Livery vests, an interpritation - Part 1 - by Alex Kay
Medieval Livery Vests.
There are many types of livery vest to which can be copied from manuscript, many people seem to opt for a livery coat, which has short sleeves, these appear to be less common in historical evidence that the more economical vest. The purpose of the project was to capture a variety of livery vest types, and to be able to illustrate some options and assumptions used to produce these popular medieval designs.
A number of livery vests where identified, some of these are from English references such as The Beauchamp Pageant, others from illustrations from the continent.
The first type to be made was a very simple design, which involves a low cut sleeve opening, something that appears to be very popular on these vests, however not very popular with the modern reenactors. The majority of variations appear to be in the types of skirts that are available. There appears to be little uniformity in the skirt types. Illustrations of men wearing the same livery colours are frequently shown with different skirt patterns.
So we should start with the simplest. This one from the Beauchamp Pageant has no indication of a front opening, nor side opening and has a plain but flared skirt. The arm holes /openings are tight around the arm, and the garment is trimmed around the arm holes. Less commonly illustrated the garment has Warwicks ragged staff across the front. It is worth noting that this is not a man who is armed for war, who is wearing this garment, this appears to be more aligned to service than a military garment. In fact, it is very rare to see livery coats being illustrated during battle scenes, this leaves an interesting question, however not for this document.
So the first problem to be addressed was how do you wear this garment, it appears to have no way to get into it. Well it was then when we questioned why do all the garments that we associate with medieval outer layers, have to have an opening, why not a pullover? so would a woolen livery vest work if it was to be pulled over the head, after all wool has stretch on the bias which is why hose work, and without a front opening requiring buttons or hooks and eyes, the manufacturing of the garment is speed up significantly. Now this is purely one interpretation of a vest as with these images there is no clear front or side opening shown, however these are an option, and the objective if these are to be used will be to conceal the opening as much as possible, by use of hook and eyes that give the appearance of the seam being faultless.
So to the pattern, the top of the garment is designed to be relatively tight fitting, and should hug the torso, shape which is controlled by the doublet. This is a common theme, all body garments but coats should be tight to the torso. The waist should follow exactly the same shape as per the doublet, an excellent guide is of course the COSG men’s guide which talks about the waist of doublets and their position dependent upon the shape of the wearer.
The arm holes of the vest are where one of the big differences can be seen. Some are quite wide, with a tight arm hole around each arm, others are cut deep to only leave a small strip of material that rises from the waist over the shoulders. This is the area where we can personalise the torso section of our livery vests. The arm holes of the livery’s are normally shown with a edge, or a tape that defines the boundary of the garment, this is especially useful if your doublet is of a similar colour to that of the livery. For this we have used linen tape which is sewn over the edge, removing the need (if the wool is well felted) to finish or turn back the edge. Note that none of the livery vests have been lined, as far as I know there is no evidence for lining, for specifically livery vests.
Skirt Pattern No.1
The 1st pattern for the skirt is to simply measure the seam length at the waist and then transpose the same length to equate to 1/4 of circle, i.e. 90 degrees. This then can be drawn as the inside of the pattern, we have to decide the length of the skirt, which looking at manuscript should just show the lower part of the cod-piece. So the measurement for dimension 'b' from your medieval waist to about 1" down from the top of your cod-piece should provide the right length to be convincing when compared to most manuscripts.
Segmented Skirt, Pattern No. 2
The next skirt type is what I have referred to as a segmented skirt, and this would mislead you into thinking that there are lots of little panels sewn together, however that is not the case. the process for making this type of skirt for the vest is to do exactly as pattern no1. however, about every 1.5" you sew a reverse in the seam, so in other words, you fold the cloth back on itself and then sewn the fold so that it is permanently set. This is performed every 1.5" on the waist seam to the bottom hem, which forces each segment to take the shape that matches the manuscript, and gives the nice tubular look. When you attach the skirt to the body, at the waist, if the skirt diameter no longer matches the waist dimeter due to the losses in the reversed seams, then simply cut an additional panel and expand the skirt to suit, sewing on the inside. I believe this to be by far the most effective and easy to make skirt of all three, although obviously there is more sewing to be done.
We hope people find this useful, and are inspired to try constructing this kind of livery, they are very common, and it would be nice to re-dress the balance of the number of liveries worn at events.