Over the years I have been asked about a variety of problems within historical costuming – and how to avoid them. I have already written a few posts on different aspects such as the look, fabrics, etc – but here … Continue reading
Can you do posh 1630 for a photoshoot in Bolsover Castle? For next week? A friend asked… well, I have quite a lot of kit, but my 1630 and 40 is middle upper class – but since I could get a few days free for making a new gown, and indeed I already had all the fabrics to make a stock 1630 frock, the answer was yes… The shoot was for English Heritage magazine, advertising masque event happening in Bolsover in July.
Since I had just a few days to play around with the frock, I decided to go for the styles I was familiar with – but also use techniques and information from a recently bought book – Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns ( fantastic book, and volume 2 is just as good as volume 1, invaluable resource). I decided to base my bodice on the slashed Ivory satin bodice ( p.70) but to go for tabs instead for peplum – in the styles of a few of Maria Henrietta’s outfits. ( the inspiration board here)
Bodice, though based on a relatively uncomplicated pattern was tricky due to the amount of layers…
Once the foundation was ready, the bodice was covered with satin. It was time to prepare the tabs, wings and lacing strips…
time to place the wings on….
It was time for the sleeves next – the sleeves were made separately in silk satin, lined with white slilk, with the head partially cartidge pleated. they were sewn into the armholes using a string silk thread.
The skirts were very simple – shaped panels were cut, sewn, decorated and lined – the skirt was then cartridge pleated to the waistband
the last corrections and the stomacher could be made, and lace attached
On the day the dress was worn over a chemise, 2 petticoats ( a silk and a wool one – it was a bit nippy!) and a bumroll. The bodice was very comfortable, keeping all the things in and I was able to stay in it for about 6 hours including some stately dancing:-)
Very pleased with it – This particular gown has already been sold on to another dancing lady, but I do need one of my own – and I have an eye on a nice Olive satin – gold lace already purchased….
The results on the day:
and the spread in the English Heritage members magazine….
Silks – James Hare
metallic lace – Barnett and Lawson
reed for boning- Vena Cava Design
lace – Tudor Tailor
dodgy wig – Ebay…
clothes the frock and the gentleman’s outfit – Prior Attire, naturally ( and though the dress is now gone, we still have a bumrolls available from my online shop 🙂
photography – Pitcheresque Imagery ( minus the photos as a couple – the local tog offered to snap them for us!)
Cost – fabrics – about £300, not counting the linen; lace – about £60, labour – £300.
We all know that very often it is the fabric that makes The Dress. A wisely chosen set of materials will bring out the beauty of the design, will enhance the tailoring – or even hide some dressmaking mistakes. A less than perfectly sewn dress will look amazing if the fabric is right – and a fantastically well stitched creation can be badly marred by a poor fabric choice.
Naturally what fabrics we chose differs – all depends on the purpose of the garment. If it is a one off frock cobbled together for a friend’s fancy dress party, you may not want to spend a lot on expensive silks; however if you are planning a creation that you are going to wear a lot, or if you strive for authenticity, the correct fabric choice is essential.
In this post I shall mostly concentrate on the historical accuracy and will try to provide a basic reference on which fabrics to use in which period. The list is aimed at providing a very general overview, so I won’t be getting into details like which weight for which garment in which century – would take ages and would make for a very, very long post indeed! I have learnt a lot over the last 20 or so years in the field – but am not omniscient, so if you know of an article or a reference that would be helpful with researching which fabrics were used when, please post in a comment and I will add it onto the article – it would be very much appreciated!
I will also get a list of providers of the fabrics I use most often.
So, there we go!
Linen: for undergarments, shirts, basic tunics, lining, gambesons, etc. Bleached linen for the unmentionables for the wealthy, unbleached, natural one for the less fortunate. Other colours ( reds, blues, browns, pinks etc were used for tunics, kirtles, linings etc. Different weights were used for different garments.
Wool – different weights and types were used – including patterns – herringbone and diamond were apparently quite popular in the dark ages and Viking era for example; fulled wools tend to become popular from 9-10 century, whereas plain weaves were generally available throughout the period. napped and sheared wool start to appear in the 14th century too ( broadcloth, wool satins etc)
Silk – plain weaves and some patterns are used from mid medieval period in the north of Europe, earlier in the south – proximity to Byzantium and the silk route. Available only for the wealthiest, really – and even then was used sparingly considering its great value. Plain weave, early taffetas ( 13-14th century), basic brocades and damasks were used. Silk velvet starts to appear in the end of 13th century, if I remember well, and by 15th has evolved into several styles ( cut, uncut patterns etc).
