Introduction to SCA Clothing


This handout will cover:

Fabric selection
Fabric Basics
Things to consider when purchasing your fabric
Making a basic T-Tunic
Where to purchase good fabrics in the SF Bay Area

Making Good Fabric Selections:
Good fabric selection can help you create an authentic looking article of clothing. If you start off learning which fabrics are the most period, you are already a couple of steps ahead of other new players.

Fabric Selection

Best choices for "period" fabrics: OK choices for "period" fabrics Very bad choices - just don't
  • 100% Flax linen
  • 100% sheep wool or cashmere
  • Velvets of silk or wool
  • 100% silks - such as silk noil, dupioni, velvet, and some brocades, silk satin.
  • Linen blends
  • Wool blends
  • Cotton velvet or velveteen
  • Cotton Corduroy - cut or uncut
  • 100% cotton or cotton blend
  • Polyester including polyester brocades, look for one that has some cotton, silk or wool in it.
  • Shiny fabrics
  • Any fabric with more than 2% metallic in it
  • Cottons which are patterned like "Little House on the Prairie"
  • Any fabric with spandex

Fabric Basics:

linen | velvet | wool | cotton | blends

  • Linen:
    Linen is to Europe as Cotton is to America.

Linen is a natural fiber made from flax. It can range in texture from very rough to very fine and can be extremely heavy weight or sheer. Some of the better manufactured linens come from Ireland and Italy. Some of the more coarse weaves are from America.

Durability: Linen is a very durable fabric and has been used throughout Europe for centuries. Being a natural fiber, it tends not to burn but rather smolders, which works well for garments that you will be wearing around a campfire. It washes well and becomes softer as it is used. One of the nice things about linen is that it is hard to dye due to the waxyness of the fiber, this helps the fabric resist staining.

Comfort: While linen may seem stiff when you first, it begins to soften as you wash it. It is very breathable and helps you stay comfortable at outdoor activities. It is much cooler than cotton and will help wick away sweat.

  • Wool:
    Wool comes from sheep. The sheep and wool trade was huge throughout Western Europe

Wool is a natural fiber which comes from sheep. Sheep were widely raised for food and clothing throughout history. Like flax, wool was a very popular and widely used fiber until the Industrial Revolution.

Durability: Wool fabrics are very durable and flexible. They do not burn easily and are great for wear at events.

Comfort: Wool is an excellent insulator. It keeps heat close to the body by trapping still or dead air within the fibers. To a certain degree, wool is considered water repellent. Small amounts of liquid, such as spills, light rain or snow, will stay on the surface or run off the fabric. Wool fabrics also wick moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer dryer when sweating and cooler when hot.

  • Velvet:
    can be made from silk, wool, cotton, and rayon

Velvet is a process for creating a napped fabric; "velvet" can be made from silk, wool, cotton, and synthetics. In the past there has been some controversy surrounding the existence of velvet in earlier centuries. Velvet has in fact been around as early on as 2000BC. The Egyptians were documented using a technique similar to the one that is utilized today in velvet production.

Throughout the centuries from the medieval era through the renaissance into the flapper rage and still today velvet is being used in a variety of ways. In earlier times only royalty and nobility could afford to own garments of velvet. It requires more yarns to create and a number of extra steps in the process, which adds to the expense of velvet garments. It was also common for supplementary sets of yarns to be placed on the surface of the fabric to create a brocade effect making the design intricate and interesting.

As the nobility knew and we can still see today some of the richest colors can be produced when dying velvet. It has only been in this century that velvet has become affordable to the masses. The industrial revolution brought with it the chance for the common person to experience luxury that was for centuries reserved for royalty and the rich.

Durability: As long as you select cotton, wool or silk velvets, your garments will look stunning and the velvet nap does not crush or get funky. Do not select polyester velvet as it will crush easily and look dreadful. Cotton velvets and velveteen work well for SCA garments. You can substitute narrow wale corduroy if you want. The production process is just the same as velvet.

Comfort: Velvet can be lightweight too heavy and meet almost any sewing need you may have. As long as you select natural fibers, the nap stays fresh and wears quite well.

  • Cotton
     is a natural fiber made from cotton plant. You will want to purchase only 100% cotton.

