Sewing a Dress According to a Medieval Description Part 1 – Primary Source and Translation

UPDATE: I had to reupload this post, because the page had a problem. Differences from the original are as follows: Verse Numbers for primary source and translation are missing. Everything else is the same. Have fun reading.

Welcome to a new segment on my blog: Sewing dresses described in medieval literature! I always loved to read medieval novels, and I have recently started to revisit them. When I was reading Hartmann’s von Aue “Erec”, I stumbled over the description of Enite’s, the female lead character, dress (V. 1537 – 1578) and I thought to myself: “Why not try and sew this?”

So here we are 🙂 This will be a series of several posts, you will find the other posts linked here as soon as they are up:

  • Part 2: Erec – Tradition, Story and Structure
  • Part 3: Underdress
  • Part 4: Dress
  • Part 5: Coat
  • Part 6: Belt, Clasp and Headdress

The first two posts are theoretical and research based, the other posts will discuss the process of sewing the garments. There will also be videos on Youtube, showing you how I made the whole outfit. The part on the source text(s) as well as the more theoretical stuff will not be discussed in-depth in the video, I will just briefly touch some subjects that I think are important.

In case you are interested in topics like medieval german literature in general, Artus novels, the author or stuff like manuscripts, tradition and more, I would also recommend you to read the blogpost, where I discuss these topics more in-depth and also link you to different sources. 

If you speak German, you can watch this video by Sommers Weltliteratur. It’s great fun and summarizes the story well.  This post will mainly be the source text I used as a base as well as it’s translation. 

knight with shield and sword in a dark forest

Erec – Hartmann von Aue

Enite’s Dressing V. 1537 – 1578

Enite gets dressed by qeen Ginover after her and Erec’s arrival at King Artus’ court: 

diu vrouwe mit der krône
ir lieben gast si kleite:
wan dâ was bereite
vil rîchez gewant.
si nâte selbe mit ir hant
in ein hemde daz magedîn
daz was wîz sîdîn.
daz hemde si bedahte,
daz manz loben mahte,
mit einem rocke wol gesniten
nâch kerlingischen siten,
weder zenge noch ze wît:
der was ein grüener samît
mit spannebreiter lîste,
dâ si si in brîste,
mit gespunnem golde
beidenthalp sô man solde,
von ietweder hende
an der sîten ende. 
ouch wart vrouwen Ênîten
gegurt umbe ir sîten
ein rieme von Îberne:
den tragent die vrouwen gerne.
vür ir brust wart geleit
ein haftel wol hande breit,
daz was ein gelpher rubîn:
doch überwant in sînem schîn
diu maget vil begarwe
mit ir liehten varwe.
der roc was bevangen,
mit einem mantel behangen
der im ze mâze mohte sîn,
daz geville hermîn,
daz dach ein rîcher singelât.
disiu künecliche wât
was gezobelt ûf die hant.
en borte ir hâr zesamene bant: 
der was ze mâze breit,
kriuzwîs über daz houbet geleit.
sô guot was des schapels schîn,
ez enmohte borte niht bezzer sîn.
ir kleit was rîch, si selbe guot.

Source: Hartmann von Aue: Erec – Mittelhochdeutsch/Neuhochdeutsch. Herausgegeben, übersetzt und kommentiert von Volker Mertens. Stuttgart 2008.

English translation by Ella from Tailored by Mrs. Spinalzo:

The women with the crown,
dressed her dear guest:
There were
many precious garments ready.
With her own hands
she sewed the girl into an underdress
made from white silk.
She covered the underdress,
and that could be praised,
with a dress
beautifully cut in carolingian fashion,
not too tight nor too wide:
made from green velvet
with braid, about a span width.
She laced her,
with spun gold
on both sides as one should,
and on both sleeves
at the hem.
Enite was also
belted above her hips
qwith a belt from Georgia,
women like to wear these.
Over her chest she placed
a clasp about a hand wide,
with a shining ruby,
but the girl
outshone it by far
with her radiant beauty.
Over the dress,
was put a coat,
it fit as if it had been tailored. to her body,
lined with ermine, the outher fabric was precious silk brocade.
This regal coat
had sable trimmed sleeves.
A braid tied her hair together:
it had just the right width,
laid crosswise over the head.
This headdress looked so gorgous
it could not have been more beautiful.
Her clothes were splendid, she herself noble.

medieval lady on a hill in sunset

Enite’s Outfit

According to Hartmann von Aue, Enite was wearing:

  • Underdress: white, made from silk
  • Dress: green velvet, laced at the sides as well as the sleeves to make it fitting, carolingian fashion
  • Belt: from Georgia
  • Clasp: to close the neckline, hand width, decorated with a ruby
  • Coat: made from silk brocade, lined with ermine, sleeves decorated with sable

As you can see, there are a few things that Hartmann does not discloses and leave to the readers imagination, the colour of the brocade used for the coat for example or the size of the ruby, how the belt looked like etc.

Next, I find the term “kerlingischen/karlischen” (carolingian) used to describe the cut of the dress very interesting as it would refer back to the 800s, the time of Charlemagne. Volker Mertens’ German translation simply states “french” here. I think, this does make sense and was, what Hartmann meant. It would probably have been difficult to know, what carolingian fashion looked like, while french fashion was known and the standard. Perhaps Hartmann used this term because the Arthurian material is set in the past and his listeners knew Charlemagne. I will go with the translation french here.

Which leads us to what I believe this dress to be, which is a bliaut 🙂 Fun fact: The word “bliaut” in old french translates to underdress and does not refer to a specific type of dress as we use it in English.

So, we’re going to sew a Bliaut together over the next few weeks! 

That is it for today’s post. Thanks a lot for reading, I hope you enjoyed! I wish you a good one! 


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