Something to wear if you can't sew

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This page is a subsection of SCA Without Breaking the Bank. It provides information on garb for the sewing-machine challenged.

The five-step method

  1. Get it free: Though most of the time you won't be able to get garb completely free, it is possible. At my first event, a wonderful woman from our shire took pity on me and gave me a used tunic and a beautiful etched leather belt. Though it's three years later, I still have them and I still wear them (especially the belt). Again, it doesn't happen very often, but sometimes you luck out. Ask around.
  2. Barter for it: This, and paying for other people to make it for you, is probably the best way to go when getting garb. There are lots of things you can do in exchange for someone's sewing skills and time. If you want something garb-related to do to help them, you could always come over and iron or keep them company while they're sewing, accompany them when they shop for fabric and carry their purchases, or offer to wash their garb for them. (Be careful with this one: make sure you absolutely know how their garb should be washed before you offer to machine-wash their dry clean-only clothes that they spent fifty hours making. Enemies are made this way.)
  3. Pay someone in the SCA for it: Find an experienced seamstress in your shire and ask him or her to make you something. Generally prices will be very reasonable, depending on what you want made. Keep in mind, though, that unless they have extra fabric floating around, they will probably want you to pay for your own material. This isn't as bad as it sounds. Check out the garb for seamstresses page to see some hints on buying cheap fabric. You could also ask people if you can buy some of their used garb. Don't worry about how it looks if you're still new, just get it to have something to wear. You can worry about fashion later, when you have money. (Hand me downs are period!)
  4. Get it used at discount: You probably won't find much this way. The only place I can see having garb would be a garage sale of another SCAdian. But, as always, you never know. You might find a "peasant-style" shirt at some discount stores, or some baggy pants that you can use until you find better ones. You could also hunt for plain skirts, oversized shirts (for makeshift tunics), and leather boots.
  5. Get it cheap: Unfortunately, you won't find much cheap garb in retail stores. The few stores that specialize in medieval clothing (in Montreal we have stores called Dragon Rouge) are generally hideously overpriced. Lovely stuff, but not somewhere you want to stray when you have no money to buy it. In general, stay away from retail when you're trying to get garb cheaply.

Submitted tips

Submitted by Vladislav Chrnek

I can't even sew a button, but I am a young, fit and strong man who is more than willing to volunteer to do gardening and heavy lifting for elderly ladies who are absolute geniuses with a sewing machine.

Submitted by Foalchœ

You can find a fantastic array of "period-esque" skirts at Wal-Mart, of all places. I have about six different skirts of varying material and color that work very well for newbies or for more experienced ladies who layer skirts (such as late Elizabethan garbsters). I always bought them on sale, I never paid more than US $15 for any of them, and you can match them with such a variety of styles it is totally cost effective. I've gone to faires using them for everything from Celtic personas to belly-dance getups. All of the skirts reach below the ankle (almost always period) and can easily be adapted from the elastic waist to a drawstring waist if desired.

Submitted by Crazy Einar

There are numerous light trousers and pajama bottoms in cotton, available cheap. This can actually be used to accent your wardrobe--I have some that look block printed and batiqued, which would mean for my persona they were imported from INDIA. And they're COTTON. Voila. Upper class Viking era pants for $15 a pair. Plain ones can be cheaper.

The Norse did wear collarless jackets, and their standard cloak was basically a large wool blanket pinned at the shoulder. A penannular brooch can be hammered easily from annealed brass or welding rod, or twisted from iron in a vise.

Tunics will take some work, but sleeveless overtunics can easily be cut from oversized pillow cases--slice the top seam for your head, relief cut the front a bit and slice it lengthwise a few inches for more space. Open it up where your shoulders go. A friend with a machine can hem those holes and even add sleeves from a matching case rather quickly.

I'm sure I will offend a lot of people, but those ring-buckled belts are NOT PERIOD! Nothing like them ever existed for the simple reason that they DON'T WORK. Standard leather belts with standard or center-bar buckles in brass or iron have existed for about 3000 years. Roller buckles existed in late period. Just burn the chrome plating off one with a torch, or the acrylic off brass, and let it patina with age. A standard buckle can be bent in a vise with a propane torch in a few minutes. Look at an existing buckle. It's quite self explanatory how it's put together. If you want to make your own belt and don't have leather punches, holes can be drilled. You can probably find someone with the tools to punch it or rivet it for a couple of bucks.

Slipper moccasins won't last many events outdoors, but work fine for indoor events and will pass muster even if not totally period.

Late period shoes can be cut from standard military style low quarters.

Submitted by Lady Indrani Ma

If you really don't want to, or can't, sew, you can always go Indian. A sari is very much in period (for guys and girls) and you can still purchase them all from many different shops. Buying them in Australia, you may be looking at $70-$100 but they are much, much cheaper if you can get them sent over from India. Essentially a 6 or 9 foot piece of material, you could also just buy the material and dye it yourself (more period an option anyway). For women, getting a blouse tailored is much easier than doing it yourself, and I get mine made for $15. Then you just need to learn to wrap it in a way that is best for your purposes. Doing so provides a garment that is individually fitted to your body and can be easily altered for different occasions- with no sewing!

Submitted by Sigrid Gunthersdottir

My tip is regarding pants: go to a store that specializes in work uniforms. Pick up solid, neutral color scrub pants a size or two too big (so they're baggy). Bring them home and wash them a few times with fabric softener until they aren't stiff anymore. Then make a cut in the cuff seam, and thread some string through the cuff seam so that you can tie them tight mid-calf. If the color is too bright or modern looking, there are fading products made by RIT which can be purchased for a few dollars at the grocery store or pharmacy.

Submitted by Juliana

I just bought my first court gown on ebay. It was handmade and the seamstress offered to hem it to my specifications. I requested that she send it unhemmed, so that I could hem it myself to the length that suited me. Being short in height, I had fabric from the skirt left over and decided to make a matching headpiece.I asked her, that if she had some remnants left over from the accent fabrics, could I have them for my headpiece, and I offered to purchase them from her. She was pleased to send me some at no charge, so now I can make a matching headpiece at minimal cost. (Editor's note: Though I could have put this tip in the Garb for Sewers section, the main thrust is that you can get a complete set of garb off ebay, even if you can't sew.)

Submitted by Lowry ferch Gwynwynwyn ap Llewelyn

I am sewing machine challenged - (sewing machines hate me, I reckon they've all got together and decided on a vendetta against me) :- ) So what to do? Answer: I handsew my garments. It takes longer, but I do it while watching telly (what else are ads for?) and while watching events - armouring up takes forever and I look medievally busy while waiting for the action to commence. And anyone can handsew - you stick the needle in and pull the needle out, repeat to the end of the seam.

Submitted by Karel of the Three Isles

Here's an example of clothing that needs no sewing IF you can find the correct length of fabric. The garment is a Chiton, it is past 600 AD (just) and with the right fabric is appropriate for both male and female (full length for the ladies, just below the knee for the lads. Also if you pick the correct one there is NO SEWING what so ever. All you have to find is two large broaches or pins. Rather than try to explain a chiton, here is an excellent web site that says it all in pictures: