Archive for the ‘14th c. and later’ Category

Burgundian Documentation

Here is documentation on creating a Burgundian gown from 1475.

Dress Diary: Red Venetian


The painting is by Veronese (1550s) entitled Portrait of a Lady with a Heron (appropriately enough). It is representative of many Venetian upper class and noble female dress of the second half of the 16th century. Love the heron — I have a stuffed goose and swear I will have my picture taken with it.

I’m not jumping on the recent “courtesan” fad inspired by Dangerous Beauty. Don’t get me wrong, the dresses are beautiful and the courtesan subculture in Renaissance Venice is fascinating. But the movie version of their clothing and loose hair is largely a fantasy. I would love to wear my hair down and there are a few portraits where this is the case. However, as far as I can see these are brides on their wedding day. The courtesans aped the noble fashions of the day, which did not demonstrate loose hair. Too bad, I like my long hair!

But that’s O.K., the accurate hairstyles were pretty… minus the high horns, I hate those! Period sources indicated that not all women liked them either. There is one book written by a Venetian woman named Moderata Fante in 1591 that fictionalized an exchange between the “Queen” and two of her ladies where they discussed the hairstyle.

“That’s all very well,” said the Queen, “but how about those curls, those horns, that men are always carping about: what do you say to them? I can’t say I’m particularly keen on the fashion.”

For more on Venetian hairstyles, please see Bella’s excellent article “A Crowning Glory.”

There is quite a bit of interesting discussion out there about the Great Corset Cover debate. The gist of it is if the fabric underneath the ladder lacing is in fact a chemise or a stomacher or a false corset cover — assuming there is a corset at all! Here is my 2 cents:

  • There is indeed a corset under there. It’s true that Venetian (and Italian in general) clothing adopted the corset later than England, France and Spain. Judging from the smooth lines of even the largest women’s torsos, I do not doubt that corsets were widely adopted in upper class fashion by 1560 or so. That’s not to say they were always worn, modern costumers have achieved similar lines using heavily boned bodices and period portraiture occasionally displays a breast curve. But it is very likely that at least the more formal gowns took corsets by now.
  • Given a corset, there is almost certainly a real chemise or smock underneath the corset. Venetian drawings show sleeveless smocks much like modern slip dresses, and it could be this or a full-sleeved version underneath the corset. I believe it makes sense that if a full chemise is worn over the corset then either a very narrow chemise or sleeveless smock would have been worn under the corset.
  • I am perfectly willing to believe that women could have worn either a full chemise or a false front over their corset and directly behind the ladder lacing. The portraits could be displaying both.

For this gown I postulate that the decorated panel behind the ladder lacing is exactly that. It matches the decorated partlet which is a separate piece from the chemise. So I will wear my chemise underneath my corset and make a corset cover (sort of a stomacher) from a stiff white backing and the same bronze-colored chiffon as my partlet. I could also make the cover and partlet from some silk chiffon I have on hand, but I love the look of the bronze chiffon with the red dress. And that matches the portrait better anyway.

I am trying to make this gown out of fabrics already in my stash since collecting fabrics is getting pretty silly when I refuse to make them into something. The below are all fabrics and accessories I already have:

  • Red and gold woven brocade. It’s a cotton brocade, which would not have been made for one of these gowns. They did use cotton but not for gowns, certainly not court gowns. However, I favor cotton brocades for their washability and the fact that they last forever. And I love this pattern.
  • White chiffon for the shoulder puffs
  • White chiffon for the veil… maybe. I love veils and the Venetian ladies certainly wore them, but possibly only outside and this dress is for an indoor event. I may do it anyway.
  • I’m not sure about the wrist ruffs. I have a pair already but they’re ivory and wouldn’t match the white puffs. I’ll think about that one… although it occurs to me that I have an older white pair that might all right with some repair.
  • Bronze poly chiffon for the partlet and corset cover. I think I’ll trim that in some gold trim I have since it’s decorated in the portrait. I don’t have the time or talent to do major gold embroidery over light chiffon, but the trim will be pretty and close to some portraits.
  • Pearl jewelry as in the portrait.
  • Hair — I do have long hair but am not entirely sure how to twist and curl my hair so it frames my face. I like it, I’m just not sure how to do it. I think I’ll set my hair on thin hot rollers to make it curl and then put it back in a braided bun. And I also have a human hair fall that’s seen better days, but I think if I wash it and condition it with hot oil I may be able to save it. Then I’ll braid it and add it to make a fuller jeweled bun.

