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
Back in the autumn we were doing a few filming jobs – a couple of days for Horrible Histories ( not released yet, I think) and a bit for the BBC – filming the procession in Hampton Court.
There were close to 100 people in the procession and the task of sorting out the costumes was managed, very aptly, by Ninya Perry ( Tudor Tailor – rings a bell? 🙂 ) and her team. She talks about sourcing the costumes in her feature for the BBC here. It was a mammoth job, but the results were stunning!
Apart from the volunteers there was also a cluster of re-enactors, usually wearing their own kit ) I was wearing my old Tudor frockage in cream silk brocade and silk kirtle,all handstitched ( more on than and how to make your own here) – and I must say it is with the relief that I realized that I actually still fitted into it! I had a role of the train bearer – so following Lady Mary like a shadow…..
Lucas was one of the canopy bearers, and Darren from the Tudor Roses, whose outfits i made as well, had a prominent role too, looking resplendent in his new clothes of red wool – and he was kind enough to hire out the previous outfit I made him, in black wool.
The filming was – well , regular thing, comparing with other experience it was actually very well organized – yes, there was sitting around and waiting, and yes, we were repeating the same scene a few times, but mostly the work progressed smoothly – and it was a pleasure to actually meet David Starkey, whom I have always greatly admired.
In short – it was a good 8 hours work, but in good company, doing useful things – and we were fed well too 🙂
And the finished programme can be seen d=for the next few weeks on Iplayer –
and a few behind the scene photos below:-) enjoy the feature, lots of interesting things there!
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
French hoods, the bejewelled headpieces of the Tudor era, seem to be one of the most mysterious and difficult to recreate items – a real challenge for any Tudor re-enactor wanting to portray an upper class persona. Throughout the last few decades a number of patterns and a number of ideas has been employed to recreate the look – some more successful than the others, some less. The main problems lies in the lack of evidence other than pictorial one – to my knowledge, not one of the headdresses we now call French hoods has survived to our times. There are surviving examples of the wire base used for the gable hoods, but not a single one that would cast some illuminating light on the construction of the French ones. The only way then, it seems, is to rely on the portraits and accounts of the era, which, though immensely helpful, seem to be insufficient to resolve the burning issue once and for all – how were the things made and how they stayed on the heads!
In the present article I will briefly discuss the origins or the history of the hoods and then proceed to show how Prior Attire hoods are made. I do not pretend to come up with the pattern I have been using, and a full credit is given to the ones who did, nor will I claim that the method we employ is the best ever – I am confident it is only one of many, and it just happens that it has worked best for me and my customers. The purpose of the article is to show, step by step, how to achieve the creation – and for that you may want to buy the commercial pattern, as it will help you a great deal, but it is by no means necessary.
In my career I have come across several different solutions to the problem, and indeed a few of them seem to be working just fine. The two most popular for the last two years have been the following:
- All elements ( coif, paste, veil, crescent) are separate and are pinned together on the wearer’s head – and the method has been discussed in great detail in an excellent article by another costumier, Sarah Lorraine (http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/articles/historicalperiods/medievalrenaissance/280-reconstructing-the-french-hood-by-sarah-lorraine) )
- The Tudor Tailor’s way – the elements are stitched together in a sturdy headdress – with a few items being removable as needs be (coif, bongrace, separate billiment). The idea is not new, as I managed to dig out the references to it in an earlier publication by Denise Dreher, but is now enjoying a well deserved revival.
I believe that in the 16th century there wasn’t just one pattern for the hood – ladies were making do with different arrangements, striving to achieve the fashionable look by a variety of means and no doubt women across the world are doing the same nowadays. For me the latter way really worked as a way of making a headdress that is historically correct, easy to wear, looks good and most importantly, stays on my head.
The genesis of the French hood.
It is becoming more and more evident how the English, or gable hood evolved on the UK, transforming from the open hoods into bonnets with paste and frontlets, and then in the most iconic form known from the portraits of Jane Seymour or the More family.
Similarly, it is possible to trace the evolution of the French hood – though it must be noted that its origins seem to be developed on the continent rather than in England. Although they derive from the same ancestor, an open hood worn in the last decades of the 15th century, the evolution took the headdress two separate ways. In England, the front of the hood became stiffened, and started to fold in the middle over the forehead, creating a point (style also worn with some hennins). With further stiffening and additional decoration of the brim, the gable shape started to emerge – first with the long frontlet, laying on a stiffened and decorated paste, then with the paste shortened, frontlets folded back and pinned to the crown and divided veils.
On the continent, the hood was also changing at the time, but the emphasis was on the roundness – the stiffened and decorated part of the hood followed the shape of the head, eliminating any possibility of the rectangular shape of the English bonnet. The beginnings can be seen in the portraits of Anne of Brittany or even Katherine of Aragon, who, contrary to common misconception, did wear the early version of the French hood as well.
Katherine of Aragon, Michael Sittow,
Anne of Brittany, Jean Perreal
Margaret aged ten by Jean Hey,
With time, various elements were added and new styles were developed – ornaments and basic shapes of the crescent changed, the veil changed through the decades and the hairstyles changed as well – but the most recognizable style of the French hood seems to have persevered through many decades, starting as a simple hood and transforming into one of the most complex headdresses.
Buckram (linen or hessian) 0.5m
Wire – 2m
White linen – 1m
Veil – black velvet or satin, 0.5m
Silk for the paste and the crescent, can be the same colour, can be different. Silk taffetas, satins and velvets work best. The most common colours were white, black, tawny-gold, though reds and colours coordinated with the gown were also in evidence. You will need very little; 0.5m for both in the same colour is ample.
