Making the Irish Leine
Carreg Wen Academia, Nov. 7th, A.S.

Meghan Paget

Hello! These pages originated as notes for an Academia class taught by Lady Meghan in the Shire of Carreg Wen. They were put on the web in response to the interest of many in the Kingdom of Caid. Now that I've moved them to the new website, I hope to update them soon and add more pictures of various stages, especially making the collar. If you have questions, you can send email to Lady Meghan Paget.

Outline and sewing notes Pictures and historical paintings Pattern pages

  1. 1. Historical
    1. The leine is the basic unisex garb of the Celts, often worn under other clothes.
    2. Spelling - I've seen leine, leinna, leinte. The word means "shirt", and I believe the modern spelling is leine.
    3. Early descriptions of the leine from 5th cent. - 12th cent. - long smock-like linen garment, ankle-length. Either sleeveless or with straight sleeves.
    4. Big baggy sleeves date from the 1500’s and later. (Don’t let this stop you)
    5. As Molly ni Dana says: "The big baggy sleeves many people are familiar with are a later fashion, though quite fun, and there's no reason not to make your leine with these sleeves if you want to, they'll just be 16th century rather than early period." (from an article listed in the webpages at the bottom)

    6. Men wore belted and bloused. About mid-calf length before blousing.
    7. Women wore to ankle length.
      1. Well-off women wore with overskirts & overdress
      2. At home/in private likely worn alone
    8. In general - longer indicates higher status. Shorter leine was for those who had to do a lot of manual labor. A leine with LOTS of fabric meant 1) you could afford the fabric, 2) you did little enough manual labor not to be hampered by it. In their efforts against the Irish culture, the English imposed laws stating the maximum # of yards that could be used. It is difficult to translate this amount, since cloth of the time was not as wide as it is now. But it makes it clear that a lot of fabric was preferred, both in the sleeves and pleated to the body.
    9. Reconstructing History provides us with these Statutes regarding the léine, quoted by Cáisín nic Annaidh:

      In a a letter from Henry VIII to the town of Galway, 28 April, 1536:

      Item, that no man, woman, or child, do wear in their shirts or smocks, or any other garments, no saffron, nor have any more cloth in their shirts or smocks, but 5 standard ells of that country cloth.

      An act of Henry VIII forbid any person in Ireland after 1 May, 1539 to dress their hair in the Irish fashion or to:

      ...weare any shirt, smock, kerchor, bendel [band or ribbon], neckerchour, mocket [bib or handkerchief], or linnen cappe coloured, or dyed with Saffron, be yet to use, or weare in any of their shirts or smocks above seven yards of cloth to be measured according to the King's Standard, and that also no woman use or weare any kyrtell, or cote tucked up, or imbroydered or garnished with silke, or courched [overlaid, embroidered] ne layd with usker [usgar Irish for jewels], after the Irish fashion, and that no person or persons, of what estate, condition or degree they  be, shall use, or weare any mantles, cote, or hood, made after the Irish fashion.

    10. Leines were heavily decorated. Look for trim, and consider embroidery. It's hard to find appropriate trim, so when you find a source, get their info! (Many places mailorder through catalogs or the web.) There are descriptions of leines with two handspans of embroidery around the hem. Wow! But it's better to have a plain leine than no leine - you can always add embroidery or trim later, or on your next leine.


  2. 2. Why a leine can be fun for you
    1. Comfort
    2. Sleeves make great pockets
    3. For women - great maternity & nursing garb
    4. Easy to share leines back and forth even across genders
    5. A loose and flowing piece of garb is more forgiving of sewing mistakes.
    6. Depending on details of construction, can be casual tourney garb, or can be more fancy for court wear.

