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.

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A green wool doublet with slashing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Fulling a “swircle.”

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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.

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In which eyelets and buttonholes are the devil, but we persevere.

It’s been a busy two months, and I’ve definitely been all over the place. I feel like I have a lot to sum up, so forgive me if this post is less coherent than usual.

Firstly, I did finish the sleeves on my Renaissance Faire gown. There were yet more eyelets involved. I wanted to throw things.

Lacing Eyelets

But I finished everything and it looked pretty, and then I got to wear it in the 85 degree weather, so I was happy, albeit slightly dead from the heat.

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Once again I had people thinking I worked at the Faire. On the final weekend that I went with some friends I kept getting asked for directions while I stood outside shops with my tea while my friends looked at merchandise. It’s flattering in a so-good-you-fit-in kind of way.

I also finished a pirate outfit for my dad, so I dressed up as a pirate with him for the Pirate themed weekend of the Faire.

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Looking at the photos, I feel like the fit of his outfit is off, though it’s not as obvious in person as it looks in the photos. I used the Simplicity Jack Sparrow pattern, and the vest sizing was basically for someone the size of The Rock, and while my dad is barrel-chested, The Rock he is not, so I had to fiddle with the vest quite a bit. I obviously need to practice menswear some more. The vest also involved buttonholes. I once again wanted to throw things.

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He spent a good half an hour picking out this hat at the faire while I held his IPA and threatened to drink it on him.

After I finished those two things that had been on my plate for a while I wanted to take a break and do some less-intense projects (with less eyelets and buttonholes) so I started out by making a new dress with this awesome map fabric that I stumbled upon at JoAnn’s!

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I get so many compliments on this dress when I wear it, even though I swear map-print dresses aren’t a new idea. I’ve definitely seem them somewhere before…

I also made a few ribbon cockades for some Faire people, and a sash to wear with an outfit for an alt-fashion conference this past weekend, but I didn’t get good photos of those.

The other project I completed was a headdress inspired by medieval icon paintings, and ones that I’ve seen on the runway. I made this out of a headband, some wooden dowels, gold spray paint, fake flowers, and lots of hot glue.

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Turns out I wasn’t the only one who wanted one of these saintly crowns, because I saw at least two other people at the conference with similar headdresses. They must be in this season.

I think that’s most of what’s been going on for the past two months. It’s probably going to be another two months before I post again, because I’m going away for a week in November, and of course the holidays are right after, but I usually get a lot of sewing done around the holidays since I’m off work, so hopefully afterwards I’ll have something good to post! I hope to keep it to one project per post in the future.

For now I leave you with a photo of some of the supplies I picked up at the Rev War reenactment back in August. Can’t wait to play with these soon!

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Court Gown Update: It’s Wearable…

A year later (and several projects in between) I’ve been able to get my Elizabethan court gown in complete enough condition to wear it to the first Faire of the season.

I finally finished sewing the cartridge pleated skirt onto the waistband and added closures.

Cartridge Pleats

I put eyelets in the bodice using an awl, and had a bit of trouble since the fabric is polyester (gasp!) and the bodice is several layers.

Eyelets

I intended to add wings on the shoulders temporarily until I can get my shoulder rolls figured out, but I just started getting burned out, so I left the shoulder straps bare for the time being. I did have to add a privacy panel in the back, because somehow my bodice shrank as I sewed it. I swear it was just the right size when I first started this project (I’ve gained a little bit of weight, but no inches on my waist, so shrinkage is the only explanation).

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I also desperately needed a hat, and felt that if I didn’t have one, there would be no point in wearing the gown, since without a hat the outfit would look even more incomplete than it already is without the sleeves and shoulder rolls. So two days before the Faire, I drafted up a pattern using the Elizabethan bonnet instructions in The Tudor Tailor.