Silk organza – a thin strip (fine linen also works)
Linen and silk threads
Ornaments – freshwater pearls, lass beads, metal beads, gems – depends on style.
Thimble, pliers, wire cutters, different size needles, including a curved one
A scrap of silk velvet or wool for cushioning the inside of the paste.
A bit of cardboard for mock up
I used an adapted pattern from the Tudor tailor book. The pattern is available in hard copy http://www.tudortailor.com/patternshop.shtml
It is a good idea to make a mock up of the pattern in cardboard or stiff paper – just to see how it lies on your head. The paste part is the most important as it provides the base for the whole construction. It should sit on your head snugly, with the front parts resting just below your cheekbones, and the back ‘wings’ cradling your head. Remember to make sure your hair is coiled in a bun or a plaited into one at the top back of your head- it provides additional support for the hood. If your hair is short, it is worthwhile to get a basic plait extension – coiled and pinned, it will do the job just as well. Depending on the shape of your head that should be sufficient to keep the hood on very securely. For very heavy hoods with lots of bling on them, I find I need to pin them just over the ears as well.
Experiment with the mock up till you find the best fit and adapt your pattern accordingly.
- Cut out the pattern shapes for the paste and the crescent in buckram. No seam allowances are necessary.
The paste cut out.
- Cut out the pieces : in linen – 2 of each, with an inch seam allowance all around; in silk, 1 of each, with the same seam allowance
- Put the fabric pieces aside for the time being- the buckram pieces need to be wired first.
- Cut a length of wire – should be enough to go all around the paste, with a little overlap. Sew on the wire to the edge of the buckram – you can do it by hand, with a strong linen thread, or on a machine. If using the machine, set it to a wide zig-zag stitch and sew, slowly and carefully, making sure the needle goes down on both sides of the wire, and not into it. Do not hasten the process– it will most likely result in broken needles…
- As you near any corner, use the pliers to bend the wire around it.
Paste with the wire sewn on by a machine
And the crescent with the wire
- Pin the back ends of the paste together and try it on. You will most likely notice that the buckram squashes your ears or at least feels unpleasant – take note of the areas and mark them on the buckram – they are the places that will need some cushioning to make the hood comfortable to wear.
- Cur small rectangles of wool or velvet – any thick and smooth fabric will work well. Fold it and stitch it to the inside of the buckram where your ears will be.
The ‘ear protectors’ stitched in to the inside of the paste
- You are now ready to cover the outside of the paste with linen. Pin the linen layer to the paste, folding the seam allowances over onto the inside. Stitch around, keeping the fabric taut and secure – remember that it will not be seen as the silk layer will go over it, but if your silk is thin, try to keep your stitches small so that they do not show through it.
The paste covered with linen
- Once the linen base is in place, you can cover the outside with your fashion fabric – it can be silk taffeta, velvet or satin. Again, fold the seam allowances under and stitch carefully, ensuring the fabric lies smooth on the curved surfaces and that the corners are well defined.
Paste covered with black velvet
- Next step – pleated frill. You can skip it if you plan to wear a coif with a frill. If your coif has plain edges, you can add the pleated strip to the hood.
- Cut a length or organza (utilising the selvage, if you can – if not, you will need to hem it) and pleat it in even knife or small box pleats, securing each pleat with a pin.
Once you have enough to fill in the front of the hood, secure the pleats with a simple stitch, pin the trip onto the ironing board and set it with steam. Do test the fabric first to see if you can iron it – if yes, go ahead, if no, just steam.
- Pin the strip to the inside of the paste, so that only about half an inch extends beyond the paste. Sew it onto to paste, at the back, and carefully, at the front, making sure you catch the fabric folded under but not going all the way through all the layers.
Frill pinned and stitched on
- Leave the paste aside for the time being – it is easier to line it later on, once the crescent is attached.
Time to work on the crescent.
- Cover the outside of the wired crescent first with linen, and then with your fashion fabric, just like you did with the paste.
Crescent covered – outside view
If you plan to decorate the crescent by sewing the ornamentation directly, do it now.
Decoration options: you can stitch each individual bead and pearl directly – useful particularly if you are planning a more elaborate decoration option. Alternatively, if your embellishment is just a single row, you can string all of the beads etc on one thread, and then simply stitch between them, securing the string onto the crescent.
Once the decoration is attached, line the crescent with the other piece of linen. Pin the piece around and stitch carefully so that it doesn’t peek from the underside
Stitching the lining to the crescent
You are now ready to tackle the most difficult task of all: attaching the crescent onto the paste,
If you have vice, it may come useful, but a spare pair of hands or long pins could do the job just as well.
Mark the centre points on both paste and crescent. Pin them together, and continue pinning at the sides so that the crescent is in position.
Sew with needle (curved ones are best for the purpose) threaded with strong thread, catching both items. It helps if you first place a few strong stitches at both sides of the crescent – hidden by the decoration, they will not be seam, but they will go through all the layers of the crescent and the paste. They are the main anchor. Continue along the edge of the crescent, catching the crescent’s fabrics and going through the paste, the stitches will show a bit – but you can cover them later with more decoration.
Using normal needle – and a curved one, below
- The two pieces are now in place – so the worst part is done! You can now decorate the paste with your choice of embellishment –braid, pearls etc.
Pearls sewn onto the paste, covering the stitches.