    7. Fabric selection
      1. Use all natural fibers
        1. It breathes! And therefore so will you.
        2. Looks better, too
      2. Recommend linen, raw silk, cotton, linen-cotton blends
        1. Linen most appropriate in period. Now harder to find & more expensive. (Watch out for fabric store employees that point you to a whole rack of bolts of "linen". CHECK the contents. It may be all nylon and rayon.)
        2. Cotton, while common now, was rare & expensive then.
        3. Nettlecloth and hemp fabric were used. This would be very appropriate. These fabrics are incredibly durable, wear very well, and would make great tourney garb. Hemp fabric can be gotten now - see resources section.
        4. But when it comes down to it use what your means allow! *(But still use all natural fibers!)
      3. The "hang" of the fabric is very important. Mostly a matter of experience. This is why I’m trying to have lots of samples here.
      4. (For those reading this on the web - sorry! If you're in Caid, email me and maybe we can meet up at events.)
      5. Color - bright! The Irish were fond of bright colors. The leine was described as "gel" meaning bright.
        1. Do be aware that linen did not take most dyes well. Most dyes would come out bright rather than dark. One exception to this is woad - blue.
        2. A popular dye was saffron, which was imported and expensive. A comment I have seen is that the Irish were very conspicuous consumers!
      6. Buying fabric can be very frustrating. Even when you find fabric that's the right materials, right weight, right color, you still have to find a bolt with enough yardage. It takes about 6 yards. For a nursing leine, use 8 yards. (If you can get 60" fabric, go for it - a lot easier for cutting, and you get a fuller leine.) If you're buying several things in conjunction - say, fabric and trim - have them measure all of it before you buy any. It's horrible to have your trim already cut and find out that the perfect matching fabric only has 4 1/2 yards left on the bolt.
    8. General sewing tips - here's a chance to learn from my mistakes. (Ok, you great costumers out there knew all this. But I didn't. If I can help one person avoid these mistakes. . .)
      1. Buy a little more fabric than you think you will need. You can always find uses for leftovers. Running out is horrid.
      2. Take your time sewing. Yes, the experienced types do it all last minute and overnight. You don't have to. Save your sanity, and give yourself lots of time. Slowly and carefully, and you will find you can produce something much better than you might have thought.
      3. Prewash your fabric. Really. Don't skip this. You don't want to do all that work just to have the finished garment shrink.
      4. Use ironing liberally. Yes, it's a pain to set an iron up. Yes, it's hot. But OH, it makes a difference. Steam ironing.
      5. It's always better to cut larger than smaller - you can always trim later.
      6. "Measure twice, cut once"
      7. Finish exposed edges of fabric
        1. Serging, zig-zag, FrayCheck, pinking shears. Whatever you use, just DO IT.
        2. Selvedge is your friend!
      8. If you're getting tired, and you find yourself making a dumb mistake, STOP NOW. Come back to it another day when you're not tired. Otherwise you'll just make another mistake, probably worse.
    9. Why THIS version of the leine: There are many different variants of the leine. I'll display as many examples as I can borrow. Why am I teaching you this variant?
      1. It's what I'm most used to. (let's hear it for honesty) But that's not all!
      2. It is very appropriate for Celtic wear. As mentioned before, the Irish preferred to use a LOT of fabric, and have a well-pleated, voluminous leine.
      3. This version adds a few niceties over versions closer to a T-tunic. You CAN do these - it's not that hard - and it makes it look so much fancier. This version is easiest to vary between casual and fancy.
      4. This version is looser and more voluminous. This is GOOD for the inexperienced sewer. If you forget to allow for seam allowance, or miss a cut by a little bit - you can still wear it! (Bad memories from my first t-tunic. . .)
      5. A fuller leine is easier to share with different people
      6. For women, this leine pattern makes great maternity garb, and it's easy to make one as nursing garb.
    10. Making the "pattern" for your leine
    11. How fancy a leine do you want?
    12. I really recommend a collar.
    13. Do you want adjustable gathered sleeves, or sleeves pleated to a fixed length? I have not been able to find any documentation on the adjustable sleeves, but I wear them anyway. They're good tourney garb, for when you may need to pull the sleeves up for archery, say, or washing dishes. Also makes it easier to loan out to someone whose arms may be a bit longer/shorter. However, fixed pleated sleeves are more formal, and are a great place to show off nice trim. Do NOT try to combine them and put trim along the gathered adjustable sleeves.
    14. If you're using fixed pleated sleeves, do you want cuffs? Here's a picture of a leine showing pleated sleeves and cuffs.
    15. For women, do you want to make a leine that can be used for nursing?
    16. If you have 60" fabric, great. If you have 45" fabric, do you have any reason to want to make a fuller version than that will give you? Large frame, use for maternity, or just sheer I'm-a-Celt-and-I'm-gonna-show-off-all-my-pleats?
    17. When you cut your pieces, don't forget about seam allowances. I use a 1/2" seam allowance.
    18. Ok, now that you've looked over these questions, let's go to the


