anglo-Saxon parts of England. Trade with the Anglo-Saxons is an established fact (based on jewelry designs), so, fabric may have been traded as well. You could claim your hemp leine was produced by an Anglo-Saxon neighbor.

While linen is the perfect summer fabric, wool is a gift from the gods when cool breezes take over! Wool is a type of thread or yarn, spun from the fibers of animal hair (usually sheep in America). It can be woven any number of ways, and can be dyed in a wide range of color shades and intensities, traditionally limited only by colors a household could find or trade for.

Again, all the warnings for avoiding polyester fabrics apply. A polyester wool brat is even more dangerous around fire than polyester linen garments; a mantle is usually worn long and sweeping, it can be twirled through open flames quite easily. However, a brat is the sort of garment that you only need to maintain one of, so, you won't need to go through the expense of purchasing yards of wool over and over again. Buy enough for one and then spend the rest of your time adding to it and decorating it. Other garments can be made from a poly-wool blend but be sure to search for the highest wool content you can afford for your mantle.

Silk is fabric spun from the cocoons of any number of types of caterpillars or silk worms, and it originated in Asia. Silk production was strictly monitored and limited until actual worms were stolen and smuggled to Europe. Silk has a spotty record in Irish history. While Rome's empire was in full force, trade routes from the East throughout Europe and Britain were steady and well-supplied. Silk was a highly precious commodity, but, it was available. When the Roman Empire collapsed, trade was disturbed. It wasn't until the Byzantine Empire was flourishing and the Vikings moved into Ireland, that silk was once again imported regularly to be used in a variety of clothing styles and accessories. This leaves fifth century Irish personas without a steady supply of the shiny stuff. Very wealthy Celts could have aquired silk that was handed down, presented as gifts from Christian clergy, captured from the continent, or possibly traded for from the Migration-Age Scandinavians who were settling all through Europe and setting up their own trade routes. In any case, if silk is used for garments, it should only be used for embroidery, or in VERY small scrap-like amounts. Since you'll only be sewing with scraps, it's a perfect fabric to experiment with dying (assuming you've read appropriate period dye resources). Purchase at least a yard if you want to make bias tape style trim, that way you have enough "width" to trim the necks and hems of garments without too many seams visible.

Be educated about "silk noile" - this is the scraps, ends, and tangled waste fibers of silk production combed and spun into thread. Quite literally, it is silk fabric woven from sweepings from the floor! While it can be attractive in its own right, silk noile is not necessarily the bargain most people think it is because of the uneven weave and bumpy texture.

A quick reminder - while silk was scarcer than hen's teeth, there were native sources of gold and silver. Embroidering with fine wire thread or metallic fiber substitutes is a perfectly authentic way of displaying ostentatious wealth that has no need of complicated explanations.

This is horribly out of period for us Early Irish. However, it's a great source of lightweight, non-itchy plaid patterns. I personally would steer away from solid flannels, or the children's patterns. While repetitive duckies might look cute in the store on the bolt, it's just plain STRANGE on the battlefield (or sidelines).

Since this cloth is often designed for conservative sleepwear, you won't find too many unusual colors, which also makes it prime for historical garb. Plus, it's much cheaper in the day-to-day. When I go shopping in NYC's wholesale fabric district, I find linen for $5 yard or less. In my own neighborhood, I can't get it for less than $10 yard, in a fantastic sale. Everyday prices are as high as $15-$20 yard, for a comporable weight and weave as what I find in Manhattan. Cotton flannel is cheap in any major fabric store. Plus, nothing beats cotton (and I do mean NOTHING) for soaking sweat on a hot day. If you want to look "wooly" without the suffering, plaid cotton flannel is the way to go!

Picking Out Fabric

There are some things all (American?) fabric stores have in common. I will try to be as general as possible when walking you through the steps of shopping in a fabric store.

Fabric will either come on a bolt (on a large roll), or, folded into flat squares (like a hankerchief folded several times). These folded lengths usually are the leftovers when a bolt nears the end, and can be any range of sizes. Normally, you will buy the leftover at the size it is marked, while fabric on a bolt can be cut to any length you request. A large store, or, a store devoted to fabric will have "sections" (a cotton print section, a woolen section, a linen section). A craft or other store that only has a few selections of cloth will usually just have a wall of bolts and a table of leftovers. Any craft or fabric store will have one other invaluable resource: the employees. Never hesitate asking a sales clerk for help! They're a better source of information than you can imagine. Need to know if that nubby brown fabric you fell in love with really *is* linen twill or not, and there's no markings on it anywhere? Ask the person armed with the cutting shears. She (or he) will be able to at least make an educated guess.

Reading the Bolt
One end of the bolt of fabric will be labeled with all sorts of information about that particular weave, including two important facts: what kind of fabric it is, and how much it costs per yard. There will often also be manufacturer information and order numbers and the like. The price will usually be a consideration for most people, but, should be easy to decipher. If you need 3 yards, and the price is $3.00 a yard, then, it will cost $9.00 (plus any sales tax) for your yardage. I don't know if there is a standard for fractional yardage (if you want, say, 3 3/16 yards), but, local (New York stores) tend to round up to the nearest quarter yard.