- Line the paste with the last bit of linen. The stitching will have to be careful and require some dexterity since the shape of the hood is now slowly emerging and you have to deal with concave and convex surfaces – again, a vice or a third hand can be useful. Pin the lining in first:
Then sew with small stitches
- Time to connect the back ends of the hood; pin them first, so that they overlap a bit, and try the hood on. Again, remember to arrange your hair as described previously. Make any necessary arrangements until the hood feels secure. Once satisfied, take it off and sew with strong thread, connecting the two parts. Since you will be going through all the layers doubled, you will need a thicker and stronger needle, and possibly pliers too, to help you draw the needle through.
Trying the hood on
Last bit – the veil.
Cut the veil in silk satin, silk velvet or taffeta. Sew the back seam and hem the edges.
Pin the veil to the hood – mark the centre top first and pin that first, then pin the sides onto the crescent. Where the crescent merges with the paste, pin the veil onto the past, so that it goes smoothly in one circle.
Pinning the bottom centres together
Sew with small stitches – again, a bit of manual acrobatics will be necessary, but it can be done – with experience you will work out which way of holding the hood works for you. Again, a curved needle is a blessing!
Sewing the veil on…
And the hood is ready!
Optional: if you plan to sew the crescent billiment onto a separate base, you can do it as the last step.
Cut a narrow strip of buckram, mirroring the shape of the upper edge of the crescent. Wire it, cover with lining and fashion fabric just like the other items before. Attach any decoration and pin the billiment onto the hood – it can sit on the top of the veil too. Attach the billiment.
Hood in silk velvet with a separate billiment:
Other examples of hoods:
Silk taffeta base and crescent, silk satin veil, freshwater pearls and metal beads decoration on the upper billiment, gold metal braid on the lower
Silk satin base and crescent, freshwater pearl and garnet beads decoration, silk satin veil
Silk velvet base and taffeta crescent, satin veil, freshwater pearls and gold braid decoration
your turn now! :-0
Boucher, François. A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson; Enlarged edition (23 Sep 1996)
Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth–century dress. London: Batsford, 2006.
Caroline Johnson, The Queen’s servants, Fat Goose Press, 2011
Hayward, Maria. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds: Maney, 2007.
Boucher François, A history of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson; Enlarged edition edition (23 Sep 1996)
Denise Dreher, Fromm the Neck up; An illustrated guide to hat making, Madhatter Press
Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth–century dress. London: Batsford, 2006.
Caroline Johnson, The Queen’s servants, Fat Goose Press, 2011
Hayward, Maria. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds: Maney, 2007.
Medieval & Renaissance
You have seen the gown and how it was made ( and how much it cost..) in the previous post ( for those who missed it – it is here), and as promised, we have some pictures from the event for you:__ The festival weekend brought interpreters and reenacors ranging from Bronze Age to WWI; there were markets stalls with merchandise, parades, shows, displays, royal audiences etc – a few pictures snatched by Lucas below . Many thanks to the organizers – Stuart Orme from Vivacity – and Ian Pycroft from Black Knight Historical who provided a good few touches too!
and a couple of lovely images from John Grant!
looking forward to the next year’s! 🙂
Since I was to be back in Peterborough this June, representing this much beloved queen, I needed a new frock. I have been their Katherine for the last 3 years or so ( more of that here), and my kit needed an upgrade. the upgrade had been planned from the last year or so anyway ( and fund were being assigned from the project over that year too) – but alas our garage fire changed the plans a bit. 18 metres of black silk velvet I had secured from the gown was damaged in the fire – bits were still usable but not good enough for the gown – but ok for a kirtle 🙂
Below find a short pictorial story of piecing the outfit together, as well as links to the providers – and since I am always asked how much the outfit would cost – I specified the cost of individual items as well – the raw materials and labour-)
1. Smock- in linen, hand stitched. Each piece was hemmed first , then the pieces were assembled using silk yarn and openwork seams shown in Patterns Of Fashion 4.
linen – 1.5m, Material cost – £30, labour – £100
Kirtle ( I already had a good silk petticoat, so could skip that step 🙂
fabrics – silk velvet ( 6m – around £120), silk satin – left over; buckram – 1m ( £10);silk taffeta for lining – 6m – £150 ( I used 2 different colours – making use of odds and pieces i had available),calico for intelining – 5m, £20 pearls and braid for decoration – £40; reed – £5
labour cost – £200
fabrics – royal purple metallic damask , 10m – I was lucky to get it second hand, at £50 per metre – normally the price is about double, if not treble that ( Watts&co)
lining – silk taffeta 8m ( James Hare, @ £25 a metre) – I used 2 remnant lots, peacock blue and gold
purple silk taffeta for forebodice and binding – 1m – £25
calico for interlining – 6m – £25
rabbit pelt for the cuffs – £150
labour – £350
fabric – gold metallic brocade ( 1m), silk taffeta lining – 1m, calico interlining, decoration – estimated – £60
labour – £80
girdle – brocade fabric, tassels from Gina Barret. material cost – £130, labour – £20
Partlet – linen, with blackwork worked by Embroidery Emporium – £150
cuffs – also blackwork by EE – £150
bonnet – made on the paste I have used before, with a silk velvet veil, and a variety of frontlets – I have made 2 frontlets for this gown, the gold brocade ( and left it unpinned, in the earlier style)l and one in 2 brocades, purple and gold, and pinned the lappets to the side of the bonnet – an early rendition of the gable hood.
material cost – £60,
labour – £100
shoes – by Pilgrim Shoes, slashed, with silk pulling outs – £70
hose/stockings – I had 2 pairs, one by Quartemasterie, one by Sally Pointer – approx £20
a lovely Piece by Gemmeus £300,
other pearl necklaces and rings – £80
and the end product….
and a funky one – look, am hovering! 🙂
the final costing…
smock – 130; kirtle – £550; gown £1200; sleeves – £160; girdle – £160; cuffs and partlet – £300; shoes – £70; bonnet – £160; bling – £380, hose – £20; brass pins for pinning things – £30
total – £3230… ouch…
Admittedly, I don’t charge myself labour – but obviously if I am working on my own stuff, i am not working on commissions that bring the revenue – so still counts as it creates a dent in my budget – making this outfit took about 10 days. The materials were collected and saved for over the last year – I am not a particularly wealthy person, so there is no way I would be able to afford such a frock all at once… I doubt I would be able to afford it now, if it weren’t a part of my job….
