Something homemade to wear

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This page is a subsection of SCA Without Breaking the Bank. It provides information on garb for the novice seamstress.

General tips about garb

  • Try to have an early- or mid-period persona: The clothing worn after the fall of the Roman Empire and before the Renaissance was by necessity cheaper to make than later-period garb, because people in general had less money. With this period, you can generally get away with one linen tunic, one wool tunic, and one wool cloak for even cold weather: three layers, instead of the six (or more!) that you might see with some Elizabethan costumes. Not only that, but the material you'll be using will be cheaper than the silk organzas and brocades (and velvets, and damasks, and taffetas, and lace, ...) that you will want to use for later periods.
  • If it's not seen, cheat: If you absolutely HAVE to have that Elizabethan look, you can try cheating on the parts that won't be seen. Since Elizabethan dress (and Tudor, and Italian Ren, ...) has so many layers, you can fake a few of the middle ones with cheap cloth instead of spending all your money on sections no one will see anyway.
  • Go for natural fabrics: This might seem a little counter-intuitive on a page for saving money, but believe me, after the first time you go to a hot camping event in your polyester tunic, you'll be making one out of natural fibers anyway. So save yourself the $15 and just go for natural fibers to start with. If you can't afford linen, buy cotton / linen blends, or simply cotton. No one will bug you for it. If you can't afford wool, try wool blends or polar fleece (or something similar).
  • Shop for fabrics in season: You will get a much better price on linen in the summer than you will in the winter. Contrarily, you will find that wool goes on sale during the cold seasons, not the hot ones. By shopping in season and being prepared to wait a few months for your garb to be finished, you can save a lot of money. (I got linen at $7 CAN a meter, as opposed to $15, by shopping in season.)

Five-step method

  1. Get it free: You never know where you will find free fabric if you ask for it. You (or someone you know) might be redecorating and have extra drapes or sheets, or your grandmother might leave you her linens. Many garb-makers I know buy extra fabric "just in case" when they make new garb. Some of them might hate the effect so much (or take pity on you) that theyÕll be willing to give it to you for free. However, I wouldn't count on it. Better move on to:
  2. Barter for it: This is far more likely than getting free stuff. Many people I know barter fabric, either for other fabric or for other services. (Eg: I'll buy fabric and some extra if you'll make me a tunic at the same time.) If you know how to sew, you can probably do very well here by offering to make other people's garb, fixing their garb, or showing them how.
  3. Pay someone in the SCA for it: Again, many people have "leftover" piece of fabric they might be willing to part with for a price, which is usually lower than you'll find in stores. I've gotten some wonderful linen extremely cheap this way. And even if you don't get enough to make a full piece of clothing, try getting lots of different pieces from different people. I know someone who is going to be making a patchwork cloak with donated pieces. I myself am using two end pieces to make a two-colored tunic. Piecing is very period, so don't worry about the end result, especially not if it's your inner layer.
  4. Get it used at discount: You can really clean up here. Thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets will often have cloth, linens, or other things that can be "altered" to make garb. A hideously ugly dress with the right material can always be broken down and sewn again, or the trim can be used on something better. Many garage sales will sell linens, tablecloths, drapes, or sheets at rock-bottom prices that you can use to make garb. Look at each article as a variety of things that you can use (trim, fabric, buttons, etc.), even if it's not all for the same piece.
  5. Get it cheap: Sometimes you can't find fabric or notions anywhere else but at stores. Try buying in season (see above) to get sale prices. If you know a fabric or clothing warehouse near you, ask if there are minimum purchase prices. Even if there are, and it's too expensive for you, you can go with several other people to get the minimum. See if you can get a better price by buying in bulk (with other people, of course). And don't worry what what the clerk thinks of you for asking: a lot of times, they might be poor college students also!

Submitted tips

Submitted by Teffania Tuckerton

Can't sew much? Make a peplos - search the internet for this, it's an early form of dress worn by the ancient greeks, 6th C celts, and some scandanavian peoples. All you need is a rectangle of fabric, some pins and a whitish underdress. (whiteish underdresses are fairly common, and often half worn out ones get given away). A friend made a very cheap pennanular broach using a metallic bracelet and a hat pin.

Old blankets make great fabric for cold weather woolen garments.

A rectangular cloak is just a blanket pinned over your shoulder. You can put the blanket back on your bed later, so long as you aren't too worried about the possibility of holes.