Cotton’s exact age is unknown. Scientists have found pieces of cotton cloth in caves in Mexico that are at least 7.000 years old. Cotton was grown and made into cloth in the Indus River Valley in Pakistan as early as 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. Egyptians were also weaving cotton fabrics around the same time. Cotton arrived in Europe, through Arab merchants, in approximately 800 A.D., although, flax linen and wool remained the primary fabrics for common clothing. Christopher Columbus found cotton in the Bahamas in 1492. Cotton was known all over the world by 1500.

Cotton’s aesthetics vary depending on the applied treatments, the fiber blend (if blended) and the grade of the fiber. A typical 100% untreated cotton fabric has a pleasant matte luster, a soft drape and a smooth hand.

If you decide on a blended fabric, try to select one that has at least 50% natural fibers. This will make the garment much more comfortable for you as the wearer. Remember that natural fibers breath and let your body feel more comfortable in the heat or the cold.

Things to consider when purchasing your fabric:

  • What is your Budget?

What can you afford for your garments? Just as in mundane life you need to consider if you are the type of shopper who shops at Old Navy or Prada.

  • Where will you wear the garments?

Example: If you are planning to attend a variety of camping events, you'll need layers of clothing for hot days and cool evenings.

  • What is your personal thermometer like?

If you are usually cold, you may want to consider a wool cloak, or if you are usually overheated, look more to short-sleeved garments made of cooler fabrics.

  • What type of persona are you trying to project?

Are you trying to look like a field worker, woodsman, merchant, or noble? Fabrics and trims can play a large role in announcing your persona's resources and social status.

  • What sewing resources do you have available/access to?

Will you be sewing your garment by hand or using sewing machine? Will you finish the edges with pinking or stitching? Will you be adding trim or embroidery?


Making a T-Tunic

Needed materials
  • 2-2.5 yards of linen, linen blend, wool, wool blend, or other fabric
  • measuring tape
  • fabric scissors - roller blade and cutting mat if available
  • straight edge
  • high quality thread
  • lightweight iron-on interfacing

Wash and dry your fabric. Wash it in the same manner as you intend to wash the finished garment. I like to wash in warm water and dry on a medium heat. If you are using wool, wash it in cold water and let it air dry.

Iron your fabric. Use a little steam and make sure all of the edges are well ironed as well as the middle of the fabric. If you are using a napped fabric, place a fluffy towel under your fabric and iron it from the back side.

Measuring your fabric - I like longer tunics, about knee length once belted. You will need to determine the length you'd like for your finished tunic.

  • Measure from shoulder to where ever you want the hem to be, now add 4 inches to account for belting and blousing of the tunic.
  • Multiply this number by 2 and that is the length of fabric you will need.
  • Cut this length of fabric

Fold your fabric in half lengthwise

Fold fabric again end to end

You now have your fabric folded such that there are 4 layers of fabric, two folded edges and 2 raw edges. Lightly press your fabric along the folded lines. This will help you for placement of collar facing later

 If you do not have a tunic pattern, use this basic shape with your own measurements.
  • chest + 4 inches =
  • Arm pit to hip length
  • Center back to length of sleeve
  • Neck to hem + 5 inches =


Marking the neck hole:

If you have not already pressed along the folded edges, do that now.

I like to use a basic "key hole" neck, as this is one of the most common among period garments. You could make a collar with rounded edges, totally round, diamond shaped, etc. Once you have the basic idea of how to create one and put it on a tunic, the options are very open.

I use a contrasting color, but you can use the same color for the facing. In order to hide all unfinished edges, I like to turn my facing to the outside and make a distinctive collar. You might decide to turn your facing to the inside and finish it.


"keyhole" style neck facing

  • measure your neck
  • With a chalk or marking pencil, mark a circle on the fabric such that the circle is your neck measurement.
  • Fold the fabric lengthwise and lightly press
  • Cut out keyhole shape with 2-4 inches around the neck hole and a long bit in the front (see above graphic)
  • Iron on interfacing
  • Fold the back of the facing 1/3 of the way over and press
  • Place the folded lines on your tunic such that the pressed lines match
  • Mark the neck opening and head hole
  • Pin down around the head hole and front opening


One of the most important things to note is that the head hole is not placed in the center of the collar but rather it is almost entirely in the front of the shoulder line. This is very important in order to avoid feeling choked by your garment.