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I used the same fabric as the front panel of my skirt, and lined it in a heavy twill, as well as adding interfacing in the brim. I finished it off with a burgundy braid around the band, and an ostrich feather I’ve had hanging around waiting to go on an Elizabethan hat. Somehow I got the math wrong and the band came out shorter than the inside circumference of the brim. I didn’t have the time or energy to remake the brim, so I sort of forced it to fit, making the brim a little wavy in the back. Maybe I will redo it for the next Faire…

hat3Then it was wearing time!

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We had nasty storms the night before the Faire, so when we showed up there were scary mud puddles everywhere. Luckily the sun was out and it quickly dried the puddles. I had just enough time to be grateful before the heat set in and I started to regret wearing a dress entirely made of polyester.

Trying to stay cool in the shade.

Trying to stay cool in the shade.

But we got to watch the always enchanting Vixens en Garde, take in the joust, watch a pirate brawl, and listen to Three Pints Shy before I tossed in the hat, surrendered to the heat, and sent my driver for the car so that we could limp home in the air conditioning.

Bonus photos!

I was the victim of severe derp face.

I was the victim of severe derp face.

When you get home from the Faire, and two minutes later you're like...

When you get home from the Faire, and two minutes later you’re like…

Hopefully I will have sleeves and shoulder rolls for the next Faire in August!

(Hopefully) Last Court Gown Update For a While

Despite the fact that I knew I needed to start my Victorian gown soon, and the fact that I knew there was no way I’d be able to finish my court gown before the end of Ren Faire season, I still couldn’t put the thing away.

So I sewed the ribbon trim onto the front pieces of the overskirt and attached facing to the top of the skirt panels so that I could begin cartridge pleating.

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This is me just testing the waist measurement and how the pleats make the skirt fall.

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Then I basted the underskirt to the front of the overskirt.

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And then I started whip stitching the hell out of the skirt and waistband (that white part is the back of the underskirt).

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I still haven’t finished attaching the overskirt to the waistband. I ran into a little problem because apparently I should have made my stitches for the cartridge pleats 3/4 of an inch long instead of 1/2 an inch long, so now my little stack of pleats is longer than the waistband… but I’m trying to work it out.

I also figured out what I want to do with the sleeves and where to put the ties to tie them to the bodice. But the bodice still needs eyelets in the back, shoulder rolls, and probably a modesty panel in the back (bodices always seem to shrink as I sew them). The skirt(s) need to be hemmed, the front edges of the open overskirt basted back, and closures on the waist band. And on top of that I need a partlet and a new hat, and I’d like to sew fake pearls on the underskirt and sleeves eventually.

For now I really do have to set this project aside so that I can have a Victorian gown for the two Victorian events coming up in December. I traced out the pattern pieces this morning and I have to make the mockup asap. Hopefully my next few posts will be about how well my Victorian day dress is going.

For now I will leave you with a picture of my Court Gown pinned together on my dress form, no where near completed.

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Court Gown Updates

I feel like I’ve been working on this a ton, but even though the construction has been progressing, it hasn’t changed too much visually in a few weeks.

First I hand sewed the jacquard ribbon trim onto the front of the bodice, then I spent a couple of weeks hand basting the shell of the bodice to the lining. I took this photo as I was pinning the shell and lining together:

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I decided to make the piping out of the same fabric as the body of the bodice.

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And then I discovered that the zipper foot that I have for my machine is basically useless. It’s just 1/8 of an inch slimmer on the edge. It’s still too wide to actually get the needle into the ditch of the piping like it needs to. This means that to get it perfect I should have made the piping by hand and then attached it to the bodice edges by hand. But let’s be serious, ain’t nobody got time for that. :/

I then spent a couple of weeks whipstitching the raw edges back into the lining.

bodiceI finally finished the raw edges this week, so today I hand sewed the rest of the trim onto the front of the bodice and attached the tabs. It looks like this now:

010v2I also cut out the skirt pieces and made a bum roll today. There’s still so much to do, and I’m sort of stalled right now because 1. I can’t figure out how to finish the armscyes in order to be able to lace sleeves onto them 2. I’m nervous to start working on the eyelets because I’m afraid to mess them up 3. I can’t decide if I want to try to sew the ribbon trim onto the skirt front using my machine or if I’m just going to suck it up and do it all by hand 4. I don’t have fabric for the back part of the underskirt right now.

