Be a Fashionable 14th century Man!
Buy our full-size paper pattern with complete instructions and historical notes for 14th century men's pourpoint with grand assiette sleeve construction based on extant examples and period illustrations. Suitable for use for civilian wear. Fits chests 34"-54" and waists 28"-50". All Sizes in one envelope. Historical notes and embellishment suggestions included.
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light weight to coat weight wool, medium weight linen or silk
light linen for lining
silk, wool or cotton batting for stuffing
Outer Material: 4 yds 45" or 2½ yds 60" wide
Lining (optional): 4 yds 45” or 2½ yds 60” wide
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Below is an excerpt from the historical notes you will receive as part of this pattern:
Charles de Blois’ Pourpoint -- A Fashionable Garment from the 14th century
In 1341, the last Duke of Brittany died, leaving a half-brother, Jean Comte de Montfort, and a niece, Jeanne de Penthièvre, rival claimants to the Dukedom. These two claimants not only represented rival factions, but rival countries as well, Jean the candidate for the English and Jeanne the French. Brittany is described by some as “France’s Scotland”: “choleric, Celtic, stony, bred to opposition and resistance, and ready to use the English in its struggles against [France] as the Scots used the French in their [struggles against England].” When Edward III of England laid claim to the crown of France in 1337, the rockbound seacoast of Brittany was to play a pivotal role.
Charles de Blois, nephew of Philip VI, was the husband of Jeanne de Penthièvre, the French candidate, and assumed her claim. Extremely pious as a child, Charles wore unwashed , lice-ridden clothing, put pebbles in his shoes, slept on the floor on straw next to his wife’s bed, and wore a coarse horsehair shirt under his armour, the knotted cords of which cut into his flesh. He confessed every night and once walked barefoot in the snow to a Breton shrine, rendering himself unable to walk for weeks afterwards.
Canonized after his death in 1364, Pope Gregory XI later nullified his sainthood on the request of Jean de Montfort, the winner of the struggle, for fear that the Bretons would regard a “saint killer” badly and revolt against their Duke.
So it seems strange that one of the most beautiful textile survivals from the 14th century belonged to this ascetic. And yet the silk damask pourpoint housed in the Musée des tissus et Musée des Arts décoratifs de Lyon in France was preserved as a relic of the nullified Saint Charles de Blois, defender of France. Inventory #030307 in the Musée des tissus was made in France in the 14th century from Iranian or Iraqi weft-patterned lampas silk on a satin ground. It is further adorned with silk and gilt baudruche in the form of lions and eagles in alternating octagons. The museum describes it as “Rare costume civil” -- a rare civilian (i.e. non-military) garment. The museum goes on to describe it as “rembourré de coton sur toute sa surface, il s’agit d’ un vêtement de dessus, d’une ligne très ajustée” -- entirely padded with cotton, it is an over-garment with a very fitted silhouette.
The pourpoint consists of a single shaped front piece curved outward over the chest, nipped in at the waist and narrow in the skirts. The front piece has no waist seam but the back piece is divided at the back waist where it is fit along a curved horizontal seam. The full 23” width of the back skirts is created by piecing the silk at the bottom corners. Additional shaping is provided by two triangular gores inserted into the side seams under the arms. The body of the garment is quilted to its cotton wadding and fine linen lining in horizontal lines at intervals of 1.5”. The bottom 4” of the skirt seams are left open as vents. The front is closed by 34 buttons, the top one and bottom 16 of which are flat (the bottommost two are missing). The rest of the front buttons and the sleeve buttons are round. All are made in the same silk over wooden cores. There are twenty round buttons on each sleeve closing the back seam from wrist to more than six inches above the elbow.
The top of the front and the back hardly provide much coverage for the upper chest being cut away into large armscyes. This grands assiettes design is thought to provide better range of motion to the wearer. The sleeves consist of ten pieces each -- seven in the upper sleeve and three in the lower. However, much of this is the result of piecing for maximum use of the silk fabric. Most of the piecing simply assembles the sleeve shapes of which there are two upper sleeve pieces and four gores and one lower sleeve piece. The upper sleeve without the gores is a simple tube. The four gores, varying in both width and depth, spread the sleeve head until it is almost circular, filling the huge grands assiettes armscye. The great advantage of this construction is that it allows the tailor to fit the garment tightly to the body without putting undue stress on the sleeve seams.
Over the years, many have believed this garment to be an arming coat or jupon. This is a mistake. There is no evidence to support its use with armour. First of all, there are no points for pointing armour to it. Secondly, there is not enough room to wear armour inside it.
