A brief essay on the leinte of early medieval Ireland by Molly Kathryn McGinn (formerly Ní Dana)


There's a lot of dispute about how to make an "authentic leine"  so I will  briefly summarize the information I've been collecting...

    A leine  (plural - leinte) is the basic unisex garment of the insular Celts of Ireland and Scotland, worn underneath everything else.  It can be variously described as tunic-like, peplos-like, or some sort of chemise.  It does seem to have been composed of two long rectangles of fabric attached at the shoulders either by seams or pins, with or without sleeves, gussets or gores. Necklines could be round, square or v-shaped, guessing from illustrations in the Book of Kells, but boat neck and slit-front are not out of the question.

    Early period (up to at least the 12th century ce) leines seem to have been either sleeveless, or with fairly narrow or straight sleeves eased by a gusset. Dunleavy states that styles gradually became more fitted over time, perhaps from exposure to Norse styles.

    Gores appear to have been speculative before the 10th century - they might have simply hiked their leinte up over their belts when they wanted to move at more than a crawl. 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.

Quoting from "Irish Noble Dress: 5th century B.C. to 17th century C.E." by T.H. Lady Lughbec ni Eoin (Nancy Lynch)

Styles and fashions of many differing centuries were worn side by side throughout the Middle Ages in Ireland. The Gaeils, being proud to display their connections to the past, traditionally honored their lineage by wearing garments to recall ancestral heros or events. Up to and including the Anglo-Norman period, just about any Irish garment style that was worn in earlier periods would have been worn by some Irish noble person. After the 12th century there were many confrontations regarding this custom and all other "things Irish" between the Anglo/Normans who had invaded the island country, and the Gaeil. Then in the 14th century the English=Tudors began strengthening the anti-Irish policies, becoming firmer with each succeeding monarch. Legislation, punishments, and even death sentences were doled out to those of the aristocracy and peasantry, both English bred and Gaeil, caught by those in power, wearing clothing or hairstyles "after the Irish fashion". The Tudor-English Crown was bent on Anglisizing and "de-Irishizing" all of Ireland.

    I think there's a lot of truth in Nancy's viewpoint, and implied in this idea is that backwards looking styles would not have been out of place in the 16th century, for example.  I make no representations about the opinions of Renaissance Faires, or or venues, so be warned! but for general purposes, mixing backward as you will seems entirely legitimate.

    There's a lot we don't know for certain (like every aspect of Celtic Reconstructionism), including actual period construction methods, normal width of fabric and so on, as no one's dug one up out of an Irish bog that we know of yet.  There are Danish bog examples to help give us some clues, though there seem to have been substantial variations between Norse and Irish clothing styles.  It does seem pretty certain that they were made of linen, (flax or nettle most likely) though some authors argue for wool for the lower classes.
Even the exact *type* of loom can spark heated debate, let alone things like color... though from the literary evidence there's a strong likelihood they were white or perhaps yellow or... like I said, heated debate.

I've made a test version of unbleached muslin, which is cheap, cotton sheeting is also good, less see-through, still pretty cheap and light, and many people use various medium-weight cottons, as linen can be expensive and a different feel than moderns are used to next to the skin. (There are some very nice linen/cotton blends around for a price, as well)  Amount of fabric is definitely a variable depending on type of sleeves, height and width of person, loosely gathered vs gored, etc... I used about 4 yards of 45 inch fabric for me at 5'2" with narrow sleeves, my next version will probably be different - you see the problem.

Construction is fairly simple - elaborate sewing skills are not required. Of course, in period, they were entirely handstitched, and that's always an option, though very time consuming... as I discover more, I'll update this page.

Early Irish Shoes

A basic Bibliography:

Dress in Ireland : Mairead Dunlevy, Holmes and Meir Publishers, Inc., New York,1989.

This is the most often quoted source amongst re-enactors, though there's very little on early periods. It's still in print, last I heard, though quite expensive for what you get.

Handbook on the Traditional Old Irish Dress: H.F. McClintock, Dundalgen Press, Ltd, 1058, 28p.

A short summation of his other work, produced for the government of the Republic of Ireland, which was considering developing a "national dress".

Old Irish and Highland Dress: H.F. McClintock, 2nd edition Dundalk, Dundalgen Press, Ltd., 1950.

A very useful resource if you can find it - long out of print. This is the second most quoted source amongst re-enactors. My copy is a second generation photocopy - try inter-library loan. A major caveat is that McClintock was not a textile person, so his conclusions need rethinking from a costumer's point of view.

Irish Noble Dress; 5th century B.C. to 17th century C.E.: by T.H. Lady Lughbec ni Eoin (Nancy Lynch)  written for an SCA Costume College, 1997 obtained privately from the author.

Prehistoric Textiles: E.J.W. Barber, Princeton University Press, 1992

An outstanding and scholarly look at the broad sweep of textile history by an archaeologist/linguist. Her descriptions of the Hallstat textile finds are the most useful I've seen. She says in the introduction that hundreds of doctoral thesis could arise from exploring the material she collects, and I have to agree. Highly readable and entertaining.

 A Social History of Ancient Ireland

A fascinating web site which abridges and expands upon P.W. Joyce's "A Social History of Ancient Ireland" with essays, links and the like.  Good clothing and personal adornment section

Meanwhile, take a look at:

 Viking Tunic Construction

 Rowan Fairgrove's Needle Arts Page
(tons of useful links and other resources

  Clothing of the Ancient Celts
(a interesting summary of some of the issues in reconstructing Celtic clothing - lots of links here too)

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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.


Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.


Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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