I need to start my Victorian day dress soon if I’m going to try to have it done by December, but I’m a little afraid that if I put this one aside I’m going to end up never finishing it. Plus, usually if I have inspiration for a certain project, trying to redirect my energies into a different one it just ends in disaster. I might venture out tomorrow to get some cheap cotton for the underskirt for the court gown, and also grab some more muslin for the Victorian day dress bodice mock up.

 

 

Elizabethan Corset

One of the reasons it took me so long to start my Elizabethan court gown was that I first had to make a proper corset or set of stays. (Stays is the term that is historically used to describe the corsets that were worn during the Elizabethan period, but I am going to use the term corset here because that is the title of the pattern that I used to make mine.) I was originally going to use the Simplicity 2621 pattern, but had some concerns about sizing (and honestly at this point, I don’t remember what they were!). When I happened to mention it to a friend of mine in our local costuming group she directed me to a custom Elizabethan corset pattern generator that is free online from elizabethancostume.net.

The pattern generator is so easy to use! You just plug in your measurements (there is a diagram that shows how to take the measurements):

pattern generator

It walks you step by step through drafting up the pattern using your measurements:

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And then shows you how to sew a corset based on the pattern you just created:

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The directions have options for making a corset without tabs, a simple tabbed corset, or a corset that has tabs that are boned. I decided to make the simple tabbed corset, as I just liked the look of that one the best. I have a few in-progress pictures. This was after I had sewed the shell and lining together:

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I wish I had added a third layer on the inside for extra strength, but for some reason I didn’t think of it at the time.

Here is a photo of the boning channels:

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And photos of the finished product:

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Somehow the point in the front center came out a little crooked. I think it was caused by uneven seam allowance while using my sewing machine to go around the curving point. If I wanted it perfect, I would do that part by hand next time, but with it being an undergarment that most people won’t see, I wasn’t too worried about it. I also need to invest in a better tool for setting eyelets. I’m looking into how to use an awl to prepare holes before sewing them, but I’m also considering just getting a pair of eyelet pliers to just pop the eyelets in. I’ve been using an eyelet hammer, and my ability to set the eyelets in properly just seemed to get worse and worse the more I used it. I now have several items that have lost eyelets because they were set in wrong. When I decide which method I’m going to switch to, I’ll try to remember to post pictures of the process the next time I have to set eyelets.

 

Diving In To a Court Gown

Although I just received my Truly Victorian Alexandra Bodice and Imperial Skirt patterns in the mail, I decided to spend my sewing weekend starting a gown that I’ve had the fabric for for a few years now, but didn’t feel prepared to start until recently.

I’ve always been inspired by gowns like this one by The Couture Courtesan. Since there isn’t a pattern for this exact silhouette and bodice shape in The Tudor Tailor, after doing some research I bought the Simplicity 8881 pattern pictured below.

005v2The pattern is based on a gown that Gwyneth Paltrow wore in Shakespeare in Love, and I saw it recommended on a couple Renaissance costuming pages for it being pretty accurate as far as commercial patterns go. It’s discontinued now, but I was able to grab a copy off eBay for around $10. I plan on doing something different with the sleeves, though.

Last night I cut out the pattern and made a mock up of the bodice to check the fit. It allows for 2 inches of ease, and I’m not happy with it being that loose, so I’m making one size down from what it recommends for my measurements and I’ve had to tighten the seam allowances up a bit, too. I also had to drop the neckline and make the bust less curvy to give the bodice the right shape and fit. I wasn’t happy with how high the neckline came on my chest.

After at least eight hours of work today, I got the bodice lining together, the boning channels in, and the boning inserted.