A friend made a stunning tunic by making his own trim - he bough a ball of gold crochet cotton (not very cheap, but many meters), and braided a lot of cord, which he couched in large diamonds onto a contrast coloured band of trim. It looks really rich, but the whole thing cost under $12 Au (around $6 US) and looks quite as stunning as many people's courtwear. (and he still has half a ball of gold thread to do other things with.

Carrying things - pouches made from scraps are useful, but there are a few ways to carry larger objects and still look authentic. Baskets are cheaper at from thrift/op-shops. But cheaper still - tie your possesions in a small cloak, tunic or similar and carry it over your shoulder. The stereotype of a man with his belongings tied on a stick over his shoulder dates back to at least the 12th C. I've also There is also a type of bag that looks a lot like two pillowcases sewn together along one of the opening sides. Pilgrims bags can be fairly easy to make if you sew. Leather school satchels sometimes turn up secondhand (you might have to replace the strap, or a buckle you don't need might be broken) - take some of the buckles off the outside and they look quite like a pilgrim satchel.

Many chemises/shirts, few tunics. - You don't need a new tunic each day, just a clean layer next to your skin will keep everyone happy. Make a large bunch of chemises or shirts out of cheap white fabric, and just one or two tunics out of better fabric. You'll be happy, and very period.

Keeping warm - you don't always need a garment for every weather condition, or a cloak. Don't be afraid to wear every tunic you own. It's period.

Submitted by Buliwyf the Tiny

I've been in the martial arts for years and had an old karate gi (uniform) laying around. All it took to make it look European was some celtic trim around the jackets edges, tieing the calves up with leather thongs (fabric strips would have worked too). Add an extra long leather belt, and some arm bracers, and voila. I'm a Norse peasant from the 8th century. As far as the belt goes, talk to a leather worker near you. I got a 80 inch belt (I'm a pretty big fella) for $20 because he messed it up. It wouldn't work for modern sensibilities, but for Buliwyf the Tiny, it's perfect. My belt pouch was a woman's pocketbook that I just cut the straps off of then cut a belt loop for. You can get old purses from goodwill and thrift stores for a song, and they can make good pouches, or if you can work leather yourself, a cheap source of scrap leather. My knife sheath was made from one.

Submitted by Isabella D'Angelo

Ebay and Bidville often have people trying to get rid of their fabric stashes. I've gotten 5 yards of green cotton on bidville for $5. On Ebay, I've gotten 21 meters of black velvet for $40! It's the rayon stuff, but it still looks lovely. I've also gotten 20 yards of indigo blue linen for $30. If you are not too picky on colors, the online auctions are a great place to start.

If someone is just starting out, the tunic tops are very easy to find in most fashion stores today. For girls, the peasant skirts and a nice peasant/gypsy blouse will be fine for most events. For guys, some corduroy pants and a tunic top, both very easy to find at the local mall, works well.

Submitted by Brother Henrik of Eoforwic

  1. Cheat. Cut the elastic off T-shirts (including long-sleeved ones), sew wool around the edges and you have a tunic. Buy your shirt long and wear it over expensive (maybe corded) track pants (that you can afford since they have a use outside the SCA) and you have an outfit. Add a simple cloak, sash, rope belt and wear sandals with wool/no socks to finish it off.
  2. Aim small. Until you have your AoA, be a peasant, or merchant, or clergy, or anyone else of mid to low rank. You won't have to dress rich and it buys you time to build up your inventory. [Katherine's note: You can continue to be a peasant or merchant AFTER you get your AoA too! Don't think that just because you have a shiny scroll you need to change your persona.]
  3. Shop at consignment stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.) and use your imagination. A woman's purse, minus many of the modern accessories like zippers and toggles will pass as a man's satchel. Plain (unembellished) work boots partially covered by pant legs, skirts or albs/tunics, are less noticeable than anything resembling a running shoe.
  4. Get camp gear at military surplus stores. The green and/or brown colour makes it less garish and easier to hide behind someone else's lavish pavilion.
  5. When you have money, buy accessories. Spend money well on small items, such as hats, necklaces, satchels and shoes. They cost less than larger items and, if they look good, most people won't bother picking on the material you chose for your tunic.
  6. Learn to hand sew and tie twine. It's easy to stitch together a T-tunic or cloak, and even easier to sew a patch of material over a brand name. When making armour, use twine instead of shoelaces so that it doesn't look as bad if it should be seen. Use rope as a belt, a strap for bags, etc. instead of modern buckled items.
  7. The much-maligned carpet armour is excellent (until it smells) and can be assembled with little more than $50 of carpet, a knife, an awl, and a ball of twine! I started with hockey equipment and upgraded it with carpet to suit the dynamics of fighting in the SCA. The carpet was removable when I went back on the ice. Later, I just inserted plastic between the sheets of carpet and got rid of some of the hockey gear altogether. When I was able to, I bought or made better gear. My leg armour, however, was made of carpet for ten years before I got good enough to abandon it altogether in favour of mobility.
  8. Study what others do and be sure to document it. One of our highest ranked fighters (Ed the Red, who I believe has been prince before) wears running shoes to fight. He's glued thin patches of leather to the sides, similar to what the Reverend mentioned in one section on your site, to disguise the swishes and stitches of modern footwear. Not everyone will accept this option at first, but you win the argument if you can provide proof that they can't challenge.
  9. Volunteer before you ask for favours. The SCA is a close-knit community, so if you volunteer to help at a local event, it's very likely that at least one merchant knows or is related to the autocrat. If you've done a good job at the event, they are more likely to hear about you and then offer you a discount on merchandise. (Besides, some event organizers will reward volunteers with acoutrements anyways -- bobbles and such that you can use to add authenticity to your muddled outfit.)
  10. Guys, invest in a good cloak. It can warm a lady on a cool day or after sundown around the campfire and it can be a picnic blanket to allow you to sit close together and share a meal. A kiss on the hand and some gentle words are nice, but a good cloak is magical.

