A living-history experiment by yours truly, because writers do weird things for the sake of realism. Such as, in this case, going out in the rain in garb.

Purpose: To find out how it feels to wear garb in the rain, so as to write better details in Of the North.

Ingredients: Me, cotton smock, wool cyrtel, pashmina for veil, rubbers (most of the time).

Weather: 61 degrees, with clouds and steady rain, therefore some humidity to be expected. (June in Minnesota)


Wool is crisp when it’s clean and dry, gets softer when wet. Of course, when it’s wet, there’s the sheepy smell. I don’t find the smell a bad thing. It’s a clean sheep, after all.

Wool also stretches when wet, so the hem gets slowly lower and lower, but mine didn’t get that dark line to four inches like what I’ve seen in pictures even after half an hour outside, dragging it through grass and such. But then, I wasn’t jumping in streams. When the right-hand side of my skirt got too long for walking on the gravel in, I hitched it up into my belt (and I think I might have found a way to do it without making an awkward bulge in the back, but unfortunately nobody took  pictures). Even with that part up and the smock’s skirt exposed, I didn’t get much wetter. The biggest difference was that I had more yardage of the smock’s skirt under less of the cyrtel’s, which meant less room for legs and more swishing around when I walked.

My smock got wet where the cyrtel didn’t cover it, which was pretty much just the cuffs of the sleeves. It’s cotton, though, so it is highly absorbent. (I should research the properties of linen as opposed to cotton in this regard.) The smock’s hem got wet to a couple of inches up, partly because of things to do with my feet.

Difference between barefoot and with rubbers on:

With the rubbers, the water from the grass got on the boots and then came off on my hems as I walked. When I was barefoot, the water would get on my feet and ankles, splashing up as I walked, but wool really does wick that away. The hem of the smock got a little wetter than when I had boots on, but not that much.

The raindrops settled on the wool and soaked in, leaving spots of darker colour on the fabric where it’s wet, but even after half an hour, though the spots were closer together, nothing had got through to the inside of the cyrtel, let alone through to my skin. The rain wasn’t exactly light, but not a downpour either.

They’ll tell you wool heats up when wet. People doubt this. It’s true. I know from washing wool I’ve knitted with. But I don’t usually wear an entire dress made of wool and go out in the rain with it. Outside, that was very cozy and warm; when I came back inside, where it was twenty degrees warmer, even with the central fan going, it was a bit too warm.

On a slightly odder note, my veil helped a lot with keeping mosquitoes off. I walked around behind the house, and one found me and tried to bite me a little below my neck, where I had three layers of fabric (veil, cyrtel, and smock) between it and my skin. “Good luck with that,” I told it, and it gave up and flew away whining. Later I walked through a swarm, who tried to attack my ears, and were unhappy when they couldn’t find them, or the back of my neck, or practically anywhere. If you don’t have bug spray (as in medieval England), this is a very good thing.

I was also able to run (away from traffic coming up the road, to hide behind a tree) down a hill, barefoot, without losing any of my four pins. I also somehow didn’t trip on my hem even though I didn’t have it hitched up at the time — I just grabbed a handful in my right hand and ran for it.

The cyrtel was almost dry, except for the hem, a quarter of an hour after coming in.


I could probably be out in the rain all day in this and not get hypothermia. It would probably take a drenching for the water to penetrate to my skin anywhere except the hem. It’s cozy, and probably would still be so even in a house without central heat, or maybe even when the temperature is near freezing.

Apologies for the horrid quality of the picture, but it was a very good veil day — even after being out in the rain (the pashmina got rather wet and sort of lost shape) and running in it). I’m not very good at taking pictures of anything, even less so with my computer; and my sister was busy at the time. It looked even better before I went out, but I didn’t take a picture then.


I plan, at some point, to do research for a hypothesis that a two-gore cyrtel is more often a lower-class thing, while the four-gore is usually higher. That’s going to take quite a lot of looking at period art, which is often highly stylized and in some cases allegorical. I might share my findings here, if they’re significant.

Does this sort of thing interest you, good readers, or does this sort of thing leave you cold? Let me know. I’d rather post things you like to read, though the research does go on behind the scenes just as much, as my sister will tell you after getting tired of hearing me rambling on about seam treatments or how to look fashionable on a minimum of fabric or something.


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
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7 Responses to Verisimilitude

  1. Christine says:

    This is totally awesome!!! And so full of useful information.

    We writers go to any length for research, don’t we? XD I love it! I would absolutely love more posts like this. I so admire how dedicated you are to getting all the details right in your story!


  2. Thanks for posting your research results! I just might use that information someday.


  3. Bia says:

    Wow! That is awesome research! I had no idea about the properties of wool, thank you for sharing this, pretty useful


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