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 Léine Page

The word léine roughly translates to "linen garment". A léine was comporable to a dress, robe, or tunic. Despite the name specifically referencing linen, they were made of either linen or wool. They could be long-sleeved, short-sleeved, sleeveless, ankle-length hem, calf-length-hem, worn alone, worn under other garments, worn over other garments, etc. Just as there are a variety of modern clothing styles revolving around basic patterns or silhouettes, the Irish enjoyed having variety within their garment choices.

According to Dunlevy (pg. 17) Léinte (the plural form of léine) were sleeveless ankle-length garments of white, or gel (bright or unbleached) linen that slipped over the head. McClintock (pg 2) described them as "a long smock-like garment" and they were additionally "rather narrow in the skirt and reaching to the ankles." Both authors explicitly note the length applied to men as well as women. They seemed to share a common root with the Roman "tunica" or Greek "chiton", and like these garments could be pinned closed at the shoulders. Sleeved léinte existed as well, and would have fitted cuffs (Dunlevy, pg. 18) or even-width sleeves down to the wrist. Women wearing léinte would commonly wear them to ankle-length. Men would hike their léinte through their belts to their knees or calves (McClintock, pg 3), or the original garment could be designed to be shorter (Dunlevy, pg. 17). I have read mention of Celtic women hiking their léinte up to show off their legs and thus being perceived as wild and naked by outside cultures, although I don't have a specific citation referencing that attitude.

The Irish very much enjoyed wearing flamboyant, highly-decorated clothing. Tapestry-woven patterns and various needlework techniques are mentioned in literature, and decorations from knee to ankle are mentioned. Tablet-woven borders have been found universally throughout Europe (Celtic and non-Celtic cultures) and may be the garment borders pictured in Irish works such as the "Book of Kells".

A sleeveless léine could be designed as a "tube-dress" or "peplos", which was a female-only garment. This was common to almost all European cultures of the time, and the basic differences would be in accessories and needlework. The most authentic style is to wear what is commonly known as the "Huldremose" gown (based on a woman's dress recovered from a dig in the Huldremose region of Scandinavia). This is a very baggy style, but, perfect for all sizes of ladies wanting to stay cool in hot weather. Sew the short edges of a long length of fabric together (90 inches long is usually a good start) with flat-felled seams, to make a cylinder. Determine the top and bottom of the cylinder this forms, and fold down (and out) the top edge until the garment is the correct length to fit your height. Add pins an equal distance apart from the top center where your collar bones would be (to create a pair of closures on the top). This creates an instant garment. The sides/underarms will swag open, providing plenty of cooling ventilation in hot weather. You can wear a sleeved leine underneath, or nothing at all.

PEPLOS MODESTY WARNING: The open underarms often shift and bag enough to bare or at least flash the sides of a woman's breasts (as I discovered my first Pennsic). If you're not comfortable with this style, wear an undergarment or sleeved leine underneath.

While men and women each worn the léine, variations in the accessories helped delineate whether the style was "masculine" or "feminine".


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A peplos gown in simple ASCII art. A long length of fabric is sewn into a cylinder, and then folded over along the top to create a "flap" around the upper part of the garment. Asterisks indicate where the cylinder would be pinned over the shoulders to support the fabric.
    
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The basic form of a léine with sleeves would be two evenly-sized rectangles sewn up each side and along the top with openings left for the neck and sleeves. Then smaller rectangles formed into tubes would be sewn to the side openings to form sleeves. Last, the edges of the open neckline would be folded in and hemmed to create a reinforced opening. This is the simplest way to form the garment, however, some care must be taken to reinforce the armhole seams and make sure the diameter of the sewn sleeves is a comfortable width.
    
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McClintock's sleeveless "smock". Two rectangles sewn up the sides and along the top with openings left for the neck and sleeves. Last, the edges of the open neckline would be folded in and hemmed to create a reinforced opening. In the following image, asterisks (*) indicate where seams would be sewn.
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Alterrnate sleeveless garment closed with pins. Just sew up the sides and pin the shoulders. The shoulders should be fastened closed by folding over from back to front, fitting together, and then pinning. Some people would leave the sides unsewn (besides hemming the raw edges) and simply pin the shoulders and fold the excess front and back around each other and then belt at the waist to cover enough to be considered clothed but have a garment that is open enough to reveal their figure.
      \      /
       \ ** /     <----pin or brooch
      / ---- \
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Folding the corners has been described to me as similar to folding an envelope closed, only with both sides. The best direction to align bar-style pins or fibulae is parallel to the ground. This way, you can hang strings of beads between the pins and distribute the weight evenly. Reproductions of regular fibulae should be lined up according to the way they were designed. Also, make sure the points of safety-pin styles are in (toward face) to avoid catching on an outer garment or someone else's garment if they hug you.

A Few Notes on Color

Linen fabrics are difficult to dye. The plant fibers that make up linen cloth are reasonably resistent to dye stuffs. Irish myths and sagas most often describe heros and nobles as wearing pure white léinte. The plants that can be woven into a linen-like cloth include flax, nettles, and hemp. More information can be found by investigating "bast fibers". Each species of bast plant produces fibers of slightly different colors, and variations in the refining process can cause other color changes. Linens woven in various herringbone and twill patterns in differeing shades of buff and brown can still be found through speciality linen channels, and would be very appropriate for period clothing. While it was difficult to dye linen, it did occur. For those who prefer a little color, "saffron" (light golden-yellow), "madder" (orange-red), or "woad" (indigo blue) were popular color options. Wool, unlike linen, takes dyes well. Additionally, sheep come in a wide variety of natural shades of white, grey, brown, and black. This allows for tremendous variety in the colors that can be combined in clothing.


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Updated: Saturday, June 11, 2005 06:19:36 PM