Submitted by Catriona inghean ui Dara

In the start it costs extra... but when I find a good bolt of dollar fabric at Walmart, I buy the whole thing. I make garb for me and usually 2 or even three more people. Then I sell them at events. I make enough money to cover the cost of fabric, plus enough for my next buy (sometimes even more, I'm not bad "garber" after all)

Submitted by Elizabeth

My own SCA mantra has become - never pass an op shop! I picked up a fantastic double pair of green velvet cutains that I made into a stunning cotehardie, and everytime I go into an op shop I always come out with something suitable - even if it's only a cheap box of candles or a clip-on earring that I now use as a brooch.

Submitted by Brian Fulton

Wal-Mart sells fake fur squares (and whole sections like blankets) in the fabric section. A fur square (about a foot square I think) runs $3, and some rawhide bootlaces, $2. I used my Leatherman tool to punch holes along one edge of the square, knotted the bootlace and sewed it up the side. I repeated the other side the same way, then folded down the unsewn top 3" or so as a flap, punched another hole in the flap and the body of the pouch now sewn up, and rigged a tie-through/button flap, etc. with the remnants of the bootlaces to keep the pouch shut. Two slits on the back for the belt, and we had a furry-barbaric-looking fairly "period" pouch. It looked like a big piece of bear fur. The other guy was fixed up the same way, except a yard of cloth torn in two and tied together made a shoulder strap (which he preferred). Two pouches, 20 minutes work (mostly trying to find the little awl holes in the fur to get the laces through!) and I outfitted my two newbies with decent-working pouches big enough for wallets, cell phones, knives and other stuff. All for $10! The bootlace tiedowns and "thread" held well enough that they fought for six hours in them and lost nothing.

Submitted by Brynna of Axewater

Consider what you will be using that garb for, for the most part. Are you in a camping area, where there are a lot of camping events? Or are you going to be mostly going to indoor events? Or are you going to be attending Court or Ithra sessions in your garb? I don't play much at the moment, but the events I'll be going to are going to be camping events, so the garb I want is going to be serviceable, easy to put on, adaptable to the weather, easy to clean and comfortable to wear. If I were to go to Ithra sessions or Court or indoor events, I would have a different outlook on what I would want to wear. My lord has some incredible looking tunics (he is Norse), but even though they have gorgeous trim, they can all be chucked in the washing machine after an event.

Remember that most fabric stores sell remnents cheap. Quilters (me being one) always have scraps, and if you get ahold of a group/guild, you may even be able to score enough period type prints (all 100% cotton) for cheap, that you could make yourself a really cool looking gypsy outfit. Crazy quilting has ALWAYS been in style.

Submitted by Saffiya 'bint Da'ud Al'Mubbarak

Join your local sewing guild chapter (American Sewing Guild,, it gets you a 10% discount at a great many fabric or craft stores. Frequently they will take the 10% on top of any coupon or sale discounts. They also can point you in the direction of people to teach you basic skills that can be used for recreation.