Deciphering type of fabric is a bit more complicated. Words like "Blend" indicate there are two or more fibers being combined. A "Cotton-Poly Blend", for example, is woven from cotton thread and polyester thread. Percentages may or may not be listed on the bolt. "100% silk" is used to refer to *real* silk with no other threads. "100% wool" is used to refer to real sheep's wool. Hair from some other animal would be indicated in the type.

Fabric is measured two ways. One is the width from "selvage" to "selvage". The other is the length of fabric cut off the bolt (or, the length of the folded material when unfolded). The selvage refers to two tightly woven edges along opposite sides of the fabric which are a natural result of the weaving process. The selvages are woven this way to keep the sides of the fabric from stretching or unravelling. The distance from selvage to selvage is known as the "width" of the fabric. There are two standard widths to be found: 45 inches and 60 inches. There may be other widths available, but these are the industry standards.

The "length" refers to the distance between the two cut edges of the fabric. Those out there with even a basic understanding of geometry will realize that a 3 foot length of fabric of 60 inch width is larger in overall area than a 3 foot length of fabric with a 45 inch width. Normally the width direction of the fabric is used to create the width of the garment, and the length direction of the fabric is used to create the length of the garment. Any sizing needed is taken care of by cutting excess material away.

The Rule of Shrinkage

Both linen and wool will shrink when washed in water. They'll both shrink quite a bit. However, you CAN wash them in your washing machine if you choose to. Washing in water will remove sweat and oils from the fabric; dry cleaning only removes surface dirt. To prepare your future garments for machine washing, run a single line of stitches down each of the the cut edges of the fabric (to keep from unravelling). Then, wash each length of fabric separately with enough delicate fabric detergent to clean normally. Dry in the dryer. This is known as "pre-shrinking".

Advice on temperature varies. Some people swear by using hot water and the hottest setting on the dryer for the pre-sewing cleaning. I'm one of those, I automatically wash and dry each length of fabric I purchase in two hot water washes and two high setting dryer cycles. This causes the most shrinkage, but, if a finished garment gets mixed in with a "hot" load, at least I know nothing bad will happen to it. Others suggest hot water, and a low dryer (so as not to shock the fibers any more than necessary). Still others recommend warm water and cool to medium dryer settings. This is an area where you will simply have to experiment on your own. I would suggest warm water and a medium dryer to start. I personally don't see any reason why I should not wash my garb - after all, the Irish washed THEIR clothing! I take pride in making my clothing sturdy enough to be tossed in the washing machine (even my hand-sewn garb). Jeweled or brocaded trim should be added to be discreetly detachable, so that the base garment can be washed, while the trim is set aside.

Remember, if you plan on becoming a regular garb-washer, you have to buy extra yardage to account for the shrinkage. Snip strips off the fabric and measure them carefully. Wash and dry, and then measure again. Test the fabric strength before and after. Do this with each new fabric or blend you use, until you have a better understanding of fibers and how they change in water. Always be prepared to be surprised by how a fabric reacts to this process. Also, always be sure to test a multi-color fabric in cups of different temperatures of water before tossing in a hot wash. There's nothing worse than having enough fabric when pre-shrinking is over, but, discovering your lovely "Black Watch" plaid has become a muddy green and black blur because the dyes ran. Wool will often felt itself when agitated (rubbed together or scrubbed hard) in a washing machine or vigorously hand-washed. This interlocks wool fibers together until it begins to resemble felt used for craft projects. ALWAYS USE THE GENTLE CYCLE when machine washing wool!

Pre-wash trim, embroidery floss, and any other fiber decorations. These will often either shrink as well, or the colors will bleed or run. Separate by color and type. Wash in a mesh lingerie bag at the same temperature you will be washing your garment. You can use a sink for this. If the colors bleed in the pre-wash, do NOT add that trim item to any garment you plan to wash.


Now that you're ready to head out and purchase the best fabric you can afford, how much of it should you buy? Well, the good news is, the fifth century Irish Celts didn't cut fabrics on a curve. All their clothing was made up of rectangles sewn together. This makes for a very convenient system of measuring and patterning. However, it can be "wasteful" in the sense that clothes are baggy rather than snugly fitted. Less sewing scraps but no skintight cat suits! Seams usually account for 1/4 inch on each edge to be sewn when done by machine. Hand sewn seams vary by type and sewing technique. Hems should be 1/2 inch to 1 inch, again, varying be type and sewing technique (rolled, folded, double-folded, etc).

I'll discuss basic measurements to take to make a number of garments and you can figure it out from there:

This one I'm still working on figuring out how much to buy. I would guess anywhere from two to four yards is a good start. While the most extravagant period descriptions declare a mantle is "five-folded" I personally can't imagine wading around an event in that much cloth! My first brat is about 3 yards including fringes. That is not to say that it's not "period" to wear a large swath of fabric - in fact it is - I'm simply personally more comfortable using close to the minimums of fabric rather than maximums. So is my wallet. Your preferences may vary. There is no real difference between 45 inch and 60 inch widths, except 60 inches is bulkier to fold around the body.