Raw silk was probably used more by the steppe tribes, and duponi was not used much either, apparently.
Cotton – although there are some references to cotton imported from India, they are very rare – fustian was used however (cotton/linen blend) and there were several fustian manufactures established on the continent. In England cotton as a name is used in the 16th century and most likely refers to woolen cloth!
Great article on the use of cotton in the medieval, Elizabethan and Stuart era – here
Linen – different weights any types ( cambric, lawn, Holland, buckram etc) – for undergarments, linings, ruffs, coifs, interlining, aprons, doublets, waistcoats etc
Wool – lots of varieties by that time, including blends with linen and silk; looks for broadcloth, scarlet, kersey, worsted, stammel, russet, cotton etc ); also, as mocado ( velvet using wool pile instead of silk)
Silk – again, lots of silk types used, in a variety of weights, patterns, blends ( cloth of gold, cloth of silver, tinsel) and grades. Look for satins, damask, velvets,grosgrain, sarcenet, taffets) Different types and patterns were popular in different decades. A good link showing some types- here
Don’t be tempted by duponis ( existed, but very rare as second rate fabrics – contrary to today, slubs were frowned upon apparently), noil, stretch or crushed velvets…. Not period….
(Duponi lovers, do not despair, modern powerwoven duponi has hardly any slubs at all may be used as an alternative to taffeta. just avoid the slubby stuff where it shows…)
Cotton – see medieval note
Linen – underwear, waistcoats, breeches, also dresses in the second half of the century ( especial pattern or printed) – polonaises, jackets etc
Wool – breeches, waistcoats, coats, capes, cloaks, riding habits, travelling outfits, uniforms etc
Cotton – at last! Getting more and more popular – and cheaper (cotton from the West Indies and America) and with the Industral Revolution on its way, the invention of the Spinning Jenny and more advanced mechanical looms meant being ablt to make cotton cloth in Englad too ( 1774 saw the lift of the heavy tas levied on brit produced cotton – it was established in the beginning of the century to protect native textile industry, and its revoking opened the marked for locally made cotton cloth :-); I believe the first cotton velvet is mentioned in 1790 or thereabouts – there is an extant male waistcoat made in cotton velvet in the States.
Silk – taffetas, brocades, damasks, velvets –plain or very specific patterns –famous Spitalfields silks ; used for dresses, petticoats, coats, breeches, waistcoats, frockcoats etc
Linen, as before
Cotton – including muslin, lawn, voile and plain cottons for dresses, pelisses, breeches, linings etc also undergarments including corsetry
Wool – coats, habits, suits, cloaks, dresses, uniforms, – everything goes! A variety of types and weights are used, broadcloth, superfine, shallon, worsted etc
Silks – velvets ( still mostly silks, cotton velvets or plushes used as furnishing fabrics too), tafettas, grosgrain, damasks, brocades, twills, satins etc – a great range of fabrics of different weights, weave and patterns used
A few generic notes –
*avoid man-made, artificial fibres whenever you can. Polyester taffetas may be cheap – and not only do they looks so, but they are a nightmare to work with too.
*Sometimes (well, almost always!) quality will hit your pocket hard – but in the long run, it is worth it. Don’t go for plastic embroidered duponis etc – save up for a month or two and get plain silk taffeta; if you cannot afford a dress in silk velvet, use a cheaper silk, or blend – or wool – a very period thing to do, plus it is easier to clean.
*Hunt for bargains – I have searches set up on ebay looking for different silk fabrics and sending me reports every week – some of the listings are useless, but sometimes you can stumble upon real treasures! Go to sales at silk mills, fabric stores etc.
*If possible, do not skimp on fabric. True, sometimes you get a fantastic end of roll silk – and there is only so much of it – then piece the panels up and of course use it – but if you are at liberty to get the proper amount of the fabric for the project, do so.
Trims and embellishment.
More or less similar things apply – avoid artificial stuff! Elastic plastic lace will spoil any Victorian outfit, rayon guipure lace will clash with proper Elizabethan fabrics. Also mark that different type of lace or braids were used in different periods – putting a cluny lace onto a 12th century bliaud instead of tablet woven braid will not do you any favours.
Again, please mark all those notes are for historical attire – if you are making fantasy, bridal, steampunk, etc garments, you have much more freedom with the fabrics and embellishment choice – I love experimenting with the alternative bridal styles or Steampunk looks as my imagination can run wild and I can go for the trims and interesting fabrics that I cannot use for historical gear!
