A lot of people are nervous at the idea of making garb for themselves. If you think that making garb is just for people who have years of sewing experience– or even a sewing machine– think again. You don’t have to drop money on patterns, and you don’t even need to go to the fabric store for this. The beauty of much medieval clothing, especially early medieval, is that it’s simple to make; but with just a few adjustments, can be changed and adapted and personalized. Today, I’m going to show you how to make one of the simplest and most versatile of medieval garments: the tabard.
Knights, heralds, guards, clergy, peasants… darn near every type of medieval person can get away with wearing a tabard. Let’s have a look at a few possible ideas for how you might incorporate a tabard in your garb.
First, we have your standard soldier’s tabard (left). It’s about knee-length, belted around the outside, and has a nice contrasting emblem on the chest. It’s split up the front and back for ease of horseback riding.
A tabard like this would be best cut wide, so that it fits over one’s armor. The contrasting edges can easily be attained with the use of bias tape.
A guard might wear a simple two-color tabard like this one (right), in the colors of his or her local banner. It, too, is about knee-length and wide enough to wear over armor.
Both this and the soldier’s tabard, above, have a narrow neckline.
With fancy enough fabric, a tabard can be worn by a nobleman or noblewoman to easily show their wealth and status. Such a tabard might be shorter, like the one on the left, or floor-length, like the one on the right. (Technically, the one on the right is a surcote, but the same principle applies). A lady’s tabard might be narrower and worn over a dress, or it may be cut so that it tapers (like the one shown).
A ranger or yeoman might wear a tabard, but in earth tones or faux suede (or even the real thing, if one can afford it). For a more barbarian look, fur might be added at the arm-holes or shoulders. This particular one has the slit up the front and back, for ease of climbing trees.
A blacksmith or laborer might also wear a leather or suede tabard, but without the slit, to give the appearance of a work apron.
With the right combination of color, trim, and fabrics, a tabard can reflect one’s class and social standing easily. Here (right) is an example of a tabard that might be worn by a peasant woman. Brighter colors, richer fabrics, or fancier trim can alter that appearance easily. This particular tabard has a wider, lower neckline, revealing more of the dress underneath.
And, of course, clerics, monks, and clergy of all sorts might also wear a tabard. Note how the one on the far left is wide enough to drape over the shoulders, and long enough to be well below knees. It is tied with a simple rope belt. With richer colors, perhaps celestial patterns or metallic trim, it could be worn by a magic-user as well. Un-hemmed natural burlap tabards work well with hermit sorts, or for novice monks and nuns.
So, now that your imagination is sparked with ideas, let’s make one! For this project, you’ll need:
- Fabric for your tabard. Measure from your shoulders down to how long you’ll want it to be, and multiply it by two. That’s how long you’ll want your fabric. The wider your fabric, the broader your tabard will be. If you want a two-color tabard, you’ll need one length for each color.
- No-sew fabric glue (Level 1), or Needle and thread (Level 2), or a fully armed and operational sewing machine (Level 3).
- Approximately 5 or 6 yards of trim, if desired.
- Double-fold bias tape, about 5 or 6 yards, in your desired width and color.
Lay your fabric out and cut to the length you want PLUS about 4 inches. This allows for a hem (If you’re not feeling like hemming, and who can blame you, don’t worry about hem allowance and use bias tape instead). If your fabric is shorter than you want, you can join two lengths together at what will be the shoulders. Stitch (or glue) right side to right side.
Cut it to the width you want, plus four inches hem allowance (if hemming). Hem if desired by folding the edge of the fabric inward about 1 inch, then folding again, then pinning in place before stitching (or gluing). If you prefer not to hem, double the bias tape over the edge, pin in place, and stitch (or glue) in place.
Next, cut your neck hole. The easiest way to center the neck hole is to fold your tabard the long way, then folding in quarters the wide way, then cutting (much like a paper valentine heart when you were a kid, only instead of a heart shape, you’ll be cutting a quarter oval or rectangular shape). Hem (level 2+) or bias tape (level 1) your neck hole.
At this stage, once your stitches are complete or the glue has dried, your tabard is ready to wear. But if you want to be even fancier, lay your tabard flat, add your trim or appliqué, and stitch (or glue) into place.
And that’s it! You’ve made your very own first piece of garb. Let’s talk about a few variations:
- For a two-color tabard, you’ll want to stitch (or glue) your Color A piece to your Color B piece the long way. Make sure you stitch the right side to the right side, so your seam is on the inside of your tabard (the side that doesn’t show).
- For fancy epaulets (the shoulder bits shown on the very first picture), attach a half-circle of fabric to the top-center (the shoulder line) on each side.
- For a slit, cut up the middle (fold the tabard in half so that you can easily center your cut) and hem or bias tape. Make sure you measure, before you cut, how high you want your slit to be.
- If you’re feeling ambitious, you can add buttonholes or grommets at the sides, to add lacing.
Congratulations! Show us what you made in the comments below, ask your questions, and let’s share some magic, shall we?