Robe à l’Anglaise Photoshoot

Two years ago I made a robe à l’anglaise out of the Waverly Indienne curtain fabric. I documented the project here, but I didn’t have a proper kerchief, cap, hat, or shoes at the time and wasn’t satisfied with the photos I was able to get of the gown. Since then I’ve acquired the rest of the accessories so I recently set up a meeting with a photographer to get better photos. We went to the local National Park where battles of the Revolutionary War were fought, and I love how everything came out!

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The amazing photographer is The Nerdy Monkey.

I’m hoping that in the future I can get nice photos like these of more of my gowns. They spend so much time just hanging in my closet, I’d love to be able to show them off more.

Thanks for looking!


Small Project Catch-up

I keep dithering about making a post about my Costume College experience. I didn’t take many photos, so I can’t just do a photo dump. I’m wondering if people might want to read a wordy, first-timer’s experience-type of post that is more about what it was like, rather than what I saw? But that will take a while to write up, and meanwhile I’m backed up with sewing, so I will have to keep putting it off for a bit.

For now I’m just going to post about the smaller projects I’ve been working on recently (when I say smaller, that usually means “not a full outfit” in my mind, but some of these are still quite time-consuming).

The first is a Victorian Hat that I am making to wear with my existing Victorian gown as well as the Gryffindor gown that I am in the process of making. This is my first foray into millinery and I’m using the Truly Victorian V551, 1880s French Bonnets pattern. I bought buckram and millinery wire from and used the same black cotton sateen that makes up the vest portion of my 1887-ish gown, and will make up the jacket of my Natural Form Gryffindor gown.

I hand-sewed all of the wire to the buckram, and learned that you have to take frequent breaks to avoid pinching a nerve while trying to pinch the wire to the edges of the buckram while you sew.


Once I got the wire sewn on I covered the buckram with fabric.


And then I attached the crown to the brim:




I still need to line the crown and then add trim to the outside, but I’m happy with how this turned out, for my very first hat. I’m going to make two hat bands for this, one in each of the trim colors of the gowns that I intend to wear this with, so that I can interchange them to match both gowns.

Another project that I started back before Costume College, but haven’t gotten very far on is an embroidered Tudor coif. I received a pattern for an embroidered coif for attending the Jamestown Conference last year, and I got the urge to try it out after making a plain coif earlier this year that I found, frankly, too boring.

I spent a couple of hours carefully tracing the embroidery pattern onto my piece of linen by taping everything to my glass coffee table.


I thought I would work on it as an airport/in-transit project while traveling out to Costume College in July, but I was too distracted to actually work on it. I started it once I got back, but haven’t gotten very far yet.


I’m having trouble with French knots and need to practice them more before I can get very far.

On top of those and my Gryffindor gown (and the new corset I need to wear under it; more on those later), JoAnn Fabric is killing the spooky Halloween fabric game this year, so I picked up a couple of prints to make new skirts.


I spent a morning earlier this week putting together a simple tea-length skirt, box-pleated into the waistband.


I lined it with some red poly satin that I had left over from a project years ago; you can’t see any of it, but I like that the hidden bit of red gives this an extra vampire-y feel. I still have to put a zipper and tab closure in this, but I will probably end up safety pinning it on myself for the next year before I do that, because I am excessively lazy about closures.

So that’s all that I have pretty pictures of at the moment. Other things I’m working on that you can look forward to seeing soon include:

  • medieval cowl with liripipe hood
  • new Victorian corset
  • ~*Gryffindor gown*~!!
  • some more embroidery

Tudor Waistcoat and Kirtle

After the Jamestown Conference last year I really wanted to make a Tudor-era waistcoat and kirtle. The ones I saw people (and mannequin displays) wearing at the conference were just so sleek and tailored looking, I loved the style.

I started by drafting the waistcoat pattern from The Tudor Tailor last July; I also decided that I was going to completely sew the entire garment by hand–a first for me. The instructions were easy to follow, though I had a bit of a mishap where I kept ending up with two left sleeves and had to unpick all of my handwork (twice). I didn’t take many progress photos because the fabric, dark navy wool left over from my bliaut, does not want to photograph at all.


The shell, before inserting gussets and lining.


One of my gussets, done with the tiniest stitches I could muster.

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All finished except for closures.