Suppliers, in no particular order
Historical textiles – great quality broadcloth, superfine and other
Hainsworths – wool
Whaleys – cotton, linen, silk
Bernie the Bolt – wool, linen, cotton – frequents UK and Europen markets – no website:-(
Herts Fabrics – wool, linen –
Renaissance fabrics – wool, linen, silks – lovely stuff!
Sew curvy – corsetry fabrics ( coutil, broche, drill)
James Hare – lovely silks, great lace,- you will need a trader’s account
Silk Baron – silk velvet ( 80/20%), taffetas, duponi
Quartermasterie – lovely silks, also stunning silk velvet on cotton backing – no website though! frequents UK markets
Harrington Fabrics – lace, silks, lovely brocades – trader’s account needed
Watts&Co – church fabrics, absolutely gorgeous but very pricey ( looking at £100 – £250 per metre, many fabrics made to order only)
Sartor – – historical textiles – – great fabrics, do check the fibre composition information, as many of the stunning historical patterns are made in blends – half silk, half viscose:-(! some are 100% silk though and are a great find.
MacCulloch and Wallis – cloth, lace, haberdashery
Duran textiles AB – lovely silks and cotton prints, suitable for 18th and 19th century
Tudor Tailor – lovely wools suitable for Tudor and later costuming, plus linen and calico
Wm.Booth Draper – great fabrics especially for 18th and 19th century
Ok, so not everybody can afford a steel-clad jouster on a white horse as a fashion accessory – but don’t worry, there are ways around it:-)
So far, in our Looking the Part series, we have covered the foundation garments in Part 1, and make up and hairstyles in Part 2. Part 3, as can be quite safely inferred from the title, will be about accessorizing – but not only…
Please bear in mind, that I speak from a professional historical interpreter’s perspective – these posts are offered as generic advice only and you can choose which you may want to incorporate in your job or hobby. You can be as historically authentic or as fantasy as you want – simply choose the tips that would apply to you, and help you to create a convincing persona or character.
And so, let us start, with a truly vital element of every costume .. shoes
Not so much an accessory,but utterly indispensable for most folks – unless you are happy to run around barefoot in peasant gear ( done that, great fun!). Alas, good shoes and boots are not cheap – but it really is worth to save up for a few months and get a decent pair – and they will last you long, especially if you cover several periods, or dot need to wear them for days at a time. Most of the early footwear can have the simple advantage of lasting longer as you can often simply get a new sole fitted to your shoe.
Key things to remember:
*Wear shoes suitable to the historical period – but also to your status, occasion and weather: Riding boots are rarely appropriate for ballroom; court shoes will be useless on a campaign; if re-enacting medieval styles, it is a good idea to invest in pattens, if you work in a wet climate ( most of the UK then! :-). They are not only a nice accessory that attracts public attention, they are fantastic means of saving your fancy thin leather slippers from the mud!
* If you work in costume, or at least spend a lot if time in kit, do invest in shoes that fit. Banal, yes, but somehow many of us tends to economize and usually go for cheaper pair that sort of fits, instead of spending a few pounds more and getting a better pair, or a bespoke on. I It is simply not worth the pain – as I suppose most of re-enactors learnt the hard way!
* Before buying – do your research. Quality providers of historical footwear will always be able to show you the sources they used for the design on the shoe. Before you decide on style, do your homework and check online, or in books, what shapes, heels, colours were used in the given period. Don’t go for cheap copies based on ‘general knowledge of the period’ – if you are interpreting and talking to the public, you will be surprised how often shoes are on the agenda…. Also, make sure that the workmanship is decent – shoes that look right but are shoddily made will not be of much use. if you can, get your footwear from a recommended supplier.
* Take care of your shoes – remove mud, use grease, or shoe polish as often as needed – that simple and obvious step will prolong the life of leather, prevent cracks etc.
Shoe providers I have used and can recommend:
American Duchess – doesn’t really need introduction – covering 18th to early 20th century designs, great shoes at affordable prices. Love my Victorian Tavistocks, and am saving up for a couple of more pairs. …
Andy Burke – one of the top UK suppliers, great quality work – many styles available for a variety of budgets. I have my 12th century shoes from him – not the cheapest, but very comfy!
NP HIstorical shoes – lovely work, haven’t bought any from them yet, but inspected, and admired several times at different markets
Pilgrim Shoes – quality shoes on budget – my Tudor shoes are from her, they are great fit and have so far served me well for the last 6 years.
