Patterning the Garments

How to draft a Cotte- Draping method

By Isabelle Montfort de Bretange

Recommended tools for creating a draped Cotte Pattern

  • 1 ½- 2 yards (or half a twin sheet) of natural fabric- cotton or linen
  • Sewing supplies
    • Scissors, tape measure, thread, seam ripper, pins (longer is better), larger blunt needles
    • Embroidery floss for basting or temporary lacing
    • Twill Eyelet tape- about 1yrd total (can be reused many times)
    • Optional- wrist pin cushion
    • Optional- seam allowance tool
  • Markers! At least 3 colors, Something dark and washable is preferred
  • Masking tape- for adding fabric to places if needed!
  • Paper (butcher/newsprint rolls) or Fabric (preferable for durability) to transfer final pattern onto. The mock up will become heavily marked up and will be confusing weeks or months later when you need it again.
  • Sewing machine extremely helpful!
  • Plan on at least 2 hours for a fitting or more if you are new to fitting!

What to wear to a Fitting

  • A tank top or sports bra is fine- the garment is supposed to do the support! No structured or wired bras.
  • Leggings or Pajama pants- you don’t want to wear structured pants (NO Jeans!) that shift your body around. This could affect where gore placement would be.

My Method for Drafting a Basic Fitted Gown

I follow the basic draping methods laid out by Tahsa Kelly in her website The Cotte Simple, with a few of my own personal tweaks.

The first step is to plan on what type of silhouette is suitable,  either for your body shape, and/or the time period you are looking to portray. And follow the method outlined in the link.

Straight Front Seam- This type of fit flattens the chest and pushes it up at the same time. It is a style more commonly seen in the art works dating from about 1350 thru the 1380’s.

Women who are more toned, have a small bust, or are very boxy, are the most likely to be most flattered by a straight front seam. It can create a tremendous amount to cleavage with a small bust! The straight front makes it easy to place buttons or eyelets for lacing, and the amount of support around the rib cage makes it easier to create a boat neck without the gown slipping. However this style can be a bit more constrictive for movement, It fits more like a corset. If the support at the bust isn’t tight enough, the bust slips down, which can be uncomfortable, and/or create a quardo boob effect.

Straight seam fitting-

Curved Front Seam- This type of fit creates a high, but natural shaped bust. You start to see this silhouette in the 1380’s and it continues for much of the 15th century.

Most women are flattered easily by this style, but especially those who are full figured or busty. The most of support of this gown is done by the shoulder seams and a tightly fitted band for a couple inches below the bust. This creates a pocket for the bust to be supported in, lessening the likelihood of the bust slipping below the support. Frankly this is the style that allows the most comfortable range of movement, and is My preferred draping style for most women.

Curved seam fitting-

Comparison of Straight vs Curved  Front Seam-

Draping a fitted gown video-

My Personal Tweaks-

I like to start with a four panel drape- it makes things much easier when you have the front and back seams as a guide. Otherwise you can just mark it instead! Marking the fold at the shoulder is also helpful!

I make sure that my drape is a fabric that breathes and stretches a bit (linen or cotton generally). Muslin is perfect because of the stretch, and the ability to see markings through it. This will make sure that the draping takes into account that natural fabrics stretch when warmed by the body.

Some observations-

  • If the breasts of the model tend to gravitate into the armpit while laying down in the fitting, make sure the under bust is tightly fitted, and have the model stand back up, lean forward and scoop breast tissue forward. Then loosen the front seam and pin the side seams tighter.
  • If you have gaping at the front of the armpit- pull up the shoulder seams

Patterning a fitted garment around the arms.

So there are two main schools of thought when it comes to patterning the arm area of a fitted cotte. To start with, in either method you need to know where the high point of the shoulder bone is, and the low point, where the muscles of the shoulder meet the torso.

The image left gives a bit of an idea where these two points are located.

Fitting type A- this is fit by having the seam of the kirtle/cotte pass over the high point of the shoulder. The body of the kirtle is high and cut close to the armpit.

Fitting type B- This is fit by having the seam pass over the low point where the muscles of the arm meet the body. the body of the kirtle is cut with a larger opening, a couple inches below the armpit, and a bigger portion of the shoulder blade. This often results in a much bigger sleeve head that requires a gore.

Both types of fittings have their pros and cons.

Type A pros-

  • Good for most mid 14th century looks- allows you to achieve the boat like and off the shoulder neck lines.
  • Nice smooth fit in the sleeve
  • Gives a bit more fabric on the side of the body for bust shaping and support

Type A cons-

  • The shoulder of the gown can often slip down the shoulder
  • Some women find that the tight seam around the armpit to rub and pinch.
  • There is little bias stretch in the sleeve so some fabrics feel more restrictive

Type B pros

  • Good for late 14th and 15th century styles with a round or squared neckline
  • Extra supportive of the bust
  • It wont slip around
  • No pinching or rubbing of the armpit
  • Bias cut of the sleeves and body provides a lot of movement

Type B cons-

  • Less fabric below the armpit for bust shaping and support
  • Small wrinkling of the sleeves in the armpit in front when arms are down

Given My experience, Type A works great on women who have toned upper bodies, smaller busts, slim shoulders, or have a boxy upper body. However most average women find that it rubs and pinches, and doesn’t allow full movement. This type of fit is better with straight seam front, due to the shaping on the side, making bias seam under the armpit. Otherwise a bias cut gusset can be added to the underarm to prevent this- but this may affect support.

Most of the time, Type B is more suitable for the that women I have fit. Because of less fabric on the side seams to shape the bust, this fitting works better with a curved front seam gown.