  3. Sewing the leine
    1. Ok, you've prewashed your fabric, ironed it, measured and cut out all your pieces, ironing them again if necessary.
    2. Stop and consider decoration. (Ok, ideally you plan this before you ever bought the fabric. But now's a good time to consider it again.) Do you want to add trim? Have you found your trim? Would you like to do some embroidery on the leine? Now's a great time for that. It's a lot easier to embroider on a leine before you've sewn it. I have an example to show.
    3. Take your two front yoke pieces, and where they were cut on the fold, iron that fold in. Run a seam down the edge of it - right at the very edge. This is optional but adds definition.
    4. Next step is to make the collar. We did a sample run on paper in the class. If you're going to make cuffs for your sleeves, go ahead and do that now, too - it's the same process.
    5. ADDING NOTES FOR WEB READERS. I usually show people how do to the collar. You may have done the same thing on many garments. Take the rectangle and fold it into a W shape. That is, fold it in half the long ways, then take the two edges and fold them down the outside. Does this make sense? Then you sew down the open edges of the W, then turn it inside out. You end up with a collar-shaped rectangle with no exposed open fabric edges. -Meghan

    6. Next step is to join the back yoke, the two front yokes, and the collar. Probably the trickiest bit. Pin the center of the collar to the center of the back yoke. Line the inner edges of the front yokes up with the center of the back yoke, then pin the outer edges of the front yokes to the outer edges of the back yoke. Start pinning the front yokes to the back yoke, from the outer edge in, for a few pins. Now fold the outer edge of the collar piece into the center of the collar, so you find the spot that is 1/4 of the way in. There you're going to pin the back, the collar, and the front all together. From this point to the edge of the collar it gets pinned diagonally to the front yoke. Eventually that triangle will get cut off of the front yoke. (DON'T cut it off when you're pinning. Wait until you've sewn it and are sure it came out right.) We repeat this with the other side. Sorry, I know it's hard to describe this really well in words.
    7. Notes for the web readers - I was asked in class how you know how far diagonally to lay the collar and the yoke. The answer I had was just far enough so that the end of the collar intersects the edge of the fabric. This is SO much easier for me to show. . .if you make a leine, and you're anywhere near me, I would be happy to get together with you and show this to you. I'll see if I can take a picture of the collar/yoke assembly before I finish the leine I'm working on.

      If you DON'T want a collar, it is still best to take the measurement for one. Then you pin the front yoke to the back yoke until you get to 1/4 of the collar measurement from the center, then stop. I wouldn't make any diagonal cut on the front yoke if you weren't going to use a collar, I would just run a seam right along the very top edge of the front yoke to stitch the two pieces of the front yoke together. (It's cut on the fold, so it's doubled material)

      I hope that makes sense.