U szewca – Polish guys – my 17th century shoes and Cavalry bucket tops are form them… They do ship abroad, drop them a line! both pairs were made to measure, and are very comfortable and durable – I still use the shoes, some 10 years later – same goes for the bucket tops ( though they recently died in our garage fire – so will be ordering a new pair)
2. Hats – we already covered hats while talking about hair in the Part 2 , so just a reminder – wear them! Hats, hoods, bonnets etc are not only great for completing the period look – they also serve a function as they protect from the sun, rain, cold etc. They also help hide a bad hair day…. 🙂
As to obtaining the hats etc – the same key point apply – make sure it is appropriate for the period, status; ensure the supplier is trustworthy – if possible use recommended companies. Do your research as well….
Providers – since I make most of my own hats ( Prior Attire ), I rarely buy them – but i have recently treated myself to a lovely hat from Sherri Light ( Farthingale HIstorical Hats) – my friends also buy from her, and I often admire her designs at the markets:-)
I am not a fan of jewellery normally – indeed the only bling I wear is my engagement and wedding ring – had that for a couple of years, the longest any of my jewellery items has survived… the reason is simple – I do a lot of sports and earnings, bracelets etc are a bit of a hindrance – or danger even when you do martial arts or horse riding.
However, I have accumulated some historical bling over the years ( not near enough though!) and I do wear it if I re-enact a wealthy character. Not much point having clothes it for a queen and then skimp on necklace, earrings, ouches and rings, isn’t it? this is the area I am most deficient in, but am slowly catching up!
So if you want posh, get your bling – and bear in mind that items like surface decoration, pater nosters, pomanders, decorative hat pins or tiaras count as well!
Provider I have used in the past – Gemmus – lovely work!
4. other stuff.
And there we have a number of not only decorative but also useful items:
* fans – look great, useful in hot weather and perfect for demonstrating the secret language of the fan…..
* walking sticks – great accessory – looks fantastic, provides support when your legs are tired, and can be used as a weapon… 🙂
*gloves – in many periods a must – but also keep your hands warm ( and clean).
*muffs – fantastic for colder weather
* bags, purses,pouches, reticules- you name it. Look period, are practical ( make sure they are big enough for a hankie, car keys and a mobile phone 🙂
* umbrellas and parasols
*belts, girdles etc – goes without saying really 🙂
*keys ( chatelaines)
*tools – medieval scissors hanging from the belt, a viking needle case, etc – range of styles and options through the ages, depending on the profession represented!
* weaponry ( mostly for men in this case, but not always)!
* no doubt many others….
a good accessory is not only great for the look and comfort – but they also serve an additional purse – a perfect conversational gambit, essential when dealing with members of the public.
hope you have enjoyed the mini series – and hope it may be useful to at least some 🙂
One final remark – a perfect frock, on perfect underwear, impeccable hair and all the accessories required will count for nothing if your behaviour is not suitable to the portrayed persona. If it is a social event, closed to the public – hell, free rein! but if you are working at a living history event, do mind your manners – and mannerism of the era too! Queens rarely ran around barefooted with flowing tresses, chased by scantily clad youths; ladies rarely swore; gentlemen treated ladies with respect ( at least in public!); servants did not treat their betters as equals – and so on and so forth. It is impossible to be 100% authentic in your behavior, language, mien etc – but we can at least try and eliminate the most obvious things! 🙂
Right, now you have that perfect dress and silhouette, supported by all the correct underwear (as covered in part 1 here), the next step is the face and hair. It is not much, you may think, but do not … Continue reading
Aston Hall hosts Candlelit tours for 6 nights in November – and this year Prior Attire was there for a ride! The working team was put together by the industrious Black Knight Historical, and each evening we were there, from 6 to 9 ( or later), performing our roles – people from the household, circa 1640, preparing for Christmas. each of us had a station, props, agreed talks etc, and we entertained the visitors – chatting about the life during the English Civil War, Christmas customs, food, clothes etc.
I was sat with Gini, in the gallery, working diligently on my bobbin lace, whereas Gini was sewing away, trying to see something in the candlelight – fortunately our loupes de dentellieres ( water lens) were a great help – and they did attract a lot of attention too!
A bit further on, Lucas was in his element, as a physician – a bit of naturalist, early scientist and some astronomy thrown together, the talk was all about horoscopes, symptoms, humours, cures, bloodletting and urine sampling – great fun:-)
Other characters included kitchen staff, servants, soldiers, musicians,nobles, scribes etc – and Lucas managed to run around and take a few shots before the public came in one day… enjoy!
The 6 nights were full of work, talk and enjoyment – for both us and the public:-) the Hall was superb and attracted huge crowds – there were a few good thousands people going through the building over the duration of the event!
Many thanks to Black Knight Historical for providing us with the opportunity to work there for 6 magical evenings!