I finished the jacket back in January, but the finished jacket still didn’t look like much. By then I was already planning to go to Costume College 2017, so I realized the next logical step was to go ahead and make the kirtle and bring the set to Costume College to wear.

Again I decided to stitch the entire garment by hand which, now that I had finished the jacket, was not quite as intimidating, but still a bit daunting. I again used a pattern from The Tudor Tailor. I found the kirtle instructions a little less clear, because their pattern offers several possible closure options/locations, and only one set of instructions for all of them.

After their “No Bones About It” session at the Jamestown Conference, where they discussed the fact that their research has shown scant, if any, evidence of boned bodices in kirtles prior to 1600, I decided not to put any boning at all in my kirtle bodice. I wasn’t quite ready to start experimenting with paste buckram, though, so I used scraps of twill and upholstery fabric to interline and stiffen the front of the bodice.


The white fabric was pad stitched to the interlining before the interlining was basted to the shell.

I then found myself constantly second-guessing my next step and whether or not the fit was going to be okay, so it took me months to get very far on the bodice.


It sat in this state forever before I decided what step to take next.


I finally folded over the seam allowance and whipstitched it down before putting in the lining

I lined the bodice with leftover linen, finishing the hem of the bodice before pleating the skirt and stitching it to the bodice hem.


I’m still not sure I attached the skirt properly, but I did the best I could with the bulk of the wool.


Before hemming and trim.

Once the skirt was on, it sat for a while longer because I was nervous about putting the eyelets in and getting the fit wrong. Once I finally decided where the eyelets were going, though, they went in very quickly and I was able to finish the rest of the work in just about a week. I trimmed the bottom of the skirt with a bit of velvet ribbon that I bought from the Simplicity booth at Rufflecon.




Closeup of my eyelets.


With the jacket (which still doesn’t have closures).

No matter what I do, the set seems to look awkward on my dress form, so here are some slightly blurry mirror photos of it worn until I can wear it out for better pictures.





To my relief, the set fits my actual body much better than it fits my dress form, and it’s also surprisingly comfortable to wear (I may or may not have been sitting around in it while writing this blog post).

Next I obviously need to put hook and eye closures in the jacket; I tend to put them off because they’re so tedious. Then I also need to make a coif to finish off the look. I have a pattern for an embroidered coif that came with my Jamestown Conference registration packet, but as I won’t be able to complete the embroidery before Costume College next month, I’m going to make a plain coif for now, and leave the ambition for later.

Sewing Injuries, or, Why I Regret My Eyelet Pliers

A couple years ago, before I learned how to do hand-bound eyelets in my garments, I bought a pair of Dritz Eyelet Pliers. I thought they would neaten up my eyelets on laced bodices (not historically accurate ones), and at first they did. The first few rows of eyelets came out much neater, with the metal eyelets set more securely in the fabric, than they did when I used to use the anvil eyelet tool.

But after the first few rows, the eyelets just got progressively messier. It became harder and harder to line the anvil side of the eyelet tool up with the open end of the eyelet in a way that would open the eyelet neatly to grab the fabric and secure the eyelet. Finally, my mother borrowed the tool to make her Ren Faire bodice and in trying to show her how to use it properly, I ruined a few eyelets and the ones I did get set in did not feel secure. We finished her costume as best I could, and then the pliers were buried in my sewing box because all of my projects since then have needed hand-bound eyelets for historical accuracy.

This year, I need a new Victorian corset. The one I used to wear under my Victorian gowns was an old plastic-boned thing that I made eight years ago before I dove seriously into historical costuming. It really wasn’t doing anything for me, but I was too lazy (and intimidated) to make a real one. The plastic-boned lame-o finally died last year after an ill-advised 7-hour be-costumed work shift during a bout with bronchitis (wearing several warm layers+sitting in a desk chair for long periods+heavy coughing fits=plastic bones molded into 90 degree angles). I finally realized that I needed to make a Victorian corset for real.

I bought the corset kit from Corset Making Supplies that includes the Laughing Moon Dore corset pattern, along with all of the necessary coutil, busk, steel bones, and grommets. Firstly, the instructions that came with the pattern are very lacking, but I’ll save that for another post. I was able to muddle through just fine, getting the shell pieces sewn together and the busk set in. When the time came to insert the grommets, I took some time to decide how I was going to get them in. I didn’t have a specific grommet tool, but the eyelet pliers have instructions on the card for small eyelets as well as large two-piece eyelets, so I thought they might work for the grommets as well. I tested a spare grommet on a bit of fabric and though I had to apply a lot of pressure on the pliers, the grommet seemed to set in very well. Because I was suddenly raring to go on the corset, I decided to proceed with the eyelet pliers. I set in 12 grommets over the course of an afternoon, taking breaks between grommets because the force I had to exert was hurting my hand a little, but nothing too bad.