What I don’t have and wish I did is a gold beaded girdle. They’re so pretty and so useful for all sorts of noble costumes of this time period. So that too will be an experiment. I have seen sashes on some gowns of this time period, but those gowns are plainer.

August 11, 2006

Today I am planning on actually doing some sewing. (!) In the meantime, I have posted a page of Venetian portraits using Google Picasa, which is a pretty cool little program.

August 24, 2006

Yesterday I finished the bodice, which was the big deal with this gown. You can’t see a lot of it in this picture because the gap is so wide and I don’t have the laces in, but note the wide-set narrow straps and the points. I’d never done the open Venetian bodice before and was concerned with getting the fit and construction right. I’m pleased that the bodice turned out as well as it did. I was worried about the back point looking bizarre by curling or folding up, but once the bodice bottom edge was turned up and fitting properly over my hips it was fine. I added cable tie boning too to the back point and that was a good thing. I also added cables ties to the front edges and front bodice panel. I’m definitely corseting, but the extra bones help to keep the bodice fabric straight.

I still need to finish up and stuff the sleeves, cartridge-pleat the skirt and attach it to the bodice, hang it for hemming and do the corset cover and partlet.

In the picture to the left you’re looking at the back. Note the distinctive Venetian back point.

For the chemise, I don’t have any suitable white linen or cotton on hand and will have to venture forth and find some. (They would have used linen but I sometimes go for a pretty figured cotton instead.) I have silk chiffon on hand but don’t want to sacrifice it for a chemise that won’t be seen save for its decorated top edge (maybe).

The shaped shoulder straps look good and should stay on my shoulders given the weight of the skirts that will attach to the bodice. The concern of course is keeping those narrow and wide-set straps from falling off one’s shoulders. There are a few portraits where that is happening but that’s not the look I’m going for. I shaped them into a gentle crescent moon shape that angles in towards the bodice. Thus the top edge of the strap sits just shy of my shoulder point, while the edges of the straps attach to the bodice farther away from the armscye to exert a gentle pull on the straps. I’m a little concerned about tying on the sleeves and how the straps will take that, but the sleeves are snug (almost too snug) so there won’t be a lot of pull on the straps.

Because I wasn’t sure of the fit and construction, I cut the straps separately from the bodice. I might keep doing that, it seems to be easier than trying to shape them as part of the bodice.

Let’s see, what else… I still have to cut the top edges of the skirts to correspond to the front and back points of the bodice. I’m going to eye it and call it good since cartridge pleating is pretty forgiving. I’m such a lazy seamstress: I don’t pad the pleats and I can’t be bothered to measure the running stitches for the pleats. Somehow it all comes out looking right anyway. Since my bodice is all the way open down the front, instead of tapering to a close at the waist, I’ll have to do something to the skirt so I can get into it. I am planning on cartridge pleating all around the skirt except for the very front edge, keeping about 5-10″ of the skirt top unpleated. The theory is that with the bodice on and laced, I can just box-pleat the smooth edge that sits just under the corset points. If it wants to go south for the winter (i.e., opening and gapping) I can add hooks or snaps to the box pleat keep it snug. I suppose I could lace it, but we’ll see.

August 25

Well shoot, I’ve run into a problem. It suddenly occurred to me that I don’t have a clue how to attach the skirt with a wide-open laced bodice! Where does the front edge go? If it were a separate skirt there would be no issue of course, it would merely attach to the waistband and sit at my natural waist. However, the paintings sure look like the skirt is attached at the waist and follows the points on both front and back. If you are closing the ladder laced bodice at the front point, which is a common style, once again you don’t have a problem. You just sew the top edge of the skirt to the bodice all around, leaving a 10″ gap in the skirt. Once the bodice is on and laced closed the skirt folds over on itself and sits all nicely pleated. It’s also the way to get into a skirt with a bodice that closes at center point.

They did have a way to do this, you can see it on the right. But I don’t know how… unless the skirt is attached to a binding strip instead of straight onto the bodice. This would allow the skirt to be pleated all around to the binding strip, which acts as a waistband around tghe center front. It still seems bizarre though, sitting as it would below the natural waist. I suppose it could be attached to a rigid corset cover, though not a chemise since that would have had to be taken out to wash.

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!