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12th century tunic for my husband – 12th century neckline inspired by the “blue Dalmatika” & “white Alba”

2015-12 - Racaire - Conrads 12th century tunic grey light-wool tunicAnd today let’s take a further look at the 12th century tunic I made for my husband last winter and especially its 12th century neckline inspired by the “blue Dalmatika” and the “white Alba”.

I already started to post about this 12th century tunic project several weeks ago but somehow I got a little bit sidetracked after the last posting. It seems like my brain acts like a squirrel at times as I can get easily distracted. Sometimes it can be a hard task for me to keep track of all my projects as there are so many – future, current and already finished ones…

However, postponed is definitely not abandoned. I am picking up the thread right were I dropped it with a posting about my inspiration for the 12th century neckline for my husbands tunic. 🙂

Well, what shall I say – drawing inspiration from period sources can be quite a challenge sometimes. And this 12th century tunic neckline was a real personal challenge for me as I wanted to get it right from the start.

Fortunately I had taken some great photos of the “blue Dalmatika” and the “white Alba” during my time in Vienna. And while looking through them, I found some good photos of the necklines among my museum pictures. In order to get some more information about this pieces and especially the necklines, I consulted a museum catalogue for further details. The photos and the museum catalogue helped me tremendously but I can assure you that I still had some sleepless nights to face before I started working at my very first attempt of this 12th century neckline style.

And now let’s take a look at the photos of the extant 12th century necklines which inspired my take on the 12th century neckline for my husbands tunic – enjoy! 😀

Inspiration #1
The “blue Dalmatika” neckline

Die blaue Tunicella (Dalmatika)” is on display at the “Schatzkammer” (treasury) in Vienna, Austria. According to my German issue of the exhibition catalogue Nobiles Officinae this blue Dalmatika is dated to the second quarter of the 12th century and was created in the “königlichen Hofwerkstätten” (royal court workshops) in Palermo. (#67, “Die blaue Tunicella (Dalmatika)”, page 264 – 266).


As you can see at the picture above, the neckline of the blue Dalmatika was embellished with a 3cm wide tablet woven band and some pearls which were sewn on one by one – according to my German issue of the exhibition catalogue Nobiles Officinae (page 264). Besides this information and the fact that this tablet woven band was also used for the white Alba, the exhibition catalogue unfortunately doesn’t give any further information about the neckline.

And here a picture of the front bottom part of the neckline which I found quite interesting:


And this is one of the points when it gets quite difficult to interpret the extant piece. The picture shows an opening at the bottom part of the neckline which is quite wide and differs from the execution of the top part. Furthermore the neckline cut seems to be much longer than necessary.

Well, when we look at extant pieces like this, we always have to keep in mind that they already survived many centuries and went through many hands. Furthermore it can be said for sure that some medieval pieces had to undergo changes due to changed style (like a garment shown at the Charles the Bold exhibition from a later century) or were mended in order to ‘preserve’ them. The many fabric layers of the white Alba are a well documented evidence for this ‘preservation’ process (see #68, “Die Alba”, page 269).

Therefore – given the beautiful workmanship in which the rest of the tunic was executed – I think that this not very appealing part of the neckline might be the result of some later repair work. In consideration of the fact that the blue Dalmatika was very meaningful and in use for several centuries which could have easily caused a rip of the silk fabric at this “stress point”, this theory makes perfect sense for me.

And here a picture of the blue Dalmatika neckline taken from the left:


Btw. this 12th century garments are on display in a quite dark room of the treasury due to the very sensitive nature of the displayed material. The light sources illuminating the garments are very limited in order to preserve the precious garments. This made it always quite difficult  for me to get good pictures of all the details.

2016-05_Racaire_12th-century-blue-dalmatica-neckline_1However, based on all my photos I can say that 3 stripes of tablet woven band were used as embellishment for the blue Dalmatika neckline:

One rather straight piece of tablet woven band was used for the back part behind the neck, one was used to create the curved neckline embellishment at the left side and one was used for the right border of the neckline.

…and talking about the blue Dalmatika – some time ago I was asked by a friend if I could see a seam along the shoulder line of the Dalmatika. This was a quite good question as a seam along the shoulder line would indicate that a front and back piece were sewn together in order to create the body part of the Dalmatika. Yeah, I am not only a nerd, I also have the right friends who challenge me. 😉

Well, during my former visits I actually never really paid attention to the possibility of a seam along the shoulder line as there were always so many other interesting embroidery and costuming details I wanted to explore. But the question of my friend made me quite curious and I decided to pay the museum another visit to examine the shoulders…

Though the poor lighting of the room and the amount of repair work in the shoulder region makes it quite difficult to be sure, I think that I could actually discover something that looks like a seam along the shoulders on both sides. However, I can’t really say for sure if this is an actual shoulder seam or the result of repair work but I would rather bet my money on a possible seam if I had to.

…and here a picture of the shoulder part of the garment and the possible seam:


…and now – last but not least – the second inspiration for my neckline:

Inspiration #2
The “white Alba” neckline

Die Alba” is also on display at the “Schatzkammer” (treasury) in Vienna, Austria. According to my German issue of the exhibition catalogue Nobiles Officinae this Alba is dated to 1181 with additions before 1220 as well as later repair work (visible white silk dating to the 18th century) and was also created in the “königlichen Hofwerkstätten” (royal court workshops) in Palermo. (#68, “Die Alba”, page 266-272).


As you can see on the pictures above and below, the neckline of the white Alba is embellished with the same tablet woven band as the neckline of the blue Dalmatika. However, it seems like the opening of the white Alba appears to have a far more round shape than the blue Dalmatika. But wait…


…well, according to the exhibition catalogue, this beautiful neckline of the white Alba is an addition/alteration from 1220!

Underneath this lovely embroidered and embellished neckline an older, purple colored neckline with some narrow “gold wire” embroidery can be found  (see #68, “Die Alba”, page 269 & 271). Though it is hard to tell from the small picture in the book and the condition of the shown part, it looks like the shape of this older, purple neckline is not as round as the neckline which was placed on top of it. The back part behind the neck seems to be rather straight with a only a slight curve

My conclusion…

Well, though some people might think that two 12th century necklines might not be enough basis for proper (SCA) research or inspiration, this is by far more substantial inspiration than I normally get to work with. Actual garments from the 12th century are very rare and it is really great to be able to draw inspiration from something other than a drawing… 😉

However, given that I wanted to use some tablet woven band I made for the embellishment for my husbands 12th century tunic, I was very well aware of its limitations. It does not really make sense to cut tablet woven band into shape and as it can only be bend to a certain extant to create a curve, the right choice was quite obvious. Therefore I decided to give the neckline of the blue Dalmatika a try. [emember_protected not_for=3-4 do_not_show_restricted_msg=1]

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I hope you enjoyed my posting about my period inspiration for the 12th century neckline for my husbands tunic. Next time I will show you my take on this very special 12th century neckline style…

Best regards Racaire

More postings about this 12th century tunic project can be found here: