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Lining a Kirtle the Easy Way
by K. Nye (writing as Edward Newman)   The Figures
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Original Article

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Lining a garment has several advantages. Often, the draping qualities of a fabric can be greatly improved by selecting the correct weight and texture of lining. Garments with neatly finished and enclosed seam allowances wear much longer. If you have a really spectacular fabric that is "forever", the lining can take a good deal of wear and dirt, and then be replaced. If your wonderful fabric is reversible, the back side has been protected and the whole garment can be "turned"; that is: reassembled with the other side out. If you've spun every inch of the thread and woven the cloth yourself, it will seem like hardly any work at all! On the down side, a lining can make anything that is meant to be washed more difficult to press. Most of my lined garments are non-washable fabrics so this does not concern me unduly.

There are two ways of backing your outer fabric. The first and simplest is to underline (see figure 1). The two layers of fabric are basted together in a process called flat-mounting and then worked as if they were one. This will leave the raw seam allowances inside the garment and they must then be finished in some manner. This method is mostly used to improve the weight or texture of the outer fabric. Edges will require hems or facings to cover the seam allowances etc.

The other way is to install the lining so that its seam allowances face those of the garment and all the raw edges are concealed between the layers. The best way to accomplish this is to hand baste, then slipstitch each piece of the lining into place. Beautiful but time consuming. The worst is to assemble the complete lining, stitch the whole works in around the edge, right sides together leaving a small gap, and turn the thing through. This never looks better than home-made, and that's if you're lucky. Fortunately, there are compromise techniques that might not be quite as elegant as the first method but are head and shoulders above the second.

A good lining must move as one with the fabric of the outer garment. If you ever get a chance to look into the construction of haute couture dresses or really high class hand tailoring you will find a huge amount of hand stitching to insure just that. One very important step is to anchor the seams of the lining to the seam allowances of the garment where ever they coincide. The more points of attachment you have, the less likely the lining is to bag and twist.

On one of my "garb in a weekend" binges I managed to put together a thirteenth century gown with dozens of hand worked eyelets on the side seams, long pendant sleeves lined with silk, and yards of brocaded banding around the edges and still had time to make a barbette and hem the wimple and veil by hand. I saved hours by applying a lining technique that I learned from studying Victorian corsets. As it turned out, the method is superbly applicable to the kirtles of the fourteenth century, those beautifully shaped garments made of many narrow gores and inset godets which can be hell to get a lining to fit into neatly and accurately.

I am assuming that you have already fitted the pattern to perfection and are ready to make up the finished garment without adjustments. I put you on your honour to pin carefully and hand baste if your fabric or trimmings require it. As always, washable fabrics should be thoroughly laundered and pressed before cutting to avoid different rates of shrinkage between layers.

The basis of the technique is to pile up the layers of the two pieces to be joined in the following order: right side lining, wrong side lining, right side cloth, wrong side cloth. Stitch through all four thicknesses in one seam. Then turn the bottom lining and top cloth away from the middle layers and press (see figure 2). Viola! All of the raw edges are enclosed and the lining is in perfect harmony with the outer cloth. Add the next sections in the same way and just keep going.

Inserted gores (godets), shoulder seams, sleeves and the last seam in the garment are just variations on the theme. Insert godets set into slashes first. I usually cut the top point square and about one half inch wide just to make them easier to work with. Cut your slash almost to the top and clip diagonally each way to the corners of your stitching line. Assemble the layers as above treating each edge of the gore as a separate seam. I usually do the top first and then go down each side (see figure 3). This is very strong and resistant to raveling but if you wish to bring the top of your slash to a point just be sure you are catching all four layers of fabric as you stitch, and clip to the last stitch very carefully. Plan your sequence of assembly so that one of the sections to be joined in the last seam is the widest in the garment. Match up three of the layers as usual and then pull the fourth into place enclosing the rest of the garment in a sort of tube. Stitch the seam and pull the garment through, turning the area you just stitched right side out (see figure 4). Shoulders are done the same way, turning through at the neckline. A one-piece sleeve and its lining are each folded right sides together then matched and stitched. Reach up through the outside fabric layers, grab the other end and turn through. Two piece sleeves can be piled up and both seams sewn before turning. Edges can be finished with hems, facings, trim bands or bindings (see figure 5). Sleeves are installed in the usual way. Overcast or bind the seam allowance.

With a bit of thought this method can be applied to quite a variety of garb. I don't pretend that it can be documented to any earlier than the nineteenth century and it is, after all, a machine sewing technique. That said, a Gold Key trunk stocked with sturdy, attractive garments makes for a happy Chatelaine and helps to insure that newcomers can blend in and have a good time without being self conscious about wearing something really weird or tacky.

For my personal wardrobe I aspire to sew only by hand with two-ply flax thread and silk twist, but I have been known to condescend to the use of a sewing machine (treadle, naturally) when pushed for time. (I am, unfortunately, often pushed for time.) Even if you would never dream of wearing a (gasp!) machine sewn gown, try making a kirtle or cotehardie out of some old curtains from a thrift ship (or something better, if you're feeling generous) and make a newbie happy. Then show them how to make their own.

The Figures   (Click images for largger view)

Figure 1. Flat-mounting. Two or more layers of fabric are basted together along the stitching lines with a single thread. This holds the layers together while the garment is assembled and marks the exact stitching lines on both sides of the fabric. Each edge is marked with a separate thread and the ends of the threads are left unknotted at the beginning and end of each line. Remove the threads when the garment is complete. (back)

Figure 2. To enclose the seam allowances between layers of fabric and lining arrange the layers as thus: lining right side up, lining right side down, fabric right side up, fabric right side down. Match the cut edges and stitch the seam through all four layers. Turn the bottom lining and the top fabric away from the middle layers and press. (back)

Figure 3. Insert gores by cutting a slash in both fabric and lining. Clip diagonally at the top (A). Baste or pin the gore and its lining firmly together around the edges. Fold both the fabric and lining, right sides together, at the level of the top of the slash, leaving the triangle you clipped sticking up. Center these triangles at the top of the gores, fabric to fabric and lining to lining. Stitch this short seam, backstitching or tying off the threads at each end (B). Refold the fabric and lining, this time matching the long sides of the slash and gore, first one side, then the other (C). (back)

Figure 4a. By planning the order of your long seams so that the last one sewn includes the widest piece in the garment you can put together three of the layers in the usual order, then pull the fourth into place enclosing the rest of the garment in a sort of a tube. (back)

Figure 4b. When the seam is stitched, reach up through the tube and pull the rest of the garment through. (back)

Figure 5. Edges can be finished with hems (A), facings (B), trim bands (C) or bindings (D) (back)

This article is copyright 1998 by Ken Nye, writing as Edward Newman.

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2005 January 28