Thirdly, there is no abrasive wear that armour would impart to such a garment. Fourth, it is only lightly padded -- only enough to interface the thin silk from which it is made -- so it is clearly not meant to cushion under armour. This pourpoint is made of a thin silk damask with a layer of cotton wadding and fine linen lining. All three layers amount to approximately the thickness of wool flannel. The buttons on the front and sleeves are made over wooden cores. This would cause pain if armour were worn over them. Although those on the skirts are flat, the buttons on the chest are round and would not be comfortable worn under any garment, much less a breastplate. Additionally, the placement of the points inside the skirts indicates that they were intended to hold up hose, not leg harness. This is clearly not an arming doublet.
It is a fashion garment, a pourpoint, a beautiful upper body garment that holds up a man’s hose. Charles de Blois’ pourpoint is a fashionable, upper class version of the garment seen at right in this detail of an executioner from the Emperor Trajan tapestry. Although nearly 100 years later, the function of the pourpoint is clear from this illustration.
It has been argued that globose breastplates *may* not touch the buttons over the breast, and that the faulds attached to such breastplates require flat buttons beneath them. Both of these arguments are true, in and of themselves. As they relate to the Charles de Blois pourpoint, however, they make no difference; if armour were ever worn with this garment, wear marks would be evident. As no wear marks are detectable, the only possible assumption is that armour was not worn around this garment.
Stella Mary Newton in Fashion in the Age of the Black Prince writes:
“In what is in effect a padded doublet, its outer layer of splendid silk patterned with gold, the padding has been so disposed that it enlarges the chest, and, by the closeness of its fit to below the hips, it must have maintained a corset-like grip round the body below the waist. Its sleeves are set onto the body part in the manner known as the grande assiette.”
Mr. Paul Lalonde, on the H-costume list, throws into doubt its padded construction:
“Now, I, like many other 14th century geeks, have memorized the photos, not to say the cut of the thing, but have been unable to adequately explain the way it looks quilted.
“Mystery no more: It's NOT. The puffy, quilted, look is an artefact [sic] of conservation - some kind soul carefully stitched the unlined garment onto another fabric to give it support, causing the horizontal puffing up that makes it look quilted. The elbows look funky for similar reasons, as the arms are filled not with a human-shaped form, but with a pile of stuffing that neatly fills the available space.” (Quoted on Cynthia Virtue’s website, http://www.virtue.to/articles/extant.html)
However, this description is in dispute. Mr. Lalonde did see the pourpoint in person, but it appears that he did not understand what he was seeing. The cotton interfacing in the garment has shifted over time and some stitches were adding during conservation. But in no way does it appear that the garment wasn’t originally quilted. A visitor to Cynthia Virtue’s web page wrote to the Museum and enquired about this; the Museum responded:
"I had confirmation from the person who did the conservation that the pourpoint was originally quilted with cotton. Very cordially, Vincent Cros, Bibliothèque Centre de Documentation, Musée des tissus et Musée des Arts décoratifs de Lyon" (Also from Cynthia Virtue’s website, http://www.virtue.to/articles/extant.html)
Similar garments are shown in contemporary illuminated manuscripts. A gentleman from Roman de Guiron Le Courtois, an illuminated manuscript from the first quarter of the 14th century, is shown at left. He (and his companion, not shown) wears a garment that is so similar to the pourpoint of Charles de Blois that we have to ask ourselves if this were not a widely-worn style. Quilting lines are visible in the illustration -- horizontal on the body and circular around the sleeves. The sleeves appear to be in two pieces, seamed together at the elbow joint where the quilting pattern changes. The sleeves appear to be of grands assiettes design. Buttons close the front of the garment as well as the sleeves from the elbow to wrist. The breast of the garment is full as was the fashion in the mid-14th century. The short skirts are well-fit to the thighs as was typical of fashionable dress of the time.
The pourpoint follows the shape of the well-equipped military man of the time. At right we have reproduced the form of part of a wooden retable of St. George slaying the dragon. He wears a large-sleeved arming coat over his breastplate and arm harness. The arming coat is buttoned on the breast and laced below the waist, creating a figure-hugging shape over the thighs. The upper part of the garment and the sleeves are very large and not fitted to the body at all in order to accommodate the movement of the wearer in his military pursuits.
This martial silhouette was obviously not restricted to arming garments. This shape can be seen in many period illustrations of men not in soldierly garments, many of them men who had nothing to do with martial pursuits. This would be neither the first nor the last time fashion mirrored the clothing of the army. In the frontpiece of Jean de Vaudetar’s 1372 Bible, the patron of the work presents it to his master, the King of France. Painted in the Flemish tradition and as close to realistic as we get in the 14th century, Chamberlain Jean wears clothing in the height of fashion -- a short full-breasted pourpoint fitted tightly over the hips. Although we can see no seams and there appear to be no buttons on the sleeves, an interesting detail is visible at the lower hem of the pourpoint -- a vent is edged with buttons, presumably to button it closed when standing or to allow freedom of movement when kneeling as shown. Also apparent in this painting is a short band collar at the neck, closed with two buttons smaller than those on the rest of the garment.
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This information © 2009 Kass McGann and Reconstructing History
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