I quit for the day after I had put grommets in one side of the back opening. At the time my hand felt fine. But that night while I was getting ready for bed, the muscles in my palm suddenly started spasming and then seized up, basically giving me a Charlie Horse in the palm of my sewing hand. I had to go to bed with a heat pack wrapped around my hand to try to get the muscle to relax. The next day my hand was swollen from the time I woke up until after dinner time. I could also feel it straining when doing things like buckling my seat belt and picking up books.

I couldn’t sew at all that week and I had to be careful with certain tasks. Even now, more than two weeks later, I keep getting weird little involuntary muscle twitches in certain parts of my hand, especially if I’ve been holding my phone or a pen for a while, or sewing, or typing. I feel pretty stupid for not realizing that I was injuring my hand by using the eyelet pliers on the grommets, but setting the grommets was working, so I just kept going.

I’ve since been told by a couple different people that even the grommet-specific pliers are not that great, and people actually prefer the die and anvil grommet tool if they don’t have a grommet press that they can use. The presses run upwards of $150 or more, and I use grommets so infrequently that I’m not ready to invest in one of those yet. However, while JoAnn Fabric has a grommet die on their website for only 6 bucks or so, it’s the wrong size, and the other sets that I can find are $24 or more. I don’t understand the price discrepancy, so I haven’t bought anything yet to finish my corset. It’s just been sitting on the sewing table because I don’t know what to do about the grommets at this point.

Basically, I’ve learned that 1. small metal eyelets are the worst and I’m never using them again 2. hand-bound eyelets are obviously the best (reasons include: they’re stronger because you’re opening the weave with an awl, not cutting the fibers; if they start getting loose you can just stitch them a bit more; they come out much neater; bonus points for historical accuracy) 3. grommets are an acceptable, though not HA alternative, but I need the right damn tools next time.

So I really don’t think I’ll be using my eyelet pliers again. I’m sad that I spent the money on them and was so excited, only to realize the small metal eyelets you can find at the fabric store are really no good for anything. I wanted to write this as a follow-up to my previous post on using the eyelet pliers, at the very least to let people know that repeated use may change results over time. But also to let people know that I’ve gone over to the dark side of hand-bound eyelets and you should join us here; they’re really not that scary. Definitely way less scary than causing muscle spasms in your sewing hand by abusing the eyelet pliers.

18th Century Pocket

While I was at Rufflecon wearing my polonaise I realized that I really needed a pocket to keep my phone and things in while I walked around the con. I had been teaching myself a little bit of embroidery since the Jamestown conference last year anyway, and I thought a pocket would be a good first project to work on. I looked up examples of extant pockets online and rather than copy anything exactly, I sketched out my own free-hand design.



I stitched it on a scrap of linen left over from lining my bliaut. The embroidered face is backed with a second piece of linen so that I don’t catch the back of the embroidery as I put things in and out. The back of the pocket is muslin because I had run out of linen scraps that were big enough.




The binding and ties are more linen scraps. I actually still have to finish sewing the ties, but since the pocket itself is done and it’s been a while since I posted, I thought I should upload it now. I’ve also finished my Tudor waistcoat that I started over the summer, but I can’t get the damn thing to photograph well, so I’m probably going to wait to post about that one until I finish my kirtle so I can post about them together.

Rufflecon Harry Potter Challenge

I was scrolling through Instagram earlier this week when a post by Royal Vintage, the American Duchess vintage sister-brand, caught my eye. In it, Lauren made a comment referring to the fact that her 1930s-style sweater was in Gryffindor House colors. My mind made several leaps, and suddenly I was challenging Lauren and Abby to a Harry Potter-themed historical project which I now present to you, if anyone wishes to take up the challenge.

For Rufflecon this October I will be making a historically-accurate (as possible) Victorian Natural Form-era gown in the Gryffindor House colors. I’ve invited Lauren and Abby to make Natural Form-era gowns in their Ravenclaw House colors, and I’m opening this up to anyone who is planning on going to Rufflecon and is interested in historical costuming: make a historical outfit in your House Colors and come show it off!