  • Sew around the neck hole and neck opening
  • Cut out the neck hole and down the neck opening cut about, 1/2 inch away from the seam. Be careful not to cut too close to the seam or the first time you wash it, the seams will tear out.


Add a drop of "fray check" to the bottom of your neck opening to keep the fabric from fraying and leaving a hole.

  • Turn the facing to the outside (or inside depending upon your desires)
  • Press well and pin down - you will likely find it easier to pin on a table rather than your ironing board.
  • Add trim or finish the edges as you wish.
  • Sew up the outside edges of your tunic
  • Hem sleeves and hem as desired.


Owen-Crocker, Gale R. "Dress in Anglo-Saxon England." Manchester University Press, 1986; Revised The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2004

ISBN 1 84383 081 7

Outstanding book for historical and well-documented clothing and fabrics of Anglo-Saxon England touching on Viking/Scandinavian settlers, Irish, and continental influences. One of the best-researched books I've come across. Highly Recommended

Thursfield, Sarah "The Medieval Tailor's Assistant Making Common Garments 1200-1500."Costume&Fashion press and imprint of Quiet Specific Media Group Ltd. New York & Hollywood, USA, 2001

Great book if you are just starting out trying to make earlier period costumes. Many of the patterns are very close to "authentic" period designs and create a great finished garment. Good patterns and construction details. Originally developed for theater costuming. Strongly recommended.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth. 1983. "The Textiles." The Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial, Vol. 3, ed. Angela Care Evans, London: British Museum Publications Ltd.

Comprehensive and in-depth discussion of the Sutton Hoo textile finds, including speculation on garments and household furnishings.

Groenman-van Waateringe, Willy. 1984. Die Lederfunde von Haithabu. Berichte über die Ausgrabungen in Haithabu. Neumünster: Karl Wachholtz Verlag.

Great documentation for period leatherwork here--includes many kinds of shoes, a quiver, and a variety of construction stitches. In German, but with lots of diagrams and suchlike.

Hald, Margrethe. 1980. Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials, trans. Jean Olsen. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark.

In addition to write-ups on a huge variety of finds of textiles from the Bronze Age through the medieval period, this book contains a good diagram of the Thorsbjerg pants pattern. Good drawings and a few very good photos.

Crowfoot, Elisabeth; Pritchard, Frances; Staniland, Kay: Textiles and Clothing 1150-1450. Her Majesty's Stationery Office, Museum of London, 1992.

Some Web sites about hoods:

Where to purchase good fabrics in the SF Bay Area

Britex Fabrics

147 Maiden Lane

San Francisco, CA

(415) 392-2910

Hours: Open 9-6 Mon-Sat. and until 8 p.m. Monday & Thursday.

They have many fabrics and notions. The staff is super helpful and will cut swatches of any fabric. Just watch out, they can be very expensive and I find their fabrics somewhat over priced.

Discount Fabrics

4458 Mission St: Specializing in Bridal

2315 Irving St: Children's Fabrics

1432 Haight St: Unbelievable trims, furs, etc.

525 Fourth St: Warehouse

All in San Francisco

OK selection, good prices.

Fabrics R Us

1745 Berryessa Road, San Jose, CA 95133

(408) 929-4330

A great selection of dress fabrics. My favorite fabric store. If they don't have what you want, just ask, they can probably get it and at a really great price. Cotton velvets, linen blends, wool and cotton blend brocades, and silks.


2982 Adeline St.

Berkeley, CA 94703

(510) 843-7290

Offers an extensive selection of threads, ribbons, tools and supplies for the textile arts, including lace-making, embroidery, knitting, tatting, crochet, costume, bridal, etc.. Corset stays and busk pieces - OK for hats and bags. You can rent hat forms there, to make your own hats.

Stone Mountain and Daughter

2518 Shattuck Ave. at Dwight Way

Berkeley, CA

(510) 845-6106

Sometimes they have good buys, great for pewter buttons and such. Almost always have 100% linen

Online fabrics stores - My personal favorite

100% linens @ $14-$16/ yard

100% wools - they don't always have this but when they do runs about $16/yard

silks and blends, overall great online shop and I have never been unhappy with fabric I have received from them.



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