    8. Ok, now let's pleat the back to the back yoke. Take your time. Lay them down, right sides together, yoke first and the back on top. Pin the left edge of the body to the left edge of the yoke, and the right edge of the body to the right edge of the yoke. Find the center of the back, and the center of the yoke, and pin them together. Now find the center of the right half of the back, and the center of the right half of the yoke, and pin them together. Keep finding the centers and pinning them until you're down to a small enough space to fold pleats under and fold them. Then go over and repeat all this on the left half. I recommend you fold all pleats on the right side towards the right, and all pleats on the left towards the left, so they go outward from the middle. ***See note at bottom for nursing garb***
    9. Hi! I came up with a better idea last time I tried this. I had the iron out, so I just started by folding the back and yoke pieces in half, and ironed the top couple of inches of the fold. I did the same for the quarter, ironed that fold, too. Then I opened it, and folded each quarter section in half, and ironed those folds, again just the top couple of inches. Then I could just lay them out with the fold lines lined up, and pin those, then fold the pleats inbetween. Hope that makes sense. It was easier.
    10. Whew. You may have to take it apart and repin, if it doesn't come out evenly. Be patient, don't rush yourself.
    11. Great, now you can sew those pieces together.
    12. Now we're going to do the same sort of thing for the front piece and the two parts of the front yoke. Only difference here is that we have to pin the inside edges of the two front yokes together to the front body piece. Pin. Swear under your breath. Repin. Sew.
    13. If you want the kind of sleeve that has cords running through it and is adjustable, we need to work on it now. (If you want trim on the wrist, think this whole process out before you do it, and plan how you're putting the trim on and when.) You need a long rectangle of fabric - about 3-4 inches wide, and about as long as your sleeve. (You may be able to use bias tape.) Time for some ironing. Iron the two long edges under. Iron the two short edges under. (This is to protect the open edges) Open up the sleeve and lay it down with the inside side up. Lay the strip down along the length of the sleeve, with the folded under short edge right at the wrist. (Folded under edges down) The other short edge will be towards (but not all the way to) the shoulder. Pin this in place. Run one seam all the way up one long edge. Run another seam all the way down the other edge. Run another seam along the middle of the strip, from right at the wrist to almost to the other end of the strip. Do NOT run any seams ACROSS the strip at either end. I hope this makes sense - easier in class, I could show it to people!
    14. Now we're going to pin the sleeves to the front & back yoke. Remember, the edge with the selvedge is the wrist. The other end is the shoulder. Lay the yoke & body combo out right side up, lay the sleeve shoulder on it right side down. Find the center of the straight shoulder edge and pin that to the point where the front and back yokes meet. Pin down the front and the back. The sleeve will be deep enough that you can pin it to part of the front and back body pieces as well. Sew the pieces together. Repeat for the other sleeve.
    15. If you wanted pleated sleeves, now is the time to work that out. ( Here's that picture again) If you're putting cuffs on, sew them to the ends of the sleeves now. (Or at least pin them on - you need it to estimate length of sleeve accurately.) To sew on the cuffs, place the right side of the cuff against the right side of the sleeve, at the wrist. You should have the open side of the cuff next to the wrist edge. Pin, sew, fold over, and iron down. If you're putting trim along the pleats, you may want to just pin the cuffs.
    16. Put the leine on. Measure from the sleeve/shoulder seam to where you want the end of the sleeve to be at your wrist. Take the leine back off and lay it down on a table or ironing board. Have your measuring tape out next to it. Start folding and pinning pleats from just below the shoulder sleeve down to the wrist. I recommend you pleat it so that all the pleats are going down the sleeve. Make even pleats, with your best guess of size, until you've pleated down to the wrist. Measure the length now. How close is it to your earlier measurement? Grumble, growl, unpin, repleat. It can be tedious, but you're just pinning, you can take it back apart and it's fine. You have to do this for both sleeves - try to get them as close to identical as possible. This is a great place to put trim on. I recommend you sew the pleats down by themselves first, with a pair of seams, probably best spaced just narrower than your trim. Then pin the trim along the pleats and sew it down. Remember to fold the top edge under. If you just pinned the cuffs, you can take the cuffs off for a moment, and run the trim under the edge of the sleeve, then fold it over, and sew it shut. Then pin the cuffs back on and sew them. Be careful - that section where you're sewing over the trim will be thick and tricky to put through a sewing machine.
    17. Ok, this is really starting to resemble a leine! Flip the whole thing inside out. Start at the wrist end of one sleeve. Pin the bottom of the wrist seams together, then pin along the curve of the baggy sleeve. When you get up near the armpit - it's time for the gusset. This is the other tricky bit. Don't look at the gusset as a square, think of it as a diamond. Your under-edge-sleeve seam splits and goes along two sides of the diamond. The other two sides of the diamond take the edges of the front & back body pieces, then those two rejoin. (Gosh this is hard to describe in words.) Now you can pin the front and back body pieces together down the side. Go ahead and sew what you've pinned. When you get to the gusset part, go very slowly and carefully. You may want to sew that part by hand.
    18. Repeat that last step for the other side.
    19. Wow, getting close. Ok, if you picked the adjustable sleeves, it's time to run cords through them. Use a bodkin - there are a couple of kinds available in fabric stores - or if you can't get that, grab a big safety pin. Attach your cord or ribbon to your bodkin/safety pin, and start threading it up one of the channels you sewed up the sleeve in step j). It doesn't matter which side. Take it up to the top, then take it back down to the other side. Make sure you cut the ribbon long enough for it to stick out when you've got the sleeve completely ungathered - but probably not much longer than that. Pull on the cords to gather up the sleeves. Get them to about wrist length for typical wear, then tie the cords up.
    20. Hem it. Fold the bottom edge under once a small amount, and iron it down. Now fold it under again to the length you want it to be. Iron it down again. Sew a seam around the edge to hem it. This is a great time to have the help of a friend or two to get the hem the right length.
    21. Huzzah! You've done it! Make sure all those interior exposed edges got finished.
    22. ***Nursing garb. For a nursing leine, make sure you have lots of fabric in front. If you're dealing with 45" fabric, you definitely want two front body pieces. (Well, if you're anywhere close to my size. Maybe not if you're a tiny person.) The basic idea is that the center pleat on the left and the center pleat on the right are not the same size as the other pleats. They're REALLY deeeeep pleats, but all the other pleats are normal size. On the inner edge of the extra-deep pleats is a long slit. Basically like a huge turned buttonhole. If you're wearing an overdress with it, obviously it never shows. But even if you're wearing it with just a skirt or belted, that is really enough to hold it casually shut and hidden. On my nursing leines, I currently have the holes basted shut, so I don't have to worry about it at all, but I can just go in and clip the basting to make them nursing leines again.