While it would be fun to see a whole bunch of Natural Form gowns in House colors, I don’t want to limit it so much that people interested in other eras can’t participate. So if you’re into Regency or Renaissance or Georgian or Edwardian, this is open to you, too! When I brought this up to my Facebook friends I saw mention of German Renaissance Hufflepuffs and 18th Century menswear Slytherins, so what about Regency Ravenclaws or medieval menswear Gryffindors? It will be amazing to see what interpretations people come up with!

I don’t want to put too many rules on it, because this should be a fun project, but there are a few guidelines:

  • Your outfit should reflect your own Hogwarts House (you can be sorted on Pottermore if you haven’t already).
  • Try to make your outfit as historically accurate as possible! Since this is for fun, no one is going to exclude you if you use polyester taffeta for your Victorian outfit or machine stitch your medieval gown, but the special spin on this challenge is historical rather than steampunk, fantasy or lolita HP outfits, so try to make your outfit look as historical as possible!
  • Obviously anyone interested in this can make a historical Harry Potter themed outfit, but if you want to participate, I absolutely encourage you to look into attending Rufflecon. I want to get all the challenge participants together for a little meet and group photo at Rufflecon (details tbd once Rufflecon schedule is up) and it will be exciting to see how many participants we can get! (plus Rufflecon is a blast and such a welcoming, supportive environment for alt-fashion gurus, so come check it out)

So that’s it; my challenge has been issued. I’ve had gown and trim combinations turning over and over in my head for days now, and I want to throw all of my other projects aside to start working on this.

If you want to participate and if you have any questions, please contact me on Instagram or Tumblr @mylittlewolfie. I’d like to try to keep track of people who are participating so that I can let people know where and when we’ll meet up at Rufflecon.

Good luck!

Second October Project: Merida

I don’t quite remember when I got the idea, but for at least a year or two now I’ve been wanting to make a Merida costume that I could use for Halloween, comic/anime cons, and any other event that seemed like it needed a kick-ass Disney princess. If you’re not familiar with Merida, she’s this awesome Scottish lass from Brave who don’t care about no marriage traditions, she just wants to shoot her bow and explore the majesty that is Scotland in the 15th(ish) century:


Photo from

I’ve been slow to get started on this costume because I’ve been under this sort of Halloween curse for the past 5 years or so, where I really want to dress up in costume for work but it always somehow turns out that I have the day of Halloween off. Sometimes it’s because of the way my work schedule worked out, or like last year, because Halloween is on the weekend. When I realized back in the spring that Halloween 2016 would be on a Monday I finally purchased the fabric from to start my costume.

My goal was to make it semi-historically accurate, but still accurate to the character. On the historically accurate side I used 5 yards of wool from, since that’s what a Scottish lass would wear; I planned on using hand-bound eyelets for all of the closures; and I used a pattern that is similar to a cotehardie for the dress body. I referenced the cotehardie instructions from The Fashionable Past’s blog post, but I reused the pattern pieces from my 12th century bliaut since the basic dress body shapes are very similar.

To keep the dress looking movie-accurate I used stormy colored wool (it’s sort of a navy-gray-green mix); drafted my own pattern for the segmented sleeves; added the laced cut out to the front neckline; and closed it with lacing up the back so that the front would have the solid look of the movie dress.



The white chemise underneath is a separate garment, for ease of washing, that I threw together from white linen that I found in my stash (and couldn’t remember what it was originally purchased for). The body is two simple rectangles sewn together at the shoulders with a wide-cut neck, and the sleeves are two very wide trapezoid shapes sewn to the body with gussets.



I started the wool gown over the summer, but halted construction to work on my polonaise for Rufflecon, while hoping I could still get both gowns finished in time for their respective events. By the time I got home from Rufflecon I had only two weekends left to make the chemise, do fitting adjustments on the gown, hem it, make the sleeves, and put about 4 dozen hand-bound eyelets into it to be ready for Halloween. Work was very busy at the same time, and I actually worked myself so hard that I wasn’t sleeping much and ended up having to take a sick day because my exhaustion got to me and I felt like I was coming down with the flu or something. That gave me a day to sit on the couch and hand-sew, which helped me finish it. But luckily I didn’t end up actually getting sick. I was excited that I was finally going to get to dress up for Halloween!