Needless to say, I do not plan another Tudor frock for myself in the next few years….. or a decade maybe…
How to Make a Tudor Kirtle and a Gown
a bit of a warning – this post is a rehash of the article i wrote some years ago and includes old photos etc – so the photo quality is not the best, alas. also, since most of the gowns were made some time back ( 7, 5 years ago or more) when i was starting, they are not flawless, and I admit I have learnt a lot since then. nevertheless, the basics remained the same, and i thought that the post may be useful before i can update it ( and since a rather posh frock is being made in June, there will be more info then…. 🙂 )
With the Tudors recently enjoying such popularity, the demand for Tudor clothing has been high – after all, the clothes are very flattering for all figures and the period fabric are simply sumptuous. As a result, I have been working on several Tudor projects in the last few years and have repeatedly been asked for hints and advice on making the garments. In this article I will discuss the making of a kirtle and a gown suitable for a Henrician lady at around 1530 – 40.
The garments of the period were complex and a lady would be wearing the following layers:
A smock (chemise),
Hose and shoes,
False undersleeves (foresleeves),
Headdress (a French or English hood, or a coif and a flat cap)
Optional – a farthingale: a hoop skirt in linen or in silks, with rope, reeds or cane hoops
Partlet – either a linen neckerchief, often decorated with embroidery, or made in silks, wool and sometimes fur (particularly for later styles).
I will concentrate mainly on the instructions how to make a bodiced kirtle and a trained gown, specifying fabrics and techniques used, and presenting the process step by step using illustrations to show the details.
I will also briefly discuss sleeves, cuffs and girdles, and the detailed instructions how to make a gable and a French hood will be covered in a separate article.
4-6m of silk taffeta for top fabric (good quality wool can be used for middle/upper class attire; silks for higher classes, including damasks and jacquards.
2m of silk velvet for borders, front and guard (ignore if your top fabric is sufficiently decorative in itself)
4 m of linen for lining (thin wool and silk can also be used)
0.5m of linen for interlining the bodice
Reeds for boning the bodice
Metal braid or gems for decoration
4m of narrow braid
Linen and silk threads
The patterns shown in The Tudor Tailor book and sold online (http://www.tudortailor.com/patternshop.shtml ) work very well, though adjustments will be necessary for different types of figure – I always make a mock up to check the fit.
Cut the pattern pieces for the bodice in calico.
For fuller figures, it often helps to cut the front piece in buckram or even stiff paper to see how the stiffened front will look, however, to get the best results, bone your mock up as you would the kirtle.
Stitch the pieces together and try on. Adjust if necessary and mark the changes on your pattern.
Cut the front piece in linen – 2 layers.
Baste the layers together and mark the boning channels. You can follow the channel layout presented in The Tudor Tailor
Or make all the channels vertical – often works better for fuller figures
Sew the channels – either by machine or by hand (small running stitch or backstitch work best).
Baste the back pieces of the calico mock up to the front piece.
Stitch a readymade lacing strip to the back pieces- it is only a temporary measure used for the fitting.
Insert boning and try the bodice on, carefully checking if the boning is of correct length, and mark the position of the shoulder straps on the front piece.
If everything fits well, take the bodice off; remove the lacing strips and the boning. You can use the mock up pieces as an interlining.
Cut the pieces in top fabric and lining.
Lay the top fabric on the boned front piece and baste it together.
Place the back pieces (top fabric plus interlining) on the front piece, right sides together and sew. You should now have all the bodice pieces together.
If you plan to bone the back pieces to make lacing more durable, do it now.
Secure the shoulder strips to the front piece.
If your neckline is gaping, sew a narrow bias cut tape or strip of fabric around the neckline, stitch it down and insert a narrow braid. When pulled tighter, the braid will pull the neckline closer (see The Tudor Tailor for details).
This step is not always necessary, on some figures the kirtle top sits nicely and snug without the additional incentive!
If you plan to use a more decorative fabric to border the neckline, do it now. Simply cut pieces of fabric and stitch carefully to the neckline.
You can now add any decoration or jewels. You can stitch them onto the decorative border or simply on the top fabric.
Lining: stitch the back pieces to the front piece in the same way as you did the top fabric.
Pin the lining into the bodice, and stitch around the edges using a slip stitch – make sure the lining covers any stitches from applying the decoration. Do not stitch the lining to the bottom of the bodice, but pin it slightly up, out of the way.
Work the eyelets at the back – use an awl and take care not to damage the fabric. Work the eyelets in linen or strong silk thread.
The skirts can be either even or trained. If you plan to wear your kirtle over a farthingale, make sure you measure for the kirtle on the farthingale – it will need to be longer! It is always a good idea to make the skirts voluminous and long enough to be worn on a farthingale – it is easier to make one that can be adaptable to both styles.
Cut out your pieces in top fabric and lining. If you are using more decorative fabric on the front and hem of the skirts, you will need to piece them first. It is advisable to interline the front panel – especially if your fabrics are light.
Stitch the top fabric pieces together to form one layer. Leave a small opening at the back seam – or at the side seams if your bodice is side laced!