001v2I had to skip putting boning into a couple of the channels because the pattern recommended buying eight yards (which I did) but I ended up running short. I think it’s because the pattern specifies 3/8 inch wide boning, but all I could find at the store was 1/4 inch wide boning. So if you use this pattern, get at least one more yard of boning if you have to use 1/4 wide stuff. I’m not worried about it affecting the structural integrity of my bodice because I am planning on wearing my corset under this. With all that boning, and these two layers of cotton twill lining the gown, it’ll be like wearing armor.

At the end of the day I started sewing together the shell pieces before my eyes started crossing and I had to call it quits.

003v2The next step will be carefully basting the shell to the lining, making sure that everything stays flat and straight. I’ve got the boned lining under a stack of books for the night to try to un-curve the boning a bit.

I still need to figure out if I want the bodice to be tabbed at the bottom, and what shape the tabs should be if I do, and if I want the piping around the bottom front to be contrast or the same fabric as the shell. I’m sort of just winging it on the details because I’m not sure how any of my ideas will look until I start working on them.

Here’s a photo of the fabric for the underskirt, and the trim that I’m thinking of putting on the opening of the overskirt, though:

007v2I will keep updating on the progress of this one! I should probably also do a post about how I made my Elizabethan corset, too.

Fitted English Gown outfit WIP

Fitted English Gown outfit WIP

I wore this to a brand-new local Renaissance Festival. This outfit still needs a proper kirtle and sleeves, and possibly a different hat, but I wanted to test it out and see how I liked it. It’s really very comfortable and I got a ton of compliments! Again, the fabric on this isn’t accurate for the period of the gown, but I take my historical costuming with a touch of whimsy, and I just love the overall effect. I’m thinking though, that I want to make the kirtle a dark green. I’m still unsure what to do about the sleeves, though.

Fitted English Gown and Smock

I happened to be at A.C. Moore one day and I stumbled across a bin of home decor fabrics labeled “$6 per piece.” I dug through and found two pieces of a gorgeous brown patterned upholstery fabric. Each piece was only 2 yards, and I was hoping I could find a third piece to have at least enough fabric to make an Elizabethan gown, but all I could find were the two pieces, for a total of four yards. I bought them anyway, hoping I could find something to make out of the fabric. When I got home and checked The Tudor Tailor, I discovered that Fitted English Gowns only need four yards (you’ll notice my header is a photo of the fabric with my copy of The Tudor Tailor). The print of the fabric would have been used in a much later time period than Fitted English Gowns were commonly worn, but I felt that the fabric needed to be a gown, and whether accurate or not, I thought a Fitted English Gown in that fabric would look marvelous.

I only have a couple of in-progress photos:

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The progress was easy, until I got to the sleeves. The sleeves took twice as long as the entire rest of the gown. Although the instructions in The Tudor Tailor say to gather the sleeve panes in order to attach them to the shoulders by cartridge pleating, the fabric is so thick that after finishing the edges of the panes, they didn’t gather well, and gathering would have meant that they didn’t circle the entire sleeve anyway, so I only gathered enough to fit them nicely around the armscye. The result is acceptable, I think.

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And here is the full view of the finished gown:

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In order to begin making the ensemble complete, I bought three yards of a cotton-linen blend in white. Again I used a pattern from The Tudor Tailor. While making the sleeves, collar, and ruffles, I made the mistake of cutting out all of the strips at once and only once I had the collar attached did I realize that I accidentally used the two wrist ruffles for the collar part instead of using the strips that I had cut for the collar. As a result the collar is a bit too long for the neck, but hopefully not noticeably.

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It’s hard to get the smock to photograph nicely, but here is (most of) the rest of the piece:

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To complete the outfit, I still need to make a kirtle and sleeves, but for now I’m wearing these two pieces with a skirt from another outfit to a new Renaissance Faire in my area. Hopefully I can get some good pictures to post!