Medieval woolen nursing dress

I made this dress for my theatre group friend. She was nursing her son and wanted something stylish and useful yet simple-looking. Serviceability was more important to her than historical accuracy. I made a woolen cotte using my usual standards: historically-looking on visible places, helping myself with modern sewing techniques on hidden places. Inner seams are machine-made and machine-serged, hems and lacing holes are hand-finished. There’s no lining inside as the cotte is meant to be worn over a linen underdress and a chemise.

My friend is incredibly thin with A-sized bra cups so no complicate fitting was necessary. Front part of the dress consists of four pattern pieces, back part is made of two pieces. The skirt is widened by six gores. I drew the pattern myself directly on the fabric, based on my friend’s measurements. My pattern looks like this (it’s not purely historical but it has the required semi-fitted late 14th century silhouette):

medieval cotte pattern


Nursing openings are hidden in front seams, they’re fastened with two patents each. (There are plackets in appropriate parts on my pattern.) Here’s how it fits together:

medieval cotte pattern

Her chemise has the nursing openings too (unfortunately, no pictures yet). The cotte is put on over one’s head and laced on sides. Dress like this would have been worn by a middle-to-upper class woman.

Breastfeeding Madonna on Barnabas AltarpieceLlanbeblig Hours - Madonna and ChildSt Denis Church - Madonna with Child

(As you can see on pictures of Nursing Madonna, historically accurate fastenings would be buttons or lacing.)

5.5 m length of 1.5 m wide pure wool fabric in blue-grey colour – 1925 CZK
four black metal patents – 15 CZK
linen thread, poly embroidery yarn – found at home
machine sewing – three afternoons, approx. 9 hours in total
hand sewing – done continuously on one-week-lasting camping event, approx. 15 hours in total

(That’s where the female multitasking myth came from – I’m able to sew a historical costume, discuss a book I’ve read recently, watch my friends’ children playing near our tents and listen if a tourists’ group is coming, all at the same time. It’s not multitasking, guys. Women seem to have a special talent to automate many routine things they have or want to do. And they have hearing of a whole colony of bats.)