A Dress … finally


I had a block for my torso, but because I have been thinking about the evolution of fashion and because this is a early 16th century dress I had a friend fit me.

When I got it home and tried to cut it up, as I was warned it was not symmetrical, so I evened it out… basically eyeballed it. In the end I had two layers of linen and lined the neckline and the arm holes with the bias tape. Lucky I had just enough. It came together rather quickly. So quickly that I go excited that it would be done soon … boy was I wrong.

The Skirt

I had read allot about skirt construction, and there were a few things that I wanted to try, mostly to see if they made any difference at all.

  1. The waist of the skirt should have a few layers of fabric so that the pleats are stiffer holding their shape better.
  2. Cartridge pleating should be used to attach it to the bodice so that it doesn’t add the bulk of the pleats to your waist line.
  3. The hem at the bottom should be lined so that when you are walking your foot will kick the hem away… and be less likely to find it way under your feet.

069First thing was to cut the fabric, in all the reading I didn’t really find any patterns per-say. Frantically, I found an explanation to take you hip measurement and double it. While adding extra inches at the bottom to make the panels of the skirt look like a key stone. Period pieces would have used a rectangle and added a gore to the sides … so I took a short cut here. I doubled my hip measurement for this skirt, but I could have easily tripled it. Next time I think I will… but for a linen dress it’s fine.

To stiffen the pleats I had already bought organza because, when I started researching I was reading from modern tailors… apparently they swear by silk organza… and after using it I can see why.  I finished all of the seams by hand, which took longer that I would like, because I used french seams. My rationale was that it would be thinner than felled seams, not sure if that would make a difference. The cartridge pleating wasn’t that hard, I actually think its easier than setting them with pins.

084The good news is that all this work made a HUGE difference it really flares at the waist. The hem was last… and frankly I was slightly discouraged by this point. This had taken me over a weeks worth of work and I was hoping to be near the end.

For the hem again I cheated.. instead of investing in felt to stiffen the hem I used a nylon woven band, neon orange, at that. It was there I’m not made of money. My sewing buddy gave me half a yard of dark olive linen which was perfect because I needed some incentive to finish the thing.  I would like to say that I cut a curved guard and fitted on there. But that didn’t happen I made a strip with my two colours and sewed it on.

Overall I am happy with the skirt, there are definitely things that I would have done differently but of the three things that I wanted to try I am happy to say they all made a difference to how the skirt sits, and moves.

.. but I’m taking a break before I do the sleeves…


Cap “without a hat … it just looks like your wearing a long dress”

Domenico Ghirlandaio: Portrait of a Lady, 1480

Woman’s cap – from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I wanted to make a cap. The idea being here, to replicate as close to possible portraits of the time … I had a great tutorial from Katafalk for the structure to work from … But I really wanted an embroidered cap.

In the portraits you can see that there is embroidery, but its hard to see the pattern. So I struggled finding a motif.  until I found an beautiful embroidered cap on The Met’s web site.

What figured prominently on the cap was the couching with the metallic thread, and what set me free was that I could see in the extant example that it wasn’t perfect.

The process it’s self, is like wrapping a ribbon around an abnormally shaped Christmas present … and if its not perfect… well that’s OK.

I also added some bone beads around the front to try and recreate the look from my inspiration for this piece – Domenico Ghirlandaio: Portrait of a Lady, 1480.

100092096The only problem at this point is that its a little too fancy to wear with a linen dress… 

Chemise … by any other name

When I first started researching, one of the first sites I found was Katafalk‘s most excellent sewing site. I particularly fell in love with her embroidered cap.

sleeveThe cap is slightly earlier then what I am doing right now, but the idea of insertion embroidery quickly transferred to a chemise. I kept thinking about it … rather dreaming about it, and the chemise was next on my list so I thought … why not.

Arm Gore Insertion embroidery… not gonna lie, it took a long time, about 98 hours for the embroidery. Not to mention, pleating and attaching the collar … twice.

Still, I did find a short cut in the bargain bin at our local fabric shop. Its a tape for upholstering; for when you are applying decorative tacks to keep them evening spaced. Basically its tape with even measurements printed on it. Even so, I may still be working on this if I didn’t find it.

Over all I am happy with the chemise … although I may take the collar off again and make sure the seams are all even where they attach to the collar. This linen is fine and you can see the uneven seams. But for now … Im moving on’.

corset … no I’m not wearing a corset, this happens to be a fitted gothic dress

What I know …

most … all purists will tell you that they didn’t exist … and I’m inclined to believe them. However, there was something called the fitted Gothic dress.

Modern: Regency Style Corset pattern 18th Century

Gothic Fitted: Dig find, Herjolfsnes no.41, Mid-Late 14th Century

And looking at the both of them there are some striking similarities.  Both use small panels of material to wrap around the torso. Which makes sense … because you would want your seams to sewn on the straight grain as much as possible. In my mind I picture it like building a log cabin …

I made a replica (of sorts) of stays of Eleonora de Toledo, (1562).  For starting the process I relied heavily on semptress.org and created a paper pattern or “block” based on my measurements. Not to put too fine a point on this, but the rule measure twice cut once, comes to mind. I don’t think I did the best job getting the measurements, but the process involves drafting the pattern and fitting it on paper, so there was plenty of time to correct anything that went wrong. Also … I did not wear a modern bra. When I did the measurements there was a five inch difference between the modern lift and separate contraptions vs sports bra. Boning: There is no evidence to suggest that boning was ever used … but because I have combination of bad posture and  lots of bust I knew that I needed some help.

i should have

… used canvas layer and quilted them for strength.

what i actually did

… was use hemp cording. Mostly because  its a natural fiber so it probably won’t drive me nuts. And also because I fell in love with Jen Thompsons’ dress diary. It took some digging around to figure out how to do it, but basically I had a plan.

  • I cut two layers of my “block”, out of an old linen table cloth. (burn tested thrift find)
  • Tested the “channels” widths, with the hemp cording  (Oddly, the pressure foot width worked.)

I was quite nervous at this point, I didn’t want to do anything wrong and I wasn’t sure how to lay the pockets for my cording. Jen Thompson has examples of her work, but her instructions have disappeared into internet time and space. So I didn’t have clear instructions on how to place the cords. Fortunately I found some boning examples from the Renaissance Tailor. I couldn’t recreate their examples exactly but it was close enough for me.  I was working with a two dollar table cloth … I figured may as well dig in.  So, I started by sewing the one line down the front (where your cleavage would be) and then just kept going with that first line, using the foot as a measure. Because the pattern is curved, the straight lines fan out all on their own quite naturally.

  • Sewed channels for cording … and inserted hemp.

At this point it was ugly as hell … so i thought a fitting would be in order. I made a eyelet holes on a belt cord i had lying around and tried it on…

There were a few problems

it didn’t have should straps. I wasn’t sure the cording would work, and impatient so when i cut it i didn’t take the time to do the last step in my pattern block, and fit the should straps. Instead i adapted the English style of corset straps, where they just tie to the front with some more eyelets by eyeballing the pattern. Also the linen table cloth/hemp layer was pretty stretching (probably because i didn’t cut the small panels). So, to add strength i quilted my presentation layer over it  in a diamond pattern.

the eyelet holes are spiral. By the end i felt like a pro, even though there were a few “snow white” moments. The tape is the same linen material i thought i would try my hand at making it myself, which was fairly easy and oddly satisfying.

The good news is it works well, almost too well. and … I may have to try and dye it black … Bad news not accurate… meh