Submitted by Mozelle

Get on your local and not-so-local fabric stores' mailing lists. They regularly send out coupons worth 30% to 50% off the regular price of a fabric cut, so you can make your own sale. This is usually for only one fabric cut. However, this is especially useful when you want to buy many yards of something basic, something that rarely goes on sale or even beat the original sale price. (Why get it for 20% off when you can use your coupon and get it for 40% off?) Also, you will know when many notions such as thread, needles, pins, etc., and basic fabrics like muslin are on sale, so you can plan your purchases.

Submitted by Everild

Another good tip (for those in the UK and abroad) is charity shops. Keep an eye out in the material section - I've managed to get a couple of really nice skirts made out of a tablecloth from a charity shop, and the napkins, sewn together, made a really nice matching bodice!

Submitted by Rev. P. Saunders-Cummings

In many areas, rural folk often wore baglike coverings on their feet, made from leather and padded with wool, rags, or even straw. This approach to footwear can easily hide modern sneakers. The very simplest form is to cut an oval of leather (or even synthetic hide if you cut it big and turn the edges to the inside), put your foot in the middle, and cut holes or slits for laces around the ankle. Draw leather laces through, tie a knot, and you are done! In this way you may wear very short modern socks and your comfy walking shoes while looking authentically "period".

Submitted by Elizabeth Beaumont

For anyone who wants to make late period garb, that the idea of using cheaper fabrics where it doesn't show is period. There is a kirtle in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion which has a brocade for the front, where it would show under a loose gown (which looks a little bit like a modern dressing gown, other people use different terms for this garment), and a plain fabric at the back.

Here in Australia I've found it cheaper to buy things out of season (or at least at the end of the season) In spring and summer, everyone wants the summer fabrics, then at the end of the season they will put whatever is left over on sale.

An addition to Nicolaa's website suggestion: try Kass McGann's (the beginners section). In addition to the St Louis Tunic on Mistress Cynthia's site there is the Bocksten Man's tunic, and a couple of others. There is also a pattern Kass has created herself based on these period garments. Cutting tunics in a period way also uses less fabric than the more common SCA method of drawing a T shape on your fabric, cutting it out, and throwing away the bit under the arms. People in the middle ages weren't dumb and if you had to shear the sheep, spin the wool and weave the fabric by hand would you waste any of it?

Submitted by Rise Peters

One thing to be careful of, in buying fabric for SCA clothing, is that you don't accidentially get something that is flammable. I've had to replace chemises and tents because of bad fabric choices.

Submitted by Anitra

Get washable fabric. Wash it before making the garb for maximum shrinkage. Washing garb at home (or even taking it to the laundormat) is a 'lot' cheaper than dry-cleaning.

Submitted by Morgan the unknown

I have had good success with buying inexpensive wool and washing it with a couple of old sneakers loaded into the washing machine with it. This will shrink the yardage (sometime quite a lot, so be sure to buy on sale and buy a lot extra) - but what happens is that the wool acquires a soft napped look, very luxurious and "velvetty", and also VERY period-looking (especially for 1300-1500's).

I also think that inexpensive headware (veils, wrapped Flemish-style head-dresses, Jorvik hoods and so on) do a LOT for very little outlay.

My main tip is, though. that you should do lots of research before you work out your costuming. That way, you won't spend $30 on fabric, and six hours of your life, only to discover it wasn't what you should have done in the first place. Better to borrow a tunic for a couple of months, use the best sources you can find, and then make an outfit that makes you feel good, that has some real connection with history, and is made of fabric etc. that is reasonably close to "period" - which will carry you through many more seasons/events despite (perhaps) a slightly larger intial outlay, than a thrown-together outfit that displeases you after two wearings.

Submitted by Inge

Fit your persona to your ability to sew and to pay for cloth. That doesn't necessarily mean you can't do the time period you're most interested in, but look for lower-class garb -- that way you can always upgrade later.

Submitted by Alianora Munro

While at the sales and shops, don't forget to check for old curtains, bed linens, and table linens. I made my first chemise out of some old white cotton bedsheets I bought for a quarter at a yard sale. I still have and use some of the linen napkins I bought at the same sale (for 50 cents the set, IIRC). VERY occasionally you get really lucky and find that someone is clearing out granny's attic, and that granny not only did fancy needlework or sewing, but also magpie-like collected large stashes of fabric, embroidery threads, or other supplies which she never used, and some of which might be useful to you.

Submitted by Kat

Remember that strips of fabric & ribbon are trim too.