In the staff room at work.


Photo from one of my coworkers.

The wig was a $13 ebay find. It’s a little short and a tad top-heavy, but for $13 I was happy with it. For people that knew Merida, it left no doubt as to who I was dressed up as. One patron asked to take my photo so he could show his daughter who is a huge Brave fan. Other people thought I was Fiona from Shrek (in human form), despite Fiona’s lack of curly, unruly hair.

There are a few adjustments I’d like to make before I wear this again. The chemise sleeves need to be shortened a bit, and I’d like to gather them and/or add a cuff at the wrist, because these kind of billowy sleeve hems are no good for an archer. I also need to acquire a bow and quiver, especially before I cosplay with this. Because I threw this together so fast at the end, my eyelets in the back are a bit messy and uneven. I wish I had just done side-lacing because, as I found Halloween morning, this is impossible to get into by myself. I had to put it on backward and then try to turn it around after I had loosely laced it and ended up getting a bit stuck in it at one point. I had to ask one of my coworkers to help me tighten it and do up the last few eyelets once I got to work. I can’t change the eyelets at this point, but at least I’ve learned for next time. No more back lacing gowns!

I’m taking November off from sewing to participate in NaNoWriMo, and to let myself recover from the marathon of October. Once December rolls around I already have plans for a few small things I’d like to work on before the year is over, but you may not hear from me again until then!

The Yellow Polonaise

Several years ago, a friend of mine was cleaning out her fabric stash and gifted me a yellow upholstery fabric woven with a green and pink flower and stripe motif. I always intended to make a robe a la polonaise out of it, but between other projects and the fact that yellow isn’t always flattering on my skin tone, the fabric sat untouched for a long time.

Over the summer I learned that the founder of American Duchess would be coming to Rufflecon, an alternative fashion convention that I had already purchased my ticket for. American Duchess’ Bastille Day sale was still on, so I finally bought the Kensingtons that I had been wanting for years, and subsequently decided that if I were going to wear my Kensingtons to Rufflecon to meet the founder of American Duchess, I needed a new, fancier gown to wear them with.

I was inspired by this extant gown that I found posted on the Fripperies and Fobs Tumblr:


The J.P. Ryan pattern would again be my base, and in August I began cutting out the pieces. I briefly looked at trying to acquire some green quilted fabric for the petticoat, but quickly decided to do a plain green petticoat with a flounced hem instead, like a polonaise in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1. That polonaise also had a self-fabric trim around the neckline and sleeve edges, so I decided to add those to mine as well. I also realized that I would need to finally make a bum pad and under petticoat because I never had for my earlier gowns, and the polonaise would really require one to get the proper effect.

bum-pad  ugly-puffer

I cheated and bought kelly green polyester taffeta for the petticoat, and spent hours pinking the edges of the flounce and then box pleating it onto the hem.


I was so busy in August and September that suddenly it was September 30 and I was running out of time. I still had to attach the skirt to the bodice, add the trim and closures, finish the lining, add the buttons for the polonaise, and add ties to the petticoat, and all of that had to be done by hand.

I finished the closures on the morning of the day I left for Rufflecon. I was originally going to add lace to the sleeve cuffs, but I ran out of time and motivation. I had just enough time to try the gown on with the closures for the first time (perfect fit, thank god!) before putting it away in my suitcase and hitting the road.


With the skirt down.


With the skirt worn à la polonaise.



The slight gapping at the top of the bodice and the slightly messy spots where the edge of the skirt meets the bodice are the only things I’m not happy with on this gown.


Trim at the neckline.


Trim on the sleeve.



Actually, I lied. The messy point at the back of the bodice bothers me a bit, too.

I haven’t gotten the best worn photos of it yet; I was having too much fun at Rufflecon to get anyone to take very good photos, but here’s one in the mirror in my hotel room:


And here’s me with Lauren, of American Duchess, after her and Abby’s panel on draping:


(This hairstyle gives me a fivehead.)

I’m extremely pleased that I was able to finish this in time for Rufflecon, and I’m very happy with the way it came out. I was quite sick of looking at it by the end, though. I think once I put it away for a while and have occasion to bring it out for something else fancy that I’m not stressing to get ready for I’ll realize how much I like it. For the moment I’m just happy to be done with it and go back to sewing my wool items.