Measuring the Neckline
The traditional boat-style neck is made by measuring the head, adding two inches and then dividing that number in half. For example, my head is 28 inches around. I would increase that number to 30, and then cut it in half, for 15. I have to make sure the front and back of the neck of my garment are each 15 inches across. I find the center mark of the garment, and measure 7.5 inches out from each side of the center mark (giving me 15 inches total), and stitch a few "placer" stitches to mark the neckline. Since the front and the back of the neckline are each 15 inches, that makes a total opening of 30 inches (minus any loss through stitching) for me to fit my head through, leaving the garment neckline to show my collar bones. I add the pins after I'm all finished dressing, through the placer stitches. That way I can store my garb without the pins, and still get ready quickly.

The Huldremose/Peplos style

A cylinder of cloth sewn from a length of fabric at least 90 inches long will make a proper period female léine Use 45 inch wide fabric turned sideways so the selveges are on the top and the bottom, to dress a shorter woman, and 60 inch fabric turned sideways to dress a particularly tall woman. Choose a fabric that is wider than the woman's body is tall, and you can make a peplos (fold-over) style. You can even make a fairly short peplos with fabric that is just wide enough for the height of the woman, by making the cylinder very long. The extra fabric will hang down to increase the overall length of the garment. A peplos is formed by folding over the top edge of the garment so it hangs down all around. Even if you turn under all the other edges on your garment, you should fringe the peplos. The deeper (more) the fringe the better, although be sure to leave several inches at the top for securing the neck opening. A peplos of a foot or more is common, depending on the height of the person and the width of the cloth used.

A male léine is made by pulling the extra length up through the belt for a very baggy/blousy effect. If the man does not like this style, shorten (cut) the final length of the garment to hang to just below his knees/at his calves, and have him blouse it from there (or, use a narrower selection of fabric). Pin or sew the neck as described above for the female style. If you cut off the bottom selvege this way, it is a perfect opprotunity to fringe it! You might want to make a few make léinte without placer stitches in the neckline or side stitches from what would be the shoulder to the waist (the top half of the garment). That way, they can double as "proper" kilt-style garments by leaving the top unpinned so it hangs at the (belted) waist like very wide loincloth flaps. There are no historical descriptions of men wearing their léinte with peplos flaps, though, arguably you could add them to male garments for a bit of variety.

The fabric-saving "Cheat" style

For slim people, one length of 45 inch-wide fabric folded double is enough to form the rectangle of a sleeveless léine. If you're adding sleeves, you should be able to use trimmings from one edge to cut into sleeves. One common suggestion I've seen is, instead of sewing the selvage of the cloth as the sides of the garment, to turn the cloth sideways and use the selvages as the top and bottom edges. That means no hemming. But, you have to be the right height for 45 inches (3 feet 9 inches) or 60 inches (5 feet) fabric to cover properly. Measuring myself, I have bust and hip measurements of almost 40 inches. Adding 12 inches both gives a generous amount of "ease" or looseness to the garment, while still accounting for seams. 40 inches plus 12 inches is 52 inches (regrettably, too wide to use 45 inch wide folded). Divide this in half (this is the overall "circumference") of the garment) and you get 26 inches. I need two panels of cloth of at least 26 inch width each. With 45 inch fabric, I can trim off 19 inch edge strips from each panel. I want my sleeves to be about 15 inches in diameter; I can fold each of these strips in half to make a somewhat wider sleeve or cut them to the exact size if I choose. My sleeve length (just for reference) is 18 inches, including seams. The width will often be too tight to allow full extension of the legs for running. Leave one or both sides unsewn from about the knees down. This will restore easy movement, and is another opprotunity to add fringes for style.

Once you have the width of the garment worked out, you can concentrate on the length. My personal rule of thumb is my height from the shoulder area directly above my collar-bone to the ground, plus 12 inches, to be nicely bloused over the belt. At 5 feet 10 inches overall height, I measure 60 inches exactly from shoulder to ground. Adding 12 inches means I need 72 inch long fabric for a léine. This rounds up to about two yards. If I have to, I can use 60 inch width fabric turned sideways, and then I need a "length" based on the overall "width" of my body (as calculated above 52 inches folded in half). If I want to add sleeves to that, I add an additional 28 inches (at 60 inches wide, there's more than enough fabric for two sleeves). This requires 80 inches of fabric, which rounds up to about 2 3/4 yards.

Trius and Inar
The warrior clothing as described on my male clothing page each take a minimal amount of fabric. The trius and inar are each about 2 yards of fabric.

Don't forget to add extra yardage to any of these measurements to account for pre-shrinking fabrics before sewing!

[ Guestbook ] [ Email ] [ Clothing Page ]

Updated: Monday, September 13, 1999 4:12:25 PM