Ask around for out of the way places. There was once a place called Steiner-Liff in Nashville which had a remnant store. I bought cotton flannel on a regular basis for 50 cents a pound. I still have some even though they moved out of town years ago.

Submitted by Mary Loomer Oliver

Well, one way to keep your garb cheap, easy to sew, comfortable, AND authentic is to stick to a place and time where all anyone wore were t-tunics. [Editor: usually this means earlier period stuff: after the fall of the Roman empire and before the Renaissance.]

Submitted by Tangwystyl

I can think of two general strategies that help a great deal. The first is, as the old saying goes, to cut your coat to fit your cloth. If your budget won't support being a 16th century noblewoman at court, then don't try to be one. Be middle-class or lower-class. Dress for everyday rather than court. Pick an era when even a noble wardrobe won't break the bank. Focus on the basic core equipment that you _need_ and don't worry yet about the extras and extravagances.

Submitted by Katherine Q

Also, with regards to costuming - if the outfit you want to make has multiple layers (for example a spiffy elizabethan court outfit), you can "fake" some of the underneath layers. By this I mean that for the skirt that shows under the split skirt on the top, you only need to have the bits that show be of more expensive fabric. The back part (probably 1/2 to 2/3) can be a plain, less expensive fabric. I would recommend keeping the two fabrics similar in basic color and weight, if possible, but this means that your 3 yard skirt now only requires 1-1.5 yards of that really nice $10/yard fabric and the rest can be the $2/yard fabric that's on sale! Or if you only have enough "nice" fabric to make a knee length gown for under your sideless surcote, but you really want a long gown, add an insert of other fabric from mid-thigh to mid-calf and use the "nice" fabric for the top and the bottom. What people aren't going to see can save your budget.

Submitted by Laura

The key is learning to reduce items to their components... ask yourself, whenever you see something not too glaringly modern: "If I took that completely apart, could I do anything with the pieces?" That was the hard part for me -- I kept walking past things that were perfectly good material, or trim, or something, and then having to run back for them when my brain caught up.

Submitted by Lady Fionnghuala Bethoc of Lindisfarne

I made a kinsail (spelling may be wrong) cloak for about the price of a winter coat (about $70 total) by purchasing the bolt end of Upolstery velvet (about 5 yards worth) at half price ($7/yd rather than $13/yd) because there wasn't enough left to do a whole sofa, and lining it with fake fur. I used it as a blanket at early season camping events and even used it at home a time or two on the worst nights. Not very cheap in terms of total price but it was a frugal purchase, and I did use the cloak in every day life when the temperature dipped a time or two below zero (F) and even changed a dead battery in such weather wearing it over my other coat, and stayed toasty warm the whole time. It was well worth the price and the effort it took to make it. It was warm and it looked very nice.

Submitted by Nicolaa

Also, the SCA is notorious for attracting fabric hoarders. Check around with other members--find out if they have anything they'd be willing to sell or barter for. Goes for trims, too....

Another "cheap and easy" way of looking more authentic is to use authentic cuts--this especially goes for tunics. If you use a gore and gusset construction (here's a good website on how to do it: you're going to look more authentic even if your fabric isn't exactly "right"--and it doesn't cost you a thing!

Wear something on your head. Veils and coifs are pretty easy to make, and for summer, straw hats are wonderful. You'll spend only a few dollars, but your outfit will look more finished.

Submitted by Angela

If you are looking for fabric for court garb, the samples from upholstery books can be fashioned at least into vest and tie-on sleeves. i got 4 large squares for $1.00 each [Canadian] in a lightweight fabric that is cotton and rayon blend and has the right look. The price was $35.00 per metre, but there was more than enough fabric in the 4 squares.

Submitted by AElfwenna

100% cotton Osnaberg is available inexpensively at WalMart and it looks a lot like linen. Every time I wear my Osnaberg tunic, someone asks me "oh, where did you find that nice linen?"

Submitted by Alijna van den Oostenbrugge

Your absolute best bet is to sink yourself into one very practical but polished item in a neutral color. For myself it's an off-white cotehardie made of very sturdy upholstery cotton ($4 curtains at the local Salvation Army, lined in old muslin.) For court and evening parties I can dress it up with a gorgeous cloak, beaded pouch and a necklace and earrings. Then during the day I can roll up the sleeves, flip the skirt up and tuck it into my belt, slap on an apron and I'm ready to beat the heat, cook in the camp kitchen or put up a few pavilions. You don't need a whole wardrobe at your disposal, you need one versatile and sturdy article of clothing that can be adapted to any occasion.