Speaking of which, there’s now only two weekends left to finish my Halloween costume, which still needs a chemise, sleeves, fitting adjustments, and closures…

The Summer of Little Focus

On the one hand, I have the urge to blog about everything I’ve been doing in the last two months since the conference. On the other hand, I have been all over the place and totally unfocused and I know that would just lead to a messy post. So what I’m going to try to do is just focus on the two main things that are occupying me right now with a short summary of my other projects at the end as a kind of “coming soon.”

First, a little over a month ago when it really started getting hot and humid (unusually so, as they just announced that July was officially the hottest month since they began keeping records in 1880) I somewhat half jokingly threatened to make myself a linen Viking-inspired breeches and tunic set to try to cope with the heat. I hemmed and hawed for a while, bought the linen because I had a coupon, set it aside to try to stay focused on my in-progress stuff, and then finally I had a four-day weekend last week and spent half of it putting together my set.

I wasn’t going for 100% authenticity; I just wanted something comfortable that would look sorta Viking. But lightweight and comfortable were the absolute keys. These two dudes were my image inspiration:


Image by


Image from

For the breeches I loosely followed the diagrammed pattern on this site. Instead of a waistband I made the breeches drawstring, and instead of relying on leg bindings to get the poofy pants look, I added cuffs to the legs. At the moment I just close the cuffs with safety pins because I am lazy and have other projects to work on. But someday (probably) I will add button closures to the cuffs.

For the tunic I followed the pattern for the “Birka tunic” from this site. I ended up making both the tunic and the breeches slightly too big, but they are comfortable so they’ve achieved their purpose.


Just your casual backyard Viking.

I still need to hand-sew trim around the neckline, but I haven’t the patience for hand-sewing at the moment. Once my Viking set was done-ish I thought I would be able to work on my Halloween costume. But. Recently Rufflecon announced that Lauren of American Duchess will be one of the guests at the event in October.

Cue excited fangirling. Then I had to stop and re-plan my entire Rufflecon wardrobe.

Then I decided it was time to finally buy those Kensingtons I’ve been wanting (thanks, Bastille Day sale).

Also, I decided I need something fancier to wear with my new Kensingtons. Better make a new frock.

Which brings me back to the 18th century.


I’m using my trusty J.P. Ryan pattern again for a polonaise this time, but I’m going to use some of the trim ideas from Patterns of Fashion. I’ve actually been planning this polonaise for years since a friend of mine gifted me the yellow fabric in the image above, but now that American Duchess is coming to Rufflecon I figured it was finally time to put this together and show off a little.

So far I’ve got the bodice shell sewn together and did a fitting over my stays.


Once I get the sleeves on and the lining sewn in I’m going to hand sew trim of self-fabric with pinked edges around the bust and the sleeve openings. I was going to set in the sleeves and the lining today, but I seem to have burned myself out with these and my other projects over the last couple weekends, so I am blogging instead (still productive, right?). I still need to order petticoat fabric, but I’m having trouble finding the color that I want. Swatches are on the way, so hopefully I can order that soon. I also need to make a proper bum pad once and for all, because I never did get around to it for my previous 18th century set, and with this fabric being pretty heavy, I’m going to need proper skirt support.

So those are just two of the things I’ve been up to. I’m also putting together a panel on historical foundation garments that I will be presenting at Rufflecon, so I’ve been doing some supplementary research and starting the framework for that. The other things I’m sewing right now that I will post about later include: hand sewing a waistcoat from the Tudor Tailor pattern; learning embroidery basics so that I can try some Tudor blackwork; a mystery Halloween costume (history inspired, of course); and my 18th Century menswear set that I started months ago is still in pieces and still in progress. I will finish it eventually. Stay tuned to find out how long that takes me.

Tailored to a New World Conference Recap

Two weeks ago today I was driving off on an adventure all by myself, spending 12 hours in my car driving from my home in Upstate NY to Williamsburg, VA.

This started back in late November when I was catching up on the new posts by one of my favorite historical costumers, Samantha of Couture Courtesan. She announced on her blog that she was planning an early-17th-Century clothing conference at Jamestown Settlement where she works, and the keynote speakers and workshop leaders would be the authors of one of the best books on Renaissance costuming, The Tudor Tailor. I was ecstatic. Everything I do, everything I know is self-taught, so the idea of an entire weekend devoted to learning historical clothing recreation spearheaded by a costumer that I admired and women whose book I learned so much from was too good to pass up. I checked when the conference registration would go up and set my alarm for 5am that morning so that I could wake up extra early to register.