See also the Tutorials above about fitting a Straight or Curved front, and the comparison article.

Drafting a grande assiette sleeve-

Creating a sleeve pattern-

Determining where to place your gores!

So you have the bust all fitted! Great! But how do you determine where to insert the gores? I get asked this all the time!

This can be determine one of two ways-

(1) Your Body Shape

(2) Historical accuracy for the decade/country you want to portray

This section will be focusing on the body shape, and Historical Accuracy will follow.

Simply put, the gores go where your body starts to flare out and just skim your body below instead of shaping it. That’s really all it is.

One way to accurately tell where your body starts to flare is to avoid wearing clothing that pinches you in creating a “muffin top” during the fitting.

So if you are full figured with an Apple Shape- your gores would start 2-3 inches below the tight point of the bust.

If you have a slim rectangular figure your gores can start low on your hips.

If you are pear shaped or hourglass, then start the gores at your natural waist.

Remember that gores often do not have to be insert at the same height all around the body. If you have bit of a belly, but otherwise a defined waist- put the center front gore higher. This works great for achieving the highly fashionable rounded belly look also! If you have more of a backside, then place the back gore higher.

Me personally, I have hips and a backside, but a mostly flat belly. So I put my back and side gores at my natural waist, and my front gore a couple inches lower because otherwise it pleats strangely over the front of my hips if the gore gets too wide quickly.

Tip- if you are planning on having lacing or buttons go lower than your front gore- make sure that gore is a split gore with the straight grain in the middle!

Trueing up seams

When you take the pattern off the body, the seams will be wiggly and not the same for both panels. Don’t cut it out close to the edge at this point.

The best method to even out the seams for me is to take one front panel, place it upside down, and place the other front panel on top, lining up at the center top of bust. If you used a dark enough marker and lightweight muslin you should be able to see the lines on both panels.

<~~~ (dashed blue line represents seams of panel underneath, heavy purple the top panel seams)

You will want to use a different colored marker to draw a new smooth pattern line halfway between any lines that do not match up. Flip pieces over and mark the new pattern line on the other pattern piece. (Shown in thin green marker)

If the halfway point is off of your panel piece use masking tape to tape scrap fabric to extend the pattern piece. (or sew on a scrap if it is a critical support area, but this usually happens at neck/arms or shoulders)

At the sides and front center of a curved seam pattern, there will be a place under the bust line that will have a sharp angle or nip as I call it. DO NOT SMOOTH THIS OUT! This nip is what keeps the bust from slipping down!

Repeat this for the back panels, keeping the bottom of the armscye and nip aligned with the front sides. Don’t forget to mark your gore insets! And cut excess making sure to leave a generous seam allowance.

Instead of taking this pattern directly and to transferring onto a mock up- I will actually sew the seams of this pattern with a basting stitch. Sew shoulders, then back and sides from gore insertion points to neck/armscye. For the front sew on twill eyelet tape. The outside edge of the eyelet tape should align with the edge of the panel seam, and sewn down the side farthest from the edge. This will put the eyelets in the approximate location of the finished eyelets.

I will then have the model put on, seams out, and lace it up. Move around in it for at least 20 mins to let it warm up. This is much closer to how a linen or wool garment will pattern out, and less tweaking on future garments!  Use a different colored marker for these adjustments! Make sure to have model look in a mirror (or selfie) to finalize location of neck and overall look!

Things to watch for-

  • Not lacing tight- is it warm enough? Wait 10 mins, if still wont lace closed, let it out where it wont close.
  • Bust slipping down- tighten up under the bust a tad or tighten the shoulders
  • Side boobs- scoop bust forward, pin side under armpit tighter, loosen front
  • Quadra boob- something is too tight, loosen at stress line(s)
  • One boob slips/one armpit gaps/ one shoulder slips- you might had slight differences in where your pattern was sewn- check to see if this is the case- otherwise your body might be uneven, so adjust one side and keep it as a 4 panel pattern. (Archers and fighters tend to have different muscles on each side of the body) Mark you different panel well!
  • Gaping at arm- take in shoulder
  • Pinching at armpit- make the armscye slightly bigger in front- see if sleeve seam is at pivot point
  • Bunching or Riding up under the bust- a wrinkle or two is normal, more than that let it out a bit, or or gores need to be placed higher

Sirin pictured here with twill eyelet tape. We took in an inch off each side seam under her bust, and 3/4″ off of the shoulders.

By this time you will have 3 or more different colored lines on this drape! So rip out the seams, mark the final adjustments and transfer it to another fabric (or paper) that has little stretch. Don’t wait weeks or months, because you will most likely forget which colored line is which, plus there may be scraps taped on for a franken pattern that could come apart!

Notes for translating pattern into a final garment-

  • This Pattern is for a supporting layer, generally you can an extra ⅛” to ¼” of ease for a subsequent layer.
  • Each fabric will stretch slightly differently. A muslin mock up will stretch in a similar way that linen or fulled wool will. If you have a loose weave wool, it will stretch significantly more, you might consider lining with linen. A silk or poly will have very little stretch, and will need some ease added to the pattern.
  • When figuring out the full length of the gown, measure from the shoulder to the length you want (ankle, ground, or longer etc…) on both your front and back! Often the bust or butt will affect this measurement by a few inches, and it sucks to have an unintentional breeze on your backside
  • I find it extremely helpful to keep my body panels straight below the insertion point of the gores. If the body panels are to angled there is a lot of stretch along the two bias edges. However the stretch is minimized by a straight grain to bias seam, plus this gives a nice flowy look to the hem.

Sirin in her almost completed garments from her draped pattern!