Do the same for lining, then insert the lining into the skirt and baste the layers together at the top.
Arrange the pleats, pinning them firmly in place and pin the skirt to the bodice. Try it on, wearing a farthingale if you plan to wear one.
Re- arrange the pleats if necessary. Take the kirtle off, place the skirts right side together to the bodice and sew. Alternatively it is possible to sew the skirt only to the boned interlining – then the top fabric can be couched on top – on option for those who like handstitching )
Be careful not to stitch the point at the front to the end – leave a small gap and finish it off later by hand, making sure the point is sharp and lies flat.
Fold the bodice lining over the seam and sew.
The bottom of the skirts can be either bound or unbound.
For unbound finish, simply fold the top fabric under and hem, and then attach the lining with a slip stitch.
For a bound finish, cut diagonal tapes of fabric or appropriate width – the binding or the guard, can be wider, as it protects the fabric of the skirt proper from damage and dirt. If the binding gets dirty and tattered in time, it can be removed and a new one sewn on.
Bind the skirts, carefully enclosing the edges – the process is discussed in more detail when we focus on the binding of the gown skirts.
Your kirtle is now ready.
Kirtle worn without the farthingale – this kirtle is entirely hand-stitched
Kirtle worn on a farthingale, and below, others without farthingales
8-9m of top fabric: silk damask, brocade, cloth of gold, tinsel, silk velvet, satin or taffeta are appropriate
The amount of fabric will depend on how wide your fabric is, how voluminous you want the skirts, how big the sleeves and how long a train, if any, you want your gown to have.
8-9m or calico for interlining
8-9m of lining (lower grade silk, taffeta, fur)
2-3 m of lining fabric for turn back sleeves, if you plan a more decorative finish – fur, velvet or different colour silk works well.
Fabric strips for binding the skirts
Reeds for boning the forepart
Silk and linen thread
As always cut the bodice pieces in calico only first. Baste together and try them on the kirtle. Adjust if necessary.
Cut the bodice pieces in top fabric, interlining and lining. If you are working with slippery fabrics like silk velvet, it is a good idea to cut the interlining first and then the top fabric, pinning the interlining pieces to the left side of the velvet. If your fabric has a pattern, be careful to match it, if possible!
Pin or baste the top fabric and interlining together.
Start building your bodice from the back.
Place the two back pieces right sides together and sew. If you are sewing by hand, backstitch works best – then fold the seam allowance twice, hiding the edges, and couch them down to the interlining. Whether sewing by hand or by machine, press the seams carefully.
Repeat the steps for all the back and side pieces.
The pieces in the very front, the forebodies, can be cut in a cheaper fabric as they will be completely hidden by the placard. Work on them first, before attaching them to the rest of the bodice.
Cut them in lining, interlining and top fabric.
Pin the interlining to the top fabric.
Place the top fabric and lining right sides together and sew at the centre front line.
Turn out and sew the boning channels.
Fold the upper edges to the inside and stitch carefully.
Bone the forebodies, and work eyelets.
Attach the forebodies to the main bodice.
Fold the neckline edges in, and stitch using a silk or linen thread
Try the bodice on to make sure it fits correctly.
Cut the sleeves in top fabric, lining and interlining. You may have to piece the sleeve if you don’t have enough decorative fabric to cover the entire sleeve.
Top fabric and calico interlining
Decorative sleeve lining, made out of 4 pieces.
Baste or pin the top fabric and interlining together, fold and sew with right sides together.
Turn right side out, fold the hem and stitch, securing the edge.
Press the seams – for the curved seams use a tailoring ham.
Pin the sleeve into the armhole and sew.
Tidy the edges and notch the seam – it will work better and the seam will lay correctly, without stretching the fabric too much.
Notched seam in the armhole
A hand worked seam seen from outside
Repeat the same steps for the lining, starting with the back and side pieces of the bodice and then inserting the sleeves.
Set the lining into the bodice, sewing with a slip stitch.
For an earlier style, you can bind the edges in contrasting fabric – it works especially well for the bodice with ties.
Finish the sleeves as well – slipstitching the lining top the folded hems of the sleeves.
Your bodice is now ready. Do try it on the kirtle again, making sure that the waist line is in correct place and that the sleeves lie correctly.
A bodice of the gown over a kirtle in gold.
Making of the skirts is very similar to the kirtle skirts.
Cut the pieces in top fabric, interlining and lining.
Baste the interlining and top fabric pieces together, and sew – it is often easier to start with the back pieces.
Repeat for the lining.
Place the lining right sides together, on the top fabric. Pin at the top and sew.
Turn over and press the seams. Fold again, this time left sides together and press.
If necessary, sew with a running stitch at the edge, just to make sure the edge is firm and even.
At that stage, especially if you are using silk velvet, hang your skirts for a few hours, allowing the fabrics to stretch.
If you are finishing the skirts without binding, fold the top fabric and stitch it down.
Pin in the skirts on a dummy, on the farthingale, if you plan to use one and check if the hem is even, and pin the lining to the top fabric, making sure the lining is not too long and does not sag below the hem.
Fold the edge of the lining and slip stitch. It is actually easier to do that while the skirts are still on the dummy!
If you are binding the skirts, there is no need to hem the top layer.
Simply pin the three layers together at the bottom – again, working on the dummy makes it easier.
Take the skirts of and lay it on a flat surface. Tidy the edges.
Pin your binding fabric onto the skirts; the pins should go through all three layers.
Sew along the edge all around the skirt’s hem.
Tidy the edges so that they are even.
Unfold the binding and press.