The 72 attendee slots sold out just 14 hours after I registered.

In the intervening months I dithered between excitement and doubt. Me being a self-taught seamstress relatively new to historical costuming with no training in anything like fashion history or sewing, I worried that I would be the noob in over my head. It didn’t help that the Facebook group created for everyone who had registered seemed to be full of people whose profile pictures showed them already wearing gorgeous Elizabethan outfits. A lot of them were part of SCA or seemed to work at museums or other historic sites.

We were told there would be an opportunity to dress up on the Saturday night of the conference, but I almost didn’t bring my Elizabethan gown because, it being polyester and made from an adapted Simplicity pattern, I thought I’d be too out of place compared to everyone else. My boyfriend finally told me (in so many words) that I was being dumb, that I spent a lot of time making the dress and I loved it and hardly ever got to wear it, and I would regret not bringing it (he’s so smart, that engineer).

So, setting my doubts aside, two weeks ago with a suitcase full of Virginia summer-friendly clothes plus some sewing supplies, my copy of The Tudor Tailor, and a duffle bag stuffed full of my Elizabethan gown, I drove the 12 hours to Williamsburg by myself (I won’t recap that; I’m still slightly traumatized).

The first day of the conference we met up in the education wing of Jamestown Settlement to sign in; a lot of people knew each other already, which is always slightly intimidating. But I was “sorted” into the group that would be led on tours for the morning by Samantha herself. *cue silent squeeing*

First we looked at some highlights of the collections at Jamestown Settlement, and we got to go backstage to the costume shop where Samantha and the other tailors make the clothing that the living history reenactors wear at Jamestown. We actually got to touch and examine the clothing that was made for the employees of Jamestown to wear.


A green wool doublet with slashing.


Detail of the inside of a red wool doublet. The button shafts go through the fabric, and a ribbon runs through all of the holes inside the front. The eyelets you see are used to attach the doublet to the breeches with ties.

Samantha talked about things that the tailors have to keep in mind when making clothes for the employees, like: even though wool is historically accurate, they can’t really force everyone to wear wool doublets at the height of Virginia summer heat. And, being an equal-opportunity employer, how do they work around things like employees with disabilities, or who need things like shoe inserts in their historic footwear? It was really interesting to hear about trying to find the balance between historical accuracy and modern needs.

Then we went down to the recreated fort where there were no less than six tailors working all at once; the most since about 1610! We got to touch the fabric and tools and ruffs and watch the tailors at work, and Noel, the ruff expert, even let me try on a ruff that he had dyed with cochineal that happened to match my hair.


Oh yeah, have I mentioned that I have lavender hair now?

In the afternoon we toured Historic Jamestowne, led by an excellent guide. The tour was interesting and informative, but the Virginia heat got to me and I started feeling quite woozy, so unfortunately I don’t remember as much of the history as I’d like. I did get some tea and this really cool bag in the (air conditioned) gift shop, though.


That night was the excellent presentation by Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila “As I Lie Dying.” It’s a mixture of stage show, dressing demonstration, and clothing history lecture that was informative and quite funny at times.One of the things I took away from it is that, in their research they have seen plenty of evidence of women mixing “eras” of clothing. For example, during the talk, Ninya’s character dresses to go out to church in a 1540s silhouette dress with a 1580s ruff and pair of undersleeves. They said that women reused the dresses as long as they had them and they sometimes made them over, but other times  just paired them with more “modern” accessories. That year-specific nitpicking about dresses from one year being worn with an item from a different year always intimidated me! But here Jane and Ninya said they found evidence that historically women were a lot more flexible about it, so I found that quite a relief.


You can see here Ninya wearing the 1540s dress with 1580s accessories.

On the second day of the conference, my group attended lectures by the guest presenters. Some of the highlights for me were hearing about Noel’s misadventures in experimenting with making ruffs. He presented his lecture from the point of view of “here’s what I tried that didn’t work.” It gave me confidence to hear that it took him years to discover the best (at least, current best) way of making, starching, and ironing ruffs, and that he’s still learning and trying new things. It somehow made ruffs less intimidating.

