The Dungiven Costume — a 16thc Anglo-Irish Man’s Outfit

RH305 – Dungiven Outfit
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Introduction

In April 1956, a farmer living near Dungiven, County Derry brought into the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery a suit of clothes that he found while digging peat on his farm. The clothing found consisted of a woolen semi-circular cloak, a jacket, tartan trews, and a leather belt and shoes. Contemporary examples (McClintock) suggest a probable date of the late 16th century.

Figure from Henshall showing original structure of the jacket (sleeve ends are conjectural)

The jacket is constructed very simply. Contrary to the usual cutting techniques, the selvedges run horizontally, so that the body of the coat is as long as the fabric was wide. There are no side seams in the garment. The fabric is wrapped around the body and fastened in front with buttons and buttonholes. The fabric is cut vertically 7″ down from the top to insert the sleeves. A 7 ¼” wide collar sits at center top, and 6 ¼” wide collar pieces wrap around to the front of the garment. The collar stands at 2 ¼” high finished.

The remainder of the top edge of the garment is sewn to itself to make the shoulder seam. A strip of doubled fabric is sewn into the shoulder seam and the seams where the collar attaches. This piping was pinked on the original for decoration. The side seams of the collar also have this pinked piping inserted. The top edge of the collar has two rows of attached piping that is pinked in opposite directions.

Figure from Henshall showing the layout of the jacket construction

The only shaping of the body of the garment is accomplished by a small gore that is 4″ by 4 ½” at its lower edge and tapers to the top. It is inserted in the center back bottom of the jacket and accommodates the hips.

The jacket is finished with two rows of skirting, both also pinked. The under row is about 8″ long at its longest point and the upper row is about 4 ½”. Both sets of skirting narrow by an inch or so at the sides of the body, and are longest at the front and back. The skirts are not sewn together in back but rather hang loose of one another.

A 2″ epaulette covers the sleeve attachment. On closer inspection, one realizes that this epaulette is continuous with the body of the garment. It is in fact a flap cut to allow the sleeve to be inserted. The fabric below the underarm is cut away. Inside the jacket, the fabric of the body is pinched and the sleeve is sewn to that. The edge of the epaulette is hemmed and pinked like the skirts.

The sleeves are fragmentary, but at the attachment to the body, it can be seen that the seam is in the typical medieval position, down the back of the arm and over the elbow. Henshall describes a separate cuff with buttons on it. However, the jacket was in such a poor condition when I examined it that I could not confirm this finding.

Methods

Coat-weight 2/1 twill red wool was chosen for this project. The reason for the heavy weight is that the original was rather tightly woven so that it did not drape. The wool in question accurately replicated this effect. The wool wash was washed in hot water and strong soap to remove any chemical finishing and to lock the fibres together to prevent unraveling.

Contrary to modern construction techniques, the jacket was cut widthwise across the grain of the fabric as was the original. Since the fabric used was 60″ wide, the fabric was cut to the necessary width to match the wearer’s back waist measurement (21″). And the selvedge preserved on the lower edge. The fabric was cut lengthwise to match the chest measurement of the recipient (42″ plus seam allowance). A 4″ by 4 ½” gore was inserted in a slash at center back to echo the construction of the original.

The fabric was folded as it would be when worn and the side “seams” were marked. An 8″ long (the distance from the top of the wearer’s shoulder to his underarm) vertical cut was made on each side. At the bottom of this cut, a two-inch horizontal cut was made to make the epaulettes (Henshall terms them “wings”). The epaulettes were hemmed and pinked like the originals.

The back of the recipient’s neck was 7″ wide, so a collar three times this length and 3″ high was cut. The collar of the original was a simple rectangle with two triangles of cloth removed from it in thirds so that it turned to follow the neckline. Where the triangles of fabric were removed, a ¾” wide strip of fabric was inserted as piping and later pinked (cut with slashes). This technique was duplicated. Two rows of piping were also whipstitched onto the top of the collar and pinked.

The top edge of the jacket was whipstitched front to back as it was in the original. During this process piping was again inserted into the seam. The collar was attached to the jacket at the center back using a whipstitch and also including piping.

The garment circumference was measured and four pieces of fabric were cut to this length, two 9″ long and two 4 ½” long for the skirting. Both pieces were cut to curve upwards over the hips. These skirts were attached to the body of the jacket with a whipstitch. The edges of the skirts were double-rolled and pinked.

The sleeves were cut with a back seam position and attached to a fold of fabric inside the sleeves. The cuffs were left off in this reconstruction because I could not verify their existence. When I examined the garment, the bottoms of the sleeves were too fragmentary to say definitively that there were separate cuffs.

The front of the jacket is closed with 20 cloth buttons set at roughly 1″ apart. They are stuffed with scrap of the same material and sewn with silk thread. The originals were attached with wool, but my wool thread kept breaking. When I examined the garment, it was not permitted to remove a button and verify how it was attached. Therefore the button-making technique discovered in the York and Herjolfsnes digs was followed.

The buttonholes are bound with wool thread using a buttonhole stitch similar to that seen in the York excavations. The buttonholes on the original were simply bound with a whipstitch, but the fabric was a much tighter weave than the wool I worked with. The buttonhole stitch is more likely to prevent raveling with wear.

Results

Conclusions

The Dungiven Jacket is a simple and yet handsome piece of clothing that is straightforward enough for a beginner to sew.

Buy an authentic pattern for the Dungiven Costume here.

References

  1. Dunlevy, Mairead. Dress in Ireland. 1989: Holmes & Meier, NY.
  2. Henshall, Audrey and Wilfred Seaby. “The Dungiven Costume” In The Ulster Journal of Archeology. 24-25 (1961-2) 119-142.
  3. McClintock, Henry Foster. Handbook on the Traditional Old Irish Dress. 1958: Dundalk.
  4. McClintock, Henry Foster. Old Irish and Highland Dress. 1943: Dundalk.
  5. Whealan, Patricia, Mary Hysong, and Kass McGann. Unpublished notes made at the Ulster Museum, Belfast, Ireland, Summer 1999.

© 2000, 2003 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

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