Bring the binding over the hem, fold it and pin, so that it completely encloses the edges.
Slipstitch with a matching thread.
Your hem is now bound!
You can repeat the same steps on the front edges of the open skirts – here, since the line is straight and not curved as in the case of the trained skirt, the binding cut on the straight grain, not on the bias, works better.
All you need to do now is to pleat the skirts and attach them to the bodice.
You can use either box pleats or cartridge pleats, or combination of knife and cartridge pleats.
For box pleats, more suitable for the earlier gowns with closed front, simply arrange the pleats, pin together and sew together.
You can also stuff the pleats with woolen waddling, a technique described in The Queen’s Servants book.
It provided the back of the skirts with more volume, achieving the fashionable look depicted in the famous Holbain sketch.
Alternatively, for open fronted gowns, a mixture of knife and cartridge pleats works better. Arrange the front parts of the skirts into a few deep knife pleats, and leave the back section to be pleated into large cartridge pleats there. Before stitching the pleats, try the pleated skirts on the dummy – with the farthingale, making sure that they fall gracefully.
Skirts with pinned pleats – the first knife pleats work better on farthingale if they are deep.
Place the bodice and pleated skirts right sides together, and whipstitch them together.
Back cartridge pleats whipped to the bodice – inside and outside view
All that remains for the gown to be ready is a placard.
Cut the pieces in interlining (2 layers, light buckram works well, plus one layer of linen or calico if your top fabric is flimsy), lining and top fabric.
Place the two layers of interlining together and run a channel for a bone at the centre front. It always work well to run bigger channels across the whole width of the placard as this will stiffen the fabrics even more , even if you do not place the boning inside.
Place the buckram layers on the left side of the fop fabric (with interlining if necessary).
Fold the top fabric edged down and stitch, securing it to the base.
Line the placard with the last piece.
Finished placard with a decorative jewel
The placard will be pinned to the bodice using pins – a method evident from a few portraits from the era, the most famous one being the one of Jane Seymour, by Hans Holbein.
Pinning the bodice works well as it is possible to adapt the size of the gown with the lacing and removable placard – important for example in case of pregnancy. It is a painful and lengthy process however, often requiring the help of a maid, and many re-enactors and actors often resort to sewing one side of the placard to the bodice and pinning only one side.
Alternatively, it is possible to discard the pins altogether and used hooks and eyes – but that method obviously does not allow for size fluctuations!
The gown is now ready, but it still needs accessories.
The false sleeves (foresleeves)
1m of top fabric, and lining
A piece of white linen for puffing-outs
Gems, ouches and other decorative items
Linen tapes or braid for attaching the sleeves to the gown.
There are excellent instructions on how to make the sleeves to be found online, again, curtsey of The Tudor Tailor.
I used the very same method to create mine – with ouches and pearls
Attach the ties to the sleeves, and to the inside of the gown’s sleeves.
For a complete look you will also need cuffs. Cuffs can be a part of a smock, but can also be made separately so that they can be changed and washed separately from the smock. They were often embroidered with blackwork or redwork.
They can close with buttons, hooks and eyes or can just be pinned together. These were embroidered with black silks by Embroidery Emporium.
Embroidered cuff, open
Cuff pinned close
All you need is a length of fabric- taffeta, velvet or satin.
Fold the fabric in half, lengthwise, right sides together, and sew.
Turn right sides out; secure the ends by folding them in and stitching.
You can tie a knot at the ends, sew tassels or hang a pomander.
Add hose and shoes
And a French or English hood and you are ready!
A gown in silk/linen brocade, worn on a farthingale, French hood. ( the whole outfit is entirely hand-stitched)
Other gowns created using the same methods:
Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard interpreters wearing French gowns, one in silk velvet, worn without a farthingale, the other is silk damask on a farthingale. Gable and French hoods. ( Black Knight Historical event)
The damask gown, side view, and the velvet gown side view below
Gown in cloth of silver, worn without a farthingale, and with a farthingale, below
Boucher, François. A History of Costume in the West, Thames & Hudson; Enlarged edition (23 Sep 1996)
Mikhaila, Ninya and Malcolm-Davies, Jane. The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing sixteenth–century dress. London: Batsford, 2006.
Caroline Johnson, The Queen’s servants, Fat Goose Press, 2011
Hayward, Maria. Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII. Leeds: Maney, 2007.
The Renaissance Tailor: recreating the 16th and 17th century clothing : http://www.renaissancetailor.com [Accessed 27/01/2012]
Elizabethan Costume Page, http://www.elizabethancostume.net/ [Accessed29/01/2012]
Useful links to suppliers mentioned in the post, or providing decoration/fabric etc used in the creation of the gowns
and my own page for the costumes shown here…. Prior Attire
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
OK, so I have been in the business for a while. I have been re-enacting even longer – my first gig was in 1997 if I remember well, and I got into costume making almost straight away. True, I was lucky – my first contact with historical interpretation was guys from Past Pleasures, and after spending a summer travelling with them, observing knights at work at the Tower of London, or strolling alongside 18th century clad characters during the Pantiles festival at Tunbridge Wells, you do learn a bit. When the summer ended and I returned to Poland where I lived at the time, I joined a historical fencing group. When told that for Christmas party I need to have a medieval gown, I had at least some vague idea where to look for sources ( well before the internet era!) and came up with a dress. It was awful – cotton velvet, lacing at the back, no overgown – but it was a sensation, mostly because I wore proper headwear- veil, fillet, barbette and wimple. Every girl wanted it – and so my adventure with costuming started. Over the years I studied, researched, learnt ( mostly on mistakes, mostly my own) and learnt more and more, gradually expanding my range. Now,years later, I have been running my professional costuming and interpretation business for a few good years, turning a hobby and passion into a profession.