      Many, many thanks to my friend Jennifer who came up with this design for a nursing leine. I went to her when I was pregnant with my son and asked her to come up with one. It has been a lifesaver.

    If you think you might EVER need to make a nursing leine, for yourself or for a friend, please come take a careful look at mine. It has been such a help. (For my web readers - well, I can show it to the Caidans! I have a picture of it in use here)(Easily offended types don't look. Come on, y'all, there's lots more skin showing in a bikini.)

  4. Care of your leine
    1. One of the great things about the leine - easy to care for! I toss my leines through the washer and dryer. I wouldn't recommend a harsh detergent - I stay away from anything like Tide.
    2. I used to think - especially for my raw silk leines - that I shouldn't put them through the dryer. So I hung them to dry. MISTAKE! That much WET raw silk is heavy. It was heavy enough to stretch the fabric. Since this was an ankle length leine, I was shortly tripping on it.

SUGGESTED WEBSITES TO VISIT - please visit these websites, put up by many people far more knowledgeable than myself!>

Early Medieval Irish Costume

Leine pattern for a simpler leine with no body pleating


Santa Barbara Hemp Co
15 W. Anapamu, Santa Barbara 805-965-7170


Pickering International

Leine Pictures and historical paintings Leine Pattern pages
Kelthaven SCA page Kelthaven Home page