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The distinctively Irish garment of Ancient times was a simple smock/dress/tunic
called a "leine"
(which also happens to be the modern Irish Gaelic word for "shirt")

Basic garment:

A sleeveless or sleeved, floor length under or "only" garment, that was worn tucked up over a belt by laborers or those who needed freedom of movement.  It was prototypically made of fine linen, but wool and silk were also used.

The basic, ubiquitous leine of the middle ages was "saffron" color (whatever that meant!), but the tales tell of various colors being worn.  Linen doesn't take color very well and the "everyday" leine was washed daily (the lowliest foster child was legally entitled to two leine so that one could be worn while the other was washed daily...).  So, it's likely that the basic leine was either bleached white or, possibly took a light orange color from the iron kettle it was boiled in daily to wash, or was lightly dyed with some yellow or orange plant (possibly, the dye was renewed daily when it was washed...).

Fancier leine could, of course, be dyed with various plants and dye stuffs available (there were a wide range of blues, greens, browns, yellows, reds, purples and other colors available).  Both wool and silk take dye extremely well.

Leine for festivals or other occasions of finery were also embroidered at hem, wrist, neck and breast.  Also, sometimes several layers of leine were worn, with the over garments being shorter than the under to reveal several layers of decorated borders...

My Pattern:


There is some evidence that this garment remained untailored long after tailoring techniques were surely known. I think there might be several reasons for this, if it were the case (the following is mostly personal conjecture):
there was a general conservativeness in Irish dress styles
there might be a general reluctance to cut fabric when not absolutely necessary to conserve cloth, which was very costly to produce, this also saves on thread
cut cloth is subject to fraying, and fabrics were often woven such that all edges had "selvages" or selvage-like protections...cutting the cloth would break this protection of the edge
also, I think, there is evidence that prayers and charms were sung over the fabric while it was being woven, so that the cloth itself was a living affirmation of the safety and wellbeing of the wearer, such that cutting it would be only done where absolutely necessary


Based on the above, a simple pattern can easily be made to fit any person.

The simplest Leine would be two rectangles of cloth roughly the width of the wearers shoulders across, plus a little ease (or half the circumference of the hips).  The rectangles are then sewn together (short ends) at the shoulder and down the side seams, leaving openings for the arms, and left unsewn after about the hips to allow freedom  of movement below the area needed for a modicum of modesty (a quote from a Classical/Roman source describes a garment of this sort worn by Celts in Gaul...).  If you are using modern fabric, the shoulder width is usually about half the standard width that fabric comes in.

The length should be from the top of the shoulder to the ankle or floor. You can measure the actual fabric against the person it's for. (Don't worry, guys, you can tuck the "dress" over your belt to make nice folds, so you don't have to wear a floor-length "skirt"!)

The "next step" would be to sew simple rectangles into the openings left for the sleeves. I have used rectangles "half" the width of the shoulder-wide fabric used for the main "tunic" part.  Cut them the length you want--either shoulder to wrist or something shorter (try the pieces on to measure them against the body for the best fit).  Be sure to cut both sleeves the same shape!

Also, very important sew a diamond shaped piece of cloth at the underarm where the sleeve meets the body. This doesn't fit into my neat "rectangles of woven cloth" schema, but it's likely that if it wasn't put into the original garment, it would be the first "mending" such garment would need, so I bet early Leine's had gussets...The only trick is to make sure the gussets are identical (cut a folded piece of fabric into a roughly diamond shape, such that you have two identical diamonds) and that they are sewn into the two sleeves in the same direction (that is the same point on each is pointing in the same direction).

The final step: cut triangle shaped gores to give freedom of movement while also sewing down the sides  of the garment it's full length. If your really into geometry, you can turn a shoulder-wide doubled piece of cloth into equalateral triangles of the desired length (by folding along the bias and cutting, carefully along the fold--you end up with 3 pieces: one perfect equalateral triangle and two "right" triangles exactly half the size of the whole equlatoral triangle...). If not, then just make sure you cut two triangles the same.  You then sew up each side of the triangle to the front and back "tunic" sides, respectively.



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© 1997 Robin A. NíDána

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