One thing I have learnt over the last 15 years or so is the fact that no matter how perfect the frock, kirtle, habit etc is, the whole image can be badly marred by just a few, seemingly secondary factors- namely hairstyle and make up; lack or inappropriate foundation garments; badly chosen shoes and accessories. In this post I will discuss the undergarments issues, subsequent posts will deal with the other two.
Obviously one has to consider the issue of purpose as well – some people are professional re-enactors, working for museums, stately homes, castles etc. For some it is a hobby they indulge in at the weekends; some of you simply like a good dress up party a couple of times a year. some of you are able to afford original items or best fabrics, some of you are on a very narrow budget – but if in your historical costuming you aim to produce a period correct silhouette, this article is for you.
There is nothing sadder than seeing a lovingly stitched dress hanging shapelessly on the body, worn without period correct support garments – Victorian bodices worn just on a bra look crumpled and shapeless; bustle skirts without the pad or cage display all that lovely fabric hanging floppily in disarray,french gowns without panniers, dragging the too long sides on the ground… At the same time it is just as inappropriate to see medieval frocks with bra straps showing or, even worse, worn on corsets; or Tudor gowns displaying way too much cleavage… again, if you are not concerned with authentic look, that is all fine – Fantasy, Steampunk or Pirate conventions etc are great places to mix modern and traditional styles and nobody will bat an eyelid. However, if you do strive to ‘look the part’, correct undergarment is essential.
Here’s a quick guide of dos and don’ts through the time – not an full list, but just a basic point of reference, somewhere to start with.
All periods: wear a chemise! or a smock, a shift – correct for your period. They were the garments that would be washed, they protect your clothes from sweat etc. Yes, it may not be visible much – or at all, but it will make a dramatic difference in how you wear your kit. If it doesn’t show, and you are not a purist, wear cotton instead of linen, of mixed fibers if you are allergic, just make sure the fabric breathes well – polyester silk chemise will make your kit into a mobile sauna, natural fabric will make wearing a wool kirtle much cooler in the heat of summer. If any part of the garment is on show – make sure it at least looks correct.
Pants, knickers etc – up to you, ladies, most of the events we do not display such items publicly so up to individual preferences. Do bear in mind however that some period underwear was rather specific and fit for a purpose – split drawers are not split for nothing – something you will soon discover if you wear modern underwear under a french or cage crinoline….:-)
1. wear your smock
2. Unless you are Agnes Sorel, posing as a Madonna, do not flash your boobs…. If there is even a glimpse of cleavage, it is a glimpse – but most often even that is covered. Late medieval ladies sport high breasts – but without any ‘spillage’ visible – high, yes, but also contained…
3. Unless your assets are the perfect perky apple shape, you will need some help to achieve the look. Well cut and fitted kirtle will go a long way, even on more generously endowed ladies. If more support is necessary, you can bind your breast with straps of linen – it does offer a bit of support and for some looks ( Italian 15 the cent) it does provide the perfect means to achieve the silhouette. If you have to, wear a bra, but make sure the straps are not showing, and the contours are not visible – seamless bras, just retaining natural shape are great; push up bras – very rarely so… Corsets, especially the modern ones – just don’t even consider the possibility… look awful, artificial, modern – and completely unnecessary
4. leg wear – wear period hose and garters, if possible. Still, a glimpse of the leg would be highly unusual unless you are a field labourer, so if you are not flashing your ankles too much and nobody inspects your hosiery, you will be fine with longer cotton socks in muted colours . For purists hose and garters are a must – and they do look sexy!
5. Layers – do not skip the kirtle if it is hot and you want to wear just a posh gown. Bare calves visible through the thin silks are not posh…Want to be posh, well, sometimes suffering is involved too…
Tudor, Elizabethan and Stuart
1. Same remarks about cleavage apply…. The boned,stiffened kirtles and later stays were there to smooth the contours of the body, provide the support and contain your assets. A hint of a cleavage is fine, over-spilling boobage is not. Yes, the stiff bodices and stays do push things up a bit – but the gowns, shifts, partlets etc do cover most of it. Well, unless you are a noble Jacobean lady going to a masque or posing for a fashionable portrait in a court attire – some of them tended to be a tad revealing…. 🙂 like this one.. An excellent article on the masque costumes and the dancers going topless ( well, almost) is here….
During the Restoration it was fashionable to pose for a portrait in your unmentionables – or without them. If you re-enact Nell Gwyn as Venus, that’s fine – but remember that everyday costume did involve a tad more 🙂 The bodices were more revealing, true, but still on a tasteful side.
3. For late Elizabethan/Stuart wear either stays or boned bodices. A bra will not do. Modern corset will not give the period shape. if you are on a budget, boned bodice can be the perfect solution. Stays and bodices were at that stage mostly boned with reed – and reed is fantastic- it breathes well, it is flexible and adapts to the body – very comfortable. Remember that the reed found in the garments were mostly bundles of thin reeds – not chair cane! nowadays you can obtain either thing oval reed ( Farthingales used to have them, USA) or flat/oval reed from Vena Cava Designs – and it doesn’t cost much, the whole bundle is enough for several items!
4. Skirt supports. If your style calls for a Spanish farthingale, or a french one – wear it, no excuses. If you are on a budget, you can sometimes get bridal petticoats that can can be used as a farthingale and are cheap – not perfect, but better that than nothing. All kind of bumrolls, pads etc here come into play as well – easy to make, they will make a tremendous difference to your silhouette.
