Dress Diary: Brown Elizabethan

The below dates are from 2006. Nowadays I do Anglo Saxon garb from 11th century Northumbria, but I also have a large body of work from Elizabethan England.

Oct. 26
I am in fact cheating here, because I’ve done a lot of work and didn’t write down what I did. Good one. So… the doublet is almost done, I’m just measuring to sew down the hooks and eyes.

The above version of the doublet is getting near the end. I have one completed sleeve pinned on with the straight sleeve that goes under it pinned on as well. I experimented with the collar placement, looking at turning one side of the other up — the self-fabric side or the blue silk lining side. I chose the latter for the lovely color and contrast.

A common look with these doublets is a short attached sleeve out of the doublet fabric and I decided to do this. I could have sewn in these self-fabric sleeves, but opted not to so I can wear stuffed sleeves and other large sleeve styles with the doublet to extend its usefulness. So when I’m wearing the doublet with its own sleeves, I’ll have two sets of sleeves laced in — the self-fabric and the straight sleeve under it. (It has to be a straight sleeve since I made the bands at the bottom of the sleeves fairly tight.)

Nov. 13
I finished the second sleeve and sewed in brass rings to the sleeveheads and doublet armscye. When I’m done with the straight sleeves that will go underneath, I’ll sew the rings to them as well so I can lace both sleeve sets in together. This gives me an option of as many different types of sleeve treatments as I like, one of the advantages of upper and middle class Elizabethan wear. (Mix and match.) Now I’ll sew hooks and eyes to the front edges and I’m done with the doublet. Woo hoo! Next stop — the skirt.

I will cartridge pleat the skirt as I do with all my Elizabethans. I do not, however, pad my pleats as many other costumers do. I suppose I could, but since I wear a bumroll underneath I find it unnecessary. I am unbelievably unscientific with my cartridge pleating. I don’t measure the large running stitches by any other measure than eyeing them. But after five to six cartridge pleating projects, I can tell you that eyeing it works just fine! There is a prevailing theory that the skirts were attached to the bodice and that may well be true. However, since I want to use the doublet as a separate piece over other kirtles, I decided to keep the bodice and the skirt as separate pieces. There is justification for doing it both ways.

Nov. 15
I started jeweling the front panel of the underskirt, which will match the undersleeves. The panel is quite narrow (it came that way) and the edges of the overskirt will just cover the side seams until about 3″ from the ground and where I want my hem to be. So I’ll add a guard out of the brown fabric to the bottom of the underskirt to extend it, a look that I like anyway. It’s also practical because it protects the delicate fabric from the rough ground. I always use cheaper fabric, usually a cotton, to make the rest of the underskirt gores that will never be seen. I would be willing to bet that the Elizabethans did that as well, although likely not with cotton — more likely linen, wool or even silk. But I just can’t bring myself to use a more expensive fabric on underskirt gores that will never, ever, ever see the light of day.

My other plans include:

  • White chiffon partlet. Eventually I would like to blackwork a partlet, but for now a nearly transparent chiffon seems very party-like to me, and this gown is going to a dance (Caid’s Black Rose Ball). Partlets were very often fitted, but this one will be cut in a circle and gathered around the “standing collar.” It will tie under the arms. As soon as I’m done I will post pictures, which will make it easy to see what the heck I’m talking about.
  • Italian bonnet. This is similar to a flat cap, but the crown is less shaped and deeply pleated. I am also going to make a tall hat for this gown, which will be darling for tourneys, but wanted a softer look for the Ball. I might possibly make a French hood instead, but I’ve done one before and didn’t like the way it looked on me. I really prefer more hat-like headgear. I’ll make this out of a bronze-colored mystery fabric I have — one of those finds that I picked up without any idea of what to do with it, and 2 years later it’s perfect!
  • A caul to go under the bonnet. I’m not sure about this fabric, and I may dispense with it. We’ll see.
  • Half-bows to decorate and tie the bodice and skirt edges. I love bows! Fortunately the Elizabethans did too. I put in hooks and eyes for the bodice, but am planning on tying the bows for a festive look. I will sew down matching bows along the skirt edge. They will also have a practical purpose. When I have on a farthingale under the skirt they’ll just decorate the edges, but when I remove the farthingale for a less formal look I’ll use the bows to tie the skirt closed. Yet another look for this doublet, which I made to be very mix and match.

I think that’s it — I’ll wear jewelry of course. One thing I’m not sure about are the wrist ruffs. I have a ruff set that I use for my other Elizabethans, but will not be using the neck ruff for this particular gown. Instead the collar of the partlet will make a gathered ruffle. (This is more an Italian style than a strictly Elizabethan one, but is from the same time period.) I don’t want my wrist ruffs to clash. What I might do is make matching gathered circles out of the chiffon and attach them to the straight sleeves — this may or may not be a period solution, I’ll see what I can find. It should be fine though. Eventually I will make a high-necked smock or partlet that has a real live ruff attached to its collar, and will make wrist ruffs to match. One of the things that I see with Elizabethans in the SCA is that many of their wearers refuse to wear neck ruffs. I don’t know why, since they scream “Elizabethan.” Oh well.

Nov. 18
Almost done! Good thing too, since the Black Rose Ball is tomorrow. (!) Actually I’m quite happy that I’m going to do a late-nighter tonight. Note that “all-nighter” is right out, I gave that up 20 years ago! Yesterday I finished hemming the skirt and made the underskirt. It looks pretty silly underneath — even sillier than usual — because I used an existing underskirt and added an extra side panel that doesn’t match anything at all, just a piece of cotton that I picked up from my stash. It looks supremely dopey. Oh well, no one will see it… heaven forbid. I am thinking about teaching a Collegium class (Kingdom of Caid) on building an Elizabethan, at which point I’ll have to replace the underskirt with something decent so I’m not too embarrassed to demonstrate it!

I’ve done quite a bit in the last few days, so instead of going by date I’ll finish up by theme.

I also went with the white chiffon partlet, and it came out great. Partlets are commonly fitted pieces, but I ran across a demonstration of a circle-cut partlet where you cut the fabric in a circle, then make a smaller circle to fit your head through, and a slash down the front. You pull up the top edge of the partlet to form a soft collar, and can either attach a separate ruff or use the resulting frills. It’s more strictly Elizabethan to go with a structured ruff, but as this doublet is in the V-necked Italian style, I saw a number of examples of a standing collar inside the doublet collar with self-ruffles. (Is there such a term? I guess, since I just used it.) This one shows the standing collar gathered and sewn down with what looks like red rickrak, for all the world. (And isn’t that hairstyle to die for? Adorable!) Here is another on a black doublet with white trim. I made my partlet using the circle method, but instead of running several rows of gathering I loosely box-pleated the top edge to made a soft collar, and sewed pearl trim to fix the pleats. I came out nicely. I’m going to sew the same pearl trim to make wrist ruffles, and might add it to the top edge of the partlet — “might” I say, because I don’t want it to weight down the top edge and make it scrunch down towards my neck. Right now it stays up nicely inside the collar like it’s supposed to. Here’s the way it turned out:

Here is the (mostly) finished gown. I only need to run piping along the underskirt guard. I already have a blue silk pillbox hat which will do fine, but I might make a tall hat or an Italian bonnet to go with it. More on that later when I decide!

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