We also got to hear from Mathew Gnagy, of The Modern Maker, about his research into 16th and 17th century tailoring techniques. Tailoring methods are something else that has always intimidated me, but Mathew’s demonstrations of how simple little tweaks improve clothing fit drastically left me energized and I scooped up a copy of his book, The Modern Maker: Men’s Doublets when I saw him the final day.


I also grabbed this Lady’s Guide to Plain Sewing from the Burnley & Trowbridge booth.

We also heard from Brenda Rosseau of Colonial Williamsburg about the construction of the embroidered jacket that was made in 2014 to commemorate the anniversary of the marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe. It took 70 volunteers more than 1,000 hours to embroider the jacket and it is stunning. It was brought into the lecture room for us and we got to take a closeup look at it!



That night was my favorite part of the whole weekend. The recreated fort and the replica of the ship Susan Constant were opened to us after Jamestown Settlement closed to the general public, and we got to dress up for the Fort Frolic. There was a band playing Celtic music, there was food set up everywhere (crab cakes, mashed potatoes in martini glasses, fresh fruit, apple crumble, and I don’t even remember what else!), and a professional photographer set up in one of the fort buildings to take our photos with reproduction period furniture. We got to chat and hang out and laugh, and even though I kept apologizing for my gown, everyone kept telling me it was gorgeous. I finally had to silently scold myself for apologizing for my dress instead of just graciously accepting the compliments. The only critique I really got that night was that I stitch my eyelets too heavily; too many stitches weakens the fabric, so only 10-15 are really necessary. Otherwise, everyone was so nice about my dress! At one point as the sun was setting I was standing on the deck of the Susan Constant, all dressed up in my gown, and I looked up to see two bald eagles fly over the ship’s rigging. It was such a surreal, amazing moment.


On board the Susan Constant at sunset.

The final day my group attended all of the Tudor Tailor workshops. We got to try out fulling little wool “swircles” (circular swatches) that Jane had stitched to examine the process of making fulled wool caps. We got lessons from Ninya on how to lace up our hair and tie kerchiefs over the resulting updos. I volunteered to help with one workshop and as a result I got to lace up in the very bodice that Ninya wore during the As I Lie Dying lecture. And between all of these things we got to touch and examine the clothes that Ninya and Jane have made, some of which are the very pieces that are modeled in The Tudor Tailor.


Fulling a “swircle.”


And I got my copy of The Tudor Tailor signed, of course.

The entire weekend was really indescribable. We basically talked of nothing but sewing and research and patterns and sources for the whole weekend. I made a ton of new friends, got a ton of new ideas, and my sewing inspiration was kicked into overdrive. As I pulled out of the parking lot Sunday evening to start my drive home I got a little choked up about going back to real life. But since then everyone has been posting tons of photos and ideas and projects that they’ve taken home with them from the conference and it’s like I have this whole new community to pull knowledge and advice from. I don’t know if anything can ever really top this experience, and I’m so, so glad that I was able to go.

So to sum up just a few of the things I learned from this conference:

  1. Only stitch hand-bound eyelets 10-15 times
  2. It’s okay to mix pieces from different decades a little bit. Historic women did it!
  3. According to in-process research, as yet there is no evidence of doublets being worn without sleeves; wearing them that way is basically just Faire Garb.
  4. Oorijzers (ear irons) were cool little metal devices that women wore on the backs of their heads to pin caps to and help give their caps shape.
  5. The Tailor’s Pattern Book by Juan de Alcega is a great source for late 16th century patterns

And some things I want to try after the conference:

  1. Hair lacing. I actually think this might be fun for regular day wear in the summer. And black laces would probably look really cool with my lavender hair.
  2. Embroidery. We received an embroidery pattern for a coif in our attendee packet, and since I saw some gorgeous embroidered pieces at the conference, I’d love to try it out. I’ve already borrowed a couple embroidery basics books from a coworker who embroiders.
  3. Ruffs. I’ve always loved the look of ruffs. I thought if I wanted one I’d have to pay someone hundreds of dollars to make me one. But, after Noel’s lecture, his enthusiasm for ruffs is infectious and I think I might be able to try making my own.
  4. Doublet tailoring. Or really, just tailoring in general. There are other eras that require tailoring methods in clothing construction and I’ve always just backed away from them, but Mathew said that once you learn the tailoring basics from the 16th century, it translates very easily into later eras.

Now I just have to find the time to try out all this stuff. Good thing I have some vacation time banked at work.