5. Wear your petticoats. I know, it is yet another layer, but can be made quickly and don’t have to be made in expensive fabrics. Also, they will cover the shape of the hoops in a farthingale if your kirtle/dress fabrics are not sufficient. It is a good idea to wear one in low quality fabric petti as well, under the farthingale ( as a second layer on the chemise – this is the garment which will absorb most of the dirt and dust stirred up by the skirts dragging on the ground …
6. hosiery – especially with hooped skirts, or shorter late Elizabethan or Jacobean outfits you can get a glimpse, so make sure your hose or stockings look correct. in colder climates nice woolen stockings are a godsend.
1. do use skirt supports suitable for the style of the gown you are wearing: pocket hoops, panniers, bum pads of all kind – they make the dress look good, without them, silk or not, they just resemble sad rags. Great source of inspiration and knowledge can be found on the American Duchess website – Lauren specializes in the period and her tutorials are extremely helpful. Do not be afraid to experiment with the shape of the support, it is worth it.
2. ditto – petticoats,
3. ditto stays. More and more styles were available, and although more cleavage was sometimes seen, peaking from under a fishu, overspill was generally avoided. Do choose stays suitable not only to your style but your body type: half boned stays with some horizontal boning at the breast will create more cleavage and are great for ladies with smaller assets, but may not be sufficient to contain bigger volume. Fully boned stays will flatten fuller bosoms and keep the puppies under control. Later styles call for the famous pigeon breast silhouette: shorter, half boned stays are perfect here .
For stays, it is still ok to use reed – whalebone started to be used too, I believe, but nowadays not available, and not ethical.
With the stays and skirt supports, you will get the fashion plate look spot on!
1. petticoats, stays, hosiery etc, all apply. Many ladies believe that the high waisted styles mean stays are out and bras are fine – alas, this all to often spoils the effect. If you are lucky and sport firm high breasts, yep, you won’t need much. However, if you fall into a curvier category, you will need some help. Remember, if the bouncing continues after the dancing stops, you’s better invest in proper undergarments 😉
Regency stays are there to hold your assets up and usually separate them ( divide and conquer style 😉 ). The cups come up mid bust level, and the breast are contained within the chemise. They do look very unnatural and high – but once you get the frock on, it all pays up. The longer stays are comfortable and smooth the body, so the dress flows uninterrupted from the high waist.
Brassieres are also surprisingly effective, though tricky to put on – and they also seem to be working quite well for bigger bosoms.
Victorian and Edwardian
1. Wear all the layers. If you can skimp on one petticoat without compromising the look, fine, but do wear a proper corset, wear a proper skirt support for your period. Corded petticoats and sleeve supports for the romantic era, crinolines, bustle cages, bust improver, bustle pads etc – they were all there for a reason. If wearing a crinoline, remember the petticoats will help you hide the outline of the hoops – and make sure your bottom hoop is not visible!
2. When planning an outfit always start with the foundations – bodice made to fit a modern body will not fit over a corset. skirt cut without taking the supports into consideration will be too long or too narrow.
3. If you can, get the corset bespoke made ( or make one yourself). If you will be wearing the clothes for some time, you will need a decent, bespoke corset made to you. In my corset I can move, can dance, can ride, can wear it all day long, working away, and I can breathe without any problems ( my rib cage is not crushed). Modern corsets off the peg may feel great for a short time, but fail miserably for longer periods of time. Bespoke is not cheap, but it is well worth saving. having said so, if you find an off the peg Victorian or Edwardian corset ( not modern overbust though), that fits you well, you are lucky – very lucky, so enjoy, it will be usually less than half the price of a bespoke one.
4. Wear corset cover. It is a pretty flimsy thing, bit it protect your nice silk dress from the corset, and also hides the outline of the corset a bit.
5. Wear Edwardian corsets for Edwardian dresses and Victorian ones for Victorian frocks – don’t mix them, they do produce a very different silhouette and Victorian corset with Edwardian gown is simply wrong. Modern overbust corsets are not a good choice – overbust will push your assets a bit too high, creating a very high bust shelf – not very comfortable and period… Victorian/Edwardian corsets are usually mid bust.
For late Edwardian/ WWI costuming, corsets are still necessary! nowadays you see so many lovely frocks of the period, with the look ruined as women either don’t realize that corsets were still worn at the time – or choose to ignore the fact. Yes, the function of the corset was changing – here they were used not to support the breast so much as to smooth the silhouette, streamline it, so that the narrow style clothing looked good – and as they were not designed to cinch your waist a lot, they are very comfortable to wear too. Later on this style of corsets changes onto girdle and brassieres are starting to appear:)
6.drawers – up to you, I love mine, and they make going to the toilet a much less daunting prospect!
7. if possible, wear correct style petticoat for your dress. Natural form petticoats can differ from the bustle eras – 1870 petties are different from 1885. Sometimes you can cheat a bit, sometimes not, so plan your outfit carefully.
8. cleavage – again, very subtle, if ever. Flout your curves, but tastefully, tantalizingly hidden in lace and silks .
Again, American Duchess is a good source, as is Historical Sewing – great tutorials and much more detailed information and advice on 19th century styles, from Regency to Edwardian – do check them up!. Historical sewing also offers online courses – very helpful!
For corsetry supplies and corset making courses – check Sew Curvy
Well, I think that’s about it – just skimming through the centuries, really, but i think i covered the most important points – hope you have enjoyed it, or at least found the information useful! For more pictures of garments across the centuries, please visit my page, or my pinterest boards!
the other post on Looking the part series:
looking the par – 2 – Hair